Communism AND Capitalism

June 22, 2017

The problem is that, usually, communism and capitalism are considered in purely abstract terms. Thus communism is supposed to be a state-free, large scale organization, which is organised around anarcho-democratic principles. Everyone is supposed to have the same rights, and is automatically allocated food, housing etc and helps produce everything for everyone else. The ideal is co-operative. Capitalism is supposed to allocate resources perfectly through the purely unintended economic consequences of selfishness. It can ideally have a state or not have a state depending on who you read. Supposedly ‘free markets’ are vital and bring liberty.

The problem is that though the defenders of each system are well-intentioned, neither works as perfectly as predicted, or has the consequences which are expected. This is quite obvious when you considered how they are formed and that humans are as co-operative as they are selfish and competitive. We are not one or the other. Consequently those who are successful in capitalism co-operate to prevent challenge to their power over the markets and other’s lives, and some people compete in communism to establish their own power and security at the cost of others. Furthermore, freedom is usually associated with plurality of organisations, but both systems tend to crush plurality in favour of their ideal.

The ideal societies, that people usually discuss, do not exist and probably cannot exist.

What we call ‘communism’, so far, has been born in revolution. Consequently there are always active players inside, and outside, the country aiming to get what they consider their rightful power and wealth back. Consequently communists have to use the State and repression to defend themselves, the new society and produce stability for transformation into the new society. They usually end up using the old apparatus which is the one they know, and is already in place. They justify this in terms of transition; its always supposedly temporary. Of course, some people succeed in this framework and gain power and privilege and don’t particularly care about the ordinary people who can be seen as obstacles to the progress of the State and its ideals. Mao appears to have tried to appeal directly to the people to destroy the State mechanisms and the ingrained bureaucrats. This was a dangerous policy it produced the cultural revolution, which was not a great time (to put it very mildly) and the State came back to produce stability and protect those in power. It is also relatively easy for a dictator to take over when you have a strong State, no other organisations which can challenge it, and an external threat.

The problem with capitalism is that it is born in theft and in impoverishment of some people, and leaves them behind to maintain that theft. In the US we have theft of native American lands, and theft of people’s lives in slavery, amongst other things, that create the basis of private property and its inequitable distribution – the stolen wealth does not go entirely to the victorious group. Wealthy people team up to keep the wealth for themselves, and to keep it coming and soon try to take over the State, or start a State, and use that State to defend their privilege and keep ordinary people in their place. They use the State and their own economic power to destroy open non-capitalist markets which could challenge them. The processes they implement consolidate property and shift people into wage labor and dependency. The more important the leaders of business become, the more everything has to be organized as a business, and anything that is not profitable business is automatically classed as not worthwhile. Similarly, everything that adds to business cost, like wages or looking after the ecology we depend upon, is to be destroyed or run down. There are many other problems with capitalism, but the main one is that it ends up being a self-destructive plutocracy – and the more capitalist it becomes, the more this eventuates.

After the second world war, many countries embraced what they called either a ‘mixed economy’ or ‘socialism’ (communists usually insist this is not ‘real socialism’). There were state funded business ventures and private funded ventures. They both kept each other in check. Business could not lower wages too much and accumulated too much profit, and State business had to look to what people wanted to buy. The State and big business were further kept in check by the people and by other flourishing organisations such as Churches, small business associations, unions, universities, legal bodies, the judiciary, returned services organisations, science bodies and so on (I’m sure other people can think of more such organisations which organized themselves in many different ways). This spread power about, so no one faction dominated and people generally prospered. There was a large and growing involvement with ‘people power’. To some extent this arose because some capitalists feared the possibility of communist revolution and thought it better to share some of the wealth they had extracted from the community around to keep them safe.

However, in the mid seventies, in the English speaking world in particular, the corporate sector launched a take over, through funding think tanks, media takeovers, takeover of political units, and general promotion of ideal capitalism. Then European communism fell. There was no longer any fear of revolution, and little opposition to capitalism. The result was what we have now. Capitalism as it is….. Capitalism was to be the only solution, the only value and ordinary people lost power and prosperity. Any other organisations where to be organized along business lines and started praising business. As a result, there is now almost no challenge to big business from anyone and no non-business stories, especially as communism collapsed under its incapacities.

There is close to no question that capitalism will collapse under its incapacities as well – there is nothing challenging it. The issue is whether it takes us all with it.

