Society and History
By Michael Albert at Nov 15, 2010
Draft of Chapter Three: Society and History
A cultivated mind finds sources of inexhaustible interest in all that surrounds it; in the objects of nature, in the achievements of art, the imaginations of poetry, the incidents of history, the ways of mankind, past and present, and their prospects in the future.
John Stuart Mill
[Note: This is a draft chapter, part of an ongoing group project of the group HelpAlbert. I suspect this chapter needs more examples and also to be clearer and more accessible at various points, beyond the usual first draft difficulties. In addition to any other comments, therefore, if folks who are unfamiliar with the ideas could please indicate in comments places where they find the choice of words or the sentence style tough going - or where they feel examples would particularly help - please let me know.]
Suppose we think of capturing a society in a static snapshot at one moment in time and then consider what we see. A society even at a moment is a massive and even humongous entity. There are features and then more features, and then even more features. In the nearly endless tapestry of people, institutions, objects, etc., we need to see what is important for our purposes and therefore essential to pay attention to. We need to at least initially ignore what is relatively unimportant so that we can treat it secondarily, if at all, being confident that doing so won’t cause us to overlook that which we need to address.
Our first two chapters argued that to see what is critical and leave aside what is less important we should look at the features central to defining four necessarily present functions having to do respectively with kinship, culture, polity, and economy. We should begin by examining from within the whole just those institutions centrally related to each of those four functions regarding them as the kinship sphere, community sphere, political sphere, and economic sphere.
In my own society, the U.S., that instruction means I should be looking at least at families and their social relations - at racial and religious communities and their social relations - at political groups (officials of various sorts, electorates, etc.) and their social relations - and at economic classes and their social relations. Key institutions I would have to highlight and examine would include types of family and perhaps schools, types of churches and other cultural communities with their languages and celebrations, government branches and their local administrative variants, and economic workplaces, market system, and consumer units.
I should pay attention to the hierarchies of gender, race and religion, political power, and class including examining each hierarchy’s tenacity, attributes, and implications. I should not highlight one or another of these four hierarchies alone, but instead all of them because all four will exist and all four will dramatically impact people’s life prospects. I should examine inside each social sphere to try to find the roots and implications of sexism, racism and ethnic and religious bigotry, authoritarianism, and economic oppression and classism in the core institutions responsible for accomplishing each social function.
Obviously that exploration could proceed for quite a long time - and it must be admitted that so far in this book we have done barely any of it. But suppose we had done it. Then what?
Well, these spheres of social life are a bit unusual. They are not like self contained and isolated objects that do not intersect with one another. Rather, a society is a giant whole and the four functions all happen, at least to some degree, in virtually every nook and cranny of that whole. Thus, if we say the kinship sphere is all those places where kinship (sex/gender) dynamics occur, it will turn out that while the center of the kinship sphere is families, the outer reaches of it will extend to all of society. More, when we look at other spheres the same holds. Community dynamics, political dynamics, and economic dynamics, each also extend to the whole of society. For example, the core of the economic sphere is workplaces, markets, and consumption units, but the extremities certainly include families, schools, churches, government agencies, etc., since in all of these institutions too production, consumption, and allocation occur as well as more central kin, community, and political aspects.
We can think of what we now see to be an increasingly rich and somewhat fuzzy picture of social spheres this way. Society is certainly one big entwined whole. Within society, however, four functions are necessarily accomplished - kinship, community, political, and economic. The core institutions for accomplishing each of the four functions centrally determine that social sphere’s main dynamics and features. We can look at society from the angle of any one function, seeing that function’s core institutions as respectively the kinship, community, political, or economic sphere, but we should also remember that that sphere really extends much further out beyond its core institutions into the whole of society.
When we take this view, we see that each sphere of society overlaps the other three spheres of society. And herein lies the basis for some very important observations.
