“Något kan man väl göra”, Texter 1932 – 1982 av Alva Myrdal

I den här samlingen av texter skrivna mellan år 1932 och 1982 diskuterar Alva Myrdal ämnen som fred, demokrati och jämställdhet. Urvalet av texter har gjorts av Yvonne Hirdman och Cecilia Åse och texterna är kategoriserade under  rubrikerna “Äkta qvinnlighet”, “Fostran till frihet” och “Människan i världen”.

 

Fred, inte bara en kvinnofråga (Morgonbris nr.8 1980)

PR-sinnade militärer tycks på sistone ha upptäckt, att kvinnornas krav på jämställdhet kan utnyttjas för försvarets intressen (Krigsväsendet borde det hellre kallas). Så de har börjat se kvinnorna som en intressant målgrupp för värvningsansträngningar. Kvinnor som FN-soldater – det ser ju så tjusigt ut! Men är det en framgång? För jämställdheten? För fred och nedrustning? sidan 90

 

Fostran till frihet, kritik och kulturkamp (Kulturfront 1936 nr.1 s.64 – 70)

Vad vi har att hålla fast vid enligt förestående utläggning är att vi ej kan förmedla någon viss politiskt demokratisk eller socialistisk ”tro”, men att vi kan sträva efter att för framtidssamhällets skull stärka individens förmåga att handla och tänka fritt, att använda sig egen reflexion över sociala förhållanden, att stå emot en starkt pressande suggestion och auktoritet, att välja och ha utblick över alternativen, att överskåda konsekvenserna och planera på längre sikt. sidan 131

Friheten är till slut inte någon ”rätt” utan först en ”förmåga”. Det är den som skall tränas redan i barnets första fostran. sidan 133

 

Hur folkopinionen studeras (Tiden 1941 nr.5)

Den mest centrala beståndsdelen i apparaten för vidarebefordrande av folkopinionen är valen. Folkviljans utslag i fria, hemliga val är också den mest oförytterliga rättighet i en folkstyrd stat. Men valtillfällena är få. Ännu färre är de samhällsspörsmål som vid val kan ställas under avgörande. Det enda ärende som vid val når beslut blir egentligen frågan om förtroendevotum till partiernas allmänna kurs. Mellan valtillfällena och i hela mångfalden av detaljspörsmål blir folkviljan utan direkt inflytande. Den demokrati man får nöja sig med blir en representativ demokrati. Dess största svaghet är att medborgarmassorna döms till passivitet istället för aktivitet. sidan 165

Den fria diskussionen är principiellt basen för denna opinionsbildning. Så rationalistisk är i själva verket demokratin, att den bygger sitt eget vara på den förutsättningen, att om yttrande- och tryckfrihet garanteras, kommer konkurrensen själv att gallra fram de klokaste åsikterna. Man tror på ett slags ”survival of the fittest”. Men den oundgängliga förutsättningen är att, mediet för opinionsbildningarna – det talade och tryckta ordet – verkligen är fritt. Ju mer det kommersialiseras, ju mäktigare intressen som kan köpa sig makt över det eller ju mer det monopoliseras, desto oklarare måste det återge ”folkets” allmänna opinion. sidan 166

 

Krig, vapen och vardagsvåld

(föredrag vid vetenskapsakademins sammankomst den 13 oktober 1976)

Den hejdlösa vapenframställningen grundar sig icke på sakliga militära motiveringar utan på misstolkningar av verkligheten, av det hot som föreligger och om den räddning som krig skulle kunna ge. En bidragande orsak kan kort och ganska uttömmande anges genom hänvisning till det av Eisenhover (sic) åberopade militär-industriella komplexet. Till serien av däri ingående delmotiveringar hör den i många länder, även Sverige, gängse vanföreställningen att vapentillverkning behövs för att undvika arbetslöshet för industrier, arbetare, tekniker och även vetenskapsmän. Man behöver bara kort hänvisa till den fascinerande möjligheten som står öppen att göra omställningsplaner för att ge alternativ sysselsättning till dess produktionskrafter. sidan 234

 

☞ Alva Myrdal, “Något kan man väl göra”: texter 1932 – 1982 i urval av Cecilia Åse och Yvonne Hirdman, Stockholm (2002)

 

