Re: [OPE-L] status equality

From: Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU)
Date: Sat Feb 12 2005 - 14:01:44 EST

At 10:26 AM -0800 2/12/05, Ian Wright wrote:
>Hi Rakesh
>Not quite sure of the point you are making, so apologies in advance if
>I have misread.
>>Jerry, perhaps first you (and hopefully others) can provide an
>>interpretation of Engels here:
>>...the equality and equal status of all human labour, because and in
>>so far as it is human labour, found its unconscious but clearest
>>expression in the law of value of modern bourgeois political economy,
>>according to which the value of a commodity is measured by the
>>socially necessary labour embodied in it.
>Engels and Marx wrote before the emergence of postmodernism and
>related relativisms. For them, the existence of an objective world
>independent of our ideas of it, was not a problem. The equality of the
>causal powers of people was, for them, a natural fact.

Ian, I am not sure what you mean by equality of causal powers. Is
equality of individuals a natural fact--I am not talking about
groups? Then how do we recognize the need for special attention in
some areas for some individuals? Or do we dismiss the need for such
in the name of all individuals being equal? Then the ideology of
equality would contribute to the entrenchment of material inequality.

>  That's why
>bourgeois market relations, with the legal ideal of equal commodity
>owners, represented progress over feudal relations. The new social
>organization better reflected the objective reality (just like a new
>scientific theory can be considered better than another).

How does bourgeois ideology better reflect the objective social
reality. It dissolves unequal classes only ideologically and legally
into identical bearers of abstract right and thus contributes to the
entrenchment of class.  How is this itself progress?

>I got a feeling that your comparison between Christianity and Hinduism
>could be read as relativizing the concept of "abstract labour", which
>I take to ultimately refer to the causal powers of human agency, and
>includes things like having an opposeable thumb, the ability to use
>language and symbolic models, the ability to learn, and so on. All
>humans share these causal powers, and are therefore objectively equal.

OK. But all humans, qua particular individuals, do not share these
powers equally.

>The fact that such simple and obvious statements such as the latter
>are often contested by relativists is an unfortunate sign of the
>times, even when there is overwhelming scientific evidence for it, and
>despite there being many failed attempts to demonstrate otherwise
>(e.g., 19th century racial theories).

Yes. Naturalistic attempts to understand racial and class and gender
difference have failed in spite of Larry Summers. But is it a fact
that all individuals have these causal powers in equal measure? I do
not think so. Nor do I think it will ever be so. The point is that
individual natural inequalities do not imply any difference in the
needs of the stomach. This is the point from the Critique of the
Gotha Program (or was it the notes on Wagner) emphasized by Della
Volpe and Colletti.

>Whether this natural fact is reflected in our economic or social
>organization is a secondary matter: it most often isn't. Generalized
>commodity exchange, at least in the abstract, does better reflect our
>objective equality.

But Marx was just as interested in how it more effectively masked exploitation.

>This is one of the reasons why Marx and Engels I
>guess thought that the transition from feudal economic relations to
>capitalist economic relations was progressive: the new relations
>better reflected a fundamental aspect of reality, that is the equality
>of people.

But this equality has to be specified.

>  Hierarchy and caste is irrational because it systematically
>prevents (good) real possibilities (e.g., meritocratic transitions in
>social status, freer choices of individuals to specialise within the
>division of labour and so on) for no (good) reason.

In fact Marx thought that such mobility strengthened class domination.

>So from this point of view, Christianity is a more progressive
>religion than Hinduism, just as it could be argued that Sikhism is
>more progressive than both. I don't really want to argue for any
>particular ordering, because these ideologies do not interest me and I
>have not studied them, but I am saying that sets of ideas better
>reflect reality or not, including religious ones.

I am not sure the abstract cult of the individual better reflects a
class divided social reality.

>>Marx's point was not that struggle over group status simply
>>disappeared in bourgeois society but that any apologia of
>>group-based status hierarchy becomes normatively suspect insofar >as
>it runs counter to said bourgeois ideology that every man is an
>>embodiment of humanity at large and thus equal to every other man
>>and free.
>But if we drop the "and free" consequence from the latter, then it is
>not bourgeois ideology, but a scientific fact partially recognized by
>bourgeois ideology. The founding principles of the USA were very
>progressive in this respect. Caste-based societies are irrational and
>unnecessary and should be abolished, just like we should abolish
>terrible diseases such as aids, TB, and so forth, or unnecessary
>poverty etc.
>I am thinking that you probably agree with most of this.

Perhaps I am succumbing to a dreaded anti Western relativism. I must
read Ernest Gellner again!

Yours, Rakesh


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