Anarchism and Ethics

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30bananasaday
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Oct 13 2010 18:22
Anarchism and Ethics

Greetings all. I have a question about the relevance you see in ethics to the anarchist project. In order to pose the question, I shall exame two threads from this forum which, I believe, will place an interesting light upon it. I am aware that perhaps the major problem for this undertaking is the assumption of homogeneity amongst the libcom.org faithful. I shall be providing quotes from a variety of authors, whom may each be expressing selections from differing world-views. This is a problem which, as can be seen, I am open about, yet I believe that the two main arguments I shall attempt to sketch out can be said, at the risk of generalising, to each constitute an aspect of what is the libcom.org 'mainstream opinion' - there are many of you, I know, who will broadly agree, with qualification perhaps, which I shall interested to hear, with both of the arguments to be outlined.

Firstly, I would like to consider the arguments put forward by libcom.org users for which animal rights activity is an irrelevance. These arguments, in general, appear to hold that animals liberation activity is useless due to it constituting in no way a form of class struggle. As such, for reasons which I will later go into more detail outlining at a later stage, the ethical position suscribed to is one of

Quote:
pure class-struggle instrumentality.

In several threads on this forum, users have asked the question of why it is that so many of the users here do not see animal liberation as an important aspect of the anarchist project; the project which, ostensibly, is concerned with fighting injustice, exploitation, and suffering. These lines of enquiry, invariably, are met with any amount of derision, as well as a number of more serious explanatory remarks.

Thus, in this this topic { http://libcom.org/forums/libcommunity/why-animal-rights-not-included-your-struggle }, sabine asked the question:

Quote:
why is animal rights not included in your struggle?

to which we saw responses such as

revol68 wrote:
nice wind up.....

One particularly skilled comedian picked this out from sabines OP:

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i find the oppression of animals equally important to struggle against since we are all brothers and sisters on this planet.

Before retorting:

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I find that a little rosemary and and lemon makes for a delightful roast chicken.

Personally, I do not find these responses to be particularly heart-warming. The utter lack of desire to engage demonstrated therewith is not at current of primary importance, but I do feel that they demonstrate the libcom.org consensus on this issue, I regret to say it, fairly well. More relevant are the arguments we find which do make an attempt to engage:

Quote:
Battery hens cannot go on strike, cows cannot willingly lower milk output and fish cannot lock out the fishing boats until their demands are met. Although the powers of production lie with the animals, they are simply incapable of utilizing it for their own benefit. The only way to improve their lot is by proxy, and not by the oppressed themselves, which, without an accompanying class-struggle focus, can only lead to reformism and parliamentarism, not to a basic change in social relations.
In community and workplace struggles, on the other hand, once those who wish to affect a change in their own lives and environment organize to that end, they can struggle for that change themselves, with a resulting potential for a different society, where each and every one of us can have control over their own lives, and is able to do so directly, without serving someone else's privileged interests - in short, a potential for anarchy.
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Solidarity is a two way street, otherwise you're just being nice to something that'll eat you at the first opportunity
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Animals are not subjected to the same economic conditions as we are. They are not forced to work for a wage. Their relationship to the bourgeoisie is entirely different from our relationship to the bourgeoisie. Class struggle is not about helping the beings who 'suffer more', it's about the working class organising within itself with the purpose of improving its own conditions.

Ethically, here, we have purely a notion of instrumentality.

The question asked by Sabine in the OP was: "i'm interested in what you think of, and why you don't include animals in your theories of oppression and liberation."

Personally, I think that sabine's question is interesting. It is interesting because, aside from issues of caplitalist relations being the fundamental object to be fought, it poses the question to the individual: why do you want to fight capitalism relations, to what end, and are you not motivated to do so by ethical concerns? Class-struggle anarchism works on the principle, correct me if I am wrong, that working people have the capacity to organise themselves such that social relations can reconfigured in a way as to reduce hierarchy and exploitation. So, this capacity is acknowledged, but isn't there a further question here? The question being, why do you want to end hierarchy and exploitation? Because we can, and for this reason simply? Or because we specifically are oppressed and exploited? Once morality is reduced to pure self-interested instrumentality, as I believe there is here a danger of, don't we create a predicament for the notion of 'classless society'? There will always be factions struggling to control other factions (classes) unless the principles operated on are to some degree transcendent, abstract ethical ones.

Joesph Kay wrote:
The class struggle is about recognising class interests, that is that your interests are bound up with those who share your same material circumstances (in your department right up to the global proletariat). Self-interest is thus fundamentally collective and bound up with a logic of solidarity, which in struggle can produce direct social relations between people not mediated by commodities, a logic that points beyond capitalism.

The class struggle, it is here argued, is about recognising "that your interests are bound up with those who share your same material circumstances." I don't know who does or does not here believe in or hope for an end to exploitative relations altogether, but isn't the recognition of solidarity with the person of the same material circumstance, as the basis upon which one seeks to eradicate hierarchy, accompanied by the problem that there will always be those who deem the material of circumstance of others to be superior, unjustly, or inferior, justly? Isn't there a requirement of a guiding ethical principle, unless one wishes to give up altogether that the proletarian position contains the potential to radically emancipate 'society' or what have you?

I have spent longer than anticipated on these remarks. Let me now turn to a second issue, which for me draws out the unhappy ambiguity of the affair. When considering the question of anarcho-primitivism, I have observed libcom.org authors invoking (implicit) ethical principles which, quite apart from any instrumental value which they are able to offer the class-struggle, are used to denounce the primitivist position.

A primitivist stated:

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However I do not agree that people hooked up to machines and gadgets have much freedom or ability to enjoy life. They are a metaphor for the vast majorities dependence of machinery. And dependence is not freedom.

To which it was responded:

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Frankly I find it seriously fucking offensive that you just assume that the lives of people with disabilities aren´t worth living. Why don´t you try asking one of them about it?

and:

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The mere notion that anarchism does not take care of those with disabilities is preposterous. In fact an anarchist society would take much more care of individuals with physical and mental abilities than one based on capital and institutions as the nurturing would be voluntary and based on love, not based on the wage gained or the pressures of needing a job or position.

