[OPE-L:1410] Re: character-masks

Gerald Levy (glevy@pratt.edu)
Sun, 3 Oct 1999 20:34:57 -0400 (EDT)

Re Mike W's [OPE-L:1408]:

To begin with, thank you for your prompt and thoughtful response.

> [...] the systematic development of concepts is intended to be superior
> to the usual process of making and then dropping assumptions.

I agree and note, in retrospect, that my questions should have been posed
somewhat differently.
> So let me instead answer in terms of the current problem of (un)productive
> labour. That distinction is established at a very high level of
> and *therefore* cannot be dropped at all. The distinction, properly made,
> continues to apply down to the capturing of the empricial as the concrete.

If the distinction can't be dropped at one level of abstraction, it
_can_ be *modified*, at a more concrete level.
> At this high level of abstraction capitalists appear only as
> character-masks, bearing the imperatives of capital. More concretely, the
> character mask becomes more differentiated and so more complex - into
> financial capitalist, landed capitalist, entrepreneur. In as much as these
> are still captialists, the are bearers of the imperatives of capital.


> The level at which capitalists start caring about the use-value of their
> product (the context in which I used the notion of character-mask) is very
> concrete indeed - as indicated by my claim that that they care about the
> use-value of their commodity (and in what way) is sytemically contingent.
> That is almost equivalent to the other term I used: 'indifference': capital
> is indifferent to the use-value of the products, and so the concrete
> capitalist qua character mask is indifferent to the use-value of her
> product. Of course, qua Henry Ford, he may care about producing a
> priced individualised transportation for the masses too (I don't know), My
> hunch is that no capitalist actually concerns themselves, in their business
> decisions, with contributing to the use-value composition of output
> technically indispensable to the reproduction of the capitalist economy.

You may be right that no individual capitalist thinks in terms of how
their decisions will contribute to the "use-value composition of output
technically indespensible to the reproduction of the capitalist economy."
Yet, as character-masks, they are _only_ concerned with the imperative to
accumulate capital. Yet, this is a form of behavior that one often sees
modified at a more concrete level. For instance, many capitalists _are_,.
in part, motivated by a desire to increase personal consumption even
though this unproductive individual consumption of capital will decrease
the amount of money capital available for the further accumulation of
capital. Furthermore, individual capitalists may "take off their masks"
when they are concerned with other goals, e.g. increased prestige. And,
when we are discussing the behavior of individual capitalists, it may be
that some of them *are* concerned with the use-value of the commodity that
their firm produces. E.g. there might be shipbuilders who want to be in
the shipbuilding business even if it means that their rate of profit
might be lower than the average rate of profit. This is even more
apparent if we examine the goals of the capitalists who own many
professional sports franchises. Nonetheless, I think that the expression
"character masks" captures very well -- in *most cases* and *in general*
-- the behavior of capitalists, especially when we are talking about a
capitalist economy that has competitive markets which *compel*
capitalists to don their masks and not have the liberty of taking off
their masks under pain of ceasing to be a capitalist. (I am
reminded here of the movie "The Red Shoes". Perhaps character masks are a
bit like the "red shoes" -- a fiction, a metaphor and an abstraction
that mirrors an actual social relation).
> Also: is there a level of abstraction where wage-workers wear character-
> > masks? If so, at what level of abstraction do workers not wear
> > character-masks?
> Since wage workers are many other things besides, qua wage-workers, they
> character masks.

*If* I understand your response correctly, I am in agreement. Hasn't Mike
L been saying something similar for years?

In solidarity, Jerry

PS: In response to Alejandro R's questions: I don't know.

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