Dismissing Post-Modernism June 21, 2005 by RedStar2000
There was a funny incident a few years ago when a real scientist submitted a paper to an academic post-modernist journal claiming that the latest interpretations of quantum gravity suggested that existence itself was "problematical"...and the journal published it.
There was much merriment, of course, when the scientist revealed that his paper was a hoax...nor did the post-modernist academics appreciate being made to look like fools.
But that's what they are.
A bold statement of intent, with the obvious implication being that "cometh the revolution" and the establishment of a classless society... History ends. And with it, of course, disappears all economic repression. A 'New Man' is created from the ashes of the old, etc. etc.
It's an old "criticism"...probably goes back to the 1930s if not earlier.
I have to say that I don't have much confidence in notions of communism as "heaven" inhabited by "new men" indistinguishable from "angels".
I think communism will be more rational than class societies have ever been...and certainly far more humane.
But we humans are a contentious species and I expect communism will simply change what we squabble over...and make new history out of.
But I'm guessing...like everyone else at this point.
First posted at RevLeft on June 10, 2005
Integral to both these theories is the idea that humanity must somehow improve itself; we are going from "bad" to "good", from "unjust" to "just", from "tyranny" towards "freedom"... And there are many who have argued that this line of thinking is a product of Enlightenment thought - the so-called age of reason.
Yes, I think that people first discerned these kinds of "trends" in the course of human history during the "Age of Reason"...and Marxism is, in the political-economic sphere, a kind of culmination of the "Enlightenment".
That seems ok with me...but there are a lot of people who don't like it at all. *laughs*
First posted at RevLeft on June 12, 2005
People seem to mean a wide variety of things by "post-modernism" and, in addition, I am by no means well read in that field -- the stuff I've run into seems quite obscurantist.
But "pomo" apparently posits that all possible "meta-narratives" are inherently subjective...and, hence, false.
There is no "order" in history. Social reality in any significant sense is "unknowable" and, consequently, unchangeable in any coherent, purposeful way. "Progress" is a "meaningless concept".
I must leave to others a more profound critique of this nonsense (if others wish to be bothered). To my "vulgar Marxist" mind, this pomo stuff is just an ideological reflection of the fact that the bourgeoisie have become thoroughly reactionary with the passing of time.
No wonder that so many of them are "taking up the cross and following you-know-who" these days.
Or plunging into the pre-capitalist muck with Leo Strauss.
It's a funny thing. The Enlightenment and all that followed from it has provoked continuous and tenacious opposition ever since...and yet nothing seems to be able to more than temporarily halt its spread.
The use of human reason to understand and change the world appears so addictive that no ideological "rehab" program, secular or superstitious, seems to be able to overcome it.
I suspect that there's not a place in the world today, no matter how backward, that there aren't at least a few people asking the question: does X make sense?
A deadly dagger at the heart of unreason.
First posted at RevLeft on June 13, 2005
I think it is unwise to refuse to engage in debate... Else, you open yourself up to the accusation that you're refuting theories on authority, rather than "by reason".
Yes, I probably do "open myself up to that accusation"...but it's the same accusation that "intelligent design" partisans raise against evolutionists.
They are furious that science won't take creationism "seriously" and discuss it in scientific journals.
I simply find it beyond me to take postmodernism seriously...it seems to me to be a secular version of the medieval "unknowable mind of God".
If we were to concede that the universe is unknowable and that all our conceptions of objective reality are mere subjective conceits, then what's left?
All attempts to understand anything become hobbies that serve only to fill the hours between birth and death.
Just thinking about