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Jack Graham

Jack Graham wrote about Doctor Who and Marxism, often at the same time. These days he co-hosts the I Don't Speak German podcast with Daniel Harper.Support Jack on Patreon.

13 Comments

  1. Jarl
    April 13, 2018 @ 12:56 pm

    This talk of expanding human potential is tickling a memory, one of those bastard memories where important details like names and figures are ignored and instead some broad, possibly incorrect generalization is all that remains. I remember an article about “geniuses”, which I want to say was trying to answer a question that went something like “Where are all the geniuses?”. The logic was that the historical record seemingly shows crops of geniuses showing up here and there, your Franklins and Jeffersons and Beethovens and Mozarts, in times with far greater infant mortality. Thus, in this modern era where a child is less likely to die in early childhood and the birth rate and population are thus sky-high, there should be a grand society of geniuses, thousands of them if not millions. It was the softest and poppiest of soft pop sociology. The Kirby of sociology. But it took it in an interesting direction:

    If we are to take “genius” as being a combination of an innate talent with a lifelong education that nurtures that talent, then we do enjoy a bumper crop of geniuses in our modern American society, namely professional athletes. Their innate talent is identified early on, grown through a 12 year education that focuses on that talent to the general exclusion of any other (Mozart would sympathize) and then allowed to flourish and be enjoyed by the greater society. And one clear thing about professional athleticism is that it’s always getting better. Through better techniques, strategies, and performance enhancing drugs, records that seemed to indicate the peak of human potential get broken every year. Look at the history of running, for example. People are practically hitting the finish line before the race even starts these days. To me, it’s clear that the human animal is perfectible, that this progress is visible, marked down in ledgers, recorded to film and tape and broadcast for anyone to see. Marshawn Lynch threw a 200 pound man 15 feet through the air with one hand, the upper body strength equivalent of a Fifth Symphony.

    Now, the fact is (and this was the conclusion of the article, as I recall) it’s more beneficial to the corporate, capitalist hegemony to foster athletic genius than, say, mathematical or musical or literary genius. And in absence of this identification and nurturing process (“sponsorship”, let’s call it) genius talents are wasted or ignored or misidentified. Those few born to families or communities capable of sponsoring them are the ones we seem to identify as modern geniuses. So to me, the egalitarian utopia, where all needs are met and all roadblocks eliminated, would be one where all genius could be cultivated and sponsored.

    I don’t think it’s fair or realistic to say “Everybody will be a genius in the socialist future”, but I think it’s fair to say “Every genius will get a shot in the socialist future”.

    Reply

    • Jack Graham
      April 13, 2018 @ 2:36 pm

      Your last comment reminded me… Engels even says something like that somewhere. I’ll have to go looking for it now.

      Reply

    • Josherick
      April 13, 2018 @ 4:16 pm

      Currently, though, the sort of athletic development you’re referring to is incredibly competitive and hot-housed (often with not much thought given to the long-term health effects).

      I’d assume that, in a socialist future, that sort of intense specialisation and pressure from a young age wouldn’t be encouraged; so whereas you’d see a general flowering of opportunity and potential, it might be a bit different from the sort of quantifiable leaps associated with, say, athletic record-setting.

      Maybe that would be counterweighted by so many more people having a chance to devote themselves to that sort of thing though.

      Reply

  2. Kevin Carson
    April 13, 2018 @ 5:38 pm

    The very framing of the alternatives as whether to “allow” inequality or intervene to prevent it is incredibly disingenuous. Of course there is some natural variation in abilities, but Rothbard begged the question by simply assuming that the present degree of economic inequality is some sort of spontaneous outcome of such variation. Arguably (and, I adamantly believe, also in fact) the overwhelming bulk of inequality results from past robbery or from the ongoing enforcement of rents on artificial scarcities and artificial property rights, and most of the plutocracy’s wealth results from such robbery and rents. Absent the imposition of inequality by class states of one sort or another throughout history, we would be far, far more equal.

    Reply

  3. Jesse
    April 13, 2018 @ 11:36 pm

    But we have to bear in mind that, as I say, Rothbard is talking in code. ‘Redheads’ here stands for something – someone – else. After all, redheads are not horribly disadvantaged in today’s world.

    Oh, for heaven’s sake. It’s not a “code.” The point is to pick an example that isn’t weighed down with social baggage.

    There are real problems with “Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature,” and you mention several of them here, but this not-exactly-unusual argumentative move is not one of them.

    Reply

    • Jack Graham
      April 14, 2018 @ 11:31 am

      Clearly it worked, at least on you.

      Reply

  4. Lambda
    April 14, 2018 @ 11:25 am

    I don’t think you need to worry about any of this stuff in order to be an egalitarian. All you need to observe is firstly, that everyone is (presumably) equally conscious, so that aching feet are just as bad for a labourer as they are for a CEO and enjoying a nice glass of wine is just as good for a labourer as it is for a CEO, and that secondly, making more money only correlates weakly with producing more valuable goods and services, since as well as the obvious things like rent and conquest, there are profitable jobs like market manipulation, high pressure sales tactics, subconsciously convincing people that buying your product will make them more attractive to the opposite sex, patent trolling etc. and even when it comes to productive work, the people who take time to play office politics are likely to get better raises.