Look at this exchange between a primitivist and an anti-primitivist:

anti-primitivist wrote:
An inability to deal with any of the above problems will probably lead to a rapid decline in the population of the planet regardless of any primitivist's plan of action
primitivist wrote:
This may or may not be true; it is a statement that must be taken on faith, which is unbecoming for us materialists. It is pure sentimental supposition, humanist emotionalism. Perhaps I'm a bit too much of a misanthrope (I've been called that and more), but I don't understand why it should be an anarchist principle (or responsibility) to save lives.
anti-primitivist wrote:
As for being "compelled" to be a humanist, while I take a very materialist view oftentimes, I got into anarchism based on the injustice I saw in the world around me. Call that being a humanist or call it solidarity, but a belief in equality and mutual aid is inherent to the anarchist tradition. Those who don't embrace these very basic principles aren't anarchists.

The last two lines of the final quote are interesting. "a belief in equality and mutual aid is inherent to the anarchist tradition. Those who don't embrace these very basic principles aren't anarchists." A belief in equality is intrinsic to the anarchist tradition...so why not for animals, I feel compelled to ask in this most appropriate of contexts? Something like Singer's "equal consideration of interests", of course; only a fool seeks to extend the vote (!) to dogs, or unemployment benefit for cows. But if equality is of primary concern, why is it generally considered wrong (presumably by anarchists) to puch a human being once, or steal a bag of apples from a human, whilst the widespread, systemic practice of factory farming (and all it entails) goes unmentioned, and anarchists, as I have shown above, simply mock those who are concerned with animal liberation from such condtions? Surely it can plainly be seen, bearing very much in mind the differing capacities of humans and animals to suffer and enjoy, that the principle of equality has nothing to do with these valuations.

The principle of mutual aid in the the last two lines of the final quote provided is also interesting. The context is a discussion about the disabled, and those on life support machines, living entirely on the dependence of others. What, then, is the place of mutual aid here? There can surely be no question of it, when the person is in no way such as to be able to help another. This invoking of the principle of mutual aid, it seems to me, was search for a handy, preconstituted, recognised idea which sounds nice in the context, not a sound argument in opposition to the primitivist position whatsoever. And this way of blindly attempting to defend this anti-primitivist 'we will look after every human because every human life is valuable' position, without thinking clearly about whether the particular principle invoked (mutual aid) is of relevance, forms part of a trajectory, plainly observable on this forum, which works to maintain the principle of 'sanctity of human life.' When it comes to animal liberation, class-struggle instrumentalism is turned to in order to rubbish the claim towards a widening of the moral compass. When it comes to the disabled, however, class-struggle instrumentalism is thrown out of the window (obviously it is retained, but it is not brought to bear on this question). Primitivism may be rejected, I have no problem with one doing so, but the primitivist position that there is no necessary moral problem with having no plan in place with which one ensures that pure dependants (the disabled etc., not children) is in fact - morally - the logical conclusion of the argument put against animal-liberationists, that struggle against injustice in general must be predicated on class-struggle instrumentalism. The outrage against claims that we do not have a responsibility to look after those only capable of living with highly advanced medical technology is utterly inconsistent with the claim that since animals cannot act in solidarity with us, there is no reason to act in solidarity with them. What do both positions share, however? As I have noted, they both claim that human life is sacred; a throwback to the days in which Christianity was a more powerful shaping force than today, and one I deem in need of being dismissed.

One can quite well deem human life to not be sacred, yet also deem it the case, since we have the technology, we should use life-support machines etc.. One may quite well disagree with the claims of anarcho-primitivism that advanced technological society is unsustainable, yet concurrently understand that, if one did not deem technological society to be sustainable, an anarcho-primitivist society in which life support machines etc did not exist would be the best option. When the moral outrage at the notion of leaving the 'weak' to die is allowed as much space to operate as many on this forum are willing to give it, one ceases to understand what is being argued. The anarcho-primitivist is not morally worse than the techno-communist; the two disagree about the capacity of a good society to contain technological developments. What must be realised is that there is nothing morally fundamental about the fact the technology can be lived with sustainably. In other words, the fact that technology can be sustainably managed is not that from which one draws in defining ones moral belief. Human life cannot be morally sacred on the basis of contingent social, environmental, and other factors. For the same reason, we should at least ask ourselves the question, why do we care about anarchism? Because anarchism is something, or because anarchism leads to something which we think is in some way good? If the latter, ask yourself, (if it is relevant to you,) what do I think about factory farms? Are they good things? It can often be a lot easier to not think about things such as that, especially in detail. Those of you who have seen videos of what goes on it them will some idea how bad it is. I'm not asking anyone to do or think anything. What I would like to know is

-what do you think about anything I have written today?

-do you practice anarchism because you think anarchism is a good thing, or for some other reason? it the latter, what is the reason?

-have you anything to raise?

-etc., etc..

If you've got this far, thanks, and best wishes.

30bananasadaycozthatstheonlywayilikeit

XXX

30bananasaday
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Oct 13 2010 18:06

OK quick update, I've accidentally put some of my words in quotes which were supposed to be in italics. Sorry about this. It happened because I was posting lots of quotes and formed a habit. I have changed it now but am waiting for the approval of a moderator, since this is necessary for the first post of a thread.

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Chilli Sauce
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Oct 13 2010 18:59

I'm not going to lie, I've only skim read this, but I'll reply quickly:

1) There is a hierarchy between humans and animals and I'm totally comfortable with that. I'm a veggie, but I have no moral objection to eating me; it's entirely natural. There's probably been periods of human history that we survived as a species precisely because were omnivores and could eat meat during, say, an ice age. So I don't desire equality with animals; no more than any other species which eats others animals as a means of sustenance would or does.

1.2) Related, this is why the primmo comparison doesn't work. My concern is humans and humanity, not animals. Fuck primmos and their misanthropic bullshit---because they're against humans. Animals aren't humans, they're not on a not on par with humans, and, as stated before there is a natural hierarchy there, not to mention a natural human desire to eat the little buggers.

2) You mentioned factory farms. I doubt many libcommers would defend their existence in a libertarian communist society. Personally, I want animals to suffer as little as possible before I eat them/use their products and factory farms are clearly wretched fucking places. My guess would be that sentiment is widely shared on these boards.

However, the class struggle is paramount. I'm not going to pour any effort into combating factory farms (in terms of organizing or personal consumption choices). What I will do is support factory farm workers in struggle. This has the knock on benefit that good working conditions in farms and slaughterhouses (proper staffing levels, safe and clean machinery, reasonable working space) will improve life for the animals within them.

martinh
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Oct 13 2010 19:07

I think the treatment of animals, both domestic and wild, raises ethical issues. How animals are treated, whether by farmers and the meat industry, or in the case of wild animals driven out by habitat loss for agriculture, is an ethical question for society. This is something that is true of all societies, and most cultures have certain taboos about which animals can be eaten (even ours - as you'd find out if you tried selling horse burgers or farming dogs).

