Last updated: 04 November 2020

Download: Philosophy and Human Values (1990) Lecture 5: Hegel and Modern

Transcript: Okay. In our last lecture, I ended the history of ethics in a way – what would be a usual introduction to an ethics course – by discussing Hegel’s view of ethics with its… what one might call it… “super concept” of freedom. The very large concept of freedom as formulating those goals and desires of individuals in whatever given historical period. And the idea that freedom represents is to see those goals and obstacles and their overcoming in that period, and to name that activity and those sets of practices “freedom”.

Now, that side of Hegel’s philosophy… and Hegel is perhaps the most important philosopher in the 19th Century. Because the people that I will talk about today – at least the first two or three – react against Hegel. So Hegel’s view is very important. But the Hegel I gave you the other day is a very radical Hegel, where freedom is the central notion. But there is another side to Hegel, as many of you may have suspected if you have looked at articles like Fukuyama’sThe End of History“, something like that.

There is another side of Hegel, a more conservative side that argues that while his view remains historical, that history as it were, the context within which all activities, truth and so on gets its meaning and in which human beings become what he calls “spirit”… The conservative Hegel – that reading of Hegel – he argues that the culmination of this long historical process is something like the Prussian State, or on an updated reading like Fukiyama’s – and this is one I think perfectly fits what George Bush means by the “New World Order” – it means that history proper is at an end. This is a very strange notion because we still, I think, to some extent think historically.

History proper is at an end, because the human race has found the right ideas. Namely, Liberal Democracy. By which we mean the televised pseudo state, to try to speak… and VCRs. Once you have an economy that produces VCRs and stuff, and a pseudo state that gives you the satisfaction of lording it over the rest of the planet… with a social system that doesn’t work… history has reached its end and there are no more battles over big ideas. That’s the point. That as long as the Cold War was going on, there were ideologies and battles between them. Socialism, capitalism and so on…

Well, with the end of the cold war… this is the updated version of Hegel’s argument. Well, that’s interesting already because it needed to be updated. See, since Hegel thought it was over in the 19th Century, this more recent article argues that history ended in the 20th Century only to have the Gulf War come along. And if there is one sure sign in Hegel’s philosophy that history isn’t over, of course it’s a war. Because there are embodied people in struggle with different views about what freedom is and how to live. So now there will have to be another update about it being over. So I am very sceptical about that claim, and also the Conservative Hegel for other reasons would not be my favourite.

In any case, reacting to the philosophy of Hegel were a whole set of intellectuals, and he has an ambiguous legacy. There were right wing Hegelians and left wing Hegelians. In fact one of the origins of right wing, left wing was not simply where people sat in a French theatre, although that’s another origin of the word. One has to do with these two schools of readings of Hegel.

The right wing Hegelians took Hegel to be fundamentally right, and their only task was to apply his method of investigation to subject after subject. In other words, you know, just investigate the Prussian State, spell out explicitly what he hadn’t quite said enough of… I’ve said enough about [that].

The other school of Hegelians were the left wing Hegelians. One of whom later became very famous and he will be the first person I will discuss today as we move beyond what I consider to be rather narrow ethical concerns. While the problems we discussed in the last few lectures I consider important, they are much narrower concerns than the best kind of social arrangements within which human beings can realise their character and so on. And those lead to a whole larger set of issues, so those are the ones we will discuss today. Those are the ones that were raised by Hegel under the word “freedom”, and as I say, the most famous left wing Hegelian to take up the challenge of giving a richer concept of freedom, I have already mentioned was Karl Marx.

Marx’s name of course is not used much anymore. You know, this is supposed to be what happened in the last fifteen years, is that definitively his view of the world has been refuted and so on. And I would like to warn against these relatively premature judgements, especially in the long scope of history. After all, Communism as an ideology… In the Soviet Union, the first communist state, began in 1917 and it is hardly a long historical run to go from 1917 to 1989, and to win hearts and minds in two thirds of the world and then be over like that.

