Re: (OPE-L) Re: value, labour and conservation laws

From: Rakesh Bhandari (rakeshb@STANFORD.EDU)
Date: Thu May 22 2003 - 15:34:48 EDT

>Paul C wrote on Thursday, May 22:
>>  But would add that a key factor of human labour is its
>>  flexibility we are 'RUR', we are the universal robot,
>>  the universal worker. What gives abstract labour
>>  a reality is this human adapability. This is why the
>>  labour of horses or cattle, useful though they have
>>  been to farmers and teamsters, can not be treated
>  > as abstract except in the abstract sense of horse-power.

Yes this excellent point speaks against Nicky's earlier attempt to
assimilate slave labor to the work of cattle. American plantations in
the South shifted between indigo, tobacco and cotton in response to
market signals (Fogel); slaves were also rented out to mfg
enterprises (Starobin).

There is also the sense in which human genetic underdetermination and
thus human genetic volatility gain a far greater practical reality in
modern society than time previous.

Here I draw from Ernest Gellner in "Culture, Constraint and
Community" in The Human Revolution. ed. Paul Sellars.  It was Adam
Smith's insight that "the system of differentiated and minutely
proscribed activities" (the division of labor) which make up a given
society is not predetermined, but "can be elaborated and developed to
a point of refinement."  Modernity has meant a relative liberation of
human plasticity so evident in the cognitive and production
innovation of modern societies.

Yet given our volatility we have to be capable of  communicating and
cooperating with each other. "Without plasticity, no diversity, and
without diversity, none of that rapid exploration of alternative
stratgies which has made mankind what it is. But without cultural
restraint, the plasticity would become malignant and excessive, and
move much to fast. It would also be unable, through its very very
volatility, to retain any advantages gained. So the plasticity needs
to be counterbalanced by restraint and constraint."

How to recognize both that plasticity and the constraints on it were
the questions which I believe Austo Marxist and Kantian Max Adler's
theory of the social a priori was meant to answer. To the extent that
the social a priori was not posited as transcendental, plasticity was
allowed for (we know that the Kantian  aprioris have not stood up to
20th century physics); to the extent that  a condition of society is
the sharing of social a prioris, they operated as a constraint other
than coercion. The social a prioris "restores behavior to relatively
narrow limits in any one cultural milieu, but not to the same limits
in all milieux." (Gellner)

Adler's ideas seem to me to have been unduly ignored; he was no less
philosophically interesting than the venerated Max Weber. For
example, Adler critiqued the empiricist idea that learning operated
by the interaction of individual minds with experience since on this
model each individual would build up his own system of association,
in the light of an inevitably and idiosyncratic experience.
Divergence between individual minds would be so enormous that the
communication and cooperation on which society depends would simply
be unthinkable.

And it seems to me that Gellner worked on some of the same questions
as Adler in what I consider to be his most brilliant piece in his
controversial body of work (see Aziz Al Azmeh's compelling criticism
of Gellner's work on Islam in the last Socialist Register).

Yours, Rakesh

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Fri May 23 2003 - 00:00:01 EDT