Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Michael Löwy — Marx’s ecology: recovered legacy

While mainstream ecological theory has been dismissive of Karl Marx, serious research in recent decades has recovered some of his very important insights on ecological issues. The pioneers have been James O’Connor and the journal Capitalism, Nature and Socialism—a tradition continued by Joel Kovel—but the most systematic and thorough investigations on Marx’s ecological views are those of John Bellamy Foster and his friends from Monthly Review.
Many ecologists accuse Marx of “productivism.” Is this accusation justified? No, insofar as nobody denounced as much as Marx the capitalist logic of production for production: the accumulation of capital, wealth and commodities as an aim in itself.
The fundamental idea of a socialist economy—contrary to its miserable bureaucratic caricatures—is one of producing use-values, goods which are necessary for the satisfaction of human needs. Moreover, the main importance of technical progress for Marx was not the infinite growth of goods (“having”) but the reduction of the labour journey and the increase of free time (“being”).
In the being-doing-having model, being is more important than doing. Doing follows from being. Doing is more than having in that having is a by-product of doing. Happiness is a property of being that accrues from unfolding one's potential as a person (human being) and as an individual (particular personality).

In the consumerist model, having in most important, and doing is the sine qua non of having. Being largely irrelevant in this model, so genuine happiness is precluded. This results in alienation.

In contemporary capitalism, based on the consumer economy, consumerism replaces the increased leisure made available by increases in productivity. Freedom gets traded for trinkets, promoted by advertising, so that firms can maintain profits. One result of consumerism in addition to alienation is ecological degradation.

Marx’s ecology: recovered legacy
Michael Löwy | emeritus research director in social sciences at the CNRS (French National Center of Scientific Research) and lectures at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS; Paris, France)


Andrew Anderson said...

In the being-doing-having model, being is more important than doing.

According to Marx's own logic, being an atheist, what reason did he have to believe his "being" was anything but a temporary, ultimately meaningless condition?

Tom Hickey said...

According to Marx's own logic, being an atheist, what reason did he have to believe his "being" was anything but a temporary, ultimately meaningless condition?

Marx was what we would now call a "secular humanist" and a radical liberal for whom freedom was the essence of being human, like it became later for the existentialists.

jrbarch said...

How much wiser and interesting would we become, if we talked about BEing (as the root of all - doing – having ...) a whole lot more.

For me, you can’t BE an atheist, capitalist, socialist, Buddhist (ad hoc) or any other personality type. That confuses your existence with your mind; doing with being. Beliefs happen in the mind. And mind is vapour; even when it reflects what is. There is nothing elite about a ‘Christian’, ‘philosopher’, ‘president’ or ‘nuclear physicist’. A ‘master’ is not a master – to himself. The trick is to take your focus away from the personality aspect and let it settle on the existence. Your existence has no religion and no political quadrant – its focus is singular. And yet the personality lives in the world.

Your existence was there when you had the persona of a little baby, a child, a teenager, an adult; and perhaps now - cranky, worn, aged and cynical (knocking on heaven’s door ay!). The panorama of understanding that passes through your mind at each stage is not your existence. It’s a painting you and the world have painted on your mind. It is something you look at and try to understand; but we rarely turn around and understand the one who is looking. Inspired by that painting we do things; we acquire things that one day we will have to let go. Everything the mind has learnt and desired, you will have to let go. The only thing you truly own is your existence. And the beautiful secret that it holds. Will, love-wisdom, intelligence are evolving aspects of this existence and their subject matter is LIFE; the social fabric is an ever-changing expression. The wonder in this world is that so few people turn around, change their polarity and understand the wealth they carry within them. I think this is the tide that is rising in this world and will push all else before it. There is no greater book to open or pages to turn. No greater challenge on the face of this earth. You can cry about the state of the world, blame everyone for being so imperfect, or turn around and do something. One by one, human beings become conscious; consciousness is the game of Life - and just a little bit of consciousness can go a long way.

