Posts Tagged ‘social category theory’

Capitalism vs Feudalism

October 5, 2017

Capitalism and Feudalism are not the same, but it is useful to make a comparison between them focusing on power and privilege – however much free market apologists do not want to talk about these issues.

In feudalism we basically have the following set up – a largely hereditary class system composed of:

  • 1) Aristocracy, Lords etc. with command of land, law and violence.
  • 2) Crafts people, restricting knowledge of their ‘mysteries’, organised in guilds. Some travel, some are stationary.
  • 3) Merchants and traders who convey goods between cities. Monetary wealth starts to concentrate here. Some cities manage to establish a degree of independence.
  • 4) Church: control of communications, more esoteric non-craft based knowledge, cosmology, salvation.
  • 5) The peasantry, largely bound to a Lord and an estate. Peasants are dependent on the Lords for their livelihood.
  • There is also division by gender. Aristocratic women have more power, privilege and opportunity than peasant women, but they can still lead a relatively constrained life, being bargaining chips for their fathers for alliances. There is some upwards mobility (the idea that people can move up from their parents’ position in life). Historians dispute how much, but there are examples of people being recognised for combat virtues, mercantile abilities and intellectual virtues and moving up the class system to a degree.

    The Church and the Lords have an uneasy truce, but in general the Church promotes the ideas that the Lords have the necessary inherent virtues to rule, and are put there by God, and revolt is bad.

    There is little resembling the present day state. Lords are tied together by ties of oath and kinship. The king is the supreme lord, but he only has a small administration and his own loyal troops. As Shakespeare said “uneasy lies the head that wears the crown”. A quick study of British feudal history will show kings being killed or displaced or disciplined with regularity. It was only with the end of the Wars of the Roses that we get the start of something approximating a modern State. Henry VIII takes over the church and builds a new aristocracy loyal to him through redistribution of its wealth. Elizabeth continues the trend with a secret police and more admin, but even she is so poor that she has to regularly travel the country with her court living on the beneficence of fellow aristocrats. Merchants get more and more control over the wealth. In the middle of the next century a mercantile and largely popular revolution kills Charles I, and sets up an independent government. The Merchants and Presbyterians crush the more democratic elements. Eventually the kings come back, but they are subordinate to Parliament and mercantile wealth for funding – James I and the Stuarts are thrown out. Capitalism develops.

    Out of this history the traditional power and class structure of capitalism appears and is something like this:

  • 1) State: control of law and violence.
  • 2) Capitalists and remaining aristocrats: owners and controllers of business, wealth and land.
  • 3) Professionals: control of knowledge (science) education and entrance to the professions.
  • 4) Media, distribution of knowledge.
  • 5) Unions, representative bodies of workers. Workers are generally dependent on capitalists for their livelihood.
  • 6) Churches.
  • However over the last 40 years, since the Thatcher/Reagan neoliberal (talking about the freemarket) revolution, wealth has become the dominant source of power, purchasing, curtailing, taking over or destroying all the other bases of power. Wealth has the potential to be the ultimate source of power because it can take over anything.

    We now have a situation in which wealth controls State, law and violence though politicians and party funding; it controls knowledge through think tanks and corporatisation of universities; it largely controls media and the distribution of knowledge; and has largely destroyed or crippled unions.

    We live in a hierarchical capitalist plutocracy. This is perhaps the inevitable consequence of putting business and profit first. Business people become the only people worth talking to, or listening to, and their think tanks promote ‘free markets’ (ie the total dominance of business interests) as the only important part of society. They funded Hayek, Mises, Cato inst etc. to make a coherent justification for their unimpeded rule. We now know that the wealthy are wealthy because they “worked hard”, have “special talents”, are “innovative”, are “blessed by God or the market” etc. Revolt, or even objection, is bad.

    This is not to say that the corporate class is completely united. There are divisions which struggle against each other. For example a rough division occurs between those capitalists (and their hangers on) who have a relatively humanistic attitude to the rest of the world, think environments and people require some support or equalising of opportunity, and those who don’t, or who think all good and only good all arises through ‘the market’ or the actions of corporate capitalists.

    There are also gender divisions, relatively few women control wealth production, and the same is true of race/ethic divisions within the country. Everything I have read suggests that upwards mobility has declined over the same period. This implies that class has ossified the more free markets are valued.

    Basically in such a system, the “billionaire next door” can do whatever they like, unless they are opposed by another billionaire, and we see this happening all the time. All other controls on the power of wealth have largely evaporated. It is possible to see most right wing policies at aiming for the removal of any restrictions on wealthy individuals, or any possibility of poorer individuals curtailing the impact of these individuals on their own lives.