    So obviously a hundred pounds will do more good if it’s allowing someone to eat a healthy diet or have antibiotics for an infection than it will if it’s allowing someone to have a very slightly shinier Ferrari, and the idea that the Ferrari was earned becomes speculative at best.

    Reply

  5. Ozyman.Jones
    April 15, 2018 @ 6:11 am

    Okay, here I go. Trying to jog with the big boys and I’ll probably trip over the untied laces of my Dunning-Krugers, and fall flat on my face, again.

    Informative and fascinating read. Thanks, Jack, as always. I don’t comment or ask questions on here much, as I seem to come across as argumentative, or deliberately contrarian, a snoutband, or an uneducated proletarian bum who doesn’t understand the arguments of his overeducated betters, which is usually not my purpose (although I have been known to be a sarcastic smart-arse from time to time, love a good tautology, and tend to ramble). And this is a genuine query.

    I’ll start with this; “In theory there is no difference between practice and theory; but in practice there is.” Glib oversimplification to be sure and something I have experienced to be true many, many times over.

    In the classroom, lecture hall or from a senate podium, theory (and rhetoric) sounds great. Much as it does on a multitude of blogs and tumblr link chains. But once we step away, the reality of ‘people’ and the ‘world’ slaps us in the face.

    The question on my lips is, and has always been, “How’s this really going to work; who is going to do the shit jobs?’ You know the ones that actually make any society work, from the lowliest agrarian to the top of the technological tree.

    TL;DR for the rest… convince me it’ll work, because I just cannot see it.

    In the idyllic theory, everyone is doing what they love, or at the very least, complete their daily grind and then have ample spare time and freedom to do what they desire. All are equally paid, treated and respected (as I understand it).

    In practice, the woman working at the seam face in the underground mine, the man scrubbing faeces from the communal toilet bowls, the trans person sweating fourteen hours a day working the farm, and the fox-kin in a university delivering a lecture on the injustices of past societies and how we have now moved on from them, are not going to feel, or be, equal in their down time. Equal pay? Equal living conditions? Equal respect from society? Equal access to all that society can offer? Will actors still be revered as gods?

    What will induce someone like me, in my younger days, to take up a hard labouring, dangerous, hot, dirty, trade I hated every fucking minute of, other than the fact it paid well? Really, really well (i.e. bestows some sort of privilege). That would include the vast majority of the people I worked with on building sites. Especially those who were not, let’s just say, of great intellect. And it wasn’t ‘that’ bad a job. Nowhere near as satisfying or comfortable or respected as what I do now. And preferable to many I did while funding the early days of my own business to make ends meet. And even those jobs were not remotely as shit compared to others I’ve seen out there.

    Job sharing to spread the burdensome tasks won’t work in practice. Jack, Elizabeth, you and I cannot trade places in our respective work-places now, and I’d doubt many on this blog would willingly take on my old trade. So what about doctors, plumbers and software engineers? Do they take their turn as garbage collectors (who make much more than I do in Australia; AU$39,149 – AU$85,788 pa), but need little training compared to the mentioned professions? Salary may be similar on average, but for vastly different reasons.

    I know a couple of garbos, great blokes and fun to be around, but I wouldn’t want one of them as my doctor. Collecting garbage isn’t their preferred vocation, but it puts food on the table. None do it by choice. Not even remotely. What will induce them do it in an ‘equal’ society? One with a universal income?

    I can utterly believe and participate in the equality of sexes, races, and genders. But each to their own desires within society. Equality of outcome is a concept that I cannot remotely believe is natural or achievable. Even among an in-group.

    An authoritarian government? “When the boot is on your throat it doesn’t matter if it’s the Left or the Right” That poster is on my office wall.

    At that point any argument has lost me.

    None of this is I’m sure, new or even remotely interesting to you. But I and millions like me are the ones you have to convince.

    I am a practical man. Marxism seems to be a very theoretical idea that has struggled, and will seemingly continue to struggle to work in practice. I agree that the current system, all of them, have gaping flaws and inequalities…however,

    What is the plan? Give me a practical road map to the Marxist future; one that doesn’t involve purges and gulags and Holodomor and Lysenkoism and Stalin and Mao and genocide and famine, the breakdown of law & order and fear in the streets and end in current day South Africa or Venezuela.

    Unless this is the future… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rOGxftzy6mU

    Reply

    • Jack Graham
      April 15, 2018 @ 7:48 am

      Thanks for this. I won’t respond here and now because I’m actually planning to try to write about how I see socialism working sometime fairly soon.

      Reply

      • Ozyman.Jones
        April 15, 2018 @ 3:06 pm

        Thank you, Jack. I am genuinely interested to read that.

        Reply

    • Jarl
      April 16, 2018 @ 2:42 am

      I don’t expect Jack to take it in this direction, but a phrase I hear tossed around a lot nowadays is “Fully Automated Luxury Gay Space Communism”, which sounds delightful. Fanciful? Perhaps, but fully automated utilitarian capitalism has already come and set up shop, so the foundation seems strong.

      Reply

      • Lambda
        April 16, 2018 @ 8:56 am

        “Communism comes about when the productive forces are so great that there’s no need for a conventional state etc.” does sound quite similar to “complete equality comes about once we have robot toilet cleaners.”

        Reply

  6. eve
    April 17, 2018 @ 12:03 am

    500 irony points to Mr. Rothbard if he wrote his essays while wearing glasses.

    Reply

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