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[Xmca-l] Re: Working for the Few | Oxfam International



Lately I've come across some bees in my thinking and trying to figure out
where to fit them into my oversimplified vision of Smith-inspired vs.
Marx-inspired thinking.

Here is a link about the bees (yes, I really meant bees):
http://www.nbb.cornell.edu/seeley.shtml

The basic idea that Seeley proposes is that "whenever there is collective
decision-making, there is the potential for swarm intelligence", and that
Swarm Intelligence happens when a group of animals is able to solve
cognitive problems much better than any individual animal could have solved
them.

I know that Mandeville's parable of the bees was used by Smith
(approvingly) and I thought Marx references it as well (although I can't
find the cite).

As I was reading about Seeley's work, I could help but think that, on the
one hand, this was grist for the mill of the bourgeois capitalist economist
(I say that against Paul Thibault's advice to me that nobody uses
"bourgeois" anymore). In particular, those bees prove, as Seeley gestures
towards on his home page, that markets can produce the best decisions for
all. Here we hear echoes of Smith's invisible hand (as it is interpreted by
the aforementioned economists - and despite the very minor role that this
concept played in Smith's thinking...).

On the other hand, this notion of Swarm Intelligence seems to run counter
to the deep individualism of our day. And I wonder if it doesn't seem to
resonate in some ways with Marx (hence the need for the citation, and the
basis for my question of fitting in).

At the least, the bees do seem to demonstrate the value of collaboration.

Anyway, I was hoping someone could help me to make sense of this particular
"bee in my bonnet".

-greg





On Tue, Jan 21, 2014 at 4:36 PM, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net> wrote:

> David, you are quite correct that agreement on fundamentals of theory is
> by no means necessary for collaboration (though on the xmca list this is
> feasible). In a sense, the very meaning of "collaboration" is that such
> disagreement on fundamentals is suspended. Nonetheless, in raising the
> proposal on this list your are inviting collaboration on formation of the
> concept of this project, and I have accepted the invitation by criticising
> your concept of the proposal. You have propsed the writing of an article
> countering the narrative of Ayn Rand that "the ultra-wealthy are the
> engines of advancement and prosperity and the saviors of society" and to
> argue instead that "the gradual shift in political control of the economy
> over the past 50 years by the ultra-wealthy has reached a kind of tipping
> point in which the gains in disparity are so dramatic as to overwhelm any
> sense of actual self-interest." My response is "Well, hello!" This is
> hardly news, David. This has been argued (correctly) for several centuries.
> The wealthy have always been a class of parasites; social progress has
> always been only in the teeth of opposition from all but a few of that
> class. I would argue that it is better to enter some actual project aimed
> against capitalism and ineqaulity and participate in the argument about
> strategy and tactics. Being 68, after 50 years of such participation, I
> accept a somewhat arm's length participation, but the protagonists (wether
> real or imagined) are those actually engaged in that struggle in any formm
> about how best to further that struggle. Not the *generalities*, in my
> view. But I am pleased that you are taking up the battle and I wish you
> well. All I can do is offer my reflections on your object-concept, as
> others have and will.
>
>
> Andy
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
> *Andy Blunden*
> http://home.mira.net/~andy/
>
>
> David H Kirshner wrote:
>
>> It would appear ...
>>>
>>>
>>
>> Doesn't appear that way to me.
>> In fact, it's not clear to me, contrary to Andy and Paul, that in a
>> practical endeavor one has to come to terms with foundational issues, at
>> all.
>> The fact that social psychology may not have the foundations right
>> doesn't imply that it has no insight to offer, or that a make-shift frame
>> of reference can't provide a stable enough foundation to move people
>> forward (collectively and individually). Indeed, isn't that the necessary
>> way forward in any practical endeavor, given the absence of fully worked
>> out foundational perspectives (and given the need to address the world as
>> we find it, without the theorist's option of restricting the domain of
>> inquiry within tractable parameters)?
>> David
>>
>>
>> -----Original Message-----
>> From: xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-l-bounces@
>> mailman.ucsd.edu] On Behalf Of Dr. Paul C. Mocombe
>> Sent: Tuesday, January 21, 2014 6:12 AM
>> To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity; ablunden@mira.net
>> Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: Working for the Few | Oxfam International
>>
>> Andy and david,
>>
>> It would appear that any counter - narrative would have to be
>> anti-dialectical and counter-hegemonic, I.e., anti-individual,
>> anti-capitalist, anti-humanity...  Can such a counter - narrative come from
>> a humanity, including us academics, subjectified to reproduce individual
>> wealth, upward mobility, and status at the expense of the masses of poor
>> around the world, paradoxically, seeking our bourgeois lifestyle?
>> I ask because,  it would appear that the earth,in marxian terms, as a
>> class for itself, has been begging for humanity to change the way it
>> recursively reorganize and reproduce it's being-in-it over the last 100
>> years, but we consistently refuse.  Instead, turning to dialectical
>> measures, fracking, carbon credits, neoliberalism, etc., to attempt to
>> resolve our problems and maintain the protestant ethic and the spirit of
>> capitalism as an "enframing" (heidegger's term) ontology.
>>
>> I am not a pessimistic person, but it appears that in this case we are
>> all dead we just do not know it yet.
>>
>>
>> Dr. Paul C. Mocombe
>> President
>> The Mocombeian Foundation, Inc.
>> www.mocombeian.com
>> www.readingroomcurriculum.com
>> <div>-------- Original message --------</div><div>From: David H Kirshner <
>> dkirsh@lsu.edu> </div><div>Date:01/21/2014  2:50 AM  (GMT-05:00)
>> </div><div>To: ablunden@mira.net,"eXtended Mind, Culture,    Activity" <
>> xmca-l@mailman.ucsd.edu> </div><div>Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: Working for
>> the Few | Oxfam International </div><div>
>> </div>Andy,
>> I suppose social psychology's unitary and a-historical ascription of the
>> human sense of material well-being as relative to other people (rather than
>> as relative to one's own past) gets it wrong from the start. Still, I think
>> it provides a way to understand the individual pursuit of wealth, carried
>> to its limits, as anti-social and destructive; an effective
>> counter-narrative to the libertarian ideal of the individual unfettered by
>> societal constraints. We badly need a counter-narrative to regain some kind
>> of political leverage for ordinary citizens. If anyone would like to help
>> pull that together in the form of a paper, please reply, on-line or off-.
>> Thanks.
>> David
>> dkirsh@lsu.edu
>>
>>
>> -----Original Message-----
>> From: xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-l-bounces@
>> mailman.ucsd.edu] On Behalf Of Andy Blunden
>> Sent: Tuesday, January 21, 2014 12:13 AM
>> To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
>> Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: Working for the Few | Oxfam International
>>
>> I certainly hope so, David, or at least, I hope to read and participate
>> in acting out the opening chapter of that narrative.
>>
>> I do think that the "99%/1%" narrative was a project doomed to failure
>> however, as it conceived of itself as a linear expansion which would
>> somehow bypass social and ideological differences. It did not conceive of
>> itselfr as a project at all. Just a mesage about the one true world which
>> everyone had to come to. Truly magical realism. The plot lies implicit in
>> the opening chapter, but it is always far from easy to see how the plot
