A Point of View

A point of view

By Andy Cox  

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              A philosophy

 

                Happiness is the vivid bloom

                of lives lived in a rich loam.

                Our humanity a humus for those to come,

                but we too are the beneficiaries of

                others amongst us or gone.

                So, death is undone through lifes legacy,

                ceaselessly so in our common soil,

                our commonweal in which the passing of one

                seemingly brings forth others.

               - No reincarnation :

                Only others informing us as we inform others -

                from which we can pick precious purpose.

                Dark weeds there may be amongst us

                that would forswear our mutuality and leech,

                as there are some who would set themselves apart

                in manicured beds corrupted with sterile soil.

                Neither acknowledges the give and take.

               Yet it is our bonds that set us free -

                knowing what binds us unbinds us.

                And when one day, this becomes religion,

                then may we find a capacity to rejoice

                every time a bud opens

                                                              2002

Its like this: For a good many years, my head has been a pot for a sort of intellectual stew, the ingredients of which have managed to retain their separate identities, even if theyve become a little soggy over time. A splash of good wine has surely enhanced the flavour: (In vino veritas, no doubt). And many a good argument has provided the spice, adding nuance to the creation. I say creation, but, in fact, none of these ingredients is novel: One or two of these old roots have been around since antiquity. What interests me, however, is their interrelationship, the alluring possibility that they may, so to speak, enhance each other. Their integration into something bigger, a worldview if you like, is the thesis of this polemical exercise. Five of the larger entities in this stew, which I intend to slice apart, are:

  •  Analogy as a spurious source of knowledge.
  • The non-survivalist notion that we have no identity or existence after death.
  • Atheism
  • The idea and ideal of a moneyless, stateless, propertyless world in which each has free  access to the products of humanity, and contributes according to his or her  ability and inclination.

These, I would contend, contribute to a fifth ingredient, namely:

  • An ethic which enjoins one to better the lives of others.

But before I begin to ladle this out, there is something I feel which needs to be said: Man, I believe, is doomed to be a philosopher. No one bar those devoid of abstract thought can escape this fate. Beneath all the internalised trivia, beneath the layers of received knowledge that crowds one‘s mind, there lies a philosophical construction addressing the very nub of one’s existence, whether this is acknowledged or not, whether this construction is fashioned on the anvil of critical thought or represents merely a concatenation of conventional responses to the big questions of life. In other words, everyone has a worldview. In presenting my own, I am merely laying bare a philosophical construction that seems to make sense to me. To be honest, I am not unquestionably certain about it: It tilts in places and contains many a threadbare rivet. But it coheres sufficiently to satisfy my own need to understand the world around me.

So here’s a taste of that intellectual stew: I have no idea at all why we are here on this earth, or, indeed why earth should be here in the first place. Any suggestion that our existence and that of the universe serve some purpose begs more than a few questions. What I think draws people into this sort of thinking is a deep-seated, almost reflexive, propensity for analogical thinking in which one phenomenon is explained by comparing it and drawing parallels with another. It seems to me that in our ordinary lives – when not engaged in philosophical discourse – we are sometimes implicitly informed by all manner of delusions, as well as truths, which we do not pause to consider, and which are extracted from the mud of our mundane existence, primarily, through the mechanism of analogy. Our ordinary world is the base from which we peregrinate on philosophical excursions. One might argue that this base itself occupies philosophical terrain. But the philosophical grounding of our everyday existence is necessarily implicit and ‘out of mind’: When we engage with the ordinary, we are rarely impelled towards philosophical reflection. Philosophy, in any case, competes with many other disciplines – psychology, biology, and economics, amongst others – in respect of our proclivity for abstraction. I am not suggesting that analogical thinking is without use: All I am suggesting is that if you scratch beneath many of the taken for granted notions that have taken up residence in  our minds, you may well come across analogies that don’t stand up to scrutiny. Sometimes one is not even aware that an analogy is being drawn, let alone that an analogical fallacy is committed in assuming somehow that the comparison proves something to be the case rather than merely suggests - usually in a graphic or picturesque manner -  how the phenomenon in question could be explained. Moreover, in some cases, the analogy is plainly flawed. Nothing exemplifies this better than certain arguments purporting to prove the existence of God. The Argument from Design, for example, has it that the order and beauty of the universe demonstrate that it must have been designed. Not only is the premise of this argument debatable - order and beauty are clearly not universally present and could be attributed rather to the eye of the beholder, but the conclusion is simply a non sequitur: It relies, of course, on an implicit analogy with, say, a craftsman creating a beautiful artefact - a  microcosmic event which is thought somehow to serve as a parallel for a macrocosmic event, the creation of the universe. But,

(a)  It simply does not follow that what holds good in the microcosmic situation - namely that the artefact has self-evidently been made by someone - holds good in the macrocosmic situation, where one is confronted with an infinite universe. At most, one might allow that an inference is being made. But this requires comparability between these situations, which is simply not the case: In the microcosmic situation, the craftsman is responsible for just a limited number of products in a world of innumerable objects, including other craftsmen. The putative God in the macroscopic situation is deemed to have created everything on his own.

(b)  The analogy is thus flawed for that reason, but also because in the microcosmic situation, the craftsman produces the  artefact from materials to hand, for example, wood. God, however, is believed by the religious apologist to create the  universe ex nihilo, from nothing.

For these and other reasons - such as attributing certain manifestations of order instead to evolutionary forces - The Argument from Design is totally unconvincing. But it is important to observe that it is basically the unwarranted drawing of conclusions on the basis of an analogy, as well as the flawed nature of the analogy, which undermine this argument. Moreover, as is the case with all philosophical arguments, there is a meaning problem which needs to be addressed even before the logic is questioned: What exactly do we mean when we say that God created everything ex nihilo? I would venture to suggest that the whole idea is incomprehensible, and that any attempt to clarify what is meant by this is likely to rely on yet more unwarranted inferences drawn from yet more flawed analogies. Simply stringing together a number of words in a grammatically correct sentence, as in ‘God created everything’, may create the illusion of meaning, but grammatically-generated meaning is no substitute for conceptual clarity. Anyway, such is the nature of analogical thinking, which pervades our language and reasoning.  Unsurprisingly, it characterizes much discussion on the dreaded subject of death.

Death is personal: To us in the West, it is something which can consume our inner lives as surely as it consumes the husks we call our bodies. It is the raison dêtre for so much in life, a rallying point, a border post of the everyday world. It is a concept shot through with powerful emotions: fear, anger, revulsion, sadness, love. And it too is something which is conceived in terms of analogies. Already I have unwittingly resorted to analogical thinking in my references to our inner lives and outer husks: I have evoked the ghost in the machine. I might also have suggested that death is like a sleep, adding the corollary that in the sleep of death, dreams may come, that a life of sorts awaits us when we have shuffled off this mortal coil.  But on what basis would I have arrived at this conclusion? The rub of the matter is that this belief is founded primarily on analogy, and that below it may lie a deeply entrenched fear of losing ones ego, a fear that is particularly conditioned by the individualistic ethos of so-called advanced societies. I would like to propose instead that we calmly consider the alternative; namely, that there is no afterlife. I would like to suggest that when we die no heaven or hell awaits us, because, to put it simply, we shall no longer be. This being the case, we can have no cause to fear death, because it carries no implications for us beyond our complete annihilation. I am aware, of course, that, to someone like me, the product of a Catholic upbringing, a faint angst haunts this construction on death.  But this hardly detracts from the argument. It is surely preferable that the head and the heart should concur, but like an old married couple, these two faculties will not always see eye to eye.

Though profoundly personal, death is a social phenomenon as well: On a small scale, there are the bereaved, of course, who not only feel the loss, but whose lives are more or less, subtly or significantly, altered. These effects may cascade far and wide. For example, a death may loosen ties, or bring people together, and this may influence the pattern of affiliations and interactions of the generations that follow. Macrocosmically too, death is something with which society as a whole has to contend. I’m not referring here to, say, the preoccupation of various organs of the state with morbidity indices and the implications these may have on governmental spending. I am referring rather to a more profound way in which society is taken up with the phenomenon of death: to the fact that death is something which is culturally mediated. Without getting into a debate about the nature of culture it has variously been construed as comprising the symbolic and acquired aspects of society, as something distinct from nature, as something distinct from the social structure, as something akin to ideology, or as a way of life in the present context this phrase relates to a societal resource which is drawn upon to bestow meaning on what is in a certain sense a unintelligible event, and provide the rituals with which order and ordinariness are re-established. Death, particularly when it is unexpected and dramatic, is often extraordinary in various ways, and has the potential to thoroughly trivialize the construct we know as society. We see this manifested sometimes in a phase of withdrawal and detachment in someone who is actually dying. And death, of course, takes one beyond the reach of society. Thus, society needs to assert itself – via culture - by countering the bewildering sense of life being insignificant, goals and ambitions being pointless, and norms being irrelevant, which may potentially also accompany the experience of bereavement. This is something which is proactively addressed during the socialization process, when how one is to live in general, rather than how one should cope with death in particular, is the focus of attention. As far as society is concerned, what is not needed is that individuals grow up believing that, as there is no point to life, they  may as well take whatever they want from life, and act however they please, regardless of the consequences. Society could just not operate as an aggregation of nihilistic egoists.  In other words, society abhors anomie, much as nature abhors a vacuum. If one chose to talk of society in some reified sense as having a separate existence, one might say that, if its constituent members did not to some extent subscribe to a set of shared beliefs and values, then the fabric of society might itself unravel. Returning to the subject of bereavement, one could say that if, because of the death of someone close to them, individuals were left feeling that life was of no importance or that nothing was worth pursuing, then they might not be able to adequately fulfill their social roles, and this too could have all sorts of repercussions for others; not just emotionally unsettling the latter.  When a death occurs, individuals need to feel that, in some sense, ‘life goes on’. The comfort and support provided by friends reinforces this message, and subliminally impresses on the bereaved that they continue to belong within a network of other social beings. The colloquial expression about someone’s world falling apart in the aftermath of a death often sums up the experience of bereavement. When culture is deployed to hold that world together, it is chiefly one particular component of culture that is tasked with this, and that component is known as religion

Now, I’m not suggesting that religion necessarily comes into play when someone dies. But this certainly seems to happen most of the time and in nearly all societies. Religion is, of course, the principal (though by no means exclusive) sponsor of the notion that we somehow survive death. Moreover, religion generally-speaking also declares that what happens to us after death is determined by the manner in which we conduct ourselves in life. There can be little doubt that in promoting such ideas, religion serves society well by immunising individuals against anomic tendencies in the face of death. Its priests and preachers, mullahs and rabbis have for centuries officiated over the rituals of death, and comforted the bereaved with promises of paradise. However, there is much more to the relationship between religion and society than that: For one thing, in most cases, the former generally serves to facilitate mass conformity to most societal norms through pushing an ethical agenda, the bottom line of which – at least in the Abrahamaic religions - is that if you are good you go to heaven and if you are bad you go to hell. Moreover, religion and the state are institutionally enmeshed in various ways in most countries: In theocracies, they are practically indistinguishable. In the West, religion may have retired to the back benches, yet it still manages to insinuate itself to various degrees in the political life of countries, sometimes in a moderating way. Even in avowedly atheistic states, a sort of quasi-religion fills the breach with absurdities like Kim Jong-il of North Korea assuming a god-like status. Thus religion has played a role in adding a sacred aspect to the profane business of running the state. It is also hard to deny that for many, many people, religion is a balm, a consolation, an opiate, and, as such, takes some of the pressure off the state, which might otherwise have to contend with unmanageable levels of social unrest. In fact, one of the ironies of modern history is that it has often been in the afore-mentioned atheistic states, erstwhile or existent, where consolation has perhaps been mostly keenly sought, that religion of a more conventional character has flourished fungal-like in the shadows. Why religion should be an opiate is not hard to see: When life is unrelentingly grim, as it is for the vast majority of people all over the world, and denies them significant political or social leverage to effect a change in their circumstances, then it makes sense for these people to console themselves with the thought that at least after death, there will be some redress, some righting of wrongs. Psychologically too, such a thought also addresses the lack of self-esteem which so often accompanies poverty, relative or otherwise: That it is harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven than it is for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle probably plays well to most of the religious-inclined poor of many a teeming barrio. And in fostering an otherworldly orientation, religion can have an enervating effect upon political activity, particularly in conservative societies where religion and the state work closely together.

However, religion and its relationship with society are changing all the time: In some parts of the world, religion is in retreat; in other parts, it is resurgent. What is more, its consoling function is sometimes belied by a proclivity for politicisation, as is evidenced by liberation theology in Latin America or the activities of various Islamic movements. But other social and economic developments obviously cloud the picture too: Page though a Sunday supplement and there’s a chance you’ll come across the odd picture of destitute people in some third world country huddled beneath an advertising hoarding extolling deluxe objects of desire; an image symbolising something that’s becoming more and more apparent, which is that, today, more conspicuously than ever, material wealth is promoted despite being beyond the reach of so many. Materialism has become a sort of quasi-religion too; it’s Episcopalian priests being those louche style gurus whose parishioners are the readers of glossies and it’s more fundamentalist ministers those glazed –eyed corporate leaders intoning the mantra: ‘Greed is good’. What’s more, the gospel of the market - relentless advertising - now penetrates the sanctuary of the home more profoundly than ever, subtly mind-forming each up and coming generation via television and other mass media. Consequently, aspirations rise, and when these are thwarted, anger results. This anger may find expression in a variety of ways, from mere self-seeking criminality to various types of political action; nationalist liberation struggles, terrorism, trade union activity and protests, to name but a few. And in some cases it feeds into political action by religious groups; vide my reference to liberation theology and Islamic movements. Even so, religious dissent of this sort still retains its otherworldly point of reference. In fact, there are more than a few religious groups around wanting to impose a revanchist ‘otherworldly’ agenda on this world, whether by bloody force or the use of mass media.

