Monday, June 29, 2015

Hegel and the Philosophy of Senility

This is embarrassing.  I am nearing the end of Marx's Capital, Volume 1, but wanted an interlude.  Since Marx and Engels were both reported to have had some connection to the German philosopher, Hegel, I decided to listen to the one work that was on by Hegel:  The Philosophy of History.  At about half way through the work I was reflecting on this missing author in my study of philosophy, and was beginning to research some minor details, when I noticed that a blogger by the name of Looney already posted on this topic on March 24, 2012.  Not only that, but this imposter did a very good job of imitating me and, per the comments section's discussion with Delirious, it appears that he had already connected Hegel to Marx.  OK, it was likely me, but somehow I completely forgot having posted on this topic, which does have me wondering how much of my blogging is simply repeating myself.  (Please don't enlighten me on this.)

Perhaps we can formulate an opposite principle to déjà vu for this:  ne l'ai pas déjà vu.  It is when you see something old and feel that it is entirely new to you.  Others might call it Alzheimer's syndrome.  From a metaphysical standpoint, it is proof that there is a part of you that didn't come from a former existence.

But back to Hegel, I still agree with my former post.  The only thing I would add now is regarding Hegel's ignorant worship of the Goddess of Liberty.  I tagree with the Greeks even more on this now, that the Goddess of Liberty will always, eventually reveal herself as the Demon of Licentiousness and Lawlessness.  Then she will proceed to devour her followers.

As to the connection between Hegel on the one hand and Marx and Engels on the other hand, a comparison can now be done.  All three were senselessly long winded so that only the mentally ill would try to listen through to the end.  But Marx and Engels rejected sophistry that revolved around theo-philosophical techno-babble, and instead pursued down-to-earth topics like the computation of profits for the factories.  Hegel's discourses were entirely pointless, whereas Marx and Engels never deviate from their point regarding the need to destroy civilization as we know it.

There is one quote from Hegel that I both admired and would like to highlight:  "Among us, the so-called 'higher criticism,' which reigns supreme in the domain of philology, has also taken possession of our historical literature.  This 'higher criticism' has been the pretext for introducing all the anti-historical monstrosities that a vain imagination could suggest.  Here we have the other method of making the past a living reality; putting subjective fancies in the place of historical data; fancies whose merit is measured by their boldness, that is, the scantiness of the particulars on which they are based, and the peremptoriness with which they contravene the best established facts of history." - The Philosophy of History

This is from the earlier chapters of this book which are coherent and sensible, unlike the later three quarters.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Friday, June 26, 2015

A Taxing Experience

I never take taxis in the US, so an exception needed to be made.  This one put a television in front of my face and expected me to watch advertisements the entire way to the airport.  What kind of people take taxis these days?  I requested the driver to turn it off, for which he at least killed the sound, making it bearable.  This stands as one more reminder that I am an alien here in the US.

On the way to the airport my driver caught the attention of a policeman, and we got stopped.  He pointlessly explained to the officer that I was late for my plane, even though I had said nothing on that subject and I was actually an hour earlier than I needed to be.

I wasn't much into photography for this trip, so will just leave the one picture below.  The young lady at the hotel desk tried to interest me in paying a higher fee to get a room with a better view, but I refused, so this is from the lowest floor.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Capital, Volume 1 by Marx: Onward Luddites!

This section I am listening to now touches on the concept of machine depreciation.  A problem of industrialization is that the return on capital is maximized in machine intensive operations by running the machines 24 hours a day.  We have three 8-hour shifts now, but this was arrived at in an uneven manner.  The power of machinery also had the wonderful affect of equalizing women and children with men, thus, turning natural relations upside down.  Each new improvement to machinery resulted in workers being thrown out of work, while the amount of excess value attained by the free portion of the laborer (i.e. the labor beyond what would have resulted in zero profit) necessarily increases, thus, increasing the degree of blood sucking that the capitalist is doing.  In our era we recognize that only through a net improvement in productive efficiency can living standards be improved, but Marx only sees evils in this.  He goes on and on and on chronicling the improvement in efficiency of the factories, as if this were self-evident proof that the factories were evil.

