Saturday, March 28, 2015

why chess?

I'm currently working as a chess coach with Chess Ideas. Here is my argument for the value of chess:
Iris Murdoch, novelist and philosopher, wrote that great art requires paying close attention to reality (The Sovereignty of Good). She was comparing great art with the more common fantasy art or a capitulation to wishful thinking.

In chess, as well, you have to focus attentively on the position in front of you and not be swayed by wish fulfilment or a sudden mood swing. Chess poses many problems to solve both in quantity and variety; possibly more so than in other domains. There are a wide variety of tactical themes as well as different schools of thought about strategic play. Furthermore, openings, middle game and end game all have their own particular challenges. To succeed in chess you need to prepare intelligently, think rationally, concentrate deeply, control your emotions and not yield to whim or fancy. From this it follows that many chess players become independent thinkers in other domains.

Choice and activity are important parts of chess. This fits nicely with learning theories which stress the importance of active learning, in contrast to the passive reception of received wisdom. Playing chess expertly against an opponent means committing to making complex decisions at nearly every move. This also involves time management because competitive games are played using a timer. This is good preparation for decision making in some aspects of life.

Chess teaches a discipline. This requires looking deeply into a difficult subject, to strive for depth and something approaching objectivity. At the same time it is a game and like all games is fun. This particular sort of fun emerges from a deep mental workout. Chess can be a motivator to immerse yourself deeply in logical, rational thinking.

Young people can be highly successful at chess. Unlike other areas in life sheer ability nearly always comes out on top, irrespective of age. The current world champion, Norwegian, Magnus Carlsen, is 23 years old.
One of Australia's most promising players, Anton Smirnov, is only 13 years old, amongst the best players of his age in the world! The young can tackle this complex cognitive task and shine against adults, which is wonderful for their self confidence.

Chess is competitive. Competition is a double edged sword, for sure, but it does have a good side. It promotes interest, alertness and elicits high achievement. The rapid feedback acts as a huge spur to solve the problems optimally. Losing at competitive chess can be painful. If the player accepts this challenge long term then it is character building, promoting mental toughness, resilience, will power, determination and persistence.

Chess promotes analytical skills. An important part of chess training is to record and then revisit your games to evaluate and in some cases to annotate in detail. Good players also study chess books out of the necessity to improve. This process develops expert reading, study and analytical writing skills.

As former world champion, Gary Kasparov, points out if you can apply what you have learnt through chess to yourself then chess can be very valuable indeed:
"My argument has always been that what you learn from using the skills you have—analyzing your strengths and weaknesses—is far more important. If you can program yourself to learn from your experiences by assiduously reviewing what worked and what did not, and why, success in chess can be very valuable indeed. In this way, the game has taught me a great deal about my own decision-making processes that is applicable in other areas, but that effort has little to do with natural gifts."
- source

Thursday, March 26, 2015

social forms and the individual

Unknown unknowns: All the things you don't know you don't know

I thought I had understood capitalism, that the bosses owned the means of production and the workers had no option but to sell their labour to the boss. There were rich people, poor people and class struggle.

But I didn't know about Value as a social form and so my real understanding of capitalism was deficient.

Despite my involvement in radical anti-imperialist / communist politics going back to the late 1960s I totally missed that a variety of social forms (formations) that we swim in daily have evolved and materialised from non material things, namely social relations. For example, some people worship money and virtually everyone can't help but adopt a strong interest in money, since it is essential to both survival and a good life. But most people haven't thought through that money originates in a social relation, that is, the need to standardise commodity exchange.

Such social forms are historically contingent, not an inevitable aspects of society. In the late 60s I had looked below the surface of capitalism and understood some of its workings but had missed that there was a lot more happening down there than I had imagined. Sadly, I now realise, my ignorance was and is shared by most other 60s radicals. This ignorance originated in a failure to understand Marx's most important work, “Capital”.