Alchemy

June 19, 2017

Alchemy was an art of all kinds of transmutation and ‘perfection’: of metals, human bodies, souls, agriculture, pottery, politics and so on.

Those alchemists working on metals, usually attempted to transform Mercury, rather than lead, into gold. The lead is a popular story and I’m not sure when it originated. However, the mercury may not be what we call mercury, it is the ‘Mercury of the Philosophers’ which is something completely different but like mercury…. alchemy is confusing in that way.

As many people are aware, Isaac Newton was an alchemist and spent far more effort on alchemy and biblical interpretation than on physics which was simply a sideline. Some have argued that alchemy was important in supporting Newton with the otherwise unpopular idea of action at a distance. Robert Boyle and lots of other members of the original Royal Society were also alchemists, although Newton was the most traditional of all of them and incredibly secretive about what he was doing – as he was with everything. The others tended to exchange notes and procedures.

I have read of people using nuclear reactors to do transmutation of the elements but ,as everyone notes, that is way too expensive at the moment – although it can be taken as demonstrating that alchemy is possible 🙂

There are alchemists operating today doing the work on metals, although they seem to be more interested in medical alchemy than gold making. There are also those who see alchemy as more of a psychological or spiritual procedure.

This psychologizing has a surprisingly long history but, while it simplifies, it basically arises because alchemists generally did not see a difference between interior work and exterior work. Everything was connected, the change in the alchemist was as important as the change in the material, and the two were linked. Everything was mutable. Psychologising also serves the function of explaining why any particular alchemist did not make the transmutation, and further explained and justified the altered states of consciousness that arise through inhaling and tasting various substances and concentrating on being a human thermostat for weeks on end. It may also be true of course 🙂

However, separating the spirit work into its own domain becomes more usual during and after the 17th century. By the late 19th century it was often considered that work on the spirit was the secret of alchemy, probably because it became increasingly difficult to see spirit and matter as related.

More interestingly, Carl Jung argued that Western alchemical symbols arose as a kind of collective dream, acting as compensations for the kind of psyche produced by official Christianity. If that is the case, then alchemy can, even today, act as a map of psychological transformation – what he called individuation. James Hillman expanded on this, pointing out that alchemical symbols actually give us a very concrete embodied way of seeing, feeling and engaging with psyche.

I personally think that alchemical symbols can give us a way of thinking about transformations of all kinds, and that they are particularly useful for thinking about chaotic, complex and messy processes. But that is a subject for another blog post sometime.

Anarchism and Capitalism

June 18, 2017

Something approaching anarchist communism is the way most human societies have functioned during our evolution and prehistory. Humans co-operate and compete, live in relationship to other humans and nature, talk, produce art, engage with God and ‘science’, and try to prevent the accumulation of inequalities. So for them property is exchanged rather than accumulated. They resolve disputes by long discussions and listening, trying to reach as real a consensus as possible. If that fails then the society splits, or there some minor violence occurs. Those people who like bossing others around or displaying their wealth or who cannot relate to other people can move out and join the capitalists or Statists, where their personality traits are considered normal or even praiseworthy.

The weakness of anarcho-communist societies is obvious – State and business based societies usually slaughter them, unless they can hide in otherwise inhospitable mountains or deserts. So there is no ‘paradise’ once State and business gets going.

A fundamental difference between anarchism and capitalism is that in capitalism the fundamental relationships between people are not communitarian and consultative, they are Boss and Employee, or Servant and Master. Pro-capitalists hope to avoid the servitude they cultivate or force on others.

As well, capitalism requires a State and violence to allow the accumulation of property, and the severance of human relations that allows that accumulation. There is, and has been, no capitalism without accumulation and a State, or without forming a state. Accumulation of wealth also allows the financing of specialists in violence like a military or a police force which helps State formation. Capitalism nearly always leads to plutocracy. Indeed one can see that “anar caps” are usually keen to have proto-State apparatuses such as police, courts, prisons and lawyers when those forces are mercenary and available to the highest bidder because that means that the wealthy own both the law and the enforcers of the law, and thus make the law, and the State apparatuses, serve them. There is little anyone outside the circle of wealth can do to go against this ‘law’. Wealthier and more violent enforcers will tend to take over smaller mercenary enforcers, or severely damage them. Enforcers will routinely protect those who contribute most to their prosperity, and the law, and so ‘judicial’ decisions and laws will respect those powerful ‘customers’. The observed aim of capitalists is not to abolish the State but to abolish any part of the State that does not serve the sole interests of successful, wealthy and dominant capitalists.

