From the book: The Eye of the Needle by Richard Turner
Our first step in theorizing must be to examine briefly the "imperatives of human nature" and the "imperatives of organization."
The concept "human nature" plays a very important role in our "common sense" thinking. We often explain difficult phenomena, such as war, corruption, and jealousy, as being products of "human nature." And the idea that there is a fixed human nature is reinforced by a glance at the other people in our social milieu. They all seem to want much the same thing, to behave in the same way, to expect the same sorts of things out of life and out of their relations with other people. But a slightly wider glance, as we have already seen, shows that from society to society what people want and do varies enormously. Perhaps the only uniformity is that each group believes that the way it behaves is normal "human nature," and that other groups that behave differently are perverted or wicked or, at the very least, "barbarous and uncivilized"!
Besides this empirical reason for rejecting the idea that there is any closely defined human nature, there is also a good theoretical reason for doing so. Human beings can choose. They are not sucked into the future by stimuli to which they have to respond in specific ways. Rather, human beings are continually making choices. They can stand back and look at alternatives. Theoretically, they can choose about anything. They can choose whether to live or to die; they can choose celibacy or promiscuity, voluntary poverty or the pursuit of wealth, ice-cream or jelly. Obviously they can't always get what they choose, but that is a different question.
We have, then, three problems: First, why is it that, in spite of the wide range of possible choices and possible modes of fulfillment available, most people in each particular group tend to choose the same things and have the same values'? I shall refer to the set of values and behavior patterns that characterize any particular group or individual as a "human model." How do human models get actualized? Second, what is the relation between the human model or models characteristic of a particular society and the overall social structure? Third, how do we evaluate human models? To underÂstand how our society works we have to be able to answer these questions.
Most people make choices within a very narrow conÂtext, defined by a set of implicit and explicit values that they do not realize can themselves be chosen or rejected. How do they get these values? People are born into a pre-existing society and into a pre-existing niche within that society. From the moment of my birth I am trained in many formal and informal, direct and indirect ways, to accept a particular human model. I am "socialized."
The family socializes me first, of course. By the use of rewards, punishment, and example, the family teaches me where and when not to make a noise, what pleasures are permitted and what are forbidden, how a female or a male is expected to behave in my society. I also learn the social structure through the roles I observe the members of my family playing in it. I learn what to expect and what not to expect. I learn a lanÂguage in which are embedded a whole set of social values.
Outside my family, I am socialized by an education system. This operates in two ways. The style of education and, in particular, the form of discipline get me used to certain types of relationships with other people, for example, deference to authority figures, bureaucratic order as a mode of life, etc. The style will also embody a style of thinking. The content of the education also tells me how society works, what is "good" and what is "bad," etc.
Finally, I am subjected to fact and fiction in the information media of the society. The "facts" are inevitably selected facts, selected by people who have already gone through the socialization process and so select using the socially accepted criteria. The fiction provides behavior models and values. In "civilized" societies adÂvertising projects a picture of what is desirable and what is not, of what successful people do and of what makes for failure. In "barbarous" societies, poetry, song, and drama perform a similar function.
In one way, socialization is a necessary and desirable process. For any society to exist, children have to learn at least two things. They have to learn to accord at least some rights to other people. No society can exist without this, and it is probable that the poorer the society the greater will have to be this internal repression of the drive toward one's own pleasure. Second, they have to learn the rules for communicating with other people-the logic and the language and all the ways of behaving which go with the language to make it a living means of communication. The child who consistently laughs when burnt would have serious problems in our society.
But, beyond this, socialization does more. It prepares individuals not just for social living, but also for living out specific roles in a specific social structure. The social structure may be one of gross inequality, but if the socializing mechanisms are working effectively, independent, kicking children can be turned into passive, accepting adults at the bottom of the pile, who accept their role because they have been deprived of the capacity to conceive of any other way of existing. The effect of the process of socialization is to make a particular social structure and a particular human model seem to be natural, and to hide the fact that it is not natural and could be changed.
The process of socialization can narrow down the individual's range of perceptions and choices to a preÂdefined social reality. One particular human model becomes "human nature."
Socialization can induce acceptance of inequality by the oppressed group in an unequal social structure. They can come to believe in their own inferiority and in the natural rights of their oppressors and exploiters. This is not necessarily something brought about by the Machiavellian cunning of the dominant group. Once a social structure is in existence, mechanisms take over that tend to keep it going. The dominant groups are also being socialized. They are being socialized into dominant roles, with the concomitant belief in the naturalÂness of their dominance, of their superiority, whether it is race superiority in South Africa, caste superiority in classical India, or the superior virtues and intelligence of the middle-classes in nineteenth-century Europe. The system seems to perpetuate itself, and in one sense at least each group is as much a victim of the system as is any other. Each individual's human potential is reduced to a cardboard role, whether it is as male or as female, as oppressed or as oppressor.
