Sunday, May 13, 2007

On Bridging Some of The Gaps Between Hegel, Feuerbach, God, Religion, Marx, Capitalism and More...

The philosophical jump from Hegel to Marx was, and still is, colossal in its practical significance and impact. It is often stated that Marx stood 'Hegel's philosophy on its head' -- or from a Marxian perspective 'planted Hegelian philosophy properly on its feet after it was Hegel himself who had put his own philosophy improperly standing on its head'. Alas, everything is perspective.

Let us be clear on my perspective. I view myself as a capitalist idealist and Reformist with perhaps some socialist ideas thrown in there to the sum of about 25%. Thus, as a starting point let us say that I am about 75% capitalist idealist and reformist, 25% socialist idealist and reformist. I do not view myself as a Marxist except in parts of his early humanistic work-alienation theory, not in his later economic socialist and/or communist theory. You look at Canada today and you see that we have a network of 'social assistance' programs and 'unemployment' programs designed to help those who are perceived by government officals as being in the most legitimate and dire need. Whether you like it or not -- and I think most 'Liberal and NDP-minded people (even some Conservatives) appreciate the necessity and importance of some form of 'social saftey nets' to help avoid the possibility of people actually dying of poverty in their homes and/or on the street) -- Canada has been very much influenced by the development of socialist ideas.

You don't have to go all the way with Marx to still appreciate the fact that he was undoubtedly the most impressive critic of Capitalism in the history of Western philosophy. Any legitimate capitalist idealist and/or reformist needs to read Marx to get a strong understanding of some of the problems of capitalism, both in Marx's time, and as capitalism has evolved into what it is today. That does not mean that you have to follow Marx's thought process to either socialism and/or communism. It just means that a good capitalist idealist and reformist should and will take a hard look at Marx's criticisms of Capitalism -- and even some of Hegel's preceding ideas on 'alienation' and the 'master/slave' relationship.

The philosophical bridge between Hegel and Marx is an outstanding paper written by Ludwig Feuerbach called 'The Essence of Christianity' in 1841.

Through Feuerbach's monumental paper, Hegel's philosophy from 'The Phenomenology of Spirit' (1807) underwent 'transformational criticism' of a provocative kind -- a 'Copernican switch' if you will. And this dealt with the issue of God and religion.

Writes Robert C. Tucker, editor of 'The Marx-Engels Reader' (1978, pg. xxii, Introduction):

'For Hegel man is spirit (God) in the process of self-alienation and self-realization, i.e., man presents himself in history as self-alienated God.'

Through the process of history, and more appropriately through 'historical-cultural-philosophical evolution', man gradually overcomes his self-alienation and moves closer and closer towards a position of 'Absolute Knowledge', 'The Spirit of God' and Perfection. Thus, through the evolution of man's history, according to Hegel, man is moving closer and closer to a full self-awareness and an awareness of God, the two being intimately connected. (my addition).

Back to Tucker (1978, pg, xxii, Introduction):

'The truth, says Feuerbach, is just the reverse. Instead of seeing man as self-alienated God, we must see God as self-alienated man. That is, when man, the human species, projects an idealized image of itself into heaven as 'God' and worships this imaginary heavenly being, it becomes estranged from itself; its own ungodly earthly reality becomes alien and hateful. To overcome this alienation man must repossess his alienated being, take 'God' back into himself, recognize in man -- and specifically in other human individuals -- the proper object of care, love, and worship. Such is the basic argument of Feuerbach's 'Essence of Christianity'.'

Now one of my favorite philosopher-politicians is Thomas Jefferson. As I try to sort out my own ideas on God and religion, I just read to quotes by Jefferson that I like and will repeat here:

'Shake off all the fears of servile prejudices, under which weak minds are servilely crouched. Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call on her tribunal for every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear.
-- Thomas Jefferson

The essence of what he is saying here that I like: 'Question with boldness even the existence of God.'