Solidaritet utan gränser – Tal och texter i urval av Olof Palme

Solidaritet utan gränser – Tal och texter i urval publicerades 2004 och är en samling texter och tal av Olof Palme som är uppdelade i fyra olika avsnitt: “Socialisten och visionären”, “Demokraten”, “Solidaritetens banerförare” och “Internationalisten”. Tillsammans ger de en överblick på Palmes politiska ideologi. Det är nästan omöjligt att föreställa sig att Stefan Löfven eller någon annan högt uppsatt socialdemokrat skulle hålla den här sortens tal eller skriva den här sortens texter. Solidaritet utan gränser vittnar om en tid när socialdemokratin, och i förlängningen den svenska politiken i stort, fortfarande hade en ideologi och en vision om ett samhälle som inte bara handlade om eventuella skattesänkningar eller skattehöjningar. Boken är helt enkelt ett dokument över en tid då man talade om politik på ett helt annat sätt än man gör idag. Samtidigt blir det påfallande tydligt att flera av Palmes uttalanden skulle kunna appliceras på vår samtid.

 

Det ideologiska mönstret (den andra artikeln i en serie av tre i Aftonbladet 1967)

Den demokratiska socialismen är för mig framförallt en frihetsrörelse. Uppgiften är att så långt som möjligt söka frigöra människan från de sociala och ekonomiska förhållandenas diktatur. Stora ekonomiska skillnader binder människorna. Därav kravet på jämlikhet. Den enskilde kan i det moderna samhället inte ensam hävda sina intressen. Därav strävan till samverkan och solidaritet. Det finns i en så upplevd socialdemokrati intet av förhärligande av staten. Samhället är ett instrument som kan och bör användas om man i det konkreta fallet på rationella grunder förmår visa att den enskildes frihetsmarginaler därigenom kan vidgas.

 

En ideologi som stimulerar människors förväntningar (utdrag från ett anförande vid Svenska Träindustriarbetarförbundets kongress 1968)

Det hålls i dessa dagar många tal där man säger: ”Vi är goda demokrater, vi har en fri press och fri opinionsbildning. Vi sätter inte människor i fängelse för deras åsikters skull – inte så många människor åtminstone.” Man glömmer då att demokrati är mer än en fråga om yttrandefrihet och sådant. Demokratin har ett ofrånkomligt sammanhang med människornas sociala villkor med jämlikhet och utjämningen mellan människorna. De senaste åren har vi fått bevittna vad som kallas en kris för demokratin i de rika västliga industriländerna. Dessa samhällen förefaller att sprängas sönder inifrån av sina inneboende motsättningar.

Demokratin råkar in i en kris, för det första om den icke förmår lösa de konkreta problem som människorna upplever såsom centrala och för det andra om de politiska institutionerna och partierna icke har en förankring i den sociala verkligheten. Om politiken icke formas av människorna själva, blir partierna propagandamaskiner, och människorna förlorar förtroendet för politiken.

 

 

Är jämlikhet att alla äter ärtsoppa på torsdagar? Utdrag från anförande vid Svenska Typografförbundets kongress 1969

Det är gott och väl att säga att alla ska ha valfrihet när det gäller utbildning, bostad, arbete, möjligheter att uppleva fritiden, men det blir ett sken om man inte skapar en sådan social och ekonomisk organisation, att alla får reella möjligheter att efterfråga de tingen, och det förutsätter en utjämning av levnadsvillkoren. Valfriheten får inte gälla ett begränsat fåtal, utan den ska vara en frihet för alla samhällsmedborgare, även för dem som idag har dåliga löner och pressade ekonomiska villkor.

 

Olof Palme, Solidaritet utan gränser: Tal och texter i urval, Atlas, Stockholm (2006)

In Praise of Idleness and Other Essays by Bertrand Russell

In Praise of Idleness and Other Essays is a collection of essays written by Bertrand Russell. It was originally published in 1935. In the eponymous essay, Russell questions a central idea on which our society rests upon – the inherent value of work. This was a radical notion in 1935 and remains equally radical today. However, Russells argues that the way society is structured today basically is a strange remnant from a time before industrialization when we really did have to work in order to survive. This is not the case anymore. Yet we still cling to the idea that it is normal, if not natural, to work at least 40 hours per week; the virtue of work is really the virtue of duty and the conception of duty, writes Russell, “speaking historically, has been a means used by the holders of power to induce others to live for the interests of their masters rather than for their own.” Many would still reject Russell’s arguments but it is nevertheless interesting to entertain the idea that society, as we know it, does not have to look the way it looks today; there are other alternatives, other options, other ways to organize, that rarely get a serious chance to surface in political discussions. Russell is a convincing thinker, radical in way that is difficult to fend off. So read his essays and ask – why not?

