Subject: ON CHOOSING THE LESSER EVIL: ENSLAVEMENT OR ANNIALATION ?
15 June 2016
Dear Colleagues and Friends of CEIMSA,
Bertell Ollman attempts to decoded bourgeois social discourse in his analytical study of Marxist dialectics, Dance of the Dialectic: Steps in Marx's Method (Chicago, 2003), where in chapter 5, “Putting Dialectics to Work: The Process of Abstractiion in Marx’s Work,” he describes five levels of abstraction employed by Marx from a hierarchy of generalities, beginning with level 1, the abstraction of “unique character traits.” At level 2, the abstractions focus on the specific qualities of groups of people and of communities, stemming from activities and conditions in their daily lives in “modern capitalist society.” The next level of generality (according to Ollman this 3rd level offers abstractions which are usually ignored entirely by bourgeois writers) takes into account both objective and subjective experiences which the capitalist political economy has historically reproduced –the private ownership of the means of production, chattel slavery and wage slavery, the insatiable quest for private profits through the commoditization of virtually everything, the expansion of investment opportunities, etc, etc…. In this 500-year period new social relationships which seldom existed were produced and perpetuated. At the 4th level, social relationships within class-divided society, as it has existed for the past 5,000 years (as distinct from relationships in “modern capitalist society” as well as from relationships in “classic capitalist society”), is the generality from which qualities of relationships are abstracted. The 5th level of generality represents the “human condition,” the human relationships and necessary skills developed for survival which have evolved among our species over the past 100,000 years. In this analytic framework taken from his study of Marx’s writings, Ollman concludes :
So it is that for bourgeois ideology people are either all different (level 1) or all the same (level 5). While for Marx, whose abstractions of extension usually include a significant number of social relations, choosing the levels of generality of capitalism (level 3), modern capitalism (level 2), and class society (level 4) was both easy and obvious, just as privileging these levels led to abstractions of extension that enabled him to take in at once sweep most of the connections that attention to these levels brings into focus.(p.99)
Recently I purchased two books that two good friends had recommended on separate occasions, and when I began reading these books, I did not regret the decision, for they are truly interesting, although in Ollman’s categories they are decidedly limited by the bourgeois priorities of the authors. It is true that The Sixth Extinction, An Unnatural History (New York, 2014), by Elizabeth Kolbert does not include the recognition of capitalist relationships in modern society; and that Yuval Noah Harari’s best seller, Sapiens, A Brief History of Humankind (London, 2011), does not take into account the ineluctable role played by social class struggle in the evolution of our species.
Kolbert, for instance, offers the following abstraction from level 1 (psychology) and level 5 (“the human condition”) to explain the devastating impact that mankind continues to inflict on the environment:
In 1949, a pair of Harvard psychologists recruited two dozen undergraduates for an experiment about perception. The experiment was simple: students were shown playing cards and asked to identify them as they flipped by. Most of the cards were perfectly ordinary, but a few had been doctored, so that the deck contained, among other oddities, a red six of spades and a black four of hearts. When the cards went by rapidly, the students tended to overlook the incongruities; they would, for example, assert that the red six of spades was a six of hearts, or call the black four of hearts a four of spades. When the cards went by more slowly, they struggled to make sense of what they were seeing. Confronted with a red spade, some said it looked ‘purple’ or ‘brown’ or ‘rusty black.’ Others were completely flummoxed.
The symbols ‘look reversed or something,’ one observed.
‘I can’t make the suit out, whatever it is,” another exclaimed. ‘I don’t know what color it is now or whether it’s a spade or heart. I’m not even sure now what a spade looks like! My God!’
The psychologists wrote up their findings in a paper titled “On the Perception of Incongruity: A paradigm.” Among those who found this paper intriguing was Thomas Kuhn. To Kuhn, the twentieth century’s most influential historian of science, the experiment was indeed paradigmatic: it revealed how people process disruptive information. Their first impulse is to force it into a familiar framework: heart; spades; clubs: Signs of mismatch are disregarded for as long as possible –the red spade looks ‘brown’ or ‘rusty.’ At the point the anomaly becomes simply too glaring, a crisis ensues –what the psychologists dubbed the ‘My God!’ reaction.
