Seneca’s “On Learning Old Age in Wisdom”

This is a brilliant longer than usual letter written by Seneca to his friend Lucilius, in response to the latter’s interest in the former’s daily life. Reading the letter we get the sense that Seneca is experiencing old age, and from previous letters we know that Lucilius is a bit younger than Seneca, so it seems to be a sort of Father to Oldest Son relationship (even though I doubt they are related). Seneca begins by telling Lucilius that he spends his time listening to the lectures of an undisclosed philosopher. He jokingly anticipates the confusion that might come from Lucilius on hearing that an old man is attending lectures with a classroom of youngsters, but Seneca responds that it should not be seen as a discredit.

In fact: ” You should keep learning as long as you are ignorant”

This is such an important point. We usually leave it till very late in our lives (till we are old basically) before we begin to enjoy ourselves. We retire into vacation homes, and try to get as much out of life. So there are two points to note here. First, since for Seneca, engaging in philosophy was the best way to spend your time, he followed and continued this up in his old age, and didn’t leave that time for sight seeing, travelling, vacations, basically hedonic pleasures. He was consistent in his earnest application of philosophy. Second, and this is sort of the interesting point, he wasn’t ashamed to learn and attend classes with the young. He felt that learning was something you should do everyday, and that there is so much that we are ignorant of that could be learned even when we are old. In other words, the value of life lies with you, not with your age, so as long as you are alive, you can keep making life valuable by picking up knowledge. It doesn’t matter if you are going to die tomorrow. Death, or impending death, should not be a barrier from you learning and improving yourself. Even if you never apply the knowledge. It’s still worth getting because it gives life more value.

Then Seneca goes on to give a detailed summary of the good.

We learn that “Virtue will not fall upon you by chance.” That is unless you are God. But for us mere mortals, to be virtuous means to be self-determined. We must choose to be virtuous. I’m not sure whether virtue can be an unconscious decision, it seems more plausible that we have to be aware that we are making a choice that is virtuous. 

We also learn that Knowledge (or Virtue) is not won by light effort or small toil.There are two points to make on this. First, there is a practical point, that there is just so much to learn about, so much complexity and nuance and unimaginable secrets that Nature holds, that we must by default (that is structurally) work very hard to learn a lot. There is also the other idea, that whatever is good doesn’t come easy. I’m not sure how much I give to this truism, but a way to understand it ethically, is to suggest that if one wants to attain the good, one must be prepared to sacrifice alot. As Epictetus brilliantly points out in the enchiridon, You can’t eat and drink, and be angry and discontented as you are accustomed to, if you want to be a philosopher.

We learn that there is only one good, “Namely. that which is honorable” Seneca goes on to explain that everything is judged good or bad according to its intended end, and for us Humans, despite the fact we share a lot with animals, our intended end (our uniqueness or strength) is in our reason. I’m not sure whether Seneca uses ‘honorable’ to mean to be praised, or to be dignified.

Nonetheless, he goes on to explain, that we should therefore only judge humans based on the good (virtue) rather than on externals which we tend not to be in control of. He goes to explain that when reason is perfected in our beings we are happy. So it sort of suggests that we cannot be happy with externals, or perhaps our happiness is short-lived in this way, but pursuing the good gives us a lasting happiness.

I personally think the perfection of reason in man only brings him peace. But happiness does suggest some risk. It’s not wholly in your control, and some of our greatest joys or happiness, lies not in things in themselves, but in an emotional gratification by others and things.

Seneca goes on (this is a rather long letter) about how its wrong to call other things goods (including the argument that since the Gods do not possess riches or beauty, they must be worse than us, since we possess or seek to possess these things). Seneca also makes another quite fascinating argument that (dumb) animals cannot be happy, or rather if we equated goods with things, then dumb animals could be happy, which he holds not to be the case.

For the sake of the blog, I will stop here, and just add that happiness is something I would like to investigate in fuller depth.

Adieu.

 

 

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Montaigne: That Men by Various Ways Arrive at the Same End (Review)

This is a delightful essay on the ways through which people avoid their near certain fate to die or receive some kind of harm. Montaigne points out that in some cases no amount of begging or pleading or even submission helps to relieve someone from impending harm when the enemy (or confronter) is very motivated. But he points out how historically, those that have shown courage when facing impossible odds and near certain death tend to be allowed to live or as he writes, “shown compassion”.

What I took from this essay on that point is that when someone has such power “of revenge, and [we] find that we absolutely lie at their mercy” that individual has probably seen many meet their death with fear either by trying to run away or by submitting with a sort of slavishness. Such an individual, I imagine, if thoroughly ruthless, might even feel a bit disgusted with his victims, and perhaps psychologically it vindicates his authority and use of power to end their pathetic lives.  But when that individual meets someone willing to confront his power, meeting it with a courage, and ready to die with his dignity resisting even at death to submit to another, the powerful man finds such a virtue so rare and admirable that he decides to spare this brave guy or girl their life. I can imagine this happening even in our modern world: for example, a woman being outnumbered at night with a more than tangible certainty of being raped, who decides to fight and not be subdued, despite the odds and ferocity of her opponents. At some point, these guys might end up letting her go.

While I agree that in cases where the odds and power are so great, that the powerful person might feel admiration ( a sort of equality) with the courageous person, due to some kind of reverse vindication of his specialness (since this courageous person is so rare, the powerful person might equate himself as a rare and special specimen). But in other cases, where the power might be great but perhaps not invincible, it might seem that the powerful relents because it takes too much work. This can be seen with animals like the lion for example that struggles to get a gazelle. Even if the lion is sure to chase till the gazelle tires, or if one is taking perhaps longer than usual, the lion might just forget about it.
So the idea is power relents, at least in my view, when it is vindicated as an force shared by only a special few i.e out of admiration for the other, and also when it seems to be taken much longer than normal, and it relents because there are usually easier prey to feast upon.

Montaigne then points out how due to the pride and inconstancy of men there are contraries, where courageous people have been killed by the powerful. In this case, such as with Alexander the great, the powerful become even more irritated at someone who isn’t fitting his role, who isn’t submitting and pleading, at the insolence of someone thinking they could go against the power of Alexander. I find that in cases like this, the powerful have to have a larger than normal ego, since power swells the ego. So I can imagine this again in modern society, with dictators that go through great lengths to torture brave rebels that fight to overthrow the political order. They create fanciful torture methods to inflict even more harm, in a sense to break their will. I think Alexander’s ego was perhaps too massive to imagine, not because merely because of the power, but because he felt he had a divine right by God to conquer.

But while I agree with Montaigne that this insistence on breaking the courage of the courageous might be motivated by ego, it might also be perhaps through fear. Fear of having such renowned authority being finally threatened, fear that the powerful might lose their power. The persistence of a courageous man in the face of such disproportionate power wielded by megalomaniac might at first be a thorn and an irritation, but soon after it might generate worries. Of course the fear is that such power might yield a response from the larger weaker base. So there might be a fear of martyr which might cause this person to either live or be killed in the most outrageous ways.

Reading this I came away with two forms (possibly a third) of courage: One that comes from meeting your fears, usually the fear of death. And another that comes from enduring pain. There might be a third form that comes from self-control, but it isn’t usually viewed as courage.

I also came away with the fact that courage can sometimes give you a way out of danger, even when it seems like paradoxically leading you to danger. But in reality, being virtuous cannot guarantee whether you will live or die. One must just choose the virtue in spite of what fate has in store for you. Being virtuous, as I understand it from the stoics, means to take control of your life from fate. She cannot kill you if you end up killing yourself, and you will only do so on your terms not hers.

