Kill Your Idols I: Followers, A History Boy, 07/08/2017

When I first started blogging my early research for Utopias, I was concerned to stay away from conventional marxism. I was going to write a very left-wing book, but it wasn’t going to stick to the typical answers of the left.

Yes, I was concerned about oligarchy, just as I am now. I’ve since developed a more communitarian side to my political thinking – the strength and resilience of social networks and bonds of brotherhood throughout a community are the foundation of a healthy culture.

All the typical nationalist idols – religion, ethnicity, language, beliefs in national myths – don't mean shit, if I can put it in technical terms. Solidarity is built from actual friendships among people – from working, playing, clubs, school, partying, volunteering, whatever. The resilience of a society’s networks are its strength.

The basic idea of this series of posts is: If you want to
progress your society, and how you understand the
world, you need to kill your idols.
When I started this blogging project four years ago, I was still sorting out my more political ideas. At the time, I often said I very much wasn’t marxist, for a variety of reasons.

Here’s one anecdote from the time. When I got my proposal reviewer’s notes from Palgrave on Ecology, Ethics, and the Future of Humanity, he kept on talking about marxism, and telling me I should include more marx in a book about environmental philosophy.

He did that because the word ‘alienation’ is really important in a lot of environmental ethics approaches. They’re talking about the different ideologies and concepts humanity has used to separate our self-image from nature. We literally make ourselves alien to the Earth.

But this reviewer kept thinking I was a marxist. All he knew of the idea was Marx’s conception of alienated labour.

At first I was nervous that my book would be rejected because of this misunderstanding. But I got some good advice from my colleague who’d connected me with Palgrave. So I gave my usual response to reviewers who clearly didn’t know what they were talking about. I told the book series editor that the reviewer had no idea what he was talking about.

The bigger question is: What does it mean to be a marxist anyway? I don’t think I’m one, but most folks on the right wing of politics today would call me a cultural marxist.

See, I’ve met some self-identified communists and marxists over the years who are kind of genuine in their very doctrinaire belief in the very basic processes Marx himself was describing. Some see the economy as continuing to cleave into producers and proletariat. Some believe that they can affect a revolution of the working class from an academic’s office.

But people in the communist movement believed all this in Antonio Gramsci’s own time, nearly 100 years ago. They thought that all of Europe was going in the direction of the Russian revolution because they believed in a very doctrinaire marxist theory of the totally deterministic nature of human history.

They ended up being horribly wrong, and a lot of them – including Gramsci – paid the price with their freedom and their lives. Why would someone believe something just because it’s in a theoretical, scientific book?*

* That’s a very complex, multifaceted book that’s open to many interpretations. Most of these folks were following a blueprint from Capital, and Capital was never meant to be a straight blueprint in any universal sense. Yet it still became one.

Here’s the truth about social change. Revolutionary change can come from anywhere in society, if the particular conditions are right to enable some class or community to understand that it can act, then actually act.

Civilization is dynamic, always open to change, never clockwork in that too-simple sense of how people used to think about reality. Am I giving people too much credit by not presuming them to believe in a clockwork reality? . . . To Be Continued

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