Saturday, November 21, 2009

My uniformed opinion...

This title could turn into a series in a similar way to this post. Apologies, but my laptop battery is about to die, I am publishing this without looking into what I want to reitalicize from the Word document I am going to paste. "*" means that at least in the original document I plan to write in a footnote at some time.

Now for the feature presentation:

I think it’s somewhat the job of history to put down people who made wrong estimations about the future and people who got things right. And since everyone is human and thusly imperfect, all people in the latter category also occupy the former. Since I’m no historian, I see the need to point out that nothing that I say is to be taken as the absolute truth, and that all predictions I make will undoubtedly end up in the former category, but I see no fault in sharing my own thoughts on these matters.

Okay, done with the disclosure. Wrap it up with I am not a political theorist or economist and haven’t read enough of Karl Marx to say what I am saying about him with any authority. So, now then, let’s move on to the point. The way I see Karl Marx is as an almost historian, himself, someone who for the most part only made predictions. The Communist Manifesto was obviously meant to turn people towards overthrowing the bourgeoisie, but otherwise, you can see Marx as simply someone interpreting the world he’s in and wondering where it would go.

Marx saw economics as a story, in a way, something that had plot movements, and could be read like a book, rather than the opposing view of something so cyclical and repetitive that it could not be read chronologically. Simplifying things, like he did in the manifesto, although he was more in depth elsewhere, history is like this: We step from feudalism into capitalism, which, although allowing for a better life for more people than feudalism does, also puts the still vast majority into worse lives than they had, then this group, the proletariat, rise up through revolution and form a classless society. It is not difficult to look at Marx as a somewhat careless observer of these events, and although this is blatantly not the case, I do believe it is a point that is not raised oft enough.

Personally, the oddest thing in learning more about specific great political thinkers of the past is finding that I do not agree one way or the other. I do not see Locke as more correct than Rousseau or Marx as righter than Burke. It seems helpful, in our views of these people of the past, to look at them as abstract characters, uncolored by their biases or their environment, and I really do not think that this thought process can be held to the extreme, so I don’t see any real problem with it. I mean, we spend so much time considering why people of the past thought exactly what they thought, that it seems we may often miss the actual point.

And I guess that all of this up to here has been even more disclosure, but what have you. This is Karl Marx: a bearded German man who will be clumped with the Russians of the next generation, people who will corrupt his views and make his name Mudd*; he’s a staunch atheist, an anti-Semite, and a commie. So now that that’s all out there, we can forget it. It is my belief that we cannot truly see Marx as a person separate from his bias, so in attempting to do so, we can only grow to see his politics more clearly, rather than to celebrate the man as separate from whom he was.

Let us then return to the beginning of this discussion, when I classified that there are two types of people catalogued by historians, these groups can be seen as concentric circles, as one is all but completely located in the other. For a bit of a refresher, since my wordiness has put some serious distance between that first point and this one, I will say that the bigger circle is made up of everyone who has ever made a wrongful prediction of the future, while the smaller circle is everyone who has made a correct one. Now I wish to provide an example of qualification for both of these circles for Marx, one of which I will elaborate on.

It does not seem to be “too early” to call Marx’s views of the coming proletariat revolution as inaccurate, since here Karl sided too much with Hobbes or even Rousseau in a world of scarcity. What I mean to say is that Marx, at least for a small degree of the population, understated actual humanity and its inner humaneness. This is shown in his view of the capitalist as the fat cat with a cigar who sees all others as dollar signs*. All three of these thinkers seem to believe that people (or capitalists in Marx’s view) are driven solely by self-interest, or at least that any feelings of empathy or compassion are easily outweighed by self-interest. Marx’s labor theory of value, besides simplified to the extent of being inaccurate, seems to neglect the sheer fact of capitalism, itself, in that the worker can sell his potential product to the highest bidder, since there is more than just one person who owns the means of production. Here, it is very truthful, in my opinion, to say that Marx made a simple mistake in prediction, and if we wish to reenter thoughts of his biases, then we can say that Karl has failed, like Upton Sinclair*, in creating the socialist world that he wished for.

Up until this point in the discussion, I believe that I have kept within the views of the average American, a person who has been alive for a fair amount of the past century, and through the propaganda that is a result of half a hundred years of conflict, have developed a nasty little thought process towards socialism, namely that it is evil. I am here to say that that thought process is neither here nor there. Concerning it, I am, unfortunately, not completely without a side, as I am towards the political thinkers I have learned about, but my disagreement with that sort of simplification is not relevant or important in any way. Therefore I did not use this mindset of pink as it might be claimed, in order to reach the conclusion that I have reached regarding what Marx has correctly predicted.

