Yes, Capitalism is Still Progressive

Yes, I know that, as a Marxist, I’m not supposed to have anything good to say about capitalism, or so they tell me anyway. Although I spend much time criticizing capitalism and predicting its eventual destruction, I think it worth taking a moment here to briefly appreciate the good that it’s doing in the world. That’s right, capitalism is doing good by the world! (Okay maybe not by the planet, but by the human population I mean.)

I’ve spoken to the point that capitalism is NOT yet historically outmoded at length before and don’t intend to repeat my earlier arguments on that, but let me point out a couple of other things though that help reinforce the points I made there:

Point One: Since the Cold War, capitalism (an in particular the advent free trade and mass migration, a.k.a. globalization) has been shrinking the global wealth gap overall. What’s basically happening is that both the First World and the Third World are slowly disappearing in favor of the emergence of what we might call a global Second World; a situation wherein the vast majority of people live under the kinds of working class conditions that prevail today in southern and eastern Europe, while a caste of corporate aristocrats sits light years above the rest of the world in terms of social and economic well-being. This is generally similar to Marx’s prediction of where capitalism would lead, but with one important difference: that this new working class status actually constitutes an improved standard of living for most of the world’s population, where Marx believed that it represented a deterioration in living standards (as in simply the elimination of the property that the peasants owned). The protracted liquidation of the middle class that, in any meaningful sense anyway, exists only in First World countries definitely will result in declining living standards in those bourgeois nations though.

Point Two: Since the Cold War, the global poverty rate has also been shrinking at the fastest pace in history. In fact, acute poverty (as in the kind where people starve) could realistically be wiped off the face of the Earth in 20 years time. In other words, conditions for the world’s poorest people aren’t just improving subjectively (as in relative to the conditions of middle class First World populations), but objectively as well.

What does it all mean? It means there are indeed worse things than capitalism. Like the neo-feudalism that so many of the more reactionary jihadist groups out there (e.g. Al Qaeda, ISIS) represent. It also goes to further show that capitalism continues to play a mainly positive role in the unfolding of human history and thus that communism is not yet on the historical agenda. One can sense that this positive role will eventually be exhausted. Eventually we will, after all, have the aforementioned universal Second World and a superior, more productive alternative to the profit system that will prevail. (Here’s some further explanation as to WHY it will prevail.) And, as highlighted in these links, the Internet itself will be the communist government of the future. The Internet itself will be the global hub of economic planning and public policy formation. This right here that you’re using right now is the embryo of the future society within the existing one. But for right now, with the information revolution still in its youth, the objective of communists should be the reforming of capitalism, not yet the abolition of capitalism as such, I am convinced.

The Proud Celibate

Earlier this year, I read this fascinating and provocative article:

UNPOPULAR OPINION: I’m A Sex-Negative Feminist

Sex-negativity makes a lot of feminists uncomfortable, but I frankly couldn’t give less of a damn if my politics hurt your feelings.
Jul 10, 2013 at 11:00am

I’m a sex-negative feminist.

I call myself sex-negative partially because it’s an unsettling term — one that invokes particular histories that many feminists would rather paper over or erase completely — and partially because I fundamentally disagree with the assumptions about sex, kink, and consent upon which mainstream sex-positive feminism is based.

 

Sex-negativity makes a lot of feminists uncomfortable, but I frankly couldn’t give less of a damn if my politics hurt your feelings.

 

I’ve considered myself to be sex-negative (or at least critical of sex-positive feminism) for a while, but have only recently started expressing that view outside of conversations with trusted friends. Sex-negative feminism isn’t particularly, well, sexy; openly articulating criticisms of sex-positivity is to simultaneously make oneself a target for straw(wo)man arguments aimed against radical feminism, for accusations that you’re shaming or judging others, or for assertions that you are frigid or prudish or pathologically broken — all of which are sentiments that have been expressed by self-identified sex-positive feminists toward less enthusiastic women.

 

It wasn’t until a few weeks ago, when the author Marie Calloway asked if she could interview me for a piece she was planning on writing about young women and feminism, that I decided to go public about being sex-negative. I answered Marie’s questions via email; not long after that, my interview, along with that of our mutual friend, was published on Thought Catalog, and included the following quote:

“Related to choice feminism is sex-positive feminism, much of which makes me rather uncomfortable.  It often seems to me that, for many self-identified feminists, sex is the one domain in which feminist politics should have no import (unless that politic is that sex and/or pleasure is always good and healthy and desirable and that fantasies and desires have no bearing on life outside the bedroom).  Sex is not a realm separate from politics — it is always already political and social and it doesn’t happen in a vacuum.  Kinks are not necessarily harmless.  Even the notion of consent, considered by so many to be a simple matter, is problematic — in a patriarchal society where women’s agency is circumscribed by male supremacy, how meaningful is consent? These issues are purposefully obscured by sex-positive feminists who believe that sex is an inherent good and that to feel otherwise is somehow aberrant, abnormal, a position that should be remedied.”

The following day, I stumbled across a rather long piece on The Frisky dedicated to criticizing the “potshot” I allegedly made at sex-positive feminism and kink. According to the author of that post, the fact that I question the usefulness of the ways that we currently talk about consent in feminist circles is “truly dangerous.” Commenting that many sex-positive feminists obscure or erase the fact that sex is not inherently good or pleasurable for many people is “untrue, unfair, and just plain wrong.”

 

With all due respect, fuck that shit.

 

Being sex-negative doesn’t mean that I fancy myself the chief inspector of the sex police, or that I am personally judging what you do in bed, or that I’m conservative, or that I’m engaging in repressive moralizing. It doesn’t mean that I hate sex workers, or that I want to ban sex work or porn (and, in general, I tend to leave those conversations to women who do sex work while I shut up and listen to what they have to say). It doesn’t mean that I hate sex or that I’m embarrassed by it.

 

What it does, in fact, mean is that the way you fuck is not “private,” apolitical, or outside the realm of critique.  Sex does not happen in a vacuum immune to outside structural influences; in fact, it can (and does) replicate inescapable systems of power and dominance.  Being sex-negative means acknowledging that sex, and kink, have nothing intrinsically “good” or “positive” about them (in direct contrast to sex-positive feminists, many of whom argue that sex is an inherent good and that less charitable opinions toward sex are the result of a poisonous, prudish society).

 

It means understanding that many women have neutral to negative experiences with sex, whether due to a lack of desire or sensitivity or past traumatic experiences or myriad other reasons, or may not wish to have sex at all, and that none of this makes them unhealthy, aberrant, or wrong.

 

Thus, sex-negativity urges feminists to reject compulsory sexuality, which has historically translated to forced sexual compliance with men but has recently been extended to non-hetero sex and sexuality as well.

 

Sex-negativity also encourages us to question “consent is sexy” attitudes (since sex is inescapable from patriarchal and other power relations, and thus what is “sexy” caters to men and the male gaze) and understand that even in situations where consent is given, sex is not necessarily enthusiastically consented to or utilized as a means to ends other than pleasure and intimacy.

 

It means, above all, engaging in the kind of sustained analysis of sex, kink and consent that we willingly grant to pretty much every other facet of our individual and collective existence.

 

The virulent opposition commonly expressed toward sex-negative views is fascinating. Most self-identified feminists that I encounter believe that our society is male-dominated, privileges men, and is patriarchal (also racist, homo- and transphobic, classist, and ableist, among other things), and that sexism has a measurable effect on our day-to-day lives.

 

We can talk freely and easily about how institutionalized and structural misogyny purports to give men unfettered access to our bodies and how that materializes in street harassment, rape culture and the restriction of access to reproductive health services; and about how sexist and unattainable beauty standards fuel huge(ly profitable) industries that prey on women’s insecurities, reward or penalize women on the basis of how closely they conform to these standards; and how this game plays into patriarchal, racist, and classist hands.

 

Yet when sex is the topic, we fall over ourselves in an attempt to pass the least amount of judgment and avoid being categorized as “man-hating” or “anti-sex” or “judgmental” or “shaming” or “prudish.”  Too many of us are so committed to escaping accusations of frigidity and joylessness that analysis falls by the wayside, leaving feminist sexual politics in an untenable position.

 

Part of the problem is the seeming opposition between “sex-positive” feminism and just plain “feminism,” no qualifiers, and the demonizing of the latter. Sex-positive feminism originally coalesced in the late 1970s and early 1980s in opposition to abolitionist feminists who, through groups such as Women Against Pornography, conducted guided tours through the strip clubs and toy stores of Times Square and lobbied for anti-porn legislation on civil rights grounds.

 

At that time, sex-positive feminists (who mostly identified as “pro-sex” or “sex-radical”) argued that the effects of anti-porn feminism were harmful to sex workers and sexual minorities and that sexual liberation should be a central goal of feminism.

 

Thirty years after the “sex wars,” sex-positivity has emerged as the default setting for mainstream feminism, with anti-porn feminism largely relegated to the margins and more nuanced positions often completely elided and erased.

 

Feminists who do not identify with sex-positive ideologies are often accorded little room in discussions and spaces; the assumption is that if you are not sex-positive, you must be an anti-sex fuddy-duddy better left in the movement’s dustbins (see also: the attacks leveled at sex-negative feminists that I discussed above).

 

Perhaps this is attributable to the misguided actions of anti-porn feminists, since sex worker savior complexes and deep undercurrents of racism and classism aren’t a good look for anyone. It could be the end result of mainstream characterizations of feminists as ugly, sex-hating lesbians and the subsequent desire of many women to demonstrate that “We’re not all like that”  (as though masculine women, butch lesbians, and otherwise non-feminine women are the ultimate bugaboos, despite the fact that there is absolutely nothing wrong with them), or to non-feminist and/or male approval of sex-positive positions and the seeming possibility of greater acceptance for feminist goals in general.

 

The root causes of this shift are debatable, but no matter who or what is responsible, it’s time for a change in the conversation.

 

One of the truisms of sex-critical and sex-negative feminism is, “We can’t fuck our way to freedom.”  Arguments about how analyzing desires, kinks, and the material effects of sex in our society should be off-limits, or that sex is private and we “like what we like” and should leave it at that, are harmful, whether or not the participants are consenting.

 

Rather than sidelining criticism, we need to rethink sex and its effects within frameworks of oppression, power and violence, without bullshit truisms about choice or the immutability of desire. And please, no whining about your hurt feelings.

 

This got me thinking about my position on sexuality. Traditionally, I’d belonged to the sex-positive camp of feminist thought. Not the version of uncritical sex-positive “feminism” concentrated in popular musicians like Madonna, Beyonce Knowles, and Miley Cyrus — the kind that revolves around marketing one’s body in order to achieve social advancement (thus turning one’s self into a trope and a commodity) — but the serious kind that IS open to things like criticizing and opposing the sex industry and sexual objectification and in favor of combating rape culture and promoting the average, and the disadvantaged, woman and girl instead of just models and sex workers, and who actually talks about women’s liberation on a regular basis; the Lorde kind of sex-positive feminist, in other words, not a poser. In reading the above article though, I began to see shortcomings in my worldview. I was still promoting the idea that sex is definitely a good thing, often making the argument that one problem with Internet pornography is precisely that it discourages actual sex by demoralizing women and by functioning as an alternative, particularly for men. The presumption on my part was that sex is necessarily rational and positive unless corrupted in some way (e.g. by lack of consent); something that society should promote rather than taking a neutral stance on. You could see that attitude reflected in the video I once linked people to here on this very blog, Do Communists Have Better Sex? The movie argues that the sex and gender-related policies of East Germany were better than those practiced in West Germany…because they resulted in more sexual activity occurring. In retrospect, it all seems like a form of apology for taking positions critical of the sex industry and patriarchy more broadly. So, in reading the article reprinted above, I had to ask myself: ‘What if I didn’t apologize?’

 

I now started to re-examine that notable trend amongst the global youth increasingly away from sexuality, and something suddenly stuck out at me: this trend is not being led by men who find virtual representations of women sexier and more perfect than real women, but by girls and women themselves! The Japanese youth, and in particular young Japanese women,  represent the advance guard of this global trend. There was an article in the Guardian last year on this very subject. Check out how it reads:

 

Why have young people in Japan stopped having sex?


What happens to a country when its young people stop having sex? Japan is finding out… Abigail Haworth investigates

 

By Abigail Haworth
The Observer, Saturday 19 October 2013

Ai Aoyama is a sex and relationship counsellor who works out of her narrow three-storey home on a Tokyo back street. Her first name means “love” in Japanese, and is a keepsake from her earlier days as a professional dominatrix. Back then, about 15 years ago, she was Queen Ai, or Queen Love, and she did “all the usual things” like tying people up and dripping hot wax on their nipples. Her work today, she says, is far more challenging. Aoyama, 52, is trying to cure what Japan‘s media calls sekkusu shinai shokogun, or “celibacy syndrome”.

Japan’s under-40s appear to be losing interest in conventional relationships. Millions aren’t even dating, and increasing numbers can’t be bothered with sex. For their government, “celibacy syndrome” is part of a looming national catastrophe. Japan already has one of the world’s lowest birth rates. Its population of 126 million, which has been shrinking for the past decade, is projected to plunge a further one-third by 2060. Aoyama believes the country is experiencing “a flight from human intimacy” – and it’s partly the government’s fault.

