Archive for February, 2010

Modern Times

February 28, 2010

Cross-posted at MDNF:

No class that covers Marx and Weber would be complete without some discussion of the classic Chaplin film, “Modern Times.”  I won’t offer a full discussion of the film here; for now, I simply wish to have you watch a couple of the most famous scenes:

The first five or so minutes of this excerpt are the most important for our purposes.  In particular, you should be thinking about what these scenes are designed to show: what is the film’s perspective on modern technology and industrial production?  How does this perspective relate to Weber and Marx?  Would you say that the mood of these scenes is more Marxist or Weberian?  Why?  Comments on this are welcome.


Readings for Tuesday, March 2: Malcolm X’s “The Ballot or the Bullet” and MLK’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”

February 26, 2010

You can find a transcript of Malcolm X’s speech here.  However, I also recommend that you listen to an audio version of it, which I’ve posted below:

Listening to the audio, I think, gives a bit of the flavor of Malcolm X’s rhetoric and the audience’s response to it.  This, in turn, provides a bit more insight into why Malcolm X was such a frightening figure to white folks at the time.  Please note that there are some divergences between the audio and the transcript.  All of the same parts of the speech are present, but the audio presents the argument in an order different than the transcript version.

Anyway, you can find Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” here.


February 19, 2010

Unlike Christians from nowadays, Christians from past placed the fundaments their life in glorification of God. Especially, Calvinists worked systematically and enthusiastically under the “predestination” ethic where all the plans and after-lives are predestined by God. Although, no one can tell the difference between the one who is saved and one who is not, Calvinists wanted to work diligently, to answer God’s calling. After the discussion we had in class on Tuesday, I thought about concept of predestination more closely. Main topic of the discussion was that If one cannot tell the difference between the one who is saved and who is doomed and one is already destined to be doomed, why even bother to work for the glorification of God and why even try to answer God’s calling. However, I thought it is possible to think backwards. Why not try to construct a better life through positive thinking process where one can simply think he is saved. This attitude can create rationalized and systematized works and lives.

Reading questions for Weber’s Protestant Ethic, chapters 3 & 4

February 14, 2010

So let me start with a quick reminder.  Chapters 1 & 2 are effectively introductory; they introduce an empirical puzzle (chapter 1, wherein Weber wonders why there is a differentiation between Catholics and Protestants regarding wealth and occuptation), and then offer an analysis of the main phenomenon Weber is interested to explain (i.e., the “spirit of capitalism”). 

The remainder of the book sketches Weber’s actual explanation.  For Tuesday’s reading, you are to complete chapter 4, which is a discussion of Calvinist, Pietist, Methodist, and Baptist theology.  Focus your attention, however, on the section on Calvinism.  What you’re looking for, at this stage, is the potential connection between Calvinist theology and the the capitalist spirit (note: Weber quite clearly is not accusing Calvinism of inventing the capitalist spirit; Calvin, like all church reformers, was interested in salvation, and probably would find the capitalist spirit that Weber has described to be quite dismaying.  Nevertheless, Weber suggests that Calvinist doctrines end up creating an ethos that, over time, transforms into the capitalist spirit).

(1) How do I achieve salvation if I’m a Catholic?  How about if I’m a Lutheran?

(2) What is the doctrine of predestination?

(3) Given this doctrine, why should I ever do anything? 

(4) According to Weber, Calvinism is a magnificently logical faith.  In what sense is this true? (Hint: the answer has something to do with the idea of rationalization).

(5) In what sense does Calvinism purge all forms of mysticism, magic, and miracles from its view of the world?

(6) How can the Calvinist believer become assured of his/her salvation?

(7) Why didn’t the original Calvinists (such as the Puritans or Pilgrms in the U.S.) sing, dance, adorn their churches with decorations, and so on?

(8) For a Calvinist (according to Weber), how does one determine whether one is doing God’s work?

(9) If I accept this doctine, what are some of the consequences for my “personality”?  What sorts of characteristics should I cultivate?  How do I view my place in the world?

