Posts Tagged ‘class

16
Jan
11

Capitalism and Race

In an older post, I attempted to demonstrate how Capitalism spawns bigotry in terms of both class and race. For this post, I thought I might expound a bit on the latter issue.

 

First, a disclaimer. Capitalism is not inherently racist. It is exploitative, enslaving, and oppressive, but it is not inherently racist.

The key word here is inherently. While there’s nothing about in the tenets of Capitalism that embraces racism (just the opposite- Capitalism doesn’t care much who it exploits), the Capitalist system, once put into practice, adopts the bigotry of the Capitalists. Allow me to clarify.

 

Capitalism produces social classes, the rich, the middle class, and the poor and working class. The rich, often dubbed “the elite” or “the ruling class” by Communists, control society through politics, industry, disproportionate wealth and property, and so on. Now despite the growing multiculturalism we’re seeing across the globe, the ruling classes of various countries still tend be primarily from a single race or ethnicity. Look at America where, despite one of the highest levels of racial and cultural diversity, the upper and middle class remain almost entirely white and Protestant Christian. Now while there’s nothing racist about being white or Christian (though there’s been plenty of racism from whites and Christians), the problem is with human nature. We crave familiarity and are terrified of the strange or unknown. As a result the middle and upper-classes attempt, both consciously and unconsciously, to keep things the way they’ve always been, which often leads to cultural and racial tension.

 

For example, a couple years ago I was in a debate with a woman about the institution of English as the official language of the United States. She was decrying having to “press 1 for English, 2 for Spanish”, and the dire implications of having streets signs and forms written bilingually (though exactly what dire implications would arise she never did enumerate upon). Now as I talked with this woman, it became evident that she was not a racist. She did not believe that her ethnicity was in any way superior to anyone else’s. yet she passionately argued that immigrants must “learn English”. In short, she wasn’t afraid of racial mixing or other people groups, she was afraid of change and the unknown.

 

When you break it down into it’s most basic components, the race/class issue functions like this: the haves are race/ethnic group A, the have-nots are races/ethnic groups B, C, D, and so on. Those in power are race/ethnic group A, the powerless are races/ethnic groups B, C, D, etc. Again, the system is not inherently racist, however, the system almost always becomes racist. The ruling class becomes the ruling race- the lack of diversity spawns an atmosphere of xenophobia at best and blatant, unapologetic bigotry at worst. On the opposite end of the spectrum, resentment (understandably) foments. Again I have to state, even with a system that isn’t inherently racist and people who are, individually open-minded, any social structure that divides us up or separates us from each other will ultimately create racism.

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03
Apr
10

Live Long and Prosper?

If you were to look up “Communism” in a philosophy book, you’d probably find it under a section dealing with “Materialism”. The problem with this is that the popular meaning of the word “Materialism” has changed radically over the years. In terms of philosophy, the original meaning of “Materialism” was a category of philosophies primarily concerned with the concepts of property and their effects on human society/history. If I were, however, to use the term “Materialist” today, it would commonly be assumed that I was referring to the idea that the end goal of life is to accumulate wealth (radical hedonism, essentially). This is a recurring problem with many terms connected to Communism- in Marx’s day, “Socialism” meant a society embracing shared property and rejecting the class system, today we use it to refer to a politico-economic system where the majority of property is owned and managed by a massive government- but perhaps that’s off topic.

The issue with trying to categorize Communism in philosophy is that Marx was rather critical of philosophy as a whole. He asserted that analyzing the world should not be an end but merely a means to bring about change and advancement (“Philosophers have merely interpreted the world. The point, however, is to change it!” -Karl Marx, “Theses on Feuerbach”). While Communism definitely does offer a socio-politico-economic perspective, to claim that Communism is an all-out philosophy wouldn’t be quite correct. While most philosophies make some basic assumptions about the purpose of life (hedonism, as much pleasure as possible; Socratic philosophy, preparing for death;  aesthetic realism, finding harmony in life; the list goes on and on), Communism on the other hand functions more like a scientific theory than a code of ethics or an understanding of existence (indeed, one of the reason people find Marx so hard to read is the fact that he treats economics almost like a branch of physics). Don’t misunderstand me- Marx did have convictions. He saw the exploitation of the proletariat as the principal factor in the toppling of Capitalism and the class system and believed that the toppling of the Capitalism and the class system would propagate justice and equality. It’s like a scientist discovering that running electricity through a gas filled bulb not only creates light but it is his moral imperative to run electricity through a gas filled bulb and create light. As a result of all this, you’ll find no single, coherent Communist philosophy but rather a number of philosophies espousing Communist political theory. On one side you have philanthropic, altruistic humanist communists who have become Communist out of love for their fellow man. On the other side you have cynical and bitter antisocial communists who have become Communist out of a belief in morality rather than man (the author falls into this category). And between these two extremes you’ll find any number of other philosophies- religious Communism, green Communism, Anarcho-Communism, etc. If there’s a mainstream philosophy out there, you’d be safe to bet that there’s a Communist version of it (baring, perhaps, Ayn Rand-style Objectivism).