But, of course, there is a major philosophical flaw with religion which affects its credibility, and that is – as has already been suggested – that it is premised on spurious analogies. One might wonder whether religion can nevertheless survive a convincing refutation of this analogical reasoning. I do not believe it can. To me, these analogies are central to any religious apology. That such reasoning should be deployed at all demonstrates the poverty of this apology. You don’t deploy analogical thinking to prove the existence of tables and chairs (I fear for the physical safety of philosophers who doubt such things); you do when seeking to prove the existence of a putative entity that cannot otherwise convincingly be shown to exist. Furthermore, what is unseen can only be apprehended through, or with reference to, what is seen. Of course, there are other categories of proof advanced by those wanting to show that God exists. But I think that the analogical argument is crucial because, in the absence of direct empirical evidence of his existence, analogy ‘informs’ the substantive picture we have of God. Whether viewed as an ancient with a beard and flowing robes, a powerful uber-warrior wielding an axe, a gigantic bird, or some nebulous power, God has been described by likening him to observable phenomena. In short, by deploying analogy. And since the analogy fails as proof, the entire deck of cards that is religion comes crashing down, along with the card setting out the religious premise of an afterlife. When this begins to dawn on people, then, of course, the contribution of religion to social order will begin to decline. There are other problems with religion too; many of them are psychological as opposed to philosophical in nature. Take, for example, the peculiar and somewhat hypocritical attitude religions exhibit towards the ‘sins of the flesh’: Although they may object that they are concerned rather with less sense-bound feelings, such as joy and despair, ultimately religions implicitly acknowledge the hedonistic principle that human beings are driven by the need to seek out pleasure and avoid pain. (This I would regard as ancillary to the most profound need driving us: the desire for happiness). The extremes of such experiences, after all, are supposedly afforded by heaven and hell respectively. Even if it is argued that these are states of mind or ‘planes of existence’ rather than physical locations, heaven and hell are seen as conditions that happen to and are imposed upon people, to which people react in ways which bear comparison with reactions to pleasurable and painful stimuli. Yet this all sits rather uncomfortably with the puritanical disapproval evinced by most religions – particularly those in the Abrahamaic tradition – of any display of a life-affirming sexuality outside strict social boundaries. Thus we find certain Muslim fundamentalists self-righteously demanding the lash, or even the bullet, for women transgressing the rigid mores of their societies. In the same breath, they will wax rhapsodic at the prospect of eternal orgiastic rutting in paradise in the company of seventy two virgins should they lose their lives whilst attempting to butcher innocents in some squalid Middle Eastern marketplace or in the anonymous streets of some Western city. (More recently, there have been unconfirmed reports from Iraq – that bastion of Western-sponsored freedom– that religious militias have taken to gluing the anuses of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, and then giving them a drink causing diarrhoea, which results in a horrible death). Whilst these barbaric acts may not be in accord with the Quoran – somewhat hypocritically, religiously-minded people tend not to be too bound by their holy books – and owe more to the backward-looking societies in which it they occur, the point of view informing them is nevertheless a religious one, and mainstream Muslims would do well to consider what succour they give to these deranged fanatics  (Not so long ago, for example, we witnessed the Karzai regime in Afghanistan introducing legislation effectively legitimising rape within marriage in order to appease conservatives within that benighted country). Christianity is no less hypocritical. Witness the spectacle of millionaire preachers in the American Biblebelt surrounded by their business managers and power-dressing spouses, spluttering about hellfire and damnation only to be found with their pants down being pleasured by some vacuous young congregationalist. Or have a look at all of those dreary Catholic priests with a furtive craving for altar boys, intoning their baleful sermons on the evils of masturbation. The more vehemently religion proscribes; the more sordid-seeming are the infractions that inevitably follow. However, it is not just in matters sexual that religion casts an angst-laden pall over everything. In all sorts of ways, religion, I would contend is a sort of neurosis that weighs heavily on the human soul. Verily, it is the ‘sigh of the oppressed creature’, as Marx so eloquently put it. It engenders a sense of dread, a hesitancy, about living life to the full and without reservation. One might even construe the story the Garden of Eden in which God forbade Adam and Eve from eating the fruits of the apple tree as some sort of parable admonishing people against indulgence and extolling restraint instead. No wonder that the rise of consumerism in Western societies since the war has closely tracked the fall in religious observance.    

I have argued that in claiming we somehow survive death and that how we live our lives determines what this ‘afterlife’ is to be, religion does society a service insofar as it provides ready-made answers in regard to the meaning of life and reinforces socially acceptable behaviour. However, this contribution cannot be a necessary condition for ensuring that people do not adopt deviant or anti-social lifestyles. For, in truth, many people who reject the notion of an afterlife still manage to stay on the right side of the law. Many people are also atheists, and although the two notions are not conceptually equivalent, non-survivalism and atheism would seem to go hand in hand (Interestingly, both stand opposed to positions that are profoundly informed by analogical thinking. Moreover, the respective notions against which they are opposed; namely, belief in an afterlife and in God; are likewise linked: What’s the point in believing in a God if there is no afterlife? I should add, by the way, that although religion and atheism stand opposed to one another, there is one thing that they do agree upon, which is that man is a merest speck set against an inconceivably powerful force. For atheists, this force is the cosmos, and most atheists have a capacity for profound awe when contemplating the fact that mankind could disappear in an instant were some cosmic catastrophe to befall us, such as that which hypothetically occurred billions of years ago when Earth and the planet Theia collided – thereby creating the moon and hence the conditions propitiously conducive to life. Religionists are unable to countenance the nihilistic import of such a possibility, preferring instead to place their hopes in a benevolent God and a blissful afterlife, projecting an anthropomorphic fantasy - ‘God created everything in seven days’ – onto the vast indifferent canvass of the universe). So something else must account for the fact that this sizeable constituency of non-survivalists and atheists by and large lead ordinary unremarkable lives within the law. The unremarkable truth, of course, is that like everyone, those holding these positions undergo a socialization process as they grow up, resulting in them internalizing the norms and values of the society in which they live. Any religious rationale for these norms and values is either never ‘taken on board’, or is discarded later in life – though it must be said that some ostensible non-survivalists and atheists may subconsciously entertain some notion of an afterlife, as this is so deeply embedded in popular culture and may through a process of cultural osmosis come to find a niche within the most rational of minds. Some, of course, may retain religious baggage from childhood. Notwithstanding that, one is still tempted to argue that – because their adherence to societal norms and values is not underpinned by a powerful irrationality - those who eschew the essentially religious notion of an afterlife have a subtly different relationship to society. Consider, for example, the probability that, because society has no sacred character for them, atheists and their ilk are unlikely to regard themselves as a chosen people and may be  more disposed to humanistic and inclusive attitudes vis-à-vis other social groups.  It may also be no accident that, since the dawn of capitalism, many of the more radical figures have been atheists or agnostics. It certainly surprised me to learn from Richard Dawkins excellent book, ‘The god delusion’, that many, if not most, of the founding fathers of the American Republic were atheists and/or secularists. Secularism, or the belief that religion or religious institutions should play no part in the governance of society, has often trailed along behind full-blooded atheism. It owes much to the supercession of feudalism – in which religion played a major and overt role – by capitalism. That development was accompanied by an increasing compartmentalisation of society, and secularists merely insisted that religion confine itself to the compartment labelled ‘religion’.  Secularism does not necessarily entail a rejection of religion.

This, of course, begs a question: Given that society has evolved and consequently its complex relationship with religion has evolved too, is it not possible to have a society which did not depend on religion to shore up its ideological architecture, which could sit easily with both atheistic and non-survivalist views simply because it did not rely on the wrath of god or the prospect of eternal damnation insofar as the conflicts and tensions inherent in present day society no longer existed. I believe that it is, and this brings me to the third of the ingredients found in my intellectual stew.

The idea, often facetiously dismissed as utopian, of a society founded on the principle of common ownership has an ancient pedigree: Sir Thomas More coined the word, Utopia, in his book published in 1516, tendentiously depicting (as he meant thereby to draw attention to some of the evils of his own society) life on a mythical island south of the equator where private property did not exist. But elements of utopian thought can be traced back far earlier to Plato and others, and the notion of an ideal commonwealth has found fictional expression in the work of many writers, from Bacon, Campanella, and Harrington, to Morris, Hertzka, and Wells. The idea and ideal of common ownership specifically has also informed actual events in history – witness the Diggers in 17c England, or the various experiments in building communistic communities, such as those Robert Owen. Moreover – and this is often overlooked – for most of mankind’s existence, society has managed to get by without private property, bar the odd loin cloth, trinket, or flint axe intended for personal use. Marx argued that humans lived in a state of primitive communism for aeons prior to the advent of classical ancient societies where production came to be largely carried out by chattel slave labour.

My concern, however, is with advanced communism. If ever an idea had ‘arrived’ and merited serious attention it is this, particularly now that humanity stands on the brink of an ecological abyss of unfathomable depths for which global capitalism, through acts of omission or commission, can justifiably be blamed. So, how to begin laying out this notion? Perhaps one needs to initially look at what is being proposed: In a nutshell, advanced communist society would operate on a world-wide basis in accordance with that old Marxist dictum, ‘from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs’. As such, it would bear no resemblance to extant and extinct ‘state capitalist’ states, ludicrously and cynically claiming to be ‘communist’ or ‘socialist’. It would be a democracy in the truest sense of the word, and would be established on the basis of a majority choosing to have it - most certainly not imposed by revolutionary vanguards. States and the geographical limits of their administrative operations – national borders - would no longer exist. Freedom of expression would be completely unfettered, and the only socially sanctioned limitations on behaviour being those intended to deter actions demonstrably causing harm to others. No longer straitjacketed by the need to make a profit, production would be undertaken on the basis of need and in a wholly rational manner: Manufacturing processes that might have deleterious environmental effects or pose unacceptable risks, for example, would not be considered, and every effort would be made to ensure that safe alternatives were used instead. People would contribute to the production of goods and services as and how they wished. That is to say, work would be both voluntary and co-operative - there would no longer exist competition between workers, companies and countries. And people would have free access to the fruits of human labour. In other words, neither money nor barter would play a role: If people needed something, they would simply go along to their local distribution facility and take it without having to hand over something in exchange. Sophisticated stock control measures would ensure that needs were anticipated as far as possible by flagging up potential shortfalls. The production of the items in question would then be undertaken in a wholly rational and planned way. Where an actual shortfall did exist then rational strategies such as considering alternatives, rationing, reserving, utilizing different manufacturing processes, importing from further afield, or simply making do without would be deployed. There is no need to suppose that people would in some way abuse the system: Why should they when goods and services were freely available? In any case, it is reasonable to suppose that a wholly different mindset would prevail in this new society; one that would be altogether more socially responsive, humane, tolerant and far less sullied by egotism and greed. Property being held in common, there would no longer exist the immense armies of personnel and the bloated resource-depleting structures dedicated to upholding property rights or access to resources inside and outside each state as obtains at present: I am talking here of the police and the military, the entire justice system, the prisons, the arms industry, the myriad agencies involved in administering property rights and claims, etcetera. Correspondingly, untold millions around the world would no longer be drawn to a life of crime or end up incarcerated because of this career move. The raison d’être for crime, war, terrorism, industrial strife, and internecine conflict, amongst other hideous stressors characteristic of the modern world would simply not exist. People would be able to travel and settle where they wished, but, as the current economic and political conditions driving people to uproot and seek refuge in other parts of the world would no longer obtain, mass migration (Not to mention the attendant angst and resentment in host populations) is unlikely to occur – except in the event of some catastrophic natural disaster. Education would be radically different from what it is today: Being both free and non-compulsory, it is to be expected that those seeking to further their education would do so joyously. The grim discipline-orientated schools of today, which seek to mould kids into industry and business fodder, would become a thing of the past. For once, art would genuinely be for art’s sake, not cynically foisted on a passive populace as a means of turning a quick buck. Quality, in other words, would be the watchword in all creative activity, from architecture and landscaping to music, theatre, film, and writing. Technological innovation, no longer fettered by patents or invested interests, would accelerate, albeit in a controlled, socially responsible way, and many of the more onerous tasks that need undertaking could be systematically automated. Medical research in particular (especially in areas that are currently under-researched – for example, tropical medicine – because there is less of a financial incentive to do so) would be prioritized in order to rid humanity of the misery of disease  and illness as far as possible. Moreover, it would be conducted in an open, coordinated manner, not in the fragmented fashion that it is today, with numerous research groups jealously guarding their discoveries for ‘commercial reasons’.  In this respect, and so many others, the establishment of world communism – or socialism – would utterly transform the way we live. Life would simply be incomparably more relaxed, enjoyable, fulfilling, and happy. Practically all of the so-called today’s ‘evils’ – if one might revert to pulpit language for an instance – would just disappear: war, ethnic cleansing, vandalism, robbery, prostitution, pornography, drug pushing, protection rackets, nepotism, corruption, repression, the cynical manipulation of minds for financial gain, people trafficking, slavery, mass hunger, poverty, unemployment, environmental destruction, the wastage of resources, the deliberate creation of soulless and ugly human environments, to name just some. And the reason for this is simply that each and every one of these phenomena has it’s origin in or is sustained by the current social dispensation, by the manner in which society is organized today. Money, in other words, is what these evils are all about. When humanity eventually chooses to embrace communism, then truly it shall have crossed a threshold between barbarism and civilisation.

I am by no means claiming that all will be perfect under communism: It is reasonable to suppose that after resolving to embrace communism, humanity will have to live with an assortment of ‘transitional problems’ for several decades before things begin to run smoothly. And, of course, the vexed question of the relationship between the individual and society will continue to demand attention. When discussing this relationship, political theorists sometimes refer to the notion of a ‘Social Contract’. To be literal-minded about it, this is, of course, a fiction, another instance of mistaken analogical thinking in which the individual and society are deemed to have a quasi-legal relationship with each party having obligations to the other, or in which society is formed after individuals enter into contracts with each other concerning the nature of the society. Strictly-speaking, as an analogy, this depiction fails: there is no analogical court or presiding judge (unless God in heaven fits this description – but then would he sanction some of the heinous societies in existence today, one has to ask – rhetorically?) to rule on supposed breaches of this contract, and it is nonsensical to construe such a contract as having been negotiated at a given point in time, following which the individual was obliged to behave within the constraints laid down. Of course, what the notion of a Social Contract is actually trying to convey is that individuals derive all sorts of benefits from belonging to a society, but to do so requires them to act within certain constraints, and contribute towards society as well. However, what society affords the individual and the extent to which the latter may comply with social norms are variable. In other words, we have to consider the nature of the society in question when looking at this relationship. Tensions at the interface between the individual and society are perhaps inevitable: One or other may be compromised in all sorts of social arrangements. At one extreme, we may find ourselves living in a laissez-faire jungle where little or no social restraint is placed on individuals in their pursuit of wealth or hedonistic lifestyles, where law and order is minimally or corruptly applied, where a ‘dog-eat-dog’ ethos presides, and where little heed is paid to the social ramifications – be they the ruthless sequestration of what had been commonly held resources, the oppression of the poor, the weak, and the vulnerable, pollution and environmental depredation, the creation of antipathetic, violent, and often politically illiterate subcultures, or garish and architecturally discordant urban environments. Such a society lacks any sense of communality. Yet much the same can be said for the dystopian extreme where society lords it over the individual, crushing any flowering of individualism, demanding conformity and total allegiance. This nightmarishly fascistic model of society rests upon an all-powerful state. Interestingly, and somewhat ironically, disparate elements of both models seem to co-exist in many contemporary societies; China being the most noteworthy example. Communism, on the other hand, whilst not likely to wholly eliminate the tension between the individual and society, is surely the only form of society able to radically reduce such tension as it would facilitate the greatest possible individual liberty within a socially harmonious framework.

People who have never entertained the idea of communism before commonly respond with incredulity as soon as they become acquainted with it. Perhaps this is understandable: It is a profoundly revolutionary idea that calls into question many deeply embedded assumptions about man and society. However, the reader may care to consider the following list of points, which, though far from being exhaustive, ought to demonstrate that communism is indeed a feasible proposition, and that the arguments in its favour are actually highly complex. When doing so, it should be borne in mind that what I mean by capitalism is the currently universal economic system in which goods and services are produced primarily in order to be sold for a profit (what is known as commodity production), whether by the state or by private companies, and in which money, wages, and property, amongst other features, are to be found. Capitalism can either assume the form of state capitalism or private/laissez faire capitalism – or, indeed, anything in between. There is no such thing as state socialism or communism.