In the snapshot of society - if we are looking at a society in a stable, non violent, not chaotic, condition - people will largely fitg the roles they occupy in the various institutions in society’s institutional boundary. The structures of gender, race, power, and class, will be continually created and will continually require people with certain expectations and inclinations that fit their available roles. Society being in a steady and stable condition means that, indeed, people do fit these roles - some here, some there, but pretty much everyone somewhere.
Suppose that a society is strongly sexist. This means the kinship sphere’s roles by the practices they impose on people impose and require that men feel superior to women and women at least largely accept subordination to men, at least in various respects. Suppose men and women are fitting the kinship roles nicely and by their actions and behaviors in their circumstances having the expectations, habits, and beliefs of sexism continually inculcated and reinforced.
Now imagine that in the economy of the same society, at the same time, men and women fare similarly to one another, with no gender differentiation, so that men who by virtue of their experience in kinship expect to be above women instead find themselves as often as not economically equal to or even below women in income and influence and similarly women who by virtue of their experience in kinship expect to be subordinate to men find themselves, as often as not, economically equally to or even dominant. This would obviously pose a problem. The economy and kinship sphere would be out of alignment - or, the term I prefer is out of whack. We do not expect to this type of disjuncture between these two spheres of social life - at least not without there being conflict and then change due to violated expectations - and indeed we will talk more, shortly, about how spheres being out of whack might be resolved. However, for now, what we can anticipate when society is quite stable and not conflicted and changing, is that a hierarchy born of one sphere will at least tend to invade others creating a degree of consistency for actors in both. In what manner, we will soon see.
The general idea is, however, that each sphere of social life - meaning the ways that social institutions address and accomplish the four key functions of society - will tend to welcome and induce particular habits, beliefs, expectations, and desires in people filling its roles. When things are largely stable as is most often the case in typical societies, this can mean, for example, that there are respectively habits, beliefs, expectations, and desires consistent with sexism, racism, political authoritarianism, and classism respectively within the institutions of the four spheres. However, the four spheres overlap so much and so intimately, that their implications radiate, like a field of social force or influence, beyond their own structures and into other structures in society causing the sexism, racism, authoritarianism, and classism to expand from each sphere to the rest.
Past and Future History
If we look at the history of any society, and at a snapshot of it of the sort we have been imagining, one of the ways of the four spheres entwining with one another we will very often see, we can call “accommodation.” The idea is simple enough.
A sphere, let’s say kinship or economy, creates a particular set of social expectations, habits, and beliefs, let’s say sexism or classism. This means, these social spheres impose a hierarchy on the actors filling their role offerings. Accommodation occurs when the hierarchy created by one sphere is respected by others. Thus, if kinship creates a gender hierarchy - if the economy accommodates that it will in general and overall not pay women more than men or give women power or status above men and, instead, will obey and especially not violate the expectations and patterns of behavior emanating from kinship.
Similarly, if the economy creates a class hierarchy - if kinship accommodates that it will in general and overall “produce” young men and women who are ready to fill the class divided role slots of the economy, rather than producing folks who are ill suited to their likely positions.
Think of each sphere as a kind of school that, along with accomplishing its functions, conveys to people filling its roles various beliefs, habits, expectations, etc. If what one sphere creates and requires of people filling its roles is contradicted by and even undone by what another sphere creates and requires of people filling its roles, then the two are at cross purposes. Each is preparing people not to fit the other, but to clash with the other. This will not long persist without changes - so in stable situations, instead, we tend to at least see what we are calling accommodation.
And we will see these accommodating dynamics in any pairwise alignment of any two of the four social spheres. If one sphere creates and recreates a set of powerful patterns the other three will at least, if society is stable and functioning smoothly, not seriously violate and contradict those patterns in their own different contexts. Thus, in this way, the basic attributes of kinship, racial, political, and economic hierarchies are at least not violated by spheres other than where they originate. Social spheres, in stable contexts, do not cause people filling their roles to not fit the roles of other social spheres in the same society.