Marx has repeatedly come back to accusations of genocide, which has been expanded to the accusation that factory work caused women to lose their natural instincts leading to infanticide.  Of course infanticide (i.e. abortion) has been universally decreed by his followers as being a moral imperative.  This gets into the big problem with all this howling:  The population of England doubled in the 18th century and quadrupled during the 19th century while life expectancy improved and surplus population was exported to America and Australia.  There was also net immigration to England from elsewhere in Europe, due to better conditions.  Certainly there were plenty of horrors to document in the 19th century factory system of England, but the observation remains that Marx has not offered a single opinion on how to make things better, nor has he done this indirectly through the many quotes he includes.

Update:  Marx clarifies a bit later that while the fury of the workers at the machines is understandable, it is misplaced:  The true crime is that of the capitalist who employed the machine and the machine is actually innocent.  I would really like to know what Marx would think of The Terminator.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Capital, Volume 1, continued

The first 11 hours of listening to this work were a rehash of classical economics, whereby Marx successfully proves that money exists, along with capital, labor and profits.  At the end of this section we have the notion that the worker spends a certain amount of his time working for himself, and another part doing free labor for the capitalist.  This reminds me a bit of our "tax freedom day", which is the initial part of the year that we spend working exclusively for the government followed by the part that we get to work for ourselves.  As noted in the last section, Marx quibbles here and there, but he has neither contributed to economics nor contradicted anything of substance.

The work transitions to a narrative similar to Engels writings about the laborers in England during the first half of the 19th century.  There is a lot of rhetoric directed at capitalists, who are likened to vampires and everything else evil.  With all the documentation and detail, it is notable that there is almost nothing in the way of comparing the English laborers lot to those elsewhere.  Would life have been easier in Africa?  Since the situation got much better for the English laborer in the latter half of the 19th century, this all seems dated now.

The section I am at now is about 20 hours, of listening and Marx is now giving us a brief history of the machines of the industrial revolution after having spent considerable time discussing the difference between a machine and a tool, which is a subject of interest to me.  It is good to be a bit more than half way through this.  So far I don't recall a single instance of Marx making a recommendation about how to make anything better.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Capital, Volume I, by Karl Marx

The full name of this work is Capital: A Critical Analysis of Capitalist Production.  Engels adds to the preface, which is really the first of three volumes, that "Capital" is the "Bible" for the working class.  This raises an eyebrow, because Engels complains elsewhere that workers don't even know who Samson was, and this "Bible" of Marx, being a lengthy discourse on economics, has so far never risen above the dryness of the most dry portions of the Bible, plus, the length of Marx's volume one at 40 hours of listening is the same as for the entire Bible.   Clearly only the mentally ill would read Marx's work through, or if they had not already been mentally ill, then they certainly would be if trying to read and follow all his arguments from beginning to end, which I must keep in mind as I proceed!

At this point I have listened to a few hours of discussions of how many yards of linen is worth a coat as Marx tries to develop the concept of value.  Marx has now sensitized me that my last sentence used both the Latin word "value" and the Teutonic word, "worth", indicating my conflicted capitalist upbringing that resulted from a blend of the passionate Irish with the calculating Anglo-Saxon.  This eventually proceeds into the concept of money and price, which still needs a few hours of clarification.

One feature of any economic discussion is that it can never be sufficiently caveated and remain finite in size.  Thus, Marx finds cause to quote and quibble with everyone, but I am in doubt as to whether or not any of Marx's quibbles put at risk the content of an argument.  Mixed in with this are a number of remarks going back to classical writers such as Homer and Aristotle.  So what I see so far is that Marx is discussing capitalism, coming to descriptions that are essentially identical to capitalist economists, while having left a record of quibbles.

