Escape 30: A last gasp…

Escape 30: A last gasp…

Ok, so I’ve turned a lot of bits into bytes and then into kilobytes in the last month doing this blow by blow evaluation of Ernest Becker’s Escape From Evil.  After flogging humanity for its hubris, arrogance and basic failure to be nice, Becker asks in an almost doleful way, what can a science of man do to turn this thing around?  He says, “Men cannot abandon the heroic.” (p. 159) Well, that’s a bummer.  He goes on to argue that we need our illusions. “The great question is: if illusions are needed, how can we have those that are capable of correction, and how can we have those that are capable of correction, and how can we have those that will not deteriorate into delusions?” (p. 159)

If men live in myths and not absolutes, there is nothing we can do or say about that.  But we can argue for nondestructive myths; this is the task of what would be a general science of society.

Of course this implies that human action is responsive to reason.  It may be in individual circumstances in a very limited way, but when it goes up against the power of a determined lie of an ideology, it doesn’t stand much of a chance.  It seems we can deny evidence, we can deny effect if in doing so we continue on the road to the good life, prosperity and immortality.

The task of social theory is to show how society aggravates and uses natural fears, but there is no way to get rid of the fears simply by showing how leaders use them or by saying that men must ‘take them in hand.’ Men will still take one another’s heads because their own heads stick out and they feel exposed and guilty. The task of social theory is not to explain guilt away or to absorb it unthinkingly in still another destructive ideology, but to neutralize it and give it expression in truly creative and life-enhancing ideologies. 

What might these be?  Well they aren’t to be found in traditional religions, says Becker.  The problem with Christianity and other churches these days is that their hero system has been eclipsed by secular society.  The current pope understands that but he also knows that providing people with a bit of an opportunity for personal heroism might just get their juices flowing again.  And of course it must be said that churches have and still do take sides in secular conflicts as was the case in Ireland where the Catholics were organized around labour while the Protestants were more supportive of British capital.  This is a generalization, of course, but not unreasonable.  In the Middle East today, the same can be said about the Shi’ite and Sunni Muslim factions.

Now, Becker lays his soul bare.  He wants us to buy into the notion that theory in the social science must be organized around bringing about social justice:

One of the reasons for our present disillusionment with theory in the social sciences is that it has done very little in this liberating direction.  Even those intelligent social scientists who attempt a necessary balance between conservative and Marxist perspectives are amiss in this…what I am saying is that a general critical science of society that unites the best of both wings of thought is a present reality, and need not be delayed…In science, as in authentic religion, there is no easy refuge for empty-headed patriotism, or for putting off to some future date the exposure of large-scale social lies. 

Of course, nobody wants their ‘large-scale social lies’ to be exposed.  That’s why art, criticism, satire and science itself must be controlled.  They are dangerous threats to the powers that be, the ones hiding behind the big lie of secular immortality striving.

It all comes down to this.  Becker is the strong believer in reason.  He knows that this belief is not entirely justified, but he’s kind of put himself into a corner where there is no way out.

So it is the disguise of panic that makes men live in ugliness, and not the natural animal wallowing.  It seems to me that this means that evil is now amenable to critical analysis and, conceivably, to the sway of reason. 

His ‘conceivably’ here speaks loudly that he is doubtful of what reason can do.  I think that Becker in all his brilliance has based his work on a number of moral assumptions that keep making life difficult for him.  One is that ‘evil’ means disease and death on the one hand, but also implies what humankind has done in efforts to try to eliminate ‘evil’ from the planet.  Another is that human life has intrinsic value.

Yet another is that reason can awaken us from our slumber of denial, repression and transference.  Still, there is a lot of insight in this book of Ernest Becker’s, insight that can be used to at least bring us as individuals to a place of wisdom and understanding.

