Lisa on origins of PP -Reply -Reply

Jorge.E.Pedraza at williams.edu Jorge.E.Pedraza at williams.edu
Fri Jul 21 14:02:05 MDT 1995


Dear Lisa,

I just got back from a trip and am about to go on a 3 week off-line
vacation.  It's taken me a while just to wade through the mail on this
list!  I don't have much time and I won't be here to follow up, I feel bad
about that.  And I'm sorry I wasn't here to participate in the very
interesting fray my question provoked as it was happening.  :(

So ...here's a little bit of throat for the pack.

I asked the question because I think there is something built in to the way
I see you asking the cost/benefit question that needs to be questioned.
And that is the notion of the individual decision maker.
I think you're question-method is a very powerful one, and I'm not
proposing you abandon it.  But I think it could be made even more
interesting by taking into consideration things that really complicate the
notion of autonomy and individual rational judgement.

I just read Emile Durkheim's book Suicide (I am not a sociologist, I'm a
lit crit type, so this was a real effort), a book which did nothing less
than help launch modern sociology.  Durkheim argues basically (pls excuse
this radical reduction) that suicide is a symptom of a society that is
becoming disintegrated under modernity (capitalism).  The individual
effectively reproduces to varying degrees the "moral forces" of society.
My feeling is that you will not be able to see these moral forces if you
start with a cost-benefit analysis that is too strictly based on individual
judgement and individual-genetic "self"-interest.  Furthermore, suicide is
a really good problem test for the genetic "self"-interest thesis.  Sure
suicide is statistically slight, but it is definitely present. And one
could extend the concept to all genetically self-destructive behavior.

To cut to a couple points--

1)  the individual is a much more complicated phenomenon than a rational
decision maker motivated by genetic self-interest. I cite Durkheim on this
but Foucault of other of these anathematic postmodernists have, for all
their shortcomings, some very powerful things to say about the relationship
of the individual and society.  (There...see my throat? go for it guys...)

2)  society, culture, ideology etc seems to have an agency and a motivation
OF IT'S OWN, which is largely built on the subordination of individual
interests, often even the genetic self-interest of many of its members.
Maybe genetic self interest, as Paul Cockshott (who seems to have
incredibly smart things to say about this) seems to suggest should be
measured in larger terms than the individual...maybe there is a genetic
pool phenomenon at work...which would raise the very interesting feature of
kinship and warfare...what is the meaning of internecine war fare then?
think of the Civil War.

3) Cost-benefit is a powerful tool...it seems that you have to really think
hard though about what cost and benefit is and to whom exactly...and then
you have to struggle with supra individual agency and intention...trivial
things really (dead pan). :)

ok...gotta run...sorry to drop this off like a bomb and leave...but I'll be
back!!!

l,
Jorge










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