Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

To contact me about organizing, email me at rpwolff750@gmail.com




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Sunday, April 23, 2017

A SUNDAY MORNING CRI DE COEUR

I am not a happy warrior.  I am not one of those admirable people who enjoys the fight.  I do not wade into a struggle for economic justice or gender equality or environmental protection with a laugh on my lips, reinvigorated by each defeat to ever greater efforts.  I much prefer to sit quietly and contemplate my circles, as Archimedes did when Syracuse was attacked [or so Kierkegaard says.]  But the sheer awfulness of contemporary America, both before Trump and after, compels me to pay attention.  In these brief remarks, I shall try to come to terms in some way with what Karl Marx got right about capitalist society and what he got wrong.  I do this because I need to understand why the behavior of my fellow Americans so dramatically diverges from what I would have expected.

Standing off a bit from the detail of his theories [including the Labor Theory of Value, about which I have, after all, written an entire book and several highly technical journal articles], what I can see is that Marx told us about three related but different things:  First, the fundamental exploitative structure of capitalism; Second, the probable direction in which capitalism would develop as its institutions matured; and Third, how men and women would respond to that underlying exploitation and that development.

Looking at things a century and a half after Marx published Capital [less one year], I believe that what I see is this:  Marx was dead right on the first point, more right than wrong on the second point, and utterly wrong on the third point. 

First things first:  Capitalism is indeed built on exploitation, it thrives on exploitation, it requires exploitation to survive, the exploitation is structural, and has nothing in particular to do with the character or feelings of those who control the capital, and capitalism will therefore continue to exploit workers for as long as it exists, regardless of the ameliorations and accommodations it may be forced on occasion to concede.  To demonstrate this was an enormous accomplishment for Marx, and all by itself establishes his claim as the greatest social scientist who has ever lived.

With regard to the second matter, Marx was shrewdly prescient, although he was not alone in anticipating the way things would play out.  He was quite right about the tendency of capitals to gobble up other capitals and become larger and larger.  I am not sure he anticipated how resilient and persistent would be the realm of small firms, start-ups, petty capitalist economic activity, but his larger claims are compatible with that phenomenon.  He, like many others, saw the danger to capitalism in the cycle of booms and busts, and in some loose sense he may even be said to have predicted the great crash of ’29, although he expected it sooner than it came.  The internationalization of capitalism is entirely in keeping with his central insights, of course.  What he got wrong, as I have argued elsewhere, was the persistence of a pyramidal structure of jobs and wages in the ranks of the working class, broadly defined.  This was an important failure on his part, though he can hardly be blamed for it, I think.  A century and a half later, the stark opposition of capital and labor has been not replaced but it has been overlain with the conflicts of interest between well-paid and poorly-paid members of the working class.  Technically speaking, they are all exploited – the minimum wage workers and the lavishly paid members of the upper middle classes – but the political, social, ideological, and human consequences of that exploitation are utterly different for the two groups.

The third thing, the likely response of men and women to the devolution of capitalism, Marx got totally wrong, so far as I can see.  Now do not misunderstand me:  I think Marx was the world’s greatest theorist of mystification, of false consciousness, of ideology [and I have written a book and many articles about this as well.]  But Marx was convinced that over time, as the centralization of capitalism continued, and even though members of the ruling and exploiting class would more firmly clasp to their collective bosom the self-justifying rationalizations offered for their unrelenting exploitation by priests, political theorists, and economists, workers would be led to unite, throw off their acceptance of those rationalizations, and develop ever sharper and more energized consciousness of their condition, inspiring them to cast about for ways to overthrow the exploiters and take collective ownership of their own collective product:  Capital.

Well, in the early years of the last century, when my grandfather helped lead the New York Socialist Party to electoral victories, himself winning election to the New York Board of Aldermen in 1917, it was still possible to believe that he and his comrades were the avant garde of a worldwide revolution.  But a century later, only those who have converted a triumph of social science into a quasi-religion can still cling to that belief.  Thomas Frank memorably asked, What’s The Matter With Kansas?  I think we need to ask, what in the name of God is the matter with the whole damned country?