Now one might argue that the exact same rules apply to Capitalism. “Capitalism is a socio-economic theory too. You can hold any philosophy or worldview and still be a Capitalist!”.

Now this is partly true. You can indeed be a Capitalist and hold the purpose in life to protect and preserve the earth and all its natural wonders. The problem is that if you also accept Capitalism, you have to maintain that it is perfectly legal (and indeed, a basic human right) to purchase a mountain, to prevent anyone else from walking on it, and if the owner so chooses, to blow it to pieces.

“Alright, so Environmentalism and Capitalism don’t mesh so well- but there’s still a ton of other philosophies out there.”

Absolutely, and they too don’t seem to mesh well with Capitalism. If you hold the purpose of life is to live honestly and decently, then you’re presented with a number of challenges (the primary of which is that in Capitalism, the highest profits come from underpaying and overworking your employees and overpricing your products- not exactly honest or decent, is it?). If you declare that the end goal in life is to live long and prosper and see your family happy and secure then you have to deal with the fact that this is the wish of not only you but a large percent of humanity and since in Capitalism there’s only so much room at the top you’ll have to viciously compete with your neighbors for this lifestyle (unless you’re born into it, in which case you just have to worry about the huddled masses eying your house and pool. Even if you believe that the sole purpose of live is to live in decadence and luxury, you have to contend with the very definitions of the words. Do two houses in Monaco count as decadence and luxury, or should you get a yacht as well (or more importantly, will you be any more happy and fulfilled with the yacht than you are now?).

So essentially, no matter what your philosophy is, it has to be accepted that in all likelihood, you’d be able to pursue it better in a society free from Capitalism. You want peace and happiness for your family? Maybe you should opt for a system where a starving homeless man is going to gun down your wife/husband for her/his necklace/wallet. You want to be able to do whatever you love doing? Maybe you should opt for a system where you aren’t forced to take whatever job pays the bills, no matter how painful or bland. You want to be able learn everything there is to know about a subject? Maybe you should opt for a system where education is a high-priced commodity available only to some.

Maybe you should opt for Communism.

12
Dec
09

Classism, Poverty, and Racism

In recent posts, I have been describing how “classism” (the stratification of society according to wealth) has become a new kind of racism. However, I feel obligated to describe how classism, in turn, creates and perpetuates racism.

It all starts with immigration. Immigration is, most often, a result of people attempting to seek a better life economically. Having come from a country usually ravaged by poverty or war or disease, immigrants tend to be poor themselves, and therefore are filtered into the working class/poor class of the country they’ve moved to. This situation, while comparatively better than the lives the immigrant’s have left behind, is still less than ideal. Crime rates and drug and alcohol abuse are still highest among the poor, no matter what the nation.

The issue with this (besides the rates of crime, drugs, and alcoholism) is that upper classes confuse the issues of crime and race. If the majority of crimes are committed by immigrants and minorities, then some will doubtlessly assume that immigrants and minorities are naturally indolent and/or criminally minded. Of course the reality of the situation is that crime rates are high among immigrants because immigrants generally live in abject poverty. With the evils of racial profiling and generalization, it becomes assumed that all immigrants and minorities are thieves and drug dealers, and therefore should be treated with suspicion or even open hostility. Inversely, this ill-treatment creates among immigrants and minorities feelings of animosity to the native majority. Racism, after all, works both ways.

So begins a cycle of abuse and distrust that only perpetuates racism. An innocent person (from a minority) locks himself out of his own car and is forced to break into it, only to be shot by the police who assume he’s a thief. In retaliation, a police officer (who had nothing to do with the shooting) is stabbed by an angry minority group. In response to this, a pair of children from a minority are beat up in school by their classmates- and so on and so forth in a long, tragic, and utterly pointless spiral.

In short, anywhere that there’s Capitalism, there’s classism, anywhere there’s classism, there’s poverty, anywhere there’s poverty, there’s crime which in turn leads inevitably to racism and bigotry. The only way to abolish racism is to abolish both poverty and the class system. Granted, some might argue that all that is needed is understanding and respect, but the fact remains that no matter how many murals are painted of people of all races holding hands around a globe, the poor are poor, the wealthy are wealthy, and the social divide spawns fear, crime, and racism.