Social forms are things that emerge (materialise) as social artefacts as society evolves. Their origin is social not material. They become part of that society and are often perceived as part of the air we breathe. But it is social function that has brought them about and not the form which has created the social function. They don’t have any necessary permanence beyond that. Social forms in capitalist society include things of major importance such as value, money, capital, the commodity, commodity exchange, the market, rent and interest. These things emerge from a social process and are not set in stone for all time.

What Marx meant by Value as a social form was the capacity of a commodity to be exchanged as an equal. In terms of social or class consciousness some people have a strong sense of boss – worker relations as a social construct, something that can change, but usually do not have the same sense that Value has arisen socially and will not be around forever. You can imagine a society (socialism, communism) where things are produced for people's needs or wants, that people will receive food, medicine and white goods irrespective of their financial status. In such a society Value as a measure of commodities to be exchanged would whither away.

I am taking a lot of short cuts here. I can explain Value in more detail in another post. Marx argues that money (he refers to gold or silver as money) evolves from the commodity. Money eventually evolves as a universal equivalent. Gold has the ideal properties required for money (divisibility, durability etc.)

Hence Value arises through the social process of commodity exchange. Its origin and evolution is through this social process and has nothing to do with any identifiable physical or material properties of commodities. Although value eventually takes a physical form in the shape of money its origin is social.
“No scientist to date has yet discovered what natural qualities make definite proportions of snuff, tobacco and paintings 'equivalents' of one another” (Marx, Theories of Surplus Value, Part 3, p. 130, link)
In time the social forms become more than the expression but the bearers, the motivators, the dominant consideration in the decisions people make in their lives. This is fairly obvious, in the case of money, for instance.


My friend Peter, is trying to develop a theory of ethical and moral value, based on Marx. One of his ideas here is to include the concept of the individual as a social form. In his words:
“I want to isolate, and show the epistemological weaknesses in notions (widespread in both philosophy and psychology, both in the past and today) of the separate, atomistic, private, individual self, as if it is, as if it could be, the basis of value and meaning in society today.

Such a self, I hope to demonstrate, is a by-product of, an abstraction, from material, universal human interaction. And that that self arises, historically, along with money – as a result, initially, of exchange relations, but only becomes individual autonomy (a very abstract and alienated idea of individual freedom and equality, as described by Marx in Capital) with the rise of wage labour as an important part of exchange in capitalism.

The abstraction that is the separate, atomistic, private individual self today sits over, and obscures (what is regarded as ‘outside’ - both behind the backs, but also in front of the noses, of every individual) – the material, social and universal aspect of everyday human interaction. The creative potential of all our human interactions is depleted in the ubiquitous ‘breaking up’ of those interactions into well intentioned, but very separate, atomistic, private, individual selves (deemed to be both real and ‘universal’).

Life is about, we are told, each of us, giving and taking what we need and we want. And that, the give and take, is a natural and ahistorical fact of life - there is no value greater, there is nothing more real, than the good self who strives to live by what is given to us all, according to what we all have inherited, as good, right and true.

I hope to demonstrate that the religious, superstitious and fetishistic abstraction, that is the autonomous individual, works every day, to erode, deplete and render sterile the creative and social opportunities that arise every day in human interaction. Such individualism, insinuated between every one of us, and between our actions, makes us strangers to the immanent nature of universal social need and injustice. The solitary self is a stumbling block that continues, is actively used, to crush real human creativity."
I have some issues with this interpretation of the individual. I will write about those later. What I wanted to do in this post was to explain the meaning of social forms and at least outline the case, from Peter, that such an interpretation of the individual is at least plausible.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Ayaan Hirsi Ali: the future of Islam

But this is not a work of theology. It is more in the nature of a public intervention in the debate about the future of Islam. The biggest obstacle to change within the Muslim world is precisely its suppression of the sort of critical thinking I am attempting here. If my proposal for reform helps to spark a serious discussion of these issues among Muslims themselves, I will consider it a success
“ISLAM’S borders are bloody,” wrote the late US political scientist Samuel Huntington in 1996, “and so are its innards.”