Now, I know all about the biases of the media, about epistemic bubbles, about the well-funded efforts to deny the plain facts of climate change, of economic misery, of plain straight-up kleptocracy, but why do scores of millions, more than scores of millions, buy into that nonsense?  I mean, we know it is nonsense, and we do not have access to any sources of information that are denied to our fellow citizens.  The information is all there, free, available simply by picking up a TV remote and changing the station, or Googling with a mouse.  Fox News draws vastly more people than Lawrence O’Donnell, but there is no legislative limit on the number of people allowed to tune him in.  Never mind Trump.  Why on earth do people all over America elect and re-elect politicians whose whole aim in life is to screw them?

I know all about gerrymandering and voter suppression, but that is no explanation.  Bernie Sanders, God bless him, was the only candidate in the last Presidential cycle talking about the fact that the rich are screwing the poor.  Why didn’t he pull 80% of the total vote of both parties?

I don’t get it.


32 comments:

s. wallerstein said...

I think that Freud (or Nietzsche) is probably a better guide to people's voting preferences than Marx is. Most of us are not very rational, not even when we imagine that we are being rational in our choices.

To become rational (in any meaningful sense of the word) is a long and unending struggle (therapy helps of course), which many people do not even attempt.

Chris said...

I agree with Wallerstein. My reading of Freud leads me to categorically reject rational choice theories. Although as I've argued before, I don't think Trump votes are all that irrational given most Trump voters are right about a few key essentials: 1) establishment doesn't care about us, 2) our livelihood and security is in jeopardy, 3) we need an anti-establishment candidate.

chrismealy said...

People generally don't want what they can't have. It's too painful to be constantly frustrated. The capacity for enduring frustration is what distinguishes idealists and utopians.

howie b said...

Dear Professor, I echo listening to Freud.
My analyst explained to me that the secret to working as a therapist was listening to people.
Much of our nation is psychologically ill, witness the election.
So, like a shrink or novelist just listen. There is a time for theory and a time for field work. Empathy.
I know some Trump supporters and though it's challenging to build a theory around their world view, I have empathy for them.
Remember, much of the elite were caught off guard by Trump's rise. That indicates our theories aren't that reliable.
Our theories will be enriched later

Tom Cathcart said...

I like Somebody-or-other's recent opioid theory of Trump. No one who tries heroin or fentanyl believes it's going to be in his or her best interest. No one believes the claim that it will give them a more satisfying life. No one even really believes that they're the one person who won't get hooked. But in the short term, it's gratifying, very gratifying. It makes people feel good to join a group that says, "The establishment people in the media or politics or the corporations think they're better than I am! I hate this feeling of powerlessness. Well, screw them! I'll go with the guy who makes me feel good, even though I know he's not really going to bring back steel plants and coal mines. And it's too daunting and takes too long, and maybe I don't have the skills, to do the long-haul, painstaking work of forming and supporting a union or mounting some form of organized resistance. I just want to give the exploiters the finger and shout 'USA! USA!'in a large group of people. That's what makes me feel good and it makes me feel good NOW." It's pleasure principle vs. reality principle. [Btw, there also seems to be a lot of violence theory forming around the same notion. No one thinks it's in his best interest to punch his wife out, but for one moment it gets rid of the feeling of powerlessness and provides a huge rush of instant gratification.] I don't know if that's what you had in mind, s wallerstein and Chris, by saying that Freud may be a better guide to voter preference than Marx, but the pleasure principle explanation makes a lot of sense to me.

LB said...

For a philosopher, you are way too obsessed (self-mystified) with Trump, it makes you blinkered to an extent that you don't see (in your own writing) valid answers to your own objections to Marx. In the very same paragraph: "Marx got [the likely response ... to the devolution of capitalism] totally wrong" and "workers would be led" - yes, "led", by who? That is simultaneously the question and a potential answer (a political potentiality so to speak). If workers are led by leaders who help them "unite [to] throw off their acceptance of those rationalizations, and develop ever sharper and more energized consciousness of their condition" - then Marx will be proven right (as he has been on a few past occasions). If you understand "unite" narrowly (as "form a trade union") and if Marx meant your narrow definition, then yes, Marx and you will be proven wrong (and have been on a few past occasions).

s. wallerstein said...