Having gone through several of the works of Marx and Engels, I am now leaning to a viewpoint that is quite different from the one that I held before I started.  Namely, that Marx and Engels never defined a system and to speak of "Marxism" is nonsensical.  All that was proposed by Marx and Engels is that capitalism should be overthrown.  Marx has the notion that social circumstances change over time, necessitating different political conditions which should naturally evolve, but capitalism has thwarted this process.  Capitalism stands in the way of this natural evolution.  I tend to an opposite viewpoint, that capitalism is the natural process of evolution, whereas intellectuals forever desire to impose themselves, creating chaos.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Two Short Pamphlets by Marx

The first of the was Eleven Theses of Feuerbach.  He is dismissive of Feuerbach for thinking abstractly, whereas reality is only concrete.  I know nothing of Feuerbach, so can't comment, beyond the point of noting that the man who has the grandest of all unifying abstract "sciences" should find fault with someone for talking abstractly.

The second is Wage Labour and Capital.  This work was originally by Marx and brought into an updated edition by Engels.  There is much that corresponds simplistically with economic views of supply and demand.  Marx seems to be making the case for a "living wage", since the fact that a wage can be insufficient for a family to survive is highlighted.  Engels adds a preface to this edition because it was produced after Marx's death from previous articles.  In this preface, Engels explains that the point to be noted is that, whereas the fair price should go to the value of the labor (errr, labor power) + the inputs, there always seems to be a markup, which is related to the corruption of the Bourgeoisie.  Marx notes that the markup can be negative as well as positive, so it isn't clear to me that Engels and Marx are on the same page.  This work was originally a series of articles published in the Rheinische Zeitung, which was closed by the government before the series was completed, so we really aren't in an easy position to say what Marx's aim was.

I haven't been keeping score, but will note that Marx, along with Burke and Paine who I have read recently, all use "Jew" as an insult.  Or so I have heard each one of them do this at least once.

Conditions of the Working Class in England in 1844, by Frederick Engels

This is 12 hours of listening to the itemizing of the social ills of England, Scotland, and Ireland over a ten year period.  For reference, Dickens work, A Christmas Carol, was written a year earlier in 1844.  The discussion covers a large amount of territory, beginning with the long, hard work in the factories, the accidents and diseases, and ailments such as asthma from inhaling metal dust.  The pay amounts to barely enough to cover an existence, which is of the most horrid sort, given that masses of workers are thrown into common housing.  The result is stunted growth, whether it be physical or mental.  Added to this are the social problems caused by women and children working, destroying family relations, encouraging prostitution and leading to illegitimacy and the spread of STDs.  It is a painful bit of listening, and no doubt there is much truth to it.  Compounding the problems were about a million Irish immigrants looking for work, but we must note that the Irish Potato Famine doesn't occur until 1845.

Mixed in with this longwinded description is a large quantity of vitriol directed at the Bourgeoisie and Christianity.  More specifically, he was hostile to capitalism, Christian education and monogamy.   One argument that caught my attention was his rejection of the possibility of Bourgeois charity.  His  argument is that if the Bourgeois hadn't cheated the Proletariat, they should have had no money to give, while also noting the Proletariat are more generous among themselves and the Bourgeois charity is negligible.

My response to all this is that yes, there were a lot of horrors in the early stages of industrialism, which were largely rectified over the decades.  We cannot say the same for his communist children, however, as these horrors all live on today in Communist countries.  Yes, the Bourgeois can be unfeeling, but communist leaders have been even more brutal and callous over time than the Bourgeois.  And besides this, there have always been poor in every country and every age, thus, this work had shock value only to the naive.  After all this fist shaking at the Bourgeoisie, I am finally wanting to ask him in return, "What about you, Fred?  What do you propose?  After you burn everything down, what would you put in its place?".

Monday, June 15, 2015

Marx and Engels continued

I am on travel, so there is plenty of time to listen to windbags.

Revolution and Counter-Revolution, or Germany in 1848, outlines the communist reaction to a tepid revolution(s) that didn't succeed.  These events correspond to the transition from feudalism (Lord-Surf) relations to capitalist (Bourgeoisie-Proletariat).  The main lessons drawn by Marx and Engels are that revolutions must be all out and there must be no scrupling about legalities and niceties of any kind.  Even a suicidal revolt that leads to a defeat is beneficial, since those who survive will be permanently harboring feelings of revenge.  Finally, they see a middle class revolt as being that of useful idiots who are clueless in the unlikely event that they actually get power, since they will set up a system of checks and balances and seek a consensus.  Instead, the communists don't seek a revolution, but to revolt against the revolution.  All this helps me understand much better what Trotsky was ranting about in his works.  So what is it that they want to accomplish?  Stamping out religion, monogamy, and classes are clearly stated, but what are they to be replaced with?

Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, by Engels, 1880.

This is a short history of the invention of industrial machines, and how they transformed manufacturing in several waves.  That productivity increased by orders of magnitude in the weaving industry is noted, but Engels is one to note that the glass is half empty.  Billions of yards of cloth were produced employing thousands of people, but the output apparently was exported out of the galaxy, since we have no idea who benefited from the cheap product.  Some things are noted in passing that beg to have Engels stopped for some cross examination.  For example, he notes that a factory requires an officer core in the same manner as army.  Yet he only leaves rooms for a bottom class and a top class that is idle.  There are no traders nor are there agents looking for markets nor are there sailors or trains or ships in his "scientific" socialist analysis.  All Engels sees is that there is a wage given to the worker who adds value, and an idle industrialist who sells that work at a higher price.  Subtracting the two prices, we obtain the exact value of the oppression, according to communist accounting.

We must also consider boom and bust cycles, which have continued into our current era.  When there is an over supply, factories clearly need to be shut and workers cut.  This is an oppression too, even if the industrialist goes bankrupt.  The only solution proposed is to confiscate the property of the rich and give it to the poor.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Communist Manifesto, by Engels and Marx, 1847

I spent a long time going through European histories as a prelude to going through the works of Marx and Engels.  The Communist Manifesto is a shorter rant from 1847 that I vaguely remember some reading of when I was young.  It is good to go through it again.  The observations of social upheaval associated with the industrial revolution are noteworthy, although it would hardly need a communist to observe the obvious.  As I am writing this, I have also started "Revolution and Counter-Revolution, or: Germany in 1848", by Engels and Marx.  The social changes were causing upheaval in social structures and politics, with the main change being the old aristocracy being superseded by a Bourgeoisie (i.e. a prosperous middle class).  The give and take associated with this messy process was certainly great fodder for rabble rousers.  Marx seems to think that the trend would eventually lead to some international brotherhood of oppressed workers who were mutually sympathetic and supportive.

One thing that sticks out is the fact that the communists wanted to abolish the family on the grounds that it was invented by Bourgeois capitalists for the purpose of exploiting women.  Fast forwarding to our own day, much of America - particularly the black underclass - lives in a family-less dystopia that is the inevitable consequence of such behavior.  Meanwhile, intellectuals continue enraged at the institution and desperately pushing for change which is quite literally "for the hell of it".  But back to women.  In the process of identifying class and class struggle, it seems that the class of women is one more to be indoctrinated with exploitation theology.

Universal, government supplied education is proposed in here, which is hardly novel.  I am wondering how Marx would view our current age where class struggle and exploitation indoctrination is spoon fed to the indigent classes through the Bourgeois designed, government schools.

So what remains?  We can always divide people up into categories based on different features, then compare their relative prosperity.  If the contrast of situation is great enough, we can then exploit these differences for the purpose of stirring envy and riots - and - if we happen to be a well positioned Bourgeoisie, we can profit from the chaos.  But Marx and Engels noted this as well, as they observed that the clever wealthy classes quickly jumped onto the socialist bandwagon.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Escape from San Francisco?