  • One of the most convincing points in favour of genuine communism relates to what is tellingly termed ‘human resources’. With the arrival of communism, literally billions people around the world would be relieved of jobs which – although essential to the running of present day society – would no longer be required under communism: I have already alluded to the millions involved in upholding property rights or access to resources. But there are also vast numbers of others involved in similarly non-productive concerns, such as banking, insurance, advertising, social security departments, charities, custom services, stock exchanges, payroll departments, insolvency agencies, pension providers, tax departments, mortgage providers, to name but a few. These occupations would no longer be required in a society unencumbered by the cash nexus. Nor would people be obliged to undertake lowly-paid, unfulfilling work behind cash registers, checking meters, issuing parking fines, guarding premises, working for gambling or lottery companies, selling their bodies for sex, acting as drug mules, issuing tickets, indulging in dubious home business scams, sorting out other people’s pay, running market stalls, bartering, executing bailiff duties, and so on and so forth. And the enforced idleness of unemployment; arguably, another essential feature of capitalism; would be a thing of the past too. In short, it is reasonable to assume that the majority of people around the world – particularly in the so-called developed countries where workers are predominantly employed in the tertiary sector – would find their occupations obsolete. This doesn’t even reckon with the countless millions – particularly in the developing countries – engaged in arduous, ‘low tech’, labour intensive work, such as labouring, dismantling ships, building dams – a bucket of earth at a time. Most of such work could be rendered obsolete too through mechanisation and automation. Thus, what work was required to ensure everyone’s needs were met would be shared out amongst a vastly greater number of people.
  • Apropos work, it is sometimes protested that people would not be motivated to contribute towards the production of goods and services in communist society. However, a little reflection ought to put paid to this particular objection: In the first place, it does not take into account the dramatic ‘sea-change’ in the social ethos, in the prevailing norms and values, that would accompany the establishment of communism; a development necessarily wrought by the democratic nature of the revolution inaugurating the new society. Divisiveness, cynicism, greed, and cruelty would necessarily give way to cohesiveness, social concern, and altruism because each set of attitudes is rooted in the modi operandi of capitalism and communism respectively. So it is inconceivable that vast majority of people, having voted en masse for a new way of life and all that that entailed, would opt to sit back and adopt an attitude of ‘Stuff you, Jack – I’m not going to contribute, I’m only going to take’. Secondly, much of the negativity informing workers’  attitude to employment in society today often derives not so much from the work per se, but from the conditions under which they find themselves employed, the hierarchical nature of the organisations they work for, and crucially, being compelled to work in the first place. Karl Marx’s theories on the alienation of workers are extremely illuminating in this regard. Thirdly, as I’ve said, given that several billion people around the world are currently engaged in occupations that would no longer exist in communist society, there would be far more people around to undertake what work was required. Correspondingly, it could be argued that only one or two days work a week would be required of people on average – taking into account too such considerations as the fact that many currently produced goods and services – for example advertising material, cash registers, weaponry, or ticket barriers - would not then be required, and the fact that a communist society would systematically seek to automate all forms of work considered too onerous or risky. This being the case, it is reasonable to suppose that people would be less disinclined to spare society some of their spare time. It is even conceivable that there might be too little socially useful work available. Fourthly, it could be argued that people, far from being motivated to avoid work, have, in fact, a natural aptitude for work, and a drive to engage in work, both of which are stifled in capitalism by inimical conditions of employment. Fifthly, it may be observed that, even in these cynical times, millions of people everywhere engage in voluntary work, capitalism notwithstanding, and that this flies in the face of the assumption that, all things being equal, people are inherently lazy and would jump at the opportunity to spend their entire existence on a sun lounger with a glass of tequila to hand. I could go on, but I’m sure the point has been made.
  • Many paragraphs back, I argued that materialism has become a sort of quasi-religion relentlessly promoted through near-ubiquitous advertising. The constant backdrop of visual, auditory, and even olfactory prompts – a visit to your local supermarket will attest to the latter – be they subliminal or ‘in your face’, is bound to affect us all. Why else should companies spend literally billions of dollars all around the world on advertising? It is so that we buy, buy, buy, regardless of whether we actually need the commodities on offer. It is said that what the head doesn’t know, the heart doesn’t hanker after. Under capitalism, needs are often artificially created or stimulated, which is both wasteful in terms of resource usage and potentially stress-inducing insofar as people may lack the wherewithal to satisfy these needs. Nothing exemplifies this better than the fashion industry, which might dictate, say, that last season’s hipsters will simply have to go. This is a serious problem: In the UK, tons of discarded clothing are ploughed into landfill sites annually, which impacts on global warming, amongst other things. Then there is advertising targeted at kids, encouraging them to pester their parents for the latest ‘craze’ product. No wonder they grow up to be acquisitive. And talking of acquisitiveness, something else that may be observed about capitalism is that – particularly amongst the wealthy – status is often acquired through the acquisition of luxury products. But there is a huge amount of waste inherent in this charade of ‘keeping up with the Plunkett-Pembertons’: Thus we have the obscene spectacle of the archetypal tycoon with a fleet of luxury sports cars, several mansions - each of which contains enough rooms to house the local homeless, and a trophy wife with a shoe mania to rival that of Imelda Marcos., Not only are these items inevitably under-utilised; but time and resources have been expended on their production which might have more usefully been spent on satisfying more pressing needs. I would venture to suggest that in a communist society, status, insofar as it had some sort of psychosocial purpose in encouraging emulation, would be drastically different in nature: I could imagine that status would reside in the degree to which one actually contributed towards society, with those taking on the most onerous and dangerous tasks being accorded the highest status. Such attitudes would obviously serve society’s interests very well, and make for social cohesiveness.
  • Not only does capitalism manipulate people into buying things they might otherwise not have considered buying, it sometimes also compels them to continue buying commodities time and again through the simple expedient of ensuring that those things do not actually last as long as they could. This is what is known as ‘built-in obsolescence’, and it is a feature of all sorts of products, from cars to the simple light bulb. Similarly, the general shoddiness of so many manufactured goods, for example, houses (particularly in the cynically termed ‘social housing’ market), which stems from a desire to cut costs to the bone, likewise results in a shortened period of use. The outcome in both cases is more waste and customer dissatisfaction. Waste in this context has to do with rendering a product unserviceable and therefore needing to be disposed of far sooner than otherwise would be the case.
  • There are many other ways in which capitalism is wasteful: Take, for example, the tendency to ‘modulise’ parts. What I mean by this is that instead of selling a replacement item on its own, manufacturers will sometimes only sell the item as part of a bigger unit or a batch. Whilst this may sometimes make replacing the item easier, it is just as likely to be motivated by the manufacturer’s desire to fleece the customer out of more money. Insofar as the part is specific to a particular make of the product, the manufacturer will almost have a free rein to indulge in this practice.
  • But this is virtually insignificant compared to the waste inherent in a system in which each of the millions of companies or corporations around the world competes with numerous others in producing particular goods and services for a particular market. Why is this wasteful? Well, just consider for a moment the sheer amount of duplication inherent in this set up: You might get dozens of companies producing a particular good or service within a specific locale, each with its own premises, workforce, management structure, and so on. Each will have a number of administrative and financial operations to execute over and above productive operations, which simply would not occur in a socialist/communist society, such as holding shareholder meetings, carrying out financial audits, running pay departments, operating security measures, and implementing marketing strategies. The latter is particularly noteworthy: Big companies, like Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola spend literally billions of dollars trying to outdo each other in the marketplace, and have vast marketing departments dedicated to this aim. On the subject of duplication, it may also be instructive to consider the outcome of a previous Conservative government’s demented attempts to make the National Health Service in the UK more ‘efficient’ a few years ago, by breaking it up into hundreds of self-governing trusts. The upshot was a vast increase in administrative staff by comparison with clinical staff, as each trust had to have it’s own finance department, its own ‘estates’ department, its own pay department, and so on – verily, the economics of the madhouse! In capitalism, it is often the case that having numerous companies compete to sell particular products is often far more then market can bear. Thus it may be that a sizeable number of these companies will be operating below capacity some of the time. Indeed, a few may find themselves going to the wall, squeezed out by the big players. The under-utilisation or non-utilisation of resources in this respect amounts to waste. So does the fact many of the smaller companies, generally burdened with  proportionately higher expenses on such things as heating and electricity and having to purchase services that might otherwise be obtained ‘in-house’, lack ‘economies of scale’.
  • The fact, too, that competing products are sometimes shipped from great distances is yet another instance of waste, as well as being environmentally damaging. Is it really necessary to have New Zealand butter stacked alongside English butter in UK supermarkets, considering that the European Community once had to scale down it’s notorious ‘butter mountain’?
  • This ‘butter mountain’ actually exemplifies another appalling sort of waste found in capitalism: the waste generated by overproduction. Just as the market may determine that the very factories, offices, mines and farms are no longer economically viable and have to be  taken out of commission, it may also determine that the products and services flowing from these facilities are ‘surplus to requirements’ and need to be junked. We see this in the periodic trade cycles that beset capitalism, which essentially occur because capitalism has overreached itself.
  • There are yet other ways in which waste can be generated. For example, companies will often do all they can to enhance the cosmetic appearance and thus the ‘saleability’ of their products without necessarily improving the quality of the latter, and this can result in profligate amounts of waste. Tristram Stuart, in his recent book, ‘Waste, uncovering The Global Food Waste Scandal’, claims, for example, that 25% of the fruit and vegetables produced in the UK is wasted in the process of production simply because these don’t look the right shape, colour or size. The taste and nutritional value are beside the point. On the subject of food wastage generally – both by consumers and the food industries – it has been estimated that what the US alone wastes each year is twice as much as that required to adequately feed the 923 million malnourished people in the world today (The Independent, 9th July 2009, p9)
  • The raft of international laws and trade agreements governing all manner of economic activity around the world also creates a huge amount of waste by any number of yardsticks. These laws and trade agreements exist simply to impose some semblance of order and restraint upon the ferocious greed of different nation states competing for scarce natural resources, trade routes, access to markets, and so on. As such, they would serve no purpose at all in a world-wide communistic society. But in today’s world, these laws and trade agreements require vast armies of bureaucrats and other officials to administer and police them; these functions themselves necessitating elaborate monitoring operations that likewise require much in the way of resources and personnel. Were such regulations to be absent, of course, it is wholly conceivable that disputes around the world could degenerate into any number of wars. Nevertheless, these laws and trade agreements can themselves lead to bizarre consequences, thus tempting some to flout them. Let me cite a couple of examples: It is estimated that because of the European Union’s common fisheries policy, something in the region of 40 to 50 per cent of the fish caught by EU trawlers is thrown back dead into the sea (The Independent, ibid). Touching on my previous point, the European Union also has fairly stringent rules regarding the cosmetic appearance of 10 sorts of fruit and vegetables which between them account for about three quarters of all fresh produce sold in the EU. As I explained earlier, the effect of such laws is to create waste since a certain amount of the produce will be deemed unfit for sale – solely on cosmetic grounds. Incidentally, it is no co-incidence that such regulations favour big Western-owned agribusiness concerns at the expense of Third World peasant farmers.
  • The proclivity for cutting costs in capitalist production is something else that gives rise to all sorts of other problems; perhaps the most notorious of which relate to health and safety issues. Thus we find aircraft crashing for want of adequate maintenance work, or the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (sic) in the UK ruling that certain forms of treatment do not constitute ‘value for money’ and may therefore not be prescribed, notwithstanding their efficacy in many cases. Michael Moore’s docufilm, ‘Sicko’, highlights just how single-minded capitalism is when it comes to money. In this revealing study of the American health system, he shows just how inhumane the richest country on earth can be when it comes to treating its sick and injured. Those without medical insurance often find themselves in desperate situations. Like the man who loses two fingers in an accident, and is faced with a bill of $60,000 to sew one of them back on, and $12,000 for the other. Well, it’s a no-brainer – the more expensive finger ends up in a landfill site. But even those who do pay insurance and find themselves in need of medical treatment often face a medical inquisition by HMO (Health Maintenance Organization) personnel, whose sole aim - I repeat, sole aim - is to try deny them treatment (which, in the case of those personnel with a medical qualification, would seem to be in flagrant violation of the Hippocratic Oath). This is borne out by the fact their remuneration is contingent upon the percentage of denials they manage to issue. The film depicted the heart-rending case of a man with renal cancer whose doctor had urged a particular course of treatment. His wife met up with representatives of his medical insurance company and begged them to provide the funding for the treatment. But they considered the treatment to be ‘experimental’ and turned it down. Within three weeks the man was dead. Apart from the fact that there may have been a racist element in their deliberations, - the man was black and his wife white – the sheer psychopathic disregard for anything bar the company’s profit margins leaves one speechless. Such blinkered thinking would be anathema to a socialist society, where genuine need, rather than financial criteria, would determine whether or not something was produced or made available. Cost-cutting can affect the quality of life in many other ways. Take, for example, the poor provision of services afforded to rural communities, from post offices to buses. What underlies this, of course, are both the greater transportation costs inherent in servicing rural communities, and the fact that urban populations present a more lucrative market to would be providers. Who can forget the cherry picking practices of bus companies during the deregulating Thatcher years ( which persist in many major urban conurbations; for example, Manchester ) when buses arrived in two or threes on the more popular ( and shorter ) urban routes whilst rural services were cut back. Needless to say, the financial reckoning behind such developments would never arise in a society dedicated to meeting needs, instead of maximising profit.
  • A year or so ago, there was much media interest in the subject of fake, or counterfeit, products; Channel Four’s alarming series titled ‘The Fake Trade’ being a case in point. Its not so much the fake Prada handbags or Rolex watches that concerns me: although the faking of such luxury items obviously hits the ‘legitimate’ manufacturers and allegedly promotes gun crime and terrorism, consumer surveys have, in fact, shown that many, and in some countries – the USA, of all places, for example – most people are not averse to purchasing some types of fake items; an activity which has even acquired a fashionable frisson. However, what really must appal most of us is the counterfeiting of certain sorts of items; medicines being a prime example. The statistics beggar belief: It is estimated that something like one million Africans die each year through purchasing counterfeit medicines. Let us be clear what is happening here: Tablets, capsules, ampoules, and so on, convincingly packaged but deliberately containing little or nothing of therapeutic value, are sold by traders, or sometimes unwittingly by ‘respectable’ outlets, to people – the vast majority of whom are crushingly poor – who go away hoping that the diseases affecting them or their loved ones can at last be tackled. But, of course, nothing of the sort happens, and these poor souls deteriorate. In the case of antibiotics, having just some but not enough, can also be dangerous because it can induce resistance (and incidentally lead to stronger strains of bacteria). With a disease like malaria, the resulting delay in receiving effective medication can be critical. No wonder that a fifth of the one million annual deaths caused by malaria around the world can be attributed directly to the consumption of counterfeit anti-malarial medication. In the developing world, the incidence of fake medicines varies from 10% to 50% and higher in some countries. But this is not just a problem in the developing world: In Russia, it is thought that 10% of medicines are fake, and here in the UK, fake anti-statins, for example, have recently infiltrated the supply chains. Here truly, we catch a glimpse of the dark heart of capitalism; its untrammeled greed and disregard for all else. One of the contributors to the above-mentioned Channel Four programme opined that capitalism really needed to be restrained and managed or anarchy and chaos would ensue. But this is to miss the point: Capitalism, like a rabid dog with an insatiable desire to sink its teeth into someone, can certainly be leashed (or, to put it differently, we can certainly attempt to save capitalism from itself). But, even with the most rigorous restraints, it would still seek to minimize costs and maximize profits. Those other shortcomings I mentioned earlier – shoddy production, built-in obsolescence, and so on – are really all of a piece with counterfeit manufacture: One might want to think rather in terms of a ‘continuum of dysfunctionality’ here. Moreover, those companies or countries who attempt to act relatively responsibly and with due regard to the environment and their workers will find themselves disadvantaged in the barbaric world of commerce; somewhat as the British slave-owner lobby in the 19c argued that liberating slaves would give the dastardly French a commercial advantage. What is particularly ironic about the situation with counterfeit production is that the main culprit being fingered is none other than that worker’s paradise, the ‘People’s’ (sic) Republic of China. Here we find capitalism in a truly fascistic mould; there can be no obfuscating the point. That China should present itself as a ‘communist state’; an Orwellian fiction that tends to be ignored or half-heartedly questioned by capitalism’s hacks in the ‘free world’ (again, sic) for cynical reasons no doubt; amounts to butchering reason. It is estimated that something like 15–20% of products made in China are counterfeit, and China is a major provider of fake medicines – notwithstanding some lackadaisical official attempts to stem the production of these. Chinese workers are themselves victims of this iniquitous industry; both as underpaid wage slaves and with thousands dying each year from misguidedly taking these drugs. The Chinese state allows its bourgeois overlords a lot of leeway to grind their workers, notwithstanding the vicious reputation it has for dealing with miscreants, or those who go a little too far in their pursuit of profit.
  • Another facet of capitalism which is sometimes overlooked is the phenomenon of corruption. A little while ago, I heard it said that about one quarter of Africa’s GDP is siphoned off to corrupt elites. This is just beyond belief. Even so-called aid money – ostensibly intended to bring relief to that continent’s wretched millions – is considered fair game. A 2007 report estimated that corruption costs Africa something in the region of $150 billion and reckoned that most of this cost is carried by the poor. The net effect of this is that prices are 20% higher than otherwise would be the case, investment is discouraged, and development held back. Obviously, corruption is far from being an exclusively African phenomenon. It may not be as pervasive and overt in the so-called developed world, but it most surely exists there, like some fungal infection in the dark murky world of finance. Needless to say, greasing palms would not and could not happen in a society based on the principle of ‘from each according to his ability, to each according to his need’. Nor would people have cause to feel jaundiced and cynical about others in society; something which is capable of eroding social cohesiveness and thereby creating alienation.
  • One of the most compelling arguments in favour of communism is that war and the preparation for war are almost integral to capitalism. Whatever protagonists may claim, wars invariably involve a dispute over economic interests. In some instances, this may be fairly obvious: One side may declare war on another over some piece of territory, a trade route, or access to a particular resource or market. All colonial wars are clearly economic, with a nascent, indigenous bourgeoisie seeking to assert its interests against a colonial power. In other instances, the economic basis may be harder to discern beneath the blather about ‘freedom’, ‘sovereignty’, ‘terror’, or ‘jihad’, But it most surely underlies such conflict, whether it amounts to a desire to secure strategic interests in a particular region, or relative poverty becoming the recruiting sergeant for religious or nationalist groupings seeking to wage a war. What also has to recognised nowadays is that many, if not most wars, do not conform to the classical model of two or more states becoming embroiled in a decisive and time-limited conflict. Many amount to – what with unintentional irony are termed – civil wars. But here too, economic interests or factors – are inseparably bound up with these wars, as has been  demonstrated by the rival factions in Sierra Leone’s cruel little civil war seeking to control the production of ‘blood diamonds’ or the Taliban’s amusingly impious attempts to manage opium production in Afghanistan. Setting aside the horrendous misery and psychological damage visited upon those who survive capitalism’s wars, the material cost of these wars (which have continued unabated ever since that ‘War to end all wars’) is incalculable: Beyond the obvious costs of waging wars and the ensuing destruction of homes, offices, factories, schools, hospitals, roads, bridges, dams, and so on, there are innumerable indirect costs which are often not even factored into the headline figures ( an example of which might be a recent (2007) report by the US Congressional Budget Office that $2.4 trillion would have spent by the US on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq by 2017). Consider, for example, the unforeseen environmental consequences, the disrupted education of individuals who might otherwise have had much to contribute towards society, the social problems directly or indirectly resulting from the consequential fracturing of social institutions that might have helped individuals to lead ‘normal’ lives, the cost of treating and rehabilitating injured combatants and non-combatants… the list goes on and on. And yet this is not all: Even when countries are not actually engaged in a war or wars, significant amounts of their resources and manpower are channelled into building up and maintaining their so-called defence forces. (How is it possible for two ‘defence’ forces to ever engage with each other, one may wonder!) The annual military expenditure for the entire world in 2004 was $1100 billion (Obscenely, the US accounted for about $600 billion of this). Now, if the premise is accepted that war and military expenditure are integral to the running of capitalism, then it behooves anyone wishing to cobble together some sort of apologia for this divisive, wasteful, conflict-ridden form of society to justify this outrage. Just how many of the huge intractable problems facing most of the world’s population, like hunger, illiteracy, malaria, or AIDs could be resolved at a fraction of the cost? A single Chinook mk3 helicopter costs over £52.5 million today to be made operational, for example (Dominic Lawson, The Independent, 14th July 2009, p27). Just how many Third World schools could be made operational with this sort of money? Moreover, just as there are less obvious consequences to the waging of war, so are there less obvious consequences to the preparation for war. I shall just mention one: The huge amount of money and scientific personnel involved in military research and development. At an international seminar held in New Delhi in November 2006 it was claimed that military R & D accounted for 10% of all R & D worldwide. This percentage is rising, and literally hundreds of thousands of highly trained personnel are involved in this ignominious endeavour across the world. One can only speculate how much better the world would be were they to apply their talents in other more socially beneficial directions.
  • Yet another argument bearing out the viability of communism has to do with the fact that technological progress nowadays day is increasingly thwarted or misdirected, and consequently, humanity is being deprived of the benefits it might otherwise have enjoyed. This happens in various ways: I have already alluded to the remorseless growth in military production and research. The development of security and surveillance technology is arguably another instance of misdirected technology insofar as it has very little to do with bettering ordinary people’s lives, but a lot to do with protecting vested interests. It is also true to say that some technology may be hampered because it is financially too risky trying to develop it, or because the investment required is simply too large; the development of nuclear fission being a case in point here. Similarly, certain areas of scientific endeavour may be ‘disincentivized’ because the financial rewards accruing from such activity are deemed insufficient, or because the market for the products arising out of this endeavour is considered too small: The warped logic of capitalism’s ‘dismal science’, economics, has it that if people do not have sufficient money to purchase a product, then obviously there is no demand for it, notwithstanding the fact that they may be in desperate need of the item in question, be it food, housing, medicine or something else of an essential nature. Paradoxically, it is also the case that some products, even if highly useful, may not be developed simply because the costs involved would be so small that the prices they commanded would therefore have to be minimal too, thus rendering their production not worthwhile. Thus, in the UK, there has recently been some controversy over the lackadaisical attitude of pharmaceutical companies towards developing a ‘polypill’ containing 5 different ingredients intended to prevent cardiovascular disease: Notwithstanding some very promising results achieved in trials, indicating that it might save literally thousands of lives if used prophylactically in all over 50s, pharmaceutical companies have been loath to get involved as the cheapness of the ingredients would make it commercially unviable. The ‘Independent’ newspaper was even drawn to wryly comment upon the contradictions of capitalism in reference to this failure to meet a real need. Technological advancement may also be thwarted through the patenting system which expressly prohibits the exploitation of a patented idea without both seeking the permission of, and paying royalties to, the owner of the patent. My reference to the owner of the patent, rather than the inventor, is tendentious as it is well known that there are lots of dubious outfits engaging in activities as patent trolling and patent hoarding. Thus it is often the case that the gestation period for many sound ideas that could improve the lot of humanity is a painfully drawn out affair because vested interests are at stake. Conversely, and dare I say, perversely, many ideas that are not at all helpful tend to be enthusiastically taken up for purely commercial reasons. Thus we find computers carrying crippleware which effectively disables programs, and ‘terminator technology applied to seed production. A closer look at the latter will show just how far commerce can deviate from common sense in its blinkered pursuit of profit. (In so doing, I shall draw heavily on a case study by Thomas Petersen and Bryony Bonning of Iowa State University in its Bioethics Journal). The so-called ‘trait protection system’ (which is covered by US patent no: 5723, 765) ensures the non-viability, or sterility, of the offspring seed of plants grown from parent seed which has been genetically engineered specifically to produce this outcome. Consequently, farmers who purchase this seed from agribusiness companies - primarily because it has been genetically engineered to produce a much higher yield – are prevented from harvesting the offspring seed for growing the next crop, and obliged to purchase more seed for this purpose. Alarmingly, the process of ensuring non-viability also entails chemically treating the parent seed. The implications of this technology are multifarious and often undesirable, notwithstanding the fact that it is likely to result in significantly higher yields: for one thing, a loss of biodiversity is likely to ensue, both on account of native seed being replaced by genetically modified seed, and the fact that not many varieties of any crop are suitable for genetic engineering. It also has to be said that this new technology poses the risk of killer genes being transmitted to related species of plants in the locality via pollen, and potentially wiping them out. This new technology may also do away with the role farmers have traditionally fulfilled of breeding plants suited to the local environment. The cost of genetically engineered seed being higher; many third world farmers will not be in a position to purchase it. Those who do, on the other hand, will be dependent on the big agribusiness companies for their seed supply, but could face ruin were this supply to be disrupted in any way. The upshot, in other words, could be that control of world food production would largely fall into the hands of these companies; small in number though they may be. Does such a development have any advantages for humanity as a whole? Well, it handsomely rewards the shareholders of the aforesaid companies. But it hardly benefits farmers in general; or indeed consumers, who will inevitably have to pay more for the product. What is particularly galling about it too is that not only is the process of engineering killer genes wholly irrelevant to the quality or yield of the product, it also carries so many potentially serious risks and undesirable consequences. The whole business begs the question: why could geneticists engineered the genes simply to produce a higher yield (although such an innovation is not without controversy), and left it at that? The answer has to do with capitalism’s blinkered and avaricious nature, in which the wider and generally subtle complications of any commercial operation do not figure in the balance sheets, and are effectively disowned by the perpetrators.
  • If this barrage of facts has as yet failed to breach the walls of scepticism, allow me to cite one more. Some time ago, I watched an outstanding television series called ‘Earth: The Power of the Planet’, presented by Dr Iain Stewart. Something in one episode was rather disturbing. The presenter and a fellow academic were exploring a frozen lake in the icy wilderness of Northern Siberia. In one spot on the lake, they cleared some of the overlying snow, and peered down at the transparent ice below. In it, they saw a myriad of trapped bubbles. After cutting into the ice, they held a flame over the hole they had created. What happened next must surely count as one of nature’s stranger phenomena: A truly huge tongue of fire suddenly erupted from this frozen pit. And the reason for this was that the bubbles were, in fact, trapped methane, slowly being released with the defrosting of the Siberian Tundra. Methane, of course, is a very potent greenhouse gas, contributing towards global warming. It is 21 times more effective in trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, which it does by absorbing infrared radiation that would otherwise leak away into space. Although it is found in natural gas and is biologically produced within anaerobic environments, over the last few centuries it has increasingly derived from all sorts of human activities; from farming to the production of motor cars. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the concentration of methane in the atmosphere has risen 150% globally since 1750 (although this rise appears to have tailed off recently). What is worrying, indeed frightening, about this high concentration of methane is not just the greenhouse effect it exerts per se, but the fact that in concert with a host of other global warming factors, it may help to bring about a ‘runaway effect’, leading to hugely devastating and possibly irreversible changes in the planet’s ecosphere, with each of these factors augmenting, and in turn being augmented by, all of the other factors via the contribution they make to global warming. It is worth looking at just a few of these in order to appreciate their interrelatedness:                                                                                                          

