The division of labor under socialism/communism?

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yoda's walking stick
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Feb 13 2012 02:18
The division of labor under socialism/communism?

Out of context, I've read the famous Marx quote in which he says, "(I)n communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic."

I have a hard time understanding Marx sometimes without someone, like David harvey, guiding me through the work.

Do Marxists or socialists in general believe the division of labor will or should disappear under public ownership of the means of production? Specialization, in my understanding, makes economies immensely more efficient.

yoda's walking stick
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Feb 13 2012 02:19

I guess the Marx quote, which I admit to having read out of context, has always stuck me as pretty utopian.

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Feb 13 2012 03:23

Trotsky has made a few statements along those lines, but in a far more utopian fashion. This quote has to do with the work of Freud:

Quote:
"Man at last will begin to harmonise himself in earnest. He will make it his business to achieve beauty by giving the movement of his own limbs the utmost precision, purposefulness and economy in his work, his walk and his play. He will try to master first the semiconscious and then the subconscious processes in his own organism, such as breathing, the circulation of the blood, digestion, reproduction, and, within necessary limits, he will try to subordinate them to the control of reason and will. Even purely physiologic life will become subject to collective experiments. The human species, the coagulated Homo Sapiens, will once more enter into a state of radical transformation, and, in his own hands, will become an object of the most complicated methods of artificial selection and psycho‑physical training. This is entirely in accord with evolution. Man first drove the dark elements out of industry and ideology, by displacing barbarian routine by scientific technique and religion by science. Afterwards he drove the unconscious out of politics, by overthrowing monarchy and class with democracy and rationalist parliamentarianism and then with the clear and open Soviet dictatorship. The blind elements have settled most heavily in economic relations, but man is driving them out from there also, by means of the socialist organisation of economic life. This makes it possible to reconstruct fundamentally the traditional family life. Finally, the nature of man himself is hidden in the deepest and darkest corner of the unconscious, of the elemental, of the sub‑soil. Is it not self‑evident that the greatest efforts of investigative thought and of creative initiative will be in that direction?"

And

Quote:
Between nature and the State stands economic life. Technical science liberated man from the tyranny of the old elements – earth, water, fire and air – only to subject him to its own tyranny. Man ceased to be a slave to nature, to become a slave to the machine, and still worse, a slave to supply and demand. The present world crisis testifies in especially tragic fashion how man, who dives to the bottom of the ocean, who rises up to the stratosphere, who converses on invisible waves with the Antipodes, how this proud and daring ruler of nature remains a slave to the blind forces of his own economy. The historical task of our epoch consists in replacing the uncontrolled play of the market by reasonable planning, in disciplining the forces of production, compelling them to work together in harmony and obediently serve the needs of mankind. Only on this new social basis will man be able to stretch his weary limbs and – every man and every woman, not only a selected few – become a citizen with full power in the realm of thought.

But this is not yet the end of the road. No, it is only the beginning. Man calls himself the crown of creation. He has a right to that claim. But who has asserted that present-day man is the last and highest representative of the species Homo sapiens? No, physically as well as spiritually he is very far from perfection, prematurely born biologically, with feeble thought and has not produced any new organic equilibrium. It is true that humanity has more than once brought forth giants of thought and action, who tower over their contemporaries like summits in a chain of mountains. The human race has a right to be proud of its Aristotle, Shakespeare, Darwin, Beethoven, Goethe, Marx, Edison, and Lenin. But why are they so rare? Above all, because almost without exception, they came out of the upper and middle classes. Apart from rare exceptions, the sparks of genitis in the suppressed depths of the people are choked before they can burst into flame. But also because the processes of creating, developing and educating a human being have been and remain essentially a matter of chance, not illuminated by theory and practice, not subjected to consciousness and will.

Anthropology, biology, physiology and psychology have accumulated mountains of material to raise up before mankind in their full scope the tasks of perfecting and developing body and spirit. Psycho-analysis, with the inspired hand of Sigmund Freud, has lifted the cover of the well which is poetically called the “soul.” And what has been revealed? Our conscious thought is only a small part of the work of the dark psychic forces. Learned divers descend to the bottom of the ocean and there take photographs of mysterious fishes. Human thought, descending to the bottom of its own psychic sources, must shed light on the most mysterious driving forces of the soul and subject them to reason and to will.

Once he has done with the anarchic forces of his own society man will set to work on himself, in the pestle and the retort of the chemist. For the first time mankind will regard itself as raw material, or at beat as a physical and psychic semi-finished product. Socialism will mean a leap from the realm of necessity into the realm of freedom in this sense also, that the man of today, with all his contradictions and lack of harmony, will open the road for a new and happier race.

