Origins of Private Property -Reply

Howie Chodos howie at
Tue Jul 11 22:43:34 MDT 1995

A couple of comments on Lisa's post. She wrote:

>I think of material/social incentives as prior to ideology, because
>any ideology can be modified and manipulated to "justify" what ever
>somebody wants to do anyway.  I think of ideology not as an abstract
>[reified] thing which simply determines/influences/conditions human
>behavior.  We are more active than that, positively pursuing,
>creating and manipulating ideology very flexibly, to our own ends, as
>I'm glad to find some list-ers interested in this topic.  I think it
>is interesting partly because I think that mechanisms of social
>change are still the same, in terms of individuals responding to
>local incentives, and ending up with unintended societal consequences
>in the longer run.

A) I can't see how "material/social" anything could ever be entirely free of
ideology and I think that it cuts both ways. There can be intentional
ideological manipulation and there can be behaviour shaped by ideology. This
also relates back to an earlier discussion of "discourse", I think.

B) I would argue that in human communities factors other than "local
incentives" pertain and are causal. We act, for example, because of ideology
or, put the other way round, ideology provides motivation for action. This
is independent of the relationship between our intentions the actual
results. We can be motivated to do something for ideological reasons and not
have the results be what we expect, or intend. This applies to ideologies
that are not local and which require individual sacrifice. Yet these are
actions that can be positively assessed by many communities. It is the
community that warrants individual sacrifice and the communities which can
do this are not necessarily local, or at least they extend beyond the local.
I am not competent to determine what, if anything, this difference means for
the evolutionary models themselves but, insofar as we are attempting to
apply them to social phenomena, I think it should mean something.

This strikes me as the problem of describing the process of social
selection, that is pointing to the actual mechanisms involved in the
selection and reproduction of social phenomena. What is the social
equivalent to natural selection? I don't think this is unproblematic. G. A.
Cohen, as well as Wright, Levine and Sober, talk about this, and they seem
to agree that such a mechanism has yet to be described.

Howie Chodos

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