[OPE-L] The Socialist World Map and Ursula Le Guin

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Wed Jun 27 2007 - 12:57:47 EDT

I think about the "free association of the producers" all the time.

From the standpoint of the materialist interpretation of history, human natures are defined not simply by the personalities or spirituality that people have, but by their relationships to each other and the world at large. Thus e.g. my humanity is not only "in my head", but also in the way I relate. 

Modern historical science I think makes possible a much better analysis of the evidence for the maximum or average extent of the human ability for changing their own natures and behaviours. Put simply, we can specify, with reference to historical facts, the amount of time it takes, on average, for a mass change in behaviour to occur, given a particular culture.
We can draw a balance-sheet of experience, and verify what has really changed and what hasn't. However, comparatively little serious research has gone into this problem, we are dealing more often with impressionistic guesses, rather than a scientifically informed view based on fact. The reason is that the very perceptions of change are often ideologically deformed.

The classic elitarian argument, justifying the existence of (privileged) elites, is that if you implement egalitarian norms, you create a culture of mediocrity, because you end up rewarding slip-shod performance and excellent performance alike. There is some truth in that view, unless slip-shod performance and excellent performance really are the same, but basically as a socialist I consider it "lazy thinking". I see it precisely as part of my job, however difficult, to think specifically of ways in which we can both promote excellence and egalitarian dignity, i.e. to study both how we can motivate excellence, and how we can reward that wisely, so that egalitarian norms are truly effective. I don't say I am necessarily good at it, but I do study that problem in different contexts.

The name Odo suggests meataphysics or meatocracy too - phonologically similar to "Odor" and "O-do". The Odo figure performs in fact a quasi-religious function, and there is obviously no religion without authority, except the religion of anti-authoritarianism. However, Anarchism is not necessarily anti-authoritarian. I have met or read about very authoritarian anarchists, in the sense that they tried to impose their viewpoint, with force if necessary. 

It would be better to say that anarchism is a critique of authority, especially the arbitrariness of authority, but that critique is in my view often not very well-founded, because it operates with malabstractions which try to connect very abstract principles with very specific situations, in ways that are inappropriate in fact, logic or practice. But e.g. I agree with anarchists that Kronstadt-style operations are immoral and excessive. Bolshevism contained an amount of pathological political paranoia, in part explained by the repressive Tsarist police-state which gave rise to it. 

True authority is based on (1) practical experience, (2) demonstrated competency, and (3) personal commitment, which provides the ability to supply real leadership, i.e. showing people what specifically needs to be done in a situation, and how they can/should contribute to that. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that at all, no parent could do without it. What is wrong is the misuses of authority, and according special privileges to an authority which aren't earned. In this sense, many anarchist critiques are perfectly valid. You get people who pose as authorities when they are not, who arrogate things inappropriately, you get people trying to play parent when they are not a parent, and so forth.

Misuses of authority is a very large topic, but essentially, they can be rationally evaluated according to a shared goal, and whether actions taken are in keeping with that goal. The corollary is, that if an organisation becomes unclear about what its goals (or "missions") are (i.e. "why we are here"), misuses of authority will typically occur. You get competition between different groups, each with their own goals and interests, and you end up with "organised disorganisation" such that an organisation becomes dysfunctional to itself. A human organism is also an organisation of sorts, and I can tell you now from personal experience, that just as an organisation can become dysfunctional to itself, a person can also become dysfunctional to himself. Plus, of course, there are those who delight in making other people dysfunctional.

Capitalist society has no goal, beyond possibly personal self-enrichment in the fullest sense of the word. Capitalism is compatible with all kinds of cultures and goals, which its supporters regard precisely as its greatest virtue, i.e. the freedom it makes possible in this sense. Socialist society does have a goal, namely optimalising the human development of all, for which there are known practical prerequisites, insofar as some kinds of achievement practically presuppose other kinds of achievement (we do not necessarily have to think about that in terms of Stalin's "priority of heavy industry" and suchlike). 


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