Monthly Archives: August 2013

Polly’s Film Collection Edition Two: Do Communists Have Better Sex?

(I’ve also posted the following on the PF forums, so those who’ve already seen the corresponding thread needn’t bother with this post. This blog is read by non-forum-members too though, which is why I’m re-posting this material here.)

What follows is a pretty interesting (and occasionally pretty cute!) documentary comparing and contrasting the sex-related policies of East Germany and West Germany over the course of the Cold War (which sometimes related to broader issues of gender relations) and their real-world impact on the sex lives of the respective populations. Involved are topics like the impact of the early introduction of East German women to the paid labor force, the early introduction of sex education (and the East and West’s different approaches thereto) and reproductive rights in East Germany, policy on public nudity, and the legalization of the sex industry in West Germany. As a forewarning, since the documentary deals primarily with the topic of sexuality, one should note that it includes significant amounts of nudity and sexual content, though it’s intended for educational purposes. Anyway, as long as that doesn’t offend you, take a view:

As for me, as a Marxist and, above all, a fellow human being with impulses, I do consider myself basically a sexual liberal, but not a sexual libertarian (i.e. an absolute liberal). My thinking on this subject, though independent, is very similar to the policy prescriptions and cultural directionality exemplified by East Germany in the documentary above.

I believe the state should actively promote happy and healthy relationships, including happy and healthy sexual relationships. The pursuit of happiness is one thing, but we typically need some help to arrive. The state should foster public dialogue on the subject and promote satisfying, reciprocal relationships based on the research at its disposal at a given point. The state should also allow free experimentation with different sexual practices in order that people can discover what works for them. (Reproductive rights (rights to such options as birth control and abortion) fall in the category of women’s basic rights in my mind and accordingly, I think, should be made freely available.) Society should be basically open and permissive when it comes to sexual matters and also, for that matter, when it comes to the human body, which people (including yes ordinary people) shouldn’t have to feel ashamed of. People should be free to explore and have fun. Sex is a good and natural thing! People shouldn’t have to feel ashamed of it as in the olden days!

On the other hand, I object to the commodification of sex and to the objectification of human body. I think the main problem with our modern-day culture here in the West when it comes to sex is that it’s made into an individualistic, competitive sport like everything else in a capitalist society. (And you can’t possibly compete, by the way. One of the foremost proofs can be seen in the growing number of men who are giving up real-world relationships so they can masturbate to computer images.) I feel that this artificially makes sex too much about power and not enough about intimacy. Sex should be about mutual enjoyment. Our current culture elevates the social stature of the orgasm as the epitome of sexual power and thus the epitome of the sexual experience. We need to make sex more cooperative than competitive, I believe, and define it broadly rather than specifically around the orgasm.

There are also those who, for whatever reasons, just simply don’t have a particular interest in sex and they should be as free as possible from undo pressure. Society needs to convey that ‘no’ is a legitimate answer too, particularly for its male population. I don’t know if you saw that survey that came out of Australia not too long ago that showed a majority of its youth wished they could have less sex. That should be a legitimate option, not something that gets you stigmatized and perhaps even ostracized.

The bottom line in my mind is this: people’s sex lives, should they opt to have sex lives, should be, above all, natural, respectful, and considerate. We need to stop prescribing universal abstinence, universal indulgence, certain body types, and so forth. We need to get rid of these “alpha”, “beta”, and “omega” categorizations of people based on how many sexual options they’re believed to have as much as we can and start thinking of people as equals. I think that’s what leads to more fulfilling love lives and sex lives.

Polly’s Film Collection Edition One: The Red Detachment of Women

YaY, the whole thing is now up on YouTube as one high-quality video. :)

For those who don’t know, The Red Detachment of Women is a truly awesome drama-propaganda ballet conceived by Mao Zedong’s wife Jiang Qing. This is the ballet U.S. President Richard Nixon was treated to when he visited China in early 1972. (Jiang Qing was clearly among those who opposed the diplomatic rapprochement with the United States.) It’s about a detachment of Communist women who overthrow an oppressive feudal lord to save a peasant village. In historical context, themes like this were a significant change of direction for the Chinese arts. Before Jiang Qing was given the reins of the media in early 1967, plays typically revolved around old, pre-revolutionary themes: emperors and the royal court and their concubines and so forth. Jiang Qing was given the reins of the arts early on in the Chinese Cultural Revolution and changed their themes significantly. Subsequent propaganda productions often focused on the people’s war the communists had led and assigned women powerful roles. This was actually very high quality material, especially by the standards of its time and more particularly as propaganda went. I’ve always liked it. Whether or not you’re a communist, I think you’ll be able to appreciate it. :)

Why Everyone Should Be Poor

Let me begin on a stark note by saying that there isn’t enough wealth to go around. There are many ways to reach this conclusion, but I think the most effective is simply to estimate the global value of labor: the principal source of value in human society. I used to be with the Leading Light Communist Organization and there was a mathematically gifted member of that organization known publicly by his screen name Serve the People who provided a credible estimate of the overall value of labor valid as of 2005:

Comrade Marx pointed out that labor is the substance of value. He said that the number of hours of average abstract socially necessary labor needed to produce a commodity represents its value. That means labor of average productivity under the given working conditions for the specified type of work. Therefore, if traded at value, one hour of labor put into harvesting parsnips is exchangeable against one hour of assembling washing machines (if the labor in both cases is of average productivity).

