A post-poststructuralist philosophy and a meta-meta-narrative
Poststructuralism has been characterised by opposing previously held beliefs about the nature of humans and our cultures. It is anti-universalist and anti-essentialist i.e. doesn’t believe in universal principles that could explain human nature and culture, as there is basically no such thing (essence). Even though most people would agree with a wide variety of human and cultural phenotypes, few would agree with this kind of relativistic view.
Poststructuralism opposes any grand meta-narratives that explain historic trajectories and predict future trajectories. Marxism is probably the best example of such a grand narrative. What could be more proof of poststructuralism than the failure of the implementation of Marxism all around the globe? We have come to live in a de-ideologized world where many have given up to bring liberal democracies to less enlightened peoples or to bring a sense of communist solidarity to the capitalist folks. We are living in a more globalised materialistic world with less ideology, the opposite of what Marx has predicted.
The metanarrative that Marx and Engles came up with was supposed to be the most scientific account possible at the time. It was the narrative of how small egalitarian hunter-gatherer bands became egalitarian food-producing and wealth-owning societies. Their revolution was not meant to be progress but regress to that natural “original state of mankind”. Wherever Marxism was implemented it failed as the system was parasitized by power-hungry people and abused. Marxism could only work if people were like Rousseau’s “noble savage”, instead those who contributed to the corruption of the system behaved like Hobbsean humans. We all know that people aren’t either-or, but are somewhere on a spectrum in between. What’s more, almost all people behave nicely towards in-group members (family, local community, nation), it’s when it comes to out-group members that our attitudes differ widely.
Poststructuralism made kind of sense until about the millennium. Since then we have been seeing increasing polarization and tribalism. Ironically, while the role of ideology has been diminishing internationally it has been vastly increasing nationally. We have seen the same patterns repeating in many Western countries, most of all in the USA. This is a serious blow to Poststructuralism. If metanarratives like Marxism can be seen as a failure to explain history, Poststructuralism can be seen as a failure to understand the present. Obviously, our values aren’t as relative as poststructuralism may have us believe.
The error that Poststructuralism made was rejecting all metanarratives instead of trying to find out what was right and wrong about those metanarratives.
Salomon Schwarz created a circle of (partially opposing) human values. We can see Hobbes in the “Power” segment (people striving for wealth and control of others and Rousseau in the opposite “Universalism” segment (justice, openness, self-choice).
In Marxist terms, we could identify the class struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie here. However, this is what Marx got wrong. Instead of capitalists and proletariat, he should have stuck with his interpretation of history and called the opposing forces food-producing farmers-herders vs hunter-gathers. If this makes little sense, let me claim that this is where our values on the wheel come from, evolutionarily speaking. The proletariat wasn’t only made up of (a minority of) hunter-gatherer types, but all the other types as well. Nor were all capitalists farmer-herder types. The founder of British socialism, Robert Owen, is a great example of a rich hunter-gatherer type at the time. He was a Welsh textile manufacturer, philanthropist and social reformer, and a founder of utopian socialism and the cooperative movement. He gained wealth in the early 1800s from a textile mill at New Lanark, Scotland. He stopped employing Children under the age of 10, and instead arranged for their education, and improved the working and living conditions of all his workers. We can see on the wheel that his values clearly were located in the universalism-benevolence area. He was a “gatherer” type (INFJ in MBTI).
Due to this error, Marx would have been surprised about such “Champagne socialists” of whom there are now many more than at Owen’s time. The term is meant derogatorily and refers to alleged “hypocrites”. However, due to the industrial revolution more and more hunter-gatherer types made a fortune. Nowadays Bill Gates and Elon Musk are among them. It is not hypocrisy when such people are in favour of this horrible communist idea of basic universal income. It’s their evolutionary programming. Even though they achieved fame and fortune, they are still high in universalism in their value system.
Instead of throwing out the baby with the bathwater, let’s see where else Marx went wrong. There were many surprises in the adoption of Marxism. It was most successful in Russia that ironically hardly had any proletariat because it was industrially underdeveloped. Instead, it was welcomed by Russian peasants. Antonio Gramsci, the founder of the Italian communist party was, in turn, surprised that the same wasn’t true of southern Italian peasants, who didn’t want to be free from their overlords but wanted to have more land, instead and who applauded Mussolini for arresting Gramsci.
What was going on here? What had worked in Russia didn’t work at all in southern Italy. A genetic plot of Europe shows that southern Italy is located on the opposite end of Russia. Northern Russia is one the places where hunter-gatherers “disappeared” last in history, whereas in Sardinia Anatolian farmers displaced the local European hunter-gatherers. Southern Italy is located somewhere in between farmer space and herder space (pastoralism in the Caucasus and the Russian Steppe).
Our metanarrative of Marxism can now be completed: Whereas Marx got a lot right, he didn’t know that the vast majority of people are farmer-herder types. Marxism was popular among the Russian peasants who had large portions of hunter-gatherer genes, but not among southern Italian peasants where such farmer-herder genes dominated.
Another irony in our metanarrative: China, a mostly farmer country, is the most prominent communist country nowadays. However, its communism is as fake as the knock-off Rolex watches that are produced in Chinese factories. Do the Chinese care? I doubt it.
Even if this meta-meta-narrative contains holes, I think a universalist view of humankind is possible, just as an essential human nature is possible. It’s just not a single monolithic nature, it’s three and everything in between. Poststructuralism isn’t the end of philosophy and IMHO it’s not the kind of philosophy the 21st century needs.
Check out my book for more background information on mapping human nature:
Originally published at http://the-big-ger-picture.blogspot.com on January 13, 2022.