The most lucrative jobs in America involve running Wall Street scams, lobbying for private interest groups, for which former members of the House, Senate, and executive branch are preferred, and producing schemes for the enrichment of think-tank donors, which, masquerading as public policy, can become law.
This paper is forthcoming in an issue of the leading European journal devoted to the Frankfurt School, Analyse und Kritik, in a special issue on an important topic in Marxist theory, namely, "The Normative Turn Away from Marxism." The abstract:
Marx did not have a normative theory, that is, a theory that purported to justify, discursively and systematically, his normative opinions, to show them to be rationally obligatory or objectively valid. In this regard, Marx was obviously not alone: almost everyone, including those who lead what are widely regarded as exemplary “moral” lives, decide and act on the basis of normative intuitions and inclinations that fall far short of a theory. Yet self-proclaimed Marxists like G.A. Cohen and Jurgen Habermas have reintroduced a kind of normative theory into the Marxian tradition that Marx himself would have ridiculed. This essay defends Marx’s position and tries to explain the collapse of Western Marxism into bourgeois practical philosophy, i.e., philosophizing about what ought to be done that is unthreatening to capitalist relations of production (more precisely, practical philosophy that is addressed to individuals, that is primarily concerned with what to believe, and that is obsessed with moral trivialities).
Part I argues that the Marxian account of revolution under capitalism presupposes only that the agents are instrumentally rational (and thus Marx is, for all important purposes, a Humean). Part II offers a kind of intellectual genealogy of the rise of bourgeois practical philosophy in America, England, and Europe, focusing, in particular, on Cohen and Habermas, but also Peter Singer. Various forms of intuitionism (Moore, Rawls) are central to the story in the Anglophone world, while the crucial event in the European context was the merely philosophical challenge to instrumental rationality launched by Horkheimer and brought to Kantian fruition by Habermas.
Part III concludes with some speculative structural hypotheses about why Marxism should have collapsed into irrelevant normative theory over the last half-century, noting the political and legal purge of Marxists in both American and Germany, as well as the massive expansion of the university system and the premium placed on an appearance of a “method.”
Another interestingly provocative e-mail from longtime reader S. Wallerstein, regarding the identity politics "left":
They've been very successful at imposing their hegemony on the left, especially in the U.S., so that they are the only "queer" people, so that they are always victims and that of course coincides with the rise of neoliberalism and the bourgeois offensive against the working class. It just suits Wall St. fine that the paradigm of oppression is no longer the guy or woman working for the minimum wage, but a disabled lesbian philosopher who didn't get tenure at an elite university. And most of us, myself included, feel very uncomfortable not being on the side of the victims, but there are victims and there are victims. I don't want to sound cynical, but if I were Wall St., I'd fund all leftwing identity politics groups to distract leftwing attention from class politics, just as the CIA during the cold war funded all groups defending "cultural freedom" behind the Iron Curtain.
...and gives money to charity and now feels good about himself. How much harm is he doing by working at the hedge fund? I guess that doesn't count. How much good would he and the hedge fund managers do if they gave all their money to Bernie Sanders? Can't be measured effectively, so doesn't count.
I agree with most of what Pete Mills writes here (scroll to page 4); some excerpts (sorry about the font problems):
In practice...80,000 Hours has one dominant answer to the problems of the worst-off: in most cases, it turns out the right thing to do will be to embark on a high-paying career, get rich, and donate some of the proceeds to particularly efficient charities. What 80k offers is not neutrality, but a degree of certainty. It gives you a metric, a number – of lives saved – which you can use to evaluate your career choices. In fact, this method makes the ostensibly difficult ethical decision about what to do with your life rather simple. For the vast majority, the best choice proves to be what 80k calls “professional philanthropy”: a long march through the banking institutions. That is the novelty of 80k. The problem is political. 80k’s avowed neutrality serves to conceal the political logic of its practice. Professional philanthropy does not just involve making your peace with the system – it means embracing it. The unstated imperative: don’t rock the boat. As a banker, or a corporate lawyer, or a management consultant, what enriches you is your position in a set of profoundly exploitative social relations, which we might label capitalism....