Elsewhere I have seen estimates from the UN that the world’s nominal GDP in 2005 is about $36 trillion. That would put the value of labor at $8400 per year, or $4.20 per hour. What is the implication? In the US, the minimum wage is $5.15 per hour, and even higher in some states and cities. If average labor is worth $4.20, then even people making the minimum wage are overpaid on average by about 23%. The average wage in the US is about $18 per hour, which is more than 4 times the value of labor.”

In other words, if we were to redistribute all the wealth on this Earth equally, as of 2005, everyone would have received the U.S. purchasing power equivalent of about $8,400 for the year. Now we could update this, I’m sure, for subsequent increases in global production and inflation, but you can gather that the adjustment wouldn’t be massive and that what we’d be looking at here is universal poverty. That’s what equality looks like in today’s world in a material sense. That’s what communism would look like. How is that possible? Because, while the average American makes around $25,000 or $30,000 a year (and about $50,000 per household), the average person on this planet, by contrast, is living on the U.S. purchasing power equivalent of about $1,000 to $2,500 a year. The immense majority, in other words, lives in extreme poverty. That’s the cold, hard fact of the matter. An equal redistribution of wealth would not eliminate poverty, but only extreme poverty, and it would do so by making ‘ordinary’ poverty universal. But there’s something else that’s implied here beyond the obvious fact that Americans and First Worlders in general enjoy vastly disproportionate wealth, and it’s that we presently have a state of overpopulation. Obviously we have enough resources to meet the needs of a smaller population, but not a population of the current size. Specifically the world seems to have about twice as many people as it can afford to sustain the existence of in an at least subsistence level condition. We are then faced with the problem of continued population growth, which is closely connected to the growth of emerging economies in particular. Increases in production rates tend to yield increases in reproduction rates. The advent of birth control fortunately has mitigated this to some extent, but it’s not as available as it should be and it doesn’t fundamentally solve the problem.

What’s the significance of all this, you ask? Well, when Marx envisioned a communist future, he envisioned a future of shared abundance. His mistake, which, given that the science of ecology wouldn’t be invented for another century yet after he wrote the Communist Manifesto in 1848, was perfectly understandable, was to mentally separate HUMAN production rates on the one hand from NATURAL production rates on the other. Ecology has subsequently shown us that human beings cannot conquer nature, as Marx believed. Instead, human production rates must match up with natural production rates, not exceed them, in order for this species to enjoy a sustainable existence. Otherwise we exploit the natural world and will pay a price for so doing. Harmony with nature is to be desired. This also goes to show that, in our present context of overproduction, we don’t necessarily need the most productive economic system in the world.

(It’s also worth stressing here that yes overpopulation is the main and essential ecological problem, not waste. Waste exists and it should be eliminated, but we can’t solve our environmental problems without reducing the scale of genuine human need. I point this out because environmentalists often take a utopian view to all this that contends that we merely need to eliminate unnecessary wants that damage the environment to achieve an ecologically sustainable situation. The scale of the problem is much bigger than that.)

Now that we’ve established that there isn’t enough to go around, the next question that logically arises is whether then it’s moral to redistribute the world’s wealth more equitably. Some may argue that it’s actually better that a minority of the Earth’s population be able to escape poverty if universal poverty is what even relative equality looks like. My argument is simply that an equitable wealth distribution would clearly benefit the immense majority — about 80% of the world’s population — and is thus the superior road to take. It’s more important to eliminate the extreme poverty that most people on this Earth presently live in than it is to have a small minority of the population be able to escape poverty altogether. If we are to think in a democratic way, then the interests of the majority should prevail. This is the SCIENTIFIC case for socialism today. There are lots of utopian arguments that modern-day socialists and communists make that all hinge on the idea that our world has plentiful resources to provide for all, but this is the SCIENTIFIC, i.e. fact-based, argument.

Regardless of what economic system we use though, he only way most or all people will ever be able to escape poverty is if we reduce our population size dramatically. I just don’t see that happening and neither do scientists. Therefore, for the time being anyway, our only just option is that of consigning everyone to ‘ordinary’ poverty in order to eliminate the extreme poverty in which the majority live.