 

In Praise of Idleness

It will be said that, while a little leisure is pleasant, men would not know how to fill their days if they had only four hours of work out of the twenty-four. In so far as this is true in the modern world, it is a condemnation of our civilisation; it would not have been true at any earlier period. There was formerly a capacity for light-heartedness and play which has been to some extent inhibited by the cult of efficiency. The modern man thinks that everything out to be done for the sake of something else, and never for its own sake. page 11 

Modern methods of production have given us the possibility of ease and security for all; we have chosen, instead, to have overwork for some and starvation for others. Hitherto we have continued to be as energetic as we were before there were machines; in this we have been foolish, but there is no reason to go on being foolish for ever. page 15

 

Scylla and Charybdis, or Communism and Fascism

Communism is not democratic. What it calls the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ is in fact the dictatorship of a small minority, who become an oligarchic governing class. All history shows that government is always conducted in the interests of the governing class, except in so far as it is influenced by fear of losing its power. page 73

There is so much hate in Marx and in Communism that Communists can hardly be expected, when victorious, to establish a regime affording no outlet for malevolence. page 74

There are some objections – and these, to my mind, the most conclusive – which apply to Communism and Fascism equally. Both are the attempts by a minority to mould a population forcibly in accordance with a preconceived pattern. They regard a population as a man regards the materials out of which he intends to construct a machine: the materials undergo much alteration, but in accordance with his purposes, not with any law of development inherent in them. page 78

 

The Case for Socialism

Let us begin by a definition of Socialism. The definition must consist of two parts, economic and political. The economic part consists in State ownership of ultimate economic power, which involves, as a minimum, land and minerals, capital, banking, credit and foreign trade. The political part requires that the ultimate political power should be democratic. page 82

Economic security would do more to increase the happiness of civilised communities than any other change that can be imagined, except the prevention of war. Work – to the extent that may be socially necessary –should be legally obligatory for all healthy adults, but their income should depend only upon their willingness to work, and should not cease when, for some reason, their services are temporarily unnecessary. page 91

The world is in the condition of a drunkard anxious to reform, but surrounded by kind friends offering him drinks, and therefore perpetually relapsing. In this case, the kind friends are men who make money out of his unfortunate propensity, and the first step in his reformation must be to remove them. It is only in this sense that modern capitalism can be regarded as a cause of war: it is not the whole cause, but it provides an essential stimulus to the other causes. If it were no longer in existence, the absence of this stimulus would quickly cause men to see the absurdity of war, and to enter upon such equitable agreements as would its future occurrence improbable. page 101

 

On Youthful Cynicism

Causation in the modern world is more complex and remote in its ramifications than it ever was before, owing to the increase of large corporations; but those who control these large organisations are ignorant men who do not know the hundredth part of the consequences of their actions. page 128

The rulers of the world have always been stupid, but have not in the past been so powerful as they are now. page 128 f 

 

☞ Bertrand Russell, In Praise of Idleness and Other Essays, Routledge, London (2004)

Regarding the Pain of Others by Susan Sontag

Regarding the Pain of Others by Susan Sontag was published in 2003, only a year before Sontag died. In the book, which in some ways can be described as a long essay, Sontag discusses the relationship between war, violence and photography. Is it possible to grow accustomed, and even indifferent, to images of war and suffering? And if so, what happens when we no longer react to such pictures? In a time when we are constantly flooded with images and stories portraying suffering that is often geographically distant from ourselves, what does it take to evoke compassion that lasts longer than some fleeting seconds and which can lead to action rather than detachment from a reality we are not – yet – forced to live in? With the war in Syria now being compared to a slaughter house and hell on Earth, this discussion and these questions seem more pressing and relevant than ever before.