When your existence knows itself for what it is; knows how to see itself, face to face, free of doubt; knows the Universal Fire which brought it into being and the incredible creativity of which it is a part – then the painting in the mind (beliefs, rationale, likes, dislikes, even the holy science) transform, become opaque under a different light. The social fabric veils us from ourselves. This is self-knowledge; a living knowledge - Raj Vidya. You can know something but your beliefs can only know themselves. All knowledge is in the being. Doing is a means to reach that knowledge; having is a (supporting) means to do. Orientation is everything. Mind only knows the mind. Your existence is inclusive of all religions, all ideologies, all social fabrics because Existence was around long before these coalesced in people’s minds; long before the planet gave birth to human beings. Buddha’s great-great-grandfather was not a Buddhist. Existence will be there long after the planet has gone back to dust.

People really do not understand the incredible value of being. We face the sunset rather than the sunrise. We fear the sunset when somewhere on this earth, the sun is always rising. It sounds like Marx (the existence) understood value as integral with the human being. But he was a busy painter too and out of that feeling for the human being he painted a better world - nothing wrong with that. Until all the colours run dry. He was a different kind of thinker .... compared to some of the thinkers of today he was a gifted angel.

Calgacus said...

According to Marx's own logic, being an atheist, what reason did he have to believe his "being" was anything but a temporary, ultimately meaningless condition?

/dumb joke/ Well, according to Chick Publications, that's what Marx learnt in Hegel's classroom when Hegel told the class "There is no God!" "/dumb joke/

Looked a little couldn't find that one though.

Tom Hickey said...

Hegel's philosophy is a natural theology with "God" as Absolute Spirit.

While Hegel's approach to the Absolute Spirit is, well, Hegelian, it is in the long tradition of "the God of the philosophers" (Greek) versus "the God of our fathers" (Judaeo-Christian), with Hegel coming down on the side of the former. Nevertheless, Hegel self-identified as a Lutheran and Marx as an atheist.

Hegel's Science of Logic can viewed as articulating the eternal aspect of mind or spirit (Geist means both mind and spirit), and the Phänomenologie des Geistes, which has been translated as both Phenomenolgy of Mind and of Spirit, sets forth the historical concretization of Absolute Spirit as idea in history through the dialectic.

This view led to the development of Process Philosophy in the 20th century.

See Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Process Philosophy

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Process Philosophy

Marx sided with modern science in rejecting the previous Western intellectual tradition, which Hegel claimed to have epitomized and in a sense completed.

IN this sense, Marx appropriated Hegel's historical dialectic based on idealism and "stood it on it's head" by making materialism the basis of it. He wrote his PhD thesis on Greek atomism, which was an early form of materialism. The modern theory of the atom was cutting edge science when Marx was young, having been proposed by John Dalton in 1803.

Hegel regarded his method as scientific, being based on the the articulation of the Absolute Idea as Idea (in the Logic) and its unfolding in experience (in the Phenomenology). Conversely, Marx based his version of the historical dialectic on the progressive development of material systems.

Hegel (1770-1831) can be viewed an 18th century natural theologian in the Western philosophical tradition, while Marx can be seen as a 19th century secular humanist in the tradition of modern science and material "progress." The two thinkers stand at the cusp of two different worldviews. Hegel was the culmination of his era while Marx was a harbinger of the emerging one. This was a dialectical shift in itself.

Interpretation of almost all significant thinkers is controversial and there are a variety of readings of Hegel and Marx. Neither Hegel nor Marx completed their work to their satisfaction and their work also went through different stages of development. So it is difficult to pin them down definitively.

But I would venture that Hegel's saying there is no God is "fake news." Makes for a good story though.

Calgacus said...

Tom, you've never seen Chick Publications?

There really is one showing Marx (who would have been in his early teens) in Hegel's classroom. Have it somewhere, can't find it on the web though.

jrbarch said...

Spirit and Matter being opposite poles of the same thing with consciousness their child; mind giving identity to consciousness.

Tom Hickey said...

you've never seen Chick Publications?

I had never run into that in my cyber travels.

Calgacus said...

Many parts of the country, you can find Chick comics lying on bus benches or sidewalks. Always found them fun to read.

Tom Hickey said...

Yes, humorous in a strange way. They can be read as "propagation of the faith" and as dark humor. I also found it funny but somewhat off-putting.