Free Association Friday 1

Today we will talk about a losely connected set of topics with no citations. It's blogging in its purest form. I intend to write a post like this every friday.

  1. Class analysis and Fascism
  2. Law and Instrumentalism
  3. Women hating and the paucity of pure philosophy
  4. The ontological shell games of demography and punditry
  5. Economics and rationality
  6. Conflict and Continuity

Class analysis and Fascism

I've been thinking a lot about the attempted Jan. 6th putsch since the hearings have been in the news. The classic exponent of fascism is the petit-bourgeoisie. This still held true on January 6th - we saw that the main body of fascist partians were small business CEOs and sons of yacht salesman. However, the classical definition of petit-bourgeoisie also includes doctors, lawyers, and the general educated classes. Why are these groups more reticent to embrace fascist politics? The most interesting thing to note here is the fact that this sort of intellectual labor has been increasingly proletarianized: Doctors do not own their own practices anymore, instead they work for much larger firms. The paucity of the "professional managerial class" framework should teach us that class analysis is not about pure ontologizing nor about cultural aesthetics, rather it is about understanding the material circumstances as they are.

When we look at "knowledge workers", highly skilled and educated laborers, we see that they tend to work for large organizations (big legal firms, the state, big tech companies) that minimize their precarity. Depending on income they also may have vested interests in real estate and the market more broadly. There is also a superstructural element here - the lack of precarity allows certain employers to convince workers that they have a vested interest in the status quo balance of powers more generally. In particular you see this with tech workers and lawyers, who can be convinced to give up control over their own labor peacably, often through cult-like tactics. Doctors and professors tend to have interests more wrapped up in the state, but this can vary wildly depending on the profession. Statistical evidence shows extreme outliers - surgeons tend to heavily skew right and psychiatrists tend to heavily skew left. Rather than just blindly concluding that they are both part of the "intellegientsia" or "professional managerial class", it's more incisive to see that the couch of a psychiatrist is at the intersection of the social, political and economic ills of society - whereas the surgeon's table propagates a formal separation as the body is treated as a mechanical assemblage rather than a social or political one. The intellegentsia in general an incredibly diverse group, ranging from adjunct nursing professors to wealthy lawyers - simplistic categorization misses quite a lot of important detial here: the categorization of "intellegentsia" itself is not class analysis but rather a poor excuse not to do any class analysis whatsoever.

Law and Instrumentalism

Speaking of lawyers, I've found the discussion of the supreme court over the past week both fascinating and lacking. The current discussion focuses around the nascent politicization of the supreme court. While that is true to an extent, it ignores the bigger fish in the room: the fact that an entire branch of legal thought and the judges associated have created a framework in which the law justifies taking us back to the imagined era of jeffersonian democracy. An imagined era in which women have no protected rights and capital takes up all functions that would be left up to the state bureaucracy. On its face, this is absolutely bizarre. One expects that the legal system would act in order to justify the necessary powers of the state to continue its existence. Perhaps we must then take a more instrmentalist view? The half of judges and legal scholars that believe in these bunk theories are acting in the pure, naked interest of capital. The elimination of minority proections, of the right to abortion and the right to vote, is a path towards the elimination of the EPA and FDA. One cannot run a modern state without the bureaucracy, but the long term ramifications of the court's actions is unimportant to those few companies that see government regulation as the primary threat to business. And what about the other half of the legal scholars? It's interesting in the sense that the other half of the law serves the traditionally structuralist purpose of ensuring the long term existence of capital and property rights. This may be more instructive to think about broadly. Is it right to think of the various functions of the state in purely instrmentalist or purely structural terms? From a basic analysis of the current takeover of the legal system it seems that structural compromise can self-implode in a spectacular fashion. The long term viability of capital, after all, is a lot more of an interest to the state than it is to the members of bourgeoisie that are threatened by state regulation. Of course, both american conservatives and american liberals will arrest and imprison peaceful protestors with impunity, but only one of them wants to destroy the clean air act.

Women hating and the paucity of pure philosophy

I recently found myself searching around about abortion in various philosophy literature. Most papers I could find were analytic philosophers, many of them christians, defending the notion that abortion begins at conception. How they did this was especially insidiuous - they assumed a fundamental distinction between "human" and "non-human" and then tried to place that line at the point that seemed as non-arbitrary as possible. A pure intuition pump, if you ask me. But this brings on the obvious question - how can you speak about abortion without speaking of the long history of misogyny? How can you live in the United States without seeing the relentless women hating all around us? It's clear that any of these arguments made is pure poppycock. The philosophical handwringing about the start of life is nothing but a veil for the vile misogyny at the heart of politics. If from pure reason one arrives at this conclusion that makes women sub-human then it is clear that the reasoning itself is fundamentally immoral. How does this post-hoc rationalization of misogyny work? It claims to start with a pure ontologization, an idealist framework that purports a materially and scientifically non-existent difference : a clear line between human and inhuman. But it's clear from any historical or political analysis that this ontologization occurs ipso facto from the very act of misogyny and the creation of sexual difference itself. Perhaps in a world where the people who carry children, be they women, men, or of any other gender, have equality of political power and are not alienated from their very own bodies we could entertain a discussion on the complicated fabric of sentience and moral agency. But until that is the case any abstract philosophizing just serves to provide cover for the fundamental misogyny at the heart of society.

