Sunday, July 20, 2014

“Voting Against Their Own Interest” - You should probably stop saying this.

The majority of people in the world, except perhaps the mentally ill, seldom ever claim to be Marxists anymore. Whenever progressives are accused of being Marxists or socialists, they mock their simple-minded opponents and go on their merry way.

However, we have to keep in mind the famous quote about the greatest trick the Devil ever having played was how he convinced the world that he didn't exist.

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The great irony of present-day Marxists is that the majority of people who are either consciously or subconsciously influenced by Marxism have never read any of Marx's works. Then there are those who have read his works and who have failed to understand Marx.

(Joseph A. Schumpeter listed in his book, “History of Economic Analysis” (Page 362, “Concerning the Marxist System”) quite a formidable and hefty set of prerequisites that people have to read in order to properly understand Marx. This probably explains why so many people are reluctant and/or unable to fully understand Marxism.)

Regardless of whether people have read or not read or understood or not understood Marx, many people have uncritically accepted many of his views as gospel truth. And I am willing to bet that most of those people don't even know that they are channeling Marx.

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For example, one thing that I have heard many progressives complain about often is that, especially after having been “influenced” by the “corporate media,” far too many middle to low income earners “vote against their own interest.” For proof simply do a Google search for “vote against their own interest.”

However, we have to ask what people mean by “interest” when they pose their question. In every single instance, when that question is asked, what they almost always mean by “interest” is the interests of the group that the individuals supposedly belong to.

For example, people often ask why ethnic minorities or women vote for conservative parties, or why the low-to-middle income earners vote for tax breaks for the “super rich.” Notice how no one ever asks why a particular woman or member of an ethnic minority group might vote for a conservative politician or why individuals would vote for tax breaks that they themselves might not benefit from immediately. It's always about the group.

This goes back to Marx's belief, which he stated in the Communist Manifesto, that “the history of all hitherto existing human society is the history of class struggles.” As far as Marx was concerned, “interests” are something definite and apart from a person's ideas.

It was a belief that Marx himself contradicted in the same damned book. As Marx was not a member of the proletariat, he conveniently added that “in times when the class struggle nears the decisive hour... a small section of the ruling class cuts itself adrift, and joins the revolutionary class.”

If it is possible for some people to extricate themselves from the trappings of their own class and its supposedly inherent interests, then the law is really not a law! Too many Progressives, however, don't seem to be able to see the contradiction to question their own beliefs when they talk about people “voting against their own interests.” They believe that the “interest” of a class is obvious and that there could be no doubt about what it is.

I suppose it is much easier to assume that people who do not agree with them are brainwashed class traitors than individuals who genuinely have their own independent minds that happen to be opposed to theirs.

Furthermore, this idea about class interest is an idea that is all too similar to that of racists. Racists tend to believe that members of a race all look and think alike. That they should all behave in a particular way. That there are certain things that all members of a certain racial group should inherently like and dislike. Replace the word “race” with “class” and you get the same argument!

It all comes down to collectivism. Modern-day Marxists (whether they know that they are channeling Marx or not) do not believe in individualism. They may say that they do, but their inner most philosophy seems to say otherwise.

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The quote about the Devil may be attributed to Charles Baudelaire but in all fairness, Kevin Spacey did make it sound much better.


  1. Elsewhere on the internet, I got a response from a reader (who shall remain unnamed unless he/she chooses to voluntarily reveal him/herself) regarding this post. Here was the response:

    "Doesn't sound like you know Marx, either. Just saying. Marx wasn't a "Marxist," either. He was a materialist historian who made a reading of history through the lens of classes and who saw an evolutionary pattern in developing societies, essentially a Hegelian, just as Francis Fukuyama is, although they came to radically different conclusions about what the "End" state would be. When I teach Marx to undergrads, I talk about historical materialism and the way basic societal structures create culture and how ideology is the glue that holds it all together. It's simple, and it's fine. "Marx. I do not think that word means what you think it means..." to paraphrase another fine film..."

    The following is my response:

    1. First of all, seeing how you merely said that you think I “don't know Marx either” without mentioning anything that I said about the collectivist root of Marx's notion of inherent class consciousness/interest, which is the philosophical foundation of the phrase “voting against their interest,” I will assume that you have conceded that point to me, at least.

      Secondly, we need not discuss Francis Fukuyama. His book, "The End of History," should have been enough to disqualify him from any further serious consideration. I would say the same of Marx but he has had far too much influence in the world and cannot be ignored completely.

      There are many problems that I have with Marx. And I'm glad that you brought up historical materialism because it has been one of those things that has always confused me. Marx claimed that at the base of historical materialism is “material productive forces,” aka technology, the so-called driving power that creates all historical events and changes.