Nearly 20 years later, Huntington looks more right than ever before.

According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, at least 70 per cent of all the fatalities in armed conflicts around the world last year were in wars involving Muslims.

In 2013, there were nearly 12,000 terrorist attacks worldwide. The lion’s share were in Muslim-majority countries, and many of the others were carried out by Muslims.

By far the most numerous victims of Muslim violence — including executions and lynchings not captured in these statistics — are Muslims themselves.

Not all of this violence is explicitly motivated by religion, but a great deal of it is. I believe that it is foolish to insist, as Western leaders habitually do, that the violent acts committed in the name of Islam can somehow be divorced from the religion itself.

For more than a decade, my message has been simple: Islam is not a religion of peace.

When I assert this, I do not mean that Islamic belief makes all Muslims violent. This is manifestly not the case: There are many millions of peaceful Muslims in the world.

What I do say is that the call to violence and the justification for it are explicitly stated in the sacred texts of Islam.

Moreover, this theologically sanctioned violence is there to be activated by any number of offences, including but not limited to apostasy, adultery, blasphemy and even something as vague as threats to family honour or to the honour of Islam itself.

It is not just al-Qa’ida and Islamic State that show the violent face of Islamic faith and practice.

It is Pakistan, where any statement critical of the Prophet or Islam is labelled as blasphemy and punishable by death.

It is Saudi Arabia, where churches and synagogues are outlawed and where beheadings are a legitimate form of punishment. It is Iran, where stoning is an acceptable punishment and homosexuals are hanged for their “crime”.

As I see it, the fundamental problem is that the majority of otherwise peaceful and law-abiding Muslims are unwilling to acknowledge, much less to repudiate, the theological warrant for intolerance and violence embedded in their own religious texts.

It simply will not do for Muslims to claim that their religion has been “hijacked” by extremists. The killers of Islamic State and Nigeria’s Boko Haram cite the same religious texts that every other Muslim in the world considers sacrosanct.

Instead of letting Islam off the hook with bland cliches about the religion of peace, we in the West need to challenge and debate the very substance of Islamic thought and practice.

We need to hold Islam accountable for the acts of its most violent adherents and to demand that it reform or disavow the key beliefs that are used to justify those acts.

As it turns out, the West has some experience with this sort of reformist project. It is precisely what took place in Judaism and Christianity over the centuries, as both traditions gradually consigned the violent passages of their own sacred texts to the past.

Many parts of the Bible and the Talmud reflect patriarchal norms, and both also contain many stories of harsh human and divine retribution. As President Barack Obama said in remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast last month, “Remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.”

Yet today, because their faiths went through a long, meaningful process of Reformation and Enlightenment, the vast majority of Jews and Christians have come to dismiss religious scripture that urges intolerance or violence.

There are literalist fringes in both religions, but they are true fringes. Regrettably, in Islam, it is the other way around: It is those seeking religious reform who are the fringe element.

Any serious discussion of Islam must begin with its core creed, which is based on the Koran (the words said to have been revealed by the Angel Gabriel to the Prophet Mohammed) and the hadith (the accompanying works that detail Mohammed’s life and words).

Despite some sectarian differences, this creed unites all Muslims. All, without exception, know by heart these words: “I bear witness that there is no God but Allah; and Mohammed is His messenger.” This is the Shahada, the Muslim profession of faith.

The Shahada might seem to be a declaration of belief no different from any other. But the reality is that the Shahada is both a religious and a political symbol.

In the early days of Islam, when Mohammed was going from door to door in Mecca trying to persuade the polytheists to abandon their idols of worship, he was inviting them to accept that there was no god but Allah and that he was Allah’s messenger.

After 10 years of trying this kind of persuasion, however, he and his small band of believers went to Medina, and from that moment, Mohammed’s mission took on a political dimension.

