Self/Collective Interest, Ideology, Racism

Carrol Cox cbcox at
Fri Jul 21 15:58:34 MDT 1995

From: Carrol Cox Illinois State University

    The more I read the various comments of "self-interest" and individual
choice (which is simply another name for "self-interest" considered as a real
phenomenon), the more it seems to me that the discussion is in some way or
other fundamentally skewed. Which is not to say that I can make it any less
skewed, but here goes an effort.

    From Barbara Fields "Slavery, Race and Ideology in the United States of
America": "Race is not an element of human biology (like breathing oxygen or
reproducing sexually); nor is it even an idea (like the speed of light or the
value of _pi_) that can be plausibly imagined to live an eternal life of its
own. Race is not an idea but an ideology. It came into existencee at a
discernable historical moment for ratioally understandable historical reasons
and is subject to change for similar reasons." And later: "Race as a coherent
ideology did not spring into being simultaneously withy slavery, but took even
more time than slavery did to become systematic. A commonplace that few stop to
examine holds that people are more easily oppressed when they are already
perceived as inferior by nature. The reverse is more to the point. People are
more readily perceived as inferior by nature when they are already seen as
oppressed." Note: Racism does not cause the oppression of African Americans;
The oppression of African Americans causes racism. When that reality is
changed, the ideology (which has no life of its own, as some argue) will simply

    One may replace the term "race" in the preceding paragraphs with "private
property." Private property does not exist; certain social relationships of
which "private property" is the ideological expression exist. Since private
property has no material existence, the question of how it came into existence
has no real content; it cannot be coherently asked. I think this also applies
to "self interest" though I am not so sure about that.

    Even if the preceding paragraphs are completely wrong, they still point to
a fundamental difficulty in the ongoing threads on private property, on self
interest, and on ideology. The correct questions have not yet been asked, and
until the correct questions are asked, there is no hope of any coherent answer.
        Carrol Cox
        Illinois State University
        Bloomington/Normal Illinois

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