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Seneca’s letter – On Discursiveness in Reading

This is not a review. I just found this idea fascinating. Seneca writes: “Judging by what you write me, and by what I hear, I am forming a good opinion regarding your future. You do not run hither and thither and distract yourself by changing your abode; for such restlessness is the sign of a disordered spirit. The primary indication, to my thinking, of a well-ordered mind is a man’s ability to remain in one place and linger in his own company

The idea: Restlessness is the sign of a disordered spirit. The well ordered man can remain in one place and linger in his own company.

Why am I so restless? I run ‘hither and thither’ from website to website wasting my time on social media and politics. Part of the reason, or perhaps cause, is that I am addicted to the internet, and gladly, I am now in a location where I don’t have access to ready instant internet at the go. Another reason is that I feel bored. I really think the greek philosophers, particularly Epicurus, really tried to focus on the problem of boredom. I have a feeling the Stoics would say the wise man cannot truly be bored. There is a certain kind of boredom familiar to us all when we have a large expanse of time and we have no clue what to do with it. The wise man knows what to do with time. For the stoic, the wise man had purpose.

Anyways, Seneca alludes to his solution to this problem of distraction by suggesting we linger on a few master thinkers (i.e. rather than jumping from book to book randomly). The key is to focus. To concentrate. But on what can never be fulfilled, what is abundant and overflowing. That is truly the good. Good books are inexhaustible. They keep giving, and giving, and every time you find something new about yourself when you read them. They are the ultimate givers. So it is with good works of art, good music, good films, good lovers, good friends. The quality of the good is that it is consistent and overflowing. 

For the second part of the idea, on the well-ordered man being able to remain in one place and linger in his own company, it seems to me that Seneca wants us to focus on ourselves, particularly our soul. Knowledge of self, means trying to figure out your soul, which is inexhaustible and will always keep on giving the deeper you look into yourself. I guess Seneca is trying to say that we don’t need external things like friends, or places, to validate our experience. We only need to look within.

‘Looking within’ is one of those phrases like ‘Love your self’ which claims to say a lot but really says nothing. I feel we need to be clearer with this meaning. When I look within what do I see? It’s not easy, I am looking now, and all I feel is my consciousness and my thoughts. Looking within might feel at first like staring through a fog, but if you persevere and focus by asking yourself questions, like who are you, what do you want in life, what makes you happy, are you afraid and why, then perhaps we can get a better picture. Of course we have to represent this picture as it is, with absolute honesty, but it will only come, I suspect after repeated efforts. Looking within might also mean thinking about your past actions, lingering on the memories, trying to make the present accountable for the past.

Anyways this is getting long, and maybe I need to think about this and look within myself.

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Apologies for the impromptu hiatus

Hey yall,

My apologies for not keeping these reviews coming. I have posted 2 superlong reviews of an essay and a book which I had stalled on for at least a year. They are incomplete but longenough for you to get something out of it, and possibly leave a comment for discussion.

I have decided I want to take a different tact this time around. I will be focusing more on shorter essays with the occasional book review. The reviews will be mostly my reflections of the essays, with links for those who would like to go through without a super long summary of the plot.

See y’all soon.

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Incomplete Review of the Right to Exploit by Gijs Van Donselaar

Exploitation has become sort of my focus this past few weeks. I have decided to review a book I am currently reading. I will try to make my upcoming posts as short and detailed as possible.

What is exploitation? According to Gijs, exploitation can be defined as follows:

“A parasitic (property rights) relation exists between two persons A and B if in virtue of that relation A is worse of than she would have been had B not existed or if she would have had nothing to do with him, while B is better of than he would have been without A or having nothing to do with her, or vice versa”

My version of his definition, which he gets from David Gaulthier:

A relationship where Eve directly suffers and Adam benefits in the process. (It’s important to note that Gij stress’s that some relationships might not mean direct harm, but more of a nuisance value imposed on others to gain a benefit)

I think that Gij’s focus is clearly economic. I’m more concerned with an overall view of exploitation. But I’ll leave that aside to focus on some of the points he makes. The first part of the book focuses on reviewing a book (Morals by Agreement by David Gauthier); the main focus of that book is this:

“How do we divide the surplus that is produced via co-operative activities in such a way that is advantageous to all”.

Gij phrases it in a different way “How do we establish what it is that each of the parties brings to the bargaining table and how do we establish  what each should take from the bargaining table (given what he or she has brought)”. According to Gijs, Gauthier answers by saying that the position to bargain from should be one following the principle of mini-max relative concession, loosely meaning that one gets as much as one puts in.

Important points

  • In cases of scarcity, there is no way resources can be used without causing damage to others (or leaving them as good options as you have). In such cases it is important to consider that rigid property rights to such resources would give unnecessary leverage (exploitation) against others. 
  • Closely following from the first point, is perhaps the most important point: there is no way scarce resources can be defined, distributed or justified without considering the outcomes they have on others (if it deviates from their mini-max relative concession, meaning they get less than what they put it, or someone gets more than what he puts in, it is parasitism/exploitation)
  • Private property therefore is just those things when we possess, do not and cannot worsen the position of another. So according to Gijs, private property is restricted to one own’s person while all other possessions are subject to evaluation based on their outcomes (i.e. whether there is deviation from the mini-max relative concession)
  • While Scarcity can be overcome by cooperation, that fact alone will not stop conflicts over resources (very important point)
  • Ultimately the most important point is that “the justice of economic outcomes determines the justice of individual rights not vice versa
  • This last point can be applied to Justice in regard to all principles: It is the outcome that matters (particularly as it pertains to mini-max relative concession – or getting out what you put in), and not necessarily focusing on principles that may in fact cause deviations in the mini-max relative concession (in other words, cause exploitation)

Gijs then goes on to show how these points mentioned above are apply themselves concretely in tort law particularly how they assign liability in cases of exploitation (known legally as abuse of rights) often not in favour of the exploited. Gijs offers his shadow theorem as a solution in tort law:

Whenever the liable party requires the non-liable party’s agreement to implement the least cost solution, the liable party will be exploitable, even in the absence of negative externalities, if the non-liable party’s market behaviour is unconstrained.

What this means in effect is that sometimes people with private property, can claim to be ‘harmed’ by property they don’t care about, OR in some cases they (with private property) might try to force the aggrieved party to bargain the cheapest cost solution (and if they are smart, as Gijs points out, would try to bargain for a share of the cost solution) particularly in cases where there is no explicit law against exploitation or abuse of rights. So Gijs explains that  “legal liabilities do not tell us directly who should pay for damages that follow from interactions under natural conditions of scarcity or for the real cost of avoiding them”

I will avoid including the Rationality arguments for Gauthier’s Morality, which Gijs tries to show, but which is very wordy, abstruse, mathematical and not really essential to my reading of exploitation.

