Class and Conflict

Marx defined “class”not just as a group having certain elements in common.  Having certain elements in common was a necessary consideration, but it wasn’t sufficient.  To be a “class” as Marx defined it, the group must be in conflict with another class.

Thus we have “class struggle” and “class conflict” as central tenets of Marx simply because class is defined that way.  And this has pervaded Western thought to the extent that even when we don’t explicitly define “class” in terms of “conflict” people assume that the classes must be in conflict.

One example is the division of the “working class” and the “wealthy/capitalist/upper class”.  Now, historically, there has been some justification for that especially in the old “company towns” where there was only one significant employer and it was a lot harder to just pack up and move than it is today.  Employer paying in “scrip” which could only be used in the “company store” and further things that really had the employer acting more like a government than a business, making the employees more subjects than workers.  In such a case, the subjects organizing in revolt against their oppressive government (workers forming a union but in more functionally descriptive terms) has a certain logic.

So yes, there certainly have been cases of classes in conflict with other classes, but is it as universal as folk indoctrinated with Marx to the point that they don’t even recognize it as Marxian would have you think?

Well, one thing to consider is that folk aren’t as tied to “class” today as in times past.  Economic class?  In my life I’ve been through four of the five household income quintiles.  (Recent change from a two income to a one income household dropped me one quintile.) In the US 88% of millionaires (2017 data) are self-made.  And even if they don’t get “rich”, people generally move through various income levels over time.  My own case is hardly exceptional.  Three quarters of those American workers who were in the bottom 20 percent of income earners in 1975 were in the top 40 percent sometime over the succeeding 16 years (W. Michael Cox and Richard Alm, “By Our Own Bootstraps: Economic Opportunity & the Dynamics of Income Distribution,”
Annual Report, 1995, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, p. 8.) Far from defining a “class” in which one lives ones life, income is more likely to simply be a way station as one moves through different income levels in life.  Yes, there are some poor who remain poor and there are some people who are born rich and remain so throughout their lives.  But that is not the case for the majority of Americans.

Then there is conflict within a class.  Consider the “Capitalist” class. (This is itself a misnomer–do you have a pension fund or retirement account?  Congratulations you are a “capitalist”.  But that is a discussion for another day.) Conventionally we are supposed to consider these “Capitalists” as some monolithic block in competition with the workers.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  For one thing most of the conflict that the “Capitalists” face is not from workers but from other “Capitalists.” They compete for customers and markets.  They compete for resources.  And they compete for productive workers (representing “human capital”–another reason that “Capitalist” as a class is a misnomer).

Consider that Ford motor company was paying workers more than their competitors, was running shifts with 40 hour work weeks starting in 1914 (scaling back from 48) because Henry Ford believed the longer hours hurt worker productivity.  Some people want to claim that Unions were responsible for these improvements in worker conditions.  There’s only one problem:  Ford didn’t unionize until 1941.  Indeed, the unionization of Ford did not happen until government got involved, and unions obtained political power leading promptly to the unionization of Chrysler and GM with Ford the lone holdout.  This led to a rather bitter conflict between union organizers and Ford management but all this was after the 40 hour work week and other improvements in worker conditions.  Unionization was not the cause of them.

What did lead to these improvements was that Ford had to compete with other manufacturers–not just of cars since welders, metalworkers, and other folk can find work in other industries too–for productive workers.  The pay and other improvements in worker conditions meant he could select from the best workers allowing him to produce more cars at a cost that let him sell that 15 million cars and make a very handsome profit.

The conflict wasn’t between workers and capitalists, but between various capitalists with the workers benefiting.  On the flip side that “select from the best workers”?  If you wanted that job with, for the time, good pay and good working conditions?  You’d better be a more productive worker than the next guy.

The conflict within the classes dominated rather than any conflict between classes.  And the result was more commodities provided to society as a whole and an improved standard of living across the board.

The idea of “class conflict” is a pernicious one and one of the legacies of Karl Marx.  Indeed, it’s treated as a fact of nature to such an extent that people don’t even recognize it as a Marxian concept.  It’s something that people simply accept as true, as “self-evident.”  And yet, under even a modest examination it falls apart.

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Confessions of a Viking Goth: A Blast from the Past

I have often described as Goth, although maybe “Goth Lite” or perhaps “Entry Level Goth” is a better description.  Part of it is “personal branding”–having a distinctive “look” that can be distinctive and recognizable.  For instance, there are other writers out there who wear black almost exclusively but when I started on my personal branding efforts I searched and no one was styling himself or herself as “The Writer in Black”.  So I did.

