Re: [ox-en] Balancing need and Selbstentaltung by governance?
- From: Stefan Meretz <stefan meretz.de>
- Date: Sun, 29 Nov 2009 10:21:10 +0100
Hi all, hi StefanMn,
as you may expect, I would like to object against some assumptions you
gave, and I want to support others. I will take a philophical excursion,
which results in some fundamental thoughts, which I also posted here:
On 2009-11-04 20:22, Stefan Merten wrote:
Recently once again I thought about the problem of balancing need and
Selbstentaltung. I think this is the fundamental question which
concepts like Christian are struggling for: How is the societal need
balanced with Selbstentaltung.
From my POV "balancing" is the wrong term to raise the problem
adequately. It implies that indidividual needs and societal necessities
basically contradict each other, which is the reason that there have to
be a "balance" between the opposing sides. From a philosophical Hegelian
POV this perspective of problem is given within the "logics of essence"
(german: "Wesenslogik"). In this way of thinking two opposite parts
stand against each other and exclude each other. Binary either or. In
some cases binary logics are useful, e.g. in computer science as far as
the machines are concerned, but in other cases they are not. Like in the
case we have here. I will try to show.
Indeed it is the pressing question for all transformative
The question of _societal mediation_ -- which from my POV is the right
reformulation of the balancing-question -- is one of all societies. To
put it more simply it is the question about how a running society
emerges from individual actions.
Currently we live in a society where societal need
and Selbstentaltung are not balanced [#]_.
Today we live in a society where we only can observe germ/seed forms of
selbstentfaltung, because, as you know, selbstentfaltung is not a purely
individual type of self-development (which may operate on costs of
others), but it is at the same time part of a societal development: My
selbstentfaltung is only possible, if others can do their
selbstentfaltung in an unlimited fashion -- and vice versa. Thinking
this straight forward, we can understand, that this does not only
include people we personally know, but _all_ people, or, more
philosophical: the "general other". This implies, that there is a
societal structure of mediation where selbstentfaltung for all is
possible. Clearly, we don't have this type of societal mediation today.
Thus, currently selbstentfaltung in the full meaning of the word is not
When we are heading for a
society which is based on peer production, in the final state
Selbstentaltung and societal need are balanced, however. And I'm
sure that mankind is smart enough to make this possible ;-) .
I am sure that a society is possible, where "balancing" is no longer a
topic, because the society _is_ ruled by selbstentfaltung.
.. [#] If you think longer about it this already is indeed a good
question: Is everything which is produced / labored for now is
really part of a societal need? Are tanks a societal need?
In a capitalist country tanks can clearly be a societal necessity, e.g.
to fights against other countries or to suppress the own people. There
are numerous examples in history.
You have to answer the question of societal necessity from the societies
own premises, even if you dislike the outcome. Your rejection of tanks
as being "not needed" comes from a virtual standpoint outside. This only
can lead to a moral critique ("tanks are a bad thing..."), but not to an
evidence, that tanks are not needed in a particular society. Thus the
question is: How does a society functions which does not need tanks?
This again is the question of _societal mediation_, but now more
precisely: a societal mediation, where individual needs (no need for
tanks) result in a societal outcome, where tanks are not necessary for
that society. Or shorter: A societal mediation where individual needs
and societal necessities are identical.
However, the question of what is a "real" societal need and
what not is a also a old and hard one and probably only
solvable in practice. I leave this out here.
However, by thinking in terms of balancing you will always have this
question on the table.
I think the fundamental problem is that *societal needs may differ
from volunteer needs*.
And they may not differ. This is the other possibility.
If I analyze it that way then the fundamental answer is simple: If
you want to satisfy societal needs then you need coercion.
Yes, this is the logical consequense based on your assumptions.
if we think of a society based on peer production the societal needs
*need* to be satisfied: If people struggle for mere existence they
can not Selbstentfalt at all. Selbstentfaltung needs a society where
everybody is cared for.
Again, you are thinking in the mode of opposites: the society on the one
hand, and the people ("everybody") on the other. As we will see later,
this does not make sense if we think of selbstentfaltung in terms of
"caring for me as a pre condition of caring for others -- and vice
Of course coercion of any kind is a contradiction to Selbstentaltung
- that is probably why we don't like it. I agree that it is a bit
hard to accept but I think it is important to make that point
explicit: If we can not do everything by volunteerism then we need
coercion of some kind.
This, in my view, is the logical but wrong consequence.
The next question then is: How can a coercion system look like which
does not damage Selbstentfaltung.
Each coercion system not only damages selbstentfaltung, but prevents
The standard answer of capitalism or Christian's model is to use
abstract coercion by rewarding people with benefits they are only
allowed to enjoy if they somehow contribute to the societal needs. I
agree that this is one sort of coercion and we are all sooo used to
it. However, obviously this sort of abstraction introduces all kinds
of alienation and the problems accompanied by this alienation. In
particular it is an automatic system which is beyond the control of
On the given fundament of society capitalism is the most rationale
system to mediate opposites. And there are a lot of opposites: use value
and exchange value, work and capital, production and consumption,
economics and politics etc. Yes, its rationale produces alienation, but
it also requires and produces (limited) freedom of the individual, which
is a precondition for the emergence of free software and the like.
The alternative IMHO is to create an explicit governance scheme where
people are coerced to execute societal necessary tasks as part of
their normal lifes. The big advantage of such an explicit governance
scheme is that it is subject to political decisions. Contrary to
blind automatisms as just outlined political decisions are able to
take into account different situations of people.