The above is actually quite straight forward. But it is not the end of the issue. There is another more powerful kind of sphere to sphere influence that we often find in societies. In this second type of relationship, the “field of force” emanating from one social sphere regarding its preponderant implications for people aren’t only respected which means not violated in the rest of society, but, more, the implications of the first origin sphere are incorporated elsewhere, substantially redefining other spheres’ ways of accomplishing their functions so that the other spheres start to not only not violate but even literally also produce and reproduce the features emanating from the original source sphere.
Okay, that may seem a bit complex, but it really isn’t all that hard to understand.
Suppose a society has a patriarchal kinship sphere - meaning it produces a hierarchy of circumstances, status, and beliefs - material and psychological conditions as well - between men and women, with men dominating women.
Accommodation means that in other social spheres the sexist hierarchy isn’t violated - so, in the economy, overwhelmingly women don’t earn more than men, don’t boss men around, etc. In the polity, overwhelmingly women don’t rule over men. In cultures, women are not the priests and shamans above men, nor the dominant figures in celebrations, etc. The dynamics in spheres other than kinship, when there is accommodation, do not violate the expectations and habits that men and women have by virtue of their roles in kinship - and thus do not contradict the sexist hierarchies their roles impose on men and women.
The second type of relation, co-reproduction, is more powerful. Co-reproduction exists when the field of influence emanating from the kinship sphere, to continue with that example, is so powerful that it actually redefines the roles in other spheres of social life, to the point where in those other spheres instead of simply not violating sexist hierarchy, the roles literally also produce and reproduce it. For example, it isn’t just that women earn less than men. Rather the actual role requirements of work (and allocation and consumption) themselves generate (and don’t just respect) sexist behavior and expectations. What tasks entail becomes imbued with sexist assumptions and patterns - the field of influence from the patriarchal kinship sphere doesn’t just require non contradiction, it insinuates itself in the very manner of carrying out economic functions, in the make up of economic roles.
What it is to be a male business person and his female secretary, or a male doctor and his female nurse or a male x and a female y - changes from what economics alone would dictate - gender neutral definitions of how to carry out tasks in roles - to instead incorporate gender attributes that assume and continually recreate sexist implications. The economy becomes, itself, a seat of the creation and recreation of sexism. What people do in their economic roles itself generates sexist assumptions, beliefs, habits, and expectations. Oddly, even if, somehow, the kinship sphere were to be changed so that its sexism generating attributes were attenuated or even eliminated, an unchanged economy that had become co-reproducing with it in its old form, would still be producing sexism.
A female economist, Batya Weinbaum, was the first person I ever encountered making this sort of observation. She looked at workplaces in the U.S. through feminist eyes and she didn’t just see men earning more than women, or having jobs that were better and more often on top, etc. She instead saw that the actual composition of work - the role structures - changed so that some work was not just done by a woman or a man, but altered in its make up, in how it was undertaken, in the expectations and requirements associated with it, until it was literally man’s work or woman’s work - meaning work that imposed on those doing it male and female assumptions and habits, etc. Indeed, Weinbaum looked at work places, and highly attuned as she was to the dynamics of gender roles, she could literally see mothers and fathers, even sisters and brothers, inside the workplace - people doing things in the manner and with the implications that were typical of sexist families. This is co-reproduction, a condition that is powerfully important particularly when we later consider what is required to make fundamental and also lasting changes in even one much less all four social spheres - and thus attain a new type society.
We could ask why aging happens, but we know it does. We don’t mean by the question, how come it happens given that it ought not happen or even that it might not happen. We mean, we know that aging always happens, but there are likely central reasons that also always operate. What are those? With history the situation is different. Yes, time passes, but changes are not so obvious. For one thing, history happens, depending what we mean by history, sometimes, but not other times. For another thing, there is no single or even limited group of causes.