Unbelievers were still invited to submit to Allah, but after Medina, they were attacked if they refused. If defeated, they were given the option to convert or to die. (Jews and Christians could retain their faith if they submitted to paying a special tax.)

No symbol represents the soul of Islam more than the Shahada. But today there is a contest within Islam for the ownership of that symbol. Who owns the Shahada? Is it those Muslims who want to emphasise Mohammed’s years in Mecca or those who are inspired by his conquests after Medina? On this basis, I believe that we can distinguish three different groups of Muslims.

The first group is the most problematic. These are the fundamentalists who, when they say the Shahada, mean: “We must live by the strict letter of our creed.”

They envision a regimen based on Shariah, Islamic religious law. They argue for an Islam largely or completely unchanged from its original seventh-century version. What is more, they take it as a requirement of their faith that they impose it on everyone else.

I shall call them Medina Muslims, in that they see the forcible imposition of Shariah as their religious duty. They aim not just to obey Mohammed’s teaching but also to emulate his warlike conduct after his move to Medina. Even if they do not themselves engage in violence, they do not hesitate to condone it.

It is Medina Muslims who call Jews and Christians “pigs and monkeys”. It is Medina Muslims who prescribe death for the crime of apostasy, death by stoning for adultery and hanging for homosexuality. It is Medina Muslims who put women in burqas and beat them if they leave their homes alone or if they are improperly veiled.

The second group — and the clear majority throughout the Muslim world — consists of Muslims who are loyal to the core creed and worship devoutly but are not inclined to practice violence.

I call them Mecca Muslims. Like devout Christians or Jews who attend religious services every day and abide by religious rules in what they eat and wear, Mecca Muslims focus on religious observance. I was born in Somalia and raised as a Mecca Muslim. So were the majority of Muslims from Casablanca to Jakarta.

Yet the Mecca Muslims have a problem: Their religious beliefs exist in an uneasy tension with modernity — the complex of economic, cultural and political innovations that not only reshaped the Western world but also dramatically transformed the developing world as the West exported it.

The rational, secular and individualistic values of modernity are fundamentally corrosive of traditional societies, especially hierarchies based on gender, age and inherited status.

Trapped between two worlds of belief and experience, these Muslims are engaged in a daily struggle to adhere to Islam in the context of a society that challenges their values and beliefs at every turn.

Many are able to resolve this tension only by withdrawing into self-enclosed (and increasingly self-governing) enclaves. This is called cocooning, a practice whereby Muslim immigrants attempt to wall off outside influences, permitting only an Islamic education for their children and disengaging from the wider non-Muslim community.

It is my hope to engage this second group of Muslims — those closer to Mecca than to Medina — in a dialogue about the meaning and practice of their faith.

I recognise that these Muslims are not likely to heed a call for doctrinal reformation from someone they regard as an apostate and infidel.

But they may reconsider if I can persuade them to think of me not as an apostate but as a heretic: one of a growing number of people born into Islam who have sought to think critically about the faith we were raised in. It is with this third group — only a few of whom have left Islam altogether — that I would now identify myself.

These are the Muslim dissidents. A few of us have been forced by experience to conclude that we could not continue to be believers; yet we remain deeply engaged in the debate about Islam’s future. The majority of dissidents are reforming believers — among them clerics who have come to realise that their religion must change if its followers are not to be condemned to an interminable cycle of political violence.

How many Muslims belong to each group? Ed Husain of the US Council on Foreign Relations estimates that only 3 per cent of the world’s Muslims understand Islam in the militant terms I associate with Mohammed’s time in Medina.

But out of well over 1.6 billion believers, or 23 per cent of the globe’s population, that 48 million seems to be more than enough. (I would put the number significantly higher, based on survey data on attitudes toward Shariah in Muslim countries.)

In any case, regardless of the numbers, it is the Medina Muslims who have captured the world’s attention on the airwaves, over social media, in far too many mosques and, of course, on the battlefield.