It follows from the arguments above, that exclusive and inviolable rights to property are evanescent (or really non existent), when they affect the outcome of the bargain (causing deviations in the relative mini-max concession [RMC]). In cases of scarcity, resources ought to be shared in a manner that reflects a “balance of bargaining power” between the agents involved. This balance again based on RMC. Therefore Gijs claims that “there exists only property rights to personal talents and capacities, and to the things that are directly produced through them”

Gijs therefore leaves room to ownership of capital (not including resources). This perhaps shows an inclination away from marxists (particularly in their view of the ownership of the means of production”. The confusion perhaps ensues when people directly produce/influence resources (or that is provide value to those resources), what happens then? Here Gijs produces something interesting by suggesting that exploitation rights of scarce resources should be given to those “who can turn these resources into consumer goods in the best, the cheapest and the most efficient way”. Gijs claims that if this is not the case, then the producers would be exploiting the consumers. Gijs makes this point masterfully by saying that just as how we choose the singer or philosopher who interests us  the most or who we appreciate the most, we should choose the producers who we appreciate the most, and not the one “who happens to control the relevant resources’. Gijs makes the point again by claiming that “Laissez-faire (or let me be) in appropriation tends to violate the conditions for ideal competition: it will not eliminate the inefficient producers”. In other words, this freedom to appropriate creates monopolies in capitalism, and evidently, these producers would rather want monopolies. Gij claims that the true honor of the entrepreneur lies in his ability to produce as efficiently as he can, but to produce at least as efficiently as any of his competitors would have done in his position (i.e. as far as the position is defined by his control over more resources)

There are of course potential problems with how to measure that a producer is producing as efficiently as his competitors, especially when he has sole (but temporary or not fixed) control of certain resources, and has possibly invested machinery and time to set up the ground game for the production of the resources. How does one who has set up investment in a particular resource and area, remove all the investment if the state is disatified with the production efficiency, in place of another producer? Gijs is aware of the complexity of a franchise system and understands some temporary ownership for some years would be the most practical solution, but remains optimistic that it would not hamper investment (based on historical evidence) and that on the contrary it would provide much needed competition to the producers. Gijs also makes a gross assumption that efficient producers would be the ones that can afford to bid the most for resources, and I’m not sure how he gets to this point.

Gijs then goes on to show how his view of exploitation is different from the marxist view of exploitation which focuses on surplus labor (labor spent in excess of living wage requirements). Gijs shows through a masterful example how this view is flawed, as it focuses on unequal labor relations which do not necessarily lead to exploitation (i.e. gaining at the expense of another). As suspected, he denies the socialist claim that the productive process ought to be collectivized (i.e. capital). Gijs claims the confusion may arise as some may see his suggestion to collectivize resources, and extend it to productive processes. Gij concludes that this collectivization of productive processes has tended to lead to sub-optimality. He doesn’t really go into why this is not exploitation, other than the fact that the proviso allows for ownership of capital, or why it would lead to sub-optimality (which I think someone should explain this, as I have a hunch this is an accurate assessment).

The second part of the book focuses on the interesting idea of basic income. According to Gij’s the philosophical underpinning of basic income comes from the the late Ronald Dworkin who claimed that resources should be shared equally among inhabitants of an area in the form of an auction, where inhabitants were given some (equal amounts of) money to bid for resources. According to Gijs, Dworkin claims this meets the non-envy test which means that if people wanted a specific portion of a resource, they would bid for it with more money than the others. Gijs explains that there are some problems with this view, starting with the idea that someone not really desiring resources that are hotly desired my bid to get them in order to exploit those that do really want those resources. There are also problems with the internal variation amongst people, and how an equality of money to auction resources may not leave some in advantageous positions without doing anything and others in desperate need to add to their resources.

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Incomplete Review of “The Production of Expertise and the Constitution of Expert Power” by Magali Sarfatti Larson

This was the longest, most detailed, most reviewed and probably most critical essay among the nine essays in the “Authority of Experts” book. On first reading I found this essay dense, and a bit unclear. Hopefully I can get a better sense of the essay in the review below:

Larson’s major emphasis (or take) on Experts is through the angle of political power that experts get and according to her view, have always sort of had, albeit now it has superceded traditionally dominant factors of power such as capital and state-managed socialism. According to Larson, the question to be asked is whether possession of scientific/technical knowledge can now directly confer political power upon its posessors, for which she argues in the affirmative that expertise can provide a base for attaining and exercising power by people “who can claim special knowledge in matters that their society considers important”.

Of course, I have to say at the very outset, that I see no distinction between knowledge and capital, perhaps it is a different type of capital, but it is capital nonetheless. Additionally, I do not suspect it is easy to claim special knowledge on scientific/technical issues, because of the necessary way in which claims are heard (in a scientific way, and not with details and logic shown, rather than conclusions). But let me let her go on.

Larson talks that theorists have classified experts as part of “a new and perhaps rising class” due to their autonomy (which we found out in Friedson’s essay leads to abuse). There is a great quote, Larson cites, from Galbraith about how power “goes to the factor which is hardest to obtain, or hardest to replace”, and Larson now sees technical knowledge as fitting in that category because of its scarcity. She points to a new development in Marxism (which Friedson points out in a non-specific way) about the close collaboration between experts and owners of capital, with experts having the upper hand because of their indispensability, as “the future will no longer be determined by exploitation, and no longer take place between capitalists and industrial workers” or even between “owners of capital and their highly professionalized technical and managerial employees”. Larson thus sees a decline of “old” class politics in favor of the new class of experts.

I have to interject again, by stating that their is a point that Larson perhaps underestimates and Friedson leaves out is – how is expertise generated. Of course experts play a major role in research but in actuality, most of the ‘labor’ is done by low level staff like students or technicians. So again, the idea of no longer a tension between capitalists (or experts as I see no distinction) and industrial workers is bogus. But again, let me let her continue.

Larson cites Galbraith, in whose analysis, we see that there are no big conflicts between experts of the private sector and expert-assisted state managers in terms of determination of economic surpluses because of what Galbraith calls a “technostructure” where by “they (experts of the private sector and expert-assisted state managers) no longer define opposite or even clearly separable positions”.  Larson outlines out the state and the cartelized oligopolistic private economies have been become closer together in the US since the world war I and the Depression, reducing the likelihood of conflict. Larson points importantly that the movement of personnel between the state and the private sector, which I think is a crucial point into the exploitation of the state.

However, Larson doesn’t rule out totally the idea of conflict, which she suggests lies in the decision-making levels of advanced market economies and in state-managed socialist ones, but she finds them mostly political in nature dealing primarily with “the quest for competitive advantage”, likely to be conditioned by “of change and relative scarcity” and where “the pursuit of advantage produces consequences of such a magnitude that they affect in a significant way the whole society or a substantial portion of it”. Basically these conflicts are power conflicts, which Larson calls ‘politics’ albeit they do not define a political order because they are not public in essence. Interestingly enough Larson finds that politics does not necessarily carry with it political vision, leaving this neat definition of Vision from Wolin “the ideal of an order subject to human control and one that could be transfigured through a combination of thought and action”.

But we are just scratching the surface in Larson’s essay, which she claims “is an exploration of the assumption that the same deep structures (technostructure) underlies the expanding role of experts and the drastic impoverishment of political life and vision in advanced societies.” Her strategy in writing the paper begins first by detailing the elements of liberal political theory that encouraged the idea of expertise, followed by an outline of the educational systems and how they came about (this she sees as a crucial point in how political order is maintained in advanced societies because of the notion that there are connections between knowledge and power), followed by showing different visions of expert power and how this particular model of expert power contrasts, and lastly she curiously argues that “scientists and technicians have a fundamental role to play in the recreation of political order” describing a possibility of “autonomous citizenship” for both experts and laity, although she fears it might be too late to stave off the final disaster of the anti-democratic use of expert knowledge.

If I can interject briefly here that it seems she is not against expertise, but perhaps against the anti-democratic use of expert knowledge, or  its authoritarian character, which Friedson finds necessary only if we as a society want to value certain forms of expertise. Also, while I agree that modern forms of expertise lie with liberal political theory, I feel this is too narrow, expertise has been in existence since the dawn of man. Experts could be priests, in the olden days, and professors in the modern days. I feel that more could be done on this anthropologically, to relate man and his culture and expertise. Expertise has always existed since the dawn of man (this is my claim), perhaps not in the way we understand it but even in wild life, animals defer to those that seem to know more.

