In my previous post about the second-hand dealers of ideas, I pointed to the danger in following intellectuals in the media and academia as an authoritative source of ideas, allowing them to shape our understanding of culture and our ability to form our own thinking and our own perception of reality. In my arguments I took inspiration from the concepts of Nobel Prize laureate Friedrich Hayek, who looked at economics from the perspective of complex system theory. Complexity Theory assumes that markets, as well as other social and scientific phenomena, exhibit self organization and emergence of intelligent behavior by establishing connections between many elements. Basically, for Hayek, society is a learning system that constantly adapts its properties by renegotiating the flow of information between its individuals in response to pressures of the environment. This line of thought stands opposite to the idea of central planning where the advocates of the planning method claim to have an understanding of the world with the promise of changing it for the better. Putting in place plans and prerogatives is the main objective of the social organizers.
To better appreciate what mechanisms of planning and control these organizing theories put in place we might look at history. So going back to the origins of critical theory brings us to the Marxist way of thinking developed by the Frankfurt school of social sciences that was established on the ruins of European society after the First World War. In that Institut für Sozialforschung, romantic notions of authenticity and human alienation were mixed with critique of social structure through praxis, to mean “action oriented towards changing society” that combined revolutionary zeal with a strong theoretical basis. It was always a mix of emotions with policies that justified and fueled such critical methods. But they were not the first. Earlier theorists and philosophers such as Gramsci already brought Marxist theories into the social realm.
For the purpose of understanding Marxism, we need to step further back into history and consider Hegelian dialectics, which is a method for creating an argument of pros and cons, of thesis and antithesis, that have to be specified and negotiated in order to reach a synthesis to achieve a scientifically correct (and ethically just) conclusion. What Marx did was to translate this method of battling ideas into what he claimed to be an economic theory. He turned Marxism into material dielectrics. What that means is that instead of a battle of ideas we have a battle of economic interests. The two-tier structure of thesis and antithesis were translated into social classes, or so-called base and superstructure. Instead of using the dialectic theory to come up with a common ground for understanding a problem and deriving higher knowledge, Marx used the two-tier model to demonstrate exploitation of the base (the working class) by the superstructure that comprises the industrialists and the government. In this model, those who owned the means of production, the factories, and government institutions, gained more profit and thus increased their Capital (that’s where the name Capitalism came from) by unfairly exploiting their workers. This model collapsed the idea of markets, social and economic structures and the whole variety of human fabric into two – you are either the oppressed or the oppressor. Today you are either racist or woke. Sounds familiar? And since simple structures are easier to understand, learn, and believe in, it gained a huge following.
One interesting element in Marx’s theory is the notion that capitalism will eventually lead to its own destruction and ultimate collapse through overproduction. But Marx’s dynamic model completely failed in this respect. Without going into the details of the mechanisms that Marx supposed, it is evident that such a collapse has not occurred. The overproduction did not lead to cheaper prices and loss of profits for the industrialists but rather has supported constant innovation. This constant innovation did not worsen the conditions of the working class by constantly lowering their wages or keeping a reserve of uneducated workers, but on the contrary, the economic prosperity bettered the workers’ condition. What Marx’s model did establish and legitimize is the idea of struggle between classes. Thinking about society as classes or opposing structures, Marxism is advocating for finding conflicts that can only be resolved by revolution. Till this day, the revolution itself remained the main prerogative of such theory. This is unlike the capitalist way of thinking, or more correctly the liberal way of thinking, that tries to reach a certain level of balance or equilibrium – as many economic game-theoretical approaches do. The Marxist approach does not advocate for equilibrium but instead for changing the game. Only by breaking the system through identification of the players, and setting those players up against each other, can the game be changed. You win by flipping the board. And you are justified to flip the board because you are overpowered and oppressed by the system that set up the game in the first place, the game where you are imminently set to be the loser.