Today it is certainly utopian to think like this. But there are other threads here on Libcom that discuss the possibilities of the unleashed creativity of humanity when the necessities of life are met for everyone, that 'work' and 'labor' are seperated, when alienation and atomization are withered away, etc. It would take not only the global revolutionary movement of the proletariat to smash capitalism and the nation-state, but the process of actual socialist or communist construction of an international economic apparatus to support the entire human race's needs- and finally the abolition of classes, before those creative powers can be planted and bear fruit I think. Everything from institutional religion/dogma, the patriarchal nuclear family, the division of power between social and economic life, and so on, have to be taken on, examined, revised, or destroyed, or rebuilt, or erased. There's no way to tell what a genuine socialist human in a truly socialist world will look like, and what that world will look like, today.

That's what I think Marx, and Trotsky, were getting at- attempts to envision such a person, such a world, and put into words the possibilities of working-class revolution in the long-term for the human species.

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Feb 13 2012 04:45
yoda's walking stick wrote:
Do Marxists or socialists in general believe the division of labor will or should disappear under public ownership of the means of production? Specialization, in my understanding, makes economies immensely more efficient.

I massively agree with you that specialisation is vital to all modern communities. It's also, from my limitted undergraduate studies, the consensus of archaeologists that it has always been the case that humans (homo sapiens, Home Erectus and Homo Neanerthalis too, at the very least) have used division of labour to create efficiencies. After all, creating all the tool sets that we even have archaeological evidence of is an incredibly skilled task that practical archaeologists take years to get really good at. And things like tracking, herb spotting and so on can take a decade to learn, if not more, even when you devote most of your productive (rather than say, social, administrative or ritual) time to it.

So the idea that division of labour should not exist is absurd. Luckily people who oppose it in name are usually simply offering a critique of current divisions of labour. A key critique is that of 'experts'. The common assumption is that experts are simply people who know a lot about; special field. But in our society they do a lot more than that, and have a deeply ideological role. The worst case are political experts, but experts are all over the place. The dynamic they embody is people with special knowledge telling society how to use their knowledge in a way that flows from their own ideology, rather than integrating their knowledge and skills into general social projects planned and carried through on a communal basis.

yoda's walking stick
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Feb 13 2012 05:22
RedEd wrote:
yoda's walking stick wrote:
Do Marxists or socialists in general believe the division of labor will or should disappear under public ownership of the means of production? Specialization, in my understanding, makes economies immensely more efficient.

I massively agree with you that specialisation is vital to all modern communities. It's also, from my limitted undergraduate studies, the consensus of archaeologists that it has always been the case that humans (homo sapiens, Home Erectus and Homo Neanerthalis too, at the very least) have used division of labour to create efficiencies. After all, creating all the tool sets that we even have archaeological evidence of is an incredibly skilled task that practical archaeologists take years to get really good at. And things like tracking, herb spotting and so on can take a decade to learn, if not more, even when you devote most of your productive (rather than say, social, administrative or ritual) time to it.
.

This is basically how I feel. Thank you for expressing it so well. Is that kind of the consensus among socialists, or is that a minority view?

LBird
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Feb 13 2012 08:22
RedEd wrote:
...it has always been the case that humans (homo sapiens, Home Erectus and Homo Neanerthalis too, at the very least) have used division of labour...

The original division of labour was the sexual division of labour, which predates humans.

yoda's walking stick wrote:
Do Marxists or socialists in general believe the division of labor will or should disappear under public ownership of the means of production?

No, it won't and it can't.

Spikymike
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Feb 13 2012 12:09

Marx in that quote was of course giving a simple illustration by way of contrast between alienated human activity in a capitalist society as he experienced it and the potential for a genuinely human activity in communist society as it has evolved on it's own terms.

I don't think it is intended to mean that people will not seek to develop their skills in anumber of important and varied ways or that some will concentrate more on one or other skill (indeed capitalism often involves a good degree of 'de-skilling') but rather that people will not be defined or judged by others by one particular skill that they may have (where the first question at any party is 'what work do you do' ) and that in a lifetime people might move around practicising, learning and teaching others many different skills. ie that we will relate to each other as humans with all our varied characteristics and interests rather than as economic categories (either workers or consumers).
It assumes that 'economic efficiency' ( 'economics' as a separate activity having disapeared or been absorbed into general human activity) is no longer the priority but rather our overal human satisfaction in life. Thus the ways things or services are produced will be as important as the quantities and qualities of what might be produced.