However, looking at the ethics of how animals interact is something that is not central to our emancipation as humans, which is what anarchism is about. Anarchism is more useful than other theories that aim to help in this process in my view because it looks at the exercise of power and identifies that as a source of problems. This can be applied across the board and has been used by some to look at the power-relations between humans and animals/the natural world.

Shall I throw this back at you? Where do you stop thinking we should include animals in the project of emancipation? Great apes and primates are nice and easy - we shouldn't eat them or experiment on them. Pigs are pretty smart - perhaps they should be next to be excluded from our food chain, oh and dolphins of course.

What about rabbits? If we don't keep on top of them they'll damage the crops. Assuming you want to offer some sort of rights to anything with a backbone, or a certain level of intelligence, we then hit several other ethical dilemmas. First off is what are us humans going to eat? Secondly there's the issue of agency - who speaks on behalf of the animals in their day-to-day emancipation? And why shouldn't it be a butcher rather than a vegan? And what of all the other factors that need considering in relation to the problem of farming - environment, landscape, pollution, opportunity cost, etc.

FWIW I think eating marsh- or hill-grazed lamb is a lot more ethical than 30 bananas a day, with the pesticides and hyper-exploitation of banana workers.

Regards,

Martin

30bananasaday
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Oct 13 2010 19:17

Thank you for the response, which I find useful. Your point about anarchists not wishing to continue factory farms in an anarchist society is important, and one which I had not previously considered. I will reflect more on this.

ncwob writes:

Quote:
There is a hierarchy between humans and animals and I'm totally comfortable with that.

Animals aren't humans, they're not on a not on par with humans, and, as stated before there is a natural hierarchy there, not to mention a natural human desire to eat the little buggers.

May I ask, what is the qualitative difference between you stating the above a neocon stating that there is a natural hierarchy to human society? OK, you might question the "naturalness" of class society; class society depends upon certain contingent societal constructions. But has not class society evolved out of tribal warfare; is it not merely the continuation of earlier 'natural' processes? Similarly, why is it natural that we have a hierarchy between ourselves and animals? Of course historically we have part of foodchains and ecosystems which make it so. But we don't point to the historical precedence of exploitation to claim that it must continue - we look to its transcendence. We only must treat animals as intrinsically inferior (less deserving to have their own particular interests taken into account than us) if we choose to do so, in present day societies where significant numbers of people have the material conditions in place to be able to make this choice.

Adorno said - not the exact quote - "if someone says that something is natural, look for the contingencies of its construction. If someone says that something is contingent, look at its historical conditions of emegence." The point which I want to draw out being, that sometimes the notion of naturalness is not altogether helpful.

Quote:
Fuck primmos and their misanthropic bullshit---because they're against humans. Animals aren't humans, they're not on a not on par with humans, and, as stated before there is a natural hierarchy there, not to mention a natural human desire to eat the little buggers.

This is precisely what I wish to warn against. I don't think primmos are against humans; I think that they sincerely believe that society cannot be made good with the levels of technology we have today in existence. This is a belief taken on sociological, philosophical, empirical, religious, what have you, grounds. Believing it, primmos believe mankind can only be saved if we adopt a style of living which would entail that certain disabled people could not be supported, but to say this makes them against humanity is misjudged - in my view, moral outrage is clouding your judgement, which for me is down to the overriding precedence of belief in the sanctity of human life.

30bananasaday
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Oct 13 2010 19:29
martin wrote:
What about rabbits? If we don't keep on top of them they'll damage the crops. Assuming you want to offer some sort of rights to anything with a backbone, or a certain level of intelligence, we then hit several other ethical dilemmas.

Martin, you make several excellent points in your response, not least the above one. The crux of this, it appears to me, is the issue of rights. I have been attempting in this thread to help towards a critique of the notion of the sanctity of human life. So I don't think that we or any animals have rights. In instances such as the one you pose regarding rabbits, I would happily say, yes, kill the rabbits. I don't propose an ethical schema opposed to allowing human life to flourish- sometimes animals must be killed to allow crops to grow. In many instances, communities cannot live on crops alone - in such instances I would not hesistate to recommend that meat be consumed. This is very much a personal issue. The question being, what things are to be considered justified? Necessity is a good justification, in my view. In my personal opinion, once we get much distance from the example you provide, the justification diminishes.

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madashell
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Oct 13 2010 19:33

You've quoted me at least once there, and I wouldn't call my views "instrumentalist" in any sense, my ethics are prefigurative. I want to see a society in which all people are free and equal, I base my ethics on that. Animals are another question altogether, you simply can't view them in same way that you can humans, because we don't relate to animals in the way that we do to other humans.

As Martinh points out, if we want to grow food, we have to kill pests (or grow food in such a way that pests that are drawn to it cannot survive, which is the same thing, ultimately), that simply doesn't fit with a framework that seeks to extend the same ethical considerations to all animals as it does to humans.

There's also the question of where we stop applying the same moral standards to animals as ourselves, would you stop a cat from killing a mouse? What about a parasitic wasp laying its eggs in another living thing?

Edit: You seem to be talking about something altogether different from what I'd consider an "animal liberation" argument, which rests on seeing the "liberation" of animals from mistreatment by human beings as analogous to the liberation of human beings through self-activity.

30bananasaday
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Oct 13 2010 19:57

Hi, madashell. Regarding your quotes, I believe they were solely in the primitivism section. I was arguing that in these arguments, users such as yourself were arguing transcendentally-ethically, so no fear. It was the previous section I described as instrumentalist.

madashell wrote:
As Martinh points out, if we want to grow food, we have to kill pests (or grow food in such a way that pests that are drawn to it cannot survive, which is the same thing, ultimately), that simply doesn't fit with a framework that seeks to extend the same ethical considerations to all animals as it does to humans.

There's also the question of where we stop applying the same moral standards to animals as ourselves, would you stop a cat from killing a mouse? What about a parasitic wasp laying its eggs in another living thing?

Let me quote myself:

30bad wrote:
The question asked by Sabine in the OP was: "i'm interested in what you think of, and why you don't include animals in your theories of oppression and liberation."

Personally, I think that sabine's question is interesting. It is interesting because, aside from issues of caplitalist relations being the fundamental object to be fought, it poses the question to the individual:
why do you want to fight capitalism relations, to what end, and are you not motivated to do so by ethical concerns

As I mentioned in my previous post, a response to martin, I am personally fine with killing animals in situations I deem as necessary for my own well being. I don't subsribe to a religious dogma which says "never kill animals." Looking at the quote I provided of myself, what interests me is the position of the anarchist. As you say yourself, you are guided by ethical considerations in being an anarchist. Of course, I don't want to stop animals killing each other; that would be absurd. What interests me is the anarchist saying "suffering and exploitation are bad, I want to end them", and from there which perspective on relations with animals is implied.