Anyways,Larson begins as noted with a history of the liberal political theory that led to this idea of expertise. The History starts out in the seventeenth century with Hobbes (the backdrop of war, and revolution) who designed a state whereby the sovereign held order by fear and concentrated power, as opposed to the chaos of the war and revolution (and state of nature naturally according to him). Hobbes felt, according to Larson, that political was a supreme/divine act where humans went against their natural nature for legacy/history. But this view did not stick and political philosophy gathered the mundane beaureucratic feeling of government. Larson points to Adam Smith’s philosophy of individual autonomy, that sort of supplemented the view that “government is only needed to guarantee social transactions by the threat of legitimate force”. This, I think, is the libertarian view still held today, whereby “social order flows from autonomous arrangements that individuals develop among themselves, guided by habit, or by their spirit of innovation, or restlessness” and not from “any other authority or ordering vision” or what libertarians today derisively call “big government”.

Larson notes that the concept of society was critical component to most political ideologies, with various philosophers and social scientists trying to define and legitimize this concept, showing that we as people are held together by “unconscious and nonrational ties by which human beings are bound to systems of meaning, of loyalties, of hierarchical or communal relationships”. Larson notes that bourgeous sociology (I guess marxist) was among one of the ideologies borne out of the concept of society, while another (the focus of this essay), the british liberal theory was also borne out of this concept of society. According to Larson, it goes from Locke to the Utilitarians, to classical political economy, to radical economic reductionism. Larson doesn’t go on to explain what these notions are, but from my research, it seems to mean the focus on the economic relations of autonomous individuals above all politics. It’s a focus on business, so to speak, and the supposed ‘freedom’ of people to buy their needs, without any considerations of politics. Larson points out that while this view was permeating, a “positive countervision” of the political order, with revolutionary socialists, and radical democrats in Jacobin tradition (Again something I didn’t know had to look into it – seems like a term for a centralized republic).

However, Larson is interested in the british liberal tradition particularly as it pertains to what C.B McPherson calls “Possessive Indivualism”. Apparently, Larson claims, it was with this liberal tradition that professionalism originated, and consequently expertise. Larson succinctly notes her goal here: “The crux of my argument can be stated briefly: the ideological destruction of the political effected by liberal philosophy provided the necessary background for an ideology of professionalism which based legitimate social power on the foundations of private monopolies of expertise”.

Again I interject here: While it can (and rather easily) argued that the liberal philosophy did affect the political, and while it can be argued that monopolies did exist, i’m not so sure that professionalism  can be associated with these monopolies (which i’m not sure were monopolies of expertise). It is a stretch. But let’s see what her justification for this is. Unless, perhaps she is claiming what I have been saying all along, that there is no distinction between capitalists and experts, but she isn’t saying this so lets see.

Larson claims this ideology is unstable because it depends on resources available to capitalists or “leaders of professionalization movements”. According to Larson, this professionalization in the british (anglo-saxan) tradition originated from the civil society towards the market, while in continental Europe, professionalization originates from the civil society and fosters from a state apparatus. Larson explains that the british model is more suitable for discussion because of its contradictory tendencies (capitalism and liberal democracy), and that basically this ideology of expertise characterized by the free market imposes a specific set of legitimations: that conjoins (links) economic and social inequality with political-legal equality. In other words the dominance of economics over politics by merging it together via this ideology leads to a fundamental contradiction and the failure of the liberal democracy.

So this Ideology (Larson refers to as “possessive individualism”) from british liberal theory, according to Larson, rests on two basic assumptions critiquing absolute power (remember from hobbes) and asserting equal rights and rationality, are as follows: “first, that freedom – conceived of as freedom from the will of others and from any relations not voluntarily assumed, is the essence of being human”, and second that “the individual is essentially the proprietor of his own person and capacities, for which he owes nothing to society”. These are the assumptions, Larson points out via reference to CB McPherson, on which the exchange relations of the society as well as the political order of maintaining and protecting exchange relations, rests.

Again I interject here, stating how Randian these assumptions sound. This isn’t a critique but rather my first impression on reading this essay. I haven’t read Rand but from what I hear when I’m in conversations with friends but this seems about right. I found a quote online attributed to Rand, but encompasses both assumptions: “That which you call your soul or spirit is your consciousness, and that which you call ‘free will’ is your mind’s freedom to think or not, the only will you have, your only freedom, the choice that controls all the choices you make and determines your life and your character.” But lets keep going.

Larson contrasts this assumptions with the reality of voting (the political) were except for the US, there were restrictions to who can vote based on those who have certain levels of property, and how these propertied classes were able to set procedures by which they succeeded each other in governing. However, people began to revolt against this liberal theory, Larson shows, with liberal traditions own ideology of equal rights and equal reason. In addition, there were cracks in the theory of free market, with the proletariat trying to protect the society against rampant destructiveness of the free market. Larson writes, perhaps in a mocking manner, how when confronted with the idea of liberal state and liberal society, bourgeous intellectuals abandoned egalitarian democracy, citing how John Stuart Mill recommended plural voting (where professors and the like in a university could vote multiple time) basically a discrimination in favor of intelligence and education. Larson shows how this push for intelligence and ‘useful capital”  was the solution proposed by the bourgeouis as a pre-emptive measure to abate fears of the class warfare (between those with property and those without) by pushing the “promise of better distributed education”.  This claim, Larson suggests was well suited to the new professional and intellectual strata.

Larson states that these specialized intellectual branches nurtured the idea of collective social mobility, which entailed creation of protected markets within the “free for all” capitalism. Interestingly, Larson states that professional reformers defined expertise as whatever they were interested in, or what they thought worth doing. Larson shows that these experts appealed to the state as a way to create market opportunities (or as a way to break monopolies of traditional experts), for which the state gave them legitimation. Larson explains that this blurring of knowledge and the individual created a special kind of property which can only yield income and social authority through the acceptance of the public (either by choice or sufferance/toleration) again allowing the experts define their problems and their solutions. Critically, she points out that professionalization always give the state a positive role (remember earlier she mentioned that politics was just power struggle not necessarily with a vision). Larson cites Foucault as the philosopher who describes this notion of expert (knowledge) power, noting that the states role moved beyond coercion and arbitration, to actually a more positive task of defining needs and hiring experts to solve them. Larson shows that experts have used this knowledge power, institutionally accepted, towards monopolizing discourse

Larson then talks about this new form of power – the right to speak, that discourse is power in itself. Larson suggests that when experts appropriate right to discourse exclusively to themselves, they define the thoughts, accepted definitions, and internalized moral and epistemological (what sort of knowledge) exists. Larson claims that while it may appear impersonal due to general knowledge claims, it is also very personal as these claims become internalized and in a sense become the natural expressions or extensions of will of the people. This power, Larson states, is sought by experts both for its own sake and for what benefits it can bring. Larson mockingly writes that experts have been willing to legitimate and criticize all forms of human power, but have failed to denounce their own claim to power: objective knowledge.

