My brain is on fire!

Since I started doing research for my blog posts on democracy and capitalism I’ve done a ton of reading and I could do a ton more. I’m scouring my own bookshelves. I’ve got a fair bit of material on the topic but I’m also mining the Gutenberg Project and the Internet Archives online. At the moment I’m reading C.B. Macpherson’s The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism: Hobbes to Locke but I’m also glancing at many other books as I concentrate on Macpherson including another of his books, The Real World of Democracy (1965) based on the Massey Lectures. His work is superlative. What a critical mind! I have Hobbes’ The Leviathan and John Locke’s two political treatises, but I don’t have the time or inclination to wade through their work in the original, not when I’ve got Macpherson who’s done it for me already.

Macpherson’s notion of possessive individualism aims to tie together capitalism, democracy and liberalism during the 17th Century when Hobbes and Locke were active English philosophers. Capitalist industrialist production really took off in the middle of the 18th Century, but the slow breakdown of feudal social relations around reciprocity between feudal lords and their serfs started much earlier. As Macpherson notes, the possessive market society that was gaining power in the 17th Century was a model from which philosophers could derive theories and explanations of various sorts. The reality is that capitalist social relations are based on wage labour. A capitalist buys the labour power of the propertyless classes and uses it to create more capital. In order for the capitalist to be able to buy the labour power of anyone, all the anyones had to have control over themselves in order to be in a position to sell a part of themselves on the labour market. They could not sell all of themselves otherwise they would be slaves and they would not be free to enter into other relations as free individuals. Individualism is a necessary condition for participation in the capitalist market. Individual liberty is the crux of the liberal society. A worker in a capitalist society has only one thing to sell: labour power, the ability to work. That said, the freedom to enter a market must extend to everyone, capitalist and worker as well as others not necessarily bound directly by that relationship. So we’re all equal as individuals. Cool, right? Sure.

For capitalist social relations to gain ascendency in England in the 17th Century, equality was also a basic ingredient of capitalist relations because everyone had to enter the market as the owner and controller of what they had to sell. In an aristocratic or monarchical society, equality is patently unacceptable so something had to give. Seventeenth Century England saw the violent upheaval of the monarchy which was replaced by republican rule. Was Cromwell the catalyst for British democracy? Maybe. Whatever the answer to that question, it’s clear that at its most abstract, democracy is rule by the people. ‘The people’ is a highly difficult concept to pin down and the definition of who might qualify for being included in ‘The People’ has changed frequently over the centuries. In any case, democracy is not essential to capitalist society. Liberty is, however. Liberty meaning individuals free to sell themselves on the labour market is what’s important here. Once people are ‘free’ individuals, there is still the need for a sovereign to adjudicate disputes related to market behaviour and to pass laws and create mores that are required to keep society (which for Hobbes is just a collection of individuals bent on securing more power for themselves at the expense of others in the market) moving. The sovereign, in the case of liberal societies, is ‘The People’. The will of the people can be expressed representationally or directly. Note, however, that capitalist relations sit outside any definition of ‘The People’ (although business corporations have been considered legal individuals for some few decades now). So, where do contemporary countries or nation-states fit into the world of capitalist social relations? What are libertarians all about? Would they be upset if you referred to them as classical liberals? Those are questions for another blog post to answer.

For now, I need to let my brain deal with the fog that sometimes invades it making it hard for me to concentrate. Today, the symptoms of the pernicious anemia I have are a challenge. I hope tomorrow will be better.

Nothing lasts forever.

I have pernicious anemia and I have been bad about taking my B12 vitamin which I have to inject into my thigh. I don’t have any problems doing that and don’t ask me why I didn’t carry on with my injections, but I stopped doing them at least a year ago. Consequently, I have lived in an anemic fog including cognitive impairment, vertigo, tingling in my hands and feet, severe itching and other symptoms for the last few months along with full body pain and overarching fatigue. For some reason I didn’t connect the fact that I had ceased injecting B12 with my ongoing debilitating symptoms. After having admitted to being a great cautionary tale, I am now resuming my injections and I hope the fog lifts soon. I seem to be improving a bit so we’ll see how things go. At the very least, I hope that the fog dissipates sufficiently so that I can put together a decent post here.

