Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Thinking and the Concept of Time - Wilberg On Wednesday

The End of Thinking?

This first set of reflections is designed to point to a larger and more complex phenomenon - one which can be characterised in its essence by an almost universal sense of threat and insecurity based on a fear of and failure to recognise and handle complexity and contradictions. The result is an almost universal attempt - not least, but not only on the part of the English ruling caste - to use failed or failing attempts at simplification or ‘magical thinking’ to retreat from or avoid facing them (for example the complexities and contradictions involved in leaving the E.U). But I see this is part of a much broader phenomenon - albeit one particularly manifest in the U.K. and U.S. The phenomenon is one of governments, movements and parties of all colours and many nations showing, almost on a day-by-day basis, how they can no longer even get a proper grasp on what they themselves are doing - except through these failed attempts at simplifying their own thinking - and that of others. This fear-induced drive to simplify not just political thinking but thinking as such poses, in my view, an even greater threat than all the apparent ‘issues’ that human beings and society face on both an individual, national and global level - issues that are themselves perceived in an already preconceived, decontextualised, dehistoricised and therefore also over-simplified way. This was why, when asked about how his own thinking might benefit or change the world, Martin Heidegger responded by questioning whether thinking itself and as such still had any chance of surviving - except through the birth of wholly new type of thinking - not a simplified or magical thinking but one based on a new awareness of and relation to language - not least fetished religious, scientific and political terminologies and jargons. As for now, as Heidegger saw it: “Man is in flight from thinking.”

Awareness-based economics - rethinking ‘the labour theory of value’

Thinking is itself a conscious activity. More precisely it is an activity of, and arising from awareness. The question is, how much awareness or attention? One defect of Marx’s labour theory of value is that it made no distinction between quantity and quality of labour time: that is to say, between the quantity of time expended in labour, i.e. in productive and creative activity or ‘labour’ of any sort, ‘manual’ or ‘mental’, and the quality of awareness that goes into that labour. It is the failure to make this distinction that allows economies to arise in which a low-paid nurse, for example, may be wholly unpaid for the qualities of awareness she or he gives to her patients, whereas a high-paid boss may be paid millions for bad management i.e. for not giving proper awareness and attention to their job, whilst a multi-billionaire can make tens of millions each week, simply through investments handled by others, without needing to do a thing, i.e. without needing to contribute either any quantity or awareness quality of labour. The distinction between labour time and its awareness quality is reflected in the crass division of labour and gross inequality of earnings in both industrial and service sectors of capitalist economies. The performance of repetitive labour tasks that require little or no awareness can only accrue value and generate surplus value for employers through long hours of work - through mere quantity of labour time. Here too, however, a contradiction lurks. For it has now been shown in many countries that in any forms of labour in which a certain quality of awareness is both a necessary and significant source of value, the awareness quality given to labour - and hence also its value - can actually be significantly increased by reducing the number of working hours. In other words, productivity can be increased by reducing working hours - but only if these more productive hours are properly remunerated. The problem with the whole concept of ‘productivity’ however, is that it too remains a purely quantitative measure, designed to exploit labour even further by extracting more surplus value from their labour with the same number of working hours. The distinction between labour time and labour quality - the quality of awareness and attention given to any productive activity, including thought itself, is essential to considering how different types of labour should be remunerated in a socialist economy. In my view there should only be one basis for any pay differentials for a given quantity of labour time - a differential totally independent of the type of labour and based solely on the quality of awareness and attention invested in it, what I call its ‘awareness value’. For ultimately it is both the time quantity and the quality of awareness given to human activity or labour of any sort that is the foundation and source of its value - and not simply the abstraction of labour time. Were this not the case, it would be impossible to conceive how high civilisations, cultures and craftsmen of the past achieved all that they did without need even for any precise measure of time of the sort introduced by the relatively recent invention of clock time - a measure of time which itself ignores variations in time quality. The very fact that the term ‘quality time’ hasbecome part of our ‘modern’ vocabulary is, paradoxically, an indicator of the extent to which the human being’s natural relation to time itself and natural sense for different subjective qualities of time - something that needed no name in the past - has been distorted by the domination of a uniform measure of objectified time - clock time. There was a time when people knew that ‘slower is faster’, that ‘taking one’s time’ adds quality and value to both thought and labour, whereas speediness and manic busy-ness deprives them of quality and value - and deprives individuals of the sense of value fulfilment that should be both the motive force and prime source of satisfaction in all human activity - the sense of fulfilling, for both their own good and that of others, their individual values and creative potentials.

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