01
Dec
09

The Myth

Perhaps the greatest lie originating (and arguably, perpetuated by) Capitalism is the idea that the wealthy are wealthy because they are intelligent, disciplined, and hardworking and the poor are poor because they are ignorant and lazy. As a result, if a man in a business suit and flawless grammar knocks on your door and asks if he can use your bathroom, chances are you’ll let him. You probably wouldn’t do the same for a man in a ragged bathrobe whose grasp of the English language was sub-average. Indeed, the quality of treatment you offer people is usually determined by what social class they hail from. We make assumptions about people based on whether or not they seem to be poor, middle-class, or wealthy.

Quite simply, we’re bigots.

And not without reason either. If a person is less willing to let a homeless man into his house than a man who is (or at least, seems to be) doing quite well for himself, then the person’s fear is not completely unfounded. A wealthy man has less reason to rob you than a poor man. Crime rates, alcoholism, and drug abuse are highest among the lower classes. Likewise the poorer classes tend to have the lowest levels of education. Statistically speaking, yes, you are more likely to be mugged by a poor person than a rich one, but so what? Bigotry is never tolerable, no matter what. So what if you’re more likely to be mugged if you get a poor guy into your house instead of a rich one? You don’t know either man. Maybe the man in the bathrobe is an honest, honorable person who’s had a run of bad luck. Maybe the man in the suit is a sociopathic murderer or a con artist. Judging people according to how wealthy they are is, no matter how you look at it, wrong!

So why is it that we’re prejudiced to trust the middle-class and wealthy rather than the poor? Is it because the poor are ignorant and criminal while the wealthy are intelligent and decent? Of course not! The poor aren’t poor because they’re criminals; the poor have high crime levels because they are poor. Sure the poor man is more likely to mug you, but is that because of him or the fact that he’s cold and hungry? Obviously there are those who are poor because of their own issues- all humans have a propensity towards greed and indolence. At the same time, it is ridiculous to claim that the poor are only poor because they’re lazy. It’s the poorest of the poor who have the heaviest workload. Across Africa, Asia, Latin America and yes, even Europe, Australia, and North America there are millions of those who for ten hours a day for wages of less than a dollar a day! There’s a reason we call them the Proletariat– the working class! It’s because they’re the ones doing all the actual work. They do the farming, the mining, the sweeping, the building, the cleaning, the producing and manufacturing! Why on earth would we even dare to consider these people to be lazy?

Because we’re lazy.

As I’ve said, humans are lazy. More often than not we don’t take the time and effort to investigate something for ourselves; we simply make assumptions or believe whatever our leaders and the media feed us. Since the poor are poor and unable to afford decent (if any) healthcare, we immediately assume that the poor are simply dirty. Since the poor can’t afford decent (if any) educations, we immediately assume that the poor are ignorant and stupid. Since the poor are poor and can’t always afford food/medicine/etc., many are forced into lives of crime- we immediately assume that the poor are naturally criminal. But laziness isn’t the only reason we don’t ask why the poor live in poverty.

Humans are also naturally arrogant. The idea- no, the myth– that the poor are poor because they are lazy makes us feel better about ourselves. We’re where we are because of our efforts! We’re wealthy because of our intelligence, our skill! We’re where we are because of our work-ethic, our self-discipline, and our decency!

Egotistical lies.

We’re where we are because of our own efforts and the efforts of our parents and their parents before them and because of the state of the world we live in and the class we were born into. Personal effort makes up about ten percent of it- the rest is accident of birth and dumb luck. A person pulling himself to the top from nothing is such a rare event that we make a major Hollywood film out of it. If you’re born poor, chances are you’ll stay poor no matter how hard you work unless you get not one but a whole chain of lucky breaks. If you’re born into a middle-class family, you’re probably going to stay middle-class unless you get a bunch of lucky breaks (though less than if you were poor). If you’re born into wealth and privilege than you haven’t done anything to deserve your life and don’t have to do anything to maintain it. Like I said, it really comes down to accident of birth. If you’re lucky, you’re wealthy, if you’re not, you’re poor and probably will be poor for the rest of your life. The Caste System isn’t exclusive to Hinduism.

So in short, don’t believe in the fairy-tale that the wealthy are the best of society and the poor are the worst, or that the poor are poor only because of their own efforts. We are, for the most part, fixed in our place by statistical chance- individual effort has very little effect on us.

It isn’t fair, is it? Only a sadist or an idiot could honestly state that this is an ethical system. Most of us simply shrug our shoulders and say that “life isn’t fair” or “that’s just the way things are…”. I say that when someone’s been murdered, we can’t stick our hands in our pockets and say “life isn’t fair”. I say that when any injustice has been committed, no matter on what scale, the only ethical course of action is to establish justice. Yes, life isn’t fair- but maybe that’s because no one’s doing anything about it!