The Medina Muslims pose a threat not just to non-Muslims. They also undermine the position of those Mecca Muslims attempting to lead a quiet life in their cultural cocoons throughout the Western world. But those under the greatest threat are the dissidents and reformers within Islam, who face ostracism and rejection, who must brave all manner of insults, who must deal with the death threats — or face death itself.

For the world at large, the only viable strategy for containing the threat posed by the Medina Muslims is to side with the dissidents and reformers and to help them to do two things: first, identify and repudiate those parts of Mohammed’s legacy that summon Muslims to intolerance and war, and second, persuade the great majority of believers — the Mecca Muslims — to accept this change.

Islam is at a crossroads. Muslims need to make a conscious decision to confront, debate and ultimately reject the violent elements within their religion.

To some extent — not least because of widespread revulsion at the atrocities of Islamic State, al-Qa’ida and the rest — this process has already begun. But it needs leadership from the dissidents, and they in turn stand no chance without support from the West.

What needs to happen for us to defeat the extremists for good? Economic, political, judicial and military tools have been proposed and some of them deployed. But I believe that these will have little effect unless Islam itself is reformed.

Such a reformation has been called for repeatedly at least since the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the subsequent abolition of the caliphate. But I would like to specify precisely what needs to be reformed.

I have identified five precepts central to Islam that have made it resistant to historical change and adaptation. Only when the harmfulness of these ideas are recognised and they are repudiated will a true Muslim Reformation have been achieved.

Here are the five areas that require amendment:

1. Mohammed’s semi-divine status, along with the literalist reading of the Koran.

Mohammed should not be seen as infallible, let alone as a source of divine writ. He should be seen as a historical figure who united the Arab tribes in a premodern context that cannot be replicated in the 21st century. And although Islam maintains that the Koran is the literal word of Allah, it is, in historical reality, a book that was shaped by human hands. Large parts of the Koran simply reflect the tribal values of the 7th-century Arabian context from which it emerged. The Koran’s eternal spiritual values must be separated from the cultural accidents of the place and time of its birth.

2. The supremacy of life after death.

The appeal of martyrdom will fade only when Muslims assign a greater value to the rewards of this life than to those promised in the hereafter.

3. Sharia, the vast body of religious legislation.

Muslims should learn to put the dynamic, evolving laws made by human beings above those aspects of Shariah that are violent, intolerant or anachronistic.

4. The right of individual Muslims to enforce Islamic law.

There is no room in the modern world for religious police, vigilantes and politically empowered clerics.

5. The imperative to wage jihad, or holy war.

Islam must become a true religion of peace, which means rejecting the imposition of religion by the sword.

I know that this argument will make many Muslims uncomfortable. Some are bound to be offended by my proposed amendments. Others will contend that I am not qualified to discuss these complex issues of theology and law. I am also afraid — genuinely afraid — that it will make a few Muslims even more eager to silence me.

But this is not a work of theology. It is more in the nature of a public intervention in the debate about the future of Islam. The biggest obstacle to change within the Muslim world is precisely its suppression of the sort of critical thinking I am attempting here. If my proposal for reform helps to spark a serious discussion of these issues among Muslims themselves, I will consider it a success.

Let me make two things clear. I do not seek to inspire another war on terror or extremism — violence in the name of Islam cannot be ended by military means alone. Nor am I any sort of “Islamophobe”.

At various times, I myself have been all three kinds of Muslim: a fundamentalist, a cocooned believer and a dissident. My journey has gone from Mecca to Medina to Manhattan.

For me, there seemed no way to reconcile my faith with the freedoms I came to the West to embrace. I left the faith, despite the threat of the death penalty prescribed by Shariah for apostates.

Future generations of Muslims deserve better, safer options. Muslims should be able to welcome modernity, not be forced to wall themselves off, or live in a state of cognitive dissonance, or lash out in violent rejection.

But it is not only Muslims who would benefit from a reformation of Islam. We in the West have an enormous stake in how the struggle over Islam plays out. We cannot remain on the sidelines, as though the outcome has nothing to do with us.

