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Insightful point about why it works with open source software but not in the world of materials. (Duplicability)

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"This might sound like Marx's claim that human nature is completely malleable."

Marx never made any such claim. I have addressed this here:

https://marxbro1917.substack.com/p/scott-alexander-is-very-wrong-about

Scott Alexander seems to bear a lot of responsibility for spreading this falsehood about Marx.

If you're going to claim something about Marx's views you should use a primary source. Not a blogger who skimmed a book by Peter Singer.

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You may be right about “completely”, but anyone who has read the Communist Manifesto can see that Marx is really really (unwarrantedly) optimistic about changing some of the most core features of what we currently see as human nature (such as selfishness, family.)

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Marx's point in the Manifesto is that capitalism has already changed what we regard as human nature.

"The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his “natural superiors”, and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous “cash payment”. It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom — Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.

[...]

Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind."

This is completely warranted.

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Interesting. This is pretty in line with him thinking human nature is extremely malleable … he just thinks that it was already changed once, which if true would hint at it perhaps being not so hard to change back.

But we now know it’s not easy *at all* to change back, after a century of the most obscenely strenuous attempts — and that his idyllic vision of pre-capitalist man was probably wrong (though I’d love to get some cameras up in the territory of the few remaining un-contacted tribes, so that I don’t have to take anthropologists’ words for it.)

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Marx's goal is not for human nature to "change back";

"All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind."

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now that's just semantics. It doesn't matter if you phrase it as for "human nature to change back" or as "human nature is fixed, but humans act today out of sync with their nature, and we should go back to being in sync" ... regardless of how you phrase it, my arguments above still apply.

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No, it's not semantics. Marx's point is never that "we should go back to being in sync". Actually Marx argued the opposite even in The Communist Manifesto, read chapter 3 "Socialist and Communist Literature" and note that he criticized the socialists who have a romantic view of the past. For example;

"This school of Socialism dissected with great acuteness the contradictions in the conditions of modern production. It laid bare the hypocritical apologies of economists. It proved, incontrovertibly, the disastrous effects of machinery and division of labour; the concentration of capital and land in a few hands; overproduction and crises; it pointed out the inevitable ruin of the petty bourgeois and peasant, the misery of the proletariat, the anarchy in production, the crying inequalities in the distribution of wealth, the industrial war of extermination between nations, the dissolution of old moral bonds, of the old family relations, of the old nationalities.

In its positive aims, however, this form of Socialism aspires either to restoring the old means of production and of exchange, and with them the old property relations, and the old society, or to cramping the modern means of production and of exchange within the framework of the old property relations that have been, and were bound to be, exploded by those means. In either case, it is both reactionary and Utopian.

Its last words are: corporate guilds for manufacture; patriarchal relations in agriculture.

Ultimately, when stubborn historical facts had dispersed all intoxicating effects of self-deception, this form of Socialism ended in a miserable fit of the blues."

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Mar 10Liked by Evan Þ

Doctorow's world didn't strike me as very utopian. I have books that I love and reread repeatedly, some of which are out of print and could not easily be replaced. I have framed original art on my walls. One of the incidents in Doctorow's story makes it clear that there is no reliable security of possession in walkaway society, and that there is simply Nothing To Be Done when things are taken away, because walkaway society does not value "things." That strikes me as an inhumanity that I would be desperately eager to avoid. There is no peace in a society where I am not permitted to have my own personal treasures.

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author

Good thought!

I think personal treasures would feel different in a world where they could actually be duplicated on matter replicators. I've got out-of-print books too, but they'd be less valuable to me if I could print another copy of them tomorrow.

But still, there're some sentimental objects - like the book from my dad's childhood, or the shirt from my childhood music camp - where I would care about the originals even if copies could be printed. I'm sure there're a lot fewer of these for me than for some people (e.g., myself, I don't care about original art), and I expect there're even fewer for Doctorow. I think it'd still be worth it to give these up to get a post-scarcity utopia, but that's a value judgement for me.

You bring out a good point about how a lot of utopias are designed around one particular set of preferences. Humanity is diverse; an actually-good utopia will provide room for that diversity.

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That's one possible case, yes, but it's not the one I was thinking of. I was more concerned with objects which, if the originals were lost, taken, or destroyed, would not be available from replicators, because their patterns were never input into the relevant databases. For example, I have three copies of Donald M. Kingsbury's Courtship Rite---one in French translation, two in English---but I bought all of them used; it has been allowed to go out of print and no ebook version has been released (ebooks being our time's analog of a book's having been scanned into a replicator). That's part of my reason for owning more than one copy! This isn't what I would call a "sentimental" concern; it's a concern for copies being available at all.

In Doctorow's world, on one hand, if I have a copy of Courtship Rite, I can print another copy, or so it seems. But on the other hand, if someone walks off with my copy, or takes it and rips it up, there's no assurance that I can find the file to print it from. And there doesn't seem to be any assurance that people won't take away my copy, or even take away all my copies, because walkaway society doesn't recognize a right of secure possession.

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author

Ooh, that's another point! You're right, Doctorow assumes that the replicators have a pattern for anything someone might need. I think that's almost a reasonable assumption. Even today, Google and the Internet Archive have scanned in a lot of out-of-print books; in his future era where the walkaways don't care about copyright, presumably that would've happened to an even greater extent. But yes, it should've been explicitly mentioned even if he didn't want to explore it.

Also - I take it you like "Courtship Rite"? I started reading it but gave it up a chapter or two in because it didn't hold my interest; what do you like about it?

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Well, that would be kind of a long answer.

Rather than take up space here, let me mention that the review site Black Gate has my review of Courtship Rite in their queue for publication sometime this month; that will tell you a lot of what I think about it.

In brief, though, Courtship Rite is my favorite science fiction novel, and one of my favorite novels of any genre or era. It was one of those books I just fell into at first reading. After my review comes out, I'm quite willing to discuss it if you care to.

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author

Ah, thanks! I'll make a note to keep an eye out for it!

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Mar 24Liked by Evan Þ

You can see it now at https://www.blackgate.com. Look for the 20 March entry.

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