The sign outside her building says “Clinic”. She greets me in yoga pants and fluffy animal slippers, cradling a Pekingese dog whom she introduces as Marilyn Monroe. In her business pamphlet, she offers up the gloriously random confidence that she visited North Korea in the 1990s and squeezed the testicles of a top army general. It doesn’t say whether she was invited there specifically for that purpose, but the message to her clients is clear: she doesn’t judge.

Inside, she takes me upstairs to her “relaxation room” – a bedroom with no furniture except a double futon. “It will be quiet in here,” she says. Aoyama’s first task with most of her clients is encouraging them “to stop apologising for their own physical existence”.

The number of single people has reached a record high. A survey in 2011 found that 61% of unmarried men and 49% of women aged 18-34 were not in any kind of romantic relationship, a rise of almost 10% from five years earlier. Another study found that a third of people under 30 had never dated at all. (There are no figures for same-sex relationships.) Although there has long been a pragmatic separation of love and sex in Japan – a country mostly free of religious morals – sex fares no better. A survey earlier this year by the Japan Family Planning Association (JFPA) found that 45% of women aged 16-24 “were not interested in or despised sexual contact”. More than a quarter of men felt the same way.

Many people who seek her out, says Aoyama, are deeply confused. “Some want a partner, some prefer being single, but few relate to normal love and marriage.” However, the pressure to conform to Japan’s anachronistic family model of salaryman husband and stay-at-home wife remains. “People don’t know where to turn. They’re coming to me because they think that, by wanting something different, there’s something wrong with them.”

Official alarmism doesn’t help. Fewer babies were born here in 2012 than any year on record. (This was also the year, as the number of elderly people shoots up, that adult incontinence pants outsold baby nappies in Japan for the first time.) Kunio Kitamura, head of the JFPA, claims the demographic crisis is so serious that Japan “might eventually perish into extinction”.

Japan’s under-40s won’t go forth and multiply out of duty, as postwar generations did. The country is undergoing major social transition after 20 years of economic stagnation. It is also battling against the effects on its already nuclear-destruction-scarred psyche of 2011′s earthquake, tsunami and radioactive meltdown. There is no going back. “Both men and women say to me they don’t see the point of love. They don’t believe it can lead anywhere,” says Aoyama. “Relationships have become too hard.”

Marriage has become a minefield of unattractive choices. Japanese men have become less career-driven, and less solvent, as lifetime job security has waned. Japanese women have become more independent and ambitious. Yet conservative attitudes in the home and workplace persist. Japan’s punishing corporate world makes it almost impossible for women to combine a career and family, while children are unaffordable unless both parents work. Cohabiting or unmarried parenthood is still unusual, dogged by bureaucratic disapproval.

Aoyama says the sexes, especially in Japan’s giant cities, are “spiralling away from each other”. Lacking long-term shared goals, many are turning to what she terms “Pot Noodle love” – easy or instant gratification, in the form of casual sex, short-term trysts and the usual technological suspects: online porn, virtual-reality “girlfriends”, anime cartoons. Or else they’re opting out altogether and replacing love and sex with other urban pastimes.

Some of Aoyama’s clients are among the small minority who have taken social withdrawal to a pathological extreme. They are recovering hikikomori (“shut-ins” or recluses) taking the first steps to rejoining the outside world, otaku (geeks), and long-term parasaito shingurus (parasite singles) who have reached their mid-30s without managing to move out of home. (Of the estimated 13 million unmarried people in Japan who currently live with their parents, around three million are over the age of 35.) “A few people can’t relate to the opposite sex physically or in any other way. They flinch if I touch them,” she says. “Most are men, but I’m starting to see more women.”

Aoyama cites one man in his early 30s, a virgin, who can’t get sexually aroused unless he watches female robots on a game similar to Power Rangers. “I use therapies, such as yoga and hypnosis, to relax him and help him to understand the way that real human bodies work.” Sometimes, for an extra fee, she gets naked with her male clients – “strictly no intercourse” – to physically guide them around the female form. Keen to see her nation thrive, she likens her role in these cases to that of the Edo period courtesans, or oiran, who used to initiate samurai sons into the art of erotic pleasure.

Aversion to marriage and intimacy in modern life is not unique to Japan. Nor is growing preoccupation with digital technology. But what endless Japanese committees have failed to grasp when they stew over the country’s procreation-shy youth is that, thanks to official shortsightedness, the decision to stay single often makes perfect sense. This is true for both sexes, but it’s especially true for women. “Marriage is a woman’s grave,” goes an old Japanese saying that refers to wives being ignored in favour of mistresses. For Japanese women today, marriage is the grave of their hard-won careers.

I meet Eri Tomita, 32, over Saturday morning coffee in the smart Tokyo district of Ebisu. Tomita has a job she loves in the human resources department of a French-owned bank. A fluent French speaker with two university degrees, she avoids romantic attachments so she can focus on work. “A boyfriend proposed to me three years ago. I turned him down when I realised I cared more about my job. After that, I lost interest in dating. It became awkward when the question of the future came up.”

Tomita says a woman’s chances of promotion in Japan stop dead as soon as she marries. “The bosses assume you will get pregnant.” Once a woman does have a child, she adds, the long, inflexible hours become unmanageable. “You have to resign. You end up being a housewife with no independent income. It’s not an option for women like me.”

Around 70% of Japanese women leave their jobs after their first child. The World Economic Forum consistently ranks Japan as one of the world’s worst nations for gender equality at work. Social attitudes don’t help. Married working women are sometimes demonised as oniyome, or “devil wives”. In a telling Japanese ballet production of Bizet’s Carmen a few years ago, Carmen was portrayed as a career woman who stole company secrets to get ahead and then framed her lowly security-guard lover José. Her end was not pretty.

Prime minister Shinzo Abe recently trumpeted long-overdue plans to increase female economic participation by improving conditions and daycare, but Tomita says things would have to improve “dramatically” to compel her to become a working wife and mother. “I have a great life. I go out with my girl friends – career women like me – to French and Italian restaurants. I buy stylish clothes and go on nice holidays. I love my independence.”

Tomita sometimes has one-night stands with men she meets in bars, but she says sex is not a priority, either. “I often get asked out by married men in the office who want an affair. They assume I’m desperate because I’m single.” She grimaces, then shrugs. “Mendokusai.”

Mendokusai translates loosely as “Too troublesome” or “I can’t be bothered”. It’s the word I hear both sexes use most often when they talk about their relationship phobia. Romantic commitment seems to represent burden and drudgery, from the exorbitant costs of buying property in Japan to the uncertain expectations of a spouse and in-laws. And the centuries-old belief that the purpose of marriage is to produce children endures. Japan’s Institute of Population and Social Security reports an astonishing 90% of young women believe that staying single is “preferable to what they imagine marriage to be like”.

The sense of crushing obligation affects men just as much. Satoru Kishino, 31, belongs to a large tribe of men under 40 who are engaging in a kind of passive rebellion against traditional Japanese masculinity. Amid the recession and unsteady wages, men like Kishino feel that the pressure on them to be breadwinning economic warriors for a wife and family is unrealistic. They are rejecting the pursuit of both career and romantic success.

“It’s too troublesome,” says Kishino, when I ask why he’s not interested in having a girlfriend. “I don’t earn a huge salary to go on dates and I don’t want the responsibility of a woman hoping it might lead to marriage.” Japan’s media, which has a name for every social kink, refers to men like Kishino as “herbivores” or soshoku danshi (literally, “grass-eating men”). Kishino says he doesn’t mind the label because it’s become so commonplace. He defines it as “a heterosexual man for whom relationships and sex are unimportant”.

The phenomenon emerged a few years ago with the airing of a Japanese manga-turned-TV show. The lead character in Otomen (“Girly Men”) was a tall martial arts champion, the king of tough-guy cool. Secretly, he loved baking cakes, collecting “pink sparkly things” and knitting clothes for his stuffed animals. To the tooth-sucking horror of Japan’s corporate elders, the show struck a powerful chord with the generation they spawned.

Kishino, who works at a fashion accessories company as a designer and manager, doesn’t knit. But he does like cooking and cycling, and platonic friendships. “I find some of my female friends attractive but I’ve learned to live without sex. Emotional entanglements are too complicated,” he says. “I can’t be bothered.”

Romantic apathy aside, Kishino, like Tomita, says he enjoys his active single life. Ironically, the salaryman system that produced such segregated marital roles – wives inside the home, husbands at work for 20 hours a day – also created an ideal environment for solo living. Japan’s cities are full of conveniences made for one, from stand-up noodle bars to capsule hotels to the ubiquitous konbini (convenience stores), with their shelves of individually wrapped rice balls and disposable underwear. These things originally evolved for salarymen on the go, but there are now female-only cafés, hotel floors and even the odd apartment block. And Japan’s cities are extraordinarily crime-free.

Some experts believe the flight from marriage is not merely a rejection of outdated norms and gender roles. It could be a long-term state of affairs. “Remaining single was once the ultimate personal failure,” says Tomomi Yamaguchi, a Japanese-born assistant professor of anthropology at Montana State University in America. “But more people are finding they prefer it.” Being single by choice is becoming, she believes, “a new reality”.

Is Japan providing a glimpse of all our futures? Many of the shifts there are occurring in other advanced nations, too. Across urban Asia, Europe and America, people are marrying later or not at all, birth rates are falling, single-occupant households are on the rise and, in countries where economic recession is worst, young people are living at home. But demographer Nicholas Eberstadt argues that a distinctive set of factors is accelerating these trends in Japan. These factors include the lack of a religious authority that ordains marriage and family, the country’s precarious earthquake-prone ecology that engenders feelings of futility, and the high cost of living and raising children.

“Gradually but relentlessly, Japan is evolving into a type of society whose contours and workings have only been contemplated in science fiction,” Eberstadt wrote last year. With a vast army of older people and an ever-dwindling younger generation, Japan may become a “pioneer people” where individuals who never marry exist in significant numbers, he said.

Japan’s 20-somethings are the age group to watch. Most are still too young to have concrete future plans, but projections for them are already laid out. According to the government’s population institute, women in their early 20s today have a one-in-four chance of never marrying. Their chances of remaining childless are even higher: almost 40%.

They don’t seem concerned. Emi Kuwahata, 23, and her friend, Eri Asada, 22, meet me in the shopping district of Shibuya. The café they choose is beneath an art gallery near the train station, wedged in an alley between pachinko pinball parlours and adult video shops. Kuwahata, a fashion graduate, is in a casual relationship with a man 13 years her senior. “We meet once a week to go clubbing,” she says. “I don’t have time for a regular boyfriend. I’m trying to become a fashion designer.” Asada, who studied economics, has no interest in love. “I gave up dating three years ago. I don’t miss boyfriends or sex. I don’t even like holding hands.”

Asada insists nothing happened to put her off physical contact. She just doesn’t want a relationship and casual sex is not a good option, she says, because “girls can’t have flings without being judged”. Although Japan is sexually permissive, the current fantasy ideal for women under 25 is impossibly cute and virginal. Double standards abound.

In the Japan Family Planning Association’s 2013 study on sex among young people, there was far more data on men than women. I asked the association’s head, Kunio Kitamura, why. “Sexual drive comes from males,” said the man who advises the government. “Females do not experience the same levels of desire.”

Over iced tea served by skinny-jeaned boys with meticulously tousled hair, Asada and Kuwahata say they share the usual singleton passions of clothes, music and shopping, and have hectic social lives. But, smart phones in hand, they also admit they spend far more time communicating with their friends via online social networks than seeing them in the flesh. Asada adds she’s spent “the past two years” obsessed with a virtual game that lets her act as a manager of a sweet shop.

Japanese-American author Roland Kelts, who writes about Japan’s youth, says it’s inevitable that the future of Japanese relationships will be largely technology driven. “Japan has developed incredibly sophisticated virtual worlds and online communication systems. Its smart phone apps are the world’s most imaginative.” Kelts says the need to escape into private, virtual worlds in Japan stems from the fact that it’s an overcrowded nation with limited physical space. But he also believes the rest of the world is not far behind.

Getting back to basics, former dominatrix Ai Aoyama – Queen Love – is determined to educate her clients on the value of “skin-to-skin, heart-to-heart” intimacy. She accepts that technology will shape the future, but says society must ensure it doesn’t take over. “It’s not healthy that people are becoming so physically disconnected from each other,” she says. “Sex with another person is a human need that produces feel-good hormones and helps people to function better in their daily lives.”

Aoyama says she sees daily that people crave human warmth, even if they don’t want the hassle of marriage or a long-term relationship. She berates the government for “making it hard for single people to live however they want” and for “whipping up fear about the falling birth rate”. Whipping up fear in people, she says, doesn’t help anyone. And that’s from a woman who knows a bit about whipping.