But it was more than just a branding effort.  It was also a matter of recognizing who I am.  In the early eighties, I was out of my home, in the Air Force, out of training, and at my first duty assignment in Great Britain.  Basically, this was the first time where I was positioned to make my own choices for style and clothing.  Oh, sure, on duty it was all Air Force uniforms but off duty was my choice.  I found myself choosing black clothes and a style that, in retrospect were kind of “Goth-ish”.  The someone told me that if I wanted to be attractive to young women I should wear bright colored clothes.  Being unreservedly heterosexual, young, and single this was an important issue to me.

Worst.  Advice.  I’d.  Ever.  Got.

For one thing, it didn’t work.  But the clothes I was wearing just weren’t “me”.  Oh, over time I convinced myself they were, but…no.

Fast forward many years later.  I get introduced to music that I hadn’t been exposed to before.  Power metal, Symphonic/Gothic metal, darkwave.

Music like this:

Or this:

Or this:

Oh wow.  That was some exciting stuff.  It called to me in a way that the stuff I’d heard before, even my very favorites from before, hadn’t.  And it broke through the wall I had built.  I looked at my bright colored shirts and khaki and beige pants and said “this isn’t me.”

So I start wearing darker colors, mostly black.  I feel more comfortable than I ever had before.  I dye my hair black (beard too sometime later when I started growing that), bleach a streak above my right eye (which I dye purple for cons and the like).  And I feel more comfortable in my own skin then I ever have before.

Now, one thing I did learn is that there are different subgenres of Goth.  There’s Trad Goth, Industrial, Pastel Goth, Cyber Goth, Cowboy Goth, and so on.  Similarly in metal:  Power Metal, Death Metal, Symphonic Metal, Viking Metal, and so on.

And wait a minute I thought.  Back up.  Viking Metal?  Could there be Viking Goth too?  I look.  There’s no Viking Goth that I could find.

Cool, thinks I.  I can try something new.  The trick is to get a “Viking look”  like, say this:

what-vikings-really-looked-like-women

And blend it with a Goth look like, say, this:

1b687892494fd07ac111b38083f0aaf5

So far my results are looking more “Viking Biker” than “Viking Goth” but working on it.  Biker would be a perfectly fine look, but it’s not what I’m aiming at.

Ice Follies ongoing: Some success.

Success!

The main problem ongoing here has been that my feet have been pure misery. Bad arches and rather thick feet and ankles contributed to the problem. Well, trying the skates at home (plastic guards to protect floor and blades from each other of course) I could concentrate on what’s going on. I found that with one pair of my orthotics in place there was a pressure point right behind the balls of my feet where the pain was concentrated. Ah Hah! Said I. The shape of the boot and the orthotic conspired to cause the end of the orthotic dig into my foot there. So I took out the orthotic and just used a gel insole, carefully trimmed to match the insole that came with the boot. With that my whole foot hurt with most of the pain running along the inside edge of the arch.

This led me to sit down and think. Remember what I just said about thick feet and ankles? The laces that came with the skates (108″) weren’t really long enough, even the longer laces (120″) I’d bought at the rink pro shop weren’t. I had to crank them down really tight through the instep to have enough lace to get even the first three of the speed laces (hooks) which I needed for ankle support.

So I went to the store and got two pair of 72″ laces. I tied two laces together (twice) giving me 140″ laces. And ta dah! I was able to keep them just snug over my instep and get up all four pairs of speed laces. I still got some foot pain, bad arches aren’t magically going away, but it was manageable .

Tried it out on the ice tonight. So much better. Did eight laps–a personal best–with only a couple of short breaks to relieve foot pain. At the end it was fatigue, catching toe picks on the ice and the like, which told me it was time to stop.

That was yesterday.  Today I had class.  And while I still had to take frequent short breaks to take my weight off my feet and let the pain subside, it was nowhere near as bad as it had been before.  As a result I was able to spend more time on the ice and made quite a bit of progress today.  In particular, my balance was better and I was able to start working on one foot glides.    The one foot glides were short, only a couple of seconds each, but they represent a major step forward from where I was before.

And when I was done, I realized that I felt really, really good.  The difficulty, the challenge, made that little bit of success all the sweeter.  It’s been hours (as of this writing) since class and I’m still feeling a bit euphoric from it.