*With rising temperatures, methane will, of course, continue to be released from melting permafrost peat bogs (perhaps as much as 70,000 million tons of the stuff). But it is also known that there are vastly greater amounts of methane trapped as methane clathrate deposits beneath sediments on the ocean floors. Since methane clathrate actually occurs in the form of ice, a rise in sea temperatures could trigger a sudden release of marine methane. But the scale of this would be immense and almost apocalyptic in outcome, resulting in a 5ºC rise in temperatures globally. It has been hypothesized that it was just such a scenario which led to the mass extinction event that occurred during the Permian-Triassic age.

*Talking of the oceans, something else that is likely to occur with global warming is a diminution in the capacity of this vast sink for carbon dioxide to actually absorb this greenhouse gas, resulting in increased levels of carbon dioxide, and therefore in higher temperatures. Raised CO2 levels are also likely to cause acidification of the oceans, which will in turn detrimentally impact on corals and other marine organisms.  

*It is also the case that water vapour, which is by far the most potent greenhouse gas, accounting for something like 36% to 66% of the greenhouse effect, will become more concentrated as temperatures rise; something which is likely to result in turn in to a further raising of temperatures, and consequently to a further increase in water vapour concentrations. 

*We know that ice, being white, reflects heat, and that the sea absorbs heat. With global warming, of course, there will be a reduction in the area of the earth’s surface covered by ice (resulting in a reduced albedo) and an increase in the area covered by sea, leading to a further rise in global temperatures, which, in turn will exacerbate this situation.  

*Finally, it has been noted that, amongst the many and varied effects of global warming, in many mid-latitudinal  areas, such as Mediterranean Europe or Australia, there will be a greater frequency of droughts. With these   droughts will come an increased incidence of forest fires, and when the latter occur, huge amounts of carbon  dioxide will be released into the atmosphere, thereby compounding the problem of global warming.

What we can see from this small selection of factors is that they will feed off one another as the rise in global temperature is both cause and effect in each case. It’s a frightening situation: We are only now beginning to get a glimpse of the hellish future that awaits us if we fail to properly address this issue.  But, what has this to do with capitalism, you may ask? Well, in a word, everything: Scientific opinion across the world is now practically unanimous in concluding that the relentless course of global warming is mainly attributable to one factor: man. More specifically, to his barely restrained burning of fossil fuels, his slashing down of vast tracts of rainforest, and his disembowelment of the earth in pursuit of minerals and metals. And what drives these destructive activities? In a word: money (or the lack of it). Now, it may seem unfair to bracket desperate Brazilian peasant farmers compelled to clear a patch of virgin forest in order to grow cash crops with avaricious executives of a car manufacturing company. But for both of them, their situations offer little option other than to do what they have to do: Not to take the environmentally damaging option may well have an adverse effect on their personal fortunes, perhaps even disastrously so. What’s more, there will always be less scrupulous competitors willing to step into the breach and carry out these destructive activities. Moreover, because of capitalism’s short term outlook, where planning looks no further than the next shareholder’s meeting, and it’s blinkered approach which disregards all but the need to make a profit, the longer term consequences and ramifications of economic decisions are rarely accorded the consideration they deserve. This is inherent in the system: No matter what vaunted declarations emanate from the IPCC, beneath the mantle of high-mindedness and reasonableness affected by statesmen, the economic id of capitalism will bubble away, seeking out the smallest chink through which to pour out its poisonous energy. That it might thereby threaten our lives and the lives of our children seemingly counts for nothing.