The result is a toxic political quietism. As a professional philanthropist, the size of your donations depends on the size of your company’s profits. Your interests are aligned with the interests of capital. Anything that might disrupt production – from taxes on the wealthy at home to a strike of factory workers abroad – is potentially suspect. It is no accident that 80k’s professionalised account of political change is limited to lobbying within the system....
Once the assumptions which allow the precise calculation of the benefits of professional philanthropy – 2,000 lives saved – are in place, it is difficult to see how 80k’s other career suggestions can be much more than an afterthought (save, perhaps, persuading other people to do it). The dubious precision of these calculations and the rhetoric of efficiency obscure the real uncertainty that surrounds these decisions. In practice, if people follow 80k’s logic to its conclusion, only those supremely confident in their own abilities will opt for something else....
80k makes much of replaceability: “the job will exist whatever you do.” This is stronger than the claim that someone else will become a banker; rather, it states that there will always be bankers, that there will always be exploitation. Nothing can change. This is what I mean when I say professional philanthropy is dependent on perpetuating capitalism. Capitalism is not a policy programme which you are for or against but a set of social relations; taking a low-paid job, or no job at all, does not mean you somehow live outside the system. But professional philanthropy needs exploitation in order to mitigate the effects of exploitation. That is why it cannot address the causes of the world’s problems. 80k collapses the question of what is to be done into the individualist framework of career choice....
The language of probability will always fail to capture the possibility of system change. What was the expected value of the civil rights movement, or the campaign for universal suffrage, or anti-colonial struggles for independence? As we have seen most recently with the Arab Spring, every revolution is impossible, until it is inevitable.
The Babylonian calculations that constitute 80k’s careers research exclude these possibilities by design. 80k addresses its subject as a participant in exchange, a future employee – and nothing more. The result is a self-fulfilling prophecy of impotence. Without any concept of society as a collective endeavour, we cannot address problems at their root but only those symptoms which are tractable on an atomised, individual level.
There are also responses from the charity crowd; readers may judge for themselves.
(Thanks to Pablo Zendejas Medina for the pointer.)
And so defenses like this are silly. Who, besides Ayn Rand, isn't in favor of improving the well-being of others? The problem has to do with the way the EA folks interpret "effective," which guarantees that it will be both ineffective and very appealing to the capitalist media, which loves moral self-congratulation that is utterly unthreatening to capitalist relations of production and the ruling class.
I want to be clear: those philosophers giving their money to charities are not acting wrongfully in my view. They are acting wrongfully, however, in pretending that this is what one ought to do, that somehow the catastrophic harms that afflict large segments of humanity are in any meaningful way addressed by their charitable contributions.
...the Boston Review has a symposium on the "effective altruism" schtick, the latest form of self-congratulatory moral entertainment for bourgeois academics. A shame they didn't have any Marxists comment, but the economists Daron Acemoglu and Angus Deaton are the voices of reason here.
I first encountered this famous remark of Heine's in Freud, who was discussing revenge; Heine wrote:
Mine is a most peaceable disposition. My wishes are: a humble cottage with a thatched roof, but a good bed, good food, the freshest milk and butter, flowers before my window, and a few fine trees before my door; and if God wants to make my happiness complete, he will grant me the joy of seeing some six or seven of my enemies hanging from those trees. Before death I shall, moved in my heart, forgive them all the wrong they did me in their lifetime. One must, it is true, forgive one's enemies-- but not before they have been hanged.
Totally believable and totally disgusting. In a civilized society, these pointless people would be separated from the money that makes their excesses possible. (And it's an illusion that this behavior is confined only to the Upper East Side.)