I have to interject here: I do think the power she talks about is vastly overstated. If this was the case that people had internalized beliefs then the world be a much safer, better, more logical place. Unfortunately people are swayed by beliefs rather than knowledge, or the irrational (feelings, fear, emotions) rather than the rational. What Larson forgets or understates is that this knowledge/experience is gotten externally from a common source, and that people (laity) also get their own beliefs from this common source as well. The risks of ignorance recognized by the laity brought about the experts. Larson also doesn’t talk about whether experts have a right to discourse is a good thing or bad thing. As she notes, the multiplicity of discourse (or competition as she puts it) leads to relativity and no knowledge. Besides the experts cannot force people to adopt their views, unless the state agrees. People still have a choice to use their own rationality and assess their own experiences and see if it meshes with belief. But then again lets continue

Larson states that experts got a general legitimation from the public from their projects because of a combination of various ideologies: one being the ethic of craftsmanship (or work) which is pre-capitalist, the ethic of community (she doesn’t give much here but seems to be the community of criticism with its heirarchies), an ethic of privilege or noblesse oblige which is the idea that if you are in an advantaged position it is nobler for you to help the disadvantaged, in addition to the transcendence of reason apprehended by scientific procedures – the main justification posed by experts. Larson sites that with this legitimation, a faith in science began to take hold particularly revving up in the 19th century when claims were convincingly between scientific theory and research applications. And while, Larson writes, this view of technological superiority and economic imperialism brought abundance of goods, the lack of distribution (unstated) which brought about the industrial revolution particularly via the egalitarian political dimension (brought about by the assumptions of possessive individualism) meant that the enlightenment period was shaken with doubts over the myth of progress through science. But the real missing element as to the degradation of the political order due to monopolies of experts according to Larson was due to something else

Larson states that the degradation of the political order in liberal society was due to emergence of formally free system of mass education. Larson writes somewhat magnificently here “It was this meritocratic educational system that softened and diffused the impact of egalitarian ideological commitments in an increasingly unequal society, helping to legitimate both economic inequality and experts claim of privilege”. Interestingly, Larson continues, the apparent equality of educational opportunity changed the system of equality among individuals towards a class system. Experts, according to Larson, began to spread the ideology that one could get ahead in life via education.

Remember that Larson’s strategy began with explaining the elements of liberal political theory that encouraged the idea of expertise. We have seen the various strands of ideologies that sustain this view of expertise. Now, Larson will continue by outlining the educational systems particularly their origin and its relation to maintaining, as noted earlier, political order and inequality. In other words, a focus on institutions.

Larson begins by noting that the myth of progress was compatible with liberal political elitiism and was central for both technocratic utopias and socialist revolutionary visions. According to Larson this appeal to scientific esoteric knowledge combined well with political philosophies and organizations that excluded the possibilities of genuine mass democracy. Larson points that there are other factors that also discourage the idea that genuine mass mobilization pointing to the consequence of concentration of power in the modern state apparatus/large productive units of industrial capitalism, that leads to a dialectic of growing organizational size and complexity thus leading to a demand for rational techniques of control and decision making. In other words, these power mongers accumulate power, concentrating it and thereby enlarging their organizations as well as making them more complex, which in  turn causes a demand for rational decision making. It’s a really good critique of the negative effects of concentration of power on mass democracy. It would be interesting to find out if the complexity and large population caused the concentration (i.e. the reverse  of the aforementioned position), or whether Larson’s position stands.

Larson emphasizes that it is concentrated power that is the common denominator between industrial capitalism and bureacratic socialism rather than their common technologies of organization and production. Larson suggests that rational technologies tend to spring out as a consequence of increasing complexity and size, which in itself is a consequence of concentration of decision making. Larson explains that the concentration of power in large organizations widens the chain of consequences of any single decision increasing social interdependence and social costs of error. But is Larson right, or is the reverse the case, i.e. that  complexity and increases in population density lead to the concentration of power.

Larson points to the inevitability of going towards scientific and technical expertise, as she suggested earlier as a means to tackle complexity and increased population size, and that it reduces legitimate citizen participation in decision making. Larson claims that the average person is doubly excluded from decision making because first, the decision making power is delegated or contained within private or public administrations insulated from public debate, and second, the fact that these decisions are assisted by expert advice/complex technology, the average citizen that doesn’t have that knowledge would be disenfranchised. Larson derisevely refers to this power governing complex/technologically advanced societies as an “administration of things’, meaning people are seen as objects (that don’t contribute to the solution).

Larson contends that this scientific expertise which is  a structural factor in the aggregation/concentration of power, is less visible as it diffuses throughout the organizational hierarchy of growing bureaucracies. Larson’s point here is crucial, because unlike other forms of power, this power is faceless and unaccountable, albeit concentrated within groups (last phrase unstated but maybe implied). Larson also talks about capitalist development and how it functions side by side with an increasingly interdependent world system. In addition, capitalism faces periods of crises and prosperity in a wave like form, and Larson contends (citing Thomas Weisskopf) that new institutions “provide a certain stability and generate prosperity for a capitalist system” up to a point, then a crises and then a new institutional change.

Larson cites a historical example of the 1920’s (depression era) and how monopolies came about due to anarchy of competition. The problem was one of technological unemployment due to “enormous gains in productivity per capita in agriculture and manufacturing”, and insufficient demand contrasted with excess supply (overproduction/underconsumption). Larson cites the institutional change that occured due to the crises of capitalism, with a state assisting in demand-management Keynesianism as well as basic social security provisions.

Larson cites that this crises of capitalism (along with the war) led to a new form of ‘security capitalism’ whereby “state sponsored economic security was grafted onto the monopolistic core of the capitalist economy” (again citing Weisskopf). Relative peace due to world dominance by the US up until the 1960’s, was concurrent with the expansion of mass higher education.  This massive educational expansion offered educational opportunity to veterans as well as young people and increasingly attracted larger and larger populations of the later from the work force, as well as propagating the idea/system that a “new and mandatory pre-employment phase had been successfully established”. Larson (citing carson) claims that with this educational opportunity, there was some temporary voluntary withdrawal from the workforce for those seeking new educational opportunities, as well as the educational system providing “a trained work force from which  great gains could be expected and one that could adjust to the new employment demands of highly developed disaccumulationist capitalism”. Larson explains disaccumulationist capitalism in a footnote when productivity increases without adding more labor or technology, and as such leading to labor stagnation and labor power dwindling.

The rapid growth of Education in the US was far ahead of other capitalist societies, and was supported according to Larson, by surpluses of the american economy as well as the ideology that education can equalize for class/gender inequalities as well as “the burden of alleviating ethnic, racial and religious conflicts in a uniquely heterogeneous society”.

Interjecting here: Is it the Uniqueness of american education that has the burden of equalizing for class/gender inequalities or is maybe it is something that i would have to look into. Or is that the burden of education as a whole. Isn’t education the answer to poverty, social problems, conflicts and war. Why is it unique with america. Although I am aware of the ideology that if you are successful in education in america, you can make it in the capitalist world.

Larson thus argues that as long as the democratization of educational opportunities responds to general contradictions and general manpower requirements for capitalism then it has social and ideological ramifications in that “they both reinforce and perfect the effectiveness of liberal doctrine of possessive individualism at various levels of social hierarchy”. Larson doesn’t specify what these general contradictions are.

Nevertheless Larson explains that “educational certification is an achieved cultural good”. Larson equates educational certification with money, in that it gives a quantitative expression of social inequalities. In other words, if you have a phd you are guaranteed to get a higher pay/position than someone  with a masters degree certification. Larson touches on an important point by mentioning that their are economic and political conflicts that take place in a mass educational system and she attributes that to the idea of competition among individuals for ‘money-like rewards’ and I think she’s being generous here. Larson calls formal education a ‘cultural currency’ that gives one the illusion that the different levels of educational certification are continuous (related).[I think Larson is stretching here again, and the fact that you cannot just get any level of certification but that it is in order, is not a conspiracy or illusion but a reality)

Larson does come to making yet another important point linking education to capitalism, basically that with the expansion of formal educational opportunities, people believe that (and behave like) to improve one’s economic situation one must depend solely on self-improvement through the investments in education.  [But surely the reason why people believe this is because they NEED money. Where can they get money if not from capitalists  (jobs) and why won’t capitalists hire them, because they lack certain skills/credentials? People don’t just want to earn degrees, they need to to be able to put food on the table.]. Larson refers to this self improvement via education as  classical human capital theories. (Note to self: This is very important, and look up)

Larson incredibly states that the tendency towards equalization of educational opportunities has led to “greater, not lesser inequality”. In a footnote, she explains that (according to Raymond Boudon) in a stable structure where desirable occupational positions do not increase at a pace of educational opportunities, that the generalized increase in demand for education is a causal factor in the reduction of socio-economic mobility)

Interjection here: I’m not so sure what the point is here, other than in times of excess educational opportunities (supply), education loses it leverage by employees. This is rational, and i’m not exactly sure educational opportunities are to blame, or the excess of them are to blame either. The scarcity of capitalists can also be to blame here.  A balance is what is suitable. Also people (students) adjust to what capitalists are hiring in excess (and make tradeoffs with finances and interest). Back to Larson.