Notice how this trend is described in the Japanese media. It’s described as “celibacy syndrome”. That is, it’s described as a disease. And yet, the affected, mysteriously enough, seem perfectly happy to have the supposed illness! As the above article highlights, these young people are being heavily pressured into sex by the government, the media, and the sex industry. And yet they’re not conforming. I think it should occur to one that maybe that’s because they know something about their own interests that these opposing elements don’t. Is celibacy a mental disorder…or, for many, a rational response to the patriarchal conditions under which sex takes place that shouldn’t be stigmatized? As you can gather, Japanese women have reached a place where, essentially, they must choose between having a career and having a sex life because it is not realistically possible for them to have both given the particular contours of institutional sexism in that country which require, for example, that married women give up their jobs and stay home. In this context, increasing numbers are choosing career over sex life. Is that irrational? Is that insane? Is that a mental disorder? Or is it a rational response to the conditions they face? It sounds like a rational response to me; one that corresponds to the economic advancment of women, which lies at the core of the more general social advancement of women. The same thing is happening everywhere, but just in slower motion, resulting in part from the alternatives that the Internet does, in fact, provide everyone with, and also amidst women advancing globally, not amidst a hardening of global patriarchy. I don’t think we should judge these youth. If anything, the fact that our species no longer has to fully reproduce another generation in order to survive should be considered a tremendous human accomplishment, and this development may be, in no small part, a reflection not only of patriarchal conditions and their dilution over time, but also of precisely the aforementioned human accomplishment; the fact that not having sex is now an option because not having children is now an option and because technology affords people alternatives to actual sex that satisfy many people sufficiently. I think the resultant drop-off in sex drive, particularly amongst young women both in Japan and around the world, is a healthy, natural form of adaptation to modernity and greater equality. It’s not that sex is a bad thing (I’m by no means committed to celibacy personally), but that its glorification corresponds to oppression (bullying people into having sex and children they don’t want to have) and patriarchy (pushing women out of the workforce who want to be in it so that, instead, they can be made to stay home and do housework and raise children). I’m not going to apologize for being against that stuff anymore.

 

Sex-positivity means that you consider sex a positive, good thing. The implication of that belief is that sexuality should be promoted. Many sex-positive feminists insist that it be promoted in an ostensibly egalitarian way (e.g. that women should ‘own their sexuality’), but sex-positivity and feminism are also separable. So again, the fundamental, defining quality of sex-positivity is the view that sex is a positive, good thing that society should promote.

Sex-negativity means that you consider sex a neutral thing: something that’s neither good nor bad by nature. Unlike sex-positivity, this orientation doesn’t stigmatize those not interested in sex as “prudes” or “boring” or in some other way abnormal and unnatural. Sex-negative feminism instead recognizes that an individual’s lack of interest in sex isn’t a kind of mental illness or freakishness, but often a rational sentiment developed in response to the patriarchal conditions under which sex takes place and gets promoted in society.

The term  ‘sex-negative feminism’ was invented by the rather self-congratulatory sex-positive feminists. It’s appropriation by other feminists is only a recent development in my observation, driven precisely by a desire to get people’s attention. It’s a sensational-sounding term, but it corresponds to politics that are hardly anything but rational. So I too have become a sex-negative feminist.

Should Women Rule the World?

The prospect of a global matriarchy coming into being is actually a lot more possible than you might think. In fact, I would go as far as to predict it. In this connection, if you haven’t read Liza Mundy’s book The Richer Sex, you certainly should. (Here’s a very brief summation of the book’s main point.) She points out that, if current trends continue, women will become the overall main income-earners in America by the year 2030, if not sooner. I would point that once that happens, once women acquire the balance of economic power, it will only be a short matter of time before women also acquire the balance of political power and all other forms of social power and are thus enabled to set the terms of social arrangements writ large going forward (economic power being the root of all other forms of social power). The main thing leading this trend is the difference in the amount of education that men and women are respectively getting. As soon as women were allowed to go to college, they started enrolling in huge numbers, surpassing male enrollment by the start of the 1990s. Men have been slower to do the same. Men remain more tied to this 20th century vision of getting a middle class job right out of high school and using that to support a family. Well here’s how the application of that vision works out in the modern world: These days the guy gets a crappy, working class job right out of high school instead that kinda could use a supplemental source of income, so he uses that income, together with student loans, to put his girl through college (precisely in order that she can ultimately provide that supplemental income), whereupon she graduates and gets a higher-paying job, thus reversing the economic balance of power in the relationship. Since the long-term historical trend is toward universal college enrollment, eventually this imbalance favoring women will probably correct itself, leading back in the direction of balance, but not before we’ve experienced a matriarchal generation or two or three. There is likely to be a whole period of American history beginning around 2040 wherein most doctors, lawyers, scientists, politicians, etc., are women. The next question is whether that likelihood is a good thing or a bad thing.

I actually think it probably would be a good thing to have at least one matriarchal generation, if only as a corrective to historical patriarchy. For example, such a situation may be necessary to finally abolish pay discrimination against women. Why? Well because a situation wherein most men find themselves economically dependent on women is the kind of scenario wherein one can envision the majority of men too joining in the chorus demanding equal pay for women, as it would then be in their objective interests (at least their individual interests) for the women supporting them to get paid at the same rate as the men in their field doing the same amount of work. The increased demand for pay equity would likely translate into corresponding public policies getting passed. I also feel that one or a few generations under female rule would tend to make the world a much more peaceful, civil place to live. One of the genuine differences I feel that men and women do have is that women tend to be somewhat less predisposed to emotional volatility, favoring communication over force as a means of problem-solving. If you look at what the World Economic Forum currently ranks as the world’s most gender-equal country, Iceland, I think you can see a strong concentration of that fact in that Iceland is a country that just so happens to have no army at all. Concurrently, I feel that a global matriarchy would tend toward the abolition of militaries, and also just make for an all-around more civil, stable living experience. Matriarchy would probably witness the general banning of both public and private armaments, a more serious crackdown on domestic violence, the banning of physical punishments, and probably a great deal of social stigma being attached to harsh language in general. You can see some small movement in that general direction already now, even well before a matriarchal situation has been realized, corresponding substantially to women gaining more ground and social influence over time. These are some of what I think the benefits of a matriarchal period would be. The danger though is…what happens if this situation doesn’t eventually self-correct, with men eventually enrolling in college at the same rate as women? What if it demoralizes men to find themselves on a campus that’s more than 70% female? What if that development convinces men that higher education, and its resultant benefits (like access to high-paying jobs) is now a “girl thing”, reversing the old prejudice against women and thus creating a situation wherein men believe it’s just “natural” for them to be the dependent party? That’s the danger and that’s something I wouldn’t support. So while one or a few generations of matriarchy would, I feel, be a healthy corrective for society, a permanent matriarchy would be genuinely oppressive to men, and I think that that would definitely be wrong. You have to believe that women are the superior sex to support that. I don’t think there is a superior sex.

My Five Favorite Video Games of All Time

1) FINAL FANTASY VI

For the sake of clarity, there are four versions of this game available in North America, two of which are titled Final Fantasy III (the Super NES and Wii Virtual Console versions) and two which are titled Final Fantasy VI (the PlayStation and Game Boy Advance versions). The explanation is that, while this is objectively the sixth installment in the Final Fantasy series, it was only the third to make it to this side of the Pacific back in 1994. Most people describe the game as FF VI since it’s objectively the sixth installment of the series. Anyway…

The video review below does such an excellent job of laying out why this game is about as close to perfect as any game could possibly get that I don’t really feel compelled to offer my own alternate explanation on this particular title, with the exception of adding that all Final Fantasy games have a core them and the core theme of this game is love. Not love in a romantic sense, but love in the sense that you don’t have to take life on alone, and that in that fact you can find the meaning to life that you seek. And if you’re unable to find that meaning, you become capable of anything in the worst possible sense. That’s why this was and is such a powerful game to me. Life often feels like a chore to me, and it is a challenge. But this game’s brilliantly told story reminds when I’m down that I don’t have to face that challenge alone. That’s why this game is more meaningful than any other to me. I think it always will be.

If you don’t mind using a keyboard, you can play the Super NES version of this game here, where it’s called Final Fantasy III.

 

2) BEYOND GOOD AND EVIL

This story-driven, science fiction adventure game (now available in HD as a downloadable for the PlayStation 3) is about an investigative journalist’s quest for the truth behind rumors that your government is secretly aiding the forces invading your planet. You government is a military dictatorship that came to power in the wake of the alien invasion by promising to defend your planet. You gradually discover that, in reality, your government is indeed helping the invaders convert your planet’s citizens into their slaves behind the scenes of the war, thus perpetuating the conflict indefinitely so that the dictatorship can remain in place forever. You find and reveal more and more evidence to the masses, thus touching off a revolution. The story is told well and seemed timely when it was released back in 2003. At it’s core, this game is about Nietzsche-esque radical doubt, as its name implies. It also invokes Nietzsche in other ways, including at the end when you confront the main villain and nearly lose control of your soul in the process of fighting him, alluding to Nietzsche’s famous quote: “Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster…for when you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.” A hardcore Nietzsche fanatic I may not be, but I’ve gotta say that this is the best game inspired by Nietzche’s worldview that you’ll ever play. It’s genuinely thought-provoking! And fun!

 

3) OKAMI

And now for the philosophical opposite of Beyond Good and Evil: a game about faith. Specifically the Shinto folk religion of the Japanese people.

The basic premise of this positively gorgeous and well-crafted RPG (the graphical style for which, appropriately, closely resembles that of many traditional Japanese paintings) is this: A descendant of the hero Nagi and self-proclaimed greatest warrior breaks the seal of the demon Orochi because he doesn’t believe in the legend behind it and wants to prove it false. Orochi escapes and curses the lands, sapping the life from every living being. Sakuya, the wood sprite and guardian of Kamiki Village, calls forth Amaterasu, the Shinto sun goddess, known to the villagers as the reincarnation of the white wolf Shiranui who defeated the demon Orochi a century previous, and pleads for her to remove the curse that covers the land. Accompanied by an inch-high artist, Amaterasu (whom you take on the role of) is able to restore the land to its former beauty. Only with the restored faith of the people can Amaterasu summon the strength needed to seal Orochi away again.

This is a game about faith at a time when its rare for people to be open about such topics. It’s about how the abandonment of faith leads to disaster, including the abuse of nature, and what religion needs to do to restore people’s faith: It needs to help people and bring healing. I may not be a religious person, but this game tells its story so elegantly that it makes me want to religious. Therein lies its power.

There are multiple versions of this game, but the PlayStation 3 downloadable version is the one I most recommend, as it’s in HD and allows you the option of either controlling the Celestial Brush with a control stick or with the PlayStation Move motion controls.

 

4) WONDER PROJECT J2: JOSETTE OF THE CORLO FOREST

As explained in the video review below, this game was a Japanese-exclusive Nintendo 64 release, which meant that you had to understand Japanese to get very far in the game. Not to worry though: A English fan translation of the game is now available. You can use an emulator to the English version on your computer, but like the reviewer in the video, I too will recommend using an Ever Drive 64 so you can play the game on your actual N64 system the way it was meant to be played.

This game is part parenting simulation, part story-driven, science fiction adventure. It’s divided into two chapters: You spend the first chapter programming an android named Josette by teaching her a range of life skills in any order and manner you want. In the second chapter, Josette must apply those life skills in a quest against an empire. The second chapter is largely hands-off; Josette plays out the bulk of it herself. If you’ve programmed her well, she’ll perform correctly and win. If not, she’ll mess up, leading to all sorts of comical-but-frustrating situations. The review below does a good job of filling you in on how it all works.

I think a big part of the reason I find this game so addicting is because it’s probably the only sense in which I’ll ever have a child. :(

 

5) ULTIMA: QUEST OF THE AVATAR

Originally released on computers in 1985, this was one of the earliest RPGs to use customized characters and multiple-member parties. But Ultima: Quest of the Avatar differs from most RPGs in a fundamental way: in that the game’s story does not center on asking a player to overcome a tangible ultimate evil. The game’s premise is this: In the newly-reunified land of Britannia, the ruler, Lord British, feels that the people lack a sense of purpose now that their struggles against the triad of evil (from earlier Ultima games) has ended. Concerned about their spiritual well-being in this unfamiliar new age of relative peace, he proclaims the Quest of the Avatar: He needs someone to step forth and become the shining example for others to follow. The object of the game is to become that shining example — that spiritual leader — for the people of Britannia to follow by focusing on the main character’s development in virtuous life. The game follows the protagonist’s struggle to understand and exercise the Eight Virtues. After proving his or her understanding in each of the virtues, locating several artifacts and finally descending into the dungeon called the Stygian Abyss to gain access to the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom, the protagonist becomes an Avatar. Conversely, actions in the game could remove a character’s gained virtues, distancing them from the construction of truth, love, courage, honor, and the greater axiom of infinity, which are all required to complete the game. Though Avatarhood is not exclusive to one chosen person, the hero remains the only known Avatar throughout the later Ultima games, and as time passes the Avatar is increasingly regarded as a myth. (The franchise’s symbolic allusions to real-world mythology are obvious and provide an interesting take on it.)

I think a big part of the reason I like this game so much is because its premise and objective are so unique. To me, it feels defiant to be into a game that revolves around the development of one’s moral character here in the age of Hitman and Grand Theft Auto. :D

If you don’t mind using a keyboard, you can play the NES version of this game here.

Updating Marx’s Scientific Method

This is my fifth article detailing an aspect of my new Marxist theory, which I laid out the basic distinctions of here. This article focuses on the following point that was laid out there:

-Dialectical materialism is a basic scientific method for understanding the world in general, including all fields of human endeavor, but becomes methodologically enhanced when complemented by the mass line, aspects of rational choice theory (the theory that people are rational creatures who tend to choose the most productive and efficient approaches), and game theory (the theory that people tend to avoid the riskier option).