That is the kind of historical view a culture might have if that culture’s view of history was based on a miniseries. Because then you could go “Well, that was kind of like a miniseries in this longer story”. But as a matter of just historical fact, the text of Marx is a classic text. William Bennett agrees it’s a classic. It’s in the Great Books. So there you go, it’s a classic, okay. No more argument needed, right? Bennet, you know, Bush’s man says it’s a classic, so it’s a classic.

And then in the historical sense, it’s still an ambiguous legacy. Because throughout the history of Marxism, based on this Hegelian mode of thought in which concepts change as people change, there was an ongoing criticism – which as we know today in Eastern Europe has led to the overthrow of certain governments – an ongoing criticism within the communist states of communism. That didn’t appear obvious to us over here until these dramatic events, as though they hadn’t been prepared for by a long historical process of criticism. Of course, we were blinded to that on our side of the border for Orwellian reasons. For strictly Orwellian reasons.

But now we see, by this period of history, we see that there were quite important social movements. Movements that do deserve the name “democratic” movements, in a way that very few movements in this country deserve the name. I mean a movement that serious – and for democracy in the United States – would have to be either associated with dangerous African Americans, with strange ideas that have made bizarre off the record remarks or something, or else in some other way “ghettoised”.

Real movements for Democracy are oddly enough most threatening in nominal democracies. That’s a principle of Hegelian discourse. In other words, if you live by an ideology, the most dangerous ideology to you is your own, because someone may expect you to do what you say. So, in that sense Communist ideology – as many of you know – was never a real threat in the United States, right. Very few Communists got elected to Senate and so on. It’s just not really popular.

On the other hand, our own ideologies of Democracy, Freedom, and Equality have been a great danger to our own society. So that’s a dialectical truth and [that] leads me into Marx and Marx’s criticism of capitalism. Because there’s a wide misunderstanding and I need to explain why a criticism of Capitalism is a criticism of Hegel.

Because for Hegel, if (that was) the highest expression of humanity was this advent of Capitalism, the liberal democratic state and so on, then a criticism of that State – you know, which had been based on the previous French Revolution and so on – would be a criticism not just of Hegel, but of the state of affairs his philosophy represented.

And that was Marx’s real point, not just merely to interpret Hegel or criticise him, but use him as a vehicle to criticise the actual State… in terms of the degree of which… at first, it’s an internal criticism. It’s a criticism of the gap between the promises of the bourgeois State and its practices. And that criticism is launched in terms of the economy. The argument is rather elegant and rather simple. And I mean, Marx has many complicated arguments. I am going to stick to a few from this book: “The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844” by Marx. And it’s an inexpensive little book.

The problem is… that the democratic state is – and Marx uses a rather strong word here – in contradiction with the imperatives of the Capitalist economy. Now, I am not sure many people would even want to disagree with that any more. I think that we are used to living in a sort of televised environment in which contradictions don’t bother us… as much as they used to. They just make us twinge.

In other words, we’ll see a huge picture of rubble on TV and a spokesman will be saying “There was no rubble”… and the rubble is behind him, and we are used to that now. You know, we have lived through periods where Richard Nixon would come on TV and say “I am not a liar” and his eyes would drift off, you know… [crowd laughter]

So, we are more used to contradiction than they were, and take it less seriously. We expect it. In fact certain cultural artefacts of our period, like Twin Peaks make a joke out of our ability to accept contradiction. They use it, in a way, as a kind of an irony on our society, that we could accept it with very little difficulty. But this wasn’t true in this period, so it was an important criticism if Marx could show that the imperatives of the economy to accumulate human labour, which for Marx was the key to capital. Not accumulating money. Because money was just a medium, right, that was used to accumulate living labour.

That’s what is the fundamental meaning of the alienation of labour for Marx. To put it in really basic terms, it’s this: the secret to capitalism is moving from a society – and this is why it has ethical implications that I would like to draw – moving from a society where the question is “What are you?”, to a society in which the question is “What do you own, or have?”, “What do you do, in the sense of a career, or job, whatever?”.