At last, then, I have reached the thought process that first initiated the idea of this blog post back three or so days ago, now. No matter how you view Karl Marx, and no matter what he thought, no matter what incorrect predictions he made, he was accurate concerning the future of intellectual property in the arts. This does not mean that Marx was even interested in the arts or intellectual property, but rather that one of his predictions, when specialized, becomes incredibly accurate.

Marx saw the capitalist system as formulated in such a way that it would eventually eat itself, create monopolies, and formulate a two-class system of proletariat and bourgeoisie, that would blah, blah, blah, lead to communism. He saw this as happening because capitalists would reinvest capital into making their productions so efficient, that they would decrease cost to the extent that they would also have to decrease profit to next to nothing, since value would decrease so much.

This hasn’t happened anywhere that I can see outside of the music industry. It is very interesting to imagine Marx’s time of formulating these ideas, when there were only the beginnings of telephonic communication to show for the technological innovations that would eventually lead to the internet. It is through the internet that the music industry has effectively cut its production costs to zero. Other than the actual cost of making music, the time taken to create it, and suchlike cash devouring things, music distribution is now free.

Now, let’s match this up with Marx: efficiency in production leads to low costs and then to low profits. This fits almost perfectly with the current issue of musicians, who can create an entire album and sell as little as potentially one copy, while the distribution by way of the internet and illegal downloading drops the profits to the same dismal level. Now, I don’t mean to be mistaken as Metallica, attacking every seven year old girl and her great-grandmother for stealing my creations, while I can always sit back on my millions of dollars.

But I do see this as a potential issue for the music industry, musicians, and writers (and I guess their industry as well). It is a good point to make that although the music industry has been grossly affected; this potential cancer has not injected itself completely into the art of the word itself. It will soon enough, however, as the time of the e-reader must come upon us sometime. By way of either kindle, e-reader, nook, or some other variant, I do see a time when a majority of books are only bought and owned digitally. And it is at this point that people begin to show how little they actually care for the product.

I do not mean to slight consumers or myself (since I’ve been known to dabble along the edges of illegal music downloading), but rather to show a potential view of both the present and the future, in much the same way as our virtual bias-less Karl Marx did. The fact of the situation is that people will not pay the same amount of money for a CD or a book as they would pay for the songs or the stories/novels freed from their tangibility. It is, for this reason, that I would point to the professional artist as an occupation that cannot house any person whose views are completely and whole-heartedly capitalist. The future artist will need to depend on his or her fans, and bands will be able to make money through both touring and sales of albums/music, but the latter will be effective donations, so they must elicit in their fan-base support on the level that people would wish to basically sponsor their art.

Otherwise a musician or another type of artist can easily distribute his or her music for virtually no cost, but cannot gather the means of production of more, namely through gathering of capital, in this case, basically money to live and produce art by. And that’s where Karl Marx has definitely been accurate as a predictor.

Final thoughts: potential solutions are always nice. I see this as a major problem for people who wish to live one day on their art alone, as long as that art’s worth is derived from mainly non-tangible parts of it. But it will only increase the fan-creator situation. Imagine a world in which a young Stephen King truly did have to court potential Constant Readers, to gather money from them, allowing him to give up his teaching job or time with the mangler. I see this world as an interesting one and the only thing I can truly see as solving issues of this nature is what I’ve already mentioned. A band/musician/writer/creator who views a work as a means of asking for donations from a crowd, must thusly reevaluate every part of said creation. Things will be made better for a time, and if this does elicit a response from the consumer, they will stay as such: always getting better, cooler, more awesome; the goal is to make you want more, enough so that you would support such creation. I think this would create a more balanced relationship between artist and fan, for better or for worse*. And in this way, we might see more moves along the lines of leftrightleftrightleft or No Ceilings, creations which are cited as being solely for the benefit of fans.

This would lead to a society similar to Plato’s Republic, where the leadership is supported by the lower classes, and does not make money itself*. Where, in this country, it is true that the president does not grow his own food and live on subsistence, and that he gains a salary for his job, this is true for a large degree of Americans, and is due in part to imperialism, which I might get to talking on at another time. I wish to point out that in Plato’s potential world, the ruling class was thusly indebted to the lower class, and the same would be for the artist and the fan-base.

And, if you have followed me all the way through this loopy brain-dumping, then I thank you. I have little else to say on the topic, so, as always, sorry for boring you.

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