 

What is dialectical materialism, you ask? Dialectics refers to a contradiction-based analysis of the universe and everything in it: the recognition that everything has opposing poles of which it is a synthesis. Let’s take something seemingly subjective to illustrate this point: color. All colors exist relative to two poles: black and white. Black is the absence of color (the negative pole) and white is all colors combined (the positive pole). Therefore the difference between these logical opposites is the quantity of colors involved. The difference between black and white, in other words, can be mathematically measured. Adding colors leads you in the direction of white and eliminating colors leads you in the direction of black. Or let’s take another example: the difference between a solid and a liquid. Consider the difference between water and ice. Water is a liquid while ice is a solid. They are fundamentally different things in that sense. And yet, despite being fundamentally different things, we all know that the one thing can become the other and that the difference between the two things can be measured quantitatively, in temperature degrees. Quantitative change leads to qualitative change. Dialectics is the contention that everything works this way. It’s not a new contention. For example, Daoism is a life philosophy and, for many, religion thousands of years old that has a dialectical view of the universe at its core. Consider the famous yin yang symbol, which illustrates the idea that the universe is composed of complementary opposites and (as per the dot of black in the white space and the dot of white in black space) that everything in life features its opposite. The crucial difference between Daoism and dialectical materialism is…materialism! Daoism ultimately revolves around metaphysics, while Marxists (at least serious ones anyway) confine their worldview to the material, assessing that matter is the fundamental substance in nature, and that all emergent phenomena (including consciousness) are the result of material interactions. This results in a matter-over-mind outlook and orientation rooted in the analyzable universe, as contrasted with Daoism’s individualistic mind-over-matter outlook and orientation rooted in metaphysics. The fundamental difference between the two can be seen this way: the former seeks mainly to change the material world, while the latter seeks mainly to change the subject’s mind about the world (for perception is everything in this latter outlook).

Classical Marxist methodology (again, dialectical materialism) is not scientific in the same way the natural and physical sciences are! Obviously what we are in essence talking about here is social science. Let’s be perfectly clear: according to the English dictionary, science is “the systematic study of the nature and behavior of the material and physical universe based on observation, experiment, and measurement, and the formulation of laws to describe these facts in general terms.” In other words, in order for something to be scientific, the application of reason to the universe (philosophy) is insufficient. Analysis must be at the core. Karl Marx’s theory of history is scientific because it is based on analysis, not because it sounds logical. It is also a recognized paradigm of sociology accordingly. The reason we must describe Marxist methodology as soft science is because there is no agreed-upon methodological framework for the investigation of social phenomena. Rather, there exist a range of different approaches and theoretical frameworks, of which Marxism (of any number of different varieties) is one. In contrast, there are agreed-upon methodological frameworks for the investigation of nature and of the physical universe. What I’m proposing here is that Marxist methodology (dialectical materialism) is 1) above all the best framework for the study of society (i.e. Marx’s contributions to the social sciences are as fundamental as Darwin’s to the field of biology), and 2) a methodology that should not be thought of as a substitute for the existing investigatory frameworks vis-a-vis the physical and natural sciences, but as a complement to them capable of yielding additional revelations. Now vis-a-vis that second point, you for examples of how this can work? Let me illustrate this by reiterating a point I made in another article a few months back:

The subjectivists — both the Marxist ones and the bourgeois liberals — inform us that there’s nothing scientific about classical Marxist methodology. Is this true? I don’t think so at all! Marx’s method may be described as a sort of soft science, but it has very real applicability to the hard sciences and to all fields of human endeavor in fact. The article below provides a series of examples as to how dialectics and materialism are reflected in the physical sciences and as to how they can advance our understanding thereof. It is also the announcement of a project aimed at investigating and showcasing the applicability of materialist dialectics to other fields of human endeavor.

(Original context.)

How dialectical materialism contributes to the understanding of the natural sciences

January 10 2014

In his unfinished work, Dialectics of Nature, Frederick Engels wrote that Hegel, in his laws of dialectics, formulated for the first time in its universally valid form a general law of development of nature, society, and thought. Marx and Engels further demonstrated the power of dialectics by applying it to their analysis of social development. To do so, they had to link Hegel’s dialectics to a materialist basis. The resulting dialectical-materialist methodology was further strengthened by Lenin in his philosophical writings. Ignoring Marx’s statement in a letter to Kugelmann (27 June 1870) that the dialectical method is the method for dealing with matter, Marxist-influenced philosophers not associated with the Communist movement often claim that a philosophical dichotomy exists between a humanist Marx on the one hand, and the coarse and unfeeling Engels and Lenin, on the other, who erroneously sought to impose dialectics on nature. Characteristically, these philosophers sink into one or another form of philosophical idealism even when claiming to be materialists. This denial of the applicability of dialectics to nature has increased since the collapse of the Soviet Union and other socialist countries.

Many reasons make this question important for Marxists. The most important reason is, as Marx wrote in 1844: “The weapon of criticism cannot, of course, replace criticism of the weapon, material force must be overthrown by material force; but theory also becomes a material force as soon as it has gripped the masses.” Lenin, with his concept of a party of the new type, recognized that such a party, guided by a socialist consciousness, was necessary to instill a socialist consciousness in the masses and thus assemble the material force needed to effect a socialist transformation.

To understand this in depth requires an understanding of the relationship between the material conditions of our existence and the way our minds generate an understanding of them. The natural sciences provide a rich source for understanding the basis of this relationship because they make possible the repeated testing necessary to form and confirm our theoretical representation of material reality in the sphere of nature. It is therefore not surprising that as part of the division of labor between Marx and Engels, Engels specialized in part in the natural sciences. Lenin devoted much time to writing and publishing in 1908 his second most extensive major work, Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, because he felt it necessary to counter the idealist philosophy of the Austrian physicist Ernst Mach when Mach’s positivist views began to make inroads in the Russian revolutionary movement.

If one accepts the validity of the dialectical-materialist worldview, it is not surprising  that dialectical materialists can assert that elements of dialectical-materialist thought are reflected in all advances in human knowledge made by natural and social scientists and other great thinkers whether or not they were consciously aware of this dialectical-materialist content.

To illustrate this, I will start with Hegel himself. At the time he published his Vorlesungen über die Naturphilosophie [Lectures on the Philosophy of Nature] in 1817, Kant’s view of the a priori character of space and time was the dominant view. Kant’s a priori notion of space and time included their existence independently of their being matter associated with them. Yet Engels was able to cite Hegel’s understanding of the dialectical unity of space and time with matter, citing (among others) Hegel’s statement that it is “the concept of space itself that creates its existence in matter.” (G. W. F. Hegel, Naturphilosophie. Quoted in F. Engels, Dialectics of Nature, ed. (New York: International Publishers, 1940), 343).

Contemporary physics is able to view the path followed by a ray of light in some situations as the criterion for what is considered to be a straight line. According to Einstein’s general theory of relativity, first enunciated in 1915, the properties of space and time are shaped by the distribution of matter. This was first confirmed in 1919 when the light from the planet Mercury, bent by the gravitational field of the Sun, became visible from the Earth before the planet had emerged from passing behind the Sun. The contradictory notion of the curvature of straight-line motion was also thereby confirmed.

In 1961, I attended a lecture at the University of Warsaw by Jerzy Plebański, a protégé of the well-known Polish theoretical physicist specialist on relativity theory, Leopold Infeld. At that time, only one of the dozen professors of physics at the University of Warsaw was a member of the Polish United Workers Party. In his talk, Plebański stated that Einstein never relied on results of experimental physics in his formulation of general relativity theory, that Einstein arrived at the theory through aesthetic principles in mathematical physics, unrelated in any way to results of experimental physics. During the discussion period that followed the talk, I rose to point out that the Polish mathematicians, Karol Borsuk and Wanda Szmielew, in their book, Podstaw Geometry [Fundamentals of Geometry], published in 1955, stated that the question of whether Euclidean or the non-Euclidean Lobachesky/Bolyai geometry better describes physical space can be settled, if at all, only by way of experiment. I had been familiar with this point made by Borsuk and Szmielew, because I had discussed it with Professor Borsuk while doing the translation of the book for publication in English in 1960. Plebański’s philosophical prejudices were clearly evident in his reply: “Professor Borsuk is a Party member.” I then stated that Borsuk had told me that this was the view expressed by the famous German mathematician Bernhard Riemann in his habilitation lecture in 1854 and asked, “Was Riemann also a Party member?”

A striking example of dialectical thought in mathematics is given by the German mathematician Richard Dedekind in what has become known as the Dedekind cut. The concept of continuity in mathematics and mathematical physics is important for determining whether the range of values that can be assigned to a property constitutes a continuous set of values. I will give a simplified description of Dedekind’s reasoning. Divide all numbers into two sets, set A being all numbers less than any given number, say the number two, and set B consisting of the number two and all numbers greater than two. Dedekind’s criterion for the undivided set’s being continuous is that in set A there is no highest number. It is clear that if you mention any number less than two with as many decimal places as you wish, there are numbers with more decimal places greater than that. Hence to establish continuity, Dedekind introduced its opposite, a discontinuity.

I have never seen a university textbook in general physics in the United States that states qualitatively what is meant by energy. The textbooks invariably show only how to calculate the various forms of energy and demonstrate quantitatively the Law of Conservation of Energy. Some years ago, in examining a doctoral candidate during his qualifying examination, I asked him to discuss the concept of energy without reference to any mathematical formulas or specific forms of energy. My two colleagues on the examining committee immediately objected. We had to ask the student to leave the examining room while I established the legitimacy of the question, pointing out that my students in first-year physics could provide the answer.

I had asked the question because Engels, in his Dialectics of Nature, criticized Helmholtz for failing to recognize the deeper import of his 1849 Law of Conservation of Energy, namely “that any form of motion, under conditions fixed for each case, is both able and compelled to undergo transformation directly into any other form of motion.” In 1966, Engels’s view of the law of conservation of energy as a law of transformation reappeared in a book Six Lectures on Modern Natural Philosophy, by Clifford A. Truesdale, in which the author, clearly not an adherent of dialectical materialism, himself grasped the dialectical character of the concept of energy by stating, “Energy is the measure of the capacity of a system to undergo change.” All that is needed to impart a materialist content to this formulation is to add a phrase at the end of it so that it would read: “Energy is the measure of a system to undergo change from one form and motion of matter to another.”

Despite his reputation as a mechanist, Isaac Newton was very dialectical in arriving at the laws of motion as he presented them in Latin in his major work, Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, often referred to by the Latin word in its title, Principia.

One U.S. physics textbook, Physics by Paul A Tipler (1976), using the logical positivist concept of operational definitions in its discussion of Newton’s First Law of Motion, states that “the significance of the first law, or law of inertia, is that it defines, by an operational means, what we mean by saying there is no net or resultant force acting upon an object.” In an article entitled “Philosophy of Physics in General Physics Courses” published in the American Journal of Physics in 1978, I pointed out that there is no place accessible to us where there is a complete absence of forces acting on a body, so that the condition of uniform velocity predicted by Newton’s first law cannot, in fact, be tested operationally. More importantly, I pointed out that there was a problem with the way Newton’s law of inertia was usually translated.

Until recently, what was usually cited by U.S. and British scholars as the standard translation into English of Newton’s first law of motion-the law of inertia-was the inaccurate so-called Mott-Cajori translation of the Principia published in 1934 by the University of California Press:

“Every body continues in its state of rest, or of uniform motion in a right line, unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed upon it.

With the term unless in the English translation and solange in the German, the law states that the body either goes in a straight line or, because of an impressed force, its motion deviates from a straight line. But if one looks at Newton’s earlier attempts to formulate the law of inertia throughout the twenty-year period prior to its publication, one finds that he usually used the word cause instead of the word force. At that time, force was considered an intensity; it had not yet been quantified. In his first law, Newton was attempting to express a causality principle that, in its final form, expressed his conclusion that there is a determinable quantitative relationship between the cause and the change, thereby projecting the existence of a law-governed relationship of changes of motion of material bodies. Newton’s second and third laws of motion elaborate this law-governedness quantitatively and qualitatively. Law-governedness in the material worlds of society and nature is what Marx revealed in his economic studies and what Engels stressed in his writings on nature. The fact that Newton, twenty years earlier had already written down in English what seemed to be equivalent to the first law, including the word unless, and waited twenty years before publishing it, prompted me to look at Newton’s Latin text of the first law, saying to myself, “if only he had said “except insofar as,” then he would have had a law-governed causality statement. I found that instead of only the word unless (or nisi in Latin), he had indeed used the phrase nisi quatenus, the term quatenus being a quantitative modifier. Therefore, the law should have been translated

“Every body continues in its state of rest, or of uniform motion in a right line, except insofar as it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed upon it.

I made this point in passing in my 1978 article, but repeated it in a separate article on the subject, “A Plea for a Correct Translation of Newton’s Law of Inertia,” published in the American Journal of Physics in 1990. A new translation of the Principia by I. B. Cohen and A. Whitman published by the University of California Press, Berkeley, in 1999 that has now become the current authoritative translation now contains the phrase “except insofar as.” Many recent U.S. physics textbooks are using this correct translation of the law.

The manner in which Newton arrived at his law of inertia is profoundly dialectical. In his Definition III, in the section entitled “Definitions,” he describes how a body’s inertia manifests itself when an attempt is made to change its state of motion:

The vis insita or innate force of matter is a power of resisting, by which every body, as much as in it lies, continues in its present state, whether it be at rest or of moving uniformly forwards in a right line.