As I had said in a previous post, it really does pay off to face something difficult, seemingly insurmountable at the start, and then keep at it until you succeed.   The more difficult the challenge, and to a great extent the more painful it is along the way, the greater the rewards of final success.

This does not mean beating your head mindlessly against the problem.  As I did here, you have to think things through, figure out what’s getting in the way of your progress, what you can do to make it better and then do it.   Sometimes what you need really is to just keep throwing yourself at the problem.  But sometimes it means a step back, a reassessment, and a change of direction–like in the above figuring out the specifics of why my feet hurt so much.  There are still some improvements that I think can be made (and losing weight is one of them–simply reducing the stress on my feet from supporting my rather large frame could make a significant difference) but I am doing better and can expect to continue to do better going forward.

A Tale of Two Lanterns: A Blast from the Past

jordanscott

Short one today.

Many years ago I was a big comics fan.  Not a collect comics and keep them carefully in mylar bags to preserve them in mint condition, type fan but a grab everything I could get my hands on and read it until it falls apart type fan.

I loved comic books.  I loved heroes.  People who’ve read some of my other posts should understand that about me.  People with amazing powers who use those powers of their own free will, nobody outside forcing them to do it, to help others.  Awesome.  Can’t get enough of it. (And if some get paid for it–I’m looking at you Heroes for Hire–that’s fine too.  Just so long as they’re helping people along the way.)

One of those heroes was Green Lantern.  The Green Lantern of my childhood was Hal Jordan.  And every time he had to charge his Power Ring (every 24 hours), he said his oath:

In brightest day, in blackest night, no evil shall escape my sight.  Let those who worship evil’s might beware my power, Green Lantern’s light!

And so I went quite a few years.  I encountered other Lanterns from other space sectors (these Green Lantern’s were kind of like space cops, each with a sector of space to patrol).  I saw that the other Lanterns had their own oaths.  Okay, fair enough.

Times changed.  There was a “backup” Green Lantern on Earth (to take over if anything happened to Hal) named Guy Gardner.  Then something happened to him (don’t remember what) requiring another backup to be chosen.  John Stewart–the one people know from the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited series.

John Stewart

But then, some years later I encountered the Golden Age Green Lantern, Alan Scott.  His ring was quite different.  Where Hal’s was the product of alien super-science, Alan’s was from an ancient magic lantern prophesied to flare three times, once for death, once for life, and once for power.  We get the tale of the first two flares and the third flare is where Alan Scott gets his power.  He makes his ring from a part of the lantern (I know that doesn’t make sense.  It was the 40’s.  Just go with it.) and becomes the Green Lantern.  Instead of being vulnerable to the color yellow (in the sense that it can’t directly affect anything of that color), his ring is vulnerable to “natural things” (likewise) as opposed to manufactured which soon morphs into “doesn’t affect wood.”

His oath, too, was different.

I shall shed my light over dark evil, for dark things cannot stand the light.  The light of the Green Lantern.

That rocked.  For that oath alone I prefer the Alan Scott Green Lantern to the Hal Jordan one.

Hal’s oath is about power.  I don’t disparage power.  It allows one to do great things.  But Alan’s?  Alan’s is not about power.  It’s about being a light, a beacon.  Light that shines forth.  Evil cowers from it.  Good is drawn to it.

Power can be countered with power, but light?  Darkness can only retreat from it.  It can try to extinguish the light but it cannot defeat it.  As the metaphor goes, a single candle defeats the deepest darkness.

Not all of us have power, but all of us can be a light that shines in the world, the light of freedom, of courage, of ideals soaring high.

Be like Alan Scott, let your light shine forth.

Rainbow Bridge: A Blast from the Past

Some friends of mine have recently reported the loss of beloved companion animals.  And since the formatting was butchered on the previous posting, this seems like a good time for a repost.

The Rainbow Bridge

(I’ve seen this story done as text.  Here it’s done as verse.)

By the edge of a woods, at the foot of a hill,
Is a lush, green meadow where time stands still.
Where the friends of man and woman do run,
When their time on earth is over and done.
For here, between this world and the next,
Is a place where each beloved creature finds rest.
On this golden land, they wait and they play,
Till the Rainbow Bridge they cross over one day.
No more do they suffer, in pain or in sadness,
For here they are whole, their lives filled with gladness.
Their limbs are restored, their health renewed,
Their bodies have healed, with strength imbued.
They romp through the grass, without even a care,
Until one day they start, and sniff at the air.
All ears prick forward, eyes dart front and back,
Then all of a sudden, one breaks from the pack.
For just at that instant, their eyes have met;
Together again, both person and pet.
So they run to each other, these friends from long past,
The time of their parting is over at last.
The sadness they felt while they were apart,
Has turned into joy once more in each heart.
They embrace with a love that will last forever,
And then, side-by-side, they cross over… together.
© 1998 Steve and Diane Bodofsky. All Rights Reserved.