Political decisions are at some point decisions of the majority against
a minority. Its logic is completely contrary to the consensus principle
you favor: consensus is reached if no one needs to object. In a coercion
framework you need majority decisions, because you want people to do
things they don't want to do from their own. Forcing people to do things
they don't want to do _is_ coercion. In a freedom framework, people are
free to do what they want and what they mean is usefull and necessary.
Capitalism can imaginate itself as a realm of "freedom", because the
coercion is exported to the alienated logic of the commodity and money
system: This system applies the coercion to you in a very effective way,
and you are "free" to fulfill the demands in any way: Do what you want,
but do fulfill alien demands!
Historically the unpersonal domination was a step forward away from the
former system of personal domination. Political majority decisons you
propose, made in order to apply coercion seem to be a step backward in
If you think of combining the consensus principle in order to apply
coercion, then I think this would immediately fail. People would
massively object, so that you are forced to turn consensus into majority
decisions. Consensus can only work in a framework of non-coercion.
Ok, if I reject your proposal to have a political or democratic system
of coercion in order to map individual needs and societal requirements
-- how would I solve this problem?
I want to start from the observation that the individual and the society
are not in all cases opposites. If they would, they would fall into two
completely separated realms, which is obviously not the case. Actually
we _are_ creating society. Thus in some sense we as individuals are
identical with society, in another sense we are not. This ambiguity can
not be grasped by an either-or logics. For this case Hegelian philosophy
proposes "logics of notion" (german: "Begriffslogik"). The logics of
essence are not wrong, but they are not always adequate. So the logics
itself should not be thought in an either-or fashion, too.
The notion ("Begriff") is the way to overlap ("übergeifen") the opposing
parts, which both constitute the field you try to grasp by that notion.
So the notion is on one hand a "synthesis" bringing the opposites
together to really something new. On the other hand it does not
eliminate "thesis" and "antithesis" (the opposites), but they are
preserved in form of moments of the overlapping notion. So this process
of sublation ("Aufhebung") is threefold: abolish (the opposites
exclusing each other), preserve (the opposites as moments requiring each
other), and advance (the power of the new totality).
Maybe the following example makes this more clear. On one hand the
individual and the society are clearly opposites, and will ever be: I am
not the society, and the society is not me. On the other hand, I am a
societal individual potentially able to realize _all_ opportunities
society offers. Society is not a separated entity, but is constituted by
us. In this sense, I am identical with society, and society with me.
This is the reason why societal human being and human society are one
notion, where the individual and the society are moments of that notion.
If you want to analyze, how the relationship between the individual and
the society is about, then for capitalism you discover fetishism as
being a self-organizing mode of "moving things" (i.e. the commodities),
which result in alien demands coming from "the society". In this case
the "opposing moment" of individual vs. society is converted into an
absolute principle. It appears, that individual and society are
opposites by nature. But be sure, anyhow the alienation is about, the
other moment of potentially being identical with society is always
there. Otherwise selbstentfaltung (and society in general) would not be
Selbstentfaltung is a notion in the Hegelian sense, too. The two moments
are the individual needs on the one hand and the societal necessities on
the other. I used the stronger word "necessity" for the society, because
it is more than a "need", but this not so important.
Although both moments remain opposites -- individual needs and societal
necessities are not identical -- at the same time, they are identical.
The first is obvious. Individual life and thus needs are only related to
some clipping ("Ausschnitt") of the whole society, because the whole
society requires much more functions than being relevant for the
individual. The sesond is not so obvious. The given clipping of society,
which is relevant for me, does include the functionality of the whole
society. If the individual needs are fully covered by the societal part
being relevant for me, then my needs and the whole societal nessities
are identical, because they are in conjunction.
There are two reasons why each societal clipping contains the whole
society. First, the core functionality is the type of mediation between
all members and functional parts (institutions etc.) of the society.
Only in transition periods you may have different types of mediation
concurrently, but in stable periods one type is clearly dominant (e.g.
mediation via work, value, money in capitalism). Thus the type of
mediation which constitutes each clipping of society does also
constitute the whole society and vice versa.
Second, selbstentfaltung of one individual requires the selbstentfaltung
of the others in a general sense. This results from the network type of
these logics: The "other" of me requires the selbstentfaltung of his/her
"others" as each of them require the selbstentfaltung of their
"others" and so on. According to the "small world assumption" this
network of reflexive selbstentfaltung only has a maximum "distance" of
seven people. So if all of my farest neighbors can realize their
selbstentfaltung, then all people do it and then the whole society offers
all conditions necessary to do so.
Can then there be a "rest" of society which is not covered by those
completely different people of the world? I don't think so, where should
it come from? Such a society bases on differences and developments, which
constitute the unity of the society. In such a society, I am not
identical with that society, but it is "me", which is reflected by that
society and not an alien principle.
For all of you being sceptical about Hegel and prefering Marx: Marx
entirely used Hegelian logics for his work. One difference is the claim
of Marx, that Hegel does not ground his philosophy in material
existence, but only in ideas. This exactly was my prejudice before I
read Hegel. From my experience Marx assumption is not true. And if you
need another authority: Lenin said, that you are not able to understand
Marx if you did not completely understand Hegelian logics.
I also put some of these thoughts to the `drawing board`_ where I'm
still trying to gather all these important questions and ideas.
.. _drawing board: http://en.wiki.oekonux.org/Oekonux/DrawingBoard
I would be happy, if you add my thoughts.
Start here: www.meretz.de
Contact: projekt oekonux.de