If we look way back in time to the great Egyptian societies around Cairo, with pyramids and the like, we can see that there is a real question lurking here. Big historical change isn’t automatic - like aging in an individual, say which always happens and always a year at a time.
It is 4,000 BC. We stroll around in ancient Egypt and take an inventory of the society we find. We know enough to look first at the four spheres of social life, and specifically at the roles people fill in the economy, polity, kinship, and culture - but we also examine easily visible indicators of the character of those roles evidenced in the look, feel, and features of their outputs - for example, the details of technologies, buildings, clothes, rituals, government, daily work, and so on.
We take our leave for a bit, indeed for many years, and then we return. We look again. We find that there are new people, as old ones have died and their offspring become of age. That’s changed. There are also new buildings and houses, some from the past having collapsed, etc. That’s changed. There are new clothes, the old ones worn out - even a few new designs. There are a few modest new rituals, and so on. But, we also notice that in a very profound sense the new is in its essence the same as it was before - and indeed is unchanged even for the most part in its details. And, this isn’t surprising, because when we then also look at the social roles in the society, the religious and decision making and productive and cultural roles, those are all as they were, too.
Time has certainly passed. Some modest changes have happened, but history, writ large, has stood still. Strolling around after the time warp delay, we could easily be in the same society, the same place, as before the time warp delay.
Now this little thought experiment didn’t occur regarding a passage of ten years, or fifty years, or even a hundred years, but regarding the passage of 3,000 years. And yet, despite the passage of such eons, the basics and even most details remained as they were on our earlier visit.
There was, in ancient Egypt, very modest social evolution - let’s call it - but there was no social revolution. That is, there were very modest changes consistent with the continuation of the defining features of the old order, the defining features of the four spheres of Pharonic (Egyptian) society - though actually, in fact, not even very much of that. And even over thousands of years there was no transformation of those old defining features themselves.
The same descriptive label, pharonic is the one I chose, applied to society before and after a 3000 year passage. The same social roles pertained, and actually not much that was second, third, or even fifth order changed, either. Social evolution happened, pretty much by definition, with the clicking of the clock. The calendar’s pages turned. People were born and died. New leaders replaced old leaders, new priests replaced old priests. New clothes were worn instead of old worn out clothes. But if you look at the hieroglyphics - the pictures revealing style and substance - it was hard to distinguish. And if you dig around in the archeological manner, there was no change in the substance of the defining roles in society. History, if by that we mean substantial changes in structures, apparantly doesn’t necessarily happen but instead, occurs only sometimes.
Okay, why does history in the form of social evolution happen? Why do changes happen consistent with the existing defining order - the four existing social spheres and their defining roles, the existing human center and institutional boundary?
There are lots of causes. New ideas may be hatched. New technologies can flow from them. Changes in weather or geography can occur and impact housing and clothes and some habits, and so on. There could be migrations. Births accumulate. And so on. This type change occurs, sometimes less, sometimes more, but always at least some. So this history does happen.
When some infamous commentators have said about modern times that History is Over, or that Capitalism is Forever - they must be talking about something other than social evolution because they know there will be changes, of course. There will be new styles, new designs, new knowledge, etc. And there will be new applications of it all, yielding not only trends and fashions, but new options, behaviors, outcomes. These folks know all that and are saying that despite all that there will not be new defining roles leading to and deriving from new social spheres quite different from those we now experience. There will be more social evolution, yes, but no more fundamental transformation of how we accomplish social functions, of the roles we occupy and thus of the defining habits and expectations we carry around. That is the sense in which they mean things have stopped changing.
Sometimes, history does just refer to time passing. That’s true when we call social evolution, which more or less always happens, history. Other times, however, by history we mean the social revolutions in defining role structures in society that are more rare and that don’t happen all the time. An end to history in the former sense would mean there is nothing left. An end to history in the latter sense would mean things keep happening, including new things, but the basics remain in place.