The ontological shell games of demography and punditry

It's quite funny, in the process of politicking you'll often see pundits writing for prominent newspapers prognosticate and create strategies from the hip using demographic data. Often times this will include ruthlessly specific characterization of nonexistent demographic averages. We're all familiar at this point with the notion of the "average american" being a conservative ex-coal miner, rather than a liberal hospice care nurse working 60 hours a week to feed her children. Such creations are understandable - it's much easier to view in our heads an exemplary individual rather than a demographic average. But at the same time, this mode of thought is completely inane. Not only does it not take into account basic correlations of opinion, it makes the greater sin of assuming pure rationality of the citizen. Economic rationality, that is to say, the trivial statement that people follow their preferences, has very little to do with political rationality. Whereas the money-form serves a broad equivalent of exchange, the vote and political action more broadly has no general equivalent whatsoever. The assumption of prefernece-rationality, let alone philosophical-rationality, when it comes political action is pure bunk! Any conclusion at all is possible when dividing up the lines as we see fit. This is made clear by reading the op-eds themselves, which appear more as looking at the entrails of a chicken to form just-so stories that reinforce prior ideas of the world than any sort of hard-nosed scientific analysis. This is not say that horse-race political analysis is impossible, simply that we face a complete and total lack of any useful analysis beyond the most basic of facts. And this makes a lot of sense, punditry is not meant to serve as rigorous science to the benefit of the political partisans that push it; rather it is meant as a way to create a cultural dynamics of political support that encourages the ever increasing avalanche of small-time donations to help grease the wheels of the political machinery.

Economics and rationality

It's curious how one of the most common left-wing critiques of new consensus economics centers around the assumption of rationality. As we talked about above rationality in economics is quite a different idea than rationality everywhere else. Rationality in economics is about the ways in which people value goods according to the various preferences. Even in behavioral economics rationality is mostly upheld with a few nudges and corrections, along with properly pricing in phenomena that can be difficult to measure and account for, such as social stigma. The assumption of this sort of rationality tends to be very empirically successful. And of course it is! This sort of rationality is nearly tautological, it would be quite surprising if a consumer does not act within their marginal preferences, since the very act of preference formation is in their ability as a consumer. In this sense that a critique of the assumption of rationality isn't particularly useful for a marxist analysis of capital - at the most, disputing rationality leads us to opt-out 401K's rather than opt-in. Rather a proper critique of new consensus economics needs to understand the fundamental irrationality of rational preferences. Rationality in its philosophical form is not about following preferneces - it is rather about moral and scientific reason. But economic rationality, just like philosophical rationality, contradicts itself. What causes the formation of preferences other than the acts of production and consumption, what else could? The myth of the consistent individual, of the atom separated from society as a whole, is the act of economic rationality. And economic rationality as a social force invariably leads to the dissolution of any idea of the social - it is synonymous with the thatcherian paradigm "there is no society, only individuals". This pure irrationality that follows from the rationality of the market. The critique of economics is not, then, that humans do not behave rationality, but rather that the very rationality of the market that compels and consists of human behavior itself reverts to irrationality in its purest form.

Conflict and Continuity

In the history of science we see two conflicting viewpoints. The conflict thesis is the idea that the science grew from its fundamental conflict with religion - that the scientific advancements of early moderns were fundamentally due to their increased freedom from religious oppression. The continuity thesis is the opposite - the idea that the science of the early moderns grew because of religious patronage of scholarship, not in spite of it. Nowdays the most popular views are various "complexity theses" - they do not have a particularly clean definition but can be surmised as the idea that science does not conflict fundamentally with religion, but rather that there were a specific set of social circumstances that led to outbreaks of conflict at specific times. What I find interesting about all these various views is the way in which the fascination with scientific practices becomes a defining focal point for modern identity. Why do we identify so strongly with science? Perhaps the obvious answer is that it represents of the strongest engines of knowledge we have today, but of course people were always creating knowledge. Even if we became much better at this in the 17th century, why would the great leap of scientific progress necessarily have to be due to the ideology of science, be it religious, secular or something in between or completely separate? Isn't the more likely explanation the great expansion of literacy, capital, colonialism, cultural exchange, optics (including glasses), coffee, the nation-state, and the accounting system? Perhaps this is off task, even if the ideology of science is not causative of the progress of science, it clearly is a unique cultural formation that really does matter in direct material ways. In this sense I would propose my own simplistic marxist explanation - science by its very nature had to grow from religious systems by the very nature of scholarship and the university. This growth creates contradiction, first leading to more and more heterodox religious thought among scholars, eventually culminating in the idea of science as a completely secular practice. The evolution of scientific ideology makes sense with the shift from church-funded scholars to liberal nobles and landed gentry, eventually to scholarship fully captured as state practice. This is probably a rather stupid view on the matter, but let it stand for now. It's perhaps more important to understand what science means for us today and our place in the history of knowledge before we play historgraphical darts to see what sticks.