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How to respond to Darwinist, Capitalist arguments against Marxism, Anarchism,and human nature

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comediaN4u
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Dec 7 2015 22:03
How to respond to Darwinist, Capitalist arguments against Marxism, Anarchism,and human nature

So I met this woman on the train, She struck up a conversation with me and soon it delved into Marxism, human nature, and why the "socialist experiment" failed. My argument was that socialism had not really taken place in so called Marxist republics, such as the USSR, China, Yugoslavia, Cuba, etc, as many of these countries were still under pre-capitalist development. When our conversation switched over to human nature, she asked why should a doctor make more than a garbage man and why should she be rewarded the same as someone who puts in half of the effort in whatever task, both partake in. My response was that human nature changed according to it's social and economic conditions. In socialism economic planning is to be done on a local level and the workers are to control the means and mode of production. Workers would be more motivated as they are creating products, not to fulfill the demands of a capitalist market but the needs of the community. If one worker is too slack off what is to stop the other members of the workforce from voting to expel him or her from their community. For the former argument, I'm still having trouble coming up with an adequate response. Bear in mind that I am only 17 and I've just recently discovered Marxism, Anarchism, etc. Thanks for any responses.

Jschul05
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Dec 9 2015 14:18

Sounds like you handled yourself nicely.

Here's the thing--I've found these conversations--between a lefty and a fanatical conservative--are never either satisfying or useful. Here's why:

1. The arguments made by the fanatic are almost never rational. For example: your conversation partner was basically saying: "Give me the ready-made model for the society to come after the revolution." Of course, the problem here is that that world should be collectively created and managed--so it's absurd to ask you to give that vision as though you were the new leader and you would just force everyone to accept it. What your fanatic is saying is: "I demand that society be an authoritarian system." This is a fundamental impasse that can't go anywhere. It likely comes from the fact that in capitalism we all both hate the authority that runs our lives and, at some level, embrace it. It's just like a prisoner who, in jail for 70 years, hates her/his confinement but is terrified at the prospect of release.

2. Moreover, the conversation is almost never begun as a dialogue. It's begun as the rabid defense of the existing system, due to personal investment in that system. In fact, the arguments made are usually so stupid it's senseless to argue. The argument of "human nature always stays the same," for instance. Not only is this stupid, pretty much everyone knows it's stupid. Almost all people agree that 50,000 years ago people didn't vote and didn't care about hygiene like washing hands; now most of us think democracy (despite its sham today) and hygiene are essential--a basic transformation of human desire and action.

So the argument "Human nature doesn't change" isn't an argument; it's a statement so self-evidently false that it just says: "I will use any argument, no matter how ridiculous, to reject the need to change the world today." So again, not at all worth engaging, IMO.

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Alf
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Dec 9 2015 14:26

I think a better response would be that 50,000 years ago society was communist, which tells us quite a lot about human nature.

infektfm
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Dec 18 2015 22:18

One time I was in a class, and the guy in front of me (who I didn't know, never talked to) was talking about how he believes in "democracy and not communism" to another guy in agreement. So I asked the guy in front of me if I could have a pencil, as I did not have one. He gave one to me. I pointed out that he didn't ask for anything in return for the pencil, and therefore had just become a communist -- "from each according to one's ability, to each according to one's need". I needed a pencil, and he was able to give one to me, so he did. He actually stopped talking after that.

This won't work usually, I'd imagine. But it worked out perfectly that day.

(I was reading David Graeber at the time, who made this sort of point a lot -- "baseline communism" or whatever -- in the book Debt)

Jschul05
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Dec 10 2015 00:21

Alf, I am kind of torn on the idea of an ancient communism. As far as I can tell, and I am certainly no expert in this field, that thesis seems like an outdated one. Maybe you know more about it? Maybe my hesitation comes from the anachronism: whatever we mean by communism seems like a pretty recent phenomenon. Thoughts?

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Dec 10 2015 03:41

Hi J, just to echo other that it seems you handled yourself pretty darn well (and I agree with you about having misgivings about prehistoric communism).