It seems to me that this "what about..." "what about..." "what about if you need to do this...?" "what about pesticides?" is a distraction from the issue. It seems to suggest a black and white, all or nothing approach as the only possibility. Simply because we logistically need to kill some animals to maintain our way of life, does that make it invalid to seek to work against further suffering of animals? Seems like a strange position to me.

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madashell
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Oct 13 2010 20:23
30bananasaday wrote:
Simply because we logistically need to kill some animals to maintain our way of life, does that make it invalid to seek to work against further suffering of animals?

Of course not, I'd be pretty worried if I encountered somebody who was genuinely completely comfortable with the idea of causing unecessary suffering, I don't think anybody on here, even the most ardent anti-AR posters, sees things that way.

That's a different matter altogether from the idea of "animal liberation" though, which is what I'd take issue with.

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Chilli Sauce
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Oct 13 2010 21:06
30bananas wrote:
May I ask, what is the qualitative difference between you stating the above a neocon stating that there is a natural hierarchy to human society?

Once again, it's about a concern for humanity. I don't want to see exploitation or oppression of humans and the argument that there's a natural hierarchy in human society would inevitably lead to those sorts of things. Humans, unlike animals, are capable of constructing and changing their society and should do so in a way the limits or eliminates hierarchy. And history as well as the every day experience of being alive as a social creatures proves it can be done, so the neocons can fuck off.

I agree with you that "human nature" is often thrown around by the right, but human urges are obviously contradictory--solidarity exists alongside oppression and intolerance--as well as socially and
historically conditioned. So if it furthers the conversation, when I say "natural" it's not in the "human nature" sense, but in the biological sense.

30bananas wrote:
But has not class society evolved out of tribal warfare; is it not merely the continuation of earlier 'natural' processes?

A bit pedantic, but no. Class society developed from one group having a controlling stake in the economy (be it tribal chiefs, feudal lords, slaveholders, or capitalists).

30 bananas wrote:
Similarly, why is it natural that we have a hierarchy between ourselves and animals? Of course historically we have part of foodchains and ecosystems which make it so.

That about sums it up.

30bananas wrote:
But we don't point to the historical precedence of exploitation to claim that it must continue - we look to its transcendence. We only must treat animals as intrinsically inferior (less deserving to have their own particular interests taken into account than us) if we choose to do so, in present day societies where significant numbers of people have the material conditions in place to be able to make this choice.

Once again tho, you're missing the point. It's biological that we eat/use/kill animals. And you're right we do have the material conditions not to eat/use animals, but that doesn't mean we have some sort of moral imperative not to do so. I would argue we do have a moral imperative to live sustainably and to ensure our planet survives. So that probably means that in a rational society the average American would consume less meat. By once again, I say this entirely as anthropocentrist. My concern for the future of the planet is directly related to my concern for the future of humanity.

30bananas wrote:
I don't think primmos are against humans

Except that the logical implications of their ideas will lead to the deaths of billions of humans--and their obsession that technology is somehow inherently oppressive prevents them from envisioning or advocating for a society where the 6 billion people on earth actually enjoy the decent standard of living industrial society could provide them.

I mean, seriously dude, re-read those threads. They were making statements about how it's not the role of anarchists to ensure others have healthcare. If anybody sounds like a neocon.....

Dawn Monkey
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Oct 14 2010 04:30

You make some very good points there. I don't consider myself an Animal Libertarian or a primitivist but you've provided a lot to think about. When you get right down to it, I don't think Anarchist values or ethical commitments are really any more immune to metaethical scrutiny than any other normative ethical values/system. We can always keep on asking "why is that good?" ad nauseaum. Most anarchistic sentiment is thus probably driven by human-centric, anthropocentric emotivism, like any other secular moral/political ideology. Don't know what else to say apart from that I am also new to this forum. *WAVES*

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jef costello
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Oct 14 2010 10:15

I almost gave up on this because the OP starts out in such a bad way. Cherrypicking dismissive remarks from one of the many AR threads is hardly the way to go (like most dismissive comments on libcom these are on a topic that has been done to death)

I also think that Martinh has already answered this.

30bananasaday wrote:
Simply because we logistically need to kill some animals to maintain our way of life, does that make it invalid to seek to work against further suffering of animals? Seems like a strange position to me.

I don't think anyone has argued this, except maybe for Fallback being controversial. Almost all food production (and certainly almost all that I have access to) is produced as part of a capitalist venture and as such is harmful. So given the choice between balancing the damage produced by the millions of gallons of poisonous sewage produced by pigs, deforestation of the amazon to grow palm oil for virtually every food product, the effects of slaughtering animals, the destruction of river life by fertiliser run-off and so on and so on.
I have some sympathy for the anarcho-primitivist view that the population is too high due to the damaging effect of the need for resources to supply it. However my problem is a practical one, I share none of the misanthropy inherent in the world-view and I don't have bizarre fantasies of being some alpha-male forager.
Anarchism is about improving the lives of the human population through solidarity. The hierarchies between humans are largely false, or based on acquired privilege whereas a cow is always going to be a cow. Suffering should be minimised, but that is for our sake as much as anything.

LBird
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Oct 14 2010 11:31
30bad wrote:
A belief in equality is intrinsic to the anarchist tradition...so why not for animals, I feel compelled to ask in this most appropriate of contexts?

Because animals are not equal to humans. Humans have political and human rights - animals don't.

30bad wrote:
...only a fool seeks to extend the vote (!) to dogs, or unemployment benefit for cows.

So we have some point of agreement.

30bad wrote:
But if equality is of primary concern, why is it generally considered wrong (presumably by anarchists) to punch a human being once, or steal a bag of apples from a human, whilst the widespread, systemic practice of factory farming (and all it entails) goes unmentioned

No, 'equality is' not 'of primary concern' - equality of humans is of primary concern.

That covers the punching and stealing you mention above, and most Communists I know do condemn factory farming, and it gets mentioned all the time on this board. But what comes first is the problem of humans in factories.

30bad wrote:
May I ask, what is the qualitative difference between you stating the above a neocon stating that there is a natural hierarchy to human society?

None, it is an intial ethical position - humans are more important than animals, animals are not equal to humans.