Once the wealthy own the means of violence and law, then they will probably team up in their mutual interest to make them all safer in their suppression of everyone else. This is what elites do, and this give further coherence to the burgeoning State they are creating.

This process is given legitimacy as, in capitalism, wealth is the only acceptable marker of value, whereas in anarchism people may be renown for many different things.

As we said earlier, sociopaths, greedheads and exploiters will tend to migrate to capitalism where they think their personality traits may be rewarded. The wealthy may well tend to have a higher concentration of such individuals than the rest of the population. In capitalism, people without wealth, or not interested in making wealth, are naturally considered inferior and nobody worries if they get trodden on.

Consolidation of plutocracy is even more likely, because in a system of inequality and resultant shortage, wealth is a portable and transferable basis for power, and can be applied to all other sources of power. Wealth can and will buy violence. It will buy the law. It will control the information flow and propaganda, so that ‘free market’ ideologies and ideologues will be supported and counter examples and ideas repressed. Wealth can control cosmologies and religions. Wealth can command specialists, administrators and managers to further reinforce its power and boss people around. Plutocracy is the only possible result of capitalism.

Capitalism not only tends to produce a State it tends to produce an imperial State to gain new markets, new resources, new workers and new places to dump waste and pollution from its methods of production. If the capitalists verge onto the anarchists then the capitalists will generally not recognize the property of the anarchists – after all anarchists have no contract and their property is not registered as belonging to anyone in capitalist law. If property does not exist in capitalist bought law then it is terra nullius and ripe for the taking. Historically this is what capitalists do.

This leaves the anarchists with a problem, they could pay tribute to the capitalists to be left alone, but that implies subservience and depends on some wealthy person not taking them to capitalist bought court and challenging their lack of ownership. Anarchists may not even have currency to pay with, which of course shows they have no rights or value as people, as they have no wealth. The capitalists may decide to rule them for their own good, and use their ‘defensive’ military or police for that purpose. This then throws the anarchists off the land they don’t own (in the capitalists eyes) and forces them into wage labor and subservience to a boss – so the bosses may become still more prosperous. The conquered anarchists will no longer be seduced by ideas of communitarianism, liberty and disregard for profit, they will have to work for hire in subservience. They won’t effectively challenge capitalist power by existing free of it.

There is an inherent difference between anarchy and capitalism. Anarchists aim to maximize the amount of time that all people can use for non-economic, purely human purposes, while capitalists aim to maximize the amount of time that the vast majority have to labor to survive.

This is why pro-capitalists only ever talk of the ‘market’, or try to make the ‘market’ and economic reward the central, and deciding, part of human life. This arrangement tires people out and keeps them submissive to their bosses. Pro-capitalists may come to believe that there is nothing else in human life than economic labor, and profit, which reinforces the ideological system of power. This is also why they are always so destructive of the environment that others live in, and even their own. Anything can be destroyed if it makes profit and it does not inconvenience another person with ownership of the law.

There is a magic here; pro-capitalists appear to believe that by supporting the dominant power, and forcing others to do so, they will gain power and prosperity for themselves.

Anarchists always have to be wary of capitalists, and see them as supporting plutocracy. It is certainly arguable that largely unfettered capitalism will, with enough power allocated to business, produce a State and a society very like the one we have to day – which after 40 years of endless praise of free markets, should not be a surprise to any one.

How many people might die from climate change?

June 2, 2017

Sorry that is the sort of question which cannot be answered accurately.

Social systems, environmental systems and climate systems are complex systems which means they cannot be predicted in detail. All these systems will be interacting with different forms of landscape – such as low lying areas, loss of glaciers and water and so on. We need all of them to remain stable to make valid detailed predictions. All we can predict is the general trends, and these can be disrupted by rapid changes of state into new systems which may not be human friendly.

The trends are likely to be extreme. People will try and move from parts of the earth which become difficult to live in, because of temperature (heat stroke, heart failure, dehydration), lack of drinking water and sea level rise, and that will likely cause wars – in which people will die as well. The massive storms we have seen will cause deaths as well, as well as disrupt the balance and interconnection of social functioning which will produce more deaths. Destruction of agricultural stability will produce problems with food supply, which is likely to produce malnutrition, which makes people more vulnerable to the other effects. Tropical diseases will move into what have been temperate climates, as well as be carried by people movement. It is likely that those of us who live in temperate environments will have little resistance to these diseases. We may see some parts of the world which have previously been uninhabitable become open to human life and the great powers will compete over those areas, which is also likely to produce war and death.