 

Look, the photographs say, this is what it’s like. This is what war does. And that, that is what it does, too. War tears, rends. War rips open, eviscerates. War scorches. War dismembers. War ruins.  Not to be pained by these pictures, not to recoil from them, not to strive to abolish what causes this havoc, this carnage – these, for [Virginia] Woolf, would be the reactions of a moral monster. And, she is saying, we are not monsters, we members of the educated class. Our failure is one of imagination, of empathy: we have failed to hold this reality in mind. page 8

To those who are sure that right is on one side, oppression and injustice on the other, and that the fighting must go on, what matters is precisely who is killed and by whom. To an Israeli Jew, a photograph of a child torn apart in the attack on the Sbarro pizzeria in downtown Jerusalem is first of all a photograph of a Jewish child killed by a Palestinian suicide-bomber. To a Palestinian, a photograph of a child torn apart by a tank round in Gaza is first of all a photograph of a Palestinian child killed by Israeli ordnance. To the militant, identity is everything. page 10

It is because a war, any war, doesn’t seem as if it can be stopped that people become less responsive to the horrors. Compassion is an unstable emotion. It needs to be translated into action, or it withers. The question is what to do what the feelings that have been aroused, the knowledge that has been communicated. If one feels that there is nothing “we” can do […] and nothing “they” can do either […] then one starts to get bored, cynical, apathetic. page 101

Citizens of modernity, consumers of violence as spectacle, adepts of proximity without risk, are schooled to be cynical about the possibility of sincerity. Some people will do anything to keep themselves from being moved. How much easier, from one’s chair, far from danger, to claim the position of superiority. page 111

There’s nothing wrong with standing back and thinking. To paraphrase several sages: “Nobody can think and hit someone at the same time.” page 118

 

☞ Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others, Penguin, London (2004)

 

Fixed Opinions or The Hinge of History by Joan Didion

Fixed Opinions or The Hinge of History is a short essay on the aftermath of 9/11 written by the American author Joan Didion. The text is about the wide-spread inability to make the essential distinction between understanding and excusing that many failed to make in 2001 and continue to fail to make, especially in discussions concerning terrorism. Didion’s essay has been acclaimed as one of the best texts written on 9/11 and it gives some insights into what went wrong with the ideological discussion and, in extension, the political and military response. Didion describes the initial shock parallell to the growing political opportunism, and how the tone of the discussion changed from trying to make sense of what had happened to people starting to ask, as Didion writes, “What’s wrong with the Islamic world that it failed to produce democracy, science, education, its own enlightenment, and created societies that breed terror?”

 

These people recognized that even then, within days after the planes hit, there was a good deal of opportunistic ground being seized under cover of the clearly urgent need for increased security. These people recognized even then, with flames still visible in lower Manhattan, that the words “bipartisanship” and “national unity” had come to mean acquiescence to the administration’s preexisting agenda—for example the imperative for further tax cuts, the necessity for Arctic drilling, the systematic elimination of regulatory and union protections, even the funding for the missile shield—as if we had somehow missed noticing the recent demonstration of how limited, given a few box cutters and the willingness to die, superior technology can be.

I found in New York, in other words, that the entire event had been seized—even as the less nimble among us were still trying to assimilate it—to stake new ground in old domestic wars. There was the frequent deployment of the phrase “the Blame America Firsters,” or “the Blame America First crowd,” the wearying enthusiasm for excoriating anyone who suggested that it could be useful to bring at least a minimal degree of historical reference to bear on the event. There was the adroit introduction of convenient straw men. There was Christopher Hitchens, engaging in a dialogue with Noam Chomsky, giving himself the opportunity to generalize whatever got said into “the liberal-left tendency to ‘rationalize’ the aggression of September 11.” There was Donald Kagan at Yale, dismissing his colleague Paul Kennedy as “a classic case of blaming the victim,” because the latter had asked his students to try to imagine what resentments they might harbor if America were small and the world dominated by a unified Arab-Muslim state.

Inquiry into the nature of the enemy we faced, in other words, was to be interpreted as sympathy for that enemy. The final allowable word on those who attacked us was to be that they were “evildoers,” or “wrongdoers,” peculiar constructions which served to suggest that those who used them were transmitting messages from some ultimate authority.