The phrase  ”as much as it lies” for the first time established the quantitative and qualitative interconnection for the physical property force as a distinctive fundamental category of physics by relating the magnitude of the inertial force to the mass of the body. In the explanation of the law he states: “This force is always proportional to the body whose force it is.”

His Definition IV states

An impressed force is an action exerted upon a body, in order to change its state, either of rest, or of uniform motion in a right line.

His commentary on this definition includes the following:

This force consists in the action only, and remains no longer in the body when the action is over.

In this brilliant example of the dialectical relationship of phenomena and essence, Newton asserts that the innate force, that is, the force of inertia, is the phenomenal manifestation of the mass of the body in response to an impressed force. The impressed force, which vanishes when its action is over, exists only in relation to the resistance of the body to a change in motion-that is, its existence is conditioned by the existence of the innate force. Innate and impressed forces are therefore two distinct (i.e., mutually excluding) mutually conditioned forces.

Newton could not complete the quantification of the force until he embraced all of these concepts in the three laws of motion.

I hope these few examples of the dialectical-materialist content of some of the conceptual foundations of physics will encourage others to look at the dialectical-materialist content of the conceptual foundations of other areas of scholarly investigation, in the natural, biological, and social sciences. The Marx-Engels Center being opened here tonight can play a vital role for stimulating such a project, which would underline the continuing relevance of the contributions of Marx and Engels to our understanding of nature, society, and thought. 

Erwin Marquit is Professor Emeritus at the University of Minnesota. This article was presented at the opening ceremony of the Marx-Engels Center in Berlin on October 5, 2012. The author was an invited speaker.

 

I point this out to highlight how Marx’s proposed scientific method, while softer (if you will) than those of the natural sciences, can lead to the attainment of insights sooner than they can be shown by the formal scientific methods. It was the application of this methodology, to highlight another example, that led Engels to the realization that primitive human beings first lived in trees, not caves, well before the scientific community proper was able to decipher as much. Is that not a crucial measure of a science? It’s explanatory power?

Marxism though isn’t not trying to get ahead without keeping up: Unlike so many of their would-be followers today, Marx and Engels were not closed-minded toward new discoveries in the natural sciences. In fact, they were early adopters! Marx and Engels were much quicker than the scientific community proper to adopt Darwin’s theory of natural selection explaining evolution, for example. The scientific community proper failed to appreciate Darwin’s concept of natural selection until they “rediscovered” Mendel’s laws of genetic inheritance in the early 20th century. Marx and Engels, by contrast, did not require the “rediscovery” of Mendel’s work to appreciate Darwin’s discovery. Now did materialist dialectics lead to Darwin’s discovery? No. Did Marx and Engels discover natural selection? Again, no. Yet they accepted it, and early on. This goes to show how much Marx and Engels valued open-mindedness about science! That’s the kind of attitude we should have toward it as well. We shouldn’t wall ourselves off from new scientific discoveries and even from whole new fields of scientific investigation! I have to say that because far too many of the more orthodox Marxists do indeed wall themselves off from new scientific discoveries to one or another degree, for example perhaps by rejecting cognitive science as a whole because it’s newer than Karl Marx’s theory of history. Walling ourselves off from new scientific discoveries is at once a symptom of and a path to religiosity, which is very much in contrast to the scientific and critical foundations of Marxist thought. Science is continually developing. Therefore Marxism must continually develop as well if it is to remain scientific as per the spirit of its founding. But what newer developments (as in newer than classical materialist dialectics) should Marxists appreciated in the area of investigatory methodology, you ask? What amendments to classical Marxist methodology, if any, might enhance our ability to understand the world and predict its patterns of behavior? I have some suggestions.

Update 1: The Mass Line

I briefly laid out the historical origins of the mass line in an earlier article entitled Redefining the Proletariat, but for our purposes here, I think it appropriate to expand a bit on the concept. The mass line is a dialectical fusion of Lenin’s vanguardism on the one hand and populism (as in to say a majoritarian orientation) on the other. It seeks to combine objective, academic analysis and Marxist leadership with a large dose of the experiential, subjective factor: the experiences and perspectives of the masses. It combines leading the masses with being led by the masses in a dialectical (that is, a back-and-forth) way. The idea is that you gather the views of the masses, learn from them, and fight for what they’re willing to fight for at every step in conjunction with bringing them our Marxian perspective on things in order to win them over to the goal of communism. Humble leadership might be a good way of summing all this up. Revolution as a mass action, not the act of an “enlightened” minority.

Today, gathering the views of the masses is easier to do than it was in Mao’s day, when he devised this concept. Today the feat can be accomplished largely through academic means, as polls are taken on just about every subject imaginable in the modern world. We no longer have to expend the same amount of effort consulting the masses directly when we can get a snapshot of the majority’s views so quickly now. Anyway, that small point aside, yes the mass line remains applicable today! How do I reconcile that with my stated view that there exist proletarian nations and bourgeois nations in today’s world, you ask? By recognizing the proletarian-aligned masses as a global unit instead of a national unit. In other words, it is not a task of First World communist to accede to the opinions of a bourgeois national majority, but rather to consult the opinions of the global proletarian majority and pursue their demands in conjunction with the goal of shifting the dialogue toward the realization of communism.

Incidentally, this consideration of the subjective factor applies to class analysis as well. This method was crucial to how I arrived at my current view of the class composition of the United States, for example. (See my articles entitled America’s Future and the End of Bourgeois Nations and What is Plutocratic Republicanism? for my take on America’s current class composition and some examples of how I arrived at it. Hint: survey data was a major factor.) This is where many other class analyses fall short: they fail to consider the subjective factor: how people view themselves. What class do people feel they belong to? That’s the most important factor when it comes to understanding a nation’s class composition because how people see themselves informs what their ideological class alignment will tend to be in the real world. Those who see themselves as poor and working class will tend to align with the interests of the proletariat. Those who see themselves as middle class and rich will tend to align with the interests of the ruling class.

Update 2: Rational Choice Theory

Moving away from sub-schools of Leninism, I also think that rational choice theory offers valuable insight into the particulars of why economic systems are replaced over time. I was first introduced to the idea when I read G. A. Cohen’s book Karl Marx’s Theory of History: A Defence (circa 1978). Most of the book is spent explaining Marx’s theory of history in which the economic relations of production are functionally explained by the material forces of production, and in which the functions of political and legal institutions (the superstructure of society) are explained by the relations of production (the base). The transition from one mode of production (economic system) to another is driven by the tendency of the productive forces to develop. This, of course, is Marx’s theory of history. But here’s where it gets interesting: Cohen accounts for this tendency by reference to the rational character of the human species. He argues that where there is the opportunity to adopt a more productive technology and thus reduce the burden of labor, human beings will tend to take it. Thus human history can be understood as a series of rational steps that increase human productive power. And out of this text a fifth school of Marxism was born: analytical Marxism. (The other four being classical Marxism, orthodox Marxism, Leninist Marxism, and critical theory. Everything else is at least essentially a sub-school of one or another of these five main branches of thought.) Marx shows that the productive forces tend to develop (leading first to social and then to political revolutions). Cohen shows why they tend to develop!

You may be thinking: that’s all fine and well, but how does this matter in the practical? This isn’t just useless knowledge, but an important theoretical framework to be operating from! For example, this perspective of human rationality, understood as people tending to seek efficiency (that is, better results for less work), helps us understand why the communist project failed in the 20th century: it was defeated by capitalism because it was less productive system. We know this. It can be shown objectively. It’s a fact that leaves the Marxist of today dependent on contending that productive efficiency is a bad thing; that people shouldn’t desire further reductions in the burden of labor (yes I’ve seen these arguments for myself, and they’re often made in an official capacity representing the views of whole communist organizations)…unless we recognize the fact that that’s a losing argument! From there, we can decipher the fact that the 20th century’s model of communist (state socialism) is historically outmoded; that while it was useful and necessary to defeat feudalism (as Lenin theorized), it was structurally unable to outperform capitalism, so the global masses chose capitalism once finally given that choice. They are still choosing capitalism too. Look at Cuba and North Korea today. The tourism zones are the most popular, attractive places to work there! Why? They pay better than the state sector! The workers, seeking above all to improve their living standards, gravitate hence in that direction. That’s the principal source of economic growth for Cuba and for what there is of economic activity in the more isolated North Korea. The masses don’t see communism as desirable in and of itself. They see it as desirable in as far as it improves their overall standard of living. Being dependent upon the masses to realize a communist future, we should thus see communism the way the masses do: not as an end unto itself, but as a means to another end: the end of improving the general standard of living. Once we accept that premise, we can see the need to unearth a new form and variety of communism in this 21st century; one that actually corresponds to the world-historic outmoding of capitalism.

By failing to understand why the productive forces tend to develop, the communist of today has abandoned Marxian technological determinism, writing it off as “economism” and “triumphalism”. In its place, the communist of today has been forced to adopt a subjectivist rationale for being a communist: it’s morally right. Sounds pretty scientific, doesn’t it? Deng Xiaoping once used the pragmatist slogan “It doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white so long as it catches mice” to argue for compromising the integrity of China’s socialist economic system in order to restore economic growth amidst the catastrophe that was the Great Leap Forward, to which the Chinese Maoists responded with the moralist contention that “a socialist train coming with a delay is better than the capitalist one that comes on time.” Rational choice theory explains why Deng’s path ultimately won out. Communism will replace capitalism in the end, but not in its inefficient 20th century form. Rational choice theory clarifies that the global masses are not moralists, but pragmatists and thus explains why we must aim for the communism Marx spoke of: a communism not of mediocrity, but of abundance! To that end, we must not rely on the 20th century’s model of communism, but rather look to the technological roots of social and political revolutions for the discovery of a new kind of communism; one that will ultimately be capable of replacing capitalism by virtue of its superior productive efficiency. I have argued as to what that emerging communist system of the future will look like and the shape it will take in the real world. The communist movement needs to get on board with this re-envisioning of communism, I believe.

Update 3: Game Theory

Game theory is the study of mathematical models of conflict and cooperation between intelligent, rational decision-makers. In that sense, it presupposes the validity of rational choice theory: the theory are essentially rational decision-makers. Game theory first addressed zero-sum games, such that one person’s gains exactly equal net losses of the other participant or participants (hence the title “game theory”). Today, however, game theory is applied to a wide range of behavioral relations, and has developed into an umbrella term for the logical side of decision science, including both humans and non-humans (e.g. computers). A very basic summation of it is this: that people tend to choose the less risky option.

To illustrate how this works, most every detail of the Hunger Games trilogy provides an interpretation of how this works, at least in the fictional setting of the novels. The “Games” component of the title isn’t just a reference to the “circuses” in the ancient Roman’s “bread and circuses” formula of how to appease imperial populations and keep the broader masses in line, but also a reference to game theory, which is present throughout the novels. The Hunger Games trilogy uses game theory almost constantly to illustrate the process by which masses of people become revolutionized and the means by which oppressors seek to prevent the seeds of rebellion from sprouting. From the perspective of oppressors, for example, too much hope emboldens the masses while the absence of any hope enrages them. A very fragile balance is thus required to maintain a system of exploitation. The poor, meanwhile, are greatly resentful of their oppressors deep down, but being essentially pragmatists like their oppressors, tend to take the less risky route of simply pursuing their own survival under normal circumstances, lest there be dire consequences not just for them as individuals, but for their loved ones and communities. But when a particular act compels the empire to make a concession, the perception of consequences for defiance changes in a way that emboldens the oppressed, thus yielding the necessity of the empire getting tougher with them until eventually open warfare is arrived at. The point is that both sides, and individuals within both camps as well, are continuously playing mind games with each other to advance their interests either as individuals or as a class. Deception is employed routinely by both of the two main sides, for example, showing that simple moralism is not at the root of the way people think, but rather that strategy is front and center in reality. I highlight the Hunger Games trilogy only to provide the reader with a visual as to how the world works according to game theory.

Game theory is commonly accepted today in the fields of economics, biology, psychology, logic, and political science, among other scientific fields. I think it’s high time that communists accepted it as well, for doing so will provide us greater insight into the particulars of how masses of people can be revolutionized and under what kinds of circumstances. The strategizing nature of people, for example, explains why empires invariably succeed in buying off their local populations when they offer them bribes: not only because it yields superior material outcomes for the imperial population, but also because it represents the less risky route to the satisfaction of their needs and wants. It also explains why the genuinely poor and exploited are just as unlikely to be revolutionary under normal circumstances: because of the risk involved in making revolution. Rational choice theory explains why the oppressed masses of the world may not pursue communist revolution under present circumstances. Game theory explains why special circumstances are required for them to pursue revolution at all. And, by breaking down many particulars of how constant social conflict works, it also provides additional insight as to what constitutes a revolutionary situation and how one may be arrived at.

Where I’m Coming From In Brief

This is just an extremely brief summation of my worldview as a whole for the and convenient reference of anyone interested.