You've linked to two articles by Todd Gitlin recently. Both indicate troubling characteristics of college students that are possibly (at least in part) attributable to the influence that capitalism exerts on American culture (e.g. freshmen are now in general more interested in great financial success than "develop[ing] a meaningful philosophy of life," while in 1974 the latter was more strongly valued than the former - perhaps this is explicable in terms of changes in the college population, but from what I understand (uniquely capitalistic) economic forces may well be to blame). Then there are larger worries about growing depression among Americans (Gitlin speaks to this in one of the articles that you posted), which is sometimes vaguely explained as a product of an empty consumer culture that allegedly breeds nihilism. (A more expansive list of cultural problems supposedly produced by capitalism is offered by Terry Eagleton in Why Marx was Right: "Alienation, the ‘commodification’ of social life, a culture of greed, aggression, mindless hedonism and growing nihilism, the steady hemorrhage of meaning and value from human existence . . . .")
In light of the foregoing, my question is this: Are there any good, and relatively recent, books or articles that argue that capitalism has deleterious effects on American (or, more broadly, Western) culture? If there are, I've had little success in finding them. The Frankfurt School is clearly relevant here, but Adorno, Horkheimer, and Marcuse were (obviously) engaged with a world substantially different from the current one, and the modern representatives of the Frankfurt School (e.g. Habermas and Honneth) repeatedly strike me as far too gentle with contemporary culture, possibly for fear of seeming too pessimistic.
Habermas basically abandoned the original critical/Marxian/Freudian aspects of Critical Theory in favor of a return to Kant. But the question posed is a good one. What would readers recommend by sociologists, historians, political theorists, philosophers etc.?
Now you know what I'm working on this evening. Here it is in brief: Marx thought technological innovation under capitalism would produce a falling rate of profit for capitalist enterprises, but he thought this because he accepted the labor theory of value, which is false. Yet at the limit technological innovation under capitalism will produce a falling rate of profit because the elimination of human labor will reduce the total pool of consumers. Is there a good discussion of this in the economic literature? Thanks.
Within two decades, we will have almost unlimited energy, food, and clean water; advances in medicine will allow us to live longer and healthier lives; robots will drive our cars, manufacture our goods, and do our chores.
There won’t be much work for human beings. Self-driving cars will be commercially available by the end of this decade and will eventually displace human drivers—just as automobiles displaced the horse and buggy—and will eliminate the jobs of taxi, bus, and truck drivers. Drones will take the jobs of postmen and delivery people....
Robots are already replacing manufacturing workers. Industrial robots have advanced to the point at which they can do the same physical work as human beings. The operating cost of some robots is now less than the salary of an average Chinese worker. And, unlike human beings, robots don’t complain, join labor unions, or get distracted. They readily work 24 hours a day and require minimal maintenance. Robots will also take the jobs of farmers, pharmacists, and grocery clerks.
Medical sensors in our smartphones, clothing, and bathrooms will soon be monitoring our health on a minute-to-minute basis. Combined with electronic medical records and genetic and lifestyle data, these will provide enough information for physicians to focus on preventing disease rather than on curing it....
The writing is clearly on the wall about what lies ahead. Yet even the most brilliant economists—and futurists—don’t know what to do about it....
[A]t best we have another 10 to 15 years in which there is a role for humans. The number of available jobs will actually increase in the U.S. and Europe before it decreases. China is out of time because it has a manufacturing-based economy, and those jobs are already disappearing. Ironically, China is accelerating this demise by embracing robotics and 3D printing. As manufacturing comes back to the U.S., new factories need to be built, robots need to be programmed, and new infrastructure needs to be developed. To install new hardware and software on existing cars to make them self-driving, we will need many new auto mechanics. We need to manufacture the new medical sensors, install increasingly efficient solar panels, and write new automation software.
And see also this. Unless the productive forces of the world are used for common support, the future will be grim indeed.
UPDATE: See also this essay by sociologist Randall Collins, which starts at p. 27 in the linked volume. (Thanks to Benj Hellie for the pointer.)