Larson continues that a diffused labor market credentialism leads to a complex structure of class and power by the ‘specialized segmentation of the occupational realm’ (what does this mean?). More importantly, Larson states spectacularly that the connection of ‘cultural currency’ of education to capitalism leads to the illusion of a “meritocratic homogeniety of the occupational structure’. In other words, “unequal rewards appear as the effect of individual investments in education which are quantitatively and qualitatively unequal, but always individual and visible”. In other words, people feel that their pay is related to their years of schooling credentials, when in reality there are more factors.

Larson then reiterates the claim she made earlier, that the professional and intellectual strata (experts) have a collective goal of linking education to occupational rewards (remember as a result of protests by proletariats not having enough for food and water as well as voting rights because of lack of property, with J.S. Mill). Larson states that most expert disciplines are increasingly dependent (and geared) on the public sector and have promoted education. Larson reiterates that in the US, the fundamental justification for market monopolies and inequality was meritocratic (not political), so it was based on superior formal training and certified knowledge. In addition, Larson claims that the US was special in that it had less of a backdrop/history to draw on in terms of legitimizing inequality hence it fell to education. {I’m not exactly sure if this is true, and I definitely feel that Larson is stretching it when she says next that medicine and law have inserted themselves at the top of the hierarchical process – it seems that while there was definitely politics involved, there was also a real organic demand for science]

Again larson makes the point that screening and restriction of professional training to the graduate level has been a sort of justification for social exclusiveness (inequality) and that technical knowledge (Math/Science) has been seen to have more legitimacy than ‘diffuse’ knowledge with the attainment of the former seen as a form of cultural superiority. Larson makes a point in the footnote that these graduate degrees are directed towards the academic setting rather than employment.

Coming to the conclusion of this section on education, Larson makes a solid point which I have decided to reproduce verbatim: “If a system of mass higher education is to function effectively as both an absorber of surplus labor and a training-sorting machine, large sectors of the public must see post-secondary credentials as quasi-universal prerequisites for entry into “desirable ” labor markets. Or in other words, the occupational opportunities for those without degrees must be or seem to be very bad  in either quality or quantity”. The statement in essence is that without an education/credentials you can’t get a job and you will most likely suffer without money to provide necessities.  Interestingly Larson points out, the increase in credentials led to employers increasing their increasing their entry requirements rather than requiring more technical knowledge. This of course means that instead of one interview, employers now have 5 to 10 with multiple hoops to wheedle out credentialed candidates. Larson claims that while it may be the case that the public demanded higher education before employers, the reality is that the stronghold has been strengthened because of the stability (financial) they received from working. In addition, Larson also claims that employers have also tried to spread the idea that higher education is indespensable to justify their monopolies . [Again, i think this is stretching, of course their is a self serving interest in higher education, but i’m not sure monopolies are directly causally related, at least most times, to higher education. However, i do take the point that some employers are looking for the next big thing, new idea, new innovation to claim as property and make money off]

Larson then states that students become more desperate under pressure to get admitted into higher education due to their perceptions of occupational and educational opportunities. Larson then talks about how community colleges “cool out” students aspirations and lead them into vocational training which does not have a real market value. Interestingly enough, Larson claims that because of the surplus of youthful workers, these community colleges have begin to spread and are used as ‘holding places’ for these students  transforming “a structurally induced failure into a personal one”. In other words, because the schools can’t admit everyone that is qualified, those that do end up in community colleges tend to get low skills and psychologically give the idea that the student failed rather than the system failing to admit qualified candidates. Larson claims the irony is that while the effect of this shifting from structural to psychological failure is powerful, it is also the case that it doesn’t obscure the reality of aspirations of students and available realities of work. In addition, the irony that though the excess of students are trained in vocational training, it doesn’t cloud the reality that students are getting educated at colleges and becoming more alert, educated could become potentially dangerous for capitalism (implied but not said: realizing that capitalism is not the best system to organize society). Larson concludes the section by “attempting to show the inherent contradictions and planned inequalities of mass higher education” and how “they permeate the ideology of expertise”.

So Larson begins to make her case against mass education by stating that first mass education systems funded by the state give a monopoly to rational knowledge, and that credentials which are garnered tend to be linked to cognitive development or personal authority with knowledge, and that credentials are not merely the signs of knowledge that is valued but socially recieving a credential almost amounts to personal inferiority or superiority of the ‘human capital’ one has acquired.  Larson claims that the purpose of mass education is to promote social-epistemological deference (deference on what knowledge is). Larson claims that the way this is done is by imparting general ideology or ‘widely shared beliefs/assumptions/knowledge’ and sprinkling some specific ideologies in limited special discourses restricted to “the circles of the initiated’.

Interjecting here; I just find this so cynical and not contrived. How can one know the specific ideologies without a basic understanding of foundational concepts/knowledge. Larson carry on.

Larson claims that these ideologies are then subsumed in the hierarchical and meritocratic structures of formal education. Larson then points to what would be an ideal case, whereby “the pyramidal structure of educational systems should provide, at each level the cognitive substratum required for understanding the next, more advanced level as is necessary to the latter’s legitimation”. Hence, as she puts it, “a vast public would thus be progressively enabled to locate different areas of expertise within the complex map of modern culture and to grasp in cognitive terms the full legitimacy of esoteric specialist knowledge”

Interjecting here: this is already what happens. But the last phrase, “to grasp in cognitive terms’ is a leap. Yes you can grasp the esoteric knowledge after spending months becoming acquainted with it, but not immediately (at least not unless you are quite bright). Anyways back to Larson

Larson claims that formal education should be stronger when compared with alternative criteria that evaluates cultural and cognitive self worth. Larson paints a picture of this alternative, it would be autonomous and relatively insulated collectivities, capable of having a social identity different from the state. Larson claims these communal bases have been neglected by sociology in favor of homogenization, rationalizing and centralizing tendencies of industrial capitalism and the state. Larson finds a similar problem with interpretations of marxist tradition which have focus on homogenizing and centralization of the guiding principles of social policy in marxist socialist regimes.

Interjecting: It would be interesting to explore why the communal base is better or worse than the formal education, especially in terms of an epistemological view point.

Larson continues by claiming that the recent surge of “regionalism. the claims for decentraliazation at all levels, the renewed strength of religious movements, the emergence of separatist natinoalism, the emphasis on localism,” are all testament to the diversity and heterogeneity of cultural codes. Larson’s point seems to be the centralization of power either in the state or via capitalism as being rejected by people. Larson points to people breaking out of this ‘mass culture’ and turning to separatism and decentralization.

According to Larson, Formal education provides an “arena” for the dialectical opposition between new and old principles. On the one hand, the school represents, according to larson, concretely a failure of the homogenizing and rationalizing central ideology, as students become tools (in a marxist sense, not said but implied) as they complain of the nature of work, and the absence of meaningful work. But on the other hand, while knowledge attained from the school helps you to rise up in the social ladder, the new disaccumulationist or post industrial phase of capitalism treats knowledge (not labor as previously used) as a factor of production, and focuses rather not on getting new knowledge but on fully utilizing existing knowledge (via capacities or processes). The conflict therefore, as Larson sees it, is one of the imposition of static knowledge and of social-espistemological deference versus the empowerment/animation of capacities for learning (or maybe the idea of critical thinking, of being efficient with the knowledge we have).