Anyway, FWIW, I don't really think there's a ton of value in arguing with people about capitalism. I come from a pretty conservative family (with some noteworthy and holiday-saving exceptions) and I've won a lot of arguments with cousins and uncles. You know when the other person says "We'll, you're entitled to your opinion" because you've debunked every argument they've thrown at you? Yeah, that shit happens to me a lot in my family.

The point being: winning arguments might, at best, plant a seed. But, in the absence of a lived reality of class solidarity, I don't really think we'll ever have a mass radical movement no matter how many individual arguments we win.

So, for me, I try to base my politics on letting those around me - including my conservative relatives - know that I'll always do my best to support them if they have a problem at work or with their landlord or whatever. I think if people see what anarchism means in practice, then we'll actually open some space for those deeper discussions.

Anyway, after a fairly lengthy absence from the States, I recently wrote a series of blogs about this exact sort of thing. Might be of interest:

http://libcom.org/blog/america-part-1-making-millionaires-09082015

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Dec 10 2015 17:40

Jschul you say that the thesis of ancient or primitive communism "seems like an outdated one". Can you elaborate on this?

I certainly don't think communism is a recent phenomenon:

http://en.internationalism.org/node/3484

There are also currents within anthropology today who vigorously defend the theory:
http://radicalanthropologygroup.org/av/video/primitive-communism-what-we...

And even when some other kinds of anthropologists don't like to talk about "communism", they are convinced that the first human societies were fundamentally "egalitarian" and had acquired an age-long practice of reverse dominance. This is the thesis put forward by Christopher Boehm in Hierarchy in the Forest for example

john9newton
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Dec 11 2015 13:58

Whether prehistoric societies can be correctly labelled as anarchist/communist or not is possibly a distraction. What we can say for certain is that they weren't capitalist. "Anatomically modern" humans have been around for about 200,000 years, capitalism for about 300 years. Human nature might not have changed during that time, but human society has changed multiple times in multiple ways.
Most objections to anarchism/communism that I encounter stem from an inability to comprehend how life could be any different than it is now. Humans existed for a very long time without capitalism, and can do so again. Can capitalism be replaced by anarchism/communism? I think history shows us that anything's possible, if there is enough momentum for it to happen. Will capitalism be replaced by anarchism/communism? Only time will tell.

baboon
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Dec 11 2015 17:22

The heading for this thread talks about the “Darwinist, capitalist...” position, a position that is generally held to be “every-man for himself”, “survival of the fittest” and the like which all tend to justify bourgeois rule, see capitalist competition and greed as being normal and natural traits that have a history long back into mankind’s past. It’s important therefore to have some understanding of Darwin’s position and what that tells us about any possible communist elements to prehistoric society. Darwin, and Alfred Russell Wallace who worked closely with him, put forward the revolutionary theory in “The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex” not of “the survival of the fittest”, as the bourgeoisie would have us believe, but the survival and advance of the most cooperative and the most socialised. The theory presented in “The Descent...” incorporated and overturned the revolutionary but mechanical nature of “The Origin of Species” by stressing the primacy of the development of consciousness and socialisation in the ancient societies of prehistory.

These successful societies had clear communistic expressions and tendencies: unity and solidarity; protection and care for all including the old, the sick and the weak; joint production and distribution. The elements that fought for each other and defended each other would have been both morally and physically superior and, while taking casualties, would have easily seen off aggressive or marauding elements. The elements that were most socialised, that acted together and for each other, would have had a very distinct and greater chance of survival and development. The ancient societies, ancient society in general, wouldn’t have been an idyll – it was a very real struggle and one only has to look at the “pictorial” record of the Upper Palaeolithic cave paintings (c. 40 – 15,000 years ago) to see the struggles and tensions that existed within these societies. But communistic (socialistic) elements had to exist for the survival of the species and the social development from hunter-gatherers into the barbarian gentes.

