Capitalism and class – don’t mention the C words?

How relevant are the above terms in progressive discourse today? How useful can they be?

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My crucial fear in this debate centred around Godwin’s Law, normally applied to the likelihood of Hitler or the Nazis cropping up in any given internet discussion. Out of politeness, any discussion should end as soon as Hitler is mentioned.

I would be inclined to apply this rationale to Marx in progressive discourse. I mean – really – if this was plain old leftist discourse then surely we’d just call it leftism? But we opt to call it progressivism, at least slightly implying that the tenets of communism are growing maybe a little bit dated and that Marx wasn’t the only critic of capitalism. Frankly, I have a lot of respect for Marx but I’m sick of him being quoted like Jesus.

Anyway. The arguments voiced, for the most part, were concerned with how useful it is to talk about sociological abstractions in order to actualise the social change we want to see. And rather than write too much about the round-the-bush-beating that went on, I’m just going to get straight to the point. No statistics. Just bush-beating. Just what it is. Yeah, I might be a little drunk.

To indicate, or even to utilise language that implicitly leads to the notion, that political philosophy should be used in order to bring about the kind of social change-we-want-to-see is simply a confusion. It’s a ‘problem’ akin to the flawed grammar that lead to the centuries-long confusion around the mind-body ‘problem’.

Political philosophy is practically utilised by academics and philosophers to argue about exactly what the change-we-want-to-see  is. They throw their terms around and debate amongst themselves in a broadly disinterested sense (disinterested, as in they seldom have an invested interest in the outcome of their debate, or at least shouldn’t have such an interest in order to be taken seriously as a philosopher).

Then, interested parties survey the debate, at another completely different level of discourse and social interaction. They choose the arguments they see and like (very few members of the bourgeoisie encountered Das Kapital and decided to give away their wealth to join and organise the proletarian uprising) and utilise them for their own purposes. This involves an intricate translation activity of one type of discourse into another.

Another level of discourse takes place where interested parties try to influence the verisimilitude, the zeitgeist, the ‘public opinion’, to accept their interested views.

It might seem a little cold, but that’s how the discourse operates. In the interests of intellectual rigour, please comment and highlight as many anomalous examples against this geography of discourse as you can.

Nonetheless, it’s simply not useful to even consider that the semantics of one sector of discourse will be applicable to another without any translation. You change the context of what you say when you say it, just because there is an audience to whom you address.

Anyway. The discussion progressed. Some people thought that capitalism was an influential factor and a useful thing to think about. They were generally from a vaguely ‘disinterested’ sector. Some people thought that the terminology wasn’t really useful. Their discourse took place in a different sector, their level of interestedness was perhaps a little more involved. Indeed, their careers were based on translating these political philosophies into an appropriate method of discourse. That strikes me as an interest in the matter.

Anyway. I was thinking about all this and then someone quoted Jesus. I mean Marx. 40 minutes in. So I left, as my cultural etiquette dictated.

But crucially, and this is pretty crucial, our political philosophy is concerned with deciding what kind of change-we-want-to-see we want to see. Making that change is a different matter and requires a different discourse. I mean, yes, an architect makes a plan for a piece of architecture and then the people who actualise this building use the architect’s plans as a template. The plans are actively involved in making the building happen. But we’re not talking about a building, we’re talking about linguistic and behavioural reforms. Put it in the context of another behavioural/linguistic intervention technique – hypnosis. If you explain to a subject of hypnosis that their belief in the hypnosis is the only thing that makes it effective, it will lose all effectiveness. When dealing with socio-linguistic change, the message is the medium.

Anyway. I wish people threw around Foucault or Chomsky quotes like they do Marx.

  • http://twitter.com/AceOfLobster telega

    Whatever is wrong with the world in 2011, its hardly too much Marx!

    Doreen Massey was a surprisingly good speaker for an academic. She made some great points about the financialization of our lives.

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