Tom Carthcart,

I wasn't thinking of any explanation as specific as that you outline above, which, by the way, could be explained as well by Nietzsche's will to power (as an unconscious drive) as by Freud's pleasure principle.

I just don't believe that people generally turn on a rationality switch when they vote that they don't turn on when they select their diet or decide how much to drink or to look for a mate. They do rationalize their voting preferences more, but rationalization is not the same thing as rationality.

Just this morning, as a result of a bitter clash in my Chilean politics online group, I realized to what an extent my form of arguing is the result of my relationship with my father, my need to get his attention as well as my fear of his violence, his cruelty and of losing his love, the only thing that we ever found to talk to each other about being politics.

One's form of arguing shapes one's political principles for many reasons, above all because one tends to defend or rationalize what one has said, even if one did not say it at first for rational reasons. For what I can see, lots of people form their political priniciples or ideology in equally irrational ways and most of them are less aware of that than I am.

Anonymous said...

Prof. Wolff,

Marx wasn't the only Marxist theoretician, as I'm sure you all know. We don't need to re-invent the wheel.

Those other Marxists, just like ourselves, asked the same question: why don't workers behave like we supposed they would?

One of the answers they came up with was the aristocracy of labour.

-----------

What he got wrong, as I have argued elsewhere, was the persistence of a pyramidal structure of jobs and wages in the ranks of the working class, broadly defined. This was an important failure on his part, though he can hardly be blamed for it, I think. A century and a half later, the stark opposition of capital and labor has been not replaced but it has been overlain with the conflicts of interest between well-paid and poorly-paid members of the working class.

Open that link below and go to section I.5.
https://ourworldindata.org/income-inequality/

Note that the logarithmic scale in the horizontal axis.

You'll agree, that sequence of global income distribution charts illustrate your point about the persistence of a pyramidal structure of jobs and wages in the ranks of the working class. If you click on the little purple circle on the upper right corner, you'll see an income distribution corresponding to your grand father's times.

Do you see the the 1970 chart? It has a hunch, yes? That's the aristocracy of labour.

That sequence of charts, however, illustrate something more. Yes?

-----------

Whether that was an entirely realistic expectation or not it doesn't really matter, once upon a time, for reasons not entirely clear, it was indeed possible for low- to medium-paid workers in developed countries to imagine they would make it to the top of the pack or at least to gain some level of security. It was called upwards income mobility.

They could imagine by themselves they would make it, it was only a matter of keeping their heads down and work hard.

That's gone, probably forever. So, you see, there's something we might have to thank the likes of David Palmeter for.

Anonymous said...

Hump, not hunch

Ed Barreras said...

I wake up to find that the wonderful, kind-hearted Hubert Dreyfus is dead and that revolting orange goblin is still president of the United States. Life sucks.

To add my two cents, I think it's easy to lose persepctive from atop a lifetime of reading, researching, writing, and thinking. I'm guessing that most people read a single thousand-word column explaining why Sanders-style socialism totally won't work in the U.S., and that settled it for them.

I. M. Flaud said...
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TCP said...


Why would people in primitive political-economies burn their preserves and kill their slaves, in the potlatch, only to have to dig in the snow for roots to survive (and possibly face death)?

Why do many young men want to join the army (when they have other options)?

And, in reverse, why do some people let themselves get bullied in school and never stand up for themselves?

America is the first world nation that doesn't offer the security that other nations offer in universal health care. There is an obvious sense of a great game that some people play. They don't want handouts or guarantees, but believe in this game. They are asking for jobs and a chance to play in it and have too much pride to ask for government money or safety.

The sad thing is that the game only pays out in money and there is no higher spiritual truth or meaning to it. It's a paltry game and transparent to anyone who has any imagination, but it is the only game going right now.

One's father played the game before one was born, and he survived. He didn't ask for help, why should you? Why should you be asking for money or assistance, even though the upper classes get so much more to start? Other people don't ask for it. How would you do that without some kind of socialism anyway?

I appreciate that you are honest enough to ask these questions.



Daniel Langlois said...

