Monthly Archives: April 2015

展望乌托邦

我真切地意识到这句话的威力,还得从杭州那个星光灿烂的夜晚说起。那晚我和半生不熟的友人坐在马路牙子上清谈,关于精致的利己主义者在象牙塔里的迷失。几轮交锋过后,我发现这句话让我所有的论证固若金汤。友人沉默良久,然后请我喝了一杯布丁奶茶。我想她大概已爱上思维敏捷的我–又或者她只是想让我闭嘴罢了。

这句话是“资本主义是万恶之源”。那天我使用的版本是,据钱教授批评,当代大学生失去崇高理想一心只想去投行或美帝,原因是社会风气鼓励个人主义和利益最大化。推而广之,这论证还适用于贪污腐败,食品安全等等。世风日下,那是西方大毒瘤又来祸害我们了。

适用范围这么广,一个妙处在于这句话的前提永远政治正确。就算脱离了大陆语境,资本主义大抵也是坏的。然而批评“坏”总暗含对“好”的假设。比方说,资本主义不好,是因为“社会主义好”。在《真实乌托邦》(Envisioning Real Utopias)里,美国社会学家赖特(Eric Olin Wright)采用的是“激进民主平等主义”(radical democratic egalitarian)的正义观。这套正义观从社会正义和政治正义两个维度,强调所有人都应有平等的机会与资源来维持基本满意的生活,并参与有关的公共决定。他强调的“平等”类似机会平等:不是指所有人一起吃大锅饭,只是确保大家都有机会不饿死。不是指所有人都能发大财,只要确保最后砸锅卖铁不是一开始就没机会翻身的原因。

这一套正义观仿佛很“左”。而赖特也的确是美国新左派(New Left)的支持者之一。他毕业于加州大学伯克利分校,曾任美国社会学协会主席,现于威斯康辛麦迪逊大学任终身教授。上世纪六十年代,他也曾与其他年轻人一起,在公民运动,女权运动,同志运动和反越战的浪潮里激昂文字。他们反对个人主义和消费主义,追求自由平等的政治理想,通过不同的生活方式来挑战已有的权力格局和文化压迫。

《真实乌托邦》便源于这样的政治理想。赖特并不相信资本主义是人类社会的终极形态,试图提出一套解放性的社会改变(emancipatory social change)方案。苏联解体,大陆转型后,这类话题变得不再受欢迎。但将改变的可能完全否决似乎又有些武断。其一,历史的局限性一直束缚着我们对未来的想象。其二,类似维基百科这样“反资本主义”的项目这几年可也在发光发亮呢。当然,这谈论的只是“可能”—谁又能对未来下定论呢?赖特的处理既暧昧又苦口婆心。一会儿他反复撇清责任:我这套信则有,不信则无;过一会儿他又是个悲壮的老左派:不管你信不信,反正我是信了。

如果你和我一样,因为觉得左派很酷,而味如嚼蜡地吞下赖特的迷魂汤,那么他接下来要说的听上去就有种毛骨悚然的熟悉了。“社会主义好。”“人民公社好。”“无条件基本收入。”另一些乍一听则莫名其妙。“一人五十,选举资金。”“随机选举人民代表”。勉强接受平等主义的正义观后,到这里我那资本主义劣根已不能再忍,很想掀桌大喊:“什么狗屁玩意儿!”

然而赖特思路却清晰得很,是我时不时混淆了他所定义的“社会主义”。赖特的经济结构分三种:资本主义,国家主义,和社会主义。身为九零后大陆客,前两者的和谐共处我倒是很熟悉。第三个“社会主义”,赖特其实指的是由人们自愿集结而成的组织来掌控生产方式和资源分配。好比说把人民公社替代成NGO而功能不变,就有些社会主义的味道。其实我何必这么隐晦,话又不是我说的。国家主义和社会主义,区别在政府的参与程度罢了。

“没有一个社会的经济结构是纯粹的——”赖特如是说,“三种形式中的一种。”他提议把三种结构理解成变量(variable),每个社会都是他们不同程度的混合(hybrid)。以美国为例,资本主义如此猖獗,华尔街危机也得奥巴马来擦屁股。我不明白为什么他要使用这样高级的词汇,但我们不妨将计就计建立一个三维坐标系,不同国家根据坐标值散落各处。制度的变换,便可看做相对权重的变换。这样一来,赖特里又一次假定了变换是可能的。