(10) Let’s say I’m a Calvinist who owns a business (say, the sort of putting-out business Weber described in chapter 2): how will I conduct this business?  What will I do with the profits if I have any?  What do you suppose might happen if we have entire communities of people who live in this way?

Paper Topics #1

February 10, 2010

Select ONE of the following paper topics.  Papers are to be 5-7 pages long, double-spaced, with 1 inch margins, and in 12 point, Times New Roman or Garamond font.  Papers are due THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 25, at the beginning of class.  Whenever appropriate, make sure you support your arguments and claims with textual evidence. Don’t over-quote, however; it is often enough to refer to the relevant passage with a parenthetical reference (Weber, p. 10) or a footnote. If you have an edition of any book different from the ones listed on the syllabus, make sure you indicate this in a bibliography or a footnote.  Please cite the specific Marx essay you are referring to, and cite Marx as the author.  Note that, for the purposes of this assignment, the professor’s lectures are considered to be in public domain: you don’t need to cite them. However, when the professor says, “Weber thinks blah blah blah,” then you need to cite the appropriate places in Weber.

 1.  Chapter 5 of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath describes a process in which farming family is evicted from their land.  In your essay, analyze this story from the perspective of two of the theorists we have discussed so far (Hobbes, the writers of the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen,” Marx, and Weber).  That is, pick two theorists and discuss how they might interpret the chapter.  Consider the following questions in developing your analysis: how would the theorist in question account for the events of this chapter?  What are the strengths and weaknesses of this interpretation?  Or another variation on this idea:  What part of the story does each theorist help us understand?  What does each theorist’s approach ignore?  And which theorist gives us greater insight into the events Steinbeck describes?

 2.  You are currently being asked to write an essay for the class, “The Concept of Power.”  Does writing this essay simply contribute to the alienation, meaninglessness, and domination we find in modern forms of life, or can it contribute to some sort of liberation?  Explain your answer, and draw upon the work of Marx and Weber to help you.

 3.  Consider the following statement: Marx’s “On the Jewish Question” presents a devastating critique of the liberal conception of government as expounded in “The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.”  In this essay, defend, challenge, or qualify this statement.  In other words, does Marx offer an important or devastating critique of the claims made in this document?  Why or why not?

 4.  It has often been suggested that Marx and Weber present rather different explanations for the origins of capitalism.  Marx is usually said to focus only on a materialist analysis, such that capitalism arises largely due to anonymous forces generated in the mode of production.  Weber is usually said to focus primarily on ideas and their role in shaping social institutions and people’s behaviors.  But how different are Marx and Weber’s explanations of the origins of capitalism?  Does Weber offer a different explanation, or is he merely supplementing Marx’s analysis?

 5.  Both Marx and Weber seem to have rather gloomy attitudes toward modern capitalism, with Marx focusing on the ways in which modern industrial society is alienating, exploitative, and dominating, and Weber focusing on the meaninglessness of the “iron cage.”  In this essay, explain and evaluate these two theorists’ diagnosis of the problems with contemporary capitalism, along with their competing prognoses about what, if anything, might happen to the capitalist form of economic organization.  How do Marx and Weber differ in their diagnosis about what is potentially wrong about capitalism?  And how do they differ in their analysis of whether capitalism might end, or what might replace it?

Reading Questions for Max Weber’s Protestant Ethic

February 6, 2010

So for Tuesday, we are beginning Weber’s Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.  As you’re reading, please consider the following questions.

(1) A non-Weber question, but something that you might want to keep in mind as you try to draw a contrast between Weber and Marx: how does Marx understand our “consciousness” (our ideas, our political institutions, individual motivations, and so forth)? 

(2) In the introduction, Weber introduces the concept of “rationalization.”  What does this mean?  Think of an example, and then try to come up with an overall definition.

(3) What is capitalism, for Weber?  Why is capitalism not simply about the pursuit of proft or greed?

