I suggested in another post that if you already know how someone thinks of his group interests, then you can make a pretty good guess about what political views he may find tempting -- but it is a lot harder to guess how he is going to think of his group interests.
One of the reasons is that the concept of his group is ambiguous. Everyone belongs to a variety of different groups at the same time, and these memberships may pull in different directions. Another is that the concept of group interestsis ambiguous. Are we thinking of wealth, of security, of prestige, of the advance of the beliefs held by the group, or what? Yet another is that not every member of a group is equally group conscious -- not every member identifies with the group. So how a person thinks of his group interests is not foreordained; it belongs to the realm of freedom.
I once had a discussion with a person who said he thought of himself first and foremost as a black man, thought of me first and foremost as a white man, and was sure I that I thought that way too. When I told him that I rarely think about the color of my skin, he scoffed; he thought I was making it up just to put him in the wrong.
But it’s true. If I am asked “what is your ethnicity,” my first thought is my Polish and Ukrainian ancestry. If I am asked “what is your identity,” I think first of redemption. I think a good deal about being a teacher, a husband, a father, and so on. But I don’t think about being white unless someone else makes an issue of it.
Here is another example. Silicon Valley executives have an eye on profit. You would think this would be all you need to know to predict how they will see their group interests. But it isn’t. Some resist government regulation of the internet; others, surprisingly, want more. Apparently the former view themselves as entrepreneurs whose profits depend mostly on competition, while the latter view themselves as firm managers whose profits depend mostly on state policy. There is no way to forecast ahead of time with which group a given executive will identify, and which arrangement he will prefer.
This is why even though I sometimes discuss how academics view their class interests, I have never presented a deterministic class analysis a la Marx. For example, I have not predicted how intellectuals will think of their interests; I have only taken note of how they do tend to view them, and tried to connect this observation with others.
By the way, Marx got a lot of other things wrong too. Let me mention just one more. Marx thought the course of events is predictable because it is foreordained. But even if the course of events really were foreordained – which I don’t believe -- even so it couldn’t be predicted.
Why not? Any genuinely deterministic social process could be modelled as a kind of machine. In such a process the social theorist would not be genuinely independent of the machine; he would merely be one of its processes. A readout.
But guess what? According to the mathematics of computational processes, no machine – not even the most high-powered computer -- can predict its own future state.
So determinism is one thing. Predictability is another. And understanding is different from both.