Two For Tuesday

Two from the Chronicle that are worth reading and might prove useful in various ways:

This one on Henry James caught my attention. The last Henry James I read was when I was a sophomore in high school, 25 years ago now. I hated it then (The Turn of the Screw was the book), and haven’t been able to pick any of his stuff up since, despite the warm admiration for James from my favorite philosopher and my own immense appreciation for his brother’s writing. This article is almost enough to get me to try again. Almost. From the article:

Certainly he is subtle and refined in ways that reach out to those who crave refinement in a world that is decidedly crude and explicit. It’s hard to imagine a cultural universe in which Dumb and Dumber and TheTurn of the Screw coexist. James speaks with a quiet voice in a very loud time. His whole mode of being—focused on human relationships and their intricacies of thought and feeling, riveted by the foolish or wise choices we make in dealing with family and friends—also presents a kind of challenge. In an age of Facebook, James forces us to think about our own choices, to ask ourselves how we really want to live our lives.

And a philosopher on the future of capitalism. Definitely of interest to–and likely to raise interesting discussion in–various philosophy and social science classes, at the least.

The biggest unknown in contemplating the future of capitalism is the tolerance of the world’s population for the havoc that this social system’s difficulties will inflict on their lives. That people are able to react constructively in the face of the breakdown of normal patterns of social life, improvising solutions to immediate problems of physical and emotional survival, is amply demonstrated by their behavior in the face of disasters like earthquakes, floods, and wartime devastation, as well as in earlier periods of economic distress. That 21st-century people have not lost the capacity to confront social authorities in defense of their interests has been demonstrated by protesting young people in Athens, striking government workers in Johannesburg, and most recently and spectacularly by the Egyptians who, at least for the moment, destroyed a long-lived police state.

People are, in any case, going to have adequate opportunity to explore such possibilities in the near future, if they wish to better their conditions of life in the concrete ways an unraveling economy will require. While at present they are still awaiting the promised return of prosperity, at some point the newly homeless millions, like many of their predecessors in the 1930s, may well look at newly foreclosed, empty houses, unsaleable consumer goods, and stockpiled government foodstuffs and see the materials they need to sustain life. The simple taking and using of housing, food, and other goods, however, by breaking the rules of an economic system based on the exchange of goods for money, in itself implies a radically new mode of social existence.

The social relation between employers and wage earners, one that joins mutual dependence to inherent conflict, has become basic to all the world’s nations. It will decisively shape the ways the future is experienced and responded to. No doubt, as in the past, workers will demand that industry or governments provide them with jobs, but if the former could profitably employ more people, they would already be doing so, while the latter are even now coming up against the limits of sovereign debt. As unemployment continues to expand, perhaps it will occur to workers with and without jobs that factories, offices, farms, schools, and other workplaces will still exist, even if they cannot be run profitably, and can be set into motion to produce goods and services that people need. Even if there are not enough jobs—paid employment, working for business or the state—there is plenty of work to be done if people organize production and distribution for themselves, outside the constraints of the business economy. This would mean, of course, constructing a new form of society.

Read the rest here.

3 thoughts on “Two For Tuesday

  1. This is really depressing, but not surprising. PhiloDave, if I had posted something like this, some ostriches would have threatened me with a punch in the arm for being the messenger of gloom and doom. But, indeed, the article opens a window to our gloomy future, if we do nothing to alter the present unfolding of history. I extracted the following from the article; it is particularly an incisive nugget:

    “Left to its own devices, capitalism promises economic difficulties for decades to come, with increased assaults on the earnings and working conditions of those who are still lucky enough to be wage earners around the world, waves of bankruptcies and business consolidations for capitalist firms, and increasingly serious conflicts among economic entities and even nations over just who is going to pay for all this.”

    In the recent past, when people in the US read “wage earners around the world,” they would filter it as meaning “everybody except Americans.”
    Alas, no more. (Except the ostriches, of course).

    And then came the tsunami…

    In my old neighborhood, wise and sarcastic middle-age folks would have screamed: WE WERE TOO MANY AND NOW GRANDMA HAS JUST GIVEN BIRTH.

    • That’s funny; I thought it was encouraging and hopeful! “If left to its own devices…” etc. No?

      “Up, again, old heart…”–Ralph Waldo Emerson

  2. And if this information did not scare you [vide supra], how about this:

    “What both of these continuing social stresses [the coming decline of oil—the basis of the whole industrial system at present—as a source of energy, and the global warming caused by the consumption of fossil fuels] promise is that the decline of the economy, however cyclically inflected, will simply be the lead-in to a crisis of the social system that, because it is based on the laws of physics and chemistry, will transcend strictly economic issues. If the peaking of oil supplies and the catastrophes of climate change do not provoke a major transformation of social life, then it’s hard to imagine what could. This idea may seem unreal today to those of us who still live, for the most part, in what remains of the material prosperity wrought by postwar capitalism, much as the misery and terror of the inhabitants of war-torn Congo are hard to grasp for the inhabitants of New York or Buenos Aires. But this demonstrates only imagination’s weakness, not the unreality of the challenges in store for us, as local disasters like the flood of oil that poured out from BP’s drilling rig into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 will perhaps make it easier to understand.”

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