Saturday, June 09, 2012

MIB (Men In Beards): The Marxist Edition


I've got a soft spot in my heart for ageing lefties and anarchists. Their hopes and yearnings for humanity rest so close to those of Anabaptists as to be nearly indistinguishable.

For lefties it all goes back to Marx & Engels, and their altogether reasonable appeal for fulfilled life as defined by “just enough — for everybody, dammit.” Similarly, for Anabaptists, it all goes back to The Sermon On The Mount, in which Jesus addresses the concerns of the heart with a poignant directness. We all yearn to follow it, too, don't we? But at some point the kids need shoes, and then it's goodbye Jesus. Yet always there's one eye glancing back to the empty eastern horizon, the brain haunted by the niggling thought that, by God, this could work — it really ought to — just maybe not in our lifetime. So why not now? And if not now, when?

Anabaptists — some of us, anyway — can shrug it off, leaving it to the Lord to work out the sticking points when He finally gets around to The New Creation. Our secular brethren — the political theorists and others who have actually read Marx — have to wrap their heads around how the dude in the beard could get so many critical issues so very right, yet have all those worthy ideals perverted by self-proclaimed disciples who thwart and make impossible any genuine, lasting societal progress.

Uh, where was I?

Why is this man laughing?

Right: love those aging lefties and anarchists. In a (lengthy) essay titled, “Of Flying Cars and the Declining Rate of Profit” David Graeber recalls the heady sci-fi fantasies of his youth and says, “It seemed unlikely that I’d live to see all the things I was reading about in science fiction, but it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t see any of them.” So whither the flying car, among other technological wonders? Graeber says, in effect, that capitalism has cultivated a massive bureaucracy that stultifies not just progress but the social imagination.

“Defenders of capitalism make three broad historical claims: first, that it has fostered rapid scientific and technological growth; second, that however much it may throw enormous wealth to a small minority, it does so in such a way as to increase overall prosperity; third, that in doing so, it creates a more secure and democratic world for everyone. It is clear that capitalism is not doing any of these things any longer. In fact, many of its defenders are retreating from claiming that it is a good system and instead falling back on the claim that it is the only possible system — or, at least, the only possible system for a complex, technologically sophisticated society such as our own.”

Preach it, brother! Graeber goes on to say . . . but why should I steal any more of his considerable thunder? It's all right here, for your perusal.

Also, here is a pleasantly wide-ranging interview with Terry Eagleton, author of Why Marx Was Right (Google Books). Eagleton comes across as even-tempered, if not even-handed. My favorite quote: “I suppose one of the advantages of a left downturn, ironically, is that it gives you time to think around politics, not to fetishise it. Politics isn’t the be-all and end-all.” Amen to that.

Actually, getting the last laugh is a lonely experience.
I should know.

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