15
Nov
09

The New Racism

Racism really isn’t as complex of an issue as it is made out to be. Essentially, it’s the idea that certain groups of people are inherently less valuable than others. Now the roots of racism are complex- there’s the issues of ignorance, exposure, generalization, association, history, psychology and a myriad of other factors that go into creating this twisted idea.

 

Now we imagine that we’ve come a long way since the oppressive days of segregation, slavery, and colonization and perhaps, on some level, this is true. Bus seating is equal, there are no more separate water fountains, and a person can eat in a diner no matter what race he is. While there is still racism against minorities (especially against Arabs and Latinos these days), in general people are treated equally no matter what ethnicity they are.

 

What class they are is a different story completely.

 

Classism is the idea that certain groups have value depending on their social status- essentially this is racism (bigotry isn’t strong enough of a word) based not on the color of one’s skin but the size of one’s bank account. While this has several causes, one of the greatest is the idea that people’s social status is proportionate to their intelligence, creativity, and efforts. If this were true (and it isn’t), it would mean that the rich are wealthy because they worked their way to the top and the poor and hunger and filthy because they are lazy. This lie is only reinforced by the fact that crime is higher among lower classes than among the wealthy- one might imagine that the poor are poor because they are criminals, rather than poor are driven to crime because they are poor.

 

The ramifications of classism are many, the most apparent being the way the poor and working class are treated by the middle and upper classes. If you were walking along the street and saw a person running towards you (a person in a suit, carrying a briefcase, and wearing a Rolex watch) you’d probably stop and see what he wanted. Would you do the same thing if the person running at you was dressed in a ragged bathrobe and pushing a shopping cart? I doubt it. You see, it doesn’t matter who the man is or why he’s running at you, the simple appearance of wealth or poverty changes the way you relate to him. You assume the man in the suit is sane and decent and the man in the bathrobe isn’t (showing just how pervasive the idea is that ‘the wealthy are the best of society and the poor are the worst’). The way one dresses (the most obvious indication of class) affects one’s thoughts of, and actions toward, him. In addition, the fact that many minorities are members of the working and poor class tend to reinforce racism already present in society.

 

Of course when you look at the big picture, you can see how none of this makes sense- if a ship is sinks and down in the shark infested waters is a rich man, a middle-class man, and a poor man, should the rich man be saved first? Not at all. Once you strip away the cheap, material things by which we judge each other, we’re all human. The rich man is no more worth saving than the middle-class man, the middle-class man’s live is no less valuable than that of the poor man, yet despite this, we treat each other differently according to wealth. The rich have the best educations and the finest medical care, the working class has the worst.

 

The way I see it, equality isn’t the equal treatment of people in terms of race– equality is the equal treatment of people, no matter what.

07
Sep
09

The Communist Perspective: Obama

Over the course of his campaign for the presidency and his past months in office, President Obama has been called many things, from messiah to monster. Among the wide range of names given to the president, one tends to stand out more than others: “Communist”.

We see these accusations everywhere, from bumper stickers replacing the “c” in “Barack” with a hammer and sickle to picket signs audaciously depicting Obama next to Stalin (who incidentally, was not actually Communist). Is there any substance to these accusations? Is Barack Obama a Communist?

The answer is a resounding no.

Now if Barack Obama was indeed a Marxist, we Communists would be dancing in the streets. Allow me to assure anyone in doubt, Barack Obama is most certainly not a Communist. He is a Democrat and he is left-wing within the sphere of the Democrat Party. However, having certain leftist stances does not make a person a Communist. So far, Obama has done nothing to indicate that he intends to abolish the class-system, Capitalism, or the institutions of private property and commerce. Higher taxes, more regulation, and higher government spending in no way equates with the principals of Marxism.

So what do Communists think of Obama? While opinions vary (as they inevitably do), there is both of a feeling of loyalty and disappointment among Marxists on the subject of the current President. After eight years of the generally right-wing policies of George Bush and faced with the prospect of McCain and Palin in the Whitehouse, Communists were of course happy for Obama’s victory, believing that after nearly a decade of right-wing control, any movement to the left would be a step in the right direction. At the same time, Marxists consider Obama and his policies to be addressing the symptoms of the disease, rather than the disease itself. Rather than attempting to solve the debt crises though pumping money into the economy, redistribution of wealth and property is needed to bride the social divide. Rather than attempt to regulate Capitalism, the system needs to abolished completely. In short, Obama is only aspirin for an injury that desperately requires surgery. Granted, it’s better than McCain or another conservative candidate, but Obama simply isn’t enough.