A Battle Over Control of the Apparatus for the Creation of People

The Commoner

Issue 10

Spring/Summer 2005


“The economy”, after all, is ultimately a gigantic system of means and not of ends. Neoclassical economics has in fact only been able to make a successful claim to being a science since it has effectively vanished the analysis of ends—of values, of why people want the things they do—entirely from its purview. It can thus reduce human life to a series of strategies by which rational actors try to accumulate different forms of value: while exiling the study of value itself to other, inferior, disciplines: psychology, sociology, anthropology, and so on. (What this comes down to in practice is an insistence on treating all human behavior with total cynicism, and then treating the ability to do so as a value in itself. Hence, students learning rational choice analysis are endlessly told that one should not look at, say, idealists who sacrifice themselves for a cause as acting selflessly, but rather, as maximizing the feelings of self-satisfaction they get out of the knowledge that they are sacrificing themselves; while the obvious question—”why is it that anyone can get such feelings of self-satisfaction out of self-sacrifice in the first place?”—is treated as irrelevant.) The moment we refuse to sever these things, however, we realize that what on a personal level is a battle for access to the right to behave altruistically becomes, on a political level, a battle over control of the apparatus for the creation of people.


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