For if the Medina Muslims win and the hope for a Muslim Reformation dies, the rest of the world too will pay an enormous price — not only in blood spilled but also in freedom lost.

This essay is adapted from Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s new book Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now. From the Wall Street Journal, here

a new inconvenient truth

President Obama is wrong when he links climate change to extreme weather events.

Roger Pielke jnr gave expert testimony to the US Senate that hurricanes have declined by 20% since 1900

In response a Democrat senator, Raul Grijalva, has launched an investigation into him as a paid dupe of the oil and gas companies.

Pielke's new book, The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change documents the evidence.

The witch hunt against Pielke jnr is documented here

Pielke points out that Democrats are just as irrational as Republicans, that the narrative that Republicans are the main source of nutty ideas is exposed

Extract from a review of Piele jnrs new book:
... Pielke published a piece about climate change and natural disasters on the then-new website of statistician Nate Silver. The gist of the piece was that the rising cost of natural disasters (such as hurricanes) was the result not of an increase in the severity of those events, but of an increase in wealth: “We’re seeing ever-larger losses simply because we have more to lose—when an earthquake or flood occurs, more stuff gets damaged.” Based on that mild-mannered thesis, Slate branded Pielke a “climate-change denialist,” Daily Kos characterized him as a “climate disinformer,” and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman called him a “known irresponsible skeptic.”

In making his point about politicians telling stretchers about the weather, Pielke points to a 2013 speech by Obama in which the president said, “In a world that’s getting warmer than it used to be, all weather events are affected by it—more extreme droughts, floods, wildfires, and hurricanes.”

Saturday, March 14, 2015

What Marx said about the individual in "The German Ideology"

I've been discussing, mainly with Peter, and thinking about the concept of the individual. What is an individual? One avenue has been to clarify what Marx said about this. What follows is a summary of part of his writings. There will be other posts about Marx and other authors to follow, on this topic.

The German Ideology was written in 1845-6, when Marx was 27 or 28 yo. I mention this because some argue there are significant differences between the young Marx and the older Marx.

Part of the Feuerbach section of The German Ideology
Individuals, Class and Community

Here is my summary:

The context is a discussion of the rise of the trading or mercantile class (burghers) in antagonism to the feudal class. Over time the trading class develops into the bourgeoisie or propertied class. Traders and bourgeois compete intensely with each other but are also compelled to unite with each other in their struggle to overthrow the feudal class.

Marx says clearly that individuals arise historically before classes. In footnote 2 Marx specifically rejects the formulations that "each is all", "that bourgeois is only a specimen of the bourgeois species" and "that the class of bourgeois existed before the individuals constituting it".

Individuals act as individuals, including competing with each other, but as classes develop they discover they are members of a class.
"The separate individuals form a class only insofar as they have to carry on a common battle against another class; otherwise they are on hostile terms with each other as competitors. On the other hand, the class in its turn achieves an independent existence over against the individuals, so that the latter find their conditions of existence predestined, and hence have their position in life and their personal development assigned to them by their class, become subsumed under it."
As class society develops individuals become "subsumed" to their class. Subsume means to be incorporated into something more comprehensive. Social classes are more comprehensive than individuals. This process includes being subjected to all sorts of (bad) ideas. Marx's words here are, "We have already indicated several times how this subsuming of individuals under the class brings with it their subjection to all kinds of ideas, etc."

Marx is clear about the sort of society (communism, a society without a ruling class) we would need for this process of individuals being subsumed to classes to come to an end:
"This subsuming of individuals under definite classes cannot be abolished until a class has taken shape, which has no longer any particular class interest to assert against the ruling class"
As capitalism develops one of the main things denying individual freedom is the division of labour which develops as part of the capitalist system

To abolish division of labour and to make personal freedom possible requires a true community where an individual has the means of cultivating his gifts in all direction through free association with others in the community.

