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Interview in Irish Times

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Hi fellow members, thought you might be interested in an interview I did for the Irish Times today:

http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/how-equal-should-we-strive-to-become-1.1797361

all the best,

John

Discussion 16 Comments

  • Fred Curran 16th May 2014

    Great interview, thanks for putting that up.

  • Conor Ryan 17th May 2014

    Hi John & all. It's an interesting interview. One point you made jumps out at me; early in the interview when you're asked about the best argument for equality.

    "I’m not sure that it is all a matter of argument, because most people’s belief in equality comes from their recognition of the value of other human beings, and I’m not sure that you can argue anyone into that if they don’t get it already".

    This touches upon a central issue in demonstrating to others what IOPS is trying to achieve, particularly in terms of our efforts to convince people of the merits of a more just and equal society. Is it the case that certain people are predisposed towards wanting a more equal society and others are not? What is the root of this? Will there always be a rump who 'don't get it' and is it pointless trying to convince them otherwise? Clearly those who currently hold power and wealth will resist movement towards inequality. However, in my experience there are many who would benefit from a living in a more equal, participatory society but who are either indifferent or even hostile to any form of progressive politics. Do you think these people can be won over?

    • John Baker 18th May 2014

      thanks, Conor.

      What I was trying to say is that somewhere at the root of egalitarian beliefs is the idea that other people's lives matter, and I'm not sure that people get *that* idea from argument. That idea in itself is not a radical idea, but I think that once people have it, it can be used together with a lot of other arguments as a lever towards radical egalitarianism. I think more generally that winning people over means starting from shared ground and trying to show that the ideas they already have put them on a path towards more radical conclusions.

  • LedSuit ' 18th May 2014

    Aaaaah, nup! Not really interested John!

    Although I did read it.

    But again, not interested.

    However, it did get me a thinking and remembering, after reading it a second time, of an earlier interview you did for New Left Project, which I think is a great compliment to the above. And if I may be so bold, I will link it here, as it lead me to reading your co-authored book, Equality: From Theory to Action, which I think is terrific, and to emailing you regarding Parecon, some time back.

    http://www.newleftproject.org/index.php/site/article_comments/investigating_equality

    http://www.newleftproject.org/index.php/site/article_comments/investigating_equality_-_part_2/

    But other than that, I'm not really interested! :)

    • John Baker 18th May 2014

      thanks for the positive remarks on the interview and the book, James, much appreciated.

      Like most basic income advocates, I don't think of it as a panacea, just as a piece of a much bigger puzzle, and indeed can be a better or worse idea depending on what's happening around it. If there are alternative ways of giving everyone the economic security and freedoms promised by basic income, that's fine with me.

    • LedSuit ' 18th May 2014

      Just wanna make sure that my "not interested" remark was purely and only an attempt at a joke pertaining to your own reason John for posting the interview, that some might find it interesting. Which I did. So wasn't a crack at a basic income at all. Although, I have questions around it, or clarifications rather, and agree with what you say.

    • John Baker 18th May 2014

      sorry, a bit slow on the uptake...!

    • LedSuit ' 19th May 2014

      Yeah, dangerous tryin' humour in print. Wasn't sure meself if it would work.

  • Dave Jones 18th May 2014

    It seems to me that "equality of condition", at its core,is an argument against accumulation through inheritance. Which goes directly to the question of property. If my wealth is my property to do with as I see fit, and I want to see to it my children begin life with an advantageous "condition", I will oppose this form of equality.

    Those who don't have wealth/property to pass on still tend to support the notion of liberty ( the right to do with my property as I see fit) in the abstract. Here is where justice and freedom collide.

    • Jason 18th May 2014

      I think the attachment to a notion of freedom that includes the right to bequeath property evaporates, or is at least shaken and cracked, upon receiving the anarchist idea of the individual’s freedom being dependent on the freedom of (all) others—maybe helped along by the illustration of a rich person isolated in their gated community, itself surrounded by sprawling slums of people they can’t relate to, and would be spat on by, or even killed by, upon trying to.