This concept of communism as a human community in which the division of labour as we have experienced it in capitalism (incorporating many divisions from previous class societies) are broken down, should not be lightly dismissed or abandoned. The fact that this is something which cannot be achieved overnight has too often been a means of defending theoretically and practically the preservation of key aspects of the capitalist division of labour in past revolutionary upheavals and the defense of sectional and priveleged interests in struggles today.

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Feb 13 2012 18:12
LBird wrote:
RedEd wrote:
...it has always been the case that humans (homo sapiens, Home Erectus and Homo Neanerthalis too, at the very least) have used division of labour...

The original division of labour was the sexual division of labour, which predates humans.

That's an interesting point. Traditionally in socialist discourse labour is something only humans do. I know Donna Haraway (and others) have examined and challenged this assumption from a heterodox Marxist point of view. Division of tasks seems to be something that has evolved many times as a corollary of highly social living, not just on sex grounds, but in other ways as well. From ants to penguins and so on, it crops up all over the place.

snipfool
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Feb 13 2012 18:52

I tell you what's inefficient: keeping me in an office, bored and avoiding work by browsing the Internet, when I could be doing something productive in another field and rekindling some sort of passion in something. One shouldn't have to give up one for the other.

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Feb 13 2012 19:39
snipfool wrote:
I tell you what's inefficient: keeping me in an office, bored and avoiding work by browsing the Internet, when I could be doing something productive in another field and rekindling some sort of passion in something. One shouldn't have to give up one for the other.

This!

I often come away from libcom with the impression that some libcommers don't actually want things to be different in any practical sense beyond the organisation of politics.

Specialism is, to some extent, important, but there are limits. For instance, in my own work to date I have specialised in a particular niche within IT, but after a few years it starts to look so small as to be vanishing. It's often been my experience that I am waiting, sometimes days, for another team to do something that I am perfectly capable of doing, but division of labour means I cannot. So I must find "busy work". Let's not keep this system.

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Feb 13 2012 20:13

I read the Marx quote as being able to choose your work rather than be sorted by class, not as a condemnation of division of labor.

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Feb 13 2012 20:28
Birthday Pony wrote:
I read the Marx quote as being able to choose your work rather than be sorted by class, not as a condemnation of division of labor.

I read the Marx quote as a condemnation of division of labour.

He, like me, wants people to be able explore their potential, not be stuck in a rut.

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Feb 13 2012 20:56
Pikel wrote:
Birthday Pony wrote:
I read the Marx quote as being able to choose your work rather than be sorted by class, not as a condemnation of division of labor.

I read the Marx quote as a condemnation of division of labour.

He, like me, wants people to be able explore their potential, not be stuck in a rut.

Sure, but doesn't exploring your potential, in a social context, necessitate specialisation and the division of labour?

Edit: Actually, are we using the phrase 'division of labour' in different ways? What do you understand by it?

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Feb 13 2012 21:33
RedEd wrote:
Pikel wrote:
Birthday Pony wrote:
I read the Marx quote as being able to choose your work rather than be sorted by class, not as a condemnation of division of labor.

I read the Marx quote as a condemnation of division of labour.

He, like me, wants people to be able explore their potential, not be stuck in a rut.

Sure, but doesn't exploring your potential, in a social context, necessitate specialisation and the division of labour?

Edit: Actually, are we using the phrase 'division of labour' in different ways? What do you understand by it?

The body of activity undertaken by humanity is a complex affair which can be broken down into different tasks or types of tasks requiring different knowledge and skills. I would understand the division of labour to be the division of people into groups with specialisation in these different areas of knowledge and skills.

So building a house requires, amongst other things, the laying of bricks and the fitting of windows. I understand division of labour to mean that these different tasks, e.g. glazing and bricklaying, are divided amongst different people. John is a bricklayer and Mary is a glazier.

I think this division is to some extent a managerial convenience. It makes the management of large scale activities simpler for managers to understand and co-ordinate if they can identify types of task with different people.

In reality, are bricklaying and glazing so difficult that the human brain cannot excel in both?

I think it's inefficient and boring for those involved.

This is just one example, not drawn from my own experience. My work life has been full of them though. What do you understand by the division of labour?

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Feb 13 2012 21:40

Well the quote does do some dismantling of division of labor in that one would not necessarily have a 'profession.' However, I find it very likely that people will find tasks they like doing more than others, and will concentrate on doing those tasks above others.