Communism: Lies people tell us

There’s never been, nor is there, a communist country on the planet today.  As I wrote in a previous post, the capitalist mode of production is the more ‘important’ institution, much more important than countries, the one that drives the evolution of all other institutions, at least in their general character.  So, for 400 years or so now, capital accumulation in the form of commodity trade, distribution and consumption has driven human economic production.  It took some time before the capitalist mode of production displaced the feudal one, but with time and lots of bloodshed the deed was done.  By the mid-19th century when there was so much profound intellectual activity generated by the change in mode of production, the British manufacturing class controlled parliament and pursued its goals on a global scale.  But these weren’t quiet times.  The working class was being created at a blinding pace and wasn’t too happy with its lot.  Eventually laws were passed like the 10 hour day law that protected to some extent the working class.  Pressure was brought to bear on government, which at the time was dominated by the manufacturing class.  Workers were thereby putting pressure on their own employers who also sat in the House of Commons (in Britain).  They were also contemplating alternatives to the capitalist mode of production.  They came up with communism, communalism, the co-operative movement and others.  The fight was now on for the hearts and minds of the average worker.  In the early part of his career Karl Marx (1818-1883) was front and centre in the fight against capitalist exploitation of the working class.  Later in his career, while writing Capital, he settled down to study scientifically the historical replacement of dominant modes of production as I note in a previous post.  He stated in the Introduction to Capital, Volume I that what he was trying to do was apply to political economy the same method applied by Darwin in The Origin of the Species.  In other words he was using an evolutionary framework of analysis.  Technology was huge in his analysis and for that he’s been called a technological determinist.  Technological development certainly plays a role in Marx’s analysis but his work is always dialectical and I don’t detect any reductionism or determinism anywhere in it.  For Marx, then, slave-based modes of production (Ancient Rome) were replaced by the feudal mode of production, which was in turn replaced by the capitalist mode of production which will be replaced by the communist mode of production but only when all the productive forces of the capitalist mode of production are exhausted.  This means that when labour is replaced by capital (automation, etc.) to a point where the possibility of exploiting the working class no longer exists because the working class no longer exists as a major force in human production, then communism happens.  That transition may hurt, but transitions often do.  Marx, then, sees an evolution of dominant productive forces with communism yet to come.

So, what happened to produce this legacy of (Manichean) stupidity that says that there are different political systems that countries can adopt, like on a menu?  Countries can be either capitalist or communist or somewhere in between.  But it’s plain to note that from this perspective, countries are doing the choosing here.  Plainly enough, some countries came to be dominated by ‘communist’ governments (e.g., The Soviet Union, China, North Korea, etc.) while others were part of the ‘free’ world (Britain, France, Canada, the US, etc.).  However, the ‘communist’ countries were never ‘communist’ and the ‘capitalist’ countries preferred to refer to themselves as democratic, free countries.   Of course they were self-professed supporters of the ‘free enterprise’ system, but within a supposed democratic political form where the people ruled.  Not!

So, the ‘communist’ countries were pretty much totalitarian, but communist they weren’t.  Still, they liked to say they were to contrast themselves to the ‘evil’ capitalist countries of the ‘West.’  And of course, the ‘West’ was only too happy to exploit the lies Stalin and the like were telling about themselves.  Everybody became ‘an evil empire’ for someone else.  Brilliant.  It’s a great way to keep people at home in line:  “We need to stick together in the face of the threat from the evil empire (take your pick depending on what side you’re on)!

Now, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for the remaining ‘communist’ countries like China to maintain the charade that they are in fact ‘communist.’  China (the country) is now merely a tool of capitalist production as is every other government on the planet and all of them are rapidly becoming redundant in the face of the still rising dominance of global finance capital.  Canada now has a government that wants to do away with itself in the worst way.  It’s there to do the bidding of its capitalist masters and Stephen Harper and his cronies seem to revel in the role they are playing on the global capitalist push for complete dominance.  So far, we’re just along for the ride.  But like in the 19th century, workers will rebel in any number of ways.  They will be unsuccessful, though, in any attempt at getting control of human productive forces until the time is right, and we’re not there yet.

Lies, lies, everywhere…what can we believe?