Larson then gets to the funding of the school system, which is primarily the modern state. The state also acts, according to Larson, as a chief employer of qualified personnel, or a chief user of services/esoteric knowledge. Larson claims this ‘background role’ of the state is a constant reminder of the dispossession that the average citizen suffers (remember: when Larson talks about the double exclusion of citizens: one from the decision making power which is delegated to private/public administrations, and second the nature  of esoteric knowledge that disenfranchises the average citizen by the lack of expert knowledge).

Interjecting here: I think Larson raises a good point. While the nature of knowledge is discriminatory, or rather it builds on complexity, the idea that citizens should be open to the decision making of what they need is crucial to my system of a techno-democracy where people get to decide what they want, or rather the decision making process is opened up as to what are the problems and how it should be solved.

Larson claims that the enabling (positive) and disabling (negative) aspects of cognitive authority lead to issues of democratic theory/practice, and she therefore wants to show that the ‘politicization of cognitive issues may be the logical reaction to the pervasive depoliticization and displacement of political conflict in which knowledge-related institutions have played an important, if perhaps unwitting part”

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Review of “Are Professions Necessary” by Eliot Friedson

It took me about 6 weeks to review the book, in which the essay was the first among 9 very complex essays. My initial impressions that I can recall from this essay, was one of ease, simplicity and clarity. Simplicity may not be the right word, because it is the only essay to define what it means to be a professional, or what characteristics professionals possess as opposed to those that claim that status. So lets get to it:

What is this essay about?: “What I propose to do here is first establish a framework (of what it means to be a profession) within which evaluation can take place, a framework built by indicating the most basic characteristic of all occupations, professional or not, and then specifying the progrosseively more particular characteristics that many and finally only a few of these occupations called professions may be said to possess” Basically, the idea is to define what it means to be a profession, since Friedson says that there has not been a cohesive framework in recent criticism of what it means to be a profession. Friedson was not only concerned with identifying major characteristics of professions, but he also wanted to review the current charges and criticism that has been laid on professions and has been permeating through western (american) culture since the 1960’s onwards.

Professions, according to Friedson, are “a kind of work that people do for a living”. In other words, Professions are “part of a labor or work force”. Friedson, then goes into clarification mode, distinguishing different forms of labor (farm workers, blue collar, semi-skilled workers, clerical and sales workers). These different forms of Labor, as Friedson reminds us, are part of a hierarchical structure where the uppermost labor force constitutes the professions. These professions are characterized by “lifetime, relatively secure, and stable work careers”  and require credentials which account for required training necessary to work. Friedson also points out that professions tend to have “considerable discretion or autonomy in doing their work”. Friedson differentiates professionals from crafts (apprentice training) because the former have higher education (theoretical underpinning) while the later are more pragmatic without that theoretical reasoning to point to their work.  Friedson also differentiates professionals from technicians, the later having some form of education from a two or four year college, but unlike the former, is not specialized enough to be realize the benefits of the professional status. Friedson also differentiates managers from professionals because the former are not required to have specialized credentials for employment, albeit they may have some general education.

For Friedson, the defining characteristics of a profession, are Credentialism, Autonomy and Expertise. An occupation must have all these characteristics to be considered as a Profession. Friedson then defines professions as full time specialists that are committed to their work for income “rather than being either part-time dabblers or amateurs, or people who work at one job one year and another the next”.

Referring back to the criticism facing professions of late, Friedson points out that different authors have different opinions regarding these characteristics (Credentialism, Autonomy, Expertise). Friedson then starts  to explain the criticism by starting first with what he callsthe mildest critics, or reformers of professionalism

Criticisms and Solutions

Reformers of Professionalism: According to Friedson, “they all accept the basic idea that sustains the special position of professions – that there are certain kinds of specialized work which are sufficiently important to society and sufficiently difficult to do well to warrant protection by credentialism and its supporting systems.” The problem was not the existence of credentialed specialists or because the professionals made false claims to special knowledge, but rather “because they (professions) are felt to be be functioning defectively, and perhaps receive greater rewards for their work than is appropriate”. In essence the claim is one of Extortion. Professionals are getting more economically for their work than is demanded or expected of them. It is basically a high charge for ignorance (or lack of specialized knowledge).

Solutions: Friedson points to various solutions from conservatives (who want to reduce state interference and reform the institutions from within) to liberals (who want more state regulation “and consumer pressures, while reducing the capacity for professions to resist those external forces”), Radicals (who focus on the capitalistic economy and its orientation to private profit which seduces professionals and who look towards a socialistic regime to help remove the selfish lust for profit in business)

Abolition of Credentialism: While a few want abolishment of all credentials, some want abolishment of all credentials that are exclusive. Some like Milton Friedman, have cited the lack of genuinely free labor due to exclusive licensing citing intensified competition as a way to improve quality of work, while others have focused on the freedom of workers to do what work they desire without constraint, and consequently the freedom of consumers to pick and choose based on their own criteria whatever products they want, and even freedom of consumers from institutional pressures to choose certain services (medicine for example from a licensed physician) rather than self diagnosis or mutual aid. Here the problem is professionalism particularly its discriminatory nature and the solution is an abolition of credentialism. However, Friedson does mention a particular critic by the name of Ivan Illich, who “attacks the very idea of expertise, no matter what its institutionalized form”. Here the criticism isn’t on the exclusivity of credentialism, but the dependence on specialized knowledge or expertise. In other words, the “disabling nature” of expertise to consumers, disincentivizing people from learning how to do things for themselves and from relying on themselves and their community.

Friedson then goes on to give his opinion on whether professionals are necessary. To do that, he asks questions of the fundamentals of professionalism, are they necessary, that is expertise, credentialism or autonomy to professionals and the community at large.

Is Expertise Necessary? Friedson starts out by saying that expertise is the least common (or in other words, most essential) characteristic of Professions. And he starts out by granting professions this characteristic, because professions connote “superior skilfulness or expertise at doing a job professionally”. Friedson points out that there are some common skills that do not require training and are accessible to almost everybody, while there are some complex skills that require training and experience. Friedson points out that while everyone is capable of getting training and experience, many don’t, and the few who do therefore possess superior skills or more complex skills that a normal person. But then Friedson points out we are back to Ivan Illich’s point, that people would rather delegate their responsibilities on knowledge of complex beneficial tasks/skills to experts, and as Ivan points out that can be disabling to consumers. But as Friedson points out, the specialization that the expert undergoes, can also be disabling too, since the person has the potential to do many things, and only does on (or only concentrates on a minute aspect of reality to transform to knowledge). But Friedson asks, is it possible to have a society without experts, and his response is classic for this essay “The answer is obvious: people can do everything for themselves without depending on specialists for satisfaction of the full range of their needs only so long as their needs are very modest and their mode of life very simple”. In other words, complex needs beget complex demands and require complex solutions that lie in the hands of experts. The point is an important one, when you consider what it means: that division of labor is inevitable in a society, and it is only a simple modest societies where this can be somewhat expendable, even if not wholly. Friedson rejects the Ivan Illich criticism that expertise is not needed because “in order to truly abolish disabling experts, one would have to abolish all but small, largely economically self-sufficient communities and accept a very severe reduction in the number of needs permitted to their inhabitants”. Friedson points not only to complex technology and an exponential growth in knowledge and technique but also to population growth (or rather population distribution in high densities) as a major influence in the growth of experts.