Okay, to be in accord with the most familiar and frequent practice, let’s use the word history to refer to all of it. Time passes, changes happen - or not - and that is history. You can reasonably measure it mainly by years passing. Social evolution, no matter how modest or grand, is change, occuring over time, that reproduce the defining features of the old order. Social revolution, however, also part of history, and which we will further define as we proceed, is also changes over time but only those that overthrow the defining features of the old order to introduce, in their place, new defining features - which means new roles and thus dramatically changed life prospects.
As to social evolution’s engine, we know that many things can play a role. Ideas, natural changes in weather or geography, and many others.
As to social revolution, what causes that is not so obvious. We know that by definition social revolution means change in the defining institutions and thus their roles, in one or more of the four social spheres. It doesn’t mean violence. It doesn’t mean chaos. It means change of a certain type and degree, which may come about presumably in any of a large variety of ways. So in asking for potential causes of this we are seeking to identify phenomena that could cause such changes.
The famous critical thinker and social activist Karl Marx confronted this question of why history in the large sense happens. He made great progress but also went, I think, a bit wrong. Looking at some specific periods in history and noticing social evolution was common, but that social revolution only happened sometimes, Marx suggested, or at least the school of thought named after him say he suggested (and others attribute to him far more flexible and rich views, but lineage doesn’t matter much here, only the views themselves) that history moves by virtue of a very particular kind of tension embodied within societies.
Marx showed, rightly, for example, that in capitalism there is a built in drive to keep on accumulating - that was his word for it. He famously wrote, that for the capitalist the guiding mantra was “Accumulate, accumulate, that is Moses and the Prophets.” That is, Marx taught, due to the pressures of competition for profits and market share, to keep on transforming natural resources and human capacities to work into more and more outputs, constantly innovating, etc., was built into the logic of the system. It would persist regardless of whether people liked it or not.
And this drive, clearly meant, he argued, there will at least be social evolution - but maybe it could happen as just that and only that, with the surrounding capitalist system constantly reproduced. Whether because Marx didn’t like that surrounding system, or because his investigations led him to the observation with no influence by his hopes and desires, Marx came to the conclusion that the in built accumulation drive did more than just pile up new things. Rather, it also created a tension or contradiction in society, between ever growing technical and social capacities on the one hand, and old forms of organization and exchange incompatible with their full utilization. He felt this tension would eventually, in society after society, cause the old social relations to give way to the new productive possibilities, leading to new social relations, and in that dynamic to a new economic sphere with new roles, and thus to social revolution.
This is not the place to get deeply into these claims which seem to me to identify one possibility, which is that technical and even organizational innovations can drive new productive possibilities which, in turn, can fuel social changes via effects on populations actions, but, as with the old Marxist way of seeing class, this is still at most in fact only one possibility, and there are actually many others as well, and it is one possibility that isn’t even particularly likely to transpire or yield comprehensive results, if viewed narrowly. So, as with broadening our approach to class from what is often typical of many anti capitalists, back when we were discussing how to understand the economic sphere, so we now also have to broaden our approach to understanding history’s engine, or better its engines, from what is often typical of many anti capitalists.
Consider some possibilities. Along comes some kind of technical innovation - as but one example that is not about production per se - along comes birth control. This innovation in turn leads to changes in social relations and outcomes, which fuel new attitudes, causing gender struggle and finally, we can imagine, at least pushing all manner of evolutionary changes, some highly consequential for life situations. But, we can also imagine this innovation sparks, say, women to see outcomes differently, to resist their subordination, to discover sexism’s roots, and finally to transform defining kin relations. Does this have to happen? No, certainly not. But could it happen? Yes, it certainly could.
Consider another possibility, the economy and polity and probably also kinship and culture in some society - and others too - all together generate a big war. In fighting that war it becomes essential, or it at any rate it happens that various historic roles are violated. For example, perhaps there is a severe labor shortage and women who were previously excluded from an economy accommodating a sexist kinship sphere now must be incorporated and even treated equally so as to take advantage of their fullest talents and capacities. They begin to discover their own potentials, previously deemed to be non existent.