  • Let me conclude this demonstration of the feasibility of communism with some speculations on the subjective aspect accompanying future political developments in the direction of establishing a world-wide society in which private or state ownership and all the appurtenances thereof, such as money, wages, and profit, would be replaced by common ownership, and everyone would have free access to goods and services. Over the last few pages, I have been at pains to argue that this revolutionary change in the way society was ordered would necessarily be premised on a momentous change in how people en masse regarded both human nature and the communist project. It is reasonable to suppose that support for this project would grow exponentially. In other words, the actual rate of increase would dramatically rise until a sort of runaway effect would draw in the mass of humanity, resulting in a democratic revolution. My grounds for saying this are as follows:  Firstly as I indicated some pages ago, the notion of communism that I have been promoting is rarely considered in the public domain. People reflexively associate communism with the heinous regimes of the Soviet Empire, with China, with Pol Pot’s Cambodia, and so on. Once it is generally realized that these have nothing to do with communism, once this knee-jerk reaction to the very mention of the word diminishes, people will begin to look afresh at this concept. I suspect that the interest aroused will spread on account of the sheer ‘novelty value’ of looking at this tag in a wholly different light, and the fact that people will gradually become aware of the need to redefine the term in political discourse. Secondly, as people increasingly begin to see how many current social problems may be attributable directly or indirectly to capitalism; pari passu, they will gradually begin to see that communism, to a great extent, provides a comprehensive solution to these problems.Thirdly, it is reasonable to suppose that a sort of ‘resonance effect’ will be created as the idea begins to take hold, as more and more voices begin to be raised in support. This will give the whole notion more credibility and palpably change the political climate. Today, the prevailing outlook is fatalistic, superstitious in some quarters but cynical in others, medieval in many parts of the world, pessimistic, anxious, alienated, and saturated with deep fears about terrorism, war, crime, economic collapse, global warming, and more. As increasing numbers begin to embrace communism, hope will begin to permeate as the realisation dawns that is within the gift of humanity to bring about change for the better. Fourthly, as interest in the concept of communism begins to spread, more research and academic study of the subject will be undertaken; thus further bolstering the case for communism. Finally, material support for the cause will grow, enabling increasingly more effective propaganda strategies to be developed.

The foregoing points constitute both a formidable critique of capitalism and a vindication of the case for communism – genuine communism – I would contend. Defenders of capitalism will sometimes acknowledge that this may to some extent be true. However, they almost invariably then sagely shake their heads, and proclaim that the notion of a society built on the principles of common ownership, democratic control, free access and liberty does not square with ‘human nature’. What is it, one wonders, that makes them so certain about this? Dogmatism, a failure of imagination, misanthropy, a touch of schadenfreude, or plain old cynicism?  Perhaps it is a bit of each. These same apologists will say that they are being ‘realistic’. But what they singularly fail to take into account is that it is fundamentally the very ‘dog-eat-dog’ nature of capitalism moulds some people into selfish, aggressive specimens, and consigns most of us to lives of ‘quiet desperation’, as Thoreau put it. Small wonder then that the prevailing take on human nature is anything but flattering. So what I intend doing now is to have a closer look at the whole question of ‘human nature’, and then show that an altruistic approach to life – specifically, an ethic that enjoins one to leave this world a better place – sits very comfortably with our ‘human nature’. What I would like to propose is a somewhat slippery notion, one that pulls together many strands of my discussion heretofore: Let me call it (somewhat unimaginatively) the ‘Organic Model of Human Advancement’. (As will become evident, the term, ‘organic’, is appropriate for a number of reasons; not least because the component propositions sit well with one another, because it highlights the physicality of human beings, and because the term resonates with the espousal of mutuality). What the model amounts to is this:

1. We human beings are a highly complex arrangement of atoms, and our capacity to think and feel is somehow contingent upon certain key features of this arrangement. When this arrangement breaks down – when we die – no vestige of us remains. We do not have an afterlife. Ultimately, this is not something that can be verified for the obvious reason that verification would entail ‘crossing that bourn from which no man returns’. What we have here is a situation analogous to imagining nothingness: This is impossible for the reason that the observer cannot be excluded. Likewise, non-survivalism could not be verified without excluding the verifier whose very testimony would bear witness against non-survivalism. That said, there are a number of very strong arguments against the proposition that we are somehow able to survive, to maintain an identity, to remain sentient conscious beings, after we die:      

 In the first place, no one has ever returned from the dead to tell the tale. Certainly, all manner of phenomena have been cited as evidence for some sort of connection or contact between the living and the dead: Ghosts, poltergeists, séances, regression hypnosis, near death experiences, and so on. But in not a single instance has there been any verifiable proof of a connection or contact with dead people being  established, nor grounds for excluding any other explanations, known or unknown, for the phenomenon in question. Far from being a dour materialist who scoffs at the notion of mystery, I am more than happy to admit that ‘there are more things in heaven and earth than is known in my philosophy’. It is the proponents of survivalism and all manner of other non-empirical notions, such as God and destiny, which have the world cut and dried. Even on the question of an afterlife, I am prepared to admit a degree of agnosticism, albeit one heavily skewed towards the non-survivalist position for the reasons I am providing. Furthermore, I am persuaded in this by the fact that over the centuries, under the hot glare of scientific scrutiny, non-empirical explanations of an ever-increasing number of phenomena, from the motion of the planets to the aetiology of diseases, have simply evaporated. Those phenomena still currently saturated with ethereal, untestable explanations are now few in number, and there is no reason to think they cannot in principle succumb to empirical elucidation. Science is not above criticism, but those who take a virulently anti-science stance often tend to confuse poor science or the application of science with the scientific method per se. The latter being an elaboration of ‘common sense’ and logic, the common sense and logic exercised by detractors of the scientific method could be called into question.    

 A second argument against survivalism (and, by default, in favour of non-survivalism) is that it trips up on its dualistic premises, on the notion that we are essentially composed of two sorts of substances: body and mind. I am not inclined to wade into this particular metaphysical swamp, but it suffices to point out that dualism – or, more particularly, that species of dualism known as ‘substance dualism’ – is beset with a number of problems, such as where and how causal interaction between body and mind could occur, and the fact that phylogenetically and ontogenetically human beings start out as purely physical entities.                                                                            

A third reason for rejecting the notion that we somehow survive death is one that impresses me personally. Having worked for many years with patients suffering from various forms of dementia, I am very aware of how these tragic conditions can effect a diminution of what – for want of a better word – one might term ‘the mind’. Crucially, such patients begin to lose their memories; initially and most noticeably their short term memories. And memories, of course, are the threads from which personal identity is woven. They also begin to lose awareness; in particular, self awareness. All of the orientating information pertaining to time and space which ordinarily hums along in the background simply fades away: They may not know where they are or what day it is. Nor might it occur to them that they should look both ways before crossing the road, for example. It may sometimes seem that their behaviour is analogous to acting on the basis of the conclusion of an argument without being apprised of its premises. Unforgivingly and tragically, their mental wattage drops lower and lower. What we know, of course, is that this deterioration proceeds pari passu with changes in the brain: the greater the destruction in the brain, the greater the destruction in the ‘mind’. Now, what I would like to argue is that, extrapolating from this, it is reasonable to suppose that when the former is total, as happens in death, then the latter is total as well. Those who argue for our survival after death have also – I would contend – to address this brain damage issue. Even if they could theoretically show that we do somehow survive death, it would be incumbent on them to also show how the mind could recover its former functionality if in life its ‘owner’ had been subjected to a dementing illness.

 A fourth argument is that, notwithstanding the very similar genetic make-up of man and his closest cousins, the other primates (It has been shown that even the fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) shares nearly 60% of its genes with us) or the impressive similarities between us and other animals in respect of physiology, anatomy, and even embryonic development, we have no difficulty in comprehending the fact once an animal dies, it does not then pass over to some idyllic Valhalla. Heaven is not swarming with butterflies and bees, nor filled with the yapping of euphoric poodles. The fact that all life originated from unicellular cyanobacteria that carpeted the sea floor billions of years ago, should in itself disabuse us of this notion of an afterlife. From an evolutionary perspective, possessing an afterlife would have to be considered an ‘emergent property’, if hypothesised, and that would raise a host of how, why, and when questions.                                        

There are doubtlessly many other arguments against the proposition that when we die, we somehow live on in some de-materialised state. But the foregoing are sufficiently powerful in themselves to put paid to this delusion. Incidentally, in pooh-poohing this idea, it is not my intention to thereby cast gloom all about me (Who would not wish to go to heaven if such a place, state, or condition existed. It even sounds a bit like communism, if you ask me!) Rather, I would argue that this idea stands in the way of attaining happiness in the only place that really matters: The world we can see and touch.

2. For us what really matters in life is happiness. That said, happiness is far from being a simple notion. There are different sorts of ‘happinesses’. The most profound sort is intrinsically bound up with what we are, with our personality, and this amounts to what some might care to characterise as a sort of spiritual bliss. However, it is not really what is in ‘inside’ us that accounts for our experience of happiness. The ultimate sources of all forms of happiness must surely be located outside of ourselves, or derive from our interaction with things outside of us; not least significant others. Even our innermost thoughts, from which we may derive a measure of consolation or elation, are profoundly informed by the world around us. The quality of this external world determines our experience of happiness, albeit through a variety of modalities: 

  • At the most basic level, happiness of a sort, more akin to contentment or satisfaction (particularly when other needs are simultaneously addressed) may be had through the satisfaction of basic bodily needs for food, water, sex, elimination, sleep, shelter, and so on. Whilst satisfying these needs may not be a sufficient condition for the attainment of happiness, in extremis (for most people, bar the odd ascetic) this must surely constitute a necessary condition, as anyone who has ever suffered from severe sleep deprivation will confirm. Insofar as we can legitimately distinguish between ‘ourselves’ and our bodies (and whether this distinction is legitimate or not, it is certainly one that is commonly made), the latter are seen as having a special status within the realm of things outside of us. I would not wish to defend this Cartesian construction, but I would simply point out that our bodies interact very intimately with a wider physical environment, and this interaction can vary in terms of its beneficiality, in regard to accompanying subjective experiences.
  • Feeling secure, or unthreatened in any sense, though not synonymous with happiness, must surely be conducive to happiness. Conversely, feelings of insecurity are likely to detract from ones happiness. Admittedly, such feelings in individuals stem in large part from actual interactions with significant others. However, wider and more diffuse social factors have a way of impacting even upon such intimate relationships too. For example, it has been amply demonstrated that financial worries are a major factor in marital disharmony and breakdown in today’s society. The threats to society as a whole, such as terrorism, civil strife, economic meltdown, and ecological disaster can also generate feelings of angst which can potentially blight any enduring sense of happiness. I have argued passim that these threats may be directly attributable to the very nature of the society we live in today, namely one that is practically universally characterized by a capitalist mode of production.
  • Then one has to consider the importance of being loved and giving love in return. The poignancy of the nigh universal drive to find a reciprocating love object outside of ourselves is expressed in the countless personal ads placed in newspapers and dating websites around the world. So much in the external world can stand in the way of achieving this goal, not least lacking the material wherewithal to dangle before potential lovers. This is no small consideration as the foregoing remark about financial hardship impacting on marital relationships indicates. To embark on a search for love requires one to feel reasonably secure in oneself as there is so much at stake – one’s self esteem not least – because a measure of confidence is required to lay out one’s wares, as it were, and because feelings of insecurity may put off potential lovers. Being loved and loving in return epitomizes the argument that the ultimate sources of happiness lie outside of us. When feelings of love are reciprocated, one’s entire inner life becomes animated, and priorities begin to slot into place. One experiences ‘happiness’ and will do one’s utmost to preserve this state of affairs; instincts and reactions being marshalled to this end. But, of course, the external world has a way of thwarting an individual’s desire to attain or remain in love. The sheer banality of modern life may seep into the rock of a marriage. Most cruelly, the very conditions that facilitated love can be its undoing: The ‘seven year itch’, I guess, is what you get when the nesting material begins to scratch.                                                        There are, it has to be said, many sorts of love: apart from the love one might have for a partner, there is the love of one’s children, one’s parents, one’s siblings, one’s friends, one’s social grouping, and indeed, of humanity as a whole. These bonds of attachment can be very rewarding insofar as they can enhance one’s sense of happiness and contentment in all sorts of ways; from receiving a declaration of unconditional love from one’s child to attaining a badge of identity from a group to which one belongs. Yet, here too, society can put a spoke in things: In countless ways, many of which can be traced back to the very nature of society, these bonds may be strained or even torn asunder. Thus we find dire poverty driving parents in some parts of the world to sell their own children, their own flesh and blood, into bondage. And even the most ardent humanitarian may find his or her commitment to mankind sorely tested by the sheer depravity of the modern world with its wars, exploitation, criminality, oppression, and so on – all of which connect with one overriding factor: Capitalism.                                     One other sort of love that bears a mention is, of course, love of oneself. Now, loving oneself is by no means a bad thing. Many psychologists will tell you that self-love is a necessary condition for feeling good about others. But how one feels about oneself is intimately bound up with one’s self esteem, and this is what I want to touch on next.
  • Self esteem is a goal which, in the main, may be realized through fruitfully interacting with others, through realizing socially prized goals, or through being well-regarded by others. In part, it is about awarding oneself a status ranking, and thus implicitly involves comparing oneself with others, taking into account the generalized views of others. The external world mediates in the way one judges one’s social standing in various ways. What is so ironic about the elevation of the ego, the relentless promotion of the individual at the expense of the ‘collective’, which we find in advanced capitalistic societies today – particularly in the West – is that it can actually result in crushing the ego. Why so? Firstly, because, in the materialist consumerist milieu created by capitalism, how one feels about oneself, as I pointed out earlier, often hinges upon how one measures up to assorted style, or indeed ‘lifestyle’ exemplars, what or how much one consumes, or how much conspicuous wealth one can display. Conversely, poverty often creates feelings of worthlessness, and self-hate, for all sorts of reasons; for example, being compelled to do things against the grain of one’s nature in order to make ends meet, being powerless to change one’s circumstances, or simply not being able to afford the paraphernalia indicative of a certain level of social status. Basically, capitalism creates losers, and let’s face it, most of us are losers in this ‘celeb-obsessed’, fetishistic society. Secondly, as Marx pointed out, apart from alienating workers from other workers, from the act of production and from the products themselves, capitalism alienates workers from their very essence, from what they essentially are – human beings, rather than mere machine-like functionaries. This obviously rebounds on how workers value themselves, which in turn may be greatly reinforced by the attitudes conveyed by others, who may not see beyond the roles played out – particularly in many ‘low status’ jobs, such as those of cleaners, waiters, factory hands, and so on.
  • Self-actualisation, though not identical with happiness, must surely be integral to that profound, abiding, almost ‘spiritual’ contentment enjoyed by a fortunate few, if only because to fall short of this goal could leave one with an intrusive sense of dissatisfaction that is bound to detract from one’s happiness. What is self-actualisation? It is simply realizing one’s full potential; or fulfilling one’s ‘destiny’, as those of a more esoteric bent might have it. It is argued that people who manage to attain self-actualisation exhibit various concomitant traits like being creative, highly ethical, autonomous, capable of deep interpersonal relationships, capable of awe, pleasure, wonder, ecstasy, democratic vis-à-vis others, honest. Now this is interesting. Because much of this resonates with what I’ve said about communism/socialism (I use the terms interchangeably). Communism, I would contend, is certain to create a social climate that would be fundamentally democratic and egalitarian in nature, as no one individual or grouping would lord it over others. Without the profit motive driving a coach and horses through ethical deliberations, decision-making under communism would be directly and highly attuned to what is right and wrong, with the pros and cons of any proposal being subjected to democratic arbitration. Autonomy would be integral to this sort of society: People would at last be able to make up their own minds as to what they wanted to do with their lives, and not be railroaded into taking up stultifying and soul-destroying occupations because of the necessity to make money. I could imagine that some would consider a multiplicity of roles, hoping thereby to achieve a sort of rounded development of their potential. Genuine creativity would be fostered in communism as artistic activity would no longer be distorted by the necessity or drive to make money out of one’s talents, or by the requirement to compromise or ‘dumbdown’. In short, because it would allow individuals to more readily plough their own furrow – providing them with the means, the education, and encouragement to do so, and not hindering them with financial and other worries – communism would most likely be infinitely more conducive to individuals realising their full potential. Conversely, individuals would probably be more likely to see self actualisation in social terms: Instead of simply aspiring to be a ‘great scientist’ deserving of approbation and a salary to match, for example, a youngster might be more disposed to think in terms of the contribution he or she might make to society via the pursuance of a career in science.