Pernicious anemia can be deadly if not treated but for some reason I was in denial of that fact. I know I’m mortal, of course. If pernicious anemia doesn’t kill me something else will  and I’m okay with that.  As my  title above says, nothing lasts forever. My personal mortality is assured. Fact is, the universe paved the way for it a very long time ago.

We watched a program on television last night called Wonders of the Universe with Brian Cox that explained the arrow of time and the fact that the universe will eventually die out to nothing. That certainly had not been my understanding of how things would turn out.* Cox argues that life depends on the arrow of time and would not be possible without it. Death is the inevitable consequence of life. In fact life and death are not opposites at all but integral elements in the process of time. Cox also argue that this time in the course of the universe is the only time life will be possible. By ‘this time’ he includes billions of years along the staggeringly long life of the universe which started thirteen billions years ago according to scientific calculations. Our sun will die in a billion years or so and will explode in six billion. You won’t have to cover your head and hide under your desk when it ends though because by then, life on earth will be completely obliterated.The universe itself will die in several trillions of trillions of trillions of trillions of years.  So, life is meaningless and insignificant in the vastness of space and time. Sorry to have to remind you of that.

That said, we humans have decidedly taken sides on this issue and we favour life over death. To hell with the arrow of time! Well, sort of. We pay lip service to life, but we love to kill each other it seems (or just stand by as others kill each other)  and we kill other animals with glee, piling up their corpses on our dinner plates. So death has a certain attraction for us, but only if it happens to someone else. I know that some people take death in their stride and don’t feel any sympathy for animals they see squashed by a truck on the highway or on an assembly line waiting to give up their lives so that the trucker can have his chicken wings at the next bar down the road. They couldn’t care less either about hundreds of thousand of Rwandans massacred in the mid 1990s internecine war or the countless others who die daily in skirmishes in many parts of the planet. Conversely, they may just feel that death is necessary for life and they don’t sweat it. They may understand that we all have to eat dead things and for that to happen whether it’s animal or mineral, something has to die so that they will continue to live for a while longer. Whether or not they think about it in these terms or not, for some of them, killing an animal themselves is a more honest way of doing what has to be done than having a surrogate do the killing for them in an abattoir or other kind of killing factory. I eat animal flesh on occasion but I don’t kill the animals myself that I eat. I leave that up to someone else, someone in a factory out there somewhere by people I don’t know. Honestly, I sometimes feel guilty about that. I realize that isn’t a rational sentiment, but rationality has little to do with life and death.

How we feel about life and death, especially of domestic animals, depends largely on how inclusive we think about community belonging. We share many traits with other animals yet we deny any affinity with them. On the CBC News last evening Peter Mansbridge introduced a segment on chimera. Chimera are animals that have cells from other animals implanted in them. In his introduction, Mansbridge, with obvious horror, noted that pigs, animals that is,  were being implanted with human cells in order to make transplant organs for humans in the process. He spoke as if there are humans and then there are animals. He separated animals from humans in a way that would suggest that humans are not animals. Of course, that’s preposterous, but it’s a  widespread perspective. In separating us from other species we ‘other’ them and make it easier for us to kill them for whatever reason, often for food. But, as you read above, nothing lasts forever and who is to say what a good death is? Is animal extinction a bad thing? Not according to the arrow of time, by which measure everything goes extinct.

Have you ever watched another animal (human or other) die? Have you ever been  a witness to their light being extinguished permanently, the sentience that was there no longer existent? I have a number of times and every time, it gives me pause. I think this sensation of unease with the extinction of the momentous thing called life is inescapable for the majority of us.  I think that it is deep seated and relates to our instinct of self-preservation. So, are we doomed? Of course we are. The arrow of time proves it. Does that make us any more accepting of our fate? I don’t think so.


*I have a book by Stephen Jay Gould called Time’s Arrow, Time’s Cycle: Myth and Metaphor in the Discovery of Geological Time published in 1987. I’ve had it for years. I will begin to re-read it this evening to see what I can make of Cox’s argument in light of it.