Suggested rules of the game(1): intro

Alan Freeman (
Thu, 05 Feb 1998 09:58:49 +0000

Thanks for Mike and Juriaan for their responses.

In the next post are some draft guidelines we drew up for the IWGVT
conference, long before the present dispute. They address the same
issues, they didn't come out of the blue, and they are not a plea for
preferential treatment. I think we should discuss them.

This post is by way of an explanation of why we drew them up, and why
I think we should discuss them.

First off it is perfectly true, and I am glad that it is finally being
recognised and discussed as a problem, that:

(a) all marxism (indeed, all hetorodox thought) suffers censorship and
exclusion at the hands of official economics.
(b) 'marxist gatekeepers' are as culpable if not worse.

Recognition is good. The point, however, is to change it.

I don't think a satisfactory answer to the problem of censorship is to say
"everyone suffers, so don't complain." Neither does it work to censor the
censors, and least of all does it work to censor the complainants. Many
easy ways out, all of which fall into one or other of these three
categories, have all been tried, and none of them work. If they had worked,
the censorship would have stopped.

In my opinion the answer is self-evident: it is to stop censorship. There
*is* no other answer. I think, with all due respect to Mike's
sensibilities, that this is the problem he is reluctant to confront.

In trying to understand the reason for our objections, Mike mistakenly
supposes that the issue is the narrow defence of our own particular view.
I hope he will accept that the proposals I am posting adddress, not the
censorship of TSS or any particular current, but the culture of censorship
and suppression in general which suffuses and suffocates the profession
of economics. The only qualification I would make is to agree with Andrew
that the ultimate target of this censorship is Marx's own ideas; this does
not at all, however, change the fact that in order to deal with the
suppression of Marx, one must confront the general culture of suppression,
and the methods which it had turned into a norm. Indeed the very same
methods - developed at the turn of the century in response to the threat
posed by Marx's ideas - are generally used to suppress everything dissident
or dangerous.

I think that putting an end to censorship calls for an etiquette which
makes exclusion impossible: rules of the game which permit conflicting aims
to be pursued in a common environment.

Inevitably, that involves self-restraint: etiquette isn't just something
you whip out when the neighbours get too noisy.

The rules of the neoclassical game have censorship built into them from day
one. It is not an accidental phenomenon. Because neoclassical economics is
not, and cannot be, a science, it must function as a religion; it must
settle disputes by reference to authority, faith and dogma instead of
evidence, the clash of theory, and tolerance. Marxists act as gatekeepers
when, and because, they play by the same rules. The answer IMO is neither
capitulation to the existing rules, nor an absence of rules - least of all,
hidden rules that only surface when cages are rattled - but different, and
better, rules.

The suggested rules I'm posting are those we came up with when we realised:

(a) that censorship cannot be overcome by shutting people up;
(b) that letting everyone speak doesn't mean anything goes.

I have a straightforward suggestion. Let's stop pretending there is no need
to define what is acceptable and unacceptable in debate, let's stop kidding
on that a general injunction to behave nicely or 'against flaming' solves
anything at all, and let's get down to discussing some clear, *objective*
guidelines to non-exclusive etiquette in debates between conflicting

My second post contains our suggestions: let's hear some other ideas, and
let's have a reasoned discussion about it. If we wish also to deprecate
harangues, rants, tirades, high horses, lectures and/or flaming then let's
ensure these injunctions are clearly defined and apply equally to everybody
at all times.

That's my understanding of what a rule consists of.

Yours constructively