Neocon - human hierarchy and animal hierarchy

Commie - human equality and animal hierarchy

30bad - human/animal equality

All three have different ethical starting points - ethics, just like reason, is a product of society and its classes. They are not universal absolutes. You pays your money, and you chooses your ideology.

Having made that clear, I think a Communist society will show far greater regard to animals. I personally hope that our education system will teach children the reality of capitalist factory farming (which we will be struggling to replace) and show them the terribly brutal ways that animals are treated, just so that they can choose to have a cheap bacon butty.

But the choice will be theirs. Whether to eat an expensively-produced, well-treated pig that died of happiness, or to eat a cheaper, tortured little piglet that screamed in terror all its nasty, brutish and short life, or to eat a lovely spicybean burger with tomato.

Their choice... [well, just a little bit of Commie brainwashing, or socialisation of children as the bourgeoisie know it]

Obviously, any child asking for a Big Mac will be shot out of hand, as they are demonstrating the presence of evil.

LBird
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Oct 14 2010 13:44
30bad wrote:
...unless the principles operated on are to some degree transcendent, abstract ethical ones.

On re-reading your posts, I saw that I had missed a fundamentally important point of difference between us, that needs some discussion.

Ethical principles come from human society.

They are not transcendent or abstract.

If not from humans, from where, for you, do ethics come?

One simple answer is god, or some other supra-human entity. But I'm an atheistic Commie, and I assume so are most of the other posters.

Is the root of your ethics in 'life' (ie. all living things), rather than in humanity?

This may be one of the main points of disagreement between us.

LBird
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Oct 16 2010 15:11
Dawn Monkey wrote:
When you get right down to it, I don't think Anarchist values or ethical commitments are really any more immune to metaethical scrutiny than any other normative ethical values/system. We can always keep on asking "why is that good?" ad nauseaum. Most anarchistic sentiment is thus probably driven by human-centric, anthropocentric emotivism, like any other secular moral/political ideology.

Would 30bad or Dawn Monkey like to continue this discussion?

We may not end up agreeing on the morality of the anthropocentric nature of Anarchism (or from my perspective, Communism), but at least it will clarify why we disagree.

I think getting to the roots of a disagreement are better than simply name-calling, of which both sides have been guilty. Perhaps clarification will ease tensions.

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Oct 16 2010 16:18

To be honest, as far as Libcom threads that touch on primitivism, I think this is actually quite tame...

LBird
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Oct 16 2010 18:01
ncwob wrote:
To be honest, as far as Libcom threads that touch on primitivism, I think this is actually quite tame...

Well, by 'name-calling', I was referring to the other dozens of threads that I've read over the last few years of lurking. Quite honestly, half of the time I haven't even been able to understand what most of the posters have been on about, so now I've got the chance I thought it would be nice to ask my own questions.

As I've said, I'm an atheistic Commie, but it doesn't mean I hate people who believe in leprechauns, the tooth fairy or Basil Brush. Or god.

We're going to have to deal with these people in the future, even under Workers' Councils, so we might as well try to strike up a dialogue with them.

This is about the nastiest post I've made yet. Perhaps dismissive, but not really insulting.

Though I suppose a Basil Brushian might disagree.

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Oct 16 2010 18:40

Had to do a Wikipedia search on Basil Brush....

I can only speak in personal capacity, but I've got no problem organizing with people that don't share radical views. And in my workplace this involves organizing with a lot people who read the Sun and for whom X-Factor is viable social event. And, in fact, this is the SolFed's organizing strategy with the view that struggle opens up a place to discuss radical politics and that the creation of a socialist society--and the struggle that will have taken place to create it--will logically lead to a dramatic increase in atheism.

However, who I'm not particularly concerned with organizing with is the "Left" and people like primitivists. I'd take a damn harsh tone of Trots showed up on this site. Likewise, primmos espouse an ideology that would lead to the death of the vast, vast majority of the earth's population--and in their more honest moments they'll admit this. They're a tiny, irrelevant sect and any sane, working-class person will recognize this immediately. I don't particularly see the need to wear kid gloves with these misanthropic nutters.

In any event, glad to see you posting up on libcom, I hope you don't find my tone to offputting.

LBird
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Oct 16 2010 19:50
ncwob wrote:
I'd take a damn harsh tone if Trots showed up on this site.

Well, I must shamefacedly admit that I was in the SWP for two years in the early 90s, but that's because I'm the sort of dickhead who believes people when they use words like 'democracy'. Boy, did I get a shock. Mind you, so did they. I've got a, ahem, 'regional accent', and the students I met seemed stunned when I pointed out to them that people like me were going to tell them what to do - y'know, workers, the majority, through democracy. I think they thought that they'd be giving the orders to the uneducated. So I was condemned as 'undisciplined' - this was even funnier to me and me mate. I'm ex-army, he's ex-Marine Commando. We just laughed in their faces, and told them not only that they didn't know what discipline was, but also that we'd had a taste of 'top-down' discipline and that was one of the reasons we'd rebelled and advanced so far theoretically that we'd joined the SWP. Plus ca change...

So, on the issue of 'appointed district organisers', who we felt should be, well, y'know, elected by the district, I wrote a piece for the Internal Bulletin. Big mistake. From then on, members only spoke to us guardedly and unwillingly. We were called 'RDG', who up until then we'd never even heard of. Even the people who'd spent years trying to recruit us, and we liked and drank with, steered clear of us. So we resigned - before we got an empty cartridge case hammered into the backs of our skulls. Well, if it had been Russia 1918 or Spain 1936... Well, anyway, now we knew the connections between Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin. And there wasn't even a Civil War, White Intervention or a destroyed economy to blame for their political stance.

If the SWP had a democratic internal regime, given the thousands of workers who've been recruited in the last 30 years, it would be a mass party. I remember reading a pamphlet called 'Carry on Recruiting', which just about summed it up. Anyway, they've inoculated thousands of good Commies against 'democratic centralism'.

Ironically, while I was in the army, in the early 80s, I used to discuss openly with the lads, NCOs and, occasionally, officers, the IRA and Northern Ireland. Sometimes things looked a bit dodgy, especially with blokes who'd served there, as I had, but I was always allowed to speak freely. When I predicted, in 1981 during the hunger strikes, that Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness would eventually be in government friendly with the British (just like the well known ex-'terrorists' Begin, Makarios and Kenyatta), they looked at me as if I was mad. But they knew I knew my history, and listened. But even I couldn't have predicted the 'Chuckle Brothers'.