[I]f you are looking for a traditional understanding of modernism and of Deleuze and Guattari, you are bound to be greatly disappointed, because the idea of understanding as a stable and unified meaning is challenged and usurped here. This is not only because there are many different and sometimes incompatible views drawn together. It is also because many of the interpretations of modernism are often self-avowedly evasive and performed as such. At its most extreme, this effect brings us close to one of Deleuze's favourite authors, Lewis Carroll, and the mad tea-party. It turns out that to understand modernism we have to understand that we cannot understand what modernism is but rather experience what it does as something disunited and discombobulating....
I will conclude with a perhaps churlish qualm or cranky misgiving, not so much about the quality of this volume on the terms it has set itself with respect to artistic modernism and Deleuze and Guattari, but rather to extensions of the modern that seem essential 'in these times', as they say. The worry came about when reading the outstanding glossary entry on the rhizome, written by Eugene Holland. He is one of the foremost and most impassioned commentators on Deleuze and Guattari and politics, in particular in relation to their critique of global capitalism. So, in reflecting upon the idea of the 'rhizome-book' he remarks that 'the aim of such a book . . . is not to represent the world as it is or what it means, but to survey and map its tendencies and becomings, for better and for worse, so as to be able to affirm the former and avert the latter' (272). It is of course no coincidence that Holland reminds us of the debt to Marx in Deleuze and Guattari and political modernism. This progressive political and philosophical side of modernism is strangely lacking in the book. It is an absence that cannot be seen as a flaw on its own terms, yet it made me feel uneasy and fleetingly sad. I wanted to scream a new slogan: Modernism is collectively political, or it dies. No doubt the authors will respond that their works are political in the sense of seeking to change situations for the better on a micro-political plane. True. Yet I sensed too great an emphasis on individual ills and local connections, rather than collective action, for either Deleuze or modernism to be up to the challenges of the collapse of progressive late-modern societies and their eyeless tottering into something far worse.
This nonsense would surely have been enough to make Marx long for the philosophical sobriety of Bruno Bauer.
This is a lightly revised version of a paper I gave last week at a very enjoyable conference on "Philosophy in the Public Sphere" at the Jindal Global University in Sonipat, India, near Delhi; the abstract:
The idea of “public philosophy”—that is, philosophy as contributing to questions of moral and political urgency in the community in which it is located—is paradoxical for two reasons. The first is that normative philosophy has no well-established substantive conclusions about the right and the good. Thus, philosophers enter into moral and political debate purporting to offer some kind of expertise, but the expertise they offer can not consist in any credible claim to know what is good, right, valuable, or any other substantive normative proposition that might be decisive in practical affairs. But philosophers—at least those in the broadly Socratic traditions--do bring to debate a method or way of thinking about contested normative questions: they are good at parsing arguments, clarifying the concepts at play in a debate, teasing out the dialectical entailments of suppositions and claims, and so on: Socratic philosophers are, in short, purveyors of what I call “discursive hygiene.” This brings us to the second paradox: although philosophers can contribute no substantive knowledge about the good and the right, they can contribute discursive hygiene. But discursive hygiene plays almost no role in public life, and an only erratic, and highly contingent, role in how people form beliefs about matters of moral and political urgency. I call attention to the role of two factors in moral judgment: non-rational emotional responses and “Tribalism,” the tendency to favor members of one “tribe” at the expense of others. The prevalence of emotional responses, especially tribalist ones, undermines the efficacy of discursive hygiene in public life.
I conclude that the role for public philosophy is quite circumscribed, though public philosophers should learn from their cousins, the lawyers, who appreciate the role that rhetoric, beyond discursive hygiene, plays in changing moral attitudes and affecting action. Along the way, I discuss Stevenson’s emotivism, what we can learn from Peter Singer’s schizophrenic role as a public philosopher (lauded for his defense of animal rights, pilloried for his defense of killing defective humans), evolutionary explanations of tribalism, the lessons of American Legal Realism for the possible relevance of discursive hygiene, and Marx and Nietzsche as "public" philosophers.
Continental Philosophy Farhang Erfani, a philosopher at American University, provides a useful set of links to news, events, interviews, reviews, videos, etc. related to "Continental philosophy" (broadly construed)