From: "Gabriel Ash" <Gabriel.Ash.1@xxxxxx>
Date: Sat, 01 Jun 96 11:57:06
Sorry for the delay, I wrote in fact an earlier reply but lost it somehow.
On Tue, 28 May 1996 12:54:59 -0700 (PDT), Gregory A. Coolidge wrote:
> Isn't the search, particularly prevalent among Marxists,
>to identify 'intended-unintended results' often an ad hoc attempt to torture
>events so they somehow fit into a pre-existing Marxist framework, which
>views all, or most, social phenomena, as protecting the interests of capital?
>It seems to me, that much of Marxist theorizing is an attempt re-interpret
>Marxist theory as social events have shown such theory to be lacking in
>explanatory power. Such debates as: state as an arm of the capitalists,
>relative autonomy, etc seems quite illustrative in this regard. Am I to
>imagine that the delinquency produced in the prison is a rather clever
>intended consequence of capitalist actions? This would indeed be the
>actions of an unbelievably clever class.
I wasn't thinking along these lines, certainly there exist ideological pitfalls
for marxist too, and it there may be bad marxist theorising. Though I am not sure,
(seriously, this is a big issue) that a social event can show marxism to lack
explanatory power. However, my point was more about the problematization of intention than
about capitalism per se. How do we ascribe intentions? either from a statement of intention
("my intention was to go hunting...") or from functional analysis of a behavioural event. I saw X,
dressed in sportly cloths, pointing a gun at a bird and shooting , therefore I ascribed to
X an intention to kill one. In both cases assesment of knowledge and desirability of
outcome play the leading role. The first form is untrustworthy unless we have evidence
of the second form corroborating it. This is because any expression of intention is also an
act of expressing an intention, and as such, one can construct functionally an intention
to express an intention which will acount for that act fully and discredit the intention
One problem is that functional analysis is sometimes at pains to distinguish
between 'mental intention' and complex automatic feedback mechanisms. For example,
everything else being equal, one should have ascribed to a spider tending a net the intention to
catch flies. the only reason not to do so is the belief (but what warrants it?) that spiders do not
possess a mental space in which intentions can exist. Yet, we can say that the knowledge of outcome
of tending nets and the desirability of that outcome from the perspective of the spider had been
sedimented by evolution in the genetic outfit that controls the spider's behaviour. One complication
is that a great deal of knowledge of outcomes is sedimented in automatic responses in humans too,
this is what Bourdieu called "Habitus". It is therefore sometimes quite impossible to distinguish
between conscious and non-conscious functional/disfunctional behaviour.
Going back to capitalism; both Smithian/capitalist ecomonic threories and their Marxist critiques
had labored at lenght to specify 'unintended results'. For example, economic growth produces
inflation as a side effect. From the other side, free market relations restricts negotiation power in
inverse proportion to possession of capital, this too was assumingly unintended. Economic theory
deals with mechanisms that willfully counter-act those phenomena; regulation of interest rates on the
one hand and labor-unions on the other are balancing inflation and negotiation inequalities respectively.
Needless to say, these two regulatory mechanism were not given the same treatment in economic
theory, but I leave that for those who are more informed in economics.
My point was different. If intention is ascribed on the basis of knowledge of outcomes, then the intention (or
lack thereof) of capitalists to cause a certain amount of misery must be assessed primarily through the
analysis of knowledge available to decision makers pertaining to the outcome of their course of actions, i.e.
analysis of the discourses of economy, sociology, manegement theory, and political theory, rather than by
asking them what they were up to. In making this analysis I believe one should be specifically attentive to the
way these discourses construct 'unintended results' and procedures of regulating them (i.e. intending them).
A second, and more problematic, place for such analysis would be the search for the sort of knowledge of
outcomes that is embodied by the social actors, i.e. Habitus. The main problem, however, is that in our
society, theorising of embodied knowledge tends to become reproduced as discursive knowledge
NB. It wouldn't suprise me at all that an economically dominant class would produce a higher
level of unusually smart people.
NB. 2: those who argue for example that welfare's only benficiary is central government are using
principles of identifying intended 'unintended results' whose geneology seems to me clearly marxist.
How does our account for the intentions of people has to change when we deal with people acting in a field
structured by a form of knowledge that has already problematised intention?
>> Your note of caution here is certainly to the point, but I think we should be wary
>> just as much of the opposite fallacy, which is to assume that radical scholars
>> are the only ones smart enough to see through the actions of capitalists and
>> unwind their 'unintended results'. The latter is also a very comfortable idea, intelectually
>> if not morally. There are two reasons for doubting it. One is that it reiterates the basic
>> motto that 'power is stupid' and its implication of the hetrogeneity between
>> power and knowledge. The second is that the discourse of economy, which serves
>> many functions in the maintenance of poverty, both in it its Smithian 'invisible hand' form,
>> and in its Marxist critique (parts of which have become commonplaces far beyond Marxism),
>> is heavily concerned with unintended results and with ways to
>> influence, and hence to intend, unintended results. We may think perhaps about second degree
>> 'unintended results', i.e. unintended 'unintended results' vs. intended 'unintended results'.
>> Gabriel Ash