And the second quote:

Say nothing of my religion. It is known to God and myself alone. Its evidence before the world is to be sought in my life: if it has been honest and dutiful to society the religion which has regulated it cannot be a bad one.
-- Thomas Jefferson

I like this quote because of its 'functional' approach to God and religion. In other words, the value of God and religion cannot always appropriately be measured in terms of their very arguable 'epistemological realness'. Maybe God and religion should be more appropriately evaluated in terms of the significance, the meaning, and the functional value that they have on the way that we live our lives. Is anybody going to argue with the meaning, the significance, and the functional value that God and religion played in Mother Teresa's life? Certainly not me. What a courageous, wonderful, loving, giving person. Now you contrast the significance of how God and religion played such an integral part of Mother Teresa's life with the way that someone like Osama bin Laden has used and abused the name of God to play out his own power, hatred and revenge fantasies -- and you get the essence of the meaning of what Jefferson was saying when he said: 'Say nothing of my religion. It is known to God and myself alone. Its evidence before the world is to be sought in my life: if it has been honest and dutiful to society the religion which has regulated it cannot be a bad one.'

Character -- and the way that God and religion are used functionally and/or pathologically, sadistically, masochistically, and/or otherwise maliciously in a person's life -- these things make all the difference in the world when we are talking about the importance and/or the pathology of God and religion. It is all in how they are used in a person's life.

Now let us switch over to Marx. Marx was heavily influenced by Feuerbach's 'transformational criticism' and 'inversion' of Hegelian philosophy. Except Marx was more interested in the influence of economics on mankind than he was interested in the influence of God and religion. So Marx simply 'transformed' Feuerbach's 'transformation' -- from God and religion to economics, work production, the 'bourgeoisie' vs. the 'proletariat', and 'dialectical materialism'.

In my opinion -- and this is one place where I differ from Marx -- there is nothing black and white about capitalism. No all-encompassing generalizations can be made. Every private corporation and every public corporation is an individual entity in itself and needs to be judged as such. Indeed, if proper evaluations are going to be made about a corporation or institution -- especially the larger it is -- then sub-evaluations are going to be needed to be made concerning each individual department of the corporation or institution -- regardless of whether this is a private or public corporation or institution.

Everything depends on the style of leadership and the ethics and the level of 'humanistic-existentialism' (meaning the level of human compassion, fairness, worker freedom, creativity, and autonomy, etc.) that is allowed to exist within the confines of the individual company.

To be sure, every company has its bottom line, has certain functions that it has to perform well in order to keep contracts, continue to have customers, and stay in business. Some companies have more room for margin of error than other companeis do. Some companies may be functioning on a very thin line between success and failure, between profit and loss.

However within this parameter of the success or failure of a company -- indeed, oftentimes very much tied up with it -- are such factors as 'style of leadership', 'degree of ethics', 'freedom and autonomy of the worker', 'degree of creativity for the worker', 'amount remuneration (pay level), 'degree of feedback and creative negotiation between the employer (or manager or supervisor) and the worker...and so on. Again, no massive generalizations and conclusions can be made relative to how a hundred thousand totally different companies are run -- and even the different departments within each company -- and thus, for Marx to make any massive generalizations and conclusions about the 'nature of capitalism and employer/employee relations and employee/work relations' in every different work setting, in every different corporation -- is fundamentally faulty.

This may even be more so today than it was in Marx's time. In Marx's time the style of leadership may have been generally more 'Draconian' and 'anti-humanistic'. There may have been more 'sweat shops' and 'child labor' and inhumane work practices. Coal workers going to work in the dark and coming home in the dark, and perhaps dying prematurely because of the type of dust that they were breathing all day in their lungs. If you go back a few centuries earlier than Marx, Spinoza (1632-1677) died prematurely (at 45) from 'grinding lenses (glass)' for a living. His work may or may not have been 'creative' -- but if you die 20 or 30 or 40 years prematurely because of the nature of your work, then we can probably say that it was not a very good line of work. (However, people do what they believe they have to do in order to economically survive.) As a taxi driver, I used to drive a middle-age man (50-55) back and forth to the hospital who was dying of emphysema. He had worked in a printing shop much of his life and probably also was not breathing good things into his lungs. There are more laws that exist today that are designed to make the work place a safer place to work -- but these laws may not always be properly monitored and enforced in individual company situations. In some cases, there are existing health hazards that may be as dangerous today as 400 years ago without the laws. Safety laws are only as good as the people -- employers and employees -- who do or don't respect them, and short cuts are often made -- dangerous short cuts -- to save money.

It's all in the style of the leadership. You can have a Draconian capitalist boss. You can have a Draconian socialist boss. Lenin and Stalin will never go down in the books of history as 'humanitarians'.

The argument has been made that we strive idealistically for 'democracy' in our style of government. Why do we not strive for the same in our corporate-work environment. A very good question.