但即便如此,一个理想的平等主义社会到底该是什么样的?权力机构如何组成?篇幅所限,赖特并未正面回答,并且怀疑我们回答的能力。他的重点在于探索,只希望构建一个指南针来检查方向是否正确。关键的一点是,这指南针得指向社会权力(social power)增强的方向。与他的“社会主义”对应,社会权力是指人们自愿集结的组织所拥有的权力。这权力与经济权力(economic power)和国家权力(state power)一同影响经济体(economy),决定社会结构的构成。三种权力常常互相影响,因此社会权利增强有许多方式。既可直接,比如公社独立管理本地经济;又可间接,比如公社影响选举,从而影响国家权力对经济的控制。

“无条件基本收入”就是赖特讨论的一个可能方案。这是相对于社会权力对经济权力的影响。这方案提议给所有合法公民无条件发放基本月收入。如此一来,即便在资本主义体系里工人脱离了生产方式,也不必靠贩卖劳力来维持生活。同时这也增强了集体行动(collective action)的能力,可看作社会权力的提升。当然,大规模发放补贴后,劳动力和资本的供给大概会出现问题。赖特以瑞典为例,指出高税收和公社覆盖率的资本主义社会是可能的。但是如他所言,无条件基本收入挑战了根本的资本主义生产关系。结合大陆惨痛的历史,这故事仿佛也只是听上去很美罢了。

“一人五十,选举资金”和“随机选举人民代表”则是关于社会权力对政治权力的影响,都针对代议制民主。前者针对美国选举中候选人政治资金来源的问题。因为拿了私人财团和大企业的钱,候选人当选后难免吃人嘴软。赖特引用耶鲁大学教授布鲁斯阿克曼(Bruce Ackerman)的提议,指出如果由政府出资,给所有选民发放五十块钱用来资助候选人,且限制候选人从其他地方集资的可能,这问题就能得到改善。因为候选人之间存在竞争,一旦执行起来,规则不难维护。但问题是,如何说服政府开始执行这套规则?

“随机选举人民代表”则是针对香港同胞厌恶的“小圈子选举”。代议制民主里,因为经验和资源的问题,选出来的代表往往并不能代表广大群众的根本利益。如果铁了心要真正代表,不妨借助统计方法随机抽样。但这样的代表们值得信赖吗?加拿大英属哥伦比亚省2003年进行过类似实验,结果喜人,公民代表们的提案最后获得百分之五十七的市民支持率,离百分之六十的通过线仅一步之遥。但前提投入的培训成本如何,长期执行需要怎样的配套制度,赖特并未提及。

我选取这些例子,只是为了找找赖特所谓社会主义大方向的感觉,而非证明什么。篇幅所限,这些方案的利弊不能详细讨论,然而精神总是可嘉的。身在精英主义的话题体系里,我常把竞争和淘汰当作理所当然,面对受教育机会不如我的表兄表姐,隐隐有种优越感。因此读到随机选取代表和无条件基本收入,我非常怀疑。有这样的怀疑不可怕,因为仅仅是体系里的思维惯性。可怕的是这怀疑被完全正当化了,可见体系的力量多么大,洗脑洗得多么彻底。 我之前并没意识到自己这样矛盾。

《真实乌托邦》的最后一部分讲转型策略。兵分三路,分别是决裂(ruptural),见机(interstitial)和共生(symbiotic)。决裂是革命性的,大概像柴玲喜欢的, “我们期待的就是流血……”见机则要温和一些,潜伏在体系的缝隙里韬光养晦,偷偷摸摸地做一些小改变,期待最后能搞个大新闻。共生则假设经济权力和社会权力并不是非此即彼的零和游戏,而是可以共赢的。因此帮助资本权力解决一些问题之后,社会权力也会占便宜。好比说NGO来办养老院,资本家和慈善家都开心。

这样的分类似乎有些俗套。要么抗争要么服软,要么两边都不是,这不是很明显嘛。有意思的是如果承认条条大路通罗马,那必定采用了不同的假设。好比说支持革命与支持改良,严重的分歧大概在于对利益冲突深刻程度的认识。赖特否认在现有体系发展决裂式转变的策略,但是支持用抗争的逻辑,采用温和的策略。这里逻辑似乎有些奇怪,但他名气这么大,一定是我没有读懂。