In the same vein, there is the following:

Unlike most days at Rainbow Bridge, this day dawned cold and gray, damp as a swamp and as dismal as could be imagined. All the recent arrivals were confused and concerned. They had no idea what to think for they had never experienced a day like this before. But the animals who had spent some time waiting for their beloved people knew exactly what was happening and began to gather at the pathway leading to the Bridge to watch. They knew this was something special.

It wasn’t too long before an elderly animal came into view, head hung heavy and low with tail dragging along the ground. The other animals on the pathway…the ones who had been at RainBow Bridge for a while…knew the story of this sad creature immediately. They had seen it happen far too many times.

Although it was obvious the animal’s heart was leaden and he was totally overcome with emotional pain and hurt, there was no sign of injury or any illness. Unlike the pets waiting at the Bridge, this dog had not been restored to his prime. He was full of neither health nor vigor. He approached slowly and painfully, watching all the pets who were by now watching him. He knew he was out of place here. This was no resting place for him. He felt instinctively that the sooner he could cross over, the happier he would be. But alas, as he came closer to the Bridge, his way was barred by the appearance of an Angel who spoke softly to the old dog and apologized sorrowfully, telling him that he would not be able to pass. Only those animals who were with their special people could pass over the RainBow Bridge. And he had no special beloved people…not here at the Bridge nor on Earth below.

With no place else to turn, the poor elderly dog looked toward the fields before the Bridge. There, in a separate area nearby, he spotted a group of other sad-eyed animals like himself…elderly and infirm. Unlike the pets waiting for their special people, these animals weren’t playing, but simply lying on the green grass, forlornly and miserably staring out at the pathway leading to the Bridge. The recent arrival knew he had no choice but to join them. And so, he took his place among them, just watching the pathway and waiting.

One of the newest arrivals at the Bridge, who was waiting for his special people, could not understand what he had just witnessed and asked one of the pets who had been there for some time to explain it to him.

“That poor dog was a rescue, sent to the pound when his owner grew tired of him. The way you see him now, with graying fur and sad, cloudy eyes, was exactly the way he was when he was put into the kennels. He never, ever made it out and passed on only with the love and comfort that the kennel workers could give him as he left his miserable and unloved existence on Earth for good. Because he had no family or special person to give his love, he has nobody to escort him across the Bridge.”

The first animal thought about this for a minute and then asked, “So what will happen now?”

As he was about to receive his answer, the clouds suddenly parted and the all-invasive gloom lifted. Coming toward the Bridge could be seen a single figure…a person who, on Earth, had seemed quite ordinary…a person who, just like the elderly dog, had just left Earth forever. This figure turned toward a group of the sad animals and extended outstretched palms. The sweetest sounds they had ever heard echoed gently above them and all were bathed in a pure and golden light. Instantly, each was young and healthy again, just as they had been in the prime of life.

From within the gathering of pets waiting for their special people, a group of animals emerged and moved toward the pathway. As they came close to the passing figure, each bowed low and each received a tender pat on the head or a scratch behind the ears. Their eyes grew even brighter as the figure softly murmured each name. Then, the newly-restored pets fell into line behind the figure and quietly followed this person to the Bridge, where they all crossed together.

The recent arrival who had been watching, was amazed. “What happened?”

“That was a rescuer,” came the answer.

“That person spent a lifetime trying to help pets of all kinds. The ones you saw bowing in respect were those who found new homes because of such unselfish work. They will cross when their families arrive. Those you saw restored were ones who never found homes. When a rescuer arrives, they are permitted to perform one, final act of rescue. They are allowed to escort those poor pets that couldn’t place on Earth across the Rainbow Bridge. You see, all animals are special to them…just as they are special to all animals.”

“I think I like rescuers,” said the recent arrival.

“So do the gods,” was the reply.

–Author Unknown.

And, yes, these two just about always make me cry.

Oh, and no, I do not accept any conception of an afterlife which is not shared with the many animals I’ve loved and cherished.  No just gods could permit it.