This was a year when Rear Admiral John Stufflebeem, deputy director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, would say at a Pentagon briefing that he had been “a bit surprised” by the disinclination of the Taliban to accept the “inevitability” of their own defeat. It seemed that Admiral Stufflebeem, along with many other people in Washington, had expected the Taliban to just give up. “The more that I look into it,” he said at this briefing, “and study it from the Taliban perspective, they don’t see the world the same way we do.”

Prima Materia: texter i urval av Eva Moberg

Prima materia: texter i urval publicerades 2003 och är en samling texter av Eva Moberg skrivna mellan 1960-talet och 00-talet. I Prima materia får läsaren en översikt av hennes texter. Moberg var en radikal debattör som skrev om bland annat feminism, militarism och demokrati. Med sällsynt skärpa och syrlighet diskuterar Moberg politiska frågor som är lika relevanta nu som då. Vi lever återigen under hot om krig, stater producerar och säljer enorma mängder krigsmateriel, och trots att vi inte längre talar om det i samma utsträckning som under kalla kriget kvarstår kärnvapenhotet. Moberg tog ställning för feminism och demokrati och motsatte sig militarismens alla uttryck men hon gjorde sina ställningstaganden utan att låta sig kategoriseras i några fack. Hon kritiserade Alva Myrdal och Viola Klein för hur de såg på kvinnor och vad de kallade för “kvinnans två roller” medan Moberg menade att “män och kvinnor har en huvudroll, den som människor. ” (s.14)

Moberg tog avstamp i tidigare generationers feministiska kamp och lyfte fram det arbete som Fogelstadsgruppen och Tidevarvet har gjort för den demokratiska och feministiska utvecklingen i Sverige. Utan dessa radikaler skulle Sverige med stor sannolikhet inte se ut som det gör idag. Lika lite som Elin Wägner, Ada Nilsson och Elisabeth Tamm bör förpassas till historien, lika lite bör vi låta Eva Moberg glömmas bort. Istället borde vi läsa deras texter, diskutera dem, och upptäcka hur mycket av deras tankegångar och argument som är applicerbara på den tid som vi lever i nu.

 

Kvinnans villkorliga frigivning (1961)

Moderskärleken är historiens mest exploaterade känsla, inte endast i de enskilda fallen utan också i det stora sociala perspektivet. Att hävda kvinnans rätt som individ i förhållande till barnets rätt, är detsamma som att bli ansedd asocial, onaturlig, okvinnlig, omänsklig, rabiat m.m. Jag ska inte heller gå så långt som till kravet att barnets intresse ska inordnas moderns. Vad man måste kräva är, att den oerhört betungande uppgift – moraliskt, socialt, fysiskt, psykiskt – som vilar på mödrarna fördelas lika mellan dessa, fäderna och samhället. sidan 12

 

Antikrigsförklaring (1984)

Att sluta krigsfostra innebär till exempel att klargöra de ekonomiska samband som gör det möjligt att sex miljoner kronor per minut går till rustningar i världen, medan 500 miljoner människor svälter och stora delar av mänskligheten saknar rent dricksvatten. sidan 118

Det råder en selektiv tolerans i mänskliga samhällen. Den fungerar på det sättet, att man tolererar praktiskt taget vad som helst hos den företeelse som man har vant sej att se som normal och riktig, medan man tolererar ytterst lite hos den företeelse som alltid betraktats som onormal och oriktig. sidan 119

»Det är inte vapnen som för krig, det är människor.« Detta hävdas ofta gentemot dem som vill nedrusta eller stoppa vapenexport. Och visst är det sant. Men det underliga är att denna insikt sällan tillämpas av dem som framför dem. För den betyder ju att vapenhanteringen hos motsidan egentligen saknar betydelse i jämförelse med tankarna, känslorna och föreställningarna hos människorna där. Försvars- och säkerhetsarbetet borde i enlighet med denna insikt gå ut på att lära sej förstå motsidan, vidga kontakterna med dem och vinna deras förtroende på alla plan, istället för att envist begränsa sej till att rusta, precis som om det vore motsidans vapen som förde krig. sidan 119

 

I den djupa sömnens tid (1978)

Snart lika skrämmande som stormakternas djävulsspiral av rustningar är den breda allmänhetens resignation, eller rent av likgiltighet, även i välinformerade länder. Det är inte så förvånande att statsmännen ständigt tillmötesgår militära krav på större och »bättre« vapensystem när trycket från medborgarna att stoppa galenskaperna är så lamt och halvhjärtat, där det alls finns. Å ena sidan starka påtryckningar från militär, forskare, vapenindustri, fackförbund och politiska hökar, å den andra sidan bara vaga och allmänna önskningar om nedrustning från »människorna«. sidan 130

