Re: [ox-en] Re: compulsion [repost]
- From: Graham Seaman <graham seul.org>
- Date: Tue, 12 Feb 2002 10:58:10 -0500 (EST)
Another try with this: the last attempt chopped it in half...
Sorry about that.
---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Mon, 11 Feb 2002 18:14:38 -0500 (EST)
From: Graham Seaman <graham seul.org>
To: list-en oekonux.org
Subject: Re: [ox-en] Re: compulsion
What a long reply! You've virtually restated your whole thesis ;-) I
don't have a single counter-thesis to reply with; there are parts I agree
with, parts I'm not sure about, and I think, somewhere underlying a really
basic disagreement,, which I'm still struggling to pin down.
On Mon, 11 Feb 2002, Stefan Meretz wrote:
you raised one of the most important and most difficult questions in the
oekonux context -- as I see it. It has to do with the "picture of
humans" (Menschenbild) we have, or in other words: it has to do with the
way we think about humans. One key question is: Does human behavior
reflect the way to get along with societal conditions as we face them,
or is human behavior which we can observe an innate natural thing? Or in
other words: Is an human being societal by nature or is it an isolated
egoistic individual which has to be forced to be social?
This sounds to me a very 18th century polarity.. but let's see further
We discussed this in ox in various contexts, however, we did not reach
consensus, but we found a lot of questions;-)
Often focussing on basic theory parts in ox (all of ox is theory...), I
focus on those basics here too.
Graham Seaman wrote:
The 'selbst' in 'selbstentfaltung' is great as an emphasis on people doing
things because they choose too, linking personal with social because
the unfolding of the self is only possible in a social context.
This choice is not of a type like choosing between TV programs, or shall
we eat fish or meat, or shall we make some nice selbstentfaltung today
or just hang around. I would say: life _is_ selbstentfaltung. The
question is: Can we live it? Selbstentfaltung is not an add-on, it is a
innate feature of humans. So the question is not: Will these ugly humans
self-unfold, the question is: how will they do it.
I think you are mistaking my use of 'choose' above, but it's not so
important - I will be happy with your expansion, providing you remove the
word 'innate' ;-)
Today the answer is: They do it mostly in an ugly way - except in FS;-)
However these fs guys are normal people. They don't have anything
special in the sense of being/having a special character.
Yes. However, in terms of the polarity you started with, the answer now
has to be 'the true innate human character is revealing itself once
released from (some of) the framework of capitalism'. You can take the
fact of FS as a disproof of Hobbesianism, the other term in your polarity.
But this polarity has ruled out other possibilities: for example, 'there
is some new structure to (a small part of) society which is producing
humans of this kind', or the classic Marxist one that capitalism
eventually produces men with a need to work, that man's nature is a
product of his history..
If we look into history we can say that until now selbstentfaltung is
only needed in a very restricted sense. This has to do with the
dominance of the type of development of forces of production
(Produktivkraftentwicklung) which changes in history.
The notion of development of forces of production (DFP) grasps the
relationship between human, nature and means. Life requires the usage of
means by the humans to do the metabolism with nature. I roughly sketch
this in a triangle (maybe you saw it on the first ox-conf):
/ DFP \
Each of these three aspects is always present. However, you will find,
that in history different aspects are dominant for a period. And each
period is linked with a special form of mediation between the individual
and society (Vergesellschaftung).
Doing this schematically I obtain:
In the first "natural" period the cultivation of ground was dominant. We
have a lot of forms of personal dependency. Selbstenfaltung was nearly
not needed, it was suppressed. The main forces of production were
directed to optimize the usage to natural ground. Means were developed,
but very slowly and restricted. It was mere a side effect than a
primarily purpose. Economically you can use C-C (exchange of goods), or
C-M-C (commodity - money - commodity) for those societies which had money.
Well you did say 'schematically': but even so, I think this is completely
wrong. For proof: go into any gothic cathedral and look at the
mix of personal expression and overall structure and design. There was
far more 'selbstentfaltung' in 'high' feudalism than most of capitalism.
This was not the right argument to pick with a William Morris fan :-)
I'm also not sure that this kind of super-abstraction of Marx' theories is
very helpful generally, because it tends to block actually looking at
the real history.
