Despicable socialist fantasies, or dedications to the memory of "political surrealism" in literary rag, n+1 (perhaps even those without subscriptions could, you know, opine about it). Anyway it reminded me of this. And there's some Hegel in the monster's tail. Mark Greif:
One of the lessons of starting a magazine today is that if you pay any attention to politics you will collect a class of detractors, who demand immediately to know What and Wherefore and Whether and How...Is it possible you have not endorsed a candidate, or adopted a party? Within the party, a position? If not a position, an issue? The notion that politics could be served by thinking about problems and principles, rather than rehearsing strategy, leaves them not so much bemused as furious.
[...]If you question the world from an armchair, it offends them deeply. If you believe you run the world from it, it exalts them–because you have bought into the fiction that justifies their elitism. These commentators who have no access to a legislative agenda and really no more exalted basis for political action other than that of their ordinary citizenship (but they do not believe they are ordinary citizens) bleat and growl and put themselves on record for various initiatives of Congress over which they have no influence and upon which they will have no effect...No rebuke is made to the process of opinionating itself–this ritual of fomenting an opinion on everything, and so justifying the excited self-stimulation of a class of unelected arbiters who don't respect citizens within themselves.
"What do you stand for! What will you do!" Legislatively? Are you kidding? Well, there is something one can do, without succumbing to the pundits: for the day when the Congress rolls up to our doorsteps and asks for our legislative initiatives, maybe it is up to every citizen to know what is in his heart and have his true bills and resolutions ready. Call it "political surrealism"–the practice of asking for what is impossible, in order to get at last, by indirection or implausible directness, the principles that would underlie the world we'd want rather than the one we have.
Principle: The purpose of government is to share out money so that there are no poor citizens–therefore no one for whom we must feel guilty because of the arbitrariness of fater. The purpose of life is to free individuals for individualism. Individualism is the project of making your own life as appealing as you can, as remarkable as you like, without the encumbrances of an unequal society, which renders your successes undeserved. Government is the outside corrective that leaves us free for life.
Legislative Initiative No. 1: Add a tax bracket of 100 percent to cut off individual income at a fixed ceiling, allowing any individual to bring home a maximum of $100,000 a year from all sources and no more.
Legislative Initiative No. 2: Give every citizen a total of $10,000 a year from the government revenues, paid as a monthly award, in recognition of being an adult in the United States.
The redistribution of wealth can be unnerving whenever it comes up, and most unnerving to those who have least wealth, because they have worked hardest for every dollar and can't afford to lose it.
But redistribution comes in two steps, and when you look at the steps it's not so unnerving. The first step was already accomplished last century. It was the permanent establishment of a graduated income tax, one of the greatest triumphs of civilization. A consensus was built to grade taxation to equalize the relative pain of taxation for each income earner. A little money is as useful to a person with little money overall as a larger sum is useful to a person with lots of money–and so, for equal citizenship, they carry an equal burden. Tax them proportionally the same, and everyone pays the same stake for government with the same degree of sacrifice.
The second step is our task in this century. It is an active redistribution to help dissolve the two portions of society whose existence is antithetical to democracy and civilization, and which hard the members of each of these classes: the obscenely poor and the absurdly rich. Each group must be helped. That means not only ending poverty, but ending absurd wealth. Obscene poverty doesn't motivate the poor or please the rest of us; it makes the poor desperate, criminal, and unhappy. Absurd wealth doesn't help the rich or motivate the rest of us, it makes the rich (for the most part good, decent, hardworking and talented people) into selfish guilty parties, responsible for social evil. It is cruel to rig our system to create these extremes, and cast fellow citizens into the two sewers that border the national road. For all of us, both superwealth and superpoverty make achievement trivial and unreal, and finally destroy the American principles of hard work and just deserts. Luckily, eradication one (individual superwealth) might hlep eradicate the other (superpoverty).
The threat from those who oppose this line of thought is that, without "incentives," people will stop working. The worst-case scenario is that tens of thousands of people who hold jobs in finance, corporate management, and the professions (not to mention professional sports and acting) will quit their jobs and end their careers because they did not truly want to be bankers, lawyers, CEOs, actors, ballplayers, et cetera. They were only doing it for the money! Actually they wanted to be high school teachers, social workers, general practitioners, stay-at-home parents, or criminals and layabouts.
Far from this being a tragedy, this would be the greatest single triumph of human emancipation in a century. A small portion of the rich and unhappy would be freed at last from the slavery of jobs that aren't their life's work–and all of us would be freed from an insance system.
If there is anyone working a job who would stop doing that job should his income–and all the richest compatriots' incomes–drop to $100,000 a year, he should not be doing that job. He should never have been doing that job–for his own life's sake. It's just not a life, to do work you don't want to do when you have other choices, and can think of something better (and have a $10,000 cushion to supplement a different choice of life). If no one would choose to do this job for a mere $100,000 a year, if all would pursue something else more humanly valuable; if, say, there would no longer be anyone willing to be a trader, a captain of industry, an actor, or an athlete for that kind of money–then the job should not exist.
The supposed collapse of the economy without unlimited income levels is one of the most suspicious aspects of commonplace economic psychology. Ask yourself, for once, if you believe it [...]
It's finally become possible to take a better view: not unlimited laissez-faire hubris, and not irrational machine-breaking either. In a country where some portions of development have gone further than anybody would like, because of everyone's discrete private actions (as in the liquidation of landscape and the lower atmosphere)–while other portions, as in medical insurance and preventive care, have not gone far enough–then intentional de-development might be the best thing that can occur. The eradication of diseases is not something you would like to see end; nor would you want to lose the food supply, transportation, and good order of the law and defense. On the other hand, more cell phones and wireless, an expanded total entertainment environment, more computerization for consumer tracking, greater concentrations of capital and better exploitation of "inefficiencies" in the trading of securities, the final throes of extraction and gas-guzzling and –to hell with it. I'd rather live in a more equal world at a slower pace.
Their complete symposium on "American Writing Today," meanwhile, demands more careful attention. Though one suspects to know what MB would have said:
One sometimes finds oneself asking strange questions such as 'What are the tendencies of contemporary literature? or 'Where is literature going?' Yes indeed, a surprising question, but what is more surprising is that, if there is an answer, it is an easy one: literature is going towards itself, towards its essence which is disappearance.
Those who feel the need of such general assertions can turn to what is called history. It will teach them the meaning of Hegel's famous remark, 'Art is for us a thing of the past,' a remark made audaciously in the face of Goethe, at the time of the blossoming of Romanticism, when music, the plastic arts and poetry were to produce major works. Hegel, opening his lectures on aesthetics with this solemn remark, knows this. He knows that art will not want for works, he admires those of his contemporaries and sometimes prefers them – he can also misjudge them – and yet 'art is for us a thing of the past.' Art is no longer capable of bearing the demand for the absolute. What now counts absolutely is the consummation of the world, the seriousness of action , and the task of real freedom. It is only in the past that art is close to the absolute, and it is only in the Museum that it retains value and power. Or else, and this is a worse disgrace, with us art has fallen to the point of becoming a mere aesthetic pleasure or cultural accessory.
-Blanchot, "The Disappearance of Literature" (1953)
Naturally he goes on to complicate matters, with "necessary contradictions" well in mind.