Marxism

In 1982 Thomas Sowell wrote a book “Marxism” in which he laid out first the arguments that Marx and Engles made (as opposed to the stuff that people claimed later in the name of “Marxism”, stuff that often directly contradicted what Marx and Engles wrote).  In the preface he said that he’d save criticism of Marxism for the end of the book.

I’ve been listening to the book on Audible.  I haven’t got to the “Criticism” point yet, and am near the end of Chapter 7 as Audible counts it (which may or may not match the actual book chapters).  And, so far, I find three major flaws in Marx’s ideas (they’re not the only ones, just the ones that loom largest).

First, Marx defines “class” not in terms of a group’s similarities and differences from other groups but _expressly_ in terms of “conflict”. A group can be well defined in any particulars but if it’s not in conflict with another group, then it’s not a “class.” A result of this that I can see is once you accept this as a definition, it is a small step to use the more conventional definition of “class” and simply assume that said classes must, then, be in conflict.  After all, since Marx declared that classes are always in conflict (because that’s the definition of “class” he used) then if one has a class (by other definitions) then it must be in conflict with other classes.  This seems a reasonable argument to most people even though it’s false and based on confusing definitions.

In Capitalism, indeed, the biggest conflict is not between “capitalists” and “the proletariat” (workers).  It’s between capitalists and other capitalists.  They compete for customers.  They compete for good workers who produce value for them.  They compete for resources.  All of this competition means that they cannot charge arbitrarily high prices for their commodities.  They cannot pay arbitrarily low wages.  And they certainly cannot make arbitrarily high profits.  The competition among capitalists flies in the face of the Marxist idea that conflict is between classes.

Second, he attempts to define an objective “true” value for commodities. It’s not simply the labor theory of value that often gets ascribed to him. The problem with this is that if you declare a “true” value to any commodity–including ones labor–than one cannot benefit from a transaction except at the expense of the other party to that transaction. Instead, if one considers value to be subjective and each individual has their own value they place on something, then I can trade something I value less and you value more for something you value less and I value more, and both of us benefit. Indeed, in the absence of force or fraud, this is the only kind of transaction that will occur.

If I have apples and you have chairs, I can trade some of my apples for a chair and we both come out ahead–or I can trade some of the apples to someone else for money and then trade the money to you for a chair, which money you trade for something you want, and everyone comes out ahead.  We each get something we want (value) more in exchange for something we value less.

The third, and this is a real doozy, is defining the income of the workers in such a way that it’s entirely possible for the workers to become richer in conventional meanings–meaning that they have an improved standard of living and greater buying power for the commodities available–and still be considered “poorer” simply because someone else is advancing faster. They have a relatively “smaller slice” of whatever the current pie is however much bigger the pie is and however much bigger in absolute terms that pie may be. Thus you can get claims of “the poor get poorer” even if they’re living better than the wealthy of decades and centuries past.  Marx himself acknowledged that the workers were doing better, had a higher standard of living, than those of times past and yet still declared that they were getting poorer because the “Capitalists” were doing better yet.  I have, of course, dealt with that one before.

Now, to a certain extent these mistakes were understandable to someone of Marx’s time.  The concept of marginal utility, and thus that “value” was not a fixed characteristic of something but something that can vary from individual to individual, from situation to situation, from time to time, was just making inroads into economics.  And with the French Revolution still within living memory the coupling of class and conflict can certainly be understood.  And the idea that some could be “poorer”, not because they have less but because someone else has more is not original with Marx.  All of these things are, to a certain extent, products of their time.  The problem is that they continue to be at the core of so many folks’ political and economic philosophies long after they have been shown to be simply wrong.

Indeed, people today often simply accept the idea of “class conflict” as being the natural order of things.  They believe that there’s some objective sum that is the “value” of a given thing.  And they believe that “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer” is inevitable unless stopped by the coercive power of government.  So thoroughly have they been indoctrinated that they don’t even recognize that this is Marxist doctrine.  And they certainly don’t recognize that it’s completely, utterly false, or at best self-fulfilling prophecy.  If, for instance, you believe that class differences must come with conflict, you will seek conflict.  If you believe that there is some objective “value” to things, you will always see yourself cheated by being charged more than what you think the “value” of something is or not being paid what you think your “value” is worth.  And if you are driven by envy you won’t see your own improvement in standard of living but the rise of others who are doing better than you.

And so, these three things between them render anything build on them as a foundation utterly worthless. They are the source of endless conflict that obscures, rather than illuminates, roads to the actual improvement of the state of humanity.

And yet people still cling to them and to other principles that are derived from that artfully worded claptrap.