(4) What does Weber think are some of the unique features of modern capitalism?

(5) What precisely is Weber trying to explain?  Or more specifically, what is this “spirit” of capitalism that he talks about?

(6) In broad terms (and they have to be broad, since we have not yet read his full explanation), what is Weber’s explanation?  How does it differe from Marx’s?

Social Change and the American Revolution

February 6, 2010

After reading some articles in my Art History class about the American Revolution and the political dynamics surrounding it, I began to see many relationships between this and what we have been discussing about social change.  Before the Revolutionary War, American colonists were under the rule of the British monarchy, or as Hobbes might put it, they were the subjects of a British sovereign.  After the Seven Year’s War, Britain imposed taxes on the colonists to help pay for the cost of the war.  Since the colonists did not have a direct representative in Parliament they felt they were being exploited and thus a revolt ensued.  The sovereign was no longer representing the will of his subjects and so a portion of the commonwealth broke away and resorted to violence to assert their power.  After winning the war, some sort of collective power needed to be established, and so 13 colonies joined together in a confederation, each establishing republican governments.

As industry advanced and America expanded its trading to include foreign countries such as China and Britain, the need for increased means of production arose.  This included territorial expansion as well.  Colonists claimed the land as their right, and began to exploit Native Americans who were living there.  In doing this, the colonists were only perpetuating the cycle of collecting wealth and capital, and by so doing they were creating an inequitable distribution of resources setting the stage for the next revolt.  There was a clash of ideologies resulting from differing material conditions/economic structures. By depriving the Native Americans of their land, which was their means of production, the colonists in effect (whether an intended consequence or not) forced them into a lower class status of existence. Perhaps if there was more general consciousness of the social dynamics at play as Marx suggests, both parties could come to a mutual understanding. At this point I cannot come to a conclusion on how Marx’s ideas could resolve the conflict between such drastically differing social cultures as the colonists and the Native Americans.

aid vs. security

February 5, 2010

I remember watching a movie called “2012” few months ago. Movie was based on natural disaster, depicted human’s fear and selfishness but also human’s ability to cooperate and help one another. Few characters from the movie are very well categorized. one who makes the move to save everyone, one who is very selfish (wanting to save only himself and his children), and one who desires to save people but reluctant to make the move. I think, “people who is very selfish and who is reluctant to make the move” are created because their security and safety is not guaranteed. And through their action of not wanting to help others, more violence and chaos were created. “Wanting to live” is human’s basic instinct and desire and

he argues that we need security because without it, there will be social atomization and violence, but perhaps it is the other way around.  Perhaps it is the arrival of security forces that leads to the forms of helplessness and social atomization that produce violence.  Perhaps, in other words, the “securitization” of aid relief actually produces the very behaviors that make it necessary in the first place.

Some more thoughts on production in a Communist Society

February 5, 2010

Let me preface this short comment by saying that the classic Marxist rebuttal of, ‘my ideology has been formed by my economic mode’ is probably more than sufficient to knock down my argument, but I shall proceed nevertheless.

During one of our last discussions, we drew upon the concept that in a Marxist society the free market would no longer decide what we produce. Rather, we would just ‘decide’ what we need and then make that/those item(s) – the specific number/quantity that we needed, and no more than that.

This concept struck me as a bit ‘off the deep end’ when I heard it, and continues to perplex me.  My first thought was, ‘how’? How could the populous possibility decide on what and how much of everything we need to produce? The majority of everyone’s day would be spend in a huge meeting room voting if we really need 7 or 8 pairs of socks.

Further, if, as Marx hopes, we become Universal Citizens (ie Utilitarianism), then there would be no production protection for the minority.  For example, because the greatest number of people are not in need of a wheelchair, the true Universal Citizen would say we don’t need them. Clearly, those people that are in need of a wheel chair DO need them.