Politically and philosophically speaking, I count myself a Marxist of an original flavor these days. (I once counted myself a Maoist, but those days have been over for a while now.) I’ve taken to referring to my own branch of thinking as tech communism, the essence of which is the view that says communism is not yet on the historical agenda, but is in the process of arriving on it. Specifically, it is the view that the fully developed communism Marx spoke of corresponds to the information revolution rather than to the industrial revolution (as Marx believed) and that said future communism will be more essentially reproductive than redistributive in nature (in contrast to both primitive communism and 20th century communism (state socialism)). Another distinguishing feature of my view lies in class analysis: I consider the proletariat and bourgeoisie respectively to be more accurately and essentially defined by wealth levels than by their position relative to the workplace. (In other words, the world is more fundamentally divided between rich and poor than between capitalist and worker, I believe.) Methodologically speaking, I consider myself an adherent to a form of Marxian dialectical materialism amended to add in Mao’s mass line concept as well as components of rational choice theory and game theory. In terms of social values (cultural issues), one might describe me as basically liberal, but I think that term can sometimes mask my real orientation, which revolves around the realization of both social and economic equality. The two things don’t always mesh, I find. In terms of the real world, I consider Venezuela the most advanced and important ongoing experiment in movement toward socialism today, though I doubt what they’re doing can really succeed in the end.

One of the most distinguishing things about my own outlook is that I believe in the concept of enlightenment: self-realization in the truest sense: the realization that the self is not individual, but the universe itself. How is this compatible with Marxism, you ask? I feel that the two things are shown compatible so long as we understand that enlightenment itself is a collective process, not essentially an individual process (as various religions contend): human beings, and other species, become more enlightened the more their brains develop. (For example, orcas, who have a more advanced capacity for empathy because they have a brain section that we don’t, are more enlightened than human beings in that they regard the community as the self.) Brain development, in turn, is subject to the material conditions that are experienced. Thus matter rules mind rather than the other way around, the way I see it. So that’s how I reconcile Marxist materialism on the one hand and a belief in the concept of enlightenment on the other.

Redistributive vs. Reproductive Communism

There has evidently been some confusion concerning what I mean when I contrast 20th century communism (state socialism) with the new kind of communism that’s emerging in this 21st century (communitarian socialism), so maybe an example is in order to illustrate the fundamental difference:

Do you remember Napster? I’m sure you do. They were the people who pioneered peer-to-peer file sharing. The service they famously provided to subscribers between 1999 and 2001 mainly vis-a-vis music was an example of communism, as in to say the free sharing of property via common pool of resources. However, it was not history’s traditional, redistributive communism. Instead it introduced the world to a new kind of communism: reproductive communism. I think we can illustrate the difference by pointing to some other examples of the common pool approach. Consider, for example, libraries and rental services. Since all products therein are used, they can be offered for use either cheaply or for free. However, one must eventually return the product to the pool because the resources of a physical library or rental outfit are finite. It is entirely possible for a library or rental place to be out of a certain item at any given point. Napster, by contrast, never had shortages. Why not? Because rather than relying on the redistributive model of sharing wherein people sacrifice personal possession of property to the common pool for the benefit of all, Napster’s high-tech approach to the common pool was instead based on uploading a copy of the original material to the pool, whereupon subscribers were free to copy that copy at will. It was a different approach to sharing that didn’t involve sacrifice on the part of the sharer! Thus, naturally, it became very popular very quickly.

The Napster approach to the free sharing of resources promoted artistic experimentation, creating the free publicity that drove the commercial successes of such previously less popular and less-known artists as Radiohead and Dispatch, at the expense of the music industry overall and of established artists like Metallica and Meat Loaf in particular. We thus see how innovation and experimentation became antithetical to the market economy in that context, as communism was proving superior at promoting the new. The music industry, with the support of the established musicians, used the power of the courts — the power of the state, in other words — to shut Napster down on the grounds that the free sharing of music files violated copyright laws, i.e. the concept of intellectual property: the notion that one’s ideas are private property. We see, in other words, how a technological revolution had created a social revolution that ultimately ran into fundamental conflict with the powers that were (and are) that could be resolved only with the use of political force. The inevitability of a different final resolve though is spoken to by the fact the, following the shuttering of Napster (which later revived in a more commercial form), other comparable services emerged online to take its place, with the difference that many of them (the ones that have survived) strategically adapted to copyright laws by working around them, adopting a decentralized structure that renders it nigh impossible to prosecute the central institution. Today, through these venues, countless people all around the world routinely acquire free music, movies, TV shows, and all manner of other media, and meanwhile the music industry continues to lose more money every year in spite of its attempts to crack down. The communist approach — this communist approach — is winning out vis-a-vis media in general for a reason. It is winning out because it is the better approach. It affords each individual the opportunity to possess an unlimited quantity of pretty much whatever media they want at will. There are no shortages because a reproductive, rather than a redistributive, model is applied, and there is no cost to the individual (beyond perhaps any cost that may be associated with subscription) because the unlimited nature of the quantity in a reproductive model eliminates all exchange value. In short, the high-tech, peer-to-peer file sharing approach eliminates the core historical problems of redistributive communism: shortages and a lack of innovation, both of which are traceable to the necessity of sacrifice. By eliminating the sacrifice component, the main problems with communism are eliminated, thus pretty much leaving only benefits. Benefits that render capitalist notions of private property and profit outmoded. In the future, people will produce social value (use value) instead of market value (exchange value).

But, you say, that’s only media. It’s only communications. What of other goods and services? How can we copy, for example, industrial machinery or energy in a similar fashion, you ask? Believe it or not, we are actually getting there! There is now not only a Communications Internet (the one we often simply refer to as “the Internet”) in existence to serve as the world’s common pool for media and other communications, but also an Energy Internet and a Logistics Internet that are starting to serve as a comparable common pools for those other things. And these different Internets are slowly merging into one. Think of the implications for the future! And think of what else we will surely, at some point, find a way of reproducing in unlimited quantities! What we’re talking about here is the emergence of a global common pool of resources resulting directly from the information revolution. This is why I suggest that Marx’s biggest mistake was not forecasting the inevitability of communism, but rather believing that it we be a product of the industrial revolution. The fully developed communism Marx envisioned, characterized by universal abundance, is indeed going to become a reality, and is already in a slow process of becoming one right now. That process, however, did not begin with the industrial revolution, but with the information revolution, which Marx could not have foreseen. That is the key error in Marx’s work, not something else related to human nature or whatever.

What is Plutocratic Republicanism?

This is my fourth article detailing an aspect of my new Marxist theory, which I laid out the basic distinctions of here. This article focuses on the following point that was laid out there:

-The dominant political system in the world today is plutocratic republicanism; a particular form of bourgeois democracy. It is a form in which the masses can more or less genuinely choose who wins an election, but in which election outcomes barely matter because the capitalist class commands the levers of everyday political power.

 

The (serious) Marxist has always maintained that political democracy under capitalism is insurmountably biased in favor of the bourgeoisie. Marx viewed it this way: in his words, “The oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to represent and repress them.” Marx christened this situation a “dictatorship of the bourgeoisie”, posing the alternative of establishing a “dictatorship of the proletariat”. You see, as far as Marx was concerned, liberal democracy was a myth. In reality, political power was always dominated by one or another class. It therefore became simply a matter of which class reigned supreme to the exclusion of the others. To many liberals, this may seem as but a cynical view rather than a reflection of truth. Marx here, however, concentrates a very typical proletarian perspective. Marx, after all, was poor and unemployed for most of his life. He belonged to this strata of the population and accordingly his views were often reflective of those that members of such a class develop spontaneously. These views get developed because poorer people FEEL disenfranchised, which is why they are, in any country, the least likely to vote and also why financial penalties for not voting have proven the most effective way to drive up election turnout. The big question is WHY poorer sections of the population so consistently feel disenfranchised under what on paper are democratic conditions. After all, don’t they have as much right to vote as anyone? Isn’t political power thus rendered class-neutral? Sure, in the olden days when there property qualifications for voting and holding public office, you could characterize that situation as a rich man’s dictatorship, but how can one honestly argue that the present democratic arrangements we see here in America and throughout most of today’s world, which afford universal suffrage and so forth, simply constitute another form of aristocratic rule?

A recent scientific study examining 30 years of opinions surveys and policy decisions — the first of its kind — has definitively answered the above questions by showing that, in reality, the amount of political power you have (i.e. the extent to which you can influence the policy decision-making process) can be measured in terms of the amount of time politicians wind up having to spend with you and that the amount of time they are compelled to spend with you, in turn, is determined by how much money you have. The ballot box is but one venue of access to politicians. In that sense, voting makes a difference in terms of your ability to influence policy decisions, but not much of one. Far more effective are the everyday things that influence policy decision-making like lobbying and organized campaign fundraising: things that involve giving politicians money. Money that is not evenly distributed across society and thus to which a few people have wildly disproportionate access to. You can now begin to see how this is, in fact, a dollar democracy. In the words of the aforementioned study, even the average, middle class American has a “minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy,” and poorer Americans have even less because they’re the least likely to bother voting. “When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose”, the researchers what’s more find. But then if the super-rich really do one-sidedly drive public policy, why then doesn’t the average middle class American feel as disenfranchised as poor and working class people do? Why doesn’t the whole 98% feel alienated enough to see no point in voting? This question and many others that naturally spring to mind at this point were recently the subject of an excellent series of New York Times opinion columns responding to this new study’s findings, all of which I will strongly recommend reading before continuing with this post. Here they are:

Political Inequality Worsens Economic Inequality, by Ruy Teixeira

There Are Really Few Disagreements Between Classes, by Scott Winship

Organize to Re-Democratize the Nation, by Theda Skopcol

Don’t Underestimate the Power of Public Opinion, by James Stimson

Oligarchs Rule Because People Let Them, by Jelani Cobb

The answer to that earlier question as to why the average middle class American still feels enfranchised despite the fact that objectively they’re not is highlighted in Scott Winship’s article. He points out that the study finds “policy preferences are widely shared between middle-class and upper-income Americans. The correlation between the two across nearly 1,800 polling questions is 0.78; it would be 1.00 if the two groups had the same preferences and 0.00 if their preferences were completely unrelated to each other. (It would be negative if middle class and rich preferences were opposed.)” In other words, rich people and middle class people agree on public policy ideas 89% of the time: a fact which conclusively proves that middle class strata tend to naturally align with the ruling class overall and therefore should be considered class enemies of the proletariat. But does the proletariat itself have a different set of class interests? Yes! That’s why more and more people are developing skeptical attitudes about the existing political system. Why do more and more people feel that the system is rigged? Answer: because more and more Americans are falling out of the middle class and thus developing the value system of the unpropertied strata, which is far more antithetical to those of the rich!

How do we, those who seek the emancipation of the proletariat, overcome this? Theda Skopcol’s article presents us with the answer of revisiting reformism: organize in a way that’s independent of the wealthy. She proposes that the masses establish “dues-paying citizen associations to provide votes and predictable funding to carefully vetted politicians and officeholders – who would, in turn, be expected to spend time talking with ordinary constituents and their representatives.” That’s pretty much analogous to the idea of unionization save that it’s more populist than workerist. Spiritually this is analogous to 20th century reformism, in other words. That kind of simple reformism worked in a sense, but 1) only for a time (and a time that is now past for reasons I laid out in my recent article America’s Future and the End of Bourgeois Nations), and 2) it was something that was done in response to the threat of communism in the first place (as I also pointed out in that same article), not independently of communism’s existence. What’s more, the unfavorable balance of class forces in the bourgeois nations in general, including America, also ensures the existence of only limited demand for progressive reformism, as most of the population’s interests line up with those of the ruling class (as pointed out in the previous paragraph). The capitalist class will solve the latter issue for us in probably a decade or two with a national bankruptcy crisis that will re-proletarianize the bulk of Americans. Demand for populist action against the ruling class will therefore increase as this century goes on. But since that we know that reformism by itself obviously isn’t adequate to liberate the proletariat or “re-”democratize the system (as if it was ever principally democratic!), what then is the actual solution? After all, it’s not as if 20th century communism fared any better than the reformist movement in the end! Granted that we know the reason it failed to defeat capitalism was because it was a kind of socialism (state socialism) that was unable to do so; because the advent of such a socialism was historically premature as yet and that that will certainly change well within this century.

In conclusion, it’s not as if our election results aren’t basically authentic or anything. It’s not like what some people on the left suggest: that corporations can really just buy every election or elections generally and thus very directly control all election outcomes. They can’t. The last presidential election here in the United States exemplifies this fact. After all, it was Romney who enjoyed the backing of most of corporate America (by which I mean, according to a survey on the subject conducted shortly before election day, two out of every three American business owners), yet he lost. How? He lost because, while laws restricting campaign contributions have been greatly weakened in recent years to the obvious benefit of the wealthy, unlimited corporate contributions can still be largely countered by the modern-day phenomenon of crowdfunding. Relying mainly on crowdfunding, team Obama was able to muster a sufficient war chest to compete with Romney’s corporately-financed one. Even though Romney still marginally won the money game, Obama’s campaign funding was still close enough to Romney’s level that he was able to get his message out in an adequately competitive way that enabled him to win. It goes to show that, yes, our election outcomes are basically authentic even now. But here’s the key: it doesn’t really matter very much because actual policy decisions are overwhelmingly determined outside the electoral arena. That’s what this new study shows us. The result is a bourgeois dictatorship, but of a particular kind. It’s not a dictatorship of ALL property owners (as in the olden days), but specifically of the very wealthy, i.e. specifically a plutocracy (rule of the rich). However, it doesn’t feel like one to most people in this country as yet because the interests of middle class people overwhelmingly line up with those of the super-rich! But with re-proletarianization (which, again, is inevitable), that feeling will start to fundamentally change with people’s changing class interests. Eventually, in probably a decade or two, following a wholly foreseeable and structurally inescapable bankruptcy crisis, most Americans will come to belong to the ranks of the poor and working classes. That change in their class interests will expose the already-existing plutocracy for what it is because, as a result, America will no longer feel like a democracy anymore to most Americans. Policy will become fundamentally divorced from public opinion. Thus American democracy will no longer feel authentic and large numbers of Americans will want a radically different kind of political system. In my earlier entry entitled America’s Future and the End of Bourgeois Nations (which I linked to earlier in this article), I laid out a basic sketch of what the emergence of such an alternative politics might look like in the future.