We also keep polluting the oceans which will disrupt the climate and ecological systems. Many biologists think that ocean death is possible, this will mean we will lose most of our fish stocks, we may also lose oxygen supplies if the plankton die and we keep cutting down forests, although it is unlikely we will kill ourselves, this will also lessen resilience.

With pro-corporate policies which help corporations release chemicals pollution without much in the way of check we will also poison ourselves and the other creatures and plants we need to live. The results of these chemicals on bio-system evolution cannot be predicted at all…

Basically there are a whole heap of endangering ecological processes going on, of which climate change is only one. What the results of multiple chaotic disruptions will be is absolutely unpredictable. However, it can be predicted that normality is going and that many people will die as a result.

A view of Marx: left, right or something else?

May 31, 2017

If a ‘rightist’ is a person who supports corporate dominance and plutocracy, or established chains of authority, then Marx was clearly not a rightist.

If a ‘leftist’ is a person who supports state control over everyone and everything for the common good, then Marx was not a leftist – the state was to wither away under communism.

Marx believed that oppressed people should understand the system of suppression, then organize and rebel against it, constructing their own forms of governance using their active experience (praxis). This is one reason why he did not spend much time trying to describe the systems that might arise after the revolution.

The ongoing problem has been that revolutions produce chaos, as well as resistance, so that the revolutionaries, need to establish a system of order for the new regime to survive, and they tend to use the one that is already available, and so suppression starts again. Lenin promised this suppression would be temporary, but the system is always attacked from outside, so the suppression needs to be maintained, and it becomes easy for the dictators to take over.

Paradoxically, in many ways Marx was a conservative egalitarian. He believed that capitalism corrupted virtue, destroyed relationships between people, diminished craft skills, eliminated local cultures, and produced dependency and poverty – much of the Communist Manifesto could have been written by a 19th conservative hostile to the newly emergent industrial capitalism. However, he also believed it was possible to change things for the better, if you understood what was going on.

Marx’s primary legacies are: a) the understanding that capitalism is oppressive and destructive in its very nature and not because of the vices of the dominant people themselves, and b) that economics is never independent of political struggle.

He showed that capitalism is not trade, or mutual exchange, which is normal to most societies, it is a specific political form of organizing exchange, profit, production, dependency and distribution which requires and creates inequality and state based oppression.

Finally, in Marx’s view, history is driven by the struggle between groups of people and their ways of life, survival and economic organization. In that sense the drivers of history are primarily material.

Group identity and ideas

May 27, 2017

The roles served by communication, information and reasoning are primarily social. That is, these acts/events are primarily about getting on in groups and orienting the person in the world in relation to others, with whom they ally, and against others who are perceived as threats. Accuracy is secondary.

1) Ideas don’t have to be accurate to be accepted

For example, people believe in ‘free market’ economics despite the fact that it has never delivered the general prosperity, liberty or virtue, it has been used to promise. It may deliver wealth and power to the corporate elites but that is another matter. Lots of ideas/actions do not deliver, or even produce the opposite result to what is promised for them, but people fiercely defend them anyway.

Acceptance has nothing to do with the ‘accuracy’ of the idea, or their ability to deliver promised results.

2) Sharing ideas is about group bonding

What a set of ideas needs for it to gain influence, is to produce (or be associated with), social bonding and a sense of identity.

Any group bonding process is boosted by working together, or by specifying some other groups, or set of groups, as an enemy outgroup from which the group needs to be distinguished or defended – socialists, liberals, Muslims, Christians, capitalists etc…

It is not necessary that the favoured outgroup actually does attack the ingroup; all that is necessary is for the group’s ideas to frame the outgroup as an attacking force. This will help the sense of ‘working together’ in the ingroup and, eventually, one sided hostility will promoted the desired reprisals.

For example, Scientology provides a close bonding organization which claims to represent an elite (you in potentia), with a strong sense of being persecuted by evil outgroups, as well as a set of ideas which may or may not deliver, but which a person’s adherence to, defines them as members of the group.

Sometimes inaccurate ideas can give more of a sense of identity than accurate ones, particularly if the groups are driven by a sense of resistance to groups which profess more accurate ideas – for example climate change denial.

