Thursday, June 15, 2006

How MDMA and Polanyi taught me the same thing

Wow, it's been a fair time I've been away but it has not been spent idly. Not only was it too much to sit inside while the sun has been shining so heroically in the past weeks but I decided it was time for a few ideas to settle and develop. For those interested in the Edinburgh Festival, I have also been working like a badass with DK to get publicity up and running for the Bedlam Theatre. The online fruits of these efforts can be seen here, although it is till under construction.

So what ideas have been developing? One was that we all consist of the same unified energy, therefore one man's fate is shared by all. Humanity therefore needs to develop a sense of collective responsibility if we are to achieve true happiness. To give you a little context on the development of this idea, this was just after I'd been dancing manically with a scarf tied round my head and just before I began talking to a river until 6 o'clock in the morning.

Though that experience is long since over, the idea refuses to go away.

I have been obsessed with the work of Karl Polanyi ever since I read The Great Transformation some 18 months ago. His view of the market system as a force which disembeds the economy from society, and forces the latter to conform to the needs of the former explains so many of today's ills. The urgency of argument and passionate reading of history in the context of social and economic change makes it a thrilling read for those of any political stripe.

My degree finished, I started to read more about the Hungarian, my starting point being Karl Polanyi on Ethics and Economics. For Polanyi the two were inseparable: he saw the task of living as an ethical one, and criticised the social sciences for excluding one from the other.

I was surprised an delighted in this book to find Polanyi's opinions on freedom and responsibility. Life,he argued, is a balance between personal and collective freedom. In pre-capitalist society the former was almost always sacrificed to the latter. The onset of capitalism, however, has brought personal freedom to the fore. For this reason Polanyi praised capitalism as it allowed people the freedom to live in accordance with their consciences and not be constrained by social forces which could cause them to act otherwise. However, the pendulum, he held, had swung too far: by neglecting their collective freedom - people were negating the ability of society to act as a facilitator.

What was important to Polanyi, writing in the 1930s, was the emergence of a sense of collective responsibility to balance both personal and collective freedoms and thus allow mankind to truly flourish.

Funny how some ideas, however arrived at, have trouble leaving you alone.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Round about

Watching the World Cup, a friend wondered aloud just how much these kind of events cost industry. After a moment, I realised what was wrong with this, the standard view.

People do not exist to provide human resources to industry. Leisure, culture and family are not, in the wide view, costs to business. Society is not something that should be hammered and bent until it accords to the shape of the economic machine. Business, industry and economic arrangements are machines, social machines for sure, but inventions of human ingenuity nonetheless. I am a Luddite. To allow machines to shape us, rather than us them, indeed, to build an ideology – an understanding of the workings of the world – that inverts the only justifiable hierarchy of human and machine, is arse over tĂȘte.
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