Friday, October 21, 2011

The Problem with Culture 2

The Problem with Culture 2

The well thought out comments from Troy make this interesting.

1. “Culture” is now used in humanities criticism (“cultural criticism”) in the same fashion as “society” or, earlier, “material relations of production” (which “society” replaced as “relations of production” lost its allure in the face of Marxist Leninist societies where learned professors and leaders well versed in Marxist theory–his “German Ideology”--put it in practice). In other words, in this sort of analysis other entities are made to depend on culture; culture rules and so do the practitioners of cultural criticism; all is dependent on culture; all is conditioned by culture, etc. etc.: “Culture underlies all our other social structures including the economy.” Get the culture right and other things can be explained, including the economy. Culture is the new “base” because it underlies all else. All else is the “superstructure” because it is underlied by “culture,” the new base.

2. So the point is not that one cannot make de jure distinctions between culture and society. One can, just as one can make distinctions between culture and civilization. But as Cervantes said, “this matters little for our story.” What matters much for our story is that culture functions de facto for practitioners of cultural criticism the way society, social formations, relations of production, etc. etc. used to function once upon a time (then, by the way, many of the things that constitute “culture” from movies to “material culture”--a desperate way to conflate things here-- used to be part of the superstructure).

3. To say that culture provides information for the action of entrepreneurs is simply a reformulation, and not a very ingenious one, of the obvious, pointed out by Mises and others: the entrepreneur looks for the most favorable conditions he can find that justify his actions (he follows the economic Law of Marginal Utility).
4. But the laws of economics do not depend on culture. They apply regardless of cultural conditions. In this, as in many other things, Mises’ Kung Fu is the strongest. Take, for example, the Law of Marginal Utility again. It applies to farming in Fiji as much as to entrepreneurship in the U.S. The farmer in Fiji who does not watch out for it will be punished by economics as much as the entrepreneur in the U.S. The poor, near starvation person in Somalia, is as subject to it as the crack dealer in Chicago. What changes is not economic law but the means for its application or disregard. That obviously changes, since in Fiji the means include growing mangoes (or whatever it is that they grow in Fiji) and watching for the behavior of insects and making an educated guess on weather conditions, and in the other they might not include mangoes but something else. I would go further than Mises. The laws of economics transcend species. Higher level (this is important because decision making to choose, I repeat, choose, a course of action is needed for human or otherwise thinking action) predators on the African savannahs adhere to the Law of Marginal Utility all the time: the most effective, and therefore best predators, are the best observers of it. My Kangal dog (a guard dog and therefore closer to predation) is very good at it for certain goals (such as scaring potential intruders both human and animal by barking and acting fierce), better than my Bichon Frise (a lap dog), who barks and becomes hysterical indiscriminately when he sees something unusual.

5. We, too, in these fora, are subject to the economics of Human Action: Discussions fade under the impact of the Law of Marginal Utility.

Dario Fernandez-Morera

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