3) The group is marked by the ideas it promotes

The group, as marked by the ideas, provides support and social bonding, so that people have loyalties to fellow ingroup members, beyond loyalties to outgroup members (although this can be complicated). They also have loyalties to group ideas which symbolise the group’s loyalties. The ideas are more like flags of allegiance than tools to help understand the world.

Attacking and defending these ‘flagging’ ideas is often seen as the same as attacking or defending both the group that promotes them and the sense of identity and bonding it provides. Attacking ideas can appear to be an attack on the self, its social position, its associates, and its right to exist.

Ingroup members support each other in attack those who attack the ideas of the group. This states the virtue of the group, and further cements the bonds of loyalty and working together, thus reinforcing the ideas, irrespective of whether the ideas are shown to be accurate or not.

4) Identity is about loyalty and opposition between categories.

As implied, the identity provided by the group is often partly provided by its distinction from other groups.

Men are not supposed to be like women or vice versa, Muslims are not supposed to be like Christians and so on. Being-not-the-relevant-other is important to many (but not all) human groups or identity categories.

Furthermore a person can see the differences between fellow ingroup members with greater ease than they see differences between outgroup members. The type of attention applied is different. It is easier to believe all Republicans are the same, if you are not a Republican. Outgroups tend to be perceived as uniform and less human.

Some groups claim that eventually, all good hearted people, will be like them. Therefore people who resist them are clearly not good hearted. Such groups always seek outgroups, and will manufacture them if everyone becomes the same.

In complicated societies there are overlapping spheres of identity in social life. Disjointed spheres may mean that it is harder to distinguish yourself from others, so you become more complacent about difference. However, the more your identity is defined by categories which smoothly overlap or concatenate, then the more you might perceive the difference between your group and out groups, and the more that outgroups can become sites for projection of fantasies. So groups can drive each other apart. But sometimes you get a dynamic whereby one group wants to be more like the other, and the other repels them – so the groups move further towards a similar extreme. In the US Democrats become more Republican, and Republicans move further to the ‘right’ to distinguish themselves.

5) The more the ideas expressed by a person praise the shared information and biases of the group, the more persuasive they are, and the higher status they gain. The more the ideas expressed by a person appear to resemble the ideas expressed by the outgroup, the less persuasive they are and the more marginal and threatened their status – they may even risk expulsion.

6) Ideas become relevant in different circumstances and different conflicts with the out groups…

Hence group members do not have to worry, or even notice, if those ideas are compatible with each other or not. There is no necessity for ideas to be coherent because they primarily serve as markers of self-identity, loyalty and differentiation from the outgroups in different circumstances.

Power and incompetence

May 19, 2017

People in power are often structurally incompetent. Not only because they get promoted above their ability to handle the situations they are supposedly in charge of (as explained in the Peter Principle), but because they suffer from the power/ignorance nexus (David Graeber). That is, because all the information they receive tends to be tailored towards what those beneath them, think that they want to hear or see. The more the people in power have access to violence, or can threaten those beneath them, the more this is the case. ‘Superiors’ don’t have to understand people or events that they can hit, or order to be hit. Managers can also be cut off from reality by their immediate underlings who try to control them by feeding them ‘useful’ information – this is the evil advisor motif. Similarly, those in power rarely explain truthfully what is going on to those beneath them, as this would render them more vulnerable to criticism and challenge. Thus those beneath them have to guess what is meant to happen, or what is happening, and this opens the organization to complete fantasy where people know that everything they are told is untrue, but don’t know what the lies are covering. This further confuses the information that the ‘superiors’ receive.

The less competent the people in power become, the less they are likely to realise that they do not understand what is going on or recognize competence (Kruger Dunning effect) – they see everything as all someone else’s fault, or the result of a vast conspiracy against them. Given that power is always exercised in a complex process with active ‘counter power’, were events are non-predictable, then incompetent people are not only likely to generate unintended results all the time, but they are likely to blame those beneath them for that incompetence, punish them, or not learn from mistakes, and thus reinforce the power/ignorance nexus.

Problems with incompetents in power tend to get worse, because they like to appoint other incompetents, or people who engage in flattery to positions of power beneath them, or of giving advice to them. Knowledgeable people scare them. Knowledgeable people, who don’t lie to please them, will tend to get sacked as incompetents will not take advice from people who might be less incompetent; they will not recognise the possibility of accuracy which goes against their biases, and so on.

