Instruments of Action

Property is a part of the household, and the art of acquiring property is a part of the art of managing the household; for no man can live well, or indeed live at all, unless he is provided with necessaries. And as in the arts which have a definite sphere the workers must have their proper instruments for the accomplishment of their work, so it is in the management of a household.

Aristotle, Politics 1:4

Segal’s book refers to the Politics mostly for its theory of marginal utility, i.e. the assertion that managing money is a part of managing a household, but it’s possible that a surplus of money is damaging to a household’s well being. In short, money isn’t everything. But when I looked back to Aristotle’s Politics, which I’ve only encountered in passing before, I found a lot more to consider.

When I was studying rhetoric, in a terrific ethics class taught by Art Walzer, we spent quite a bit of time with book six of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. I suppose that’s where my obsession with in techné began. Techné is usually translated as art or craft; rhetoric is one craft among many. In class discussions, Art pointed out that rhetoric was actually considered by Aristotle to be a sub-art to politics; I didn’t really know what to do with that, and we didn’t really delve too deeply into the implications of that as I recall. Now, I feel like I need to get a better translation of Nicomachean Ethics. There are some really confusing parts about the structure of politics, which comprises household management and military tactics, mentioned in the same sentence as rhetoric.

Reading Book one of the Politics I was amazed how central that household management was to his structure of the ideal state. That’s refreshing, after recently reading Bellamy’s complete dismissal of household duties as if “in the future” we need not worry about things like cooking and housework. In a sense, Aristotle treats politics as a craft, but not the same sort of productive craft as rhetoric or carpentry. Rather than being productive, politics is practical. I read a bit about these topics (techné and phronesis, or practical wisdom) on Art’s suggestion. Part of the problem is that since the time of Plato, those forms of techné are given second class status, hence the “sub discipline” status for rhetoric, military tactics, and household management. Though they are only a part though, they are an important part.

What I was most interested in was the depiction of “instruments” as being central to household management. By instruments, Aristotle isn’t talking about money, or vacuum cleaners, and refrigerators. In his schema, these instruments include your wife and your slaves. They are instruments of action, not just possessions. They are your property, not to covet or sell for profit, but to deploy toward your ends. That’s why money is largely of secondary importance to Aristotle, not because money is evil but because it isn’t how you accomplish the good life; having people to satisfy your needs is essential. The necessaries of life are delivered by using your “instruments,” and owning the correct tools is important— more important than having an excess of money.

Cutting to the chase, what “the good life” was all about wasn’t wage slavery, but actual slavery. A practical man, Aristotle didn’t have a problem with that.



Looking Backward

Looking BackwardFinished Looking Backward as the year ended. It has a fun romantic twist ending, but for the most part, it’s one of those books that has me slapping my head at how much I disagree with its sentiments.

An upper class man is mesmerized (hypnotized) in order to get some sleep in 1887, because he is upset that the labor unrest will force him to cancel his wedding. He wakes up in the year 2000.

All strife is gone. The trusts have all been absorbed into one massive trust, which becomes the government.

All citizens are conscripted into the “great industrial army” and must work from the age of 21 until 45; then they are free to do what they want. The gross domestic product is divided up equally among all citizens, regardless of whether they are currently working or not. No more money, perfect equality, no social problems. People who refuse to work are imprisoned and fed bread and water till they agree to go along; this is not considered to be a problem. Housework and cooking have been done away with, though he never really explains how! Everyone is happy as an industrial soldier.

“Know, O child of another race and yet the same that the labor we have to render as our part in securing for the nation the means of a comfortable physical existence is by no means regarded as the most important, the most interesting, or the most dignified employment of our powers. We look upon it as a necessary duty to be discharged before we can fully devote ourselves to the higher exercise of our faculties, the intellectual and spiritual enjoyments and pursuits which alone mean life. Everything possible is indeed done by the just distribution of burdens, and by all manner of special attractions and incentives to relieve our labor of the irksomeness, and, except in a comparative sense, is not usually irksome, and is often inspiring. But it is not our labor, but the higher and larger activities which the performance of our task will leave us free to enter upon, that are considered the main business of of existence.

