Three Prejudices, One Viable Solution



“History has not ended, and the need to understand its main features is as great as ever. Certainly, academics must stop teaching the Trivial Pursuit version of History.”Chris Harman

One prejudice we all have to face up to is the idea that the key features of successive societies and human history have been a result of an “unchanging” human nature. It is preconceived opinion — very damaging — that pervades academic writing, mainstream (and much of so-called alternative) journalism and popular culture alike.

Human beings, we are told ad infinitum, have always been greedy, competitive and aggressive, and that explains abominations like war, exploitation, slavery and the oppression of women, among other horrific facts of life. That “caveman” image is drilled into us now more than ever.

But “human nature” as we know it today is a product of our history, not its cause. Our history has involved the molding of different human natures, each displacing the one that went before through great economic, political, spiritual and ideological battles.

The second prejudice, much promulgated during the last two decades or so, is that although human society may have changed in the past, it will do so no more. As per Francis Fukuyama’s famous work from the 90s, we were told that we were witnessing “the end of history.” It spread like wildfire across the entire world, compounding ignorance with ignorance to the nth degree. “N” as in nonsense.

It was intended to undermine great social conflicts and ambitious ideological struggles. It did not do so, thank God.

And speaking of God, I’m now ready to address the third prejudice which must be dealt with. That is, the one which says that we have nothing to say about what comes down, or what goes up for that matter. And with regard to that — respecting the many positive sides of many religions — I will simply underscore that I believe that God helps those who help themselves to some degree. Or, put another way, we have an obligation to not embrace full-on determinism. If for no other reason — and there are a plethora of reasons to cite — than such an embrace tends to not be fun, seems to preclude feeling alive.

A life that doesn’t struggle, doesn’t resist ugly forces and facts is a life best left to zombies, nothing “leftist” about it certainly, leaving nothing left for one’s imagination to play with… with others, or alone. Think about it.

Sociologist Anthony Giddens wrote a work called The Third Way, which was not universally hailed like Fukuyama’s best seller, but saying, not unlike the F man, that we live in a world

“where there are no alternatives to capitalism.”

Well, I can tell you that with the last 1000 educational institutions I’ve applied to for employment — it’s more than a thousand nationwide, that widespread assumption is accepted and repeated incessantly. It is part of the very fabric of academia, comprising its blood and bones, if you will. But it is an unsustainable assumption.

Except for academics and others who are too on the run to address history in-depth. Too much on an unquestioned treadmill to take the time out for leisurely exchange. Sadly supporting diploma mills, leading unsuspecting students (in debt) astray. Along with the youngsters’ loved ones, and everyone else.

Capitalism as a way of organizing the whole production of a country is barely three or four centuries old. As a way of organizing the whole production of the world, it is at most 160 years old. Industrial capitalism, with its huge conurbations, widespread literacy and universal dependence on markets, has only taken off in vast tracts of the globe in the last 60 years or so. Yet humans of one sort or another have been on the earth for over a million years, and “modern humans” for over 100,000 years.

It would be remarkable, to say the least, if a way of running things that has existed for less than 0.5 per cent of our species’ lifespan were to endure for the rest of it.

Unless that lifespan is going to be very short indeed.

One possible solution to the nonsense cited above can be found in Parecon. There are other viable options to discuss, of course. The thing to remember, though, is what Rosa Luxemburg said: “The Alternative to Socialism is Barbarism.” And it wouldn’t hurt to acknowledge the fact that corruption can discredit any system being implemented. And that neither dishonesty nor fraud is part of human nature.

All that’s something to consider — considering our present horrid momentum — even if there’s no way that you could ever embrace Marxism or any of its ideological first cousins.

It’s just not logical for academics or parents or anyone to keep compounding ignorance with ignorance. And nothing could be more dangerous than to do so.

Richard Martin Oxman has been an educator and activist for over half-a-century. He would be honored to speak gratis at any educational institution which makes a request at [email protected]. He is indebted to Chris Harman’s A People’s History of the World in writing this piece, and for many other reasons.


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