In South Africa, whites as well as blacks are victims of the social structure. They are, of course, victims of a different kind: The bulk of the whites are responsible victims, who exercise coercive power to keep the structure in existence. But to forget that they are also vicÂtims would be to accept their own value-system, to accept that to be like a white South African-rich, greedy, and frightened of one's fellows-is the ideal way for humans to be.
We need now to look more closely at the human model characteristic of our own particular society. There are three problems here. The first is that, as in any society split into groups playing different roles, there must be a different model for each group if each is to play its different role effectively. If they are not to revolt, the poor must have expectations different from the rich.
The second is that, in South Africa, we have a number of different cultures that have been brought together in a specific way by conquest (including the British conquest of India) and have not as yet been welded into a completely complementary set of roles.
The third is the important role that the concept "race" plays in the thinking of all groups. Most whites identify their "superiority" and their "right to dominance" in race terms.
I shall for the moment ignore these three complicating factors. To understand and evaluate our society it is most important to analyze the human model of the dominant group, which of itself tells us something about the others. The cultural diversity is being broken down by the process of industrialization and urbanization, which is replacing a logically unconnected set of cultures by an interdependent and coherent set of cultures with certain common elements derived from the culture of the dominant group. Finally, race as a sign of superiority inferiority is of secondary importance to the concept of superiority-inferiority. In ethics, the principle that it is all right to push some people around is logically prior to the decision as to precisely who will be so pushed around. The question "Can I exploit?" is prior to the question "Whom can I exploit?"
South Africa is a capitalist society, and the human model characteristic of the dominant white group in South Africa is the capitalist human model. I shall therefore discuss here the values underlying the capitalist social system. A value system contains two elements: (1) ideas about the ways in which it is natural for human being's to find their personal satisfaction;
(2) ideas about how human beings ought to treat one another. We often tend to take (1) for granted, and to confine arguments about values to (2). But there are different possible ways of finding personal satisfaction: a high level of material consumption, loving God, achieving Satori, communicating with one's fellows, developing one's intellect, serving the glory of one's nation, perfecting one's body, or climbing Mount Everest. And the terms of the argument about how to treat others will be set by how we decide to treat ourselves.
The values imposed by the socialization process in capitalist societies are those which that particular form of society needs in order to survive.
The following are the essential elements of capitalist society:
1. Some people control the means of production. The rest of the population, having no tools or land of their own, has no option but to work for those who do own the tools or the land. And the owners naturally expect to get something out of permitting them to do so. The basis on which they are employed is that some of the products of their labor should be given to the capitalists in return for the "right" to use the capitalists' means of producÂtion. To put it another way, the workers receive wages that are less than the value of their labor. The capitalists accumulate capital by taking the surplus product, which they have not worked to produce. This is exploitation.
The fact of private ownership of the means of production is not essentially affected by share-ownership replacing individual ownership. Probably in no capitalist country do more than 5 percent of the population own a significant number of shares.
The fact of exploitation is not minimized or refuted by a rising standard of living. To say that the workers are exploited is not necessarily to say that they are imÂpoverished. It is to say that, whatever they are earning, they are also creating new capital for the capitalists, capital which, once they have created it, is not only not theirs but is the very instrument which the capitalist use to keep the workers under their control. Production is the result of the cooperation of a large number of people working together, but the end result is private ownership by one person. Cooperative, social production produces individual, monopoly ownership.
Arguing that the capitalists play a role in the production process does not refute the fact of exploitation. They may also act as managers, in which case they aw productive and deserve some reward. But in fact their major reward comes from the fact that they own or control capital. Although capital-that is, machinery, raw material, etc.-can be used productively, owning or controlling capital is not a productive activity. It merely places one in a position to tax the real producers.
The fact of exploitation is not refuted by arguing that the capitalists are benefiting from their past hard work and their past savings. Most fortunes are just not made that way. They are based on inherited wealth, often going back to colonial plunder, land ownership based on conquest of the English by the Normans, the red InÂdians by the white Americans, the blacks by the whites. They are based on financial skill bearing little or no relationship to production. They are based often on corÂruption. They are based, essentially, on being at the right place at the right time, that is, on being able to place oneself, perhaps, but not necessarily, by hard work, at some bottleneck in the social production process from which one can draw off wealth. Cecil John Rhodes was not just a hard-working miner. He was a financier and a corrupt politician. Even if the original capital is created honestly by hard work and saving, once it is used to employ other people it continues to expand by exploitation.