 

Är krig naturligt? (1986)

Man lever inte i en demokrati eller i frihet, när några avlägsna figurer – oåtkomliga för påverkan och ansvarsutkrävande – när som helst kan besluta om att ens liv och allt liv på jorden ska förvandlas till helvete. sidan 146

Horst Eberhard Richter framhåller att sinnesförfattningen hos stora delar av befolkningen i de två blocken [under kalla kriget] helt stämmer överens med de medicinska kriterierna på paranoia, förföljelsemani:
– Man tror att alla åtgärder som motparten vidtar har ett aggressivt syfte.
– Uppfattningen om motparten får inte och kan inte korrigeras.
– Alla försök i den vägen i det egna lägret tolkas som slug manipulering från motparten.
– Vad den egna sidan gör är alltid befogat, hur aggressivt det än är.
– Man ser inte den fara man löper genom sina egna åtgärder. sidan 148

 

Ada Nilsson (1964)

Att idag läsa igenom de fjorton årgångarna av Tidevarvet är en märklig upplevelse. Man finner en total frånvaro av taktik och opportunism och en ständig närvaro av ärligt engagemang. Elisabeth Tamms och Elin Wägners ledare är syrliga och genomskådande. Bland medarbetarna märks, förutom Fogelstadgruppen, namn som Klara Johanson, Emilia Fogelclou, Karin Boye, Moa och Harry Martinson. Tidningens två hjärtepunkter är freden och jämlikhet mellan könen. Man kämpar för internationalism, för liberalare utlänningspolitik, för behörighetslagens fulla tillämpning, likalönsprincipen, mot rasdiskriminering. Man angriper fascismen i mitten av 20-talet, nazismen redan i 30-talets början. När andra tidningar sysslar med jubileer, patriotism, kunglighet, ordensregn och utnämningar sysslar Tidevarvet med hälsovård, psykologi, uppfostrings- och livsåskådningsfrågor. Man startar till och med en egen upplysningsbyrå i sexualfrågor med Ada Nilsson som självskriven föreståndare. Det var den första i sitt slag i landet. sidan 265

 

Eva Moberg, Prima materia: texter i urval, Ordfront, Stockholm (2003)

 

Economics for Humans by Julie A. Nelson

Economics for Humans was published in 2006 and written by Julie A. Nelson, a prominent feminist economist and Professor of Economics at the University of Massachusetts Boston. In Economics for Humans, Nelson seeks to answer how we could create and structure an economy not for imaginary “rational men” but for actual human beings. Nelson criticizes both neoclassical economists for their models that hold little or no relevance for how people actually behave in an economy and Left leaning economists that tend to overestimate the inherent goodness of governments and non-profit organizations and the greediness of private companies. Nelson writes, “in an era of suspicious elections, campaign finance fiascos, and powerful lobbyists, one has to be naïve in the extreme to believe that governments can be trusted to automatically or naturally work for the common good.” (39)

Under the influence of neoclassical economics, we have grown accustomed to the idea of separating economics and ethics but Nelson argues that treating the market-driven economy as a machine dictated solely by “the laws of nature” is not only a false notion but is also to the detriment of human welfare needs.

 

Nowadays, the core curriculum for economics at most American and European (and many other) universities is based on this neoclassical model. Undergraduates study neoclassical theory, usually not realizing that what they see presented as economic knowledge is not based on economists’ years of intensive study of actual businesses and households. Rather, the base is actually a set of mathematically convenient assumptions and Smith’s image of mechanically driven economy. page 21

Most people would probably assume that the criteria for social welfare should include such things as meeting people’s basic survival needs and not destroying the life-supporting ecological processes of the planet. Not so in the world of neoclassical economics. Because of the desire to keep economics as “objective” and “value-free” as possible, economists have adopted a rather bizarre notion of social well-being or welfare. They have gone out of their way to avoid any criteria that could possibly be thought of as “subjective,” fearing that their “science” would be tainted if they made “value judgments”. “Needs,” this school has claimed, for example, cannot be scientifically distinguished from “wants.” Who is to say, for example, that dental care is a “need,” if so many people around the world get along without it? With no clear, scientific way to draw the line between needs and wants, neoclassical economics has dispensed with the concept of “need” entirely. page 23