      What do you think of the idea that support for the right to bequeath one’s property—or private property as such—by everyday people is facilitated by a fantasy of being rich, having economic glory? Where the possibility of the subject attaining it themselves needn't even exist. So with support for monarchy, although there’s (virtually) no way people can become royalty, the glory of the monarch fulfils (and perpetuates) the subjects’ fantasy of monarchic glory—including imagining themselves as monarch, stoking a lust for, and identification with, power—enough to sustain the outright support of the credulous, the dedication of the privileged (coordinators, bourgeois vanguard), and keep revolutionary spirit at bay, and so on.

      If true, it would imply that statistics about inequality, comparing lower-class hardship with upper-class privilege won’t be sufficiently compelling and even be counterproductive. The fantasy itself needs to be undermined. My idea for what this means would be that a different form of glory (and fantasy) is needed. I think strong movements provide this in celebrating their victories and representing the promise of utopia. The glory of the collective in its enactment of the general will.

    • LedSuit ' 18th May 2014

      And perhaps these fantasies, perpetuated, promoted,maintained, and disseminated by commercial media of all sorts, particularly film and TV, have helped undermine people's ability to "act" within the public sphere in order to affect change, because "[t]he prioritization of the economic which has attended the rise of capitalism has for Arendt all but eclipsed the possibilities of meaningful political agency and the pursuit of higher ends which should be the proper concern of public life." That is if I understand this correctly(I great chance I haven't, being alerted to the quote only very very recently and don't know much about Arendt at all!)

      It seems that such fantasies Jason mentions above, if well absorbed into one's psyche, would aid in the notion that constant labour, hard yakka, is the only way to bring such about. Hence, no time to "act" within the public sphere to achieve anything like equality of condition. The "condition" of one's existence is separated from notions of equality by perpetuating the myth that we can all be rich or even possibly a monarch or royalty! Equality is attached to the notion that we can all "work" or "labour" hard to attain fruits. Hence Arendt's critque of the elevation of labour to a level of primacy is one's existence.

      This goes to my own position, and I am certain, the position of many with families and immediate private concerns. A postition that often leads one to focus only on one's immediate and close relatives as an ethical, moral, compassionate concern. Extending this notion, like in the Buddhist practice of Tonglen, to all, that all people's lives matter, requires also the rearrangement of institutional structures so that they creative and imaginative aspects and ideas of our lives aren't merely restricted to the oikos, our private existence, hidden away and disconnected from the public sphere by the lack of time and precariousness of our existences. A precariousness that one can only hold off by labouring till you die. Well, at least seventy in this country, if you make it!

      So, Jason's notion of undermining fantasies, that undermine one's ability to act in the public sphere, by perpetuating the idea that work is prime in order to actualise many of these unattainable fantasies, goes somewhat to trying to achieve equality of condition.

      Equality of condition means to me, the ability to act freely and creatively, without surrounding institutional structures curtailing, and stifling one's ability to do so, tempered, of course, by the notion that all others equally have that right, so someone isn't more equal than someone else.

      Probably walked into a minefield here!

    • John Baker 18th May 2014

      Thanks, Dave.

      I think that rather than posing it as an issue of inheritance of accumulated wealth it's better to think of it as being against accumulated wealth in the first place.

      On 'justice v freedom', there isn't really space here to talk about that. There is a lot of good egalitarian work on that issue, particularly by G.A. Cohen. A couple of places I discuss it myself are in chapter 7 of Arguing for Equality and very briefly in chapter 3 of Equality: From Theory to Action.

  • Johannes 18th May 2014

    By the way: Where is that IOPS logo from?

  • Dave Jones 19th May 2014

    Totally agree John, that is the prize to keep our eyes on. I was just thinking through some of the ideological barriers such an argument would run into. I will definitely check out your book.

    Jason, I think you have hit on a crucial notion, that of fantasy. We spend a lot of our theoretical efforts trying to understand our fellow humans as rational actors, yet we often find ourselves frustrated by paradox. I dabble a bit in Lacanian theory and find his notions of the Imaginary and Symbolic fields a way to break through some of this. The King is a great example: he is a King only because we see him as such (and he can maintain the illusion of us as his subjects).

    I also agree that a "different form of glory, and fantasy" is a big part of what needs to be created as a central part of the new hegemonic project. There is a part of everybody that wants to be part of something epic, to be a real subject of history and not just a blotch, a pawn in the game.