Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Few Quick Thoughts on Some News Items of the Day by Norman Markowitz

There is a news report that the as the economy declines, arrests for
shoplifting are rising sharply. This isn't really news for people who
are not rightwing Republicans, i.e. people who know that crimes of all
kinds are related to unemployment and poverty, not to bad character
and/or bad genes. But there are few new wrinkles. For example, there
are websites that are selling fake receipts that aid shoplifters, along
with other websites that are selling security software to help shop
owners catch shoplifters (a comment on the "free market" or the fine old
capitalist art of playing both sides against the middle).

But there are more serious aspects to this story. Police and story
security people comment that the large increase in shoplifting seems to
be coming from new people (as against drug users and other traditional
shoplifters) who are both desperate and bolder than the usual petty
criminals. This also was characteristic of the great depression.
Meanwhile, another news item states that many are coping with the
economic crisis by turning to craft stores and making their own holiday
gifts, something that may be quite positive for individual development
but not for a mass consumer economy based on moving large quantities of
mass produced goods purchased on various forms of credit.

Finally, there is, for those who believe that the rightwing is going
into hibernation, there is a serious but very funny article in the New
York Times on primate behavior deceitful lying aspects in humans. The
article, taking the Madoff financial swindle/scandal and the Blagojevich
political scandal as its point of departure, throws in a bit of
sociobiology, citing a study that connects "sneaky" behavior in non
human primates with the size of the "neo cortex" or "highest region of
the brain (19th century racists used to play games like this to portray
Caucasians as a more advanced race of humans) There are also studies
of humans based on lying which provide fascinating data, although I am
in no way convinced by the interpretations of the data, that is, that it
is relatively easy to lie and be deceitful, that human have a blindness
to lying and perhaps a desire to be deceived (an interpretation which
dovetails nicely with modern advertising). And having been tricked by
house cats over the years in a variety of ways, I am also doubtful that
the size of the neo cortex is the key to understanding deceitful
behavior, a view that support popular conceptions of a "human nature"
that is nasty and combative.

If we develop policies to abolish poverty and establish far-reaching
economic security and people are still shoplifting in great numbers
then I would be more willing to accept such views. If we establish a
society based on broad economic and social equality and security, that
is a socialist society, and we see economic and political crooks like
Madoff and Blageojevich proliferating, I would more willing to entertain
sociobiological interpretations of behavior. Such interpretations are
usually used to argue that socialism can never really work. Until there
is a socialist society developed over a long period of time, one in
which people will not have been sociologized to fight with each other
for wealth and power for a long time, we can never know whether or not
people will choose to act cooperatively and honestly because in all
class divided societies most people respond to threats and opportunities
rather than making rational choices.