March has been a very busy month. I’ve been doing a lot, reading a lot, thinking a lot, but haven’t had time to sit down and write a coherent blog post. So I’m going to try cobbling one together out of some of my shorter journal entries for the month. I’ve been rereading Dewey’s Experience and Nature (among other things), and much in the following musings is influenced by that. The last, however, was influenced in part by discussions at a recent DSA meeting on Monte Pearson’s Perils of Empire, and by an article by Arthur MacEwan.
Rules of arithmetic have their properties only in virtue of the abstractness of numbers. For instance, consider X&Y chromosomes. Normal human females have two X chromosomes, normal males have one X and one Y. Thus,
F: 2 ea x 1 type = 2 chromosomes
M: 1 ea x 2 types = 2 chromosomes
Abstracted to the level of chromosomes, this gives:
2 x 1 = 1 x 2 = 2
which is valid, but the practical significance of the information lost to abstraction is far from trivial.
In general, classes of things are classes only if the difference between members is unimportant, which is a function of the analysis to be performed, and the level of abstraction appropriate to that analysis.
Reality is always there, it is just-as-it-is. But knowing always involves an abstraction. There is no way to know something just-as-it-is. The notion of doing so is vacuous: there is no meaningful way to understand it. The just-as-it-is cannot be inside your head. What is in your head is a pattern of neurological activity, chemicals, electricity... This neural pattern is associated with the just-as-it-is. They are linked in experience. This linkage is knowing. It involves a process of abstraction (choice from among the full range of experience presented) and analysis (ordering and associations upon the objects of choice).
Confusion around the concept of causation may result from applying (as a metaphor) concepts pertaining to the goal-directed action of sentient things to non-sentient nature. For us, the results of our actions come at the end of a causal chain (or intermediate results come as intermediate points on the chain). We look for the same effect in nature.
When we divide the world into objects, we do so along natural lines of cleavage, but these are not the only lines of cleavage, nor do we always cleave the same reality in the same way. We parse the world into objects pragmatically, in the ways that make sense to ourselves as a species, and also relative to our objectives at a given time. Some other species, or ourselves in different exigencies, would parse it differently.
The logic of capitalist accumulation is much like the logic of empire. If you have a (political) empire (e.g., Rome), even if you don’t consciously wish to expand, there is always trouble somewhere on the border, which entails the risk of losing some part of your existing empire. Losing part of your empire is bad, so the wise course seems to be to “pacify” the unruly neighbor, which as a practical matter means extending the empire.
In an uncertain world, maintaining your existing power is a delicate balancing act – too delicate for anyone to be confident of his ability to do it precisely. The real alternatives will always seem to be either increase your power, or tacitly allow it to recede. Since the second is unacceptable, the first course is followed by default.
In capitalism, power derives mainly from the effective control over property. (Note that this may, or may not be, coincident with formal “ownership”.) The logic of power leads one to try to maximize the power under one’s control, thus corporate growth, thus capital accumulation.
Note 1: A corollary, of sorts, is that capitalists desire to increase the prerogatives of capital, e.g. vis. labor.
Note 2: This logic of capital is very different from the logic of labor. Individual laborers may wish to increase their small store of wealth (purchasing power), but this is not their primary source of economic power. An unorganized laborer’s primary power is in her skills, strength, ability to work. If she is more politically conscious, she realizes that her real power lies in her ability to organize, both into labor unions and politically. Labor unions may accumulate some significant store of funds, but their main source of power lies in the number of workers they have organized.
Note 3: I mean “power” very broadly as the ability to independently make, or at least strongly influence, decisions affecting your life and/or the lives of others.