Carrol Against Psychologism

bautiste at bautiste at
Fri Jul 3 12:32:43 PDT 1998

Carrol Cox wrote:

> I despise
> psychological explanations of *anything* as much as you do, and in this
> particular context I am not very interested in culture either: in any
> case, it is obscurantist to link psychology and culture as you do here.


You are surely right to take Wotjek to task for his obscurantism here. To despise anything psychological, however, seems to miss the boat on what constitutes human motivations. Surely there is substantial evidence to show that culture and psychology determine to a large extent how and why people do what they do. Economics is one part of the mix. My question is, though, apart from the uses economism plays in understanding social systems, how does it really help us understand the reasons why people do things "personally"? Or doesn't that matter?

> It
> is perhaps simply tautological that "Fighting A [any injustice] is
> fighting capitalism," but that by itself hardly bears on anything.

The "perhaps" here undermines your attempt at showing the logical fallacy in Wotjek's argument. It either is or is not tautological. However, what he was trying to show was that there was an inherent tautology in the formulation, "Racism is economic exploitation, ergo fighting capitalism is tantamount to fighting racism." That is, he tried to show that the consequent was contained in the antecedent. Your reformulation of his statement seems to assume that fighting capitalism means to fight any and every injustice. For your argument to be true, you must justify this assumption.

> Racism
> does *not* simply equal economic exploitation, for a huge number of
> reasons, but one reason is that "racism" is an ideology and not as such
> the cause of anything,

Please clarify this distinction. Racism is... pain, persecution, torture, unjust. Racism AS an ideology says this and that about human beings. It provides an explanation for why certain things happen and proposes a corrective to what the ideology sees as the problem. Therefore, it is a framework through which people try to explain the world they see around them. It is an ideology because it is systematic in its pretensions to supplying an answer, THE answer, as the ultimate CAUSE of what's wrong with the world. For a racist, what is wrong is that "A's being X" causes him/her to act in a certain way that causes me(us) economic, social, biological problems.

> Hence to speak
> in the abstract of fighting capitalism (or exploitation) has no grip on
> capitalist reality.

True, but to say that I am fighting racism might be to say that I am fighting the causes of that economic injustice, especially if the racist ideology is used as a framework through which I impose economic hardships and injustices on others. That is, because I believe that "A is inferior and therefore unworthy of sharing in the rewards of economic activity," then I impose restrictions on A's access to economic livelihood. The question then is, how is this the RESULT of economic "forces". I will grant you, however, the notion that fighting racism ALONE will not solve our problems. This is true of how MLK came to see the situation. But I think he saw this as ANOTHER, greater injustice that must be fought. Not that he saw that racism was, in some way, the direct result of economic forces. Indeed, I think he saw economic sanctions as a way to enforce racism, and not the other way around. If you read any literature on the thinking that led a racist like Hitler, for example, to become anti-semitic, you'll see that economics only formed one part of the rationale.

> An eternity of focusing on personal
> prejudice or bigotry, on racism as having psychological causes and subject
> to psychological remedies--such as (e.g.) individual forswearing of white
> skin privilege or race treason or education--will have no effect on racism
> whatsoever. We need to attack, and attack directly, those social relations
> which provide the material basis of racism--for example, police brutality
> (a cliche which tends to radical reduction of the real horrors it names).

I agree with your conclution, but there is still the question about motivation. What I have seen is that racism arises from a fact of human psychology: the emotions one feels at the sight of another human being's difference. These differences can be expressed in many ways, including cultural and biological. The overwhelming desire. though, is to make others be LIKE me. You might use the Freudian notion of naricissism to get the picture of how this happens here. The narcissistic project does not end but continues into adulthood. It comprises the desire to make the world and others into our own image.

The racist phenomenon is akin to that feeling that Malcolm X talks about when he describes how a white man feels in seeing a black man with a white man. This is an emotional response that a person must deal with in his/her own attitude towards others. The feeling itself is not created by economic forces or situations. It is a raw fact of life. I would call this the visceral feeling that others have for those who are different. It exists above and beyond economic factors.

chuck miller

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