    It seems pretty obvious that has well as ‘totalising’ power into plutocracy and rendering it largely (if not completely) hereditary, capitalism likes to displace the costs of its activities on to others, through distribution of pollution, injury environmental destruction, subsidy and so on. So the rest of us end up subsidising their wealth. This increases profits and anyone who does not do it, is at risk in loosing investment, and of being destroyed by a less principled company….

    So one difference between capitalism and feudalism, is that there were more bases for power in feudalism and likely more freedom to exit the system, or to curtail excessive destruction of the system by one particular group. Another is that there was less material wealth. Most of the practical benefits of that wealth have arisen through better technology and medicine, whether the professional organisations could have done that in western feudal society is unknown, but it certainly started there.


    What do neo-Nazis want?

    August 20, 2017

    Is it possible to understand what neo-nazis want from the right wing commentariat who are supporting, or excusing, them? A few things, perhaps.

    1) Nazis want to be categorised as heroic victims, fighting a justified fight. Consequently those protesting against nazism (who are classified as ‘alt-left’) must have attacked them unprovoked. Even if the neo-nazis were carrying semi-automatic weapons, metal poles and the like and threatening to use them, and the opposition were not. Even if they announced they wanted to kill people in advance of the march. Even if they do kill and maim non Nazis, it is the fault of the others, or the reporting of these events is ‘fake news’. Nazi Violence is excusable while non nazi violence is bad. [The category ‘alt-left’ is useful to neo-nazis and their sympathisers as it implies that opposition to Nazis is itself a form of extremism and has little in common with mainstream US values.]

    2) They want to portray their commitment to threatening others for the sin of existing or speaking, as being justified by ‘free speech’ or ‘Tradition’, so as to weaken opposition to them.

    3) They want to be seen as defending American Tradition against corruption, but they are only interested in defending the authoritarian parts of that tradition, such as slavery, white supremacy, male supremacy and so on. However, they can also want to argue that the American State is corrupt because it has supported the violence they would approve of, if they did it themselves.

    4) They want to categorise anyone who opposes them as corrupt and deserving to be threatened. Good and evil are white and black. So they want everything to be seen in terms of binary opposition. All members of a social category they despise are automatically evil, no matter how many counter examples they might know.

    5) They want to portray all forces within the State as corrupt, except for those on their side (white and black again). Nazis want to be seen as struggling to take the State back for the people. But they do not want to challenge real power until they get that control and they attempt to gain control by intimidating non-Nazis and preventing resistance – ‘heroically’ of course.

    6) They want supposedly ‘threatening’ people to despise, otherwise they have no energy. Hence they portray “whiteness” as under massive threat from people they categorise as Jews, Blacks, Mexicans and intellectuals, who don’t have that much power and who may not resist too much. They want to see despised people as a disease. They also want their opposition to attack everyone affiliated with them, even if that affiliation is fragile – as that provokes ingroup loyalty.

    7) They do not want to blame unequal wealth, or corporate power, for the problems of the US, as that might be too much confrontation.

    8) All you have to do to be classified as potentially good in their eyes is to be categorised as ‘white,’ however that is defined, and not support people they classify as ‘non-whites’. They want that category to have wide application and automatically give people privilege to declare others evil and attack them.

    9) No matter how fractured, they want the opposition to Nazism to be portrayed as monolithic, coordinated and corrupt, as that then magnifies their own victimhood and strength.

    10) One reason they flourish, is because they are going along with general Republican motifs. Everything above has been part of the Pro-Republican media campaigns for years. But this cannot be said, as orthodox Republicans who denounce them are also the enemy. They want to make this a Republican vs Democrat thing, to get ordinary Republicans to ally with them.

    11) There probably are people who support some positions espoused by neo-nazis but who are not neo-nazis and will eventually become repelled by the whole worship of blood and violence. It is a strategic mistake not to recognise this possibility, and to drive these people into further alliance with Nazis. This is difficult.

    12) They want Jewish people and Black people fighting over who is most threatened. After all, that weakens the opposition.

    13) They don’t want to be ignored. But they will heroically smash things up until they are not ignored. So don’t bother ignoring them.

    Types of Difference

    August 9, 2017

    When discussing difference, it is important to have an idea about the different kinds of difference.