Anyway, in my experience, there was more freedom of speech in the British Army than in the SWP. Most people on these boards would probably be surprised at the wide range of types in the army. One guy had a copy of the Communist Manifesto on his shelf - it was never commented upon during inspections. But I didn't read it then - after all, he was a Commie!

ncwob wrote:
In any event, glad to see you posting up on libcom, I hope you don't find my tone to offputting.

Nah, I'm thick-skinned, as well as plain thick. Thanks for the welcoming words.

Seriously, though, I don't think you should write off the Left, primmos, Trots, soldiers or 'misanthropic nutters' - we all make mistakes, we can all learn, discussion is a good test of our ideas, and unless you plan to shoot them all, we've got to find a way of dealing with those we politically disagree with.

Remember, Socialism is the inheritor of Liberalism, not its destroyer. Discuss.

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Oct 16 2010 20:26

Wow man, you had some experiences. For what it's worth, I'd say a sizable numbers came through the ranks of the "Left". And, Jesus, one of the libcom admins still makes fun of me because when I was in uni and into my "activism" I was involved with a group that to make "Buy Nothing Day" went and pretended to be mannequins in shop windows at the local shopping center. Embarrassing embarrassed
embarrassed embarrassed

And I guess I was a bit harsh. I think the Trot rank-and-file is often attracted for the right reasons and this is separate from how Trotskyists apparatchiks operate. If there was a Trot in my workplace, I'd organize with him or her, but I'd do my damdest to make sure they weren't selling the Socialist Worker at workplace meetings.

Quote:
in my experience, there was more freedom of speech in the British Army than in the SWP.

What a statement, that's amazing.

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Socialism is the inheritor of Liberalism, not its destroyer

That's part of Chomsky's argument, no?

mons
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Oct 16 2010 20:58

I think 30bananasaday makes a more interesting point than just one about animal rights. The animal rights argument is tired, and has been dealt with.

But I think the potential conflict between ethics and class interests is interesting. People seem to selectively pick whichever is convenient for their argument. To give one example, if people into class struggle politics were only into them in order to advance their own interests then why would they join a political group? That doesn't advance their interests, it hopefully advances the interest of the whole class a small bit, but it's just not worth it and won't realistically result in any improvement in their material conditions. So presumably there is another incentive to get involved with class struggle politics outside of struggle? I think people feel like they should make almost a sacrifice (of time, etc.) towards anarchism because they feel it is a good ideal. That's more of an ethical justification for being in a political group than an interest-based one. Also, is the leap from individual interest to class interest not also based on something of an ethical principle? I think humans are social creatures and need others, so on an individual level it is partly in our interest to unite as a class. But equally, some stuff that is in our class' interests is plainly not in our individual interests.
So if there is an ethical principle it would have to be something like mutual aid. But I can't see any rational justification for seeing that as an ethical principle, and it's not always in our individual interests to act for the whole class.

Another interesting point that 30bananas raised is how do class struggle anarchists relate to issues which aren't part of the class struggle, like animal rights - though animal rights itself is a dull topic.

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888
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Oct 16 2010 21:50

LBird, you weren't in Southampton SWP were you?

LBird
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Oct 16 2010 21:54
tobias wrote:
But I think the potential conflict between ethics and class interests is interesting.

But if ethics don't come from class interests, where do they come from? Can they be in conflict? You'll have to elaborate, perhaps with an example, of where ethics clash with class interests.

tobias wrote:
To give one example, if people into class struggle politics were only into them in order to advance their own interests then why would they join a political group? That doesn't advance their interests, it hopefully advances the interest of the whole class a small bit...

As a Commie, I'm not sure that to talk of 'individual' interests, outside of the society that produced those alleged interests, is meaningful. People do all sorts of things that damage their 'individual' interests because they believe in some social ethic. Like killing and dying for one's country.

tobias wrote:
Also, is the leap from individual interest to class interest not also based on something of an ethical principle?

Perhaps my difficulty is that I see 'individual interest' as a ruling class idelogical construct. Many societies don't have a concept of 'individuality'. This isn't an argument against individuals (which to me, is the purpose of Socialism, to give ever greater freedom to individuals), but only that the interests of individuals are always social interests. Why would an individual in a socialist society do anything against the interests of other individuals (aside from criminal acts, which are defined socially)?

tobias wrote:
But equally, some stuff that is in our class' interests is plainly not in our individual interests.

Again, could you make this clearer, because it's not plain to me. In a Socialist society, class interests would be defined by democratic means, though I think there's a discussion to be had about what we mean by 'democracy' (ie. not simple majority voting).

tobias wrote:
So if there is an ethical principle it would have to be something like mutual aid. But I can't see any rational justification for seeing that as an ethical principle, and it's not always in our individual interests to act for the whole class.

Once again, 'rationality' is a class construct. What is rational to capitalists isn't rational to us. Why wouldn't workers who work in co-operation all their lives not see mutual aid as ethical?

Quote:
...how do class struggle anarchists [and Communists] relate to issues which aren't part of the class struggle, like animal rights...

Animal 'rights' are irrelevant to class struggle. That doesn't mean we should hurt animals unnecessarily, and our future relationship to animals will be subject to intense debate - but 'necessity' will have to be socially defined.

But I don't think this is an ethical principle of 'don't kill'. I can think of lots of situations in which I would be justified in killing humans or animals. But the justification would be social, not individual.

I think the tone of what I've written is far more confident than I feel about these arguments, which is why I'm keen to try to get to the bottom of our respective positions. Keep discussing. I've a funny feeling I'm confused.

LBird
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Oct 16 2010 22:07
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LBird, you weren't in Southampton SWP were you?

No, 'fraid not. I wasn't in Southhampton Branch, though I'm sure some in the SWP thought me and others were in Special Branch. Chris Bambery had his suspicions, I think, after the Stephen Lawrence demo.

mons
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Oct 17 2010 22:55
Quote:
But if ethics don't come from class interests, where do they come from? Can they be in conflict?

So, do you see acting in our class interests as an ethical imperative? If so, why? To me, ethics is about seeing what you should do almost regardless of how it affects you. Acting in our class interests is something that happens because it benefits ourselves, not because it is moral.
I'll give an example, let's stick to animal rights (though I'm not going to get into an argument about them. For what it's worth I think it's silly to think we should give equal status to animals, and consider them equally). Let's suppose that the most efficient means of producing animals requires an extreme level of brutality. However, the fact it's efficient means less work is required to produce the meat; and so it is easier to supply people with nutrients. It is in the benefit of our class (albeit not a big deal) that we have a more nutritious diet more cheaply. It is in our class interests to use extreme brutality on animals. Does this not clash with ethics? If you see ethics and class struggle as synonymous then clearly not; but that seems a pretty narrow definition of ethics.

