Written By: - Date published: 8:32 am, November 19th, 2015 - 160 comments
Categories: capitalism, Economy, Environment, political parties, Revolution, Social issues, socialism - Tags: chris trotter, tragedy of the commons
I may be forced1 to buy Chris a drink next time that I met him where the bloody wine he likes to imbue is available. His latest post at Bowalley Road elegantly and clearly differentiates what I consider the key difference between the left and the right is.
What differentiates the Left from the Right is the former’s fundamental rejection of the strongest human-beings’ proclivity to dominate, coerce and exploit the weakest. Without this proclivity, none of the economic and social systems elaborated by armed minorities throughout history could have endured. Not the empires of the ancient world; not the feudal structures of the middle ages; and certainly not the capitalist system of the modern era. All of these civilisations were built on the ruthless exploitation of the weak by the strong – exploitation enforced by extreme and unreproved violence.
As it was, so it is still. Strip away all the piety, mythology and outright lies about our present, capitalist, civilisation and you will find, at its core, the domination, coercion and exploitation that its political guardians, the Right, recognise as its true essence, and will defend – to the death.
Actually he is wrong in that last point. The ‘right’ is usually more interested in putting other people to death. And he points out that often includes the revolutionary successor governments to oppressive regimes.
One of the Right’s most important misunderstandings of the Left is that it can, somehow, embrace domination, coercion and exploitation – and remain the Left. Notwithstanding its logical absurdity, it is the condemnation one hears most often from the Right: that the Left, in the shape of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, or the Communist Party of China, is responsible for upwards of 100 million deaths.
They forget, of course, that the vast majority of those killed were individuals who refused to accept the right of either of these parties to impose their will on the people in whose name they had accomplished the overthrow of the old oppressors. Whether it be the rebellious Russian sailors at Kronstadt in 1921, or workers and peasants across the whole of China from 1949 to the present day, whoever, in the name of justice and equity, takes a stand against an oppressive system of domination, coercion and exploitation is, by definition, a leftist.
And unfortunately that is the reality of bloody revolution from almost any perspective. They usually inherit the mantle of their predecessor regimes and then just become oppressors themselves. Sometimes they are better and more efficient oppressors like the Leninist or Maoist state. Sometimes they are the more stupid oppressors like the effect of the revolutionary Baathism of the 1960s. The downstream of that failure is still playing out in the middle east at present, most notably with the with the equally revolutionary and homicidal ISIS.
Chris then has a poke at capitalism. I have just as many issues as he does with unrestrained capitalism which is such a corrupting short term philosophy that usually takes little notice of the damage that it has in its pursuit of profit at all costs. Its basic problem is that the participants implicitly exploit the “commons” in a conundrum of capitalism known as the tragedy of the commons.
The tragedy of the commons is a term, probably coined originally by William Forster Lloyd and later used by Garrett Hardin, to denote a situation where individuals acting independently and rationally according to each’s self-interest behave contrary to the best interests of the whole group by depleting some common resource. The concept was based upon an essay written in 1833 by Lloyd, the Victorian economist, on the effects of unregulated grazing on common land and made widely-known by an article written by Hardin in 1968. “Commons” in this sense has come to mean such resources as atmosphere, oceans, rivers, fish stocks, an office refrigerator, energy or any other shared resource which is not formally regulated, not common land in its agricultural sense.
The tragedy of the commons concept is often cited in connection with sustainable development, meshing economic growth and environmental protection, as well as in the debate over global warming. It has also been used in analyzing behavior in the fields of economics, evolutionary psychology, anthropology, game theory, politics, taxation, and sociology. However the concept, as originally developed, has also received criticism for not taking into account the many other factors operating to enforce or agree on regulation in this scenario.
But in my view it also is a key factor in the common failure of unrestrained capitalism in its short-term rush to exploiting the people who make up its workforce and consumers. It means that in the medium term unrestrained capitalism becomes indistinguishable from simple warlord behaviours founding aristocratic family behaviours, where it isn’t how talented you are but how well your parents were at concentrating capital that determines your opportunities in life.
The self-entitlement of the untalented progeny of the talented and humane capitalists throng the halls of elite learning and learn the skills to suppress the talents and skills of others. This is a pattern that isn’t hard to see in leading capitalistic states from Rome to the USA. Or for that matter in New Zealand. As Chris says
Capitalism kills. It has done so from its earliest beginnings, and it does so still. The only distinction between the history of capitalism and the history of the Mexican drug cartels, is that the cartels have never pretended to be advancing the progress of humankind.
The “left”, in my view are those people who provide the vision and tools that ameliorate pursuit of self-interest on the behalf of others.
Oh, how the Right will bridle at that last sentence! How loudly they’ll protest that capitalism has lifted millions – no, billions! – out of poverty. That it was capitalism which boosted incomes, upgraded housing, delivered improved health and education, and generally uplifted and prolonged the lives of the masses.
Poor creatures. They have to believe this. Because not to believe it: not to be absolutely certain that it was the system that sent gun-thugs to break-up strikes; adulterated food; presided over slums; polluted whole regions; and sent entire nations off to war; was (and is) the sole source of all that is wholesome and good in the world, raises the awful possibility that something, or someone, else is responsible for making life under capitalism just that little bit happier and more fulfilling for humankind.
And who could that possibly be? Surely not the trade unionists, who forced up workers’ wages? Or the social reformers, scientists and doctors, who discovered how to ward off illness and disease? Or the progressive architects and city planners, who designed cheap and sturdy housing for the poor? Or the progressive, social-democratic and labour parties, who gathered together all the agents of economic and social progress, won state power, and fastened a strong regulatory collar around the capitalist beast?
Surely, it wasn’t – no, no, it couldn’t possibly have been – the Left?
And that is why I support the left. Because most of the effective people in it are after progressive rather than revolutionary change. Most of the people of the left I know or admire don’t expect more than opportunities should be lifelong, or that over the long potential long lifetimes of humans, we can’t change the exploitation of the common resources. Like the horrifying climate change issues that have become quite apparent in my lifetime, or that we try to make peoples lifes better rather than merely providing a ramp for other vaulting ambitions.
I’m a devout capitalist because of the benefits that it has. But capitalism by its very nature causes the short-term profit focus on exploitation of the commons. I see the glaring deficiencies of it as an over-arching model, especially when people have such long lives – far far longer than the three year (or even quarterly) focus that many capitalists use. People have time to fail and recover from causes ranging from poor education, unexpected parenthood, injury or disease, addiction, or simply over-extending into failure in the way that capitalism depends on for growth into depending on the charity of their fellow citizens.
It doesn’t mean that they or their children should be consigned to the Colosseum mob in the way that this government and its paranoid preening idiot progeny and their unthinking imitators seems to view them. It just means that room should be provided for them to develop opportunities without being stomped on or exploited with those wielding capital into foiling the opportunities to grow to develop a better life for themselves or others.
Updated: If anyone is interested in an example of how the right reflexively responds without reading the content of a post in exactly the manner predicted by Chris, go and read Wayne’s comment that got shifted to OpenMike. Diversionary and completely off topic within my post, with what looks like a unthinking cut’n’paste of the usual right response. His comment at Bowalley Road was even more of an extensive example (but I can’t seem to link to that directly)