Sunday, July 5, 2015
Bringing Back Stray Sheep
- You’ve said that property is the fundamental problem. It's never really been investigated. Can we try?
- Just you and me.
- Property is things people own, and property is also the relation people have to each other in the form of social roles. The own each other, in the sense that they owe each other something. Roles are established on the basis of what each sort of person owes to another sort of person. What is owed to someone establishes the “properties” said to be descriptive of that class of people. With me?
- So we have three elements in social relations: who is owed something, who owes, and what is owed. Between classes of people what is owed is some activity. Force is used when that activity is not performed, when what is owed is not repaid.* Now in our history, according to the French philosopher Michel Foucault, there have been three great periods in which these three elements combined into more or less stable structures of the governing, the governed, and how they govern.
- The governed owe obedience to the governors. Why?
- Because it is for their own good. That is, it is said to be for their own good. Whether or not it really is good, or whether or not the governors are really doing what they say they are doing, is another matter.
- Give me an example.
- First let me tell you how Foucault said these structures of property relations have been arranged in history. The story begins with the Jews, the idea of the good shepherd who feeds his flock and brings back strays for their good not his own.
- The governors are like shepherds, the governed like straying sheep, and the activity is feeding and bringing back strays.
- Yes. Next comes the period he calls of “reasons of state”. In the first period, the shepherd watches for strays and leads to good pastures, but otherwise does not manage the individual daily activities of his sheep. In this next period, people are managed continuously with regard to the details of their education, their health, their different occupations, and they are managed for the sake of the strength of the state.
- And the strength of the state I take it was supposed to be for the good of the people because it allowed the protection of the people?
- Yes. Both what the governing are doing - getting stronger - and what the people are doing – getting better educated, healthier, more competent, is managed in detail. The next stage arises when it is seen that there is a technical problem with the previous property arrangement, class relations. If you try to keep prices down in order that grain will be grown cheaper and it can be exported and paid for with gold which can be used by the state to put on shows of opulence and hire an army, it turns out that people don’t want to sell, and don’t produce as much as before. Economic relations have their own natural laws that have to be respected. In the new arrangement then technocrats know and respect the laws. They give the governed freedom to exchange things that efficient operation of the laws demands. The people are defined as economically free, but their education and health is still managed in detail to make them better economic performers, again for reason of the state’s increasing wealth. This brings us up to date and the present “Neoliberalism”.
- In which people are property, are commodities, are taught to see themselves as micro-economies in which how they spend their time is an investment in their value in the world of exchange.
- With the understanding that being a commodity is the result of a property relation established between the governing and governors.
- Where is my example?
- If you look at how our present day Neoliberal governors act, you can see two things: both the natural economic laws have been proven not to function as they are said to function, and that the governors know it and are doing something else entirely.
- What are they doing?
- They have gone back to the property relations of the previous period, that of micro-management, intensive policing and discipline of all aspects of life including economic. Americans who borrowed too much have to suffer, lose their houses. Greeks who borrowed too much have to be punished with unemployment, lowered salaries and pensions, sale of public property.
- The governing are trying to raise money through the pervasive, invasive management of the people, I assume because as governors much of that money ends up in their pockets. If this is the history of property, one class managing others supposedly for their own good, but in fact on the basis of false knowledge not even applied as claimed, what’s next? What do we do about it?
- Let’s try going back to the beginning.
- The good shepherd.
- Yes. In the famous Ezekiel 34 god says he will judge the bad shepherds who hoard all the food for themselves and who eat the sheep, who tyrannize over, knock them about, deliberately destroy the food that is left unhoarded and muddy the water, forcing the flock to wander off to dangerous places. God says he will bring back the stray sheep, will allow them to rest in a land that produces more than enough food. And god will appoint David their prince, to be their good shepherd, to feed them not to eat them but for their own sake. How do you think David, the governor, goes about governing?
- By feeding his sheep and bringing back strays.
- Yes. But remember, we are human beings, we’ve eaten from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. We know both how to be good and how to be bad. If we are ever to be free of our wanderings after expulsion from the Garden Of Eden, ever to find the rest god promises to bring his people too, we will have to learn, to know the particular good of how to manage the bad.
- But what about property relations themselves? That’s where we started. If there is a shepherd and sheep, we are not free of them.
- We are human beings, not sheep. And the feeding David is appointed to do is not providing food, which is not necessary since it is stated that the land provides, and not to provide security, because the people have been led to a safe place. What is he doing?
- Teaching. Feeding them knowledge.
- Yes. What is he teaching? What does he know?
- Feeding and bringing back stray sheep. He doesn’t have to feed them literally, so I suppose he teaches bringing back stray sheep. Which, as you say, will remain necessary because we human beings know how to do both good and bad.
- Now remember that the people have individually made a deal with god in exchange for being led to this safe place where they can rest. Their deal is they obey god. What does it mean to obey god in this example? David is said to be the servant of god, and what does he do?
- He brings back lost sheep.
- Yes. He teaches them, not in obedience to him but as servants of god, each of them independently, to bring back lost sheep. In which case governor, governed, and governing are properties shared by all. No force is applied.
- Unless some stray sheep don’t want to come back.
- And how could that be, when they can live in peace and abundance and safety, except that they are among the judged, the condemned by god? They are hoarders, the bad shepherds who eat their flock, who tyrannize over and drive them out. According to the text god drives them out in turn. He destroys them.
* One kind of activity owed by the governed to the governing, governing not as a class but as an individual, is relinquishing use of certain things said to be owned by the individual, this enforced by violence or its threat: "private property". Reasons both good and bad can be found for allowing oneself to be governed by a claim to exclusive use of things: see Property Is Silence.