The difference here seems to be what no division of labor means generally. In any given hour there might be a division of labor. While some people are building cars others are baking bread or something, but I suppose that doesn't mean society has an over-arching division of labor.

snipfool
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Feb 13 2012 21:53

I don't expect everybody to be equally competent in every sphere of human activity, and I expect most people will naturally find themselves wanting to focus the creative and productive aspects of their lives in certain areas. But I'd hope nothing would be off-limits, that people's interests and dreams could be followed, that people could change their minds at any stage in their life and that different spheres of activity would be open and free and at least some of the people associated with them would be welcoming of people wanting to learn and try out new things. Sure, some practices take "decades" to learn, but there are just as many useful practices that don't and that many people could engage with at times when they don't feel like doing what their primary skills lie in. There are tons of people right now that wish they could change careers, go back to school, learn new skills, want to get outside for a change, want to stay indoors for a change, but the option might not be there for financial reasons - as Marx mentions just before the quote above*. For that sort of pressure to be smashed, but then to start pressuring people on the basis of "efficiency", it seems nothing would have been gained.

And whilst I don't think efficiency should be a guiding principle in the arrangement of our activity, the 'mental mutilation' Adam Smith talks about with regards to the effects of the division of labour on workers isn't just relevant to their wellbeing but also their efficiency! Someone who's bored isn't going to work as well as someone who's enjoying it.

* ". . . as soon as the distribution of labour comes into being, each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a shepherd, or a critical critic, and must remain so if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood . . ."

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Feb 14 2012 06:01

I agree with snipfool.

But i await reded's revelations with golden drool.

ajjohnstone
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Feb 14 2012 06:38

In the question of division of labour , i do want the surgeon who does my appendix operation to have studied and passed a proficiency test and not to claim his skill is based on his knowledge as a butcher, which may or not be an overlapping occupation

I do want the pilot of the airplane i'm flying in to also have been assessed to his skills and not simply argue that its same as driving a bus. (as an aside, when i worked at airport one guaranteed way to get up a pilots nose was to always refer to him as a driver)

Whatever the division labour exists there will be rules upon who can do what and this may entail an authority (an authorising body) of some sort and the existence prohibitions of peoples actions, and for transgressers proscriptions and perhaps punishments which some may describe as the law.

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Feb 14 2012 11:31

Of course we want surgeons to know what they are doing, and for airplane pilots to be properly trained at flying planes not driving buses. But that's not really what anyone I've met means when they talk about abolishing the division of labour.

On the one hand it's about not forcing people to have a set profession and being at all times, every day a fisherman or a critic or a driver or whatever, but allowing people the ability to perform different jobs at different and overlapping times *assuming they have been properly trained for that job*.

On the other, you also (probably) wouldn't want one surgeon to open you up, another to come in and fix one problem, then another fix a different problem then a fourth tidy up and a fifth sew you up again. It's that kind of taylorist/fordist division of labour, or specialisation, which actually leads to de-skilling much of the time, gives people less interesting, more monotonous jobs and is really just a form of social control not even always associated with increased efficiency.

It's not about saying everyone has to be able to do everything, it's about saying people should be able to specialise to the extent they want to, and to work across trades to the extent they want, rather than be forced into a position by capitalist 'efficiency'.

LBird
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Feb 14 2012 12:24
Alasdair wrote:
It's not about saying everyone has to be able to do everything, it's about saying people should be able to specialise to the extent they want to...

...and that their competence to practise their freely-chosen 'specialisation' is confirmed by themselves and their comrades within their commune.

A democratic authority will limit the damage that the incompetent or stupid 'specialiser' can inflict.

No 'AK 47s' for hunting, 'hand grenades' for fishing...

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Feb 14 2012 18:48

Not to be nit-picky, but why no AKs for hunting? A semi-auto AK would make a fine deer rifle, does make a fine deer rifle in fact. It's a pretty reliable firearm, making it perfect for long trips in the woods, the round is a decent size, but not too powerful, and it's pretty light. My guess would be you haven't hunted before, which would be a reason I hope you're not in charge of hunting regulations.

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Feb 14 2012 18:59

Puh-leeze. Were you not getting his point or are you just taking the piss?

To me it sounded pretty obvious what he was getting at.

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Feb 14 2012 19:13

Well, I'm being admittedly goofy, but raising a concern at the same time. Why should a hypothetical democratic body with a majority that has no experience with hunting be in charge of hunting regulations?

The initial concern here seemed to just be a strawman, that those arguing against division of labor are saying that some schmuck off the street can walk in and be a surgeon, so all the qualifying statements about certification and what not seem to be superfluous, if not just obvious. Then, to prove just how necessary this certification process is, LBird chooses a weapon that would make a fine hunting rifle and uses it as an example of an absurdity. We're not even at a point where this is a practical concern, and we've discovered a problem.