Those with a background in psychology will have recognised that what I have proposed bears more than a passing  resemblance to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It will be recalled that Maslow suggested that needs at the bottom of the hierarchy take precedence over those higher up: Faced with a famine, an individual will be driven to rummage for food, rather than seek to realize his or her destiny to become a concert pianist. In a way, this is an acknowledgement of our ‘epiphenomenal’ nature: we are physical beings first and foremost and our ‘psychological’ needs are, in a sense, secondary. This dovetails with the point that when our bodies no longer operate then we are no more.

3.  As subjective entities capable and desirous of experiencing happiness, it is in our best interests to ensure that the external world, the source of our happiness, is optimally developed to deliver happiness. This is what the establishment of communism is all about at a macrosociological level: Not only would communism ensure that everyone’s basic needs (like having enough to eat and a roof over your head) were met, and eliminate nearly all of the large-scale causes of stress and insecurity (such as war, crime, and poverty), it would also create a psychological climate far more conducive to the development of happiness than today’s angst-ridden, fractured, cynical, greed-driven zeitgeist. Self-actualisation, the Holy Grail of the ‘me’ generation today, would become a commonplace because obstacles, such as inimical conditions or not having the wherewithal to achieve this, would have been largely eliminated.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4.  Now here’s the really slippery bit: If it is accepted that once I am dead I am no more, then it behooves me to contribute in whatever way I can to the happiness of the countless generations either surviving or following me for the simple reason that at the point of death the distinction between myself and others suddenly disappears (as does any rationale premised on this distinction for remaining aloof from the suffering of others). And if anything matters subsequently it can only matter to other conscious subjective entities; extant or as yet unborn; each of whom will ultimately be directed – as I am in life – by a resolute longing for happiness. It is their subjectivity that will persevere – at least for a little while – and the world, being in some sense a subjective ‘construction’, their existence could be said to ‘make the world go around’, to give it relevance and meaning. What I would like to draw from this is some basis for behaving altruistically towards others. Although not easy to do so, I should like to demonstrate how my very non-survival as a conscious, subjective entity after death constitutes grounds for me taking an altruistic stance in respect of those surviving or following me. Furthermore, I would contend that the most significant act of altruism which humanity collectively might undertake would be to establish communism as this would more radically impact upon the welfare and happiness of succeeding generations than any other collective act of will (Individually, we are powerless to alter the modus operandus of our world, and our individual acts of altruism – although they might advance the happiness of specific others – could ironically perpetuate this modus operandus; firstly, by making it more bearable, and secondly, because focusing exclusively on the symptoms of the many problems afflicting present day society channels people’s energies into fixing these at the expense of addressing the underlying causes)                                                       

Let’s look at it this way: ‘I’ cannot be equated with the memories others have of me, nor with my life’s works or my physical remains; all of which may persist for some time after I have gone. (Interestingly, those who argue for an afterlife are often transfixed by the spectacle of physical remains, as though these served – as a kind of comparator – to suggest that one might leave somewhat more enduring ‘psychical remains’. One has only to look upon the ‘cadaver tombs’ such as can be found in Wells Cathedral to see that this could be a subtextual meaning in these emblematic works of arts. Who knows, were we simply to vapourise at the point of death, the notion of an afterlife may have had less of a hold on people). Whilst alive, what I am, an individual with an identity – rests upon my being a conscious, subjective entity capable of thinking, feeling and willing, and aware of myself as such; however we construe this. In my workaday life, when not engaged in rarefied discussions about metaphysics, I assume that much the same can be said about others as well. That is to say, I ordinarily take it for granted that the faculty for being aware of oneself as a conscious subjective entity is universal, albeit one that individuals exercise in different ways; with more or less frequency or intensity, for example. What will obviously be unique to each individual is, as it were, the content of this awareness: Apart from the unique unfolding of experiences every second of the day, this content includes the myriad facts that feed into one’s overall identity, what has been designated the ‘me’ component of a conscious subjective entity (as opposed to the ‘I’ component – the subject in this act of ‘internal perception’. This might be termed the ‘subject/faculty’ meaning of ‘I’, which differs from the ‘identity’ meaning of ‘I’ deployed when one says, for example, ‘I am an accountant’. In the latter usage, the fact stated is incorporated into the ‘me’). Now the reader may protest that I have surreptitiously introduced analogy into this account in the form of a homonunculus that sits inside one’s head, observing what goes on. Amongst other things, there is the problem of infinite regress here – does the homonunculus itself not possess a homonunculus, and so on? But the homonunculus account is not something I would wish to defend. The only, dare I say, non-philosophical and perhaps trite point I would wish to make in this regard is that, as I have said, when not engaged in philosophical discourse, we are all aware of ourselves and others as being conscious subjective entities. This pedestrian perception – even if metaphysically suspect – is a working hypothesis in our everyday lives. It is also, in fact, embedded in many of the humanities and social sciences, from history to psychology. How one might justify it philosophically is another matter, and the reason I do not wish to pursue it is that I am more concerned with ethics right now, rather than metaphysics. And ethics have to do with ‘ought’ questions, rather than ‘is’ questions. All manner of unverifiable notions about what is the case may implicitly underlie ethical deliberations. A convincing rebuttal of the former does not disprove any particular ethical position; it merely deprives it of certain justifications (In fact, ethical positions are not something one ‘proves’ or ‘disproves’). In this respect, ethical positions stand apart from scientific hypotheses. That we should see the world as peopled with others like us – which nearly all of us do on an everyday basis – simply squares with adopting an altruistic stance, as altruism is intrinsically all about others. In other words, if you don’t see yourself and others as as conscious subjective entities, then I’m afraid what follows may not convince you.                   

As a conscious, subjective, and indeed self-aware, entity, my own happiness is of fundamental importance to me, and I am the ultimate arbiter of whether or not something has made me happy, though not necessarily the best judge of whether something has the potential to make me happy. So I will spend my days attempting to pursue goals conducive to my own happiness. The drive to attain or retain a sense of well-being – what one might loosely term ‘happiness’ – surely underlies most, if not all, human volition. There may be something circular in this: Happiness in one of its multifarious guises is often the affective reaction of the individual managing to successfully exercise his or her will, and yet it is also the object of the exercise. Moreover, in one way or another, much of my volition will concern other people. That is to say, my happiness is bound up with other people, either in a purely instrumental way – where I regard others simply as a means to augment my own happiness, or humanistically/altruistically – where my happiness is conditional upon theirs, upon the recognition that they too are conscious, subjective entities. That, of course, cuts both ways: Others may view me in the same light.                        

But with my death, all of this simply ceases: With the blink of an eye, the slideshow that is the human condition moves on, and the very next slide no longer features me. Existentially-speaking, others are now no longer ‘others’ because, in this context, the very term implies a distinction between myself and comparable entities. From my standpoint, which itself instantly collapses when I die, that dichotomy expires with me, notwithstanding the fact that in ordinary parlance I may still be referred to as if I retained an identity, an ‘other’ to others. Perhaps it is appropriate, therefore to differentiate between a ‘public identity’ and a ‘substantive (or self) identity’ (cf. with the different meanings attached to ‘I’ referred to earlier) – one that necessarily entails being aware that one is alive. The latter necessarily ceases when I die. Not only am I then absent: Any concern or indifference I may have entertained in my lifetime regarding the happiness of others abruptly ceases as well. Such feelings or attitudes I can only entertain during my lifetime as an outsider, never able to directly access the minds of others. This ‘outsidership’ is ultimately what allows me to distinguish between my interests and yours: I can never directly experience your pain and distress, so the drive to eliminate these will for me lack the immediacy and force that it has for you and derive from a wholly different source, call it empathy, sympathy, or perhaps just guilt or a sense of propriety. But, of course, being outside your pain also allows me to say that, in the final analysis, I can walk away from it, I can chose not to be burdened by it. When I die, however, I can no longer be outside anything. Assuming there is no afterlife, this capacity for ‘outsidership’ ceases with my death: I cannot then view my death from some external vantage point (if we put aside more literal reports from people who claim to have had ‘out-of-body’ experiences, and seen their bodies on operating tables, etc); I don’t find myself in some spectral cocoon looking down upon the world. I surrender my ‘I-ness’, or subjectivity, and all that that entails. ‘I-ness’ now only resides in those surviving me.                                         

It is not my intention in utilizing this neologism, ‘I-ness’, to suggest that I have a vested in the happiness of others because, after my death, I can somehow recover my own ‘I-ness’ through paradoxically becoming someone else – becoming reincarnated. Such a view is not one I would go along with. It is to fall for the illusion that death is like switching a light off and then finding oneself in a different body and a different room when the light is switched back on. To succumb to this illusion is to succumb to spurious analogical reasoning; the analogy being based on that old Cartesian chestnut – the ghost in the machine, where the ghost has abandoned one machine in favour of another. The key to understanding the non-survivalist point of view is to accept that, really, there is no existential continuity between me at the point of death and others after my death. There is simply nothing. Such an understanding is far from easy. In fact, paradoxically, it is almost impossible because nothingness cannot be perceived or imagined without throwing a spotlight on the observer or thinker – as a solipsistic something in a sea of nothingness – thus invalidating the exercise. At best, nothingness can only be understood abstractly (or perhaps even mathematically?) as a negation of everything. If one concurs with the non-survivalist view, then there is no ‘me’ when I am dead, and the very statement, ‘I am dead’, is metaphysically (though obviously not metaphorically) impossible to assert – or at least could never be literally true were I, the person writing these words, to utter this sentence. Contrast that with the statement, ’He is dead’, as uttered or written by another in reference to me: This is one that is both meaningful and empirically verifiable (albeit thankfully incorrect at the time of writing), and it is also one that I could use in relation to another, whether I was a non-survivalist or not.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          After my death, if anything in the world is observed and understood, then it has to be the case that there is at least someone relating to the world – engaging in observation and understanding – as it were, from the inside, as a conscious, subjective entity, as an ‘I’, just as I am relating to the world at this very moment of putting pen to paper. Let us call this standpoint an ‘I-standpoint’. Basically, an ‘I-standpoint’ involves looking out on the world from an inside perspective, and contrasts with what might be termed an ‘other-standpoint’ – any standpoint presented by someone other than oneself; the status or content of which can only ever be apprised or indirectly inferred by drawing upon shared symbolic resources (language in particular), cultural intelligence, and knowledge of the supposed mental correlates thought to accompany particular sorts of observed behaviour, amongst other things. An ‘other-standpoint’ presupposes an ‘I-standpoint’ engaged in processing manifestations of the former. That the world will continue to be observed and understood after my death, and moreover, observed and understood from a myriad ‘I-standpoints’, may be inferred from the fact that the world will continue to be acted upon in ways indicative of the exercise of human volition, as opposed to simple physical causation: the sowing of a crop is the outcome of human volition, but the passage of the seasons depends purely upon physical events. Moreover, you, the reader, could hardly fail to bear witness to there being other ‘I-standpoints’ other than the one in which I, the writer, am ensconced. An ‘I-standpoint’ of necessity does not incorporate direct observation and understanding of the actual ‘possessor’ of this standpoint from any other standpoint – I literally do not see myself through other’s eyes or automatically entertain the notions they have of me: I can only imaginatively reconstruct, more or less successfully, how others see me and what others think of me; the reconstruction being essentially my own. Because it is a reconstruction, my knowing how another sees me or what another person thinks of me cannot literally be construed as or equated with the ‘I-standpoint’ observations or understandings of this other person. To me, from my ‘I-standpoint’, this other person’s views can only ever spring from an ‘other-standpoint’ – of necessity. But at the same time, external observation and understanding of a possessor of an ‘I-standpoint’ indicates that the person doing the observing and understanding likewise possesses his or her private ‘I-standpoint’, to which the former presents as one possessing an ‘other-standpoint.’ If the latter is similarly scrutinized, that too would betoken the existence of yet another. The potential regress involved in this interpersonal scrutiny mirrors the regress entailed in that putative homonunculus referred to earlier which is supposedly located in one’s head, intrapersonally eyeing one’s own inner world – as well as looking out upon the world. Except that the regress in the former case is not potentially infinite, but is limited to the number of conscious subjective entities in existence at any one time (and ’homonunuculi’ are merely abstractions, not actual entities). The picture that emerges therefore, is of a world peopled with ‘Is’, each of whose standpoint is totally their own. Another way of putting this is to say that the world out there can only be known through the prism of a person’s consciousness, through an ‘I’.  That is to say, that the world is rendered subjectively real (although, intending not to confuse epistemological claims with ontological claims, I would not wish to say that the world is merely a ‘subjective reality’ as such). This means that there are as many ‘worlds’, or rather, ‘takes’ on the world, as there are conscious, subjective entities. After my death, the world will still be known through ‘Is’ – but not through me as my own ‘I-standpoint’ will have, as it were, been switched off. Any observing and understanding that goes on, including that entailed in scrutinizing others, will be undertaken by living beings, each of whom will be aware of him or herself. This is not something I shall ever be able to prove because my demise will preclude me from doing so. However, it is reasonable to assume just this because right now we all continue to observe and understand things going on around us, notwithstanding the fact that other people die in droves every second of the day.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Now here’s the thing: If it’s the case that – abstractly-speaking – there will be ‘I-standpoints’ after my death (this conception must be abstract in the sense that I cannot ‘own’ it as to do so would render these ‘I-standpoints’ ‘other-standpoints’. ), and I myself will not survive this event as a conscious subjective entity capable of entertaining an ‘I-standpoint’ myself, then a rather startling proposition suggests itself; namely, that when those surviving me (what applies to one applies to all) experience consciousness, it would be ‘as if’ I myself was experiencing consciousness, because to experience consciousness is to have an ‘I-standpoint’, and yet what being me is all about is precisely this: Seeing the world exclusively through my own eyes, and having direct and first hand access to my own thoughts, feelings and volitions – as well as memories and perceptions. In short, having an ‘I-standpoint’. Remember, I am not arguing for substantive re-incarnation. All I am saying is that the experience of anyone (and therefore everyone) of those surviving me cannot be objectified by me after my death (that is to say, presented as an ‘other-standpoint’ to me). Hence, that ‘anyone’ would be positioned on the subject side of the subject/object divide. What would change this would be to have   this ‘anyone’ objectified, or - to put it more plainly – scrutinized by a contemporary; in which case, what has been said of that ‘anyone’ will apply to the contemporary, and so on. Since I myself cannot know the world other than as a subject (even viewing video footage of myself does not amount to presenting myself with an ‘other-standpoint’ as the video footage is a series of images, not a person), my ‘I-standpoint’ must serve as a model for comprehending how it must be for either of the foregoing qua subjects. What is paradoxical in this, of course, is that I am unable to describe this situation without objectifying the subjectivity of those I am currently entitled to designate as ‘others’. The difficulty here is akin to the difficulty with trying to imagine nothingness.  This is an extremely elusive idea, and really needs to be ‘unpacked’ for it to be understood. To this end, I should like to present a ‘thought experiment’ and develop the argument via a series of propositions.                                  