After a bit of rumination, I stumbled on what I still believe to be the best solution: the free market.  If I think we should have 8 pairs of sock, then I go and buy 8 pairs of socks – essentially, I am voting with my dollar. The ‘huge meeting room’ is replaced by the market place. Further, the free market allows for the person in need of a wheelchair to buy one, as if there is a need (big or small), the free market will fill it.

Call me a filthy capitalist pig, but there just doesn’t seem to be a better solution.

The function of Hobbesian ideology in the response to natural disasters

February 3, 2010

I have been reading some interesting stuff about the “securitization” of food distribution in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti, and thought I’d share.  If you would kindly open up your Hobbes to chapter 13 or 17:

Hobbes tells us that without an established political authority–without “the sword”–a war of all against all is inevitable.  Humans naturally want “dominion” over others, or at the very least, want to pursue their own goals without interference.  So unless someone enforces modes of social cooperation on us, mass chaos will ensue.  This is a common assumption, and one that I rarely hear called into question.  One could go so far as to call it common sense; it’s “just obvious,” as we like to say.  And it is confirmed in the aftermath of natural disasters, as we continually hear stories about roving bands of looters, of young men stealing supplies, etc., that always emerge once a disaster has caused social order to break down. 

Indeed, this is such a widely held position that it guides our political actors in how they respond to these disasters.  After the Haiti earthquake, the U.S. military insisted that security had to be a top priority.    Before actually distributing aid, one needed to re-establish basic social order, or else the distribution of such aid would simply contribute to more chaos (perhaps, I suppose, because such distribution would give the people something to fight over).  Secretary of Defense William Gates, for example, refused calls to engage in air drops of water and food supplies saying: “It seems to me that’s a formula for contributing to chaos rather than preventing it. Without having any structure on the ground, in terms of distribution, that an air drop is simply going to lead to riots as people go after that stuff.”

But my point is not just that Hobbes is alive and well in our responses to natural disasters; rather, I want to raise the possibility that this whole story might in fact be false and/or simply a self-fulfililng prophecy.  First, I direct your attention here.  The University of Delaware’s Disaster Research Center has actually done a series of investigations of the aftermath of natural disasters.  What they find is that the Hobbesian story about how the total breakdown of social order leads to mass violence is simply not true.  In the aftermath of natural disasters, there is actually a significant uptick of prosocial behavior.   People often quickly establish new forms of social organization, which in turn, generates more social trust.  They cooperate to find survivors; they establish camps to care for the wounded and distribute needed supplies; and they often find and share whatever food and water are available. 

In other words, as Russell Honore puts it in this video, in the aftermath of natural disasters (such as Hurricane Katrina or the earthquake in Haiti) the people function as their own first responders.  But rather than mobilize or utilize these networks as they emerge, security forces nearly always eliminate them.  The issue is not just that the security forces spend too much time establishing security (rather than providing needed aid), though this is a significant problem (this link refers to a now famous story in which doctors were told to abandon a medical facility out of worries about security).  Rather, the issue is also that in creating this security, they tend to eliminate the forms of social cooperation that have already emerged.  They break up existing communities in order to administer aid more efficiently, which tends to render the populace more helpless; and by replacing (rather than fostering) the nascent forms of social cooperation that emerge security forces might in fact diminish social trust and increase the forms of social atomization that lead to increased violence.

We might therefore want to say that Hobbes has gotten the issue exactly backwards: he argues that we need security because without it, there will be social atomization and violence, but perhaps it is the other way around.  Perhaps it is the arrival of security forces that leads to the forms of helplessness and social atomization that produce violence.  Perhaps, in other words, the “securitization” of aid relief actually produces the very behaviors that make it necessary in the first place. 

Thus, if this hypothesis is correct, there might be rather pernicious effects to thinking that humans are “naturally selfish” and that the only way we’ll engage in social behavior is at the point of a sword.  Not only might this idea lead us to miss or ignore important events (such as the spontaneous development of new networks of social cooperation), but it might lead to behaviors and policies that make this (violent) selfishness more likely.

Hat tip to John Protevi, who first sketched out this line of argument in this thread.