One strong element through this prehistory, as Darwin also makes clear in “The Descent...”, is the pivotal role of mother-right and the role of the woman in the sexual selection of a partner. Darwin said it didn’t matter how long their relationship lasted but what was important was the attributes in the males that the woman was looking for and it wouldn’t necessarily be the strongest, fittest male for obvious reasons. This sexual selection, which goes a very long way back in the history of homo, would have been refined and incorporated into the human condition in an almost automatic way advancing the species further. The studies of the old organisational form of the gentes by Lewis Henry Morgan (“Ancient Society...”) show that these basically socialist organisational structures had a real democratic basis underlined by mother-right with descent in the maternal line – there were communistic tendencies, democracy (unlike the sham of today) and the primacy of the role of woman.

As Marx said (“Ethnological Notes”) these comfortable bonds of primitive communism couldn’t last and had to be broken for society to advance further. And civilisation smashed them apart implicitly and eventually posing the question at a higher level.

Anarcho
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Dec 12 2015 15:35
comediaN4u wrote:
My response was that human nature changed according to it's social and economic conditions.

Well, "human nature" (i.e., what humans do) does vary a lot depending on social and economic conditions. However, we should not forget that we are evolved creatures and so we are not a blank slate (as Marx suggested). Luckily, evolution has made us co-operative, egalitarian apes which makes anarchism a possibility -- indeed, we have lived as communist-anarchists for most of our history as a species (property and state are relatively recent developments -- the last 5-10,000 years).

Anyways, have a read of this: Mutual Aid: An Introduction and Evaluation (second edition is published by AK press).

In terms of the arguments for communism, Kropotkin's The Wage System is still the starting point (included in my Kropotkin Anthology Direct Struggle Against Capital). You may also find An Anarchist FAQ of interest -- particularly section I.

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Ed
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Dec 12 2015 17:04
Anarcho wrote:
Well, "human nature" (i.e., what humans do) does vary a lot depending on social and economic conditions.

Yeah, I would usually say something like this.. like, it's hard to say what 'human nature' is because what humans consider 'natural' varies so much according to when or where we're talking..

That said, if we were to say that there is a human nature, then it would have to be something that exists regardless of social conditions. Now, if we accept that the world as it is structured now puts humans in a constant state of competition with each other (for jobs, houses, schools for your kids, whatever), then it's easy to see why people treat each other like shit because of it (i.e. 'Send refugees back, they're stealing our houses' or snitching when your workmate is skiving in the hope of cosying up to your boss).

What it doesn't explain, however, is why people are ever nice to each other. Why do people ever show solidarity with refugees? Why do people cover for each other at work? Why do people travel hundreds of miles to volunteer as doctors in warzones or where there are mad infectious diseases? All that shit seems to fly in the face of how society is organised; society is organised so as to actively discourage it.

So, imo, if human nature does exist then, probably, it's good. Makes me think of that Camus quote: "There are more things to admire in men [sic] then to despise."

factvalue
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Dec 17 2015 14:13

I think a lot of people's readiness to believe that human nature is bad and that capitalism works because it taps into our true natures, is straightforwardly that such a view provides them with an alibi for their own negative traits, which is why anyone making that argument isn't risking much and will always get a lot of agreement from their audience. And maybe this in itself re-enforces the idea that humans are bad in those engaging in it, since dishonest self-justification for the spreading of irrational despair that discourages and confuses is obviously not a very nice thing for anyone to be doing, so that just goes to show you, doesn't it, etc.. A-historical conceptions about the hopelessness of our position because of our innate exploitative/destructive/predatory natures are faith-based irrationalities which contain no more truth than mysticism.

But to be honest the majority of people I've met don't have an opinion about any of this and are really so alienated that they couldn't care less about either the past or the future.The few I know that do are either irrational optimists or irrational pessimists. The optimists mostly identify human achievement with technological progress and the freedom to choose among a wider and wider variety of capitalist goodies. In my opinion, the whiff of racism that emanates from their incapacity to countenance the idea that primitive humans could have led lives richer in dignity, solidarity and kindness, when obviously they lacked 'wealth' and the ability to wipe themselves out, has its origin in centuries of colonial slaughter and pillage. They're not worried about what happens next and they don't need to do a thing because 'progress' is taking care of business. They advertise themselves as having a scientific outlook but they don't like facts and numbers, such as the one I offered one of them recently about the number of battles engaged in by European powers during each century along their road to progress: 15th - 9, 16th - 87, 17th - 239, 18th - 781, 18th - 651, 20th - 892: very advanced. Primitive people would have been hard pressed to match such proportions of sadism in their societies.

