Re: [OPE-L] Robert Owen

From: Dogan Goecmen (Dogangoecmen@AOL.COM)
Date: Sat Oct 28 2006 - 05:21:35 EDT

Dear Jurriaan, sorry for kept you waiting. Very briefly because I am still
preparing some job applications.

Dogan, I wish you the best utopia you can handle, of course. But I am  not
much good as a discussant on this topic because my interest in this area  is
more in what realistic alternatives there are, and in improving my own  life.

Everything we do is related to what Adam Smith called  'bettering our life'.
What I call utopia aims to to integrate short and long  term goals in the
tradition of Marx as described in the Communist Manifest.  Therefore I
differentiate between idealist utopia (More) and realist utopia  (Smith, Marx). Realist
utopia draws dialectically what ought to be from the  analysis of what is. I do
not accept the traditional dichotomy between IS and  OUGHT.

The merit of utopian thought is that it expands the realm of  possibilities
for human endeavour, and the horizons of the future. For  example, in his
"end of history" book Francis Fukuyama depicts liberal  democracy as the
summit of what is humanly achievable in civil society, and  that idea
certainly merits critique.  I obviously do not agree that all  utopian
thinking is necessarily progressive, and it may in addition  powerfully
distract from what really needs to be done.

As I said in one of my earlier emails utopian thought can become
autoritarian if it does not rest upon real social relations (see also  above).

Since - applying historical thinking - utilitarian philosophy was  already
proposed by the Chinese philosopher Mozi (Micius) (470 - 390 BC) I do  not
see how utilitarianism is in any way a moral philosophy specific  to
capitalist society.

By utilitarianism I meant modern versions of  utilitarian thinking. I agree
with you there has been utilitarian ethics since  there are class societies.
But since then there have also been sympathy and  solidarity ethics too. (see Mo
Tzu, 479-438, in A Source Book in Chinese  Philosophy (trans. by
Wing-Tsit-Chan), Princeton University Press, 1969, pp.  211-231).

I think that what characterizes the postmodern era is  precisely a moral
relativism, and profound uncertainty about what moral  principles are a
correct basis for the allocation of resources, i.e. the lack  of a consensual
morality. In turn, this promotes conservative reflexes, and  appeals to
traditions (religious or otherwise) that might provide some  security,
certainty or hope.

Nontheless, we can develop some objective moral  criateria by analysing
actual social relations and draw from this some short and  long term aims to make
moralty possible.

The effect is that moral  norms nowadays tend to be specified negatively,
i.e. in terms of "what we  don't want", and what the limits are for tolerable
behaviour, rather than in  terms of the society we do want, and the
realisation of human potentials. The  corollary is a largely negative
politics which seeks to identify "enemies" of  civilisation, "evil people",
"terrorists", "objectionable behaviour" and  "rogue states", to bolster the
status quo, rather than ideals to which human  beings should aspire; and a
neoconservative "realism" which places severe  limits on what is thought to
be humanly achievable. One only important  exception to this is a moral
concern with world poverty, but even here there  is hardly any clarity about
why people are poor in the first place, and  "poverty reduction" falls well
short of the rhetoric.

Take for example  the simple question of feeding the world's hungry. Every
day, an average of  about 28,000 people die from hunger, 10 million per
year. Infant mortality  accounts for 6 million deaths a year. The majority
die in the countryside in  Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Ten years ago
176 heads of state and  government leaders agreed at the World Food Summit in
Rome that the number of  hungry people must be halved before 2015 to around
400 million, and they  repeated this promise at the UN Millennium Summit in
New York. One goal was  halving the percentage of the population in
developing countries that goes  hungry, to 10 percent. However, real progress
falls well behind the good  intentions. Since 1990 the number of hungry was
reduced by about 9 million,  from 823.8 tot 814.6 million. In some regions,
like parts of Asia and  Central/Latin America famine was reduced. In
sub-Saharan Africa, however,  hunger increased by 20 percent to 203.5
million. One in three Africans  suffers hunger.

Industrial countries said last year they would double  development aid to
Africa to $50 billion before 2010, but this has not yet  been achieved.
African countries also promised at Maputo three years ago that  they would
devote 10 percent of their budgets to rural development; at  present it is
still below 4 percent. Development aid for agriculture was  reduced from more
than $9 billion at the beginning of the 1980s to less than  $5 billion at the
end of the 1990s.

The World Health Organisation  regards 2,100 kilocalories per day per person
as a minimum - people in rich  countries consume on average 3,400
kilocalories daily. According to the WHO,  1.5 billion people in the world
are too fat. More than two billion people  suffer either "hidden hunger" or
undernourishment because of  illness.

"Yet, there is enough food produced to feed everybody on  earth,
so this is a realizable utopia."

But what is to be done? What produces world poverty?  Are there not some
essential changes needed in the way we produce and distribute  wealth and is it
not realistic to aim at some essential changes in that respect?  Chavez is for
me one of the greatest contemporary utopian politicians. Is he  autoritarian
because he implements politics against the interests of the  rich? Or is he not
one of the greatest democracts because he takes into account  the interests of
the huge majority of the population in  Venezuella?

Possibly you are linking utilitarianism to the  doctrine of
utility-maximising behaviour beloved of neoclassical economics, I  don't
know, but much human behaviour cannot be explained in terms  of
utility-maximising behaviour. The doctrine can do so only by resorting  to
definitional tautologies and caricatures.

I agreewith you. This is exactly what I am trying to  show in my forthcoming
book on Smith, in the sense that Smith is criticising  utilitarianism exactly
because of these reasons you put forward.

In this sense lets do what is possible in every step in  our everday life  to
improve our lifes. But lets not forget about that  there are some essential
changes necessary to secure them.

Yours  in fraternite

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