"Interests"- it's for your own good?

Howie Chodos howie at magi.com
Mon Apr 10 22:14:41 MDT 1995

Justin wrote:

>Nonpaternalism is good ethics, but not a social theory.

I think it is more than ethics, though I agree nonpaternalism cannot be the
sole basis for a social theory. It does have political ramifications, such
as enjoining us to expand democracy. I agree with Justin that starting from
the conviction that people should have the right to decide what is best for
them cannot be the same thing as saying that they are necessarily right.
These are two completely different matters. Being right is a matter of
knowledge and truth amongst other things. I still want the right to be wrong
about what is best for me.

>Quite right. It is a further question whether some set of interests tends
>to predominate in the long run. Marxian class analysis depends on the
>truth of the proposition that in the long run and in general--not always
>and not necessarily in the short run--class interest will win out.

I think we're almost back to the directionality of history debate. On
Justin's formulation here, though, what is the relevance of pre-eminence of
class interests in the short term? Even in the space of my lifetime?
Frankly, I am not convinced that class has to win out either at the level of
what individuals perceive to be in their interests or at the level of social
evolution as a whole. I think we can still undertake class analysis, engage
in class struggle, seek to abolish classes without believing in the primacy
of class, even in the long run and in general.

>An aggregation is not a group. See Marx on why the French peasantry isn't
>a class--this in The Class Struggles in France.

Another important debate and full of big questions, I think. Just what is a
class anyway? Do the peasants have common interests even if they are not a
"class"? Are peasants always not a "class"? Is class affiliation purely a
matter of social location or does it also require subjective identification?

>Well, if socialis, is feasible and would be better, then it is in their
>interests. But Howie here raises an important point: it may not be in
>their interests to struggle for it. This turns on what rational choice
>theorists (game theorists in particular) call a public goods problem.
>Giving the costs to each worker of the struggle and the fact that all will
>enjoy the benefits (socialism) of its success, it may be rational for each
>of us to let everyone else struggle for socialism while we free ride. If
>we all do that, then we don't get struggle or socialism. How to beat this
>problem is a key one for socialists.

I agree that there are free rider problems, but I'm not sure that is all
that's involved here (though maybe that is just a reflection of my sketchy
knowledge of game theory). What I was trying to get at is that there is a
gap between the theoretical statement that socialism is in the interests of
the working class and what may be in the interests of a given working class
at any point in time. When we talk of "interests" there is a conditional
element, the "if socialism is feasible and would be better" clause that
Justin included in his argument. I guess what I am trying to convey is that
it cannot be a passive matter. Socialism will be better if we make it so.

Howie Chodos

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