“Of course not all, nor the majority, have those scientific, artistic, literary, or scholarly interests which make leisure the one thing valuable to their possessors. Many look upon the last half of life chiefly as a period for enjoyment of other sorts; for travel, for social relaxation in the company of their lifetime friends; a time for the cultivation of all maner of personal idiosyncrasies and special tastes, and the unperturbed appreciation of the good things of the world which they have helped create.

Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward (1888) Penguin ed. 1986 p. 148-9

Morris disliked the book because it was an exposition about “state communism”; Bellamy calls it “nationalism”. I dislike it primarily because of his idea that things like cooking, cleaning and such are dismissed as being pretty much meaningless, and no thought whatsoever is given to the idea that work might be fun and an essential part of life.  The Nearings really got that part right, I think. Bread labor (as they called it) was part of the core of what it means to be alive. We have to feed, clothe, and shelter ourselves. Why shouldn’t that be as rewarding as other more “valuable” pursuits? It seems as if Bellamy has anticipated the mystification of these things which we currently accept as “normal.”

To be fair, Bellamy anticipates things like credit cards (as a payment system instead of money), and places music as a central part of day to day life. It seems that each house as a device on the wall where you can turn screws and fill the house with music, chosen from a variety of programs performed live. No need to go the the concert hall, it is brought to you. He also anticipates radio preachers, because on Sunday you can tune into the services.

There were Bellamy societies  that sought to make this utopia real at the turn of the twentieth century. There are fascinating predictions the book, if you can get past its embrace of National Socialism. Many of Bellamy’s contemporaries didn’t see any problems with that; time has given most of us a different perception.

The Invalid Corps

The Invalid CorpsI should not fail to mention, “resumed the doctor, “that for those too deficient in mental or bodily strength to be fairly graded with the main body of workers, we have a separate grade, unconnected with the others—a sort of invalid corps, the members of which are provided with a light class of tasks fitted to their strength. All our sick in mind and body, all our deaf and dumb, and lame and blind and crippled, and even our insane, belong to this invalid corps, and bear its insigns. The strongest often do nearly a man’s work, the feeblest, of course nothing; In their lucid intervals, even our insane are eager to do what they can.”

“That is a pretty idea of the invalid corps,” I said, “Even a barbarian from the nineteenth century can appreciate that. It is a graceful way of disguising charity, and must be grateful to the feelings of its recipients.”

“Charity!” repeated Doctor Leete. “Did you suppose that we consider the incapable class we are talking of objects of charity?”

“Why, naturally,”  I said, “insamuch[sic] as they are incapable of self support.”

But here the doctor took me up quickly.

“Who is capable of self support?” he demanded, “There is no such thing in a civilized society as self-support. In a state of society so barbarous as not even to know family cooperation, each individual may possibly support himself, though even then for a part of his life only; but from the moment that men begin to live together, and constitute even the rudest of society, self-support becomes impossible. As men grow more civilized, the subdivision of occupations and services is carried out, a complex mutual dependence becomes the universal rule. Every man, however solitary may seem his occupation, is a member of a vast industrial partnership, as large as the nation, as large as humanity. The necessity of mutual dependence should imply the duty and guarantee of mutual support; and that it did not in your day constituted the essential cruelty and unreason of your system.”

Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward (1888) Penguin ed. 1986 p. 109-110

I started this book yesterday. I’ve always meant to read it, and prompted by a somewhat disparaging review of it by William Morris, I decided that now was the time. Morris called its utopian view “state communism” and I believe it is. In the future, i.e. the year 2000, the trusts and robber barons have coalesced into a giant mega-corporation which is the government. Curiously, for Bellamy, this is a good thing. Much more to say later, but I found it interesting that this “invalid corps” in the great industrial army (his description of the workforce) is rooted in the Civil War; the Union found its invalid corps in 1863, the confederacy in 1864.