[xmca] The Moral Policeman and Water Under the Mill

From: David Kellogg <vaughndogblack who-is-at yahoo.com>
Date: Tue Sep 25 2007 - 05:44:40 PDT

And thank YOU Bella, for straightening THAT out. Now it really does make perfect sense, particularly when you think of LSV's previous comparison of "pangs of conscience" with a moral policeman. LSV is contrasting PROLEPTIC moral precepts with "postleptic" moral policing.
  First of all, the "pangs of conscience" are backward looking rather than forward looking. Secondly, they are in the context of a 'moral policeman', whose precepts are identical with the power of fear, although they are internal. Thirdly, LSV recognizes that the 'pangs of conscience' are often a SUBSTITUTE for doing what is right: people do what is WRONG and then feel guilty about it afterwards, and they find this course of action actually EASIER than doing the right thing. LSV understands this, and this is why he equates the "pangs of conscience" with the power of fear: they are both INEFFECTUAL at controlling behavior!
But how can we distinguish between self-regulation that is truly emancipatory, proleptic, and can shape future behavior on the one hand and self-regulation that is merely the guilty "pangs of conscience", backward looking, and a convenient substitute for doing the right thing?

  One of them is CREATIVE! The other is simply derived by imitation. The "moral policeman" merely imitates a real one! So LSV says "if the poet's summons is to be applied to our actions, it has to so resonate that its meaning express (sic) the demand not simply to listen to, but to himself create the music of revolution. (223)"

  Note that LSV's REFUSAL to prescribe what moral education will be under socialism is in some ways analogous to that of a book published exactly one year before "Educational Psychology" that LSV must have read, a book by the then Commissar of War Leon Trotsky "Literature and Revolution" (1924).

  Trotsky makes the argument that it is quite impossible to create so called "proletarian art", because in so far as the proletariat is proletarian, it is not yet in control of the means of artistic production (art is still in the hands of the middle class). In so far as the proletariat is no longer proletarian, it will create not a "proletarian" art, but a socialist one, and it is impossible for us to predict what that will be like.

  LSV has simply transposed Trotsky's argument to the field of moral education. This is why his book ends with quotations from Trotsky. It is also why this book and "Psychology of Art" are so critical of the Bukharinist idea of art as a form of "socialized emotion" where an esthetic response simply "contaminates" the masses, like the flock of geese in Thinking and Speech which simply "contaminates" others with its fear. That is, of course, the function of the "moral policeman" as well.

David Kellogg
  Seoul National University of Education
  PS: Mike: According to Valsiner and van der Veer, the Mill chestnut about the water molecule was a pretty standard example in the early twentieth century, something not only in the Gestalt but in the Zeitgeist. I still find LSV's use of it unhappy for various reasons, not least of which is that water molecules do not develop. I rather wish he had used the "commodity" straight from Marx instead. But I guess if he had it would have been censored by the thought police in the West.

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Received on Tue Sep 25 05:46 PDT 2007

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