Drawing Distinctions

I think it’s important to recognize that there are three forms of non-artistic speech: the normative, the descriptive, and the proscriptive. Normative speech says “this is how things should be”, descriptive speech says “this is how things are”, and proscriptive speech says “this is how we go from how things are to how we want them to be.”

Taking Karl Marx and Lennin as examples, the normative is “we want economic and social equality among human beings,” the descriptive is “the imperial-capitalist system uses the state to enforce economic and social inequality for the benefit of a comparatively few wealthy persons,” and the methodological speech is “we should form a disciplined revolutionary organization to control the state to enforce economic and social equality among humans”.

In simpler terms, Marxist-Lenninism is the idea that D.) the current crop of rulers are assholes who rule the world for their own aggrandizement, and N.) the world should be divided up equally, so P.) we should replace them with people who will promote equality.

In this particular case, I agree with (D) and (N): the current crop of rulers are assholes who rule the world for their own aggrandizement, and the world should be divided up equally. I think most people would agree with that — and thus, by extension, most people agree with 2/3 of Marxism.

Another example is to be found from Apple computer. There is the descriptive: “computers are too difficult for most regular people to use,” particularly true in the 1980s. There is the normative: “computers should be simple enough for anyone operate.” There is the proscriptive: “we should form a profit-driven company to build and sell easy-to-use computers.”

As with marxism, I agree with the descriptive and the normative, but not the proscriptive. Computers are (and particularly were) a pain in the ass to use. They shouldn’t (and needn’t) be. But that doesn’t mean a profit-driven corporation is the best means of building and distributing easy-to-use computers to the masses. (I personally would have no problem with Apple’s business practices but for the proprietary AAC music format they use in iTunes and the lawsuit against Microsoft for mimicing their “look and feel” — a rediculous claim for anyone who’s actually seen Windows version 1.0.)

Unfortunately, many people are in a mode of thinking that encourages one to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Apple, Inc. being a proprietary bastard doesn’t mean making usable computers is a stupid goal, nor does the Communist Party being corrupt and evil makes “economic and social equality” a stupid goal. There’s even a verse in the bible on the subject, about those who extract the precious from the worthless. Yeah, Apple is evil, yeah, the Communist Party was evil, but that doesn’t mean “usable computers” or “social and economic equality” are foolish goals.

In other words, don’t reject Marx’s analysis of capitalism because his suggestions on how to fix it were foolish, and don’t reject computer usability because Jobs is a reality-distorting asshole.</soapbox>