Given this, incompetent people tend to set up (or reinforce) organisational structures based upon, and generative of, incompetence and ignorance. If they can, then they will destroy ‘checks and balances’ which have evolved to give social stability and responsiveness, as these seem to be part of the conspiracy which supposedly opposes them; these checks and balances are merely obstacles.

It is, therefore, not unreasonable to assume that incompetent politicians and corporate commanders will generate a dysfunctional educational system, which then reinforces the power of those politicians, by corrupting knowledge and thinking and giving people a truly false sense of reality. Having an education system which taught people to recognise the problems that the politicians and the corporate bosses generate, would appear counterproductive to their power and simply seem untrue.

Incompetence and ignorance can be further magnified when, as with capitalism, the economic system only recognises the virtue of profit and wealth – all other competence, benefits and virtue are to be dismissed. Organizations based on profit and incompetence, may tend to select for certain types of psychopathology, which further distorts the processes and feedback perception, rendering the superiors even more incompetent, and focused on profit alone. If you want to get ahead in this system you have to be able to lie, misdirect and deceive others. You have to be able to dismiss others without regret. You have to be able to assume that money is the only thing in life, and that it should be distributed only to the few, of which you are one.

In such an environment, everyone becomes nervous of everyone else, and most people end up communicating strategically rather than truthfully. Hence not only the collapse of education and collapse of virtue, but the collapse of our ecology and the likely collapse of society..

Monlogue from my latest novel in progress:

May 6, 2017

“The cliché is that the monsters hide in the countryside in some remote village, where everyone is supposedly inbred and stupid. But what’s the point of hiding away if you want power, or efficacy? It’s pointless. Vampires if they existed would be in Washington, Moscow and Beijing. They’d be in General Electric, Exxon, and Sinopec. Plenty of ambitious food, and they could control or remove anyone who might oppose them. So, even if they started in the country, I’d expect they would work up the food chain, and use each person they controlled to take over someone bigger in the hierarchy – until they controlled the world. And few of us would notice. It might explain why our ruling class refuse to do anything about climate change. Because the aliens like warmer conditions, and they don’t care how many humans die in engineering them. There’ll be some left and they may be more disorganised given the catastrophes, and so easier to control….”

Why do the right hate science? I

April 23, 2017

We all know that right wing governments and propaganda mills hate independent science. Science for war or corporate profit is ok, if still suspect, but independent science is considered biased and dangerous. Scientists should not speak, and they should have their budgets controlled by the righteous. We are told they are part of a world wide conspiracy to hurt ordinary people, or that they do research which is uncomfortable for the right only because of their greed for funding from largely unnamed sources and so on.

For anyone who has known scientists, this is obviously a load of rubbish. Scientists are lousy at organization; the idea that you could pressure 95% or more scientists to agree on something for money, especially when money is so available for disagreeing with that something, is just ludicrous.

So why has science become problematic?

I will argue that this largely has to do with the inevitable failure of neoliberal ‘free market’ policies over the last 40 years, the need to distract people, and the need to lead them away from any real knowledge, or even converse with people who might have knowledge.

The argument proceeds by considering

a) Uncertain social science
b) Medical and climate science
and
c) Religion

A Defence of PoMo in Politics

April 19, 2017

I’ve seen a few articles recently in which people seem to be blaming Postmodernism for ‘fake news’ and Donald Trump, and for a departure from Enlightenment principles into ‘darkness’. This seems rather a stretch to me.

One of the problems with this position, is that it sees both the enlightenment and post-modernism, as single movements, when they are quite pluralistic: Derrida, Baudrillard and Foucault for example, do not have a common project, other than in the sense that people writing at the same time in a similar tradition have commonalities.

I would further suggest that many apparent tenets of post-modernism actually share similarities with people in the enlightenment, and come out of other recognisable modernist sources such as anthropology, linguistics, physics and so on. Cynically, post-modernism as a whole has little interest in the British Enlightenment, because it makes it seem less original as a movement.

Many of the movers of the British enlightenment, which is the Enlightenment I am most familiar with, after a lot of arguing came to what I would claim is the entirely justifiable conclusion that ‘Reason’ was not enough, and that reason without reference to the real world could lead to complete fantasy. If your axioms/assumptions and obvious statements where wrong your conclusions would be wrong. Hence ‘natural philosophy’ and ‘alchemy’ moved into what we call science, in which, as far as possible, statements had to be checked against reality in front of trustworthy, knowledgeable and critical witnesses.