读这本书时恰逢春假,我与一学姐同游芝加哥。她带我入住河畔的豪华酒店,在迈克尔乔丹的酒吧里喝着十八美元一杯的鸡尾酒。我俩开始谈论人生,社会与未来,我于是又搬出那套资本主义之恶的杀手锏。其实我吹来吹去,论证的只不过是一个社会体系如何成功地自我繁殖。然而在这灯红酒绿的夜晚,我俩这样的谈话本身,就是充满讽刺的最好证明。

*Afterword*
After writing this post I had a chance to talk to Professor Eric Olin Wright about his book. This book has been translated into Chinese and published in Taiwan. In mainland China, the translation is still in progress. Professor Wright was in Taiwan last year during the student movement, and he is rather familiar with the situation in China. Although he is a firm Marxist, we see he does not seem to believe in radical social change anymore (this comment credit to Prof. Sida Liu.) Today in China, “political reform” has become the platitude that everybody mouth. How far can we go? Such a gigantic question cannot expect a simple answer. For some follow-up thoughts, please stay tuned on my next post about The power of Tiananmen, written by the prominent sociologist Prof. Dingxin Zhao at the University of Chicago.

On reader’s block

Occasionally I find myself amid stormy and difficult relationships with my sociological readings. During those dark times, I would struggle between carefully crafted lines, flip back and forth with a speed of 10 pages per hour, and return later only to find myself remember not a single word. There was a time I spent eight hours trying to summarize a thirty page paper on history of conversation analysis. Instead of devouring, I felt myself devoured by that merciless monster. I felt thoroughly alienated from the youthful lives that had been occupying library seats around me. In an ironical sense, I felt the kind of scholarly loneliness.

With regard to the infamous “writer’s block”, I name this phenomenon “readers’ block”. This painful experience is by no means unique to me. My supervisor used to tell me that her graduate students have this problem too. They would blatantly complain to her that they could not understand the readings. She, with the kindness of a mentor, would respond that this was due to their lack of background knowledge, not talent.

I suppose that for a graduate student in sociology, losing the ability to read is like the second most frightening nightmare – the first is losing the ability to write. Let’s be honest, there are not many professional technical skills left disposable to sociologists. How many student enter this filed, not as a march towards mastering sociological imagination, but as an escape from math and science? And how many times are sociologists bitterly criticized by statistician for using statistics in an incorrectly way? On hearing my transfer to sociology, the first thing that came out of my statistics professor’s mouth was:” Oops, then you have to read those gigantic books!”

My impression is that reading as a skill tend to be undervalued, especially when compared with writing. As one of my professor recalls her encounter with researchers in hard science: “we do experiments and complicated math, but you – you read.” Also to quote Hilma Wolitzer, a writer, those with talents become professional writer while those without become “much better readers”.

Yet reading and writing are nothing more than two sides of the same coin. After all, it is sociologists themselves who write those impossible readings for each other. Sociologists of our time write from what they have read, and what they write continue to trouble the next generation. Thus the difficulty of reading is closely intertwined with difficulty of writing. If only the power trio had produced less convoluted text!

I want then to posit the relation between writing, reading and codification. Writing is the process of codifying sociological knowledge into text, and reading is the process of translating the codified text back into knowledge. Thus any difficulty in these two processes reflects failure in codification or de-codification.

For example, we always say that ambiguity in writing is the ambiguity in thinking, but this only accounts part of the truth. Difficult text might result from either inscrutable knowledge that cannot be codified, or merely unfamiliarity with the skill of codification. In other words, sometimes we cannot write because we don’t know what to write, other times we cannot write simply because we don’t know how to put down what we know onto paper.

The same applies to reading. Failure in reading is failure in de-codification. Now that I recall, the problem with that forbidding paper I spent eight hours on, is that it requires a translation key that I do not have. It’s too “deep”. And in my supervisor’s words, I might lack the relevant background information. But there are other texts that are hard to read simply because the language they use are unnecessarily cumbersome. Some criticize that those pretentious texts are produced by scholars who seek to hide the secret that they don’t know anything at all. Because the knowledge to be codified is easy, they manipulate the codification process and make the resultant text hard.

I don’t want to go deeper into a discussion about professionalization of sociology that I cannot handle. In this post I only want to destigmatize my reader’s block by passing the responsibility to someone else, and rekindle my faith in being a good graduate student. After all, reading can be fun – as long as you don’t run into German or French writers.