The pessimists are about as engaged with reality as the optimists and live just as contentedly. Their irrational pessimism suffices to prevent any awkward compunction to do something from getting the better of them. What would be the point, since nothing can be done to get ourselves out of the mess we're in because 'human nature'?

There are of course serious limits imposed on us by the social structure, but that's no more of an excuse than the human nature argument. The situation we're in is too perilous to allow irrational gibberish to deflect our attention from what needs to be done to liberate our own personalities from illusion, to free society from power, and avoid catastrophe.

Anarcho
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Dec 19 2015 12:04
factvalue wrote:
I think a lot of people's readiness to believe that human nature is bad and that capitalism works because it taps into our true natures, is straightforwardly that such a view provides them with an alibi for their own negative traits, which is why anyone making that argument isn't risking much and will always get a lot of agreement from their audience.

Of course, the obvious response to the "human nature is bad" argument is why, then, give these bad people power over others?

Quote:
As for the charge the anarchists demand too much of "human nature," it is often non anarchists who make the greatest claims on it. For "while our opponents seem to admit there is a kind of salt of the earth -- the rulers, the employers, the leaders -- who, happily enough, prevent those bad men -- the ruled, the exploited, the led -- from becoming still worse than they are" we anarchists "maintain that both rulers and ruled are spoiled by authority" and "both exploiters and exploited are spoiled by exploitation." So "there is [a] difference, and a very important one. We admit the imperfections of human nature, but we make no exception for the rulers. They make it, although sometimes unconsciously, and because we make no such exception, they say that we are dreamers." [Peter Kropotkin, Act For Yourselves, p. 83] If human nature is so bad, then giving some people power over others and hoping this will lead to justice and freedom is hopelessly utopian. (A.2.15 What about "human nature"?)

People are "bad" seems hard to square with giving "bad" people power... presumably, those with power are exceptions to the rule...

factvalue
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Dec 19 2015 23:54

Apart from the obvious fact that current forms of authority have little to do with competence but are based on force and exploitation mediated by fear, submission and awe, the weird permanence of the forms of division of labour now in operation are at the root of our troubles. With reference to primitive communism, is there not a wealth of valid data advertising that primate dominance relations, along with selfishness, indiscriminate sexuality and brute competition were long since overcome and subordinated by our ancestors, so that a society based around such propensities contradicts our evolutionary history? Not that those things didn't exist in primitive societies, but individual aberrations would have had little influence or chance to thrive in a society based on solidarity and cooperation, rather than in a fundamentally sadistic, controlling arrangement that fosters and encourages envy and greed. It would have been absurd to attempt to accumulate power over others and private property if they simply didn't exist.

baboon
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Dec 26 2015 16:14

Quite correctly I think the discussion on human nature (most of the posts above I agree with) has tended to focus on the existence of our immediate species homo sapiens, which has existed over the last 150 - 200 thousand years. But there is a particular period of our ancestors before the evolution of our species that also demands some sort of explanation.

It's clear now that there's no mechanical link between "us" and previous forms of homo (of which there were around five species still existing around 40,000 years ago) were not engaged in linear descent to H.S. Is it possible that some form of socialisation existed in these much earlier societies and it was in these societies that we slowly advanced to the "primitive communism" of the last hundred thousand years say.

There was a period, around two million years ago (maybe more) when the varieties of homo came out of the trees and - more importantly - was unable to run back up them. From that irrevocable step to the time of controlled fire (currently estimated to be 800,000 to a million years ago) how did this puny species of homo possibly defend itself against the dangers of life at the time and not least the big cats and other predators that were at least a third as big as they are today. How, without controlled fire, could there be any defence for a period of roughly a million years? The only possible answer is some form of socialisation, some for of solidarity, some form of care for all the members of the tribe (particularly infants). It would have been the elements that practiced a higher concern for society that would have had a distinct evolutionary advantage.