Once human beings are re-described in that way, they are re-described in terms of their work time. Which is not voluntary. I mean, you know, Reagan recognises that, right? He distinguishes voluntarism from work – he’s that smart – and we all know when we are at work, we are not volunteering. And one way you can know – no matter how much you love your job… everybody always tells me “I love my job” – that very few people, when they are given two months off at full pay decide to come in every day and work their butt off. It’s just… we… Americans may love their jobs, but they may also have deep psychological reasons to believe that compensatory thing, namely that they do really love it. They may in fact be devious in some respect that’s deeper than our conscious one, which we will discuss when we get to Freud.

So for Marx the crime, as it were, that capital commits, and it’s not… I shouldn’t even use the word “crime”, because it’s purely systemic and it has dual effects, one of which is incredibly positive. The negative effect it has is to reduce the rich amount of human needs to needs that can simply be bought and sold on a marketplace. In other words, to make us understand our needs in terms of marketable needs. And this is almost a boring lecture now, because our need for love, compassion, understanding, for social relations and so many other needs now are all merchandisable.

I mean, even if you… one of the kinkiest things people used to do was just have intimate sexual conversations with one another. Now that’s telephonised, and you put it on your VISA, right? I mean, just think of that one example about telephone sex. This is how far Capitalism can go in rationalising what at one time was a very intimate personal exchange, without the mediation of money, into one that becomes marketable. So if you are watching “USA” on television late at night, which I sometimes do, it’s got all those stupid B movies on it. Then here come on a whole stream of lovely young men and women saying “Call me up”, five dollars a minute. So if you are lonely, sad, tired, want a friend… there’s one on the market.

That’s the way in which Marx saw relations, as it were, between things. Because commodities are things, even when it’s us. You know, if you are in a room full of people who sell insurance, and you are trying to hire one of them, and you’re the executive, you’re choosing between commodities. Now, someone will immediately object, of course one of the people there may have a better personality… great! That means that that’s a feature of that commodity that’s attractive to you as a buyer. That’s why the person may get the job.

So, for Marx, that was the violence it committed. [It] was [that] it not only commodified our relations but our lives, and put the pursuit of things in the place of a whole host of other needs, desires… in fact, the desire just for social relations themselves, which today is a real desire. Just the desire for a genuine social relation or two. One or two genuine social relations.

So, now that was the bad part, on the social relations side for Marx. That’s where Capitalism was at loggerheads with the great ideals of freedom and so on, is because such human beings under such an economic system, because of competition with one another for what jobs were available in order to survive within such an economy, where working could only be called “free labour” as a kind of a joke. In other words, whether we work or not, whether we make that as a choice is sort of a joke, right.

“Well I can choose not to work”. Well, the streets last night as this city froze were full of people who, I am sure many didn’t choose not to work, right. I doubt that a lot of them are lazy. Like Jesse Jackson, I don’t think that’s the problem with poor people, is that they are lazy. But in any case, if you choose not to work, you may very well find yourself under a bridge at night. One way you can find out, by the way, and this is simple to cut through a lot of the crap you usually hear about class analysis and “there are no classes in America”. Here’s a little empirical test for the audience to try.

Don’t work for eight years. Stop working. And if really bad things happen to you, you were in the working class. If at the end of the eight years everything is fine and dandy, you still got a house and a car and a nice place to live and a lot of nice friends, then you were okay. Otherwise you were in the working class. But if you stop working for that long and you are in deep trouble, you were a worker and didn’t know it. That’s a nice empirical test, and I challenge any of you to try it. Someone who denies that there are classes can always give this one a shot, it’s a way to find out if there are… really find out.

So those are some of the downsides. Classes are produced with unequal power. Social relations become as it were reified, frozen. Phoney, if you will. The upside is… the upside that… where Marx, I think, praises Capitalism in terms beyond those ever used by William Buckley, as a system that had produced from nature more wonders, more technological wonders than the whole previous history of the world had seen. In other words, the good things Capitalism did was to build railways, medicines and even more importantly: new needs.