Likewise, the same could happen with some oppressed cultural community welcomed into the military and, given the need for trust and efficiency, again treated equally rather than in a racist manner. Again, previously viciously subordinated people discover potentials that they had long forgotten they had.
We can imagine, then, that this jolt in circumstances could unleash new expectations and hopes, unmet upon the war’s end, when women and blacks return to far more sexist and racist circumstances than existed for them during the war, in turn fueling resistance, leading to insights into the true causes of gender and/or racial injustices, and then leading to transformations. Surely this will involve at least much social evolution, but it could also involve social revolution, affecting certain spheres of social life, or perhaps by new accommodations, all of them.
The general ideas here emerge easily enough. When events and occurrences within a sphere, or between spheres, directly cause either consciousness to get out of accord with old role requirements, or cause two spheres to get out of accord with one another and then consciousness to alter as well, there will be some changes. The turmoil might reestablish old roles and relations, or it might innovate them a bit, or it may even cause dramatic changes in defining features.
Here is another arguably most interesting of all possibility. Some people create new institutions - on the one hand for addressing some social functions, on the other hand for fighting to win changes in old institutions. The new approaches to dealing with social functions can develop wider support and participation due to being compelling and even inspiring in their successes and in how they treat classes, genders, communities better than past ways of handling the same functions. The fighting organizations can spread by the weight of their victories revealing new possibilities, arousing new desires, and providing means for collective expression, fulfillment, and further victories. Both the exemplary functional and fighting institutions - whether we are discussing new families, workplaces, modes of allocation, means of governing, or cultural communities, plus movements for changes in various spheres of life, as well - may themselves have roles that breed new habits, expectations, and desires and that also popularize those and militate for their wider acceptance. This path too, based on acts of will of affected people, we can see, can lead to social evolution or even revolution - as can a combination of all these patterns, and others that might emerge.
The point is, history is not preordained, not an inexorable process, not an outcome of one simple dynamic, and not based solely on classes, or on genders, or on communities, or on political constituencies. History can unfold due to many diverse causes, propelled by many diverse motives, engineered by many diverse groups, growing from many diverse acts and insights, owing to many diverse dynamics within and among society’s social spheres and its relations to ecology and other societies - all either intentional or unintended. Life is like that. History is like that. Narrow theories are not like that - and often not helpful and even counter productive.
Further Refinements in our Four Orientations
One of the problems with having a theory - a way of looking at society and history that tells you what you might want to give priority and, implicitly, what you might want to pay little attention to - is a tendency to bend the world to fit the theory, rather than to use the theory, but continually check it against the world giving the world preponderant weight in any dispute between the two. To fit reality to a preconceived expectation is particularly destructive in social situations because unlike with physical theories, in social situations exceptions abound. However, there is another type of problem, too, for us to address.
Suppose you have a set of concepts - composing your viewpoint, giving you guidance in looking at events and relations, or in posing alternatives, or evaluating and implementing possible paths forward. Think of concepts and viewpoint as being a set of instructions - look here, look there, emphasize this, check for this predicted relationship, when you see that, look for this, when you see this, look for that, and so on. The problem is one might start to see the world as if through a filter that cleaves very closely to one’s viewpoint. We know that if we look at the world with a red filter, we will see the red part highlighted, but will tend to miss that which is yellow, or blue, and so on. The same holds if we look through a yellow filter, we are likely to miss seeing that which is red, and so on. Of course this analogy to looking at the world with concepts is a bit tortured, a bit exaggerated, yet there is considerable truth lurking in it, too.