Well, one of the counter-arguments that is likely to be made is this: the employees haven't invested their life savings into the business; the employees don't own the business -- and if it goes 'under', then they just go out and get another job. The owner(s) of the business might be financially ruined for years to come, even perhaps for the rest of their life/lives. They aren't likely to walk away 'scott-free' -- they may be saddled with a level of debt-load that the average employee would not want to have any part of, or take any responsibility for. Thus, the final decisions should go to the person(s) who have the most shares and/or money and/or the courage and ingenuity to start up the company. Delegations of 'lesser authorities' can be passed on down the line according to the decisions of the principle owners/shareholders of the company. Yes, this is more of a 'military' style of management as opposed to a democracy but there is a reason why a military style of management is used in the military and not a democracy style of management. Sometimes -- oftentimes -- a democracy style of management is much slower and less efficient in its speed and efficiency of decision-making.

I am a dispatcher by trade -- part way between the manager and owners of the company on the one side, and the drivers who I dispatch to on the other side. I've been hired presumably because of the competence of my dispatching skills relative to overseeing the work and efficiency of the drivers. I am not paid to make regular mistakes and misjudgments -- sometimes they happen -- but if they happen too often, or management doesn't like my style of dispatching, or they think that a computer can do it better, then I am likely out of a job, or may have diminished responsibilities.

For the most part, I try to treat my drivers humanely, make decisions that are good for both the company and my drivers but sometimes what a driver thinks is best for him will conflict with what I think is best for the company. And sometimes in these cases, I have to 'draw rank' on the driver. I tell him he does the call or 'he's off the air'. No more calls for him. He works by himself or he packs up and goes home -- or he changes his mind and decides to do the call. This is not a democracy. I am being paid, firstly, to make sure that the business is properly covered. I try to the best of my ability to mix 'fairness' and 'humaneness' into my decision-making process but sometimes I have to tell a driver to 'suck it up' and do the call that he or she doesn't want to do.

Sometimes decisions are made above me regarding money and how the drivers are paid -- that I don't like, that I don't think are fair to the driver. I had a driver that came in the other day and quit on me, on the spot, because he looked at this paycheque and saw that the company had changed the way they paid the driver without notifying him. They changed from paying him by the hour to paying him by the kilometre. It probably cost him about $200-300 on his paycheque. I told him I basically agreed with him, I didn't think that it was fair for them to change pay systems without notifying him -- but there was a gray area here -- all the full-time day drivers were in the process of switching over, and had signed contracts to the new deal -- it's just he wasn't a full time day driver who had signed a new contract; he was a part-time night driver who was caught in the middle of a switch that he did not like, and as he said, he did not sign up or agree to. So out the door he went. I probably wouldn't have made the decision management made regarding the part-time night drivers who some nights might have trouble getting enough kilometers to make them want to come in and work at night. However, regarding the day drivers, one could easily detect a difference in their level of motivation. Now they were much more willing to stay out and do extra calls -- especially if they had good kilometers attached to them -- whereas before when they were being paid on an hourly rate, to the maximum of 12 hours a day, they would have been quick to ask me to cover them after their 12 hours was over. Trying to get a driver to stay out past his 12 hours when he was not getting paid for it was obviously like pulling teeth and I would cringe when directives would come from above me to keep a driver out 'against his will'. I was stuck between a rock and a hard place.

At the end of the day, each and every driver will undoubtedly evaluate the difference between what he or she 'used to get paid' and what he or she is getting paid now. And if there is a significant drop in the net paycheque, then I expect that there will be more drivers who quit on me, contract or no contract. The company may or may not expect this. If it happens, then they will undoubtedly simply hire new drivers who are not familiar with the 'old system of pay'. It obviously hurts the company every time we lose a good driver but the company will adjust, take a hit for a week or two while the new drivers are learning, and carry on. It pains me partly to say this but the bottom line is the profit line, much more so in some companies than in others -- some are looking for 'fair' profits, others are looking for 'gouging, narcissistic' profits; of much less importance in some companies more than others is the general health, happiness, and well-being of the employees that are working for them. Again, the level of 'humanness' and 'fairness' in style of management can differ greatly from one company to another. This raises the important distinction that I make between 'narcissistic capitalism' and 'ethical, humanistic-existential capitalism'.

We will leave it here for today.

db, May 13th, 2007.

1 comment:

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