See, many of you may think that all of this, sort of, negative talk is kind of all left wing, all whining after Bush, and we shouldn’t whine like that. We should be really happy about it, you know. A thousand points of light, that vision thing. But the upside of this is that new needs get produced. And for Marx that was a revolutionary process because the system would never – as productive as it is – there would be no way it could ever catch up to the level of needs produced by it. Have you ever noticed that?

Now, think about… Here is another example to think about, please. Remember how good stereo sounded when you first got it instead of mono? You know, mono just played one… sort of flat music… Mono sounded okay when you first got it, because it was better than that scratchy thing that went like this… and you got your first stereo and it was so exciting, and nobody even mentioned that the tapes you played on your stereo had a little hiss in them. But now to just put a tape in something, you hear that hiss… and you think about your friends who have a CD, and they don’t have that hiss. So there’s a new need now for hissless music. [crowd laughter]. All around music, a whole new need…

Now apologists for the system want to say “Well that need… you know, we didn’t create that need”. Well that seems highly dubious. Think of commodities like the hula hoop. Does anyone remember the great hula hoop movement in the United States? Where people went around demanding hula hoops? And then the capitalists went: “We’ll make them for you”. [crowd laughter]. Well, no, that movement didn’t occur, see. I mean, there was no social movement called the Hula Hoop movement… and went around: “Hula hoops or death! Hula hoops or death!”, no some jackleg went: “You know, I bet you if we make these things like this, put out a few records, people will be sweet”. And the next thing you know, people needed them.

And you just have to be nostalgic not to say they needed them. I mean, I heard someone the other day in the video store, went: “I need this VCR!”, and it was just as dramatic a statement for that person as someone in one of the third world countries that we plunder saying “I need rice!”. I mean, it’s a new need. So Capitalism’s upside is it creates vast new technological abilities which extend the power of the human species. Extend it until we can like, you know, go to the moon, build a CD that doesn’t hiss and so on. That’s the upside of the system. Now, the problem Marx saw was that those two imperatives can come into contradiction. The imperative on the one hand of the economy, which now I am going to state in it’s blunt Wall Street form. Which is to make a profit, which you do by accumulating labour, capital, goods, land and so on. That imperative to create a profit versus the imperative to fulfil all these new needs. So for example…

And this is another classic example. Solar energy. Which is technologically available. And so it comes in conflict with the imperative however for profit. In other words, there are ways to make it. And when you hear these words you know they have a contradiction of the kind Marx discussed. When you hear the words “We have the technology but it’s not cost effective”, that phrase means “We have the social forces of production to build it, but it is not consistent with our social relations based on profit. That’s all not being cost effective means. It doesn’t mean the technology isn’t better, won’t meet more needs, won’t be safer, won’t be better for the environment. It just quite simply means that you have a contradiction between social relations that have these needs and the way that they are controlled by an economy that wants profit.

And solar energy is only one among many similar examples. You know, there are all of these, sort of, old truck driver stories about the ball bearings they use at NASA, you know. I don’t know if any of those are true. You always hear these sort of stories “Well, at NASA they have ball bearings that are practically frictionless, if we had them in our cars we’d get seven thousand miles a gallon”. Well, I don’t know if that’s true, but it could be. Because clearly our technology… we can get to the moon, we could build a better ball bearing that would like triple gas mileage. That seems fairly clear, that that’s within the capability of our technology. And much else besides, that won’t be pursued because it’s in contradiction with these economic imperatives.

Now what does this all have to do with the kinds of lives people lead, and morality? Well, everything. Because, as I tried to argue throughout the course, you give one society, sort of, Greek Tragedy, the theatre, and so on… and Greek ideals as a sort of model for how they live and you get one kind of human being. Renaissance arts, you get another kind of human being with other human projects. Then you get the Brady Bunch and you get another kind of human being, and another set of projects.