But community under capitalism is illusory except for the privileged. For the majority it becomes a new fetter because of capitalist social relations, which includes barriers arising from wealth disparity and the above mentioned division of labour.

Consequently, under capitalism within individual life there appears a division between the personal, on the one hand, and that which is determined by the division of labour, arising from the needs of the capitalist system, on the other hand. Persons are still persons but their personality is largely determined by their position in class society.

Under capitalism where individuals end up is largely "accidental" (random). You don't develop as a fully free individual because to survive under capitalism means you have to slot yourself somewhere into the capitalist inspired division of labour.

Individuals might think they are free because where they end up is accidental but in reality they are less free (than under earlier social systems) because they are subject to "the violence of things". Perhaps this anticipates Marx's later analysis of commodity relations, which describes the replacement of human relationships with the relationship between things.

Proletarians have no control over their social destiny, they are sacrificed from youth and their condition of life is forced upon them

Only revolutionary proletarians are free individuals since they understand the need to overthrow capitalism

What is called personal freedom is controlled by the existing productive forces and forms of intercourse at any particular time

My comment on this summary:

Today, in a relatively wealthy society such as Australia, people who fit the Marxist description of "proletarians", eg. teachers who don't own the means of production, have all sorts of freedoms that were not present when this was written, 170 years ago. People can work hard in a profession they choose, pay off the mortage (20+ years), have a family, send their kids to elite Private schools if they can afford it, choose their entertainment, donate to charities or volunteer to help the poor, travel the world and retire at 60 or younger to relax in their declining years. Such a life is lived by many. It is the best that capitalism can offer the proletarians of today.

People usually feel that they choose their profession as free individuals. However, I feel that Marx is right and that this feeling is at best only partly true. People find a niche, a "good job" (engineer, maths professor, social worker) within the capitalist system that meets their needs for money (can't live without it), social status / satisfaction. But this division of labour is largely determined by social and educational background. Not many lawyers come out of government schools. Once they are in a good job then people rationalise their position. "My job is socially useful and of benefit to others". Alternatively, "I have worked hard all my life and will enjoy the benefits of my hard work". In the meantime the capitalists do what they do best, find ways to invest and accumulate more capital (James Packer casinos, Twiggy Forest mining, Bill Gates computing etc.). They live in a totally different world. The class division is very real but over time most of us just come to accept it, that is the way things are, get on with your life. But why should we accept it? A better society can be imagined and was imagined by Marx, even though there have been all sorts of problems when revolutions try to go there.

So, we don't have the true community that Marx envisaged. James Packer isn't going to invite me over to his mansion for a cuppa tea and give me advice about how to earn my next million so I can retire early too. I don't have the same sort of freedom that he has to choose my developmental path. This did come about accidentally. He was Frank Packer's son and I wasn't. There was something more involved here than a free choice to become filthy rich. The ability of people to do their own creative and rewarding thing, whatever it is, is severely constrained by their income.

However, it appears to be exaggerated rhetoric to claim that community under capitalism is illusory. People join various clubs (footy, book, chess, Facebook etc.) and enjoy themselves with friends. This is not an illusion. I think Marx is suggesting we can do better, much better, that we need to open our eyes wider and see the injustice and exploitation in society as a whole and get to the root of that.

In capitalist society, we all have to live parallel lives as Marx suggests, one personal (private family, friendship circle, personal introspection) and one public (our life at work where we earn the money to continue or standing in a queue at Centre Link)

One common criticism of Marx centres around his alleged lack of recognition of the individual, the lack of individual freedom in the Soviet Union during the Stalin years, for example.

What I notice here about the text is that Marx does provide quite a bit of wriggle room for the bourgeoisie to be individuals both through competition (which can't be avoided within capitalism) and choice. He specifically rejects the formulation "that bourgeois is only a specimen of the bourgeois species".

It is true, however, that proletarians, in relatively wealthy Australia, have more wriggle room and some, although limited, freedom of choice, than is suggested in Marx's writing of 170 years ago.