      Seeing how you teach Marxism in a university, I'm sure that this quote will not be unfamiliar to you: “The hand mill gives you society with the feudal lord; the steam mill society with the industrial capitalist.”

      He was convinced that it was material productive forces (technology) that determine human consciousness, which in turn leads to the different ideologies and societies that people create.

      So here are my questions:

      1) Where did these productive forces come from? Marx never questioned this. He took their existence as a given fact, as though things just appeared out of nowhere.
      2) Is technology really material? Or is it the result of an individual's (or group of individuals') mind?
      3) How do these productive forces make up the “economic structure of society?”
      4) How does this “economic structure,” in turn, create the “superstructure,” which includes things as vast as natural science, religion, philosophy, the law, and the zeitgeist in general. Definitely no word about this one.

      Marx never clearly explained any of this, and if he did try, they were half-hearted and vague. He simply asserted them as fact and he moved along. I suppose one should sympathize. Marx COULD NOT answer these questions. As you said, Marx was “a materialist historian who made a reading of history through the lens of classes and who saw an evolutionary pattern in developing societies.” If he had been intellectually honest, which Marx clearly was not, he would have had to admit that all new technologies are the product of an individual's mind.

      If he had admitted that, his entire system would have fallen apart. He would have had to admit that the invention of material productive forces are determined by individual minds, not the other way around.

      Then there's the entire factual nonsense that is at the base of historical materialism – did the hand mill “give us” feudalism, or did it exist beforehand? I pose the same question about the steam mill.

      I do not know if or how you have filled in the blanks that Marx left behind; but if you are a Marxist, and have somehow filled in the missing pieces, especially considering that you said “Marx wasn't a “Marxist,”” then one thing that I can say for sure is that YOU have abandoned Marxism.

    2. Why would his entire system have fallen apart if he acknowledged technologies are the product of an individual's mind? That's neither here nor there as to the impact of their invention. Whether those technologies came to be through an individual's mind, through the conglomeration of clever minds making incremental contributions, or dropped by aliens or elves tired of cobbling, onto the desks of engineers and inventors and patent clerks, they would have brought about the same changes in societies, once placed in the hands of profiteers and elites.

    3. It matters a great deal. Marx said that material productive forces are what determines the superstructure of any given society. However, as I said, those productive forces come from individual minds. They do not appear out of thin air.

      But then we have to wonder where those individuals with free minds came from. Yes, an individual with a rational and intelligent mind must first come up with a concept and then transform that concept into something that can be produced. However, that is not all that is required. A new technological invention also requires savings and capital investment (which also require rational and intelligent minds).

      You say that technological inventions would have brought about the same changes in societies, once placed in the hands of profiteers and elites. But we have to ask whether these inventions could have come into existence without them. Some inventions such as the wheel certainly did not need savings or capital investments. However, what modern invention (and more importantly, mass production) did not require capital investments? And who has capital investments?

      You seem to be implying that profiteers (Let's be honest here, who doesn't seek a profit? By that definition, EVERYONE is a profiteer.) had no role to play during the process of new technologies being invented, and only comes in later after all the hard work has been done just to turn a quick profit. I say that they play an integral role during the whole process from start to finish.

      But that leads to more questions. What kind of economic system gives people the best opportunity to create savings and make capital investments? Did such an economic system come into existence because someone simply willed it? No, of course not. It, too, was the result of a very long series of mental processes.

      Basically, Marx said:

      Historical Materialism = Technology → Economic Structure → Superstructure

      In fact, Marx thought that the discovery of electricity was THE material productive force that would hasten the inevitability of socialism.

      (Another contradiction within Marx's ideas: If he truly believed that socialism was inevitable, why did he bother to organize a socialist movement, or a socialist party, or declare that the violent overthrow of the government was necessary to bring about socialism?)

      On the other hand, what I am saying is that there is no neat step-by-step process. The entire concept of historical materialism is nonsensical. It all starts with individual minds, which Marx conveniently ignores, and everything else happens organically from that point. There is no smooth transition from one era to another. There is no collective mind, no such thing as collective interests. And there is no inevitable destiny.

      So do new technologies determine the way people see the world around them? Or is it more likely that rational minds come first, which people improve incrementally over generations? The minds that help people to formulate their notions and ideas, which in turn could potentially lead them to create capitalist economies that can possibly give people the proper economic and political freedom and incentives that are needed for people to exercise their minds further to come up with new inventions for the sake of improving their lives further?

      That is why if Marx had been intellectually honest, he would have had to change his mind about a LOT of things (and probably saved the world a whole lot of grief).