Now, the vicious way to describe that situation is “ideology“, but it’s an empty term. It simply means that if you want to know how someone thinks, look at how they dress, who they hang out with, where they live, right? The kinds of folks they went to school with, sorta how big is their bank account, and you’ll pretty much know where they are coming from. Which is the banal West Texas way of stating Marx’s theory of ideology, and it’s right! It’s true, you pretty much do! And it’s not a rigid theory, it’s not like you’re never surprised, but you are rarely surprised. It’s the best rough generalisation about social relations that I know of. And it’s supposed to remind us that moral dilemmas of the kind that I discussed last time, which now I am going to distance myself from by calling them merely philosophical dilemmas, have to be understood – and this is the point I want to draw from Marx today – in terms of being different for different classes.

In other words, depending on what social situation you come out of, a moral dilemma may be quite different. The moral dilemma about whether to steal, you know, an extra 25,000 on your tax return is a different kind of moral dilemma than the moral dilemma about whether you are going to rob a 7-Eleven to have enough food for the next month. And you would have to be a moral imbecile not to see that there are important differences, right, between those decisions. They may both be decisions concerning theft, but there are important moral differences based on those decisions, simply by virtue of something that to us today seems I think slightly unfair: circumstance. I mean, in our country it’s really horrible to say this, but to call someone poor is not an insult. You haven’t said anything about them. You have talked about their circumstances.

There’s a wonderful line in a play by Tennessee Williams where Deborah Kerr and her old father who is the poet – the play is “Night of the Iguana“, I think some of you may have seen it – she and he father come up, and they go “Yes, we are poor” “Well, you say it as though you are proud of it” She goes “I am neither proud nor ashamed, it’s not what we are, it’s just what has happened to us”. It’s really a hard way to think in our country, because one way we allow ourselves…

And now I am going to stray from Marx for a moment, because I just use his text. I have not… I don’t really care if it’s “right”. Because I think that to the extent we get something out of books, what we want to get out of them is something that we can use. And I haven’t found any books where I could use all of it, or even most of it. That’s certainly true with this one too.

To stray from the text of Marx just a little bit, in our country one of the ways that we can stand to have a society that is so opulent, and it’s impossible to drive into this city and to not feel it… into Washington DC. And see the Pentagon and these amazing buildings and then just see the bridges lined with people sleeping under it at night. How do we accept it? As people who think that we are still human? How do we accept it? And begin even cynically to accept it? Well, part of the reason for that – at least part of the reason – is that at some level we must believe – and now back to this freedom thing again – that it was their own, sort of, choices that got them there. So they are, sort of, in some sense to blame for being there.

Now, I’ll admit that no-one ever quite spells it out that clearly. But in political discourse in our country the implication is fairly clear. The implication was there and we accepted it for years, when Ronald Reagan used to hold up the want ads in front of TV: “Well, they don’t have to be there, look…” You know, have you ever looked at the want ads, and what’s on it? You know. There are like, fourteen jobs if you want to be in this dial-a-porn business, okay… there’s a job for you. 28 or 9 jobs at McDonalds, for the rest of them you have to be able to read. That puts a lot of people under bridges already, right… at night?

So, a notion of freedom and a society that becomes so callous to the minimal demands of what Marx called “human requirements”… human requirements… it’s not utopian to demand human requirements. That’s the standard objection any time you use the word “Marx” – so that’s why I am sort of getting away from it there – “must be utopian”. No, it’s not utopian to demand that in a world with this kind of technology, that as a moral demand, a society feed, clothe and house its people. A society that doesn’t do it, with the kind of technology and the wealth we have is beneath contempt and makes a mockery of all the previous history of civilisation.

And to the extent that that we are silent and among such brigands, we are brigands too. It’s despicable. It’s disgusting. And we have lived with it, and it seems like it’s getting more support every day. I don’t know. It looks like we are in a very dark time. Well, Marx is not exactly the figure to illuminate that time, because he himself became, and his texts… the use of it in another part of the world, like I have been, sort of, implying in my political remarks, just as some of the great texts of Democracy; Jefferson and others, have been misused in this country in hideous ways. I think it’s more than obvious now in Eastern Europe, in China, and in the Soviet Union, that the forms of what I call “State Capitalism” over there had very little to do with the work of Marx.