I really, when it comes to the idea of debating Marx, I pause to reflect on the provocative idea that some concepts, paradigms, worldviews, scientific theories, separated by a scientific revolution or whathaveyou, are 'incommensurable'. Thomas S. Kuhn and Paul Feyerabend suggested suggested the notion, of course. There is this argument that the history of science reveals proponents of competing paradigms failing to make complete contact with each other’s views, so that they are always talking at least slightly at cross-purposes. Kuhn calls the collective causes of such miscommunication the incommensurability between pre- and postrevolutionary scientific traditions. I am quite confident that we are all familiar with this idea. Fashionable stuff. But, nevertheless, I'll review again what 'stuff' I mean..

These competing paradigms lack a common measure, because they use different concepts and methods to address different problems, limiting communication across the revolutionary divide. And we can juxtapose the traditional image of continuous progress toward truth, here. Of course, Kuhn's 'The Structure of Scientific Revolutions' is unprecedentedly popular across the human and social sciences, and widely touted as among the most influential academic books of the 20th century. By now incommensurability has become a well-worn catchphrase of 20th-century philosophy, used across a range of interrelated disciplines to mean many different things in any number of controversial discussions.

I think that the controversial discussion about whether 'capitalism is exploitation' seems like a possible case. If I say that there is no formal scientific definition of the term 'exploitation', that doesn't mean that we can't use the word. It is maybe sort of like 'degradation'. I think that the term "exploitation" often conjures up images of workers laboring in sweatshops for 12 hours or more per day, for pennies an hour, driven by a merciless overseer. This is, I think, supposed to be contrasted to the ideal of a "fair wage day's wage for a fair day's work"--the supposedly "normal" situation, maybe?

But I consider whether sweatshops are horrific examples of exploitation that persist to this day, and I grow coldly analytical. My personality is unattractive, perhaps, because I'm here to quibble about logic and semantics. I know that rabbits are hit, and hung Up, and skinned alive in the Chinese fur trade..I know who is the world’s top fur exporter. I know about foxes being electrocuted, dogs bludgeoned to death, and raccoon dogs skinned alive. There are rabbits are forced to live in cramped, filthy cages, etc. I might care as much as the next guy who is consideirng upbraiding me for delving into irrelevancies, belaboring an irrelevant point. -- terrified rabbits live in urine-encrusted cages with feces piled up underneath them, but is this relevant?


tbc

Daniel Langlois said...



I do not believe, that Karl Marx had a broader and more scientific definition of exploitation. But I do certainly believe, that many rabbits are killed for their fur when they’re just 6 months old. And etc., kept outside in all weather extremes, etc. I do not deny, that many rabbits arrive at the slaughterhouse in cramped wire cages stacked on flat-bed trucks. That workers leave them to struggle and thrash wildly after smacking them on the head with the back of a knife, etc. Etc. Get to the point, this is irrelevant.

If animals are animals are “skinned alive” for their fur, then is this, like, a bad thing? Sure, you tell me what to call it, call it a bad thing. I don't disagree. Completely inhumane? Sure. Maybe I even cannot imagine how it might be the case, that farmers take great pride in what they do, or have some notiont that they take good care of their animals and treat them with respect. Maybe somebody has an argument that you know, hypothetically, I would *never* skin an animal alive, because that would spoil the fur. Or whateve. I'm kidding. But I'm not kidding that I do understand that farming is a business and, like in most businesses, it is important to be efficient.

Nevertheless, I consider the moral idea of exploitation and whether it can be found within capitalist employment relationships, and I think this is not simply a matter of what is 'morallly bad', it is also a question of distinguishing science and poetry. I can read the bible for moralizing, and it's not a bad idea. But when I consider the question whether there is morally bad exploitation in capitalist employment relationships, I just cannot take the question on its own terms, at face value. It would, for me, be like asking a lawyer for an expert opinion about whether it is immoral to break the law.

Incommensurable..

tom llewellyn said...

The person who adequately explains why people vote against their own self-interests will certainly win a Nobel Prize in something.

Jerry Brown said...

Professor Wolff, in case you have forgotten, Bernie Sanders did not manage to get the nomination for President from the Democratic Party. And so he wasn't on the ballot for the general election. So at most he was going to get what 25% of the mostly nut jobs that write their choice for president in on a ballot? Did you vote for Bernie in the general election?

