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Incremental progress meets Zeno’s Paradox

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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.

3 Comments

  1. Lambda
    September 14, 2018 @ 11:25 am

    The biggest problem with the way this “freedom from” thing is used is that it just omits the massive system of government coercion called “property”. It’s government coercion which means a benefits sanctions victim can’t go into a supermarket and pick up the food they need, or an American doctor can have far nicer things if they treat rich people than if they treat poor people, it’s the government agents who would arrest you for shoplifting. If you use “freedom from” properly, you get at something reasonably socialistic. There must exist some sort of freedom restriction just by the inherent nature of physical objects, two people can’t both eat the same apple, at some point, if they both want to, a decision must be made somehow. So you want a system which minimises coercion. (Taking as axiomatic that government should enforce laws against theft, and so is managing all this.) It’s quite obvious that coercing loads of people to not take enough food to eat healthily is far worse than coercing one person to not have a big yacht. So the system should put everyone at (at least) reasonably comparable levels of wealth, if you want to minimise government coercion.

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  2. Mika Oksanen
    September 14, 2018 @ 9:16 pm

    In this discussion both sides misinterpret freedom. Positive freedom is just a contradiction. However, freedom is not just the absence of government coercion. Complete freedom (which may be impossible) would be the absence of all coercion. Government coercion is not as such worse than other forms of coercion. There are many other forms of coercion; coercion by families, coercion by corporations, coercion by criminal gangs, etc. These forms of coercion generally get worse in the absence of a (relatively) strong government. Some kind of relatively strong government may be a necessary evil in order to restrict coercion by other collectives (or evil individuals). The question is how to limit the power of a government so that it does not become a worse evil than the evils it combats. The founding fathers of America made a good try in the context of their time, but the system they set up just does not work anymore. On the one hand a terrible president like Trump has far too much power in America, and on the other hand corporations also have too much power in America. Other, younger western democracies have solved the problem better but yet not satisfactorily. Nobody has yet any good answer to this question. Do any Marxists know a way to prevent the rise of a tyrannical Stalinist state if capitalism were abolished?

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    • Lambda
      September 14, 2018 @ 10:30 pm

      Well, if you’ve abolished capitalism, I think you’ve already successfully avoided Stalinism, since that was a state capitalist system resulting from capitalism defending itself against the Russian revolution. Stalinism happened because the Russian revolution failed to defeat the ruling classes of the world. The real problem is that defeating the ruling classes of the world is very hard, especially when it’s made up of so many different countries. And you need to do that in order to abolish capitalism.

      More generally, I tend to ascribe the tyranny of Stalinism to concentrating too much power in one place, (the government), which is only an issue for the “government owns everything” model. The real question of socialism, I think, is “how do we make the world more genuinely democratic?” (Which means stuff like countering billionaire control over the press which make it harder for people to exert power because they’re being fed false information, for example.) If the people become sufficiently powerful, that will both avoid tyranny and cause motion towards socialism.

      This is pretty much equivalent to “how do we defeat the ruling classes of the world?” Unfortunately, I don’t know.

      I think the reaction to increasing automation will be a key battleground in the next few decades. It’s quite likely that a lot of people will start getting fairly obviously unemployable just because they don’t have the skills to do anything which still needs doing by people. Will this lead to things like universal basic incomes, which affect the power balance quite significantly because a lot of people no longer have to worry about where their next meal is coming from and have more opportunity to become politically involved, or will it lead to mass destitution? There will probably be some sort of big change, at least.

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