In the second "industrial" period, where we live in, the development of
means is dominant. The development of means is end in itself, because
the whole society is driven by this end in itself: To make more money
from money. In short: M-C-M' (money - commodity - more money). In this
period the increasing absense of personal rule is typical.
Agreed in general. However, it is possible to exagerate this absence. I
know that Marx talked of capitalists as the 'personifications' of capital.
But outside Marx' economic writings, he was extremely aware of the role
of personalities. To take a small example: the pressure to turn thought
into 'Intellectual Property' comes from the system; it is impersonal. But
the actual laws proposed, the details of the tactics to take to impose
IP law are very much affected by the personal history of the people
involved, and the tactics to take to stop those laws need to take that
BTW: It was
(and is) an historical misunderstanding of the workers movement to fight
against personal power. It is hard, but we must say, that the workers
movement is a movement of establishing capitalism. The supremacy is a
subjectless one, it results from the selforganizing M-C-M'-mechanism of
the cybernetic machine.
Now you seem to me to have reached a position which I don't agree with at
all. In fact, there are two positions in this: the sentence in the middle
('It is hard...') seems to me to have no necessary connection with the
rest, so I can't argue with it - it's just a statement I don't agree with.
The rest of the paragraph I also disagree with, but I know why. You have
collapsed all of life in capitalism into a single level, the 'cybernetic
machine', and therefore lost all of politics, law, tradition etc. This
seriously limits what you can think about doing.
However, it also make the structure of your thought hard for me to follow
(like I wrote at the top, I'm not completely sure exactly where the
disagreement originates, in which idea). Your paragraph is something which
taken on it's own I would say is pure Althusser: there are no 'people',
only 'supports' ('trager'?) of economic positions. But this is the theory
of Stalinism, which tries to kill selbstentfaltung wherever it finds it.
Yet obviously this doesn't apply to you at all. So, if you have this view
of capitalism, I suppose selbstenfaltung HAS to be something innate which
is suppressed by the cybernetic machine, but bursts out when the machine
is taken away.
And now: the new period we can see at the horizon and in most
contradictions we face today is the period of the third factor in this
DFP-triangle: the development of human as an end in itself. Or in short:
selbstentfaltung. So you see, that this selbstentfaltung was and is
always present. Without it the reproduction of society would not be
possible. However until now it was only needed in a very small degree,
because an unbounded self-unfolding human is dangerous for all types of
supremacy. But now we reach a new point in the developement of
capitalism. All potences of capitalism are exhausted. This does not mean
that development stops, M-C-M' cannot stop, but it is deathmatch.
Developement today means destruction. No further qualitative development
is possible on the basis of the current level of DFP.
Like everyone, I can see signs of this too. I tend to believe it's true.
But saying ALL potencies of capitalism are exhausted may be too much;
it's certainly not something you can prove one way or the other/
A new level can only come from the human itself, from a human which
self-unfolds unbounded. However, this unbounded selbstentfaltung is only
possible under conditions where my selbstentfaltung is a prerequesite of
the selbstentfaltung of all and vice versa. And these conditions are not
given (only to a small extend in the niche of FS). But steps towards are
gone everywhere. They are called lean production, kanban etc. These
management methods try to dig for the "gold in the heads". But they will
not find it, or only very small pieces. The reason is the cybernetic
machine, which always produces external demands: Don't do what you want,
do what sells on market. They try to combine it, which result in slogans
like: Do what you want, main thing is to be profitable."
However, this of course does not work. Selbstentfaltung and
Selbstverwertung (self-valorisation) is the antagonistic contradiction
-- and not work vs. capital btw.
I think this links back to what you said above. But it is just a
statement on its own here, with no proof. I'd like to know more about why
you say it.
Long sentences, short conclusion: Selbstentfaltung grew up from the DFP
and becomes at the first time in history most relevant for future
development. Under M-C-M'-conditions selbstentfatung is always bounded,
only a mediation between individuals and society which base on
non-coercive, non-alienated forms can unfold the real power of
selbstentfaltung. This implies the absense of all old forms produced by
the cybernetic machine: state, money, exchange.
No, this implies the absence of money and exchange. The absence of the
state MAY also be implied, but the mediating steps are missing in the
argument. This is another form of my query that you are replying to..
As you see, selbstentfaltung is not an idealistic concept, it bases on
materialist theory grounds. However, you must not follow this thinking
to be inpired from the idea of selbstentfaltung. It is quite "natural".
