[OPE-L:8250] Re: the 'starting point'

From: Michael Eldred (artefact@t-online.de)
Date: Mon Dec 30 2002 - 16:32:47 EST

Cologne 30-Dec-2002

Re: [OPE-L:8247]

gerald_a_levy schrieb Mon, 30 Dec 2002 11:44:25 -0500:

> Re Michael E's [8243]:
> > The prefix "Ge-" in "Gewinnst" signifies a gathering (e.g. as in Gesetz,
> > which  signifies the gathering of all that which is posited, i.e. gesetzt,
> > as lawful  regulation, i.e. law). Human being is essentially desirous,
> > i.e. it  directs  itself toward and sets its heart on (Greek: _epithymia_)
> > what it lacks. The  essential lack in human being shapes and leaves its
> > mark on  human being's  relation to the world. The Gewinnst is the
> > historical  consummation of desirous  human being in which the world
> > presents  itself as the gathering of all that is  desirous and as offering
> > opportunities  for acquisition (_ktaesis_). According  to Plato (Book
> > IV of the Politeia),  human being itself (the _psychae_), i.e.  the
> > relation  of human being to  being, in its major part is desirous and
> > acquisitive.
> > Such desire is not  merely gluttony and profligacy, but above all
> > _philochraematon_, i.e. the  striving to acquire useful things, assets,
> > wealth,  money. Today we call this self-interest. Human being is
> > self-interested, i.e.  motivated, moved by  self-interest and at the same
> > time, on the other hand, it  is subject to inertia,  i.e. it is
> > habit-loving,  complacent as long its  self-interest is satisfied. I call
> > this  the law of  social inertia, i.e. the  tendency of social life to
> > persist without  change in its customs, habits,  routines and ruts unless
> > disturbed by  intervening forces. In capitalist  society, groundlessly
> > shifting value is  above  all _the_ intervening force that  removes the
> > ground beneath  social habit,  custom, tradition and routine, thus
> > forcing social change  for both better  and worse.
> The 'starting point'  which is selected must be *specific* to the nature of
> the subject that one is attempting to comprehend in thought.  So if we
> wish to comprehend capitalism, we must select a starting point such as
> the commodity that allows us to reconstruct in thought the essential
> character and dynamic tendencies of  capitalism as a *specific* mode
> of production.  Yet, your subject matter above is not limited to the
> subject of capitalism but rather is broadened to what you consider to
> be the "essential" character of human beings.  I think this runs the risk
> of  transplanting concepts appropriate to comprehending capitalism
> to a  'universal'  subject (i.e. the  trans-historical comprehension of
> human beings)  and thereby making those concepts appear to be natural
> and eternal.  In any event, I think we know *very* little about the
> 'essential' character of human  beings as it relates to such subjects as
> culture, habits, customs,  routines, etc.   And the major reason we can
> say so little about our  'essential'  social character of human beings is
> precisely because our conceptions of  'who we are' are seen through
> the kaleidoscope of value that alters our perceptions of all subjects
> and tends by way of self-justification and rationalization to eternalize
> and naturalize the specific forms of social relations that are
> characteristic of capitalism.
> Consider the concept of 'self-interest'.  While this is certainly a
> concept that has importance for comprehending social behavior
> under capitalism, there have been many pre-capitalist societies
> for which _self_ interest was an alien and unrecognized and
> undeveloped form of behavior.  To posit 'self interest' as being
> essential to the character of human beings is tantamount to
> eternalizing the concept of value itself by asserting that it is a
> social relation that human beings are somehow essentially and
> mystically driving willy-nilly towards.

I am talking very specifically, and not attempting to "eternalize and naturalize
the specific forms of social relations that are characteristic of capitalism",
as you put it. "Essence" is a specifically historical concept that makes sense
_only_ in the context of the Greek questioning _ti estin...;_ (What is....?). I
am indeed going beyond the capitalist-bourgeois epoch as it emerged from the
medieval period, but only back to the beginning of the West with the Greeks -- a
highly _specific_ beginning which is part of the tradition that binds us and
which can be thought about. The West dates from about two-and-a-half millennia
ago, not much considering how long humans have been around, and this specific
beginning of Western history is to be distinguished from other historical ways
of human living in other parts of the world.

The Greeks, too, knew about chrematistics (money-making), and Aristotle's
thinking on money and money-making is pertinent today -- and deeper than
anything modern economics or political economy has to offer. We need to
translate ourselves to this Greek world. Plato's and Aristotle's casting of
human being is an historical event _which holds sway over us to this very day_.
The significance of this is not appreciated. Their thinking is not something
past, something that is over and done with. Reading these ancient Greek texts
says something about us and our way of social living today. Plato's thinking on
_philochraematon_, the love of and striving for goods and money, for instance,
still speaks to us today if we are prepared to listen carefully. It says a lot
about what goes under the name of 'self-interest' today. Plato's and Aristotle's
thinking on the _psychae_ goes deeper than anything which modern psychology has
to offer.

It is not because Marx is interested merely in the history of ideas that he
finds it necessary to carry on an altercation with Aristotle in the opening
chapters of Capital, but because Aristotle's thinking on and the Greek
experience of money and chrematistics is silently with us still. Of course,
Greek society was not a capitalist society, just as little as it was a society
dominated by our modern technology, but the Greek experience and
thinking-through of _technae_ and _chrematistikae_ is also _our_ historical
destiny. As Marx says in a different context "De te fabula narratur" (MEW23:12).

The starting-point (_archae_) of the West, including modern capitalism, is the
ancient Greek beginning.

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_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_ Dr Michael Eldred -_-_-

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