Quote:
As a Commie, I'm not sure that to talk of 'individual' interests, outside of the society that produced those alleged interests, is meaningful...Perhaps my difficulty is that I see 'individual interest' as a ruling class idelogical construct.

Ok, I think we are talking about two different types of interest maybe? An individual interest to me is just a common-sense simple thing: what I want to do and what benefits me is an individual interest. I think it's possible to conceive of a person who takes immense and lasting pleasure, etc. from being really anti-social. That might genuinely benefit that person's life by giving them fun, and maybe even materially if they stole, etc. But that is clearly in conflict with our class interests. Yes they are a product of the society we live in, but that doesn't make them any less real. Also I think it is reasonable to assume that a tiny minority even in a communist society would have these anti-social individual interests.

Quote:
Why wouldn't workers who work in co-operation all their lives not see mutual aid as ethical?

Why would they? They hopefully would see it as beneficial; but what justification can we give for it actually being ethical?

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That doesn't mean we should hurt animals unnecessarily,

Why not by your definition of ethics? If the ethical thing to do is to act in out class interests always, then why not hurt animals unnecessarily if it's not a class issue?

Yeah I'm also not confident, just interested in exploring this thing.

LBird
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Oct 18 2010 00:22
tobias wrote:
So, do you see acting in our class interests as an ethical imperative?

You seem to see 'ethics' as originating from somewhere other than than class interests.

I'm positing that 'ethics' and class interests are, in effect, synonymous. If you don't agree, for me to answer the above question to your satisfaction, I would have to understand where you think ethics come from. You clearly regard ethics and class interests as different.

tobias wrote:
To me, ethics is about seeing what you should do almost regardless of how it affects you.

Can you give me an example of 'what you should do' which doesn't originate in someone's class interests?

tobias wrote:
Acting in our class interests is something that happens because it benefits ourselves, not because it is moral.

What is 'moral' which is not in our class interests?

tobias wrote:
Let's suppose that the most efficient means of producing animals requires an extreme level of brutality. However, the fact it's efficient means less work is required to produce the meat; and so it is easier to supply people with nutrients. It is in the benefit of our class (albeit not a big deal) that we have a more nutritious diet more cheaply. It is in our class interests to use extreme brutality on animals.

Isn't your definition of 'efficient' a neo-classical economic one, similar to that which bosses use? Proletarians would ask, 'efficient for whose interests?'. I personally don't think it's 'efficient' for workers to brutalise animals, and would vote to that effect at the Workers' Council that was democratically deciding the meaning of 'efficient'. I presume that so would the majority. 'Efficiency' would contain social and political elements, in addition to narrowly 'economic' ones. We would be using Political Economy, not neo-classical economics, to make democratic decisions.

Proletarians wouldn't make the same connection as you are doing between 'efficient' and 'less work'. Often, what is 'efficient' in terms of Proletarian Political Economy would mean more, and welcome, work. Why wouldn't workers freely choose to work?

I don't think it is necessarily in our class interests to have a 'cheap' nutritious diet. We would have to discuss this and vote on it. Our class interests would be decided by democratic vote, at which all workers who want to see animals treated well would have the right to argue this point. I, for one, would probably vote with them. I don't think, 'It is in our class interests to use extreme brutality on animals'. This would produce brutalised workers, clearly not in our class interests.

tobias wrote:
Does this not clash with ethics? If you see ethics and class struggle as synonymous then clearly not; but that seems a pretty narrow definition of ethics.

No, not as I've outlined the origin of proletarian 'ethics' above. If you regard this as a 'narrow' definition, can you tell me what is the 'broader' definition, and where these broader ethics originate from?

tobias wrote:
Ok, I think we are talking about two different types of interest maybe? An individual interest to me is just a common-sense simple thing: what I want to do and what benefits me is an individual interest.

Ahhh, perhaps we are getting nearer the real issue. 'Common-sense' is always a conservative philosophical starting point. Common sense is based on one's life experience. But, in this capitalist society, your experience is necessarily bourgeois, as is mine. That is why we question 'common sense', and replace it with 'proletarian sense'. But because we don't yet live in a Communist society, this necessarily seems to contradict our experience.

For us, to do an act which 'benefits me', but which hurts others, would be immoral. We would regard our class interests and our individual interests as synonymous. The 'moral' is a collective, and collectively defined, concept.

tobias wrote:
I think it's possible to conceive of a person who takes immense and lasting pleasure, etc. from being really anti-social. That might genuinely benefit that person's life by giving them fun, and maybe even materially if they stole, etc. But that is clearly in conflict with our class interests.

Yes, these people who take pleasure from being anti-social, amongst others, are property owners, who steal our labour. But they have this act defined as, not only legal, but ethical. In a proletarian society, anyone who suggested being allowed to steal the fruits of someone else's labour, would be at least treated with therapy, if not imprisoned. I don't think it's too far-fetched to imagine, in the future, that 'property ownership' would be seen as on a par with paedophilia. But that's because we'll be defining 'morality', 'ethics' and 'criminality', not the bourgeoisie.

Quote:
Also I think it is reasonable to assume that a tiny minority even in a communist society would have these anti-social individual interests.

Yes, I agree. All human societies have had this problem, and always will. But how we will deal with this issue is, I think, outside of the scope of our discussion, for now anyway. Suffice to say that 'anti-social' will be, as always, socially defined.

I think the rest of your points are covered by what I've written above. If you disagree, I'll re-visit them at your request.

Finally, I think my main general point is that I think that you are attempting to understand proletarian ideas using ruling class forms of thinking. Political Economy is not neo-classical economics. 'Individuality' is a historically-specific ideology. All 'ethics' are rooted in class interests.

I'll have to stop now, as, in the words of Gumby, 'my brain hurts, my brain hurts!'.

Thanks for the discussion - it helps me, at least.

LBird
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Oct 18 2010 08:18
ncwob wrote:
That's part of Chomsky's argument, no?

Quite possibly, but I'm not greatly familiar with Chomsky's work.

The position that 'Socialism is the inheritor of Liberalism' comes from the aftermath of the French Revolution. It soon became clear that 'Liberty, Equality and Fraternity', if restrained only to the political arena, were unrealisable for the vast majority. There was a contraction between what the bourgeoisie said, and what it did.