(a) Let me begin by asserting that I, the person writing these words (I shall call myself A) can only ever experience the world from an inside perspective – via an ‘I-standpoint’. But like a dog failing to catch its tail, my ‘subject/faculty I’ will always elude my attempts to objectify it.

(b) A contemporary (Let us call this person C1), like A, will have thoughts, feelings, and volitions, but A can never access these directly: What he perceives is an ‘other-standpoint’ – observable manifestations from which he infers that C1, like him, possesses an ‘I-standpoint’. Just as he can never pin down his own ‘subject/faculty I’, he can never directly access C1’s ‘subject/faculty I’, nor C1’s thoughts, feelings and volitions. To experience another’s ‘I-ness’ from the inside necessarily involves being that person, which is something one is a priori incapable of doing. Imagining how another may experience ‘self-awareness’ is an altogether different kettle of fish.

(c) When A dies, he is no longer able to experience anything; his standpoint simply no longer obtains.

(d) Now imagine, after A’s death, a person B being born, and in the fullness of time acquiring an ‘I-standpoint’.

(e) What B then experiences can only either be directly accessed by him via an ‘I-standpoint’, or inferred by a contemporary of B’s (Let us call this person C2) via an ‘other-standpoint’: External signs suggestive of the thoughts, feelings, and volitions operating inside B.

(f) Let us suppose now that some cataclysmic event befalls the world, and only two people are left alive: B and C2. In this situation, only two ‘I-standpoints’ could exist. Additionally, were B and C2 to communicate with one another, our world would admit of two ‘other-standpoints’. (However, if B became extremely paranoid as a result of this disaster, and chose not to reveal himself to C2, whilst nevertheless keeping C2 under close scrutiny, then one would have to say that only one ‘other-standpoint’ existed. And no ‘other-standpoints’ could exist if B and C2 were unaware of each other’s existence). What is important in considering this hypothetical scenario is that doing so from a God-like perspective with both protagonists in our purview runs counter to the aims, conditions, and assumptions of our thought experiment. No third perspective is permissible. We are compelled to see things, as it were, through the eyes of B or C2 – ‘as if’ we were B or C2. And if undertaken seriously, this would entail taking heed of the dire needs likely to be felt by our two unfortunate souls.

(g) Now let us suppose C2 dies, leaving B entirely on his own; the only sentient being in the world. The only legitimate way in which to take stock of this situation is to imagine ourselves being B because no ‘other-standpoint’ of any description is possible, or indeed, any other ‘I-standpoint, including ours qua sentient beings imagining this scenario.

(h) However, there is a problem with this: In the final analysis, when imagining the scenarios outlined in (f) and (g), and imagining how we ourselves might feel and respond if placed in the hypothetical shoes of B or C2, we unavoidably override the identities of B or C2 and introject our own identities into these scenarios. Whilst this might help to convey the notion of a future being viewed from an ‘I-standpoint’, it also unfortunately simulates what substantive re-incarnation might be like, and this is not what I am seeking to demonstrate.  Thus we need to find a way of minimizing, or even eliminating our empathic, or imaginative, involvement in this exercise. One way in which this might be done is to make the following bald, predictive statement (Its being predictive creates a barrier between us in the present and B in the future. More specifically, it separates A from B, whose lives, in any case, by definition cannot overlap ):

‘At some point in the future, only one person, B, will be left alive –‘B’ being the name/label attached to that person’

This proposition is not wanting in feasibility – after all, there must have been a brief point in time when only a single dodo existed. Mental activity would consist entirely of B viewing a rather bleak, silent world from his own ‘I-standpoint’, and experiencing thoughts, feelings, and volitions fundamentally informed by the world around him. But should I attempt to describe how this might be for B, I realise that once again I risk being drawn into imagining how I might feel and think in B’s situation. So I need to confine myself to merely recognizing that B will have thoughts, feelings, and volitions, and deign to describe what these thoughts, feelings, and volitions might be. However, it may be deduced from the proposition too that no ‘other-standpoint’ could possibly obtain. This being the case, there could be no question of any mental activity being inferred from external signs. It would be directly experienced, as it were, from the inside, just as happens with me (A), in regard to my own mental activity. Because a ‘subject/faculty I’ will be present in this situation, because a sense of ‘I-ness’ will pervade this situation, and because B’s ‘I-standpoint’ will be the only mental standpoint obtaining in this situation, one might say that it would be ‘as if’ I(A) was reincarnated insofar as the ‘I’ in this context amounts to a ‘subject/faculty I’ (The content or substance presented to A and B’s ‘subject/faculty Is’ – including the myriad ‘facts’ collectively and accumulatively contributing towards the sense of identity felt by A and B – would necessarily differ vastly between A and B. Hence my rejection of any substantive reincarnation occurring. I have used the term, ‘quasi-reincarnation’ in relation to the idea I have set out to contrast it with ‘substantive reincarnation’).                                                                                                                                                      Were C2 to have survived, rather than B in the scenario described in (g), then intrinsically, all that has been said of B may be said of C, mutatis mutandis. The only problem that crops up here is one that is ‘extrinsic’ in character: C being the name/label I have applied to a conscious, subjective being who is not B, but a contemporary of B for an unspecified period. With B’s demise, this name/label is, strictly-speaking, non-applicable. But as we are concerned with a putative individual, rather than the name/label applied to that individual, this point is of little consequence.

(i) To ratchet up the realism of my argument, I should like now to discard the idea of a world bereft of all but one or two individuals. Let is return to the pre-apocalyptic situation in which B and C2 live along billions of other contemporaries (Cx) in the hurly burly of the near future. The specifics of how this world is ordered at this point in time, and the specific identities of B and C2 (who are merely defined as existing after A’s demise and co-existing with B for an unspecified period respectively) are irrelevant to what can be drawn  from this. And the conclusions to be drawn are those arrived at in (h). Since C2 could be anyone, what applies to C2 applies to Cx, all of B’s contemporaries. 

(j) When I began setting out this ’quasi-reincarnation’ notion, I had in mind those surviving me. However, the implications surely extend to my contemporaries as well; an increasingly greater percentage of whom will in any case survive me the older I get. For in both cases, I am referring to people who are ‘not me’; notwithstanding the fact that in the case of those who remain after I am dead the designation, ‘other’, can no longer apply in the sense that they cannot be other to something non-existent (albeit they can be ‘others’ to themselves). And what are these implications? They are simply that an adequate view of the world should acknowledge the plurality of subjectivities around us, and that, in a broader sense, there is a sort of equivalence between subjectivities, even if I am intrinsically biased against this perception by virtue of being grounded in my own subjectivity.   

In a nutshell, ‘quasi-reincarnation’ amounts to this: Before and after my brief life – the quality of which is largely dependent on the circumstances I find myself in – I am not floating around in the ether taking a detached view of events occurring below, as I do not exist, and am therefore oblivious to the quality of other people’s lives. The living on either side of my brief life span will be or would have been more or less cognizant of the quality of life of their contemporaries, and rather more directly of their own lives. A conscious, subjective entity, characterized in part by not being me (and since this applies to any, it applies to all of this person’s contemporaries), will or would have been a subject vis-à-vis all others; an ‘I’ looking out upon the world, and within upon his/her own thoughts, feelings and volitions; someone immersed in an ‘I-standpoint’  and regarding others as possessors of ‘other-standpoints’. Such a person (once again, meaning anyone existing on either side of my life span) will feel or would have felt an imperative to attain or retain happiness – a goal largely realized by optimizing the circumstances of his or her life. Perhaps my own life could have been more agreeable given more conducive circumstances; the latter being to some extent (though certainly not altogether) forged by those preceding me. In a reciprocal fashion – albeit the case that I can only receive from the past and give to the future – I could strive to improve the lot of those who come after me. Since my death will herald circumstances in which any ‘I-standpoint’ will ipso facto not be mine, it would be ‘as if’ I had been reincarnated. The ‘I’ component of consciousness – the very facility for being conscious, and specifically, self conscious – would now reside elsewhere and the ‘me’ component would correspondingly differ. One might characterise this as a ‘quasi-reincarnation’. Thus it would be as if ‘I’, the ‘I’ bit in ‘I-standpoints’ of individuals not being me continued to experience the need to attain or retain happiness, and alter circumstances in order to achieve this goal. I, the person here in the present, would not be around to objectify the former, to render that ‘I-standpoint’ an ‘other-standpoint’. In fact, no assertion which presented me then as a subject would make metaphysical sense (aside from those alluding to my ‘public identity’). 

In point (f) of the thought experiment, I made mention of the need to take heed of the dire needs felt by B and C2. Here we can see how altruism might link up with the notion of ‘quasi-reincarnation’. Suppose any of us were B or C2 in the situation outlined in (f). We’d be assailed by all manner of needs demanding our attention, would we not? Our own lives are beset with numerous needs too, many of which are shaped by, or relate to, other people and society in general, as I explained earlier. What the thought experiment hopefully demonstrated was how another’s subjectivity might acquire ‘primacy’ in the peculiar circumstances of a ‘uni-subjective world’, where crucially, I (A) did not exist, and was therefore unable to objectify the experience of this solitary soul. Thus, whatever needs there might be in this situation would be directly ‘felt’, rather than inferred, and being felt would need to be addressed with some degree of urgency, depending upon the particular need.                 

The point I guess I’ve implicitly been approaching is that because I (A) would not exist at this point in time, it would be prudent for me to consider in my own lifetime how B’s life (or simply the life of anyone coming after me- since we cannot know how things will pan out in the future) might be improved or enhanced, because when B is left entirely on his own, the only consciousness or subjectivity around is his, and I (the conscious, subjective entity designated A in the thought experiment) could not then experience his predicament from the outside. B’s experiences would constitute the totality of experiences, and there would be nothing beyond his ‘circle of consciousnesses’, if one might construe this situation in topographical terms. At the centre of this circle would be his ‘subject/faculty I’ (an appropriate metaphorical description if ever there was one as a centre, being a point in space, cannot literally be perceived, no matter what microscopic resolution we deploy to this end), which means that the sense of looking out on the world from the inside would characterise the situation, exactly as occurs in my own life. Hence the observation that it would be ‘as if’ I were reincarnated as B. The ‘subject/faculty I’ when B alone exists would no doubt register the fear, loneliness, desperation, and the basic needs impinging upon the situation.                                                   

The thing is, being an ‘I’ involves more than just observing and understanding: Most crucially, it means wanting to be happy. Why should this be so? This isn’t something that is altogether clear. Perhaps the desire for happiness may have arisen phylogenetically as hominids began to develop ‘consciousness’ (along with constituent thoughts, feelings, and volitions). Feelings being motivators (the relationship between feeling and volition being rather incestuous), it may be that the desire for happiness served an evolutionary function. Whatever the case may be, as ‘Is’, everyone’s inner life is consumed with the desire to attain or retain happiness of one sort or another. This will be the case too when I ‘pop my clogs’, and when this happens it will be the happiness of all erstwhile others – and their thoughts, feelings, and volitions in general – that will constitute the entirety of ‘mental acts’ at any given time, if I may tendentiously put it this way in order to make the point. I will have become no more than a memory in the minds of my ‘significant others’ and a wider circle of acquaintances – a memory spluttering flame-like for a generation or two in the minds of others, until fading into obscurity. Some, by dint of exceptional works rather than memory as such, will figure in the minds of their successors for unforeseeable generations – from Socrates and Shakespeare to Genghis Khan and Jack the Ripper. My reference to significant others does, however, raise the notion of a sort of altruism rather different from the universalistic species I have had in mind up till now. I am thinking here of the preoccupation people have with their own blood-line; their own children, grand-children, and so on. Whereas a universalistic altruism is premised on the destruction of one’s own identity and capacity to experience anything, this other – let’s call it ‘hereditary altruism’ – stems from rather different motives and assumptions. Whilst hereditary altruism can involve genuine concern for one’s progeny, I think it often has to do with ‘egotistic’ impulses, such as obtaining vicarious satisfaction from the achievements of one’s children, trying to ensure the stamp of one’s existence is felt by one’s own descendents over time, or wanting to establish some sort of dynasty. In other words, universalistic altruism acknowledges, even embraces, the destruction of one’s ego, whereas hereditary altruism attempts often ineffectually or vaingloriously to preserve or salvage something of oneself. I would not wish to be too judgmental about the latter: Most of us are inclined towards some form of hereditary altruism, and the two species of altruism are not necessarily incompatible. It may be that concern for one’s own offspring extends to worrying about the same broad issues that would preoccupy the altruist of a more universalistic persuasion. Because, ultimately everything is connected, and the wider context within which we live has a bearing upon our individual lives. It’s rather like the recent Bush Administration grudgingly and belatedly coming to acknowledge that climate change – which affects everyone on the planet – merits attention because of its impact upon Americans.                                                  

At this point I should like to advance two further arguments in favour of altruism. First of all, let us consider the concept of ‘interest’; of how altruism might benefit people, me included. Once again, I need to stress that I shall do so on the basis that there is no afterlife. Let us return to the ‘dramatis personae’ of our thought experiment: Let us imagine that an entity (A), calling himself ‘I’, dies, and subsequently someone else (B) is born who likewise, and naturally enough, grows up to call himself ‘I’. (A) cannot argue prospectively that after his death he will have no interest in (B)’s welfare on the grounds that (B)’s welfare is irrelevant to him because he is able to differentiate between his directly experiencing his own happiness and his observing signs of happiness in a contemporary (we shall call the latter (C1)). Because it is only while he is alive that he is capable of saying that he has no interest in someone else’s welfare – be that person (C1) or (B). Once dead, (A) is simply non-existent. ‘Having no interest’ qua a subjective entity necessarily entails making the aforementioned distinction. A stone may be said to ‘have no interest’ in someone’s welfare, but on grounds altogether different, namely that the predicate of the proposition, ‘A stone has no interest in someone’s welfare’ is devoid of any meaning other than that a stone is inanimate. It does not mean that this person serves some end for the stone. Because a stone cannot have an end, other than ‘end ‘ proposed for it by some conscious, subjective entity, or agent possessed of a ‘will’, who might decide to pocket it, skim it across a an expanse of water, or push it into a bed of mortar. Post-mortem and having ‘returned to dust’ as the ‘Good Book' so trenchantly puts it, our existential status is no different from a stone. What survives us – the memories others have of us (our ‘public identity’), our life’s works, and even our physical remains (or perhaps I should say our various organs) – may serve as ends for others. In other words, the proposition, ‘I have no interest in others because their happiness is inaccessible to me’ can only ever be true during the course of the subject’s lifetime. To redraft in the future tense as ‘I will have no interest in the welfare of others when I am dead’ is essentially unintelligible (except in the sense of not possessing an ability to have an interest in anything) – assuming there is no such thing as an afterlife – as the subject of the sentence will no longer qualify as a subject after his or her death.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Secondly, standpoints being the mental take on something or other, it follows that those who have a standpoint are conscious subjective beings. As the only standpoints to endure after my death will be those of others, it is as surely fitting for me to pay heed to these, as it is to give consideration to the standpoint I am likely to entertain in regard to my own welfare in my twilight years, for example. Why should I dismiss the latter because right now I am not drawn to a quiet life, riddled with arthritis, nor preoccupied with my pension or heating allowance? Yet, what my own future standpoint and the standpoint of others have in common is their literal inaccessibility to me now; the personal identity issue doesn’t really alter this fact. Being concerned for my future welfare entails a similar sort of empathic understanding as that which is marshalled when I feel concern for the welfare of others. In both instances, there is an element of objectification: I look upon my future self as someone other than me, as, of course, I do with others in the present, and then attempt to mentally colonise this construct – ‘me in the future’ – situating my consciousness within it, and testing how this plays upon my thoughts, feelings, and volitions. Consciousness, being ‘of the moment’, can never truly encompass the future in that direct, instantaneous way it does the present. The corollary to this is that we can never truly objectify the ‘now’; that elusive, interstitial zone between the past and the future. But that, as they say, is another matter.