It’s position is we cannot assume things to be true in advance. That will mislead us.

Now, let’s move to a patch of Foucault arguing with Chomsky:

“… you can’t prevent me from believing that these notions of human nature, of justice, of the realization of the essence of human beings, are all notions and concepts which have been formed within our civilization, within our type of knowledge and our form of philosophy, and that as a result form part of our class system; and that one can’t, however regrettable it may be, put forward these notions to describe or justify a fight which should — and shall in principle – overthrow the very fundaments of our society. This is an extrapolation for which I can’t find the historical justification. ”

Foucault’s remark is entirely within keeping with these mainstream British Enlightenment Principles – where are these ‘rights’ that people keep talking about? Are they not enshrined in, and derived from, particular political structures – which as Adam Smith, no less, pointed out are there to defend the propertied and the powerful? It may be that the discourse is not entirely consistent, and can be turned against itself. But that does not mean ‘rights’ exist. You would need to show Foucault a historical example of this in action before he might agree to the process working. We are all familiar with the remark attributed to Einstein “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it” – this is more concise and more general than Foucault, but the meaning is similar. We need to change our reason to solve problems.

Likewise Foucault insists that knowledge is intertwined with power. Who is going to argue that Religion has not been intertwined with power and challenges to power and the same seems true of science and economics? We know that commercial science is not always as accurate as independent science. That is why some of us fight for academic funding to be determined by academics rather than corporations, and why others want funding and work conditions to be determined by corporations or corporate principles. To deny this relationship between power and knowledge, seems to be to deny a basic political truth, of which Voltaire and Diderot were not unaware.

I’d also argue that power is intertwined with ignorance, but that is another argument, but it should lead us to caution. Burke’s ‘conservative’ defense of British Tradition against revolution and ‘free markets’ is based upon a distrust in reason, and a trust in the empirical complexity of reality. We may not perceive everything which is going on, or how it all interacts and hence the system needs tending carefully not disrupting ‘reasonably’ according to our fancies. The same kind of proposition is found in functionalist anthropology acting as a defense of ‘native’ societies against colonial disorganization – it foreshadows systems theory, which is vital for understanding ecologies and social interactions with ecologies.

Now as it happens, both Hume and Berkeley disrupted this empiricist stand by showing from empiricist principles that we have no direct access to reality, only to our imagining and habits, or to the imagining done by God in Berkeley’s case. Of course there was the ‘common sense’ reaction to these positions, but it was always within this wider framework as discussed. Reason is not supreme. And a belief in the supremacy of reason leads you to serious misunderstanding of human social functioning.

Derrida further illustrates how this failure of reason and understanding can occur through language. One of his main claims to fame is the infamous argument that there is nothing outside the text. For me, this seems to be saying that humans give things meaning immediately – we treat things as ‘texts’. I don’t know why people get upset with this proposition. To some extent, science is about trying to remove the meanings we give things immediately and giving them meanings which are more in accord with their nature. But we are always prone to bend them to our inner psycho-cultural meanings. And the more obscure, or threatening, the science the more this bending will occur.

Derrida also takes the ‘context dependence’ of meaning seriously. Meaning is delimited by context. That is a fairly standard linguistic understanding. Context is unstable. Different people bring different contexts to the same ‘texts’, consequently meaning is unstable. Add difficulties of cross cultural understanding, historical shifts in the meanings of words and so on, then this becomes even more of an issue. We may be reasoning from assumptions which are mistaken interpretations of some previous work. This is fairly obvious to literary critics. Any relatively complex text will have an almost infinite number of interpretations; although it may not have every possible interpretation – as I commonly say the number of people who seriously argue that Hamlet is about the mating habits of African elephants is remarkably small. However, no valuable text is exhausted of meaning by any particular reading. I also don’t know why this proposition often seems to be considered a terrible thing, as it seems necessary to any kind of understanding.

Indeed one of the problems with understanding Trump and the Trump movement, is that the contexts brought to bear on understanding it’s statements are extremely different; they are so different that people in the same cultural group cannot understand each other. Refusal to accept context dependence, means that much commentary is framed in terms of the stupidity of others, and such statements help to further the separation and lack of understanding and communication.

These positions seem, to me, to be fundamental starting places for political analysis, along with understanding how economic and political ‘truths’ get propagated through organs of power, and they are not hindered by post-modern thought.