    Let me distinguish several types. This is not an exhaustive discussion

    a) Categorical difference.
    You can insert every relevant item into one or other category. The things inserted in each separate category have little in common.
    However, there is usually always a level at which everything has something in common, and something that differs… so this is harder than it looks. For example, horses and rats both have four legs, teeth, two eyes, two ears, tails, give birth to live young, and so on, and yet we all usually agree about which category any particular specimen will go into. Horses and sharks may also have things in common… although the similarities may well be less striking, but you can probably think of similarities if you try hard enough.

    b) Binary categorical difference
    Not only are the things supposedly easy to insert into categories but they are also classed as ‘opposites’. Usually, but not always, men and women are inserted into such categories. In our culture men are supposed to be aggressive as opposed to passive, not be obsessed with appearance, be non-maternal and so on. Some forms of feminism accept categorical difference, or even binary difference, and argue that women have particular abilities and understandings which have been ignored or condemned by the patriarchy. Given the enforcement of categories this is likely to be correct at the moment, even if not ultimately true.

    c) Statistical difference
    This is were it is recognised that the categories are actually a bit fuzzy. For example, men are generally taller than women. However, very few people would claim that all men are taller than all women. I suspect that most, but not all, gender characteristics are like this. Consequently, the more rigidly the categories are enforced the more people may feel they do not fit in. Are tall women actually men? Are men who like children, really women? Silly yes?

    d) Culturally enforced difference
    In this case, what are declared to be categorical differences are made absolute and enforced, and such categories occupy places in a power system. The rich are better, hence they get education and this proves the poor are ignorant and stupid and so on. Men get encouraged in violence, women discouraged.

    e) Taboo categories
    These are reserved for those things/processes which do not fit socially important categories. Cloven hoof animals, transgender people and such. These things are often defined as unclean.

    Psychology and language as forms of control: gender, race etc

    August 9, 2017

    Psychology is always ingrained in politics, because politics is about the ways that people think that the world, and its people, work.

    In general psychologies will support the ruling groups – no real surprise there. Aristocratic psychologies say that members of the aristocracy possess particular virtues and innate abilities which justify their position, and that non-aristocrats generally do not have them. Capitalist psychologies explain that people are primarily selfish, competitive and accumulative, and so on. In this psychology, the wealthy are wealthy because of their abilities and virtues which are not possessed by the poor. Racist psychologies explain that the master race is inherently better at whatever is required for ruling and the other races are naturally subordinate, lazy and stupid. Patriarchal psychologies attribute all public virtues to men, and explain that women need, or want to be, controlled, and are naturally inferior or subordinate, only interested in children etc.

    Evidence can easily be found to explain and support these positions. It usually is.

    I suspect that most of these psychologies are actually based upon violence. Patriarchy is a good example as, statistically, men have more mass, more musculature and more leverage than women. Socially they are trained in, or have experience, applying violence, while women are discouraged or forbidden from learning. Hence women, as a whole, are subordinate to males of their class. Culture and social practice increases and reinforces the subordination. People who don’t feel they match the categories in play have to be careful, or they will suffer.

    I tend to accept those depth psychologies which suggest that we all have characteristics which are defined as ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ – the question becomes do we integrate them, or do we suppress our ‘opposites’. Patriarchy tends to inculcate the idea that men are either better women than women, or that the male ‘feminine’ parts (like real women) should be suppressed. Depth psychology is more in favour of awareness, integration or synthesis. I also suspect that as nature and environment tend to be identified with women, they are also suppressed as a matter of course in patriarchy. In a racist society similar forces could be at work. We could associate some of the repressed parts of our ‘selves’ with the supposedly other race.

    The point is that whatever your theory of psychology, it will likely flow from your politics, and affect your politics and affect your sense of self.

    Language is also political.

    This should not be surprising either. Language expresses and conditions how we perceive and categorise or classify the world.

    Patriarchs fight hard for the right to talk of people as ‘Man’ or ‘Mankind’ and to use the pronoun ‘he’ for the general person. This is because this classification renders the default and important person male. It implies males make history and culture, while women are entirely secondary. The language incorporates power relations. If you don’t believe it try calling a male patriarch ‘she’ and see what happens.

    Logically those opposed to patriarchy, prefer to talk of ‘people’ rather than ‘men’ and humanity rather than ‘Man’, and use gender neural pronouns to talk of people as a whole. This form of classification also strikes me as more accurate.

    Personally if a person asks you to use ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘hir’ or whatever to refer to them, I think it is polite to do so. It is not polite to obliterate an entire gender.

    The distinction often made in the social sciences between sex and gender, is a technical distinction, not to obliterate gendering but to clarify issues and remind us that gender descriptions and requirements may vary with culture and with individuals. Gender has also used been used in linguistics and grammar for a long, long, time as some languages classify things without sex as having gender.

    Naturally this distinction challenges patriarchy, because patriarchy looks pretty stupid if gender categories/classifications are not absolute, and is therefore resisted by patriarchal gender police.

    In general, social categories tend to provide people with their place in society giving other people expectations about what they can expect from those people and defining how they can behave towards them.

    If you want to govern large numbers of people then constructing and enforcing the categories in which they insert themselves and from which they construct their identities, is a great step towards that governance.

    So if you support patriarchy it helps you if you can make sure gender categories are tight, and people define themselves in terms of gender. If you run a racist society it is helpful if you can make sure racial categories are tight and people define themselves in terms of race and so on.

    Language and psychology are rarely politically neutral.