Perhaps the most dramatic episode in recent history concerns what happened in Russia after the fall of Communism. Many economists expected that free markets would simply blossom once the “encumbrances” of state control were lifted from Russian society. They thought that the “natural forces” and “economic laws” of capitalism, now unleashed, would more or less automatically create the grand system first describes by Adam Smith. What developed instead, as we know, was chaos, corruption, fraud, murder, and an economy that has had more in common with organized crime than with organized markets. Rates of poverty and alcoholism climbed, while Russian male life expectancy dropped to 58 years. page 25

The idea that the world of morals and care is distinct from the world of business has also had an interesting gender dimension in both popular life and scholarly thought. During the Victorian era, middle-class women were thought to be the guardians of moral and care, which were assumed to rule in the home. Meanwhile, men were thought to be morally less pure by nature and hence appropriately assigned to the rough-and-tumble world of competitive business. page 36

Producing goods without thinking about moral implications can easily lead to the marketing of harmful products. Creating jobs without respecting the humanity of the employees can easily lead to the creation of inhumane working conditions. A belief that everyone should be responsible for themselves without acknowledging the realities of human childhood, illness, and old age leads to an attitude of hard-heartedness. Producing or consuming products without paying attention to ecological impacts puts the earth’s future in hock to the short-sighted impulses of the current generation. It isn’t bad to want to create goods and jobs. But if you do so assuming that the ethical implications will “take care of themselves,” you can do real harm. page 56

While the policies created by the old Progressives are no longer entirely adequate for today’s society and economy, I think we can a great deal from their methods. “What are the greatest causes of harm in today’s society?” and “How can we work together to correct them?” are the right questions to ask. page 126

 

☞ Julie A. Nelson, Economics for Humans, University of Chicago Press (2006)

 

The Sane Society by Erich Fromm

The Sane Society was published in 1955 and written by the German social psychologist Erich Fromm. Among theorists such as Marcuse and Adorno, Fromm was a part of the first generation of the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory. He was interested in the psychological effects that large social systems have on individuals and the increasing sense of alienation that in part seems to characterize modern men. He discussed these subjects in Escape from Freedom (1941) where he analyses our ambiguous relationship to freedom. Fromm argues that we harbour a fear of freedom and, in extension, choices and responsibility, which leads us to try and escape by subordinating ourselves to authorities or by simply conforming ourselves to  society and suppressing critical thinking. Fromm connects these psychological tendencies to what enabled the rise of Nazism.

In The Sane Society, Fromm questions how sane our modern capitalist society really is by tracing its alienating effects on our lives and mental health. Fromm criticizes both  capitalism and communism as dehumanizing ideologies and instead explores the possibilities of structuring a society based on individual freedom.

Our problem is that our motive for production is not social usefulness, not satisfaction in the work process, but the profit derived from the investment. The usefulness of his product to the consumer need not interest the individual capitalist at all. page 89

“We are not in danger of becoming slaves any more, but of becoming robots,” as Adlai Stevenson said so succinctly. There is no overt authority which intimidates us, but we are governed by the fear of the anonymous authority of conformity. We do not submit to anyone personally; we do not go through conflicts with authority, but we have also no convictions of our own, almost no individuality, almost no sense of self. page 102

If the market and the contract regulate relationships, there is no need to know what is right and what is wrong and good and evil. All that is necessary is to know that things are fair – that the exchange is fair, and that things “work” – that they function. page 109

The dimensions with which we deal are figures and abstractions; they are far beyond the boundaries which would permit of any kind of concrete experience. There is no frame of reference left which is manageable, observable, which is adapted to human dimensions. While our eyes and ears receive impressions only in humanly manageable proportions, our concepts of the world has lost just that quality; it does not any longer correspond to our human dimensions. This is especially significant in connection with the development of modern means of destruction. In modern war, one individual can cause the destruction of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children. He could do so by pushing a button; he may not feel the emotional impact of what he is doing, since he does not see, does not know the people whom he kills; it is almost as if his act of pushing the button and their death had no real connection. The same man would probably be incapable of even slapping, not to speak of killing, a helpless person. In the latter case, the concrete situation arouses in him a conscience reaction common to all normal men; in the former, there is not such reaction, because the act and his object are alienated from the doer, his act is not his any more, but has, so to speak, a life and a responsibility of its own. page 120