Taking the economic analogy one step further, if capitalism is based on abundance and overproduction, then extreme socialism flourishes on scarcity. Central planning has to be in place to provide resources so that everyone’s needs will be accommodated, and to assure an equitable and moral allocation of resources to those in need. By default, anyone who wants more than what the planning designates becomes an exploiter or oppressor of others. This becomes especially true if you’re a small business owner who does not provide the social conditions expected for your workers – you are the worst realization of capitalist injustice. Going back to economic history, the Marx theories were not able to create a better future for the people (although they tried by setting up planners and committees to control or provide for their lifestyle, their work, and the ideology), and the capitalist approach did not collapse, forcing new theories explaining the success of a free market.
To explain this unexpected phenomenon, Gramsci came to the rescue by shifting the discourse from economics to culture. His claim was rather simple. Instead of material exploitation and enslavement, people were culturally trapped in structures or hegemony. The ruling class did not rule by controlling material objects but by creating cultural institutions that perpetuated enslavement. This is where scarcity of economical means was translated to the scarcity of ideas. Political Correctness, a Soviet term, serves to control the way you think by limiting you from forming your own judgement of right and wrong and often doesn’t teach any moral values. The base and the superstructure, instead of battling over economic interests, became a battle of the culturally oppressed against an inherently unjust system. This does not mean that no injustice exists, but they are rare and far from the majority that is sometimes perceived. The important point to realize here is not in the existence of differences and potentially unfair relations between people or even groups of people in a larger social or economic system, but that the underlying narrative has only one way to resolve – by flipping the board.
Battling against existing power structures is achieved through revolution. Sometimes revolutions might be inevitable, and hopefully they resolve severe conflicts into a better society. What is clear is that you do not want to keep a permanent revolution, but what the base versus superstructure model does is exactly the opposite. It assumes that since the desire to exploit or gain unfair power is part of human nature, revolutionary ideas have to be always kept on alert in order to repel the dangers of capitalism. Accordingly, planners and committees will be appointed to become a new superstructure, which this time will be just, equitable, and will better off with the base. Of course the planners will also maintain a morality that they have single handedly established.
Fast-forwarding to today’s critical race theory, Gramsci’s hegemony of cultural or political power structures was translated into a struggle between races. By setting up one group of people against the other, the role of the planning committee to negotiate and set up in place the rules for solving such injustices becomes totally justified. Simple prescription versus complex system view is evident here as the scarcity of ideas prevails. People are taught to think in overly simple terms using just a few concepts that explain it all – class, gender, sexuality, colonization, ability, and other forms of identity that become empty vessels to be filled with anger.
My attempt here is not to argue for or against specific ways of addressing or finding solutions to potential injustices in society. Our culture is a network of complex connections, but by reducing everything to a handful of labels of battling classes, the ability to deal with complexity is severely compromised. Insisting on class structure and the struggle between classes is the underlying mechanism that the critical race theory put in place. Its role is not to find a solution but to justify the planner as someone who can set up the rules for managing such oversimplified structure. Then his role will be in resolving often fictitious and deliberately misguided chasms between the classes that it designated in first place through his critical theory.
Even the Jewish aspect was not left here idle. “How Jews became white” became mandatory course readings in universities teaching about inclusion and social justice, where the texts are blaming Jews for receiving favorable interest rates on loans for their businesses and accusing Jewish organizations of opposing Affirmative Action that is supposed to help Black communities. Do you still wonder why bursts of antisemitism spark between Blacks and orthodox Jews in NY? The choices of Jewish communities are simple – join the planners by admitting their being on the wrong side of history and hegemony, or stand up for principles of freedom of thought and embracing complexity versus simplicity and indoctrination.
P.S. A final note of caution: For those looking favorably at Gramsci’s battle against and final imprisonment by the Fascists, please note that the fact that historically Marxists opposed Fascism does not make it an evidence for virtue or validity of their social theories. My argument is that the class or race collision model is a simplification and a dangerous meme to instill in people minds and organize the society by. For the implication of intellectuals as social organizers and planners in the rise of Nazism and not only Marxism, see my previous blog.