This pattern was, Kuhn argued in his seminal work, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, so basic that it shaped not only individual perceptions but entire fields of inquiry. Data that did not fit the commonly accepted assumptions of a discipline would either be discounted or explained away for as long as possible. The more contradictions accumulated, the more convoluted the rationalizations became. ‘In science, as in the playing card experiment, novelty emerges only with difficulty,’ Kuhn wrote. But then, finally, someone came along who was willing to call a red spade a red spade. Crisis led to insight, and the old framework gave way to a new one. This is how great scientific discoveries or, to use the term Kuhn made so popular, ‘paradigm shifts’ took place.(pp.92-93)
And on the first page of the book by Dr. Harari, who teaches at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, is found this statement of purpose: “I encourage all of us, whatever our beliefs, to question the basic narratives of our world, to connect past developments with present concerns, and not to be afraid of controversial issues.” His book is advertised as an international bestseller, published in more than 30 languages worldwide. The broad questions his research focuses on include: “What is the relation between history and biology? Is there justice in history? [and] Did people become happier as history unfolded?”(p.i)
While the stories told by these two authors are enjoyable and thoroughly empathetic, the subtext is chillingly politically neutral; neither work offers any insights into our contemporary context of horrific class struggles which are still under way, nor insights into the toxic phenomenon of Donald Trump and the Republican Party leadership, who no doubt have by now found common ground in agreeing that the world is “over-populated” and who are preparing to correct this demographic error in their own way.
The question has been posed: Are we experiencing an advanced level of class struggle or is it a life ‘short, nasty and brutish . . . a war of all against all ?’ We live in dire times, and we ignore the effects of class warfare only to our own detriment and to the detriment of the environment.
In the 12 items below, CEIMSA readers will recognize the priority given to Ollman’s level 3 and level 2 generalities (life in class-divided society and life in the matrix of modern capitalist relationships), for as Howard Zinn has reminded us; “You can’t be neutral on a moving train.”
Professor of American Studies
University of Grenoble-3
Director of Research
University of Paris-Nanterre
Center for the Advanced Study of American Institutions and Social Movements
The University of California-San Diego
Abby Martin and Paul Jay - What Should Sanders Do Next?
As Hillary Clinton becomes the presumptive presidential nominee of the Democratic Party, Martin and Jay discuss the strategy of voting for the lesser evil and the potential foreign policy of a Trump or Clinton administration
The Occupation of the American Mind
Israel’s Public Relations War in the United States, Narrated by Roger Waters.
War With Russia Without Public Debate?
NATO is continuing its military buildup and “exercises” on Russia’s borders, Moscow is taking “counter-measures,” while the US mainstream media remains silent.
by Stephen F. Cohen
American Committee for East-West Accord
German plans to lead NATO buildup ‘big mistake’ on anniversary of 1941 Nazi invasion – ex-Сhancellor
Sent: Friday, June 10, 2016 10:12 AM
To: Jean Bricmont
Subject: Fwd: Our Ruling Class speaks!
Indeed. Never mind elections, it’s all been decided.
Note this very significant recommendation for rationalising the Military Industrial Complex:
"The Pentagon must strike a difficult balance between consolidating its approximately 20 percent excess infrastructure capacity and maintaining a presence in as many communities as possible to ensure that connections to Americans’ daily lives remain strong."
Hillary has been chosen as saleswoman, but first there must be a charade to convince the American people that THEY chose her.
Note the “bi-partisan” War Party signatures.
Subject: [national] Our Ruling Class speaks!
Date: 10 Jun 2016 02:17:46 GMT+2
Check out the "Coalition for Fiscal and National Security" statement of policy, signed by a bi-partisan collection of representatives of the ruling class and expressing their objectives and fears. Hillary is their candidate. -MM
Read " Strength at Home and Abroad: Ensuring America’s Fiscal and National Security " (issued a month ago) at
Venezuela’s Struggle to Survive
by Lisa Sullivan
Amid a reassertion of U.S.-backed neoliberal policies in Latin America, Venezuela’s socialist government totters at a tipping point, beset by a severe economic crisis, but Lisa Sullivan sees a ground-up struggle of Venezuelans to survive.
NATO's Anakonda: A Beast That Preys on Its Own in Hungry Times?
by Finian Cunningham
Tick... Tick... The Doomsday Clock
Nuclear Weapons, Climate Change, and the Prospects for Survival
by Noam Chomsky
Which Corporations Control The World?
by International Business Guide
A surprisingly small number of corporations control massive global market shares. How many of the brands below do you use?
From: Edward S Herman
And this is in the supposedly liberal state of MA, But then Scott Walker has thrived in the progressive state of Wisconsin.
Portside Labor <labor-moderator@PORTSIDE.ORG>
Sent: Sunday, June 12, 2016 8:02 PM
Subject: Kill Shot: Years of State Austerity Budgets Put UMass Boston in Jeopardy
Portside aims to provide varied material of interest to people on the left that will help them to interpret the world, and to change it.
From: Mark Crispin Miller
Sent: Friday, 10 June, 2016 2:30:12 AM
Subject: [MCM] MCM with Abby Martin, talkin' propaganda—going viral!
& Engineering Consent for Empire
Video - Empire Files
The manipulation of public opinion through suggestion can be traced back to the father of modern propaganda, Edward Bernays, who discovered that preying on the subconscious mind was the best way to sell products people don't need, and wars people don't want.
Abby Martin interviews Dr. Mark Crispin Miller, professor of Media Studies at New York University.