America’s Future and the End of Bourgeois Nations

This is my third article detailing an aspect of my new Marxist theory, which I laid out the basic distinctions of here. This article focuses on the following point that was laid out there:

-The 20th century witnessed the emergence of bourgeois nations (empires wherein most of the population consisted of property owners). These have no future. The bourgeois status of these nations is being gradually phased out by the capitalist class.

 

Let me start this off by saying that America will be a very different place in another 40 years. If current trends continue, then in another 40 years, America will be…

–> an essentially matriarchal society (i.e. basically run by women),

–> majority-minority (i.e. lacking a majority race),

–> probably bankrupt due to a very real structural debt problem we’ve had since the ascendancy of finance in the 1970s and ’80s,

–> economically dominated by non-profits.

That’s the America of the future, like it or not. The American progressives (like yours truly for example) is tasked with adapting themselves to these realities sooner rather than later.

Okay, with that big picture of America’s future in mind, I want to get into why the current bourgeois status of the bourgeois nations in general and America in particular is structurally unsustainable:

All one must do is look to how things were for the average American before the existing social safety net and collection of moderating business regulations existed to see essentially how they’d still be (at best) if we had never created one. Before the New Deal, things really were tending to follow the basic direction that Marx predicted, with recessions (and most of them were full-blown depressions back then) tending to get successively worse and more extreme over time in successive installments. The Great Depression was the worst of these, and the last before major economic reforms were implemented. Unlike in previous crises, the Great Depression (1929-33) only seemed to get worse and worse over time, with no end in sight. Capitalism seemed to be in a self-perpetuating structural downward spiral. The Communist International went as far as to predict that this crisis would mark the end of the capitalist system, with the world either subsequently adopting communism or reverting back to more primitive forms of social organization. (“Communism or Barbarism!” was their formulation during the Depression years.) Indeed much of their forecast proved correct: fascism did arise to support the continuation of capitalism in Europe and it did indeed, as the Comintern predicted, yield a Second World War that was worse than the first. What the communists of the day underestimated was the potential for capitalism to moderate itself when under such distress and with growth potential yet remaining. But the larger point here is that it was only by way of its mitigation that capitalism survived that crisis. And, to a substantial degree I’ll add, it didn’t. Many countries went communist during and after the Second World War. All of Europe probably would have too if not for the Marshall Plan. The whole point of the Marshall Plan was indeed to eliminate that likelihood because post-war Europe was a disaster zone rife with a growing and increasingly radical discontent. My point here is that if the capitalist class had not learned to be more temperate and generous than their natural instincts would allow, they would not have survived as a class. They survived only by bribing their way out of disaster, and as much was only possible due to a certain gargantuan American victory in the Second World War that left it with no war damage, much unlike most everyone else.

During the First Cold War, this regime was, in many ways, sustained for ideological purposes, given the growing global influence of communism and communist ideas. Eventually though, as Doug Henwood recently pointed out in an opinion piece for the New York Times, this regime became intolerable for the capitalist class, which was starting to grow less and less profitable under the new constraints, with class relations breaking down and workers and the poor getting more and more demanding. The solution was a crackdown (so that workers and the poor would get less demanding) sustained by an expanded system of borrowing that enabled for the continuation of a middle class standard of living for most. The financial sector grew rapidly to facilitate the latter transition. You can easily the problem with such a shift though (shifting from a unionized model of capitalism to a debt-driven model):  it yields a borrowing economy, which is unsustainable by definition.

Here are the particulars as to how the First World borrowing economy emerged: At the government level, the modern economy of the First World came to be based on borrowing because the propertied classes have awarded massive tax breaks over the last several decades, which has produced decreasing value intake on the part of the government, which must nonetheless spend at the same level at minimum in order to maintain a social safety net and system of businesses regulations and thus relative social peace. At the individual level, workforce unionization has plummeted, which has resulted in crappier jobs with fewer benefits; people taking in less value. When you’re taking in less value, the only way to maintain a middle class standard of living is to go into debt. The result of both of these situations has been the expansion of the financial sector, as the provider of debt. It’s expansion, in turn, has resulted in increased political influence; an increasing ability to get financial sector regulations (like the Glass-Steagall Act for example) overturned, thus producing especially severe crises like the recent recession.

The collapse of the Soviet Union unnaturally extended the resultant profitability rebound by affording the capitalist class a new world of markets ripe for the plucking. Now though the financial sector has started to reach its limits. Borrowing potential, both on an individual level and on a large, government scale, is starting to become exhausted. Thus the new method of sustaining this system too now is failing. In the 1970s reformism proved unable to sustain the capitalist system and since 2008 we have begun to see that the new solution of a crackdown on workers sustained by unlimited borrowing cannot do so either, or at least not in the long run. What then is next?

In the olden days it was often said in this country that reformism was realism and revolutionary politics were naive idealism. Today it’s increasingly starting to seem more and more like the opposite is true. Though we have seen a rise in progressive activism and politicking lately (ranging from the Occupy movement and the movement to unionize the working poor based mainly in the Northeast and Far West to the Moral Mondays movement that’s expanding today in the South), one still cannot imagine a revolution in today’s America due to how large the middle class here remains, but imagine 50 years from now, or even 15 or 30, after our government runs itself into bankruptcy like southern Europe has and like Venezuela did at the end of the 1980s. Thus will the class composition of the nation become far more proletarian (as in to say impoverished) yet than it is today. Moderating reforms are not an option the rich are willing to accept anymore because they lead to a breakdown in class relations. Hence why they’re slowly doing away with the existing ones. This leaves one alternative: their overthrow by a proletariat that most certainly WILL be in the immense majority well within this century, and probably well within my lifetime. I don’t see any getting around this.

In other words, yeah I basically feel that Marx was right…in the long run. The trends he spoke have emerged in somewhat different ways than he anticipated and have taken much longer than he anticipated to develop, but slowly they’re happening. Things are indeed unfolding much as Marx predicted, but simply on a slower timetable than he imagined. Marx believed that the industrial revolution had abolished scarcity, at least in the West, while impoverishing the laboring masses to a greater degree than ever before, thus creating a contradiction reconcilable only by way of communist revolution. In reality, scarcity has yet to be abolished even today, though it’s abolition now appears in sight finally, with the advent of near-free reproduction, increasingly, of most everything. And imperialism also provided the capitalists of some countries with the means to buy the loyalty of their workers temporarily, but that model is proving unsustainable in the long run and is now on its way out. We’re headed back to the 19th century class relations. So essentially Marx was right, but like I said, just on a slower timetable than he imagined.

Let’s talk a little more about the current and future balance of class forces in the United States. Contrary to the belief of some, the American working class has not become a right wing institution. There exists a difference between workers in the generic and the working class specifically. As I pointed out in my earlier article Redefining the Proletariat, “working class” is a term that alludes specifically to low-wage workers, as in those who barely get by, who live paycheck-to-paycheck. Not all workers belong to the working class. There are also the ranks of the working poor (i.e. those who actually DON’T get by) and, furthermore, there are, additionally, middle and upper class workers; workers who are net beneficiaries of the capitalist system. In this country, the latter groups (middle and upper class workers) compose nearly a majority of the workforce. When you combine the middle and upper class workers with the business community proper, you arrive at a considerable majority of the American population: 58% if you believe the most recent poll of how Americans classify themselves. 2% say they feel rich, another 8% say they feel upper class, and another 48% say they feel middle class. Those three figures, which describe property-owning classes, add up to 58%. On the other side, 27% say they feel low-income (or what we used to call, and what I still often call, working class) and another 15% say they feel poor. Those two figures, which describe the unpropertied classes, add up to 42%. Thus the current balance of class forces in the United States, if we take people at their word (and I believe we should), is this: 58% bourgeois and 42% proletarian. Therefore America is basically a nation of property owners; of people who materially benefit from capitalism. It has been thus since the Second World War. It is for that reason that I describe America and other nations with a similar class composition as bourgeois nations. Don’t overestimate the loyalty of the working CLASS to this system though. And their ranks are growing these days, post-2008-crash. Think: what kind of jobs are replacing those lost to the recession? It is this kind of trend that I refer to as re-proletarianization.

Southern Europe (countries like Greece and so forth) serves as an example of how a full-scale re-proletarianization works and what it looks like, both in the practical and politically. The financial aristocracy has bankrupted these countries and they’ve consequently been compelled to impoverish their workforces in order to assure the financial capitalists that they’ll never lose “their” money again. The political implications have included a revival of both communism and fascism throughout the region as the political center of gravity shifts leftward toward resistance. General strikes and riots are routine occurrences in many parts of southern Europe now. Don’t believe for a second that that’s not a preview of our future; that that won’t happen to us too. The re-proletarianization of the American workforce IS coming, with all of its implications.

The longer-term future, as in to say what kind of situation and set-up ultimately emerges from a 21st century bankruptcy crisis / mass impoverishment situation, might be better spoken to by the case of Latin America in general and Venezuela in particular. Venezuela, for example, has already gone through this whole bankruptcy process back in 1989 and the ’90s. The final outcome was a sort of political revolution that included the drafting of a new national constitution, the ascendancy of Chavez, of Chavez’s conversion to democratic socialism, and of his creation of parallel state and government institutions: an ideological militia loyal to the political left (since he felt that he couldn’t trust the regular army after the 2002 military coup) and town-hall-style communitarian councils tasked with applying direct democracy at the local level and recommending national policies directly to the president (thus enabling the masses themselves to serve as a de facto branch of the national legislature). His United Socialist Party is still in power today. I feel that this is the best and most plausible glimpse we have available to us as to what American politics might look like 40 years from now, though it is also possible that the continued development of information technology and the Internet of Things may very well make for the advent of national town-hall-style direct democracy, which would historically outmode republicanism entirely by enabling society itself to decide on its policies collectively without need of the elected middle men that form the national legislature. We would then only need to elect an executive branch to enforce the laws thereby decided. This appears to where things are headed in the long. It’s only a matter of how soon e-democracy will be sufficiently developed and secured that it can replace national parliaments.

The Outmoding of Capitalism

This is my second article detailing an aspect of my new Marxist theory, which I laid out the basic distinctions of here. This article focuses on the following point that was laid out there:

-Communitarian socialism corresponds to the outmoding of capitalism and therefore constitutes Marx’s lower phase of communism, from which humanity will gradually evolve into the higher phase that witnesses the establishment of all property as common property and thus the abolition of class distinctions.

 

I think I’ll begin this analysis by pointing out the error of those who say that communism is unnatural to our species: the fact that communism has been the rule for our species and class society the exception. Human beings have been around for some 200,000 to 250,000 years, out of which essentially all but the last 10,000 or 12,000 have seen humanity organized in a communist way characterized by collective ownership of all property. Could humanity really have pursued an unnatural form of organization for more than 90% of its existence and survived? But of the communist then you might ask why then it is precisely the age of class society that has been the most prosperous if communism is a superior form of human organization. I like to answer this question by quoting from the summation of the International Communist Current, which provides a classical Marxian answer upon which I will expand:

“…Each level of development of the productive forces of a particular society corresponds to a given type of productive relationship. The relations of production are the relations established between men and women in their activity of producing goods destined to satisfy their needs. In primitive societies the productivity of labour was so low that it scarcely satisfied the barest physical needs of the members of the community. Exploitation and economic inequality were impossible in such a situation: if certain individuals had appropriated to themselves or consumed goods in greater quantities than other members of this society, then the poorer off would not have been able to survive at all. Exploitation…could not appear until the average level of human production had gone beyond the basic minimum needed for physical survival. But between the satisfaction of this basic minimum and the full satisfaction, not only of the material but also the intellectual needs of humanity, there exists an entire range of development in the productivity of labour. … In historical terms, it was this period which separated the dissolution of primitive communist society from the era when fully developed communism would be possible. Just as mankind wasn’t naturally ‘good’ in those ages when men and women weren’t exploited under the conditions of primitive communism, so it hasn’t been naturally ‘bad’ in the epochs of exploitation which have followed. The exploitation of man by man and the existence of economic privilege became possible when average human production exceeded the physical minimum needed for human life to reproduce itself. Both became necessary because the level of human production could not fully satisfy all the needs of all the members of society.