>> will unfold itself though the multiple story-lines entailed in this
>> conundrum, Andy
>> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
>> *Andy Blunden*
>> http://home.mira.net/~andy/
>>
>>
>> David H Kirshner wrote:
>>
>>
>>> The operative narrative, at least in the U.S. context, dictated by Ayn
>>> Rand, is that the ultra-wealthy are the engines of advancement and
>>> prosperity and the saviors of society. What is in their best interest is in
>>> all of our best interests. We very badly need a counter-narrative. Andy, is
>>> this practical project something that can be undertaken and completed in
>>> real-time as a theoretical project?
>>> David
>>>
>>>
>>> -----Original Message-----
>>> From: xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-l-bounces@
>>> mailman.ucsd.edu] On Behalf Of Andy Blunden
>>> Sent: Monday, January 20, 2014 11:06 PM
>>> To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
>>> Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: Working for the Few | Oxfam International
>>>
>>> David I have plenty of experience with desparate measures over teh past
>>> 50 years, and I have come very late to "the broader theoretical
>>> project." It is absolutely essential that the practical project and the
>>> theoretical project are one and the same.
>>>
>>> Andy
>>> ----------------------------------------------------------------------
>>> --
>>> *Andy Blunden*
>>> http://home.mira.net/~andy/
>>>
>>>
>>> David H Kirshner wrote:
>>>
>>>
>>>> Andy,
>>>> Sometimes, in order to create a counter-narrative that can be effective
>>>> in the here and now, one has to step outside of the broader theoretical
>>>> project. I guess, for some, this would constitute a distraction from the
>>>> real work, perhaps a violation of the true mission of that scholarly
>>>> endeavor. For others, it might be a legitimate (even if imperfect) effort
>>>> to apply what one has come to understand from the larger project. For
>>>> others, still, perhaps simply a political activity undertaken with
>>>> theoretical tools, but with little actual relation to the theoretical
>>>> project.
>>>> Perhaps these are desperate measures that these desperate times call
>>>> for.
>>>> David
>>>>
>>>>
>>>> -----Original Message-----
>>>> From: xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-l-bounces@
>>>> mailman.ucsd.edu] On Behalf Of Andy Blunden
>>>> Sent: Monday, January 20, 2014 10:29 PM
>>>> To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
>>>> Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: Working for the Few | Oxfam International
>>>>
>>>> Well, that's the project I have been collaborating in since I was a
>>>> teenager, David, but it has its challenges, too, you know.
>>>>
>>>> First off, these observations about social psychology and well-being:
>>>> The point is to have a unit of analysis and one which is as valid for
>>>> making observations about psychology as it is for social theory. And in
>>>> general, this is lacking for what goes by the name of "social psychology."
>>>> People do not of course govern their behaviour by evidence-based
>>>> investigations of the likely results of their behaviour. People don't set
>>>> out to "grow a bigger economy" or "have more wealth than someone else". The
>>>> thinking of an individual has to be understood (I would contend) within the
>>>> contexts of the projects to which they are committed. That is the reason
>>>> for the relativity in the enjoyment of wealth (which is itself of course
>>>> relative). People make judgments according to the norms of the project in
>>>> which they are participating, and that means semantic, theoretical and
>>>> practical norms. Understanding the psychology of political economy is as of
>>>> one task with that of building a project to overthrow the existing
>>>> political economic arrangements and build sustainable arrangements. That
>>>> requires a multitude of projects all willikng and able to collaborate with
>>>> one another.
>>>>
>>>> That's what I think.
>>>> Andy
>>>> ---------------------------------------------------------------------
>>>> -
>>>> --
>>>> *Andy Blunden*
>>>> http://home.mira.net/~andy/
>>>>
>>>>
>>>> David H Kirshner wrote:
>>>>
>>>>
>>>>> I've been sketching out in my mind, but not yet had time to research
>>>>> and write, a paper tentatively titled: The Psychology of Greed: Why the
>>>>> Ultra-wealthy are Despoiling the Planet, Tanking the Economy, and Gutting
>>>>> our Culture In the Quest for More
>>>>>
>>>>> The premise is that the psychological metric of our sense of material
>>>>> well-being is not accumulation, relative to our own past wealth, but the
>>>>> comparative measure of our own wealth in relation to that of others. (I
>>>>> believe this is a well-established principle of social psychology.) So, for
>>>>> example, instead of trying to grow a bigger economy which requires a large
>>>>> and healthy middle-class (this is what would provide more actual wealth for
>>>>> the ultra-wealthy), they are eroding the middle-class as quickly as they
>>>>> can--a strategy that maximizes disparity.
>>>>>
>>>>> The major thesis (in the U.S. context) is that the gradual shift in
>>>>> political control of the economy over the past 50 years by the
>>>>> ultra-wealthy has reached a kind of tipping point in which the gains in
>>>>> disparity are so dramatic as to overwhelm any sense of actual
>>>>> self-interest. Hence, we see increasingly irrational and self-destructive
>>>>> behavior by the ultra-wealthy (e.g., the fraudulent housing bubble that
>>>>> created what U.S. economists refer to as The Great Recession). The
>>>>> conclusion, of course, is a call to action to take back control of our
>>>>> political systems so we can set more rational policies for the economy.
>>>>>
>>>>> I don't know if this thesis extends so easily beyond the U.S.
>>>>> situation to the world, but if this project appeals, I would welcome a
>>>>> collaborative effort--perhaps even one that somehow encompasses the whole
>>>>> XMCA listserv as co-authors.
>>>>> David
>>>>>
>>>>>
>>>>>
>>>>
>>>>
>>>
>>>
>>>
>>
>>
>>
>>
>>
>>
>>
>>
>
>


-- 
Gregory A. Thompson, Ph.D.
Visiting Assistant Professor
Department of Anthropology
883 Spencer W. Kimball Tower
Brigham Young University
Provo, UT 84602
http://byu.academia.edu/GregoryThompson