Paternalism

Rahul Mahajan rahul at hagar.ph.utexas.edu
Thu Apr 13 17:17:20 MDT 1995


>On Wed, 12 Apr 1995, Rahul Mahajan wrote:
>
>> It seems to me that the standard Marxist/revolutionary answer to the
>> problem of paternalism is that this contradiction points clearly to the
>> need to educate people into political consciousness.
>
J:Not Marx's answer, though. "Who educates the educator?" He asks Feuerbach.

R: Although Marx obviously dealt with revolutionary movements, he didn't
soil his hands with the common folk more than he could help. To understand
this point in theoryu is not difficult, but what about practical answers?
> The flaw,
>> unfortunately, in that conception is that it assumes that once people are
>> properly "educated" they will necessarily come to the same point of view,
>> at least assuming they come from the same class, material conditions, etc.
>
J:Why think that properly educated people in the same circumstances will
>agree? Unless that's what you _mean" by "properly educated." But Marx
>doesn't assume this. That's why he says that "the Communist have no
>sectartian principles of their own to impose upon the working class movement."

R:That's who I mean that they mean, they being the ones who I claim have
this conception. Marx certainly said that, but why do you think I'm talking
about sectarian principles? If Marx included general principles in this
statement, then it was clearly disingenuous -- even the writings of Marx
and Engels are full of complaints about how the working class has become
satisfied with cosmetic improvements, instead of pushing forward for
revolutionary change, etc. Lenin decried the "economism" of many segments
of the working class (the outcome of the 1905 "revolution", as he calls it,
being the primary case in point.) I'd have to say that Marx definitely
didn't mean that statement in any global sense.
>> I would claim instead that any non-(or at least not totally)coercive system
>> of education will at the least produce people capable of honest
>> disagreement about their "interests," among other things.
>
J:Sure.
>
>>        Why do we need to tell everyone that socialism is in their best
>> interests? It certainly isn't true for everyone.
>
J:Is thisz supposed to be news to Marxists?

R:I would never claim to be able to enlighten any of the dazzling
intellects on this list. However, I seem to have come across many
statements that do not betray an understanding of this idea, viz. "how do
we convince a worker who's just been made a foreman that his real interests
lie with the workers"(not an exact quote). I would also have to include the
argument about affirmative action. It is very much a phenomenon of
capitalist meritocracy, and within that system white workers are certainly
better off if they don't have to share those jobs with blacks. If one
assumes the size of the pie for the working class remains constant, then
the more that blacks and Hispanics can get of it, the less there is for
white people. If you want to talk about enlarging their share, it seems to
me that affirmative action is neutral with respect to that -- it's
essentially redistributive
>> And what does it mean to
>> say that affirmative action is "really" in the best interest of white
>> workers?
>
J:Well,Scott gave an argument that you don't address.
R:Perhaps not, but I give my own counterargument, brief as it is, below.
> It doesn't seem to produce any class solidarity, so it's hardly
>> hastening the revolution.
>
>That's my worry. Scott szuggests that properly designed campaiugns for AA
>will produce class solidarity. We'd better try and find out, ehb?
>
>] And what about inequality in the world? Would an
>> equitable distribution of the world's resources leave the average American
>> better off materially than she is now? I think not.
>
J:Well, there is a deed problem abvout a potential contridiction between
>democracy and global justice. Two quick answers: (a) a world where we
>could do something about global inequality would offer nonmaterial
>benefits (freedom, self-determination) to American workers to compensate
>for material losses. (b) Getting to that world would require international
>working class solidarity of a sort that would reduce the tendency of
>workers to think of themselves as Americans and increase their tendency to
>think of themselves as workers who benefit when Mexican, etc. workers benefit.

R:If we want to start talking about people benefiting when others benefit,
even though they're losing materially themselves, then we've strayed pretty
far from a material basis for our ideas. I agree completely with the first
point, but it's not clear how much it means to most people as compared to
the loss of a few luxury goods.
> Furthermore, when we
>> tell any given worker anywhere to join the cause, knowing full well, the
>> likelihood of a genuine social revolution in the United States, we are very
>> likely causing that worker to act against his own best interest by joining
>> (the standard Prisoner's Dilemma-type argument from game theory -- if
>> everyone cooperates, then society is best off, but you then stand to gain
>> from defecting). So let's get off our objective/objectivist high horse and
>> tell people to struggle because it's the right thing to do -- that's all we
>> can say with surety.
>
J:WEll, my worry is how we can say it is the right thing to do--there's a
>relativist problem. My agrument, which we've discussed on this list, about
>a historical directionality towards increased emancipation, is supposed to
>answer the relativist worry. But that argument does depend on
>emancipationn being in workers' group interests.

R:Sure, there's a relativist problem. But might-makes-right arguments like
yours cannot resolve such dilemmas. The goal you're pursuing is as
chimerical as Locke's trying to derive a democratic individualist morality
from utilitarianism. Why does the existence of a historical trend toward
something mean that you should work toward that something? What about the
historical trend toward destruction of the environment?
It's a fine thing to apply careful analysis to the evolution of societies.
But why not emancipate yourself from that outmoded 19th-century goal of
value-free social restructuring? Marx succumbed to it quite a bit, but it's
clearly an idea much more consonant with views of society based on harmony
of interests, with the main problem being to figure out how things work,
rather than overthrow the class which exploits. All choices of action are
moral choices, and there are no God-given principles on which to base your
morality. Why bother getting around relativism? It's not going to happen.

J:The quick reply to the P-D/public goods problem is that socialism is in
>workers' group interests, even if acting to get it isn't in
>theirindividual interests. Note that the problem doesn't even purport to
>show that socialism is not in their interests, but only that it's in their
>interests to let other people bring it about. But PDs are soluable.
>Collectgive action occurs. Public goods come about. That's what solidarity
>means.
R:That is not a reply to the PD problem. That is a statement of the PD
problem. Furthermore, I haven't even insinuated that socialism is not in
the workers' group interests. Of course action occurs in the real world,
where things can't attain the pristine straightforwardness and rationality
of game theory. It's simply that the PD leads to there being a very small
amount of collective action, even though it's so obviously in the interests
of the majority of people to do more. Does anyone doubt that the workers of
the U.S. could have a revolution with the greatest of ease if they were
united (the main point in their favor being that the U.S. armed forces
couldn't come and bomb them into submission)?

>
Rahul Mahajn




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