As long as that was the case, communism was impossible, whatever objections the anarchists may raise to the contrary. …”

To expand a bit on a particular point within this — currency — let me highlight that the basic reason why societies of scale use systems of exchange (namely barter and currency) is precisely because 1) the productivity of labor has come to exceed the bare minimum needed to sustain human life, while simultaneously 2) the world’s existing resources remain too finite to satisfy all human needs of all human beings. We thus have to have some way of measuring value until such time as objective scarcity can be vanquished. The Marxist (like yours truly for example) defines the higher phase of communism as being characterized by abundance for precisely that kind of reason. In other words, supply and demand indeed have an inverse relationship and fully developed communism is thus only attainable once supplies in general exceed demand. The more supply exceeds demand, the lower the exchange value of a product or resource gets. Fully developed communism becomes both possible and inevitable when products in general are available in such vast quantities that they have no exchange value and thus become worthless to the capitalist. They then become free. And when everything is free, class distinctions are eliminated. You can’t just leap ahead of objective conditions though and expect it to work out. Any attempt at abolishing money under current global conditions, for example, would simply yield either the spontaneous resurrection of currency systems or the spontaneous resurgence of a bartering system precisely because resources (most of them anyway) remain rather scarce, by which I mean that the global demand for them exceeds the supply. It is, however, exactly this situation which capitalism is itself radically modifying, owing to the enormous increase in the productivity of labor which it is bringing into being.

Most existing schools of Marxism contend that capitalism, with its industrial development, has already rendered human labor productive enough to sustain a fully developed communist system and thus the emergence of such a system is now on the historical agenda and probably has been since the days of either Marx or Lenin. This contention is their fundamental error, which leads to the full host of other errors developed to rationalize why it hasn’t happened yet, dominant among which is the advent of methodological revisionism (the abandonment of dialectical materialism and/or Marxian technological determinism)! In reality, if it were possible to achieve fully developed communism at this time, humanity would already be in the process of doing so according to the Marxian laws of history which dictate that technological revolutions yield social revolutions which in turn yield political revolutions. It isn’t yet happening because scarcity remains the rule! One can see this in that, as I pointed out in my previous post, an equal redistribution of the existing global product would as yet yield universal poverty! (This explains the failure of 20th century communism (state socialism). It was defeated because the realization of its objective was not yet historically possible and because there reached a point where state socialism tended to stand in the way of the emergence of said possibility due to the fact that it was less productive and efficient than capitalism. State socialism is on the retreat today, and nearly vanquished,  not due to a lack of sufficient will power on the part of revolutionaries (as so many other Marxists contend), but due to the fact that it is an historically outmoded aberration of history; one that has already served its historical purpose (assuring the general defeat of feudalism and tribalism) and thus exhausted its usefulness.) But here’s the exciting thing: this situation is changing, for there are today revolutionary changes underway in the development of the productive forces that are trending toward the abolition of scarcity and thus toward the realization of fully developed communism! To highlight how this is happening, bolding a particularly important item therein, I’ll re-post an excerpt from Jeremy Rifkin’s highly insightful new book, The Zero Marginal Cost Society, that was printed recently in the Huffington Post:

 

“The capitalist era is passing… not quickly, but inevitably. A new economic paradigm — the Collaborative Commons — is rising in its wake that will transform our way of life. We are already witnessing the emergence of a hybrid economy, part capitalist market and part Collaborative Commons. The two economic systems often work in tandem and sometimes compete. They are finding synergies along each other’s perimeters, where they can add value to one another, while benefiting themselves. At other times, they are deeply adversarial, each attempting to absorb or replace the other.

Although the indicators of the great transformation to a new economic system are still soft and largely anecdotal, the Collaborative Commons is ascendant and, by 2050, it will likely settle in as the primary arbiter of economic life in most of the world. An increasingly streamlined and savvy capitalist system will continue to soldier on at the edges of the new economy, finding sufficient vulnerabilities to exploit, primarily as an aggregator of network services and solutions, allowing it to flourish as a powerful niche player in the new economic era, but it will no longer reign.

What’s undermining the capitalist system is the dramatic success of the very operating assumptions that govern it. At the heart of capitalism there lies a contradiction in the driving mechanism that has propelled it ever upward to commanding heights, but now is speeding it to its death: the inherent dynamism of competitive markets that drives productivity up and marginal costs down, enabling businesses to reduce the price of their goods and services in order to win over consumers and market share. (Marginal cost is the cost of producing additional units of a good or service, if fixed costs are not counted.) While economists have always welcomed a reduction in marginal cost, they never anticipated the possibility of a technological revolution that might bring marginal costs to near zero, making goods and services priceless, nearly free, and abundant, and no longer subject to market forces.

The near zero marginal cost phenomenon has already wreaked havoc on the entertainment, communications, and publishing industries, as more and more information is being made available nearly free to billions of people. Today, more than forty percent of the human race is producing its own music, videos, news, and knowledge on relatively cheap cellphones and computers and sharing it at near zero marginal cost in a collaborative networked world. And now the zero marginal cost revolution is beginning to affect other commercial sectors, including renewable energy, 3D printing in manufacturing, and online higher education. There are already millions of “prosumers” — consumers who have become their own producers — generating their own green electricity at near zero marginal cost around the world. It’s estimated that around 100,000 hobbyists are using open source software and recycled plastic feedstock to manufacture their own 3D printed goods at nearly zero marginal cost. Meanwhile, six million students are currently enrolled in free Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) that operate at near zero marginal cost and are taught by some of the most distinguished professors in the world, and receiving college credits.

The reluctance to come to grips with near zero marginal cost is understandable.

Many, though not all, of the old guard in the commercial arena can’t imagine how economic life would proceed in a world where most goods and services are nearly free, profit is defunct, property is meaningless, and the market is superfluous. What then?

A powerful new technology platform is emerging with the potential of reducing marginal costs across large sectors of the capitalist economy, with far reaching implications for society in the first half of the 21st Century. The Communications Internet is converging with the fledgling Energy Internet and Logistics Internet in a seamless twenty-first-century intelligent infrastructure — the Internet of Things (IoT). The IoT will connect every thing with everyone in an integrated global network. People, machines, natural resources, production lines, logistics networks, the electricity grid, consumption habits, recycling flows, and virtually every other aspect of economic and social life will be linked via sensors and software to the IoT platform, continually feeding Big Data to every node — businesses, homes, vehicles — moment to moment, in real time. Anyone will be able to access the IoT and use Big Data and analytics to develop predictive algorithms that can dramatically increase productivity and reduce the marginal cost of producing and delivering a full range of physical goods and services to near zero just like we now do with information goods.

Lost in all of the excitement over the prospect of the Internet of Things is that connecting everyone and everything in a global network driven by extreme productivity moves us ever faster toward an era of nearly free goods and services and, with it, the shrinking of capitalism in the next half century. The question is what kind of economic system would we need to organize economic activity that is nearly free and shareable?

We are so used to thinking of the capitalist market and government as the only two means of organizing economic life that we overlook the other organizing model in our midst that we depend on daily to deliver a range of goods and services that neither market nor government provides. The Commons predates both the capitalist market and representative government and is the oldest form of institutionalized, self-managed activity in the world.

The contemporary Commons is where billions of people engage in the deeply social aspects of life. It is made up of literally millions of self-managed, mostly democratically run organizations, including educational institutions, healthcare organizations, charities, religious bodies, arts and cultural groups, amateur sports clubs, producer and consumer cooperatives, credit unions, advocacy groups, and a near endless list of other formal and informal institutions that generate the social capital of society.

Currently, the social Commons is growing faster than the market economy in many countries around the world. Still, because what the social Commons creates is largely of social value, not pecuniary value, it is often dismissed by economists. Nonetheless, the social economy is an impressive force. According to a survey of 40 nations, the nonprofit Commons accounts for $2.2 trillion in operating expenditures. In eight countries surveyed–including the United States, Canada, Japan, and France–the nonprofit sector makes up, on average, 5 percent of the GDP. In the US, Canada, and the UK, the nonprofit sector already exceeds 10% of the workforce.

While the capitalist market is based on self-interest and driven by material gain, the social Commons is motivated by collaborative interests and driven by a deep desire to connect with others and share. If the former defends property rights, caveat emptor, and the search for autonomy, the latter promotes open-source innovation, transparency, and the search for community.

What makes the Commons more relevant today than at any other time in its long history is that we are now erecting a high-tech global technology platform whose defining characteristics potentially optimize the very values and operational principles that animate this age-old institution. The IoT is the technological “soul mate” of an emerging Collaborative Commons. The new infrastructure is configured to be distributed in nature in order to facilitate collaboration and the search for synergies, making it an ideal technological framework for advancing the social economy. The operating logic of the IoT is to optimize lateral peer production, universal access, and inclusion, the same sensibilities that are critical to the nurturing and creation of social capital in the civil society. The very purpose of the new technology platform is to encourage a sharing culture, which is what the Commons is all about. It is these design features of the IoT that bring the social Commons out of the shadows, giving it a high-tech platform to become the dominant economic paradigm of the twenty-first century.

The Collaborative Commons is already profoundly impacting economic life. Markets are beginning to give way to networks, ownership is becoming less important than access, and the traditional dream of rags to riches is being supplanted by a new dream of a sustainable quality of life.

Hundreds of millions of people are transferring bits and pieces of their economic life from capitalist markets to the global Collaborative Commons. Prosumers are not only producing and sharing their own information, entertainment, green energy and 3D-printed goods at near zero marginal cost and enrolling in massive open online college courses for nearly free, on the Collaborative Commons. They are also sharing cars, homes, clothes, tools, toys, and countless other items with one another via social media sites, rentals, redistribution clubs, and cooperatives, at low or near zero marginal cost. An increasing number of people are collaborating in “patient-driven” health-care networks to improve diagnoses and find new treatments and cures for diseases, again at near zero marginal cost. And young social entrepreneurs are establishing socially responsible businesses, crowdfunding new enterprises, and even creating alternative social currencies in the new economy. The result is that “exchange value” in the marketplace is increasingly being replaced by “shareable value” on the Collaborative Commons.

In the unfolding struggle between the exchange economy and the sharing economy, most economists argue that if everything were nearly free, there would be no incentive to innovate and bring new goods and services to the fore because inventors and entrepreneurs would have no way to recoup their up-front costs. Yet millions of prosumers are freely collaborating in social Commons, creating new IT and software, new forms of entertainment, new learning tools, new media outlets, new green energies, new 3D-printed manufactured products, new peer-to-peer health-research initiatives, and new nonprofit social entrepreneurial business ventures, using open-source legal agreements freed up from intellectual property restraints. The upshot is a surge in creativity that is at least equal to the great innovative thrusts experienced by the capitalist market economy in the twentieth century.

While the capitalist market is not likely to disappear, it will no longer exclusively define the economic agenda for civilization. There will still be goods and services whose marginal costs are high enough to warrant their exchange in markets and sufficient profit to ensure a return on investment. But in a world in which more things are potentially nearly free and shareable, social capital is going to play a far more significant role than financial capital, and economic life is increasingly going to take place on a Collaborative Commons.”

 

In other words, the technological revolutions that are being wrought by the advent of the Internet of Things are trending our species toward the abolition of scarcity in most fields and thus toward a situation wherein the bulk of the social product is more or less freely distributed! And, just as exciting, there are now books like this out discussing how the social relations are already in a protracted process of revolutionary transformation along more collectivist lines as a direct result! Can this not but yield corresponding political revolutions in the future according to Marx’s laws of history which dictate that social revolutions yield corresponding political revolutions??

In Marx’s day the terms “socialism” and “communism” were used interchangeably. Over the 20th century though, the term “socialism” started to generally be applied to the lower phase. For example, when a Marxist uses the term “socialism” today they typically are referring to the lower phase, whereas their use of the term “communism” almost invariably refers to the higher phase. According to Marx, the lower phase of communism can be distinguished from the higher phase by its distribution of the social product: in the lower phase, according to Marx, the social product is mainly distributed according to work, while in the higher phase it is instead distributed according to need. It is through this process, Marx contended, that production for use will come to replace production for exchange. Indeed the former ethos (distribution according to work) prevailed in 20th century communist systems of state socialism accordingly. But systems of state socialism in reality corresponded to the outmoding of feudalism rather than of capitalism, as Marx believed. What we are now seeing is the emergence of a different kind of socialism; one that actually does correspond to the outmoding of capitalism! And this new kind of socialism operates somewhat differently than how Marx envisioned the lower phase of communism functioning. It does not distribute the social product mainly according to work because social value, within its framework, has already largely replaced market value! The interesting feature of such a development — the protracted economic takeover by non-profits — is that it doesn’t feature generalized government ownership, but yet manages to largely replace production for exchange (the capitalist ethos) with production for use (the communist ethos). So, in other words, it’s looking like the lower phase of communism (the kind of socialism that actually leads to fully developed communism) will not be built around the distribution of value according to work after all, but more in accordance with what Marx would have considered the ethos of the higher phase of communism (production of social value). And it’s also looking like property ownership will get more collective than it is right now in this developing lower phase, but that it won’t necessarily reach the level of collective ownership by society (as in ownership by the central government), but rather more like collective ownership or collective control by private groups. And from there we leap to the higher phase — fully developed communism — once further technological revolutions have finished off scarcity in the remaining economic sectors as well. That’s how I think the transition to fully developed communism will actually look as it happens over this next century or two.

Think: We are used to thinking of society and the economy as being divided into two sectors: the public sector and the private sector. However, within the private sector there exists a division between its commercial and not-for-profit sections (the latter of which, as highlighted in the excerpt from Rifkin’s book above, tend to be of a more collectivist structure and ethos). The former produce market value while the latter produces social value. Thus the fact that we can now foresee that the latter will ultimately take over the bulk of the world economy well within this century means that we can now foresee the beginning of capitalism’s historical outmoding.