Socialism is the extention of L, E & F into the economy, not the destruction of L, E & F.

I think that Gracchus Babeuf and the Conspiracy of the Equals in 1796 were the first (though incomplete and mistaken) manifestation of this new way of thinking.

Marx grew up in the shadow of this big question - how can all individuals experience L, E & F? The general answer seems to be 'By democratic control of the economy', ie. Communism.

We're still part of the living attempt by humans to solve this issue.

PS. For what it's worth, I don't think Communism can come about without a society having gone through a Liberal phase, which teaches workers about democracy (and other things, like respect for minority opinion, unlike simplistic majority voting extended to those who have never had the chance to think critically, and are in thrall to 'leaders', like Bolshevism). But I'm well aware that this is a very controversial opinion, and that the Maoists and Bolsheviks would have me shot for holding it. I'm not even sure if Marx would have agreed with me. Perhaps.

mons
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Oct 19 2010 18:57
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Our class interests would be decided by democratic vote

Ok, I don't have much time to respond now. But I have a problem with this idea. I see class interests as existing objectively, whether or not the class wants them. For example, I know we don't have a directly democratic system, etc. now, but if our class interests are what the whole class democratically decides we want, then communism is plainly not in our class interests. Yet surely the right approach sees communism as in our class interests whether we know it or not.
And so to me class interests cannot be decided at by vote; they simply are, and we infer them not from what people democratically decide but by looking at the world we live in.

As for Chomsky, he argues that anarchism is the natural inheritor of classical liberalism because they both value individual freedom and accountability. He sees anarchism as economic liberalism carried through into the post-industrial revolution age. To me that obscures the fact that class struggle is the basis of anarchism, and that pre-industrial revolution societies were still class societies, as were the visions put forward by Smith, Ricardo, Humboldt (who he particularly admires), etc.

LBird
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Oct 19 2010 20:05
tobias wrote:
But I have a problem with this idea. I see class interests as existing objectively, whether or not the class wants them.

Scenario:
"I see catholics' interests as existing objectively, whether or not the catholics want them." - The Pope, having consulted god, just the man to interpret objective interests.

Are you our new secular pope, tobias?

Personally, I'd rather discuss and vote with other workers on what constitutes our 'class interests'.

But then, I'm an atheistic Commie. Aren't you?

bootsy
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Oct 20 2010 10:14

LBird I think your responses here tend to consist of assertions with the word 'proletarian' tacked on to the end.

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You seem to see 'ethics' as originating from somewhere other than than class interests.

Well, from what I can gather, I think the point of the OP was that there may be certain scenarios where class interests shed no obvious light on what ethical conclusions ought to be drawn. So, if that is the case, then yes there may be times where ethics must originate from somewhere other than class interests.

Quote:
Our class interests would be decided by democratic vote, at which all workers who want to see animals treated well would have the right to argue this point. I, for one, would probably vote with them. I don't think, 'It is in our class interests to use extreme brutality on animals'. This would produce brutalised workers, clearly not in our class interests.

The problem is that here you are basically taking a decision making process and using it to derive some kind of ethical system. However, you also appear to have also made some kind of decision on the morality of animal cruelty regardless the of this hypothetical vote in a workers council. So, why would you vote with them? If it is because it furthers our class interest then you are really going to have to explain how. I, for one, really do not see a clear connection.

LBird your idea of ethics seems to basically be whatever the majority (of proletarians) decides. However the problem is that decisions held by a majority or a minority do not just materialize out of thin air. There will always be some kind of a reason for making those decisions and it is this reason which we are trying to get at by discussing ethics. So simply stating 'we would vote on this in a workers council' is nothing but a sidestepping of the actual discussion being had.

I am fairly sceptical that ethics can be solely understood in terms of class interests, simply because there are plenty of issues which fall into an obvious grey area. Take, for example, euthanasia. What light does the struggle of the proletariat shed on the morality of killing yourself? Because if the answer is nil then it seems to me there are two options; either you stick to asserting that all ethics derives from class interests in which case the issue of euthanasia is left to rot in some ethical twilight zone where the morality of self-annihilation forever remains a mystery. Or you concede that while class interests necessarily form an important part of our ethical understanding they are two narrow a focus on their own from which to derive an entire ethical system.

LBird
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Oct 20 2010 11:24
bootsy wrote:
...there may be times where ethics must originate from somewhere other than class interests.

Hello, bootsy. You wouldn't care, would you, unlike everyone else in this increasingly desperate discussion, to outline from where you think ethics originate?

Quote:
The problem is that here you are basically taking a decision making process and using it to derive some kind of ethical system.

Well, yes, a democratic, social origin for ethics. Perhaps you're positing an elite or individual origin for ethics? I'm not sure because no-one will answer. The obvious alternative I can think of is religion, but I'm a Commie, so I discount that.

Quote:
However, you also appear to have also made some kind of decision on the morality of animal cruelty regardless the of this hypothetical vote in a workers council. So, why would you vote with them? If it is because it furthers our class interest then you are really going to have to explain how. I, for one, really do not see a clear connection.

I've come to this decision after listening to, and reading about, the views of many other workers on animal rights. I'm keen to vote for this, but the capialists, for some reason, won't let us complete this democratic process of determining ethics by Workers' Councils. They've probably got some ethical objection to democratic control of ethics (and, er, of property).

Quote:
However the problem is that decisions held by a majority or a minority do not just materialize out of thin air. There will always be some kind of a reason for making those decisions and it is this reason which we are trying to get at by discussing ethics.

'Reason'? Isn't this a class-based construct, just like 'reasonable' and 'rational'?

Quote:
I am fairly sceptical that ethics can be solely understood in terms of class interests, simply because there are plenty of issues which fall into an obvious grey area.

Ahh, now this forms the basis for an interesting discussion. What is this 'obvious grey area'? The tension between the 'individual' and the 'social' is one I can think of. I'm inclined to think that this tension will be resolved by democracy, but I'm keen to explore further. Perhaps your 'grey area' is between the ideal and the material, the divine and the human, or good and evil.

Quote:
Take, for example, euthanasia. What light does the struggle of the proletariat shed on the morality of killing yourself?

You don't think that there is any connection between what choices individuals perceive that they have, and their class position? Is suicide a moral question? If you think it is, doesn't this say something about your own ethics? Isn't your interpretation of the term 'euthanasia' a socially-defined one? It literally means a 'good death', and who can argue that that's what we all want!

"Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori" Or do we?

Seriously, you're asking the right questions, but I think you're underestimating the social, ideological and political nature of the issue of 'ethics'.