I'd say have subcommittees and associations for this kind of thing. Have the surgeon's association certify surgeons, and have the hunting association decide good ideas for hunting. Or at least, if the solution must be institutional, if we're going to go ahead and grant that there needs to be an authoritative body on certifying and regulating things like hunting and surgery, at least make sure that those with experience doing either thing have their opinions weighed a little more heavily in regard to decisions in their field.

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Feb 14 2012 19:24
LBird wrote:
Alasdair wrote:
It's not about saying everyone has to be able to do everything, it's about saying people should be able to specialise to the extent they want to...

...and that their competence to practise their freely-chosen 'specialisation' is confirmed by themselves and their comrades within their commune.

A democratic authority will limit the damage that the incompetent or stupid 'specialiser' can inflict.

Id like to expand and explore more the idea of democratic authorization bodies whose job it would be to evaluate/test people at the end of training in X field of work and authorise them to go on and do it.

How much would this be like sitting an exam and an exam board at the end saying yes you did this well on a test which allows you to go and do this work ? Perhaps a better example would be driving tests and the authorising body that you the liscence. Is it really best to leave these to democracy so the situation would pretty much be a meeting of people saying "so guys, do you think he/she is good enough to do X ?". Something just smells fishy to me. I dont want some heirachacal institution giving some one an A having passed an exam just based on a curriculum like education and testing does now but Im just not sure.

LBird
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Feb 14 2012 20:03
Birthday Pony wrote:
Not to be nit-picky, but why no AKs for hunting?

Because it was designed as a short-range, fully automatic assault rifle for winning firefights with humans, who have the capacity to fire back.

Personally, if you come hunting me with an AK47, I'll pick you off at distance with a longer range sniper rifle.

But an unarmed deer? A fuckin' assault rifle?

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Feb 14 2012 20:15

The AKs that civilians can buy (non-selective fire), at least in the US, barring Class III licenses and all that nonsense, would be fine deer rifles. Not my first choice, but if I were to take someone hunting for the first time I would give them something semi-auto with an intermediate round that's relatively simple to operate and clean. The AK meets those requirements.

Personally I don't like assault rifles, but the current definition of 'assault rifle' seems kind of shaky to me. If an AK didn't have a pistol grip it would no longer qualify as an assault rifle, which doesn't really seem right, or if it had a fixed magazine. Kind of silly. But anyway...

It's not really over-kill. In fact, deers are far stronger than humans. A first time shooter would most likely have to take a follow-up shot on a buck if they weren't using a large round, and it would be kind of silly to hand someone a gun that fires a round that will destroy their shoulder if they've never fired a gun before. I expect production of assault rifles to halt post-capitalism, but only because there's not a need for them when you're not maintaining an empire (or fighting an empire). But if there's one lying around, it's not a bad gun to learn on for a novice shooter.

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Feb 14 2012 20:16

Also, I never said I would be hunting people, let alone you personally. So the threat of shooting me with a sniper rifle seems a uncalled for.

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Feb 14 2012 20:19

I am no animal rights person but surely the most important thing about this thing about what gun should we use to hunt deer is the premise of hunting. Its a babaric practice and is simply killing for fun, which is hardly moral, no matter how much you try to rationalise it.

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Feb 14 2012 20:28

I'm with you on trophy hunting, but don't forget that a large portion of the world subsists on hunting. It's considerably less barbaric than torturing animals, pumping them with chemicals, having them killed in an assembly line, and then eating them.

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Feb 14 2012 20:28

Let's not derail this with a discussion on the ethics of hunting. LBird is clearly the democratic authority on hunting anyway. wink

LefterThanThou
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Feb 14 2012 23:02

On the contrary, the ethics of hunting exemplify one of the potential problems with Pony's suggestion that those with experience should get more say. To put it in perspective, take Pony's other field, surgery, the targets of which would presumably be more often human. Presumably, the patient's desire not to be infected would trump the surgeon's disdain for sterilizing his hands. This conflict is of course unrealistic, but only because healing can be the only motivation for surgery after the abolition of profits and wages. Hunting, on the other hand, is done for reasons other than subsistence.

croydonian mentioned fun, and Pony equated that with trophies, when in fact the two are distinct. Pony is confused because one person often hunts for both fun and trophies. Simply consider, then, that one person can hunt for any combination of food, fun and trophies, even such that the elimination of a subset of the aims would render the activity not worth doing. As for the implication that the only possible alternative would be the slaughter of the deer's domesticated cousins, my only guess is that it's paleo-inspired.

And how much is the hunter's experience worth relative to that of the ecologist? What about my experience having to explain to my niece that if it weren't for that scary noise our neighbor would have to eat tofu instead of venison? And who gets the most votes in the body that decides how many votes different experiences get? Those with the most experience valuating experience?