I had a student friend visit the Soviet Union, and the least visited place there… and this was back in the Khrushchev period when they were not quite so, you know, stirred up. The least visited place in the Soviet Union was the Marx-Lenin institute where all the books were. Nobody read all that stuff. In fact a lot of the books had already been removed by Stalinists, the ones that would really upset people. I mean the book here, the one I have discussed has the account of alienation of labour. That wouldn’t go over very well in Stalin’s Russia. Because the fundamental insight here is that if you are working your fanny off on a shop floor in Kiev, it’s hard to know how you are in a worker’s paradise when someone in Detroit is working their fanny off there. The view from the bottom up is the one that seems to me plausible. Under both conditions, something important about your humanity is being lost… under both conditions.

And when we look at the conditions I am discussing today, we are not looking at abstract moral conditions. I am not offering a grand abstract theory of them. I am trying to give something like a rough account of the fabric of daily life… a rough account of it, because it’s too rich. Especially in this country, once you get off the interstate, the fabric of daily life is very rich. Something like the distinction I would want to make between a sort of theoretical approach, and an approach more rooted in daily life to the issues that we will be discussing. I am just laying some of them out now…

It’s the difference between driving cross country on the interstate – or flying over it – and then occasionally taking the back roads. This is very interesting, driving through the South, but it’s also interesting driving through the Midwest. Because the United States is not the kind of country… you notice how after Hegel, we started giving a theory of the present and stuff? See, that was what we promised we would do. It’s that philosophy at its best should be our time comprehended in thought. That keeps it from being what Nietzsche says, sort of, “a museum of ideas”… says, you know, “Which was built for loafers in the garden of knowledge”. I am pretty sure that is right.

Well, for philosophy to be more than that sort of “museum of ideas built for loafers in the garden of knowledge”, it needs to give an intransigent account of conditions in the present. Now, it could be wrong, okay. I told you I was a fallibilist. What I am saying now could be wrong, but that shouldn’t be decided by slogans or TV commercials, or by Willie Horton ads, but by debate. By argument, among a public body, public citizens, you know, talking and arguing.

Now, the further problem – and this is a problem that Marx in part is implicated in – is the way in which political discourse has, as it were, dried up and narrowed. The things about which we can debate, the topics which are open for alternatives and for other explanations and descriptions. And this is the deep sense in which I have used the words “pseudo-democracy” instead of “democracy” throughout, because even in its Greek form where it was limited only to Greeks who were citizens – not slaves and not foreigners – even there, the institutions of representation where people can be recalled much quicker. See it’s harder to recall someone once they get into this city. Not many come back “We didn’t like it”… and again, why not?

Well because in the current situation – as many events that have just happened, I think, indicate – political power and economic power are deeply interlocked. It seems to me hardly accidental that most of the people in the senate are millionaires. I think all but – what – one or two? They are all millionaires. Is that just an accident? An accidental relation? Most of them white guys, notice that? Accidental relation? No. See, that’s the kind of prima facie evidence one should look at. You should go: “Well, that just looks like a bunch of white guys in some really rich club in New York”. Well, it is like them! In fact, when they go to New York, it is them!

Now, that’s not a conspiracy theory, because all of them appear on your TV and tell you they are running your lives. So it’s not a conspiracy. The deep insight Marx has – and it’s really an important one – is that whatever… and by the way this is not a sufficient condition for what we would like to call a “good” or “excellent” human life, but it’s a necessary condition – necessary, but not sufficient – is that you not have your life reduced to total poverty. That’s this… In other words, it’s not enough to just be free from constraints. You can’t be just reduced to penury and then say that person has a free life.

And on the other hand, you can’t have your life reduced to work – no matter how high the wage – and have it be a really excellent life. That reduction of life to work itself cripples life, and cripples the challenge to become something else; larger, other. And it’s only in that sense that we’ve started with these philosophical ideals. Because each one of them points the way at projects other than – right? – other than simply being the person who sold the most tyres. Who pushed the most papers through the largest office. Each one of them.