I think you mean 'need not', not 'must not' ('du kannst nicht..').
But what is idealism and what is materialism is not an argument I intend
to get sucked into ;-)
a sense it seems like wishful thinking: it works perfectly for free
software, which people aren't physically dependent on. But what happens
when the things we physically depend on are produced in this way too?
It works perfect for physically produced things too. Why not? (Ok, I got
some good hiding for that: typical male imaginations of omnipotence...).
Isn't your question: Why is it not so easy to build an island (or germ
form) based on physically produced things like in free software? My
answer is: because of the more easy way to make physical things scarce,
which is a precondition for being a commodity.
No, that isn't my argument. You know that my main interest is in finding
ways to do exactly that..
I can imagine at the least a tendency for the neighbours to be commenting
"you know so-and-so in number 33? Hasn't done a stroke of productive
work in years, claims she's inventing some abstract mathematical theory
but I reckon she's just taking it easy and living off everyone else's
work. Did you ever see her on the local garbage truck?" And that kind of
thing could build up to quite an unpleasant environment where everyone is
monitoring what everyone else does and things become very conformist.
You focus on the people. But how should people behave as in that way
they do under the given conditions? If you take this for human nature
you can stop looking for selbstentfaltung.
No, I'm not taking anything for human nature. I don't believe it to be
innate, at least not in this kind of aspect. I am wondering whether there
is anything structural in the situation which may push people to think
like that. After arguing that the whole of capitalist society is simply
a 'cybernetic machine' you seem to go to the opposite extreme of assuming
that life on the gpl-society would be composed of pure individuals, with
no such thing as society.
I can imagine a tendency for the neighbours to be commenting "you know
so-and-so in number 33? She really did what she wanted to do, she always
looks so happy. Can you imagine being happy from inventing some abstract
mathematical theory? I could't do that, this seems a horror for me
always rolling theories in the head. Crasy ways of selbstentfaltung,
unbelievable. I'd better like to stay at organizing the railway traffic,
because I like to make people happy moving where they want. I got a lot
of credits. What did she got? We should invite her and make her some
nice hours..." Monitoring what someone else does and things become very
Yes, I can imagine this too, and it would obviously be much nicer.
In your version, you have a guarantee from innate human nature that this
will be the way things go. In my version, I can't see for sure which
way things would go, unless I have more idea about potential workings
of the society in general.
I guess what I'm saying is that I don't see any structural guarantee
that 'selbstentfaltung' will be maintain itself; I would like to think
that it would, but I'm afraid it might turn out to be a modern equivalent
of 'liberte, egalite, fraternite': all deeply believed in, enough to
motivate many people to support a revolution, but in the end more
ideological than factual.
Deep believe counts nothing. It is clear understanding and of course
save feeling that only unbounded selbstentfaltung has a future. Don't
put anything into future. These old promises were promises of a unknown
Not only. You know as well as I do that 'freedom' in capitalism does have
a real, concrete contents; just that the implications of that freedom
were not seen by the people who talked only of 'freedom' without thinking
of the concrete consequences.
The interesting and powerful thing is, that selbstentfaltung can
start here and now. Well, not unbounded, but it directs you to create
conditons, where selbstentfaltung is more possible than without them.
And it starts with me. What do I want to do? And what are the gaps, what
can I do?
Yes, of course; but I think most people on the list are doing this with
or without the theory. I hope the theory will come to the point where
it can help to show more specific directions... but not to the point
where it becomes the party line of a sect, with 'deviations' condemned.
A difficult balance to find, I think.
Stop, long enough. I didn't say anything to a new realistic picture of
humans. I only can point to german critical psychology following Klaus
Holzkamp. They developed basics of an understanding of humans as
societal beings by nature and of selbstentfaltung. Maybe I will bring
some snippets out of this german critical psychology later.
Unfortunately there is no english reading online. But a really good book
on german critical psychology was written by Charles Tolman (Psychology,
Society and Subjectivity). It is the best introduction I every read
(better than all german ones). There is only this single page:
http://web.uvic.ca/german/400/students/gewalt92.html. And there is a
german website: http://www.kritische-psychologie.de/
Oh thanks, yet another book to read ;-) But now I've finished writing all
this, I seem to have come to the conclusion that my difference with you is
not the difference of one psychology with another, but over the importance
(in this context) of psychology itself.