It didn't go quite as I had planned, but then I again, I am not as capable as Snake.  A heat wave has finally come through the East Bay and I had plans of taking my beloved to the ocean to cool down in the fog.  Household chores took up our morning, so it was early afternoon before we commenced with our "escape".  We got onto Highway 17 headed for the redwoods and Santa Cruz, only to be caught up in a jam that went for miles.  Eventually it became apparent that the highway was likely jammed all the way to the coast, so I took an exit at Los Gatos and made my way down to Saratoga, then up Saratoga Gap road to my old bicycling haunts where I know all the secret routes through the redwoods.  This went without too much trouble, and I was having visions of ice cream and fresh berry pies at the country store in Pescadero, but then the unexpected happened as a highway patrol car blocked the road and I came to a stop where an officer was waiting to chat.  He informed me that a motorcyclist had gone down, and they were doing an accident investigation, and that we would need to wait a half hour or more since they had sent for a coroner who would need to complete his work before the road was re-opened.  My condolences to the family of the man who died.  Since we had already passed the top of the ridge between Silicon Valley and the Pacific, we had gotten a nice view of the cool fog along the coast.  Disappointed, we turned around and retraced our path to Saratoga, although perhaps we had the consolation that we did all this safely and weren't in an accident.  I wasn't willing to make any further attempts to drive out to the ocean, even though there were more routes to the coast, so instead we went to a little shop for some iced coffee, lemonade and chocolate cake.  Then back home for a nap.

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Donner Expedition: Living with the consequences

Having finished The Expedition of the Donner Party and its Tragic Fate, by Eliza Donner Houghton (1843-1922), the book is not at all what I expected.  The story of the Donner Party's tragedy is just the first quarter or so of the book.  The remainder is about the Donner daughters being scattered as orphans who would not be together again for many years.  Eliza and her youngest sister end up at a German family, where they are raised speaking German, dressing like little German girls, imbibing a German work ethic and eventually translating German correspondence.  The German mother speaks to her Swedish neighbor in French.  Later the girls are sent to boarding school where they have Spanish speaking classmates, while one of the Spanish nuns was formerly engaged to a Russian officer who died before their marriage.  News of Eliza's father's grave is brought to her by a Cherokee Indian (from the East Coast of America), so we have a story of displaced peoples from all over being thrown into the California crucible during the Gold Rush.  This is entertaining and informative in a completely different way from the story of the wagon trains pushing west.

Yet it is still about the Donner Party, because these girls are tormented by the awful rumors of what happened in the snowy mountains in '46-'47.  They hope to be anonymous, but can't escape, because someone always lets out the secret about their past.  The worst of the rumors is from the last "Relief" effort that was sent to rescue those from the wagon train.  Actually it was a salvage operation in which those who went were promised half of what they brought back, and they were disappointed to find a lone survivor, having made no provision for bringing back any survivors.  This was the man who saw Eliza's mother last, and he was accused of killing and eating her.  He was accused by those who were engaged in the salvage operation, and it was their testimony that made it into the papers.  Later in life Eliza was finally able to meet the poor old man who had been accused and who went through the rest of his life as a pariah.  Eliza went through all the documents and testimony that she could, and finally convinced herself and another writer that the old man was innocent and the accusations falsely made by those who lusted for the wealth of the Donner family, since they brought considerable sums of money and valuable goods with them to California.  What the complete truth of the matter is will remain a secret until the final judgment.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

The Donner Expedition - 1846 to 1847.

There are a few great events in Northern California history that form our identity, at least for those who have been here more than a few years.  The Gold Rush is one.  Then there were Zoro and Dirty Harry.  But the one that really stands out is the Donner Expedition where 87 immigrants were stranded near the present town of Truckee, California and next to what is now Donner Lake.  Heavy snows came early that year, burying the trail and making it impossible to cross the Sierra Nevada mountains in their weakened state.  I know roughly of the story from the plaque that is stationed there.  These days Intestate 80 makes travel over the pass a two hour journey, but it still shuts down for heavy snows and I have a 4-wheel drive because I really don't like dealing with putting chains on and off the car.

The version of this that I am listening to is "The Expedition of the Donner Party and its Tragic Fate", by Eliza P. Donner, who survived this trip as a 3 year old girl.  She had few memories herself, but compiled her work from notes of others and the memories of her sisters.  Of the original 87, only 48 survived.  The problems began in Wyoming when an adventurer promised a shortcut to California, and the group succumbed to the temptation.  This resulted in much wasted energy and time crossing the Wasatch mountains in Utah, followed by a terrible ordeal crossing the basin of the Salt Lake.  The group distrusted each other, spread out, and made themselves a tempting target for Indians.  The situation was already terrible before they reached their winter camp.  The starving time soon set in, and a few were reduced to cannibalism to survive.