Suppose I adopt a feminist perspective. It tells me some important things to highlight, types of consciousness, relations among men and women, certain institutions, like families, and their roles, etc., and it also at least implicitly, by what it doesn’t highlight or leaves out, orients me away from wasting time on excessive and uninformed looking at secondary or tertiary stuff. But what if some of that other stuff is in fact key? And what if some of that important stuff has differences from my expectations that bear on what I care about accomplishing. Well, I may get beyond my initial views to the key stuff. And I may get beyond them to see the differences. Or, I may not. I may cleave so tightly to what my framework says will be the case that I simply can’t see beyond its limits.
This has lots of implications, but here is a big one bearing on this particular discussion. We have said that in a society there are four social spheres, rather than one. We have said, as well, that each social sphere emanates a field of influence, so to speak, carrying its logic outward to yield accommodation, at least, and sometimes, co reproduction of its central aspects in other as a result amended spheres.
So, we see need for refinement. First, are we saying to the feminist, intercommunalist, anarchist, or anti capitalist - to avoid missing key elements of reality you must become an adherent of the other three perspectives as well as of the one you already favor.
Second, we realize that in fact a person identifying mostly as and most sensitized around being a black person, for example, a woman, a subordinate citizen, or a worker, will, in adopting the framework most relevant to their own centrally felt condition not, gain all that much. That is, regarding that hugely felt condition, even without taking aboard the new and carefully formulated concepts, the person is by their situation already alert. They already highlight and see factors in their priority sphere of life. However, each of their capacities to see that which is central in the dynamics of the other three spheres of life are limited, perhaps very heavily limited - by their experience, and in a very real sense those other spheres are where they need the most help and guidance from a perspective they can adopt.
The point is this. If I am a white male worker, I need more help from a conceptual framework understanding and being highly attuned to and aware of the roots and implications of sexism and racism than I do with understanding, being attuned to, and seeing the roots and implications of the classism that I am already by my situation focused on. And so the second point of refinement is that we not only need to have a fourfold rather than one fold approach, but we need to put more effort into having concepts for the spheres we are weakest at, or even prone to misunderstand, than the for the one we are strongest at and already largely understand. This is, of course, almost opposite to most people’s reflex agendas, and for precisely that reason is quite important.
Third, having realized that the influence of each sphere can spread into the rest, we must be open to and even very ready to recognize that our unadorned understanding of a particular sphere seen in the abstract, alone, may well have to be refined in light of the implications of the existence of other spheres.
Let me give just one example, for now. If I analyze capitalist market economy, I will come to the conclusion that in choosing a new working class hire, or to hire a person to become a coordinator class manager, the key thing I will care about is the person’s inclination to abide the dictates of class and economy - thus to abide their role, thus to work hard and without the slightest attention to personal dignity or seeking additional bargaining power, enduring boredom, taking orders, and giving out, in the case of the working class hire, and, for the coordinator class hire, to paternalistically administer and keep down workers below, while enjoying ample income but not working to unduly enlarge it and while accepting authority from above without challenge as well as producing at a frantic rate - and so on.
But what if there is a sharply racist culture at play, or a sharply feminist one. Then things become more complex in choosing among working class or coordinator class applicants for jobs. There are new variables such as not violating and indeed perhaps even reproducing the requisites of those two hierarchy creating spheres. Women and or blacks who I might hire for one position or another if I ignored race and gender implications and derivative implications for class that I would not see if I was ignoring race and gender - I might not hire, or would not hire, favoring, instead, a white and/or male hire. Or, in fact, especially for the working class position, this could operate in reverse, since I might be able to better control and extract labor from the doubly down trodden individual. If there is a pecking order of status, security, and influence, I don’t buck it, but instead utilize it - I at least accommodate.
Another variant of this same type refining we already did earlier. The Marxist - or at least some marxists - tend to see society as economic base with everything else in a “superstructure.” They argue the economy is essential - since without it, we die. They note that the economy yields opposed constituencies, or classes, and the one at the bottom, the workers, are key to arriving at new social relations. The economy thus has its own internal dynamics and they can (some Marxists would say they must) yield disjunctures which arouse dissent leading to opposition and finally change. And, in this view, this change then imposes by a kind of outward field of influence change on the rest of society, its superstructure.