I have to acknowledge that notwithstanding my intentions, it is quite possible that the altruistic ethic argument flounders here and there on account of that bete-noire of mine: analogical mis-reasoning. In my defence, however, I would say that what I had intended was to present a picture of how things seem (hence my reference to ‘quasi-reincarnation’), rather than uncover some ontological bedrock. Because, ultimately, I have been trying to argue the case for an altruistic approach to life, rather than involve myself in ontology; interesting though it may be. What I’ve attempted to do is present a picture of reality with which nearly all of us could concur when not in ‘philosophical mode’, and then argue that we could alter things to more fully realize the most fundamental goal of our existence: the attainment of happiness. Whilst it doesn’t follow that we therefore should do this – there may some oddballs around who would argue that we should not strive for happiness – I would suggest that if one agreed with the foregoing, then it would be reasonable to adopt an altruistic approach in furtherance of this goal. Whether altruism therefore merits being called an ‘ethic’ or simply a strategy - the proof of which lies in the pudding, as they say – is a moot point. Insofar as I might have a stake in the endeavours of others on account of what I have termed ‘quasi-reincarnation – one might question whether my own motivation to beneficially affect the lives of others merited the epithet ‘ethical’. Because it could be argued that there is a selfish element in all this: Apart from gaining some sort of satisfaction from actually helping others, the notion of having a stake in the quality of succeeding lives by virtue of quasi-reincarnation paradoxically suggests that it is ultimately all about looking after oneself. Life being a lottery, in that we may be born into all manner of circumstances, from the utterly disadvantageous to the blissfully fortunate, one could also argue from a selfish perspective that it would make sense to improve the circumstances of all in case one drew the short straw, as it were. On the other hand, insofar as the injunction to behave altruistically is extended to be universally applicable, as something we should all be doing, perhaps it does deserve this epithet. Essentially, I am proposing an agenda for us as individuals that entails improving the lot of others, and this, it seems to me, entitles it to be called an ethic.                  

So this then is my ‘Organic Model of Human Development’: It proposes that our humanity is contingent upon our physical make-up and that we have no afterlife; that we are fundamentally driven to seek happiness; that the sources of happiness, by and large, are located outside of us, not least in the manner in which we organize society; that a communist society will afford us optimal happiness on this earth because it won’t be fractured by the contradictions that run through present day society and will be directly involved in meeting people’s needs rather than facilitating profiteering, and that an altruistic approach towards others makes sense insofar as the notion of a sort of quasi-reincarnation makes sense; this being the idea that, with my death, the world will be viewed from an ‘I-standpoint’, from an inside perspective by someone (in fact, anyone, and therefore, everyone) other than me, and that the sense of self awareness, of ‘I-ness’, informing this perspective means that it would be ‘as if’ I myself was looking out upon the world at this point in time and space.

What the model declares is that we, the living, become a sort of compost enriching the lives of those who follow us. Once we die, all that truly remains of us are memories, memorabilia, and the achievements we have racked up in our lifetimes. It is really only the latter that have any dynamic continuity. The buildings we built, the fields we tilled, the inventions we brought into fruition, the books we wrote, the social institutions promoted: these are the things that will be incorporated into the lives of those that follow us. Whether slight or momentous, it is our achievements, our contributions to the welfare of others, to human progress, that ultimately matter. Because it is our achievements that lay the foundation for the happiness of others. Crucially too, nearly all of us have the capacity at some time in our lives to reproduce, and in bringing fine young sons and daughters into this world with the potential to contribute positively to this foundation as well, we contribute by proxy. But, as ever, there is a catch in all this: Our contribution may not in the end firm up this foundation, but, on the contrary serve to undermine it, whatever our intentions might have been. Sometimes we are barely cognizant of this because it is society itself that subverts our achievements: Just as one may spend a lifetime adorning the palace of a tyrant with sumptuous works of art only to shore up the institution of tyranny, so may our endeavours in life effect - even if intended in good faith to ameliorate the harshness of other’s  lives - a prolonging of  a system such as capitalism which lacks any semblance of moral purpose, and increasingly leads to the misfortune of millions. And, of course, some people weaned on the cynical amorality of capitalism will simply not give a damn about future generations, excepting perhaps their descendents whom they might be more inclined to view in dynastic terms. The altruistic ethic enjoining us to contribute to the happiness of these future generations (albeit predicated upon the somewhat paradoxical notion of a ‘quasi-reincarnation’ – which unintentionally hints at benefits to ourselves) therefore really only becomes meaningful in a society no longer at odds with itself, and no longer disposed to exploiting the generosity, compassion, and helpfulness which most of us have in is (Anyone doubting this might wish to reflect upon the millions of hours of unpaid overtime people work in this country – now more than ever – and not usually for ulterior motives. Moreover, it’s worth noting that millions too also get involved in some form of voluntary work from time to time). Such a society would facilitate the expression of such altruistic behaviour, and reconcile the individual with the collective. But that is in the future. For now, one could argue that simply striving to realise this future in itself constitutes an act of altruism. Because the scale of the transformation effected by humanity collectively opting to embrace a communistic form of society would be something without compare in human history, it is reasonable to describe this decision as the most significant act of altruism there could ever be.

Something else that might be said about this model is that its focus is very much on the world, on what we can see and touch. It eschews ‘pie in the sky’ fantasies about a paradisiacal life in the hereafter, not just on the grounds that that no evidence can be advanced for such a life, but also because an obsession with this detracts from efforts to make this world a better one. Moreover, the peddling of such fantasies often serves the interests of those who benefit most from the current dispensation, and can dissipate the urgency for radical social change. One might say that the model turns Pascal on his head, arguing that it is a far better bet to reject religion and concentrate the mind on bettering circumstances for all, so that no matter where or when we are born, these would be conducive to happiness. There is a sort of comfort to be had from such a belief. No fear need attach to dying. Such fear is something that religion infects us with from an early age with all its misanthropic, and frankly sadistic, talk of sinners being cast into eternal hellfire for failing to pay obeisance or display sufficient devotion towards God (though why a God should demand obeisance and devotion from his sentient ‘handiwork’ is beyond me. There is something almost perversely vain in God stipulating that he should be worshipped). And even if it turned out that there was such a thing as a God, surely those who live their lives in accordance with an altruistic ethic are more deserving of approbation than those who don’t, notwithstanding any disinclination to believe in God or an afterlife.

Having said that, the foregoing exposition of the model has not explicitly touched on atheism, although this is something which is probably implied in the first of the propositions I presented, concerning non-survivalism. However, although a number of illustrious atheists, such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, have argued the case for atheism forcefully and eloquently, I do feel that simply disbelieving in the existence of a God hardly constitutes an adequate world view (if we take a ‘world view’ to mean a conceptual framework in terms of which a person tries to interpret reality in toto and chart his or her way through life, which incorporates a key proposition or a set of key propositions, and which – ideally - is broad yet not overly complicated, internally consistent, intelligible, does not fly in the face of facts, and which addresses the nature of Man and the world). Per se, atheism does not set out a vision of how we should live, and it puzzles me when some atheists seem more concerned to emphasize their conventionality in order to prove that atheism does not exert a corrupting influence on morality when, really, atheism ought to go hand-in-hand with a fundamentally unconventional view of who we are, what we want from life, and what should be done to realize our dreams. To uncritically accept the mores and orthodoxies of contemporary societies - apart from their religious aspects - seems a rather odd thing for atheist to do, given that these mores and orthodoxies are often underpinned by religion (Refer to my earlier discussion of the role of religion in society). It’s not that I disagree with all of these mores and orthodoxies – who could fault the Christian injunction to ‘love thy neighbour as thyself’? But if we accept that there is no God or afterlife, why should we then acquiesce in orthodox worldviews that have not wholly disentangled themselves from their religious origins, and which lend support and give legitimacy to the status quo? Because it is the status quo that denies most of us the ‘Good Life’.  If there is no God or afterlife, then clearly we should not feel bound by these orthodoxies, and promote instead a worldview view that accords with our longing to enjoy this ‘Good Life’. In other words, we (and that has to mean the majority of us – I cannot factor in the whims of every social misfit) need to say, ‘Right, we cannot look to a God to advise us and this is the only life we have, so lets find a way of ordering society so that we can makes for the greatest happiness for the greatest number (with as little distress to the demurring minority as possible)’ In my view, communism/socialism is the only way in which this could be achieved.

Apropos the model, I said at the outset that its components propositions (which more or less amount to what I jokingly called the roots in my intellectual stew at the beginning of this essay) cohere satisfactorily. However, I don’t think that the validity of each is in any way contingent upon the validity of any of the others. Going back to my stew metaphor, the ingredients of the stew do retain their identities: One might choose not to accept the atheist stance, or my critique of analogy, but still find substance in the idea of establishing a communist society. However, I do feel that the stew would be the poorer for that, and might amount to something less than a world view, as I’ve suggested in the preceding paragraph.

There is, of course, one thing that casts doubt on the usefulness of the model altogether: I remember once watching a programme on supervolcanoes; a rare but potentially cataclysmic natural phenomenon that supposedly nearly did for mankind once in our distant past. And this triggered the thought: How are we meant to reconcile ourselves to the very real possibility of our species being wiped out? Recent shifts in the earths crust beneath Yellowstone National Park in the US, for example, could presage just such a catastrophe. So could we learn to live with it?

In the preceding pages, I have suggested that individual lives draw on progeny, memory, words and deeds for meaning and purpose; we have no need for an afterlife. There is comfort or discomfort enough in the probability that other lives will flower (or wither) on our legacy.  And I have tried to explain, having become nothing we could never experience this flowering or withering; such appreciation could only be exercised by the living. Thus a sort of quasi-reincarnation operates; ‘quasi’ because strands of personal identity are not flung out like fishing lines, with the possibility of landing another subjective reality.

Individual lives and the effects of those lives are two very different things; the latter being able to outlast the former by centuries and long after attribution had ceased to be possible. Indeed, it is conceivable that some effects may stretch to infinity, their influence being exerted over successive generations rather in the manner of a homeopathic dilution. Others might even have an accumulative effect, such as that exerted by the proverbial butterfly whose fluttering is felt as a hurricane thousands of miles away. Shakespeare was right to find consolation in the timelessness of his sonnets. But so much else endures of the effects of individual lives, from the banal to the abstruse. Moreover, it is those tangible carriers of our genes, our children, who in acting upon the world around them indirectly leave the imprint of our lives upon this world too by virtue of the influence we have had on them, particularly in their formative years. Hence the importance attached to parenting. But really, we need to look beyond our nuclear families, and see things in global terms: it is what one generation leaves to another that truly matters. As things are, we are bequeathing a world that is becoming increasingly impoverished and degraded because everything is contingent upon the need for a few to realize a profit. My belief is that in a society founded on common interest and common ownership, and informed by an altruistic ethic, the opposite will occur: The world we shall leave to our children will become increasingly conducive to happiness.

With mass extinction, however, any legacy is itself extinguished: the raison dêtre for everything is lost. So how might we come to terms with this very real possibility? This is something I’m afraid I cannot convincingly answer. It may be that one day our species will slip the knot that ties us to Mother Earth and embark on multi-directional migrations out of our solar system, thus hedging our chances of survival. Perhaps too all that has been said may apply mutatis mutandis to other sentient life forms in the cosmos, were they to exist. And who knows, fragments of this world view might still make sense to someone or something if in aeons to come, other universes were to bubble into existence. But that, of course, is arrant speculation: It could be that we lack the most elementary conceptual tools to comprehend how things will unfold in the far future. The very notion of life might then embrace meanings way beyond our current understanding, and even species as genetically linked groupings of individuals might no longer exist; having given way to prolix new forms of life.

However, with regard to the possibility of our own extinction as a species, I do not believe that we have it in us to fatalistically accept the sword of Damocles hanging overhead. We will always strive and contrive to find ways of bettering our lot or our chances in life. We are willful creatures and therefore always inclined to keep an eye on the main chance. Because in one way or another to will is to search for something perceived as better, ironically,  even if that something is ones own death.

There is something tautological in this: what is better is preferable, and what is preferred is willed. We cannot will away our will and willing implies wanting to change circumstances, or resisting that which would alter circumstances we do not wish to change. Will is an irreducible given of our existence. We cannot will what we do not will. Even our rashest actions - those that threaten the apocalypse – may be construed as extremely short-sighted, but nevertheless proactive or reactive attempts to further our own perceived interests; in other words, expressions of will. But now more than ever, it is time for humanity to step back and consider the consequences of its actions and decisions. Humanity has now to examine its very modus operandus, and the assumptions that sustain this.

So long as we continue to perceive ourselves as having to lead a gannet-like existence on a barren rock of a planet where we must elbow out our neighbours if we are to gain a relatively secure purchase on some narrow ledge, we will be missing the point. It is our neighbours that are the key to our salvation, as we are to theirs. In short, it is our social nature that provides the basis for our welfare, our advancement, and ultimately, for our happiness. This mutuality, however, will only ever find full expression in a harmonious society, and it is my belief that only a genuinely communistic society, where the fruits of all our labours are freely available to all, will enable us to live happily with each other. Present day society is more inclined to exploit and subvert our interdependence.

It has been pointed out that if earth’s timeline were a day, the existence of humanity would correspond to less than a minute. We could so easily be wiped out, and in a fraction of the time we ourselves have been around, all evidence of our existence would disappear too: From our sturdiest concrete and steel structures to our most hallowed and delicate documents, all would inevitably decay and crumble. Man’s hollow boasts of having dominion over nature seems so pathetic, so inconsequential against the vast canvass of the universe, one can but pity our small, furless bipedal species, possessed of a pedigree truly shamed by that of the ancient and venerable cockroach. However, it is not just nature that could wipe us out: The modern age has presented us with this terrible power as well.  Whether by omission or commission, we could destroy ourselves in all sorts of ways, and may yet succeed in doing so. But the corollary to this is that now more than ever we have the ability to engineer an altogether different and happier outcome – if we so desired. Like the individual strands of a rope, our individual lives could impart strength, continuity, and indeed joy to those around us if society undertook to rid itself of the divisiveness and contradictions fraying its make-up. Such a rope would span aeons.

2009

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Please feel free to refer this link to whomever you like. I'd like to encourage debate on the issues raised        

For more on the subject of socialism/communism, why not go to http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/                                 You may also find the following site to be of great interest: http://resourcebasedliving.com/  This promotes the views of the Zeitgeist Movement, yet another organisation advocating a world without money.                                                                                    Finally, I should like to draw your attention to the excellent 'Socialist TV' site, and suggest that you through the archives. Go to: http://socialist-tv.blogspot.com/search?updated-min=2008-01-01T00%3A00%3A00Z&updated-max=2009-01-01T00%3A00%3A00Z&max-results=45

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