A better question would be why didn't Bernie win the Democratic Party nomination for President. I don't know. I thought he should have and I voted for him in the primary. But why didn't 50% of even Democratic primary voters go for him? Why do so many who are eligible to vote not bother to do so?

Daniel Langlois said...

I do not greatly respect the body of thought known as Marxism, and that is rather bombastic of me -- where do I get such serene confidence in my own opinions? Well, to be clear, I think that sociology is a fascinating field, I'm sure it's even more fascinating as you learn more about it. I don't consciously prefer right wing gobbledygood to left wing gobbledegook. I think in terms of a couple of points:
-- The practice of agriculture transformed the social and economic characteristics of human societies.
--Farming is hard work.
--At its most basic element, civilization is based on the food supply.
--As societies became more established and generated more wealth inequalities became wider.

I think one could elaborate on such points, it's interesting stuff. However, I have no rigid views about what is the 'right' and 'normal' way that society should be organized. I have perhaps a temperamental personality difficulty with radical thought. The idea of saying 'hey I will revolutionize society things will be so very fair and wonderful when we get rid of all this stuff we put up with like money and jobs and advertising billboards and fast food restaurants' just strikes me as..well, I say that I have a certain personality and termperament, and that's humble of me because I could say that there are lots of crackpot ideas. If we get rid of fast food restaurants where will I get a hamburger? Who will make me a hamburger? I honestly feel like the questions may get harder than this, but it has always been too hard for the Marxists that I've met.

Professor Wolff's Freud lectures include a mention of that old saw about how come the revolution we'll all be licking peaches and cream off each other. The remark is as clever as an urobos, though, right? I think nature is indifferent. Who can disagree? Nietzsche said all life is exploitation. Who can disagree?

'[Anything which] is a living and not a dying body... will have to be an incarnate will to power, it will strive to grow, spread, seize, become predominant - not from any morality or immorality but because it is living and because life simply is will to power... 'Exploitation'... belongs to the essence of what lives, as a basic organic function; it is a consequence of the will to power, which is after all the will to life.'

I see that Nietzsche has been mentioned in the thread, and I do not simply give Nietzsche the last word because he's Nietzsche. My opinion is that John Dalberg-Acton nailed our species correctly when he said, "Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely." hat (correct, in my opinion) assertion on human nature automatically precludes Marx's utopia from ever coming to fruition.

I'll boil this down: there is no formal definition of this abstract term 'exploitation', such that you can spitball mathematical economic theories to the tune. It doesn't exist, any more than William Blake's invisible worm flying in the night. Actually, I'm willing to consider whether that worm does exist. But the term 'exploitation' is loaded language, that pretends to be something more. If I say that a woman is 'prissy', that's my opinion. If I say she is 'upper class', well, what is that? Maybe I only ask the question because I helplessly reflect an all-time low point in working class self-consciousness..hooray for owning up to some of Nietzsche's digs but this is serious work. Come the revolution we'll all be licking peaches and cream off each other..

I. M. Flaud said...
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Jerry Fresia said...

I think the issue turns on the utter lack of dignity experienced by the white working class, which has seen its wages frozen in place for 40 year all the while the liberal ruling elites seemingly fawn over women, minorities, and the LGBT community. In other words, they are being mocked for their sacrifice as their economic security evaporates and the status of the "others" are elevated. Liberals are the ones whom they blame especially when, as in the case of HRC and even Perez today, they lip-synch populism and effectively say that the lives of working class whites matter. They are the deplorables.

Liberals are capable of talking about victims but the working class is never a victim. Moreover, liberals never point a finger at the victimizers. When was the last time Lawrence O’Donnell attacked the billionaire class or did a segment on Wall St. types getting rich off the backs of wage earners? So why not tune into Rush or Ann Coulter who inveigh endlessly about the arrogance of liberals?

I. M. Flaud said...
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I. M. Flaud said...
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I. M. Flaud said...
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Daniel Langlois said...

Note that you asked: 'I need to understand why the behavior of my fellow Americans so dramatically diverges from what I would have expected...'