Can this more or less happen? Yes. But contrary to some formulations it is certainly not inevitable, nor is it inexorable once begun, and even more to the point here, it is not the only thing that can happen.
First, the feminist, or intercommunalist, or anarchist (now focused on polity) can argue quite like the Marxist, that their function is essential, their sphere produces opposed constituencies, their sphere can affect consciousness and arouse resistance. When the Feminist does this, she may see kinship as base, and all else (including economy) as superstructure. A very insightful feminist roughly four decades ago made exactly this argument, as a argument ad absurdum, against marxist economism, literally taking their arguments and words and simply rewriting them with new references to kinship instead of economy. And so too for the intercommunalists or anarchists, respectively emphasizing culture or polity as base, and the rest as superstructure, as some have in fact done. And in fact it is not so that only one claim is right and the rest wrong - which is what an adherent of each perspective might and often will argue, and what each will in any case often act on as a guiding assumption. Instead all are possible, and none inevitable. And more, it is also possible for what happens in one sphere to be reversed by pressures from others, rather than to propel others to change in accord.
In essence, goodbye monism in any form, that is, goodbye to taking one aspect of society as a priori preponderant in importance. Hello holism, that is, seeing the mutual interconnectivity and influence of four spheres and realizing that how they clash and jangle - each in itself, and all in their interactions - is not known to theory before the fact, but has to be discerned in real situations.
What do we have so far? Think of it as a slowly filling conceptual toolbox. We dig into this toolbox when we need to understand existing relations and history, and, as we will soon see, when we need to propose new relations (or vision) or new paths forward (or strategy). The toolbox is big, and so far only part of it is populated.
In our toolbox, so far we have the idea of societal functions essential to a society existing and persisting. There are four - economic, political, kin, and cultural. We have the idea, as well, that societies exist in context of and influencing and being influenced by the natural environment as well as many other societies establishing international relations.
We also have the idea of four social spheres, corresponding to the four functions. And we have in mind that each sphere has defining institutions, which in turn have defining social roles. More, we have in mind the idea of the institutions and their roles, in each sphere and all together, constituting a kind of social boundary, and we with our consciousnesses, values, and expectations constituting a kind of social base.
We have in mind, too, that each sphere affects the lives of people, via the sphere’s roles, often generating hierarchies - for example, of class, gender, sexual preference, race, religion, ethnic and national group, and political power or influence. Each sphere also, by way of its roles, produces in those who function in it particular shared attitudes, interests, beliefs, habits, and expectations - and, more, that these will typically array in ways that line up from one sphere to another so that what each sphere requires and upholds will not violate the requirements of other spheres require and uphold, and, sometimes, will even tend to produce and enforce the requirements born of the logic of other spheres.
Indeed we also adopt the insights that have emerged to serve the interests of subordinate populations in each of the four spheres - three largely whole, with modest refinements acknowledging mutual interconnections and influences (feminism, intercommunalism, and anarchism) and one (anti capitalism) substantially modified, bringing us mainly the new concept of the coordinator class between labor and capital and associated insights about its attitudes and interests.
We have in mind, as well, however, that sometimes the requirements and implications of social spheres can get out of whack, either internally, or between two, or, for that matter with innovations proposed or enacted, sometimes with the explicit purpose of propelling change. In these ways there ensues mostly ever present social evolution that occurs within the limits of reproducing old defining relations, but also sometimes a less frequent more profound social revolution, bursting old relations and replacing old roles with new fundamentally different ones.
Now, in light of all this, our task is to at least broadly apply these ways of thinking to some matters of current concern in society today, and then also to issues of vision and strategy. As we do this, our conceptual toolbox will get some new resident concepts, on the one hand, and some of the concepts already in it will become sharper and better understood, on the other hand.