Saturday, January 21, 2012


When something involves just following rules, behavior is oriented around the impersonal. Behavior that is mechanical, or lacking what is personal, is impersonal. Alright, we have got it! Let's take getting of food from a vending machine, for example. That would be impersonal, not personal.
     OK I think we've got that. Now many Leftists, or those at least vaguely so, and I have known them, so I do not have to make up myths about "extreme liberals," are going to say that capitalism is impersonal. But that is their great misunderstanding. That is something we need to talk about. So, come over here and sit on my knee and let's talk about it, let's talk about the possible personal, or even intimately social, characteristics of supposedly "alienating" capitalism. Let us, my friend, talk about capitalism's social characteristics. Let us talk about capitalism's personable aspect or element. But before going further, I want to clarify that some of them are persons who value life, in other words they value the "personal" of other persons. That's fine, altruistic, altogether good. All the more reason to listen up.
     They want a peaceful society. Everyone wants a peaceful society, one in which value is placed on what is important, or basic, and that is human happiness. So, nice persons agree on that, and to get that kind of life-affirming situation and harmony you should have some presence of the personal ("arguably," as Hitch's book title says, or as he might have said, were he not elsewhere at the moment----probably somewhere where he can argue and declaim to human heart's content).
     "Personal" means, aside from "not impersonal," that there is social connection. This is personal connection, felt or affective communion, understanding, empathy or connection. That's what "personal" is, a condition where individuals are connected socially. To be connected socially means to be connected in ways other than merely following a particular set of rules (our example was the vending machine, which doe have its rules by which it operates and interfaces with human beings). While capitalism is mechanical, it is not completely impersonal.
     To paraphrase the cultural critic Edmund Wilson, you need something that goes beyond what he calls, in a prescient letter of his, from just before the crash of 1929, "mere money making." Hopefully, there is something like that, something that goes "beyond" "mere money making." I don't think the point is really that difficult after all.
     Behaviorist, mechanist and Marxist views all believe life to be essentially impersonal, at least in so far as their own analysis or area of interest goes. But, why can one not analyze the personal? Can one do that? I don't know; I am not sure if one can actually do that.
     As an enlightenment figure (which is to say, of the German Enlightenment, which, according to my source, Isaiah Berlin, came after the French Enlightenment), Marx did not need to frame it either way. So, he never said that capitalism was impersonal, that was not his point. Nor, that socialism would be more personal. (Or harmonizing. Such thinking was not part of Marx's argument ---- he emphatically rejected such sentimental notions, but you can go to another figure, Robert Owen, for the "Harmony" sort of stuff.) He thought everything was impersonal --- it is, for the enlightenment figure, to be dealt with through the analytic (mode) and rendered intelligible through science.
     What is missing here? What is missing is the negation of the idea that capitalism means merely a mechanized version of human relations. Thus, we need to refute this idea, which is that capitalism is introduced, thereby robbing us of our warmth and affect.
     The great task of capitalism was to be a humanized capitalism. If capitalism did this, then we do not need the concept of socialism in order to restore our human side to us. That social connectivity is the very reason that a functioning capitalism even worked--even exists.
     For this reason, we need to ask again, what is the "personal," what is the "impersonal," and where does capitalism sit within that framework?

      Note: in some sense, in Marx, capitalism does seem dehumanizing, and the result of that dehumanization/alienation is revolution, and, if so, then that for Marx is where the humanism finally comes in, in the outcome, and that is after all of the analysis. So the cataclysmic notion of "revolution" replaces our current ideas of "humanism."

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