So this is about understanding.

'Bernie Sanders, God bless him, was the only candidate in the last Presidential cycle talking about the fact that the rich are screwing the poor.'

Well, my reply is that it takes two to tango. Perhaps I misunderstood? ;)

Screwing. Let us picture this, how perhaps many poor folks feel helpless to challenge the system. Let me see..there's one major scandal in Michigan you've probably barely heard of, and which deserves vastly more public outrage than it's gotten. More lives were devastated by this than by most corporate bankruptcies. Victims lost their houses, their savings, and what little money they had.

Twenty-thousand people were incorrectly accused of fraud by state authorities. Their assets were seized; huge fines assessed, and their wages garnished.

Yet they were all completely innocent. The victims here were a bunch of down-on-their-luck folks who had collected unemployment insurance. So, who cares? The unemployment scandal surely hurt a lot of working poor, some of whom will probably never be reimbursed. By the way, what consequences did those responsible suffer for this horrendous blunder?

Anyways, I ask 'who cares' and I'm not claiming to particularly care. I care about quibbling about logic and semantics. We all have souls, we are all humans, and we all have basic rights. But we do not all care about quibbling about logic and semantics. I see the word 'exploitation' and I think ah -- that's a word. There are no rules about how to use it.


I will juxtapose this: 'Standing off a bit from the detail of his theories [including the Labor Theory of Value, about which I have, after all, written an entire book and several highly technical journal articles], what I can see is that..'

what I can see is that..

I. M. Flaud said...
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Daniel Langlois said...

@Jerry Fresia

'I think you miss the point about the technical sense of exploitation.'

Oh, you mean me! Well, you are correct. I also, think I miss the point about the technical sense of exploitation.

'The question remains why so much of the proceeds go to the capitalists.'

I am having some trouble connecting the dots, here. I was hoping for the point about the technical sense of exploitation, but now you you offer this question: 'The question remains why so much of the proceeds go to the capitalists', and what about Peter Frase, etc. Well, he argues that increasing automation and a growing scarcity of resources, thanks to climate change, will bring it all tumbling down. And maybe he's right. We are facing multiple crises that will change our lives and our planet forever. Also, he is one to hold forth in this sort of fashion:

'If you are in the one percent, if you are rich enough to be able to hide in your gated community on your private island that is hopefully far enough above sea level,..'

I think this is rather monotonous, these are platitudes. It's fine to consider questions like are the robots eating our jobs? Or will technology set us free?

My question is 'how is sociology a science and not a license to spitball my own opinions?' Note that my father is a socologist..maybe I seem not to have earned my weariness..

And anyways, my question is how do you define 'the capitalists'? And that is how bad I am at tracking on 'the point', right? I do think I can guess your reply. You'll say something about the 1%. Okay, what about the 2%? I mean, what about that 98th percentile? What are the income cutoffs? More than 76 percent of Americans get to experience the joys of a six-figure household income for at least one year, just more than half will make $150,000 or more at some point, and about 20 percent hit the $250,000 mark at least once, which these days would put them within the top 2 percent of earners.

Ah, so that's the top 2 percent. What about them? Exploiters or exploited? For me, this is of course a rhetorical question, my point being that there is no formal definition of these terms, -- it's more like a song being sung in church. I might like singing songs in church, though!

I. M. Flaud said...
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Daniel Langlois said...

For me the question is not what is the definition to be found there, and the question is not even what is wrong with it. I think a more general question seems urgent -- why do we need formality in mathematics? You say 'this mathematical formality' and I think to myself: 'that's a mouthful'. I have seen things like this:

'If we have a unit line, then this line will have an infinite number of points in it. Some of these points will be an irrational distance away from the origin and some will be a rational distance away from the origin..'

And so forth, and so on, winding up with something like this:

'This contradicts Cantor’s conclusion, so Cantor must have made a mistake in his reasoning..'

And just to skip to the chase, here, I will wait my turn, and then I will say something like this:

'This is not a valid proof. It looks nice on the surface – it intuitively feels right. But it’s not.'

And the reply will be probably quite impatient, if not laced with profanity, and will boil down to this:

'Why?'

