Wednesday, July 10, 2013


One of the commenters on my previous post asked me to explain what I meant by "Margaret Thatcher's terrible lie, There Is No Alternative." I can't be sure exactly how I answered the question, because I deleted my comment by mistake. It was apparently up long enough for the commenter to reply, which he or she did by saying that I should ask my school -- I assume this means my college -- for my tuition back. Apparently I did not get a proper education. (My major was art history, with minors in English and philosophy. I don't know what any of these -- except possibly philosophy -- had to do with Margaret Thatcher.)

TINA is (in my opinion) a terrible lie because it says that change is not possible: there are no alternatives to our present world of capitalism and neoliberal economics. This is obviously not true. Human history is a record of change. We are not living in Roman times or the Neolithic. Even societies that appear static -- the rare hunting and gathering societies that still exist -- are not, as far as we can tell, really static. Most are in contact with the outside world and get at least some information and objects.

The Native American peoples of the Andes have recently carried off modern -- possibly even avant garde-- revolutions in Bolivia and Ecuador. This suggests they are not the same people they were 100 or 200 years ago.

Rural Afghans have cell phones. They did not have these when I was in Afghanistan 50 years ago. Their society seemed then to be isolated and unchanging. (Though if you know the history of Afghanistan, you know a lot has changed there since the days of Alexander. It only became isolated and 'unchanging' when sea trade replaced the Great Silk Route.)

Capitalism, as we know it, goes back only a few hundred years. Neoliberal economics goes back less than a hundred years. I doubt that either will last forever. Why should they?

As Isaac Asimov said, "There will be a future, and it will be different."

There are philosophies that argue history is rigid: change happens, but in ways that are absolutely determined and inevitable. This is the argument of vulgar Marxists, who used to say that the proletarian revolution was inevitable. It would happen, no matter what anyone did. This theory does not have a lot of followers today.

Pierre Simon LaPlace is famous for saying (per Wikipedia) that "if someone knows the precise location and momentum of every atom in the universe, their past and future values for any given time are entailed; they can be calculated from the laws of classical mechanics." Later scientists and philosophers have argued that thermodynamics, quantum physics and chaos theory all make determinism impossible. If we cannot determine the future in physics, it does not seem likely we can determine it elsewhere: physics is the root science. Those atoms and sub-atomic particles underlie everything else. If the future cannot be determined, even in theory, then it cannot be fixed. True change is possible.

The argument that change is impossible is an argument for doing nothing. This is what I dislike about it. If action makes no difference, why act? I also dislike it, because it's obviously wrong. There are always alternatives, if one believes in historical change and human free will.

(I don't know if free will actually exists. But given our current knowledge, it is a good assumption. We should all act as if action is effective and we can make changes in our lives.)


Blogger Paul Weimer said...

Yeah, the "Tuition back" comment really, really pressed a button. I apologize for getting indignant in that post.

Human history is a record of change.
A side comment in a H Beam Piper story to the contrary made me wonder about that. And then decided he was wrong.

9:57 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home