The mechanism through which the anonymous authority operates is conformity. I ought to do what everybody does, hence, I must conform, not be different, not “stick out”; I must be ready and willing to change, according to the changes in the pattern; I must not ask whether I am right or wrong, but whether I am adjusted, whether I am not “peculiar,” not different. page 153

Modern man does not know what to do with himself, how to spend his lifetime meaningfully, and he is driven to work in order to avoid an unbearable boredom. page 179

☞  Erich Fromm, The Sane Society, Rinehart, New York (1955)

Jean-Paul Sartre: Hated Conscience of His Century by John Gerassi

Jean-Paul Sartre: Hated Conscience of His Century is Sartre’s official biography written by John Gerassi and published in 1989. The book is based on a series of long interviews and conversations between Gerassi and Sartre that were conducted 1974 – 1979. Sartre chose Gerassi to be his official biographer and gave him access to his personal files and unpublished material. It is a fascinating book and, for a biography, unusually honest and critical. Gerassi and Sartre discuss the contradictory and difficult relationship between political commitment and bourgeois society, which Sartre undeniably was a part of.

Nearly 30 years have passed since this book was first published but it is still highly relevant and touches upon many issues and questions that political activists today face and struggle with; what does it mean to live a privileged life while fighting for justice? What is genuine political commitment? What can we do within the given conditions that we are bound by?

»It is always those who have power who say ’calm down, let’s talk rationally, let’s be sensible’,« he [Sartre] once explained to a couple of my students. »It is always those who have power who insist that being emotional is being weak. In the home, the powerful are the male. That’s why the best way for a housewife to argue against her calm, rational ’provider’ is to throw the plate of rice in his face.« Then, because the two young women I had brought around to his apartment were Americans, he added, »In your country, all your teachers tell you to think carefully and try to be objective, n’est-ce pas? They refuse to admit the possibility that if you are white and rich you will never think – hear me – think, reason, not just feel, but think like a person who is black and poor. They want you to keep looking at a situation from all sides, as they say. That’s so you say, ’On the one hand this; on the other, that.’ That’s so you do nothing.« Then, after a pause to fortify this point, he concluded: »If you accept to play the game by the rules set up by those who own or control the board, you will always lose.« page 6 

»Now answer me this. During this coming period, when the vast majority of intellectuals […] will turn themselves inside out to be apolitical, which means right-wingers; when they will fawn all over the structuralists and so-called post-structuralists as an excuse to be ’detached’; during these coming years, when they will deliberatively rediscover the gulag and other Stalin atrocities in order to avoid talking of America’s current atrocities; when they will use all their literary power to convince the world that anti-Stalinism is equivalent to pro-Americanism; in short, during the foreseeable future, when socialists will justify exploitation, murder, and nuclear brinkmanship, what will get people to read me?« page 23

With Sartre, there were no escapes, no ivory towers, no retreats into false ”objectivity.” Those of us who had no power knew he fought for us and with us. Those who had knew they could never say, ”I can’t help it.” The job of the intellectual, Sartre said over and over, is to criticize, to oppose, to denounce. page 36

»We walked around Paris, for hours, for days. We discovered flora and fauna, stones, and we were moved to tears when the first neon advertisements were turned on. We thought the world was new because we were new in the world – Paris was our bond, we loved each other through the crowds of the gray city, under the light skies of its springtimes. We walked, we talked, we invented our own language and intellectual slang, such as all students create.« page 68

»I supported the Spanish Republic, totally, absolutely. I thought of myself as an antifascist through and through. But I had never suffered. I had always been certain of my future. Commitment for me, like for any bourgeois intellectual who has not been faced with misery, poverty, torture or death, was purely cerebral.« page 134

John Gerassi, Jean-Paul Sartre: Hated Conscience of His Century, University of Chicago Press, Chicago (1989)

Talking cure

A concept developed by Sigmund Freud which refers to the belief that by talking about something, you solve it.


Ett koncept utvecklat av Sigmund Freud som avser tron på att genom att prata om ett problem så löser man det.