My critique: While I agree that expertise is necessary and does exist, its status as the one true theory of knowledge, is dogmatic (troubling at best). I am surprised that Friedson doesn’t see that business (the idea of meeting demand) in itself a form of expertise. The division between a CEO and an expert is perhaps more semantics. The State is not an expert per say, but it is an organization  of experts, whose role is to fix problems in the society. I would like to run with this idea and see where it goes

Is Credentialism Necessary? Friedson builds on expertise, stating that since we accept the necessity of expertise, “we must recognize the fact that in order for expertise to exist as a stable and reliable activity it must be institutionalized in some fashion. In any large and complex community, there must be some conventional way by which people can identify an expert without having to rely on word of mouth testimonials, on prior personal experience or on time and resource consuming, risky, trial employment”. The problem Friedson points out is that: now that experts exist, we have to figure out who these experts are, and we need a system of doing that generates or stabilizes experts. This is a critical problem because as Friedson points out, anyone can claim to be an expert if the stakes to the labor consumer are high enough. Friedson thus suggests that Institutions can go a long way to add credibility to the experts. Friedson suggests that credentialism is necessary precisely because of its discriminatory nature of selecting those that are supposed to be experts from those that are not. Friedson acknowledges that there might be some that might be able to perform the task, but may not have the proper credentials, and this is a problem. However, he cites exclusion as an inevitable consequence of division of labor, or in other words of expertise and so he points out that “what may be reasonably criticized about credentialism, therefore is not the fact of selectivity and exclusivity, but rather the grounds for exclusion are just and fair”. Friedson also notes that there is a second point to credentialism, the inverse problem of protectionism, which he cites as necessary for providing incentives to become experts, especially as it is a specialized central interest for professionals. However, Friedson points out that because credentialism is necessary, it doesn’t therefore mean that every profession should be credentialed, and it may be the case that for some jobs that are low risk to the consumer, he/she might want to take the risk and find an expert on their own. So while he admits that some “inappropriate forms of credentialism” can be abolished, based on the kinds of work, and a complete abolition for some forms of work, A TOTAL abolition for all kinds of work would be reckless and not pose a solution to the problems but be a problem in itself. Friedson also points out the degrees of exclusivity and freedom of credentials vary from job to job, and it would be interesting to study and note.

My Critique: The problem of how to choose experts (from non experts) is a critical one, that I agree, credentialism can help solve. But there is a larger problem that Friedson misses, How to choose experts from experts. With the growth of experts there is a recognition that there are multiple theories that could account for specific data. How does a state for example choose one expert over another, if they focus on different ends. How does a consumer choose between competing experts. As I mentioned, there really is no difference between the business and experts, and business solved this problem of competing business products through messaging (advertising). Is this the approach the state should use?

The problem of credentialism is that it lies with strong institutions. If there are weak institutions, any one can get any thing and then experts would face competition from quacks. It is even a bigger problem with protectionism. Business has come out with clear goals that must be met (make a profit) for accountability. Experts do not seem to have a clear goal organization wise, and so may stay forever without being accountable for what they do. And Friedson needs more clarity on which professions should not be credentialed and which should? It seems to me that some professions like writing that don’t need training or skill, or that can flourish with personal genius should not be credentialed. Or singing, any personal talent should not be credentialed. But things that one can learn from the world, not talents, should be credentialed.

Is Autonomy Necessary? Friedson points out that just like credentialism depends on the assumption that there is expertise (complex and esoteric), autonomy too rests on the idea that knowledge and skill is “so esoteric that it warrants no interference by laymen, and so complex, requiring so much judgement from case to case, as to preclude governing it by an elaborate system of work rules or by supervision exercised by a superior official”. Friedson suggests that only a few occupations can be organized this way to manifest professional autonomy (control). Friedson points to the ideal version of occupational control (autonomy) showing the various forms of monopolies (economic monopoly controlling the recruitment, training, and credentialing of practitioners, political monopoly controlling the area of expertise in terms of being an authoritarive spokesman on affairs, and lastly administrative or supervisorial monopolies controlling the practical affairs connected with work such as the work standards, evaluations of work etc”. This is perhaps the main crux of power associated with professions, in my opinion. So is autonomy necessary for professions? According to Friedson, yes “if we would like to support methods of constituting and organizing work which is not deforming or degrading”, and yes “if we would like to support the production of goods and services which are not disabling to consumers.” On the first point, autonomy affords the expert to be creative to choose what works and how to perform that work, according to Friedson. This is contrast to the Marxist critique of capitalism which focuses on the lack of freedom of workers in deciding what and how to do their work. Friedson challenges the claim of autonomy due to esoteric knowledge with the use of machines which standardize processes, however while that may be necessary of low risk goods like shoes or radios, but for higher risk products standardization might risk proletarianizing the producer and forcing the consumer into inappropriate categories. A good example, unmentioned, here is medical care.

Friedson points out that autonomy has been abused by professionals, in the sense that economic self interest has been disproportionate to service. In addition, Friedson points out that Professions have been so strong that they have been able to impose on consumers their own conception of what is needed. Nevertheless, Friedson finds that these problems can be solved via management without totally destroying abolition. Friedson talks about how in the case of economic protection, while it is necessary to encourage and protect investments made by experts, it does not follow that a profession should be the one to establish and maintain that protection. What Friedson, in my opinion, is trying to point to is a balance that he believes can be found between admitting that some necessary level of economic protection exists and the outrageous economic self interests maximized by experts. My Critique: While I agree in principle with Friedson, it is hard to see why experts would knowingly admit to submit to managerial authorities in terms of autonomy. It is simply against their incentive to do so. It MUST therefore be applied by the state, or institutional bodies designed to watch these professions. In addition, Friedson fails to point out the issue of Accountability with experts. CEO’s are accountable by the profits they make (are they profitable or not). Experts do not seem to have an end goal other than play, or rather a way to make them accountable since they have considerable autonomy. How do we make experts accountable to the public, do we set clear targets and what sorts of targets, and who keeps them accountable (The state?). 

Friedson also makes the point about political monopolies that experts claim, and that it is not necessary  to “sustain its integrity and value”. According to Friedson, professionalism is mainly about the values/goals that a society wants or appreciates, and it may be indeed necessary for experts to have a political monopoly or “authoritative voice” on expertise that is valid and valuable. I do agree with this, political say, although I am not willing to go along and make it autocratic. In other words, they should be recommendations suggested to the public in details, and the public should vote on whether they want these procedures or not. Experts should also seek multiplicity in their solutions, this way the public can have options and decide what they value the most. Solutions therefore should be stated with values outlined ahead, and the public should decide democratically.

Friedson makes the final point on autonomy, saying that the evaluation of work by experts is  not easily done by anyone other than an expert, and as such peer review is necessary. However, Friedson points out that peer review’s only focus should be technical expertise, because other areas of the job may require judgements (moral, social relationships) and will require reviews by outside groups (lay and professional). It is not, in my opinion, immediately apparent to me who specifically will review these expert groups, but I doubt this review is accessible to the public (in terms of moral and social relationships). Perhaps, I would put it this way, the public can review the price they pay for expertise and can demand adjustments lower or higher. But in terms of reviewing judgement, i think it is the realm of philosophers, who can question the necessity of certain courses of action, or relationships.

So Friedson concludes by asking the original question, are professions necessary? He claims that expertise is indeed necessary if we want a complex society (again nothing is necessary but conditional on what goals we want). Is Credentialism necessary, again he says if we want to be able to identify experts and reasonably protect consumers from costs, then yes, albeit which occupations that need to be credentialed/and what forms of credentialism is open to debate. And while no form of sweeping (total) autonomy is necessary for experts, a sufficient amount of autonomy is necessary to be able to be effective at work (and if we wish to avoid both alienation of practitioners and standardization of consumer demands). So the answer to the original answer is yes (but only if you want certain values of complexity in a society).

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