In that regard, let me refer back to a really old one. Alexander the Great on finding a sceptic in the streets. A really famous philosopher. And this guy was really, just, totally otherworldly. All he did is just think and lay in the streets, and he was really dirty. And some of Alexander the Great’s officers… and by the way Alexander the Great did better than George Bush ever will. Conquered the whole world, you know, and he was what? 26 or so, younger than Dan Quayle, probably just as short. [crowd laughter]. And he sees this old philosopher lying in the streets and he said “Well if I wasn’t Alexander, I would want to be that man”.

The reason is that they both had extreme and extremely interesting projects. It’s hard for us to even have a sense for a project like that now. Because our projects have been reduced to a series of bills, petty annoyances, and in our spare time, the search for what little meaning is left over from all that busyness and chatter that goes into that process. Now this is not… I mean, I am aiming at this audience, because we are here. So please do not get confused, I am not a foreign agent. I don’t know a government in the world where I couldn’t say similar things and in most governments… some, worse…

Now, I don’t want any complacency about my lecture or that to be viewed as me pulling back from what I have said. Because it is no argument, and it never has been, to say “Our tribe is a little better than everybody else’s, so that’s fine”. You know why that’s no argument, don’t you? Well if you are among tribes of savages and you only lop off 20,000 heads a year as opposed to 19, that’s no lopping off heads argument. Even if you are the greatest tribe in the world. A claim that we believe a priori true.

In any case, and now to try to summarise these, sort of, far ranging and sort of nasty anti-republican polemics here or whatever… “left wing” talk. What I have been trying to fill out today for you is a richer notion of freedom in which we recognise that before moral problems really come up in the philosophical sense, before they really come up there are conditions for human life that have to be fulfilled, which I call “necessary human requirements”. They are not sufficient to live a good life, but they are necessary. Among them are; food, shelter, ordinary health care. Real exciting, huh? See, that’s not as much fun as Kant, but they’re real important. Because without that, it’s hard to follow the Categorical Imperative. You know, it’s easier to follow a ham sandwich without that.

So that’s a necessary but not sufficient condition for a good life. It’s also – and this is a more radical claim – it’s also a necessary but not a sufficient condition that one have the freedom in one’s life to pursue other goals than work, and in a strong sense. I am not talking now about getting a hobby, but a life not reduced to work. Not reduced to work. A life where when you go to a cocktail party and they go… they don’t go “What are you?”, they go “What do you do?”, and you don’t have to answer with your job description. Which is another way of asking “Who are you?” in a metaphysical sense, right? That accounts for a lot of the Phil Donahue shows. Women show up and are embarrassed to go “I am a homeworker, I work at home”. Why would that be a problem? Well in a capitalist economy, it’s a terrible problem, and here’s why. Because housework is unwaged, and since we value labour by the wage it brings, it’s not surprising that an old person in a rest home’s ability to tell a beautiful story is not valued, because it is not waged.

You go into an old folk’s home… I mean, we ought to realise this… we will either be old or we will face another alternative that’s unpleasant. You go to an old folk’s home, that’s unwaged labour. Their whittling and their storytelling. It’s not valued in our culture, in our society. It’s not waged. Housework, no matter how many kids you raise, it’s not really valued. Oh come on, they’ll say something about you on the Today show if you live to be 100: “This woman lived to be 100, had nine kids”. Then you get a little clap and that’s it. [crowd laughter]. Other than that, very little social value.

All that unwaged labour. The reason it’s not valued is because it’s not waged. Donald Trump, you know, he opens a hotel. Huge wage, huge value to his labour. Well what the hell did he do? Talk to Merv Griffin in a room for three minutes. And that’s more valuable than some old man who has lived 90 years worth of experience and can tell a story about his life in which you might find a human meaning. A society that produces that situation is pathological. It neither has nor deserves a very long existence.

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