2. The capitalists' objective in exploiting workers is not, as might be expected, simply their own personal good, in terms of a comfortable life and a high level of consumption.
If it were, they would, once they had made their first million, retire, relax, and enjoy themselves. But they do not. They ruin their health competing for a level of wealth that they could not possibly consume, even if they wanted to. Accumulation, from being a means to the end of a comfortable life, has become an end in itself. The business has become an independent entity that uses the owner to help it grow. This is the sense in which the capitalists themselves are victims of the situation, blinded to what they are doing and to why they are doing it, and deprived of the awareness of other modes of satisfying themselves. The social system becomes an independent thing and people become subject to it.
3. At an advanced level of accumulation, the need for markets as an outlet for the products of all this accumulated capital becomes important. It therefore becomes necessary to boost the consumption of that sector of the population that has surplus cash. They have to be forced to consume the product, whether they "want" to or not. And the easiest way to do this is to make them believe that they do really want to consume and to do nothing but consume. This is the role played by advertising. Each advertisement projects both a style of life based on consumption and the desirability of adding a particular product to the list of what it is necessary to consume. Popular fiction and popular magazines join in selling this same lifestyle. In a very real sense individuals are not free to choose whether to consume or not. There are so many forces working on them, from the Joneses to the TV set to the color supplement of the Sunday paper, that they are not aware of any alternative mode of living.
The social system has socialized them to suit its needs. People consume what it needs them to consume. Production is based not on the freely expressed needs of the individuals, but on the "needs" of the producing firms to maximize a certain type of profit-oriented growth.
This forced consumption can occur among certain social groups at the same time as other social groups are being forced to restrict consumption by being paid low wages so that their employers can accumulate more. South Africa is an obvious example of this, but it probably applies to all capitalist countries to a greater or lesser extent. It is worth pointing out that this is bound to have a destabilizing effect on society because the poor are to at least some extent subject to the same socializing pressures that are stressing to the "middle-classes" the absolute necessity of consuming more.
The value system underlying a capitalist society conÂtains three crucial elements:
( 1) An attitude to work;
(2) An attitude to the consumption of material goods;
(3) An attitude to other people.
In this society, acquisition, ownership, and consumpÂtion of material goods is the greatest aim of human beings. Work is only a means to this. It is not something an individual does because of the inherent meaningfulness of creative activity. It is an unpleasant necessity to be got over as soon as possible so that you can go home and consume. Any useful by-products, such as companÂionship at the work place, do not essentially mitigate the unpleasantness of work; one would much prefer to do something else companionably. In this process other people are something to be used to help in getting things. The worker is a means for the capitalist's end of accumulating. This means that work is often objectively as unpleasant as it is described to be. The capitalist employs the worker for an objective other than the worker's own satisfaction, so the nature of the work and the work environment are designed for that other purpose. They are designed to maximize profit, not to give the worker satisfaction from a meaningful task.
This fact is not contradicted by the introduction of "human relations" and "personnel management" into industry. The discovery that in some situations relatively satisfied workers are more stable and productive than disgruntled workers does not mean that workers' satisfaction replaces profit as the motive. Personnel management merely involves oiling the workers, just as one oils the machinery. The workers remain means to another person's end-perhaps a slightly more comfortable means, but still essentially one being manipulated more effectively away from the possibility of discovering just what is happening to them. It refines the process of controls placed on the workers and persuades them to cooperate more willingly in their own exploitation.
To the extent that some workers, particularly at the executive level, do find their work meaningful and satisfying, it is because (a) they have available to them a wide range of choices of action that, by definition in such a system, cannot be available to the mass of workers, and (b) because they have unquestioningly accepted the business's own definition of its importance. To be an enthusiastic and satisfied deodorant executive you have to believe in the importance of economic growth in general and of deodorants in particular. And to believe that you have to have been through a pretty heavy conditioning process.
It is important to stress that there are two major components in the value system of capitalism. The justification of exploitation and manipulation as a way of relating to other people is based upon the prior assumption that human beings fulfil themselves by owning, accumulating, or consuming material goods. Because the individuals' own goals of fulfilment give priority to goods rather than to people, they are justified in exploitÂing people to achieve that goal.
Relations with other people are not sought as ends in themselves, but as means to other ends. People use other people, rather than love other people. Each tries to manipulate the other, using force or Dale Carnegie. Instead of communicating, sharing experiences with others, individuals either buy others, or sell themselves to others. The commercial practice influences the priÂvate practice. If people are their own commodities they have to act to preserve and increase their market values. They must do this in the same way as is done in the case of other goods-by advertising techniques and "finish." In this situation they cannot afford to be open or honest with one another, for to be honest is to risk the other gaining an advantage. The result of playing roles with other people is that people end up playing roles with themselves. When people have identified themselves with particular roles, they can no longer see themselves as ongoing beings, able to learn, to develop, and to change. Criticism, instead of being an invitation to self-examination and growth, becomes a simple threat-a threat to habit and a threat to commodity value. The reaction is to discount criticism and to cling to the "finality" of one's present being.
Finally, the process of separation from other people reinforces the socialization process by stopping people from thinking about themselves, and so stopping them from realizing that they could be other than they have been socialized to be. But the refusal to change, the refusal of openness, and the necessity for continuous self-defense wreak the psychological havoc of fear, tension, and half-suppressed insecurity.
Some capitalists may read these lines, and it is possible that they will not recognize themselves in what I have written. After all, even capitalists sometimes love their wives, enjoy the sunshine, and help old ladies across the road. But I am not attempting to deny this. It is necessary to distinguish between the nature of a social structure and the way in which individuals operate within the structure. I may smile at my secretary, donate money to the factory sports club, take an interest in welfare work, and belong to the Progressive Party, and yet still exploit my workers and fit the description made above. Exploitation is not a function of the good or ill will of the particular capitalist. It is a structural relation between capitalist and worker. And precisely because it is a structural relation the capitalists (and often the workers too) take it for granted and so do not realize that they are responsible for it. And it is the structural relationship that places limitations on human community.
In the light of this concept of structural relations, we can see that there are two kinds of ethical systems. One accepts the predominant human model and tries to rationalize it, to smooth the edges. I shall call this an internal morality: Pay your debts, give to the poor, don't tell lies, don't steal (i.e., don't deprive people of property that is theirs in terms of the given legal-property system in ways that the system does not permit). In a slave society, feed your slaves properly; don't sell their children until they are eight years old. In war, kill people with bullets, but not with poison gas.
These internal moralities make life slightly easier for people within the system, and as such should not be sneered at. But they do not challenge the human model implicit in the system. An ethic which does this I shall refer to as a transcendent morality. It goes beyond the given and asks the fundamental question: "What is human life for, what is the meaning of human life?"
When asking what sort of society is compatible with Christianity, we have first to ask whether Christianity embodies an internal morality or a transcendent morality. And the answer is obvious.
The essence of all religions lies in the concept of transcendence, that is, in the idea of something (whether it be a "reality" or an "ideal") which goes beyond the present, which goes beyond what people are doing in the world at this moment, and in the light of which the present is only of secondary importance. Religion chalÂlenges the commonsense tendency to be committed to the present, to see the world as we experience it now as the only possible form of reality. This challenge occurs on two interrelated levels: in terms of a transcendent reality (God) and in terms of a transcendent ethic. The latent role of the affirmation of a transcendent reality is to challenge the natural arrogance whereby individuals believe that their particular way of seeing the world is the only possible way of seeing it. Rather, the world always goes beyond what they know of it, always slips out of any attempt at a final and adequate description. Human beings are always limited to partial perspectives on the world. On the practical level this implies that no particular way of behaving can ever be final. The transcendent ethic demands that we question our taken-for-granted ways of behaving, that we must continually question them.
No great religious leader has said: "Change your beliefs, but continue to act in the way in which you have always acted." Each leader has attacked both old social forms and old religious forms. They have attacked religious forms that have precisely lost their transcendence and become merely repetitive rituals. They have attacked social forms that have become unquesÂtioned, hence mechanical and non-human, and unjust, hence dehumanizing.
We have seen the Hebrew prophets attacking the worÂship of the Golden Calf-both an idol with a ritual atÂtached, and a way of life in which personal material satisfaction turns one away from one's neighbor. We have seen Christ breaking the Sabbath to cure the sick-so showing that the mechanical ritual of Sabbath observance must give way to an intelligent understandÂing of the transcendent significance of the Sabbath as a day in which I cease from my own selfish pursuits and consider the needs of the whole, and hence of other men and women. We have seen Muhammad challenging the ways of the wealthy merchants of Mecca, who believed that their wealth gave them power over both people and gods, by asserting the universality of the one God, who cannot be bought, and by asserting that wealth must be used for social purposes, not for individual purposes.
Beware! You do not honor the orphan,
Nor urge to feed the poor,
Greedily you devour the inheritance of the weak,
And you love riches inordinately.
(Koran: LXXXIX 18-20)
The history of religious decay and reform is the history of the gradual decline of these transcendent beliefs and practices into the given, a decline whereby they become nothing more than a "traditional way of life" in which religious observance is mere ritual and in which the transcendent ethic gets moulded into the very untranscendent social structure and becomes an "opiate to the people"-until a new reformer shatters the structure, either by creating a new religion (Muhammad), or by appealing to the pristine transcendence of an earlier religious genius (Calvin).
The social relevance of religion, then, lies in the fact that it commands us to question accepted human models and the accepted social structure in which they are embodied.
Christianity is no exception to this rule. Even if we see Christianity as essentially "otherworldly," then it is at least a negative rejection of all those value systems that consider anything in this world important. But ChristiÂanity is not an "other worldly" religion. The very doctrine of the incarnation of God in this world expresses the central importance of this world and of human history for Christianity. "God is not the God of the dead, but of the living" (Matt. 22:32). The ethical precepts of both Old and New Testaments direct us toward other people, not away from them and into the other world.
"Love your neighbor as yourself." Who is my neighbor? Who am I? What is "love"? All people are my neighÂbors. When I act I must take into account all people who could be affected, either by commission or by omission as a result of my act, just as I take into consideration how I will be affected by it. This is a political injunction as well as a moral one, since it commands that I should understand the social structure of my society, the way in which my acts and others' acts are interrelated.
The question "Who am I?" and the question "What is love?" are interdependent, and the answer to these two questions shows that, for Christianity, to love my neighbor is part of the definition of being human. That is, I am not told, and "love your neighbor" as I might be told eat an apple a day." It is not something external to me some accidental order that I might or might not carry out without affecting my very nature.
The answer to the question "What am I?" involves the stating of a human model. A complete statement of what I am includes a reference to my future, to what I should be. For Christianity, what I should be is defined by the example of Jesus Christ. Theologian Paul van Buren has written:
His characteristics seem to have impressed his followers so that he stands out as a remarkably free man in the records of remembered parable, saying, or incident, and in the way in which the early Christian community spoke of him.... [The Evangelists] speak, for example, of his "authority," or they point to his openness to friend and foe. Although he is presented as a faithful son of his parents, he is also shown to be free from familial claims. He followed the religious rites and observances of his people, but he also felt free to disrepair them . . .. He did not rest the authority of his teaching on tradition . . .. When enemies questioned or friends suggested basis for his authority, he evaded them. He simply spoke and acted with the authority of a singular freedom.... He called his hearers to be without anxiety for the future concerning clothes, food, or shelter, and he supported his words with his own conduct . . .. He seems to have been so free of any need to status that he was able to resist all attempts by others to convey status on him ( The Secular Meaning of the Gospel [New York: Macmillan, 1963], pp. 121-23).
Through the various specific incidents and parables what shines out is Jesus' freedom: his ability to be open to other people and to react to them and their needs, not in terms of preconceived, stereotyped ideas and attitudes, but afresh in each new situation. To be able to love other persons is to be able to communicate with them, to be open to their way of seeing the world. It is to go directly to the person, rather than to the role or stereotype. And to be able to do this I must myself be free. I must have escaped from the stereotyped attitudes and behavior patterns imposed by my backÂground and socialization. This I can do only through self-awareness, self-analysis, and self-criticism. To love the other I must lay myself open. And it is in laying myself open to the other in this way in loving communication that I become self-aware and free. The development of my reason and of self-consciousness can only occur in interaction with other people, in community. Love your neighbor as yourself. This means, very literally, that to be yourself you must love your neighbor. Community is a good in itself and not a way of attaining other goods. It is the basic mode of human fulfilment.
Already it must be clear how different the Christian human model is from the capitalist model. "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God" (Matt. 19:24). If I concentrate on things, rather than people, I become a slave. I become dependent on things. I behave in the way in which the things need me to behave. In each relationship with the other I am not free to be open to the other as a person. I have to manipulate the other in such a way as to obtain things. And to manipulate the other I have to manipulate myself. This is my essential degradation, for in manipulating myself I finally lose my freedom. I become identified with the role I am playing. My punishment, exclusion from the kingdom of heaven, is not external to my sin. It is the interÂnal consequence of my preference of things to people.