The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Friday, February 24, 2006

Lifewriting and Karl Marx

First, I’d like to thank those who commented on the Bush intelligence question.  I find it heartening that it was polite and measured, but also interesting that only one person thought our President was smarter than he…and he wasn’t a Bush supporter.  Either we have some extraordinary people reading this blog, or America is in worse trouble than I thought. 
I’ve been eager to write this particular note for several days.  It has to do with the question I was asked last week about, according to Lifewriting “who has the right to propose political ideas” (that’s a paraphrase.)  I thought the best thing I could do was apply the Lifewriting theory to Karl Marx, and show why I would reject his concepts.  Boy, could I write an essay on this. Instead, I’ll try bullet points, and hope you’ll connect the dots.
Marx was born to an affluent family, studied for the law, and had a Phd in philosophy. 
2) He fled Germany for exile in London, and seems to have accepted voluntary poverty.  Such were the conditions of poverty in London that two of his four children died of poverty-related illnesses.
3) He claims to have based his theories on a perception of man’s instinctual self: the need for food, sex, and work.
4) He saw Capitalism as perverting natural human values, creating alienation and reducing people to objects.
5) He dreamed of a classless society, “from each according to his capacity, to each according to his needs.”
6) when it is pointed out that his dream seems to have failed, proponents of Marxism generally protest that “True Marxism has never been tried.”

Hmmm.  Well, let’s go down the list, and see how my reasoning works, Lifewriting-style.
A Phd in philosophy can be problematic in one sense: one has many theoretical maps of reality (Cosmology) which must be balanced with a means of establishing the accuracy of those maps.  The fact that you can defend them in the coffee-house is irrelevant.  THEY MUST BE GROUNDED IN REALITY, because logic proceeding from a flawed thesis produces a flawed result.  Garbage in, garbage out.  But what elegant garbage!  Have we any indication of whether he had such grounding…?
Voluntary acceptance of poverty.  His intelligence and degree certainly suggest that this man COULD have earned a decent living, but chose to dedicate himself to the political struggle. As with genteel artistic poverty, this is a perfectly fine option for an adult: BUT NOT IF YOU HAE CHILDREN.  Children are completely helpless and dependant.  If he placed the “needs of the struggle” above the needs of his children, then by Lifewriting definition he was completely dis-connected with a most basic human need: that to provide for one’s own progeny FIRST.  Such a disconnection implies a major warp in the reality map.  In the chakra system, you proceed upwards from survival.  What he was doing would be considered progressing DOWNWARD from an intellectual concept, “awakening his Kundalini backwards,” an approach fraught with peril.
His claims of basing his theories on basic human needs are therefore highly suspect: he himself was not in touch with his own.  How can a man so dissociated in his personal life as to let helpless children die so that he can “serve the people” be expected to formulate a theory that can actually provide safety and security organically for millions?  My answer?  He cannot. There is a serious, basic flaw in his perceptions.
Capitalism may well reduce people to objects, but it is an economic theory, and from the position of economics, people are less important than the things they produce.  This is neither good nor bad.  From the perspective of   anatomy, the human soul is less important than the position of organs in the body.  This doesn’t mean that a doctor doesn’t believe in the soul, just that when he puts his “anatomist” hat on, he’s not thinking about spirituality.  And when an economist puts either his “Capitalist” or “communist” hat on, he’s looking at the flow of goods and services—not the personalities, needs and individuality of the people within the system.  That is separate from the sense of caring.  The real question is whether Communism cares MORE about people than Capitalism.  What?  Both are abstractions, and can care about nothing.  Well, then: does a Communist care more about people than a Capitalist?  On the surface, one might say yes…until you look a little closer, and realize that the Father of Capitalism was disconnected from the screams of his own children.  I would posit that Capitalism seems to work better because it is more in alignment with human nature as it is in the world: spiritual only after basic needs have been met.  Until then, we care more about our own lives, and the lives of our families, than we do the welfare of strangers.  Unless you are Karl Marx.
“From each according to his capacity, to each according to his needs.”  Right.  And who exactly decides this?  Every child believes that he or she needs everything in sight.  It is only upon maturation that the ability to share evolves.  Parents must teach children to share, by giving them both love and discipline.  And excuse me, but in this “egalitarian” society Marx envisioned, who exactly was going to take the parent role..?
Of course, if he’d really connected with his children, he might have noticed this…
“True Marxism has never been tried.”  Neither has true Capitalism, or true Democracy, or true ANY OTHER KIND OF POLITICAL/ECONOMIC SYSTEM.  They have all been modified.  Always.  Why? Because the laboratory of human thought is far more pristine than the messy world of actual human affairs.  “No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.”  No theoretical model for human psychology, politics or economics can survive contact with the actual world.  They are ONLY MODELS, not the actual thing.  All of them.  There is ALWAYS a difference between the menu and the meal.  The real question is: what model of human society best survives contact with the reality of human existence?

You know, I sometimes suspect that pure communism could work in a society where everyone knows one another by sight (a small tribal group, or a city-state).  Or in a society where everyone has evolved spiritually (a nunnery or monastery). But an entire society?  If evolved to spirit, yes.  But the chakras suggest that we have to progress from the more basic needs first, that we cannot leap ahead.  The further ahead we try to leap, the more we need an authoritarian Parental figure to make decisions, tell us to play nice…and tell us what our needs and capacities are.

Sorry to say it, but Capitalism seems far more in alignment with human needs and motivations than Communism.  And it survives modifications better.  Add a bit of a Socialist safety-net (welfare, social Security, Medicare) and it really seems to work better than anything I know of.  Take those safety nets away, and we get a Darwinian nightmare. 
Maybe we’ll get to the point where a Communistic system could actually work (that sure seems the unspoken premise of the Star Trek universe!) But I won’t believe the opinion of anyone who lets his children die because he’s too busy writing manefestos.

Of course, that’s just my opinion, I could be wrong.


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