And let us say that I give an answer. And the reply will be laced with profanity for sure, and will boil down to this:

'For me it is far more important to understand a proof, than to just know it “works” under some methodology that simply manipulates symbols..'

And so forth -- scientists and mathematicians use symbols and formalisms just because they like them, or because they want to obscure things and make simple things seem complicated, so that they’ll look smart.

Let's start over. You tell me to do my homework, RTFM. The RTFM comment is usually expressed when the speaker is irritated by another person's question or lack of knowledge. Well and good. I too, am irritated by my lack of knowledge. Perhaps we can agree, then, that if we’re working with a definition that contains any vagueness – even the most subtle unintentional kind (or, actually, especially the most subtle unintentional kind!) – then we can easily produce nonsense.

I recall sesing a simple “proof” that shows that 0 is equal to 1. It looks correct when you read it. But it contains a subtle error. If we weren’t being careful and formal, that kind of mistake can easily creep in – and once you allow one, single, innocuous looking error into a proof, the entire proof falls apart. I'm also willing to agree to never mind all this, if it is true that our intuition is frequently correct. Or let me rephrase, and ask whether it is true that our intuition is frequently *not* correct? I want to emphasize that we can’t rely on informal statements, because informal statements lack precision: they can mean many different things, some of which are true, and some of which are not. But maybe I'm wrong! I have the excuse that I was studying 'you another idiotic 'proof of God', when I ought to have been studying why it is not terribly important to be formal in mathematics. That came out wrong..

Daniel Langlois said...

Why is it any big deal to define 'exploitation' -- obviously, to exploit someone is to take unfair advantage of them. Well, this means that we already were hoping for intuitively compelling cases of 'unfair', and of 'exploitative' behavior. But also, we may be using some sort of idea of what is 'harmful' versus 'mutually beneficial'. Because, I am unclear on whether 'exploitation' can be harmful or mutually beneficial, such that, with added emphasis, not all exploitation is harmful. Does the unfairness involved in exploitation necessarily involve some kind of harm to its victim? And then I might actually not be quite certain that I care about what is going to involve some kind of harm etc. Surely we can take for granted that I 'care' about a violation of somebody's moral rights, but maybe that's different.

I'm going to be assessing charges of exploitation. What is going to be relevant, here? What sort of facts?

Maybe playing a little dumb, doesn't make me smart, so I ought to admit that I can guess at what is the the picture that comes to mind, when many people hear about 'trafficking'. And look, let's face it, I'm in California, right? Well, it is home to several industries where forced labor is known to occur: agricultural work, restaurant work, construction work, hotel work, garment work and sex work. I might stipulate this, but on the other hand, what unites the workers in these industries?

Answer: I think I understand the concept of people vulnerable to coercion and abuse.

Oh, we have progress! But what I want, is to set forward the truth conditions for the claim, “A exploits B”..

Call this a purely conceptual project. Maybe I add something here about the intensity of exploitation’s wrongness. I'll be providing an account of the moral weight of exploitation, then. Is this relatively unproblematic, as issues go? Well, say that we have what we think is a case of gain to A from the harm to B. It is certainly at least prima facie wrong for A to harm B, surely? Example: many critics see sweatshop labor as highly exploitative. But, in short, a number of difficult empirical and normative issues come out in this debate. I am willing to learn what conditions in sweatshops are actually like, but then there are matters such as whether a higher legal minimum wage would improve workers’ overall well-being? Easy, right? Unless it leads to layoffs and plant relocations.

For that matter, suppose that I grant that sweatshops exploit their workers, and that exploitation is a significant moral wrong, and that a Marxist has answers here. Then what is going on in, like, communist Romania in the eighties I wonder? In other words, how much weight should a valid claim of exploitation have in our overall judgment of the justice of a practice or of a set of institutions that permit that practice?

howard berman said...

I think much of the problem is that ideologies serve personal psychological needs and not just social functions and that the social and psychological are intertwined. Ideologies are like neuroses and no one surrenders their cherished beliefs without a fight

howard berman said...

Plus, people make political decisions based on their self interest narrowly defined. It's The Economy Stupid means day to day survival, assuming the system as it is, it means trade wars and building coal plants- if it's the economy stupid really meant anything maybe Marx would have his day.
Also, people, voters, have a personal reaction or relationship with their leaders- so charisma and big bold lies play a part.
And there are certain facts that are taken as given without further reflection, as evident as this is a hand or I exist - the word on the street is that Hillary is a crook or anything other than fascism is communism and helping people in need is un American and that is a social phenomenon- groups have shared understandings that are irrational- why else would millions believe in religion?
These are autonomous social phenomena- Durkheim taught about the independence of the social- this is what he meant- this is an example
I hope I'm making some sense

Daniel Langlois said...

'no one surrenders their cherished beliefs without a fight'

what about *with* a fight? What about the concept of 'to back down in Berlin'? I mean the blockade of Berlin. When the United States had to take risks. I refer to how the Kremlin retreated, rather than challenge the airlift, and Stalin abandoned the blockade. Trying and frightening times inside the Kremlin, perhaps. I am amused by the abstract and informal nature of radical political debates. If I bring up that Stalin distrusted Mao, it seems irrelevant, but to what? It's the real world, that's irrelevant..

There is lots of putatively technical stuff that people debate, such as in this thread, but when you get right down to it, most arguments follow a pattern that's all too familiar. Boiled down, the essence of many quarrels goes something like this: I'm right. You're wrong. And I absolutely positively will not back down or change the subject until you admit it.

So many arguments are so pointless. But that is not, for me, the last word -- I'd say that maybe arguments aren't inherently bad. It seems to me, that conflict is often how we sort out what we really want from what we're willing to compromise on. Stupid arguments are something else, winning the argument becomes the most important thing in the world, etc. And I am fascinated by the feeling that you absolutely *must* get your partner to see it your way. When you start to feel that you must at all costs get the other person to agree with you. The unrealistic expectation that you'll be able to resolve the problem or get the other person to see it your way. Many arguments never do get settled. That's normal.

Daniel Langlois said...

'no one surrenders their cherished beliefs without a fight'

..and I know that the response to my remarks about Marxism is often 'I see that you've spent 15 min familiarizing yourself with it'. Same response I get about other things like Mormonism and such. The field of religion, as it were, attracts crackpots. The field of physics attracts crackpots, too, right? Let's digress about that: Scrolling through Quora phyics answers, there are many answers referring to “alternative” physics theories, claiming any physics since 1900 is completely wrong, “explaining” everything and being subdued by a conspiracy of academia. What is the appeal of these theories, especially to non-physicists?

btw, it is impossible to completely avoid them, and after a nasty incident in 1952 with an actually mentally ill individual who was upset no one would listen to his theories concluding electrons don't exist, the American Physical Society decided to give up trying to avoid them. A membership and willingness to pay a fee will guarantee you the opportunity to share your ideas at major APS meetings. This may shock some people outside academia. Truly fringe theorists so want people to listen, that I've been handed custom keychains, matchstick boxes, and pens, all with equations or slogans on them and sometimes weblinks. Some are even dedicated enough to self-publish books. ventually, while it sounds awful to say, you learn which people to avoid making eye contact with, otherwise they'll take it as an invitation to "sell you" their ideas.

Please don't take this the wrong way though, -- individuals on the other hand have incredibly varied ways of handling crackpots or even what they consider a crackpot, from the incredibly abrassive who liberally apply the term liberally, like me, to amazing tolerance. One may reflect, here, about dogmatic consensus or arguments of authority. All the "rules" and "filters" of dealing with crackpots are just to save time. On the other hand, we can't fully trust our self-evaluations of our knowledge.

Anyways, what is our knowledge of the Cuban economy, the North Korean economy, the Chinese economy? Like Cuba, North Korea has an almost entirely state-controlled economy. the country that adheres most strictly to communist principles, according to Oxford University scholar Robert Service, is North Korea. He should know, he wrote the book on it — Comrades! A History of World Communism. Communism was meant to spread around the world. I’d be willing to bet that PRofessor Wolff knows more than me about Marxism. But I say that obviously this isn’t what economics is - when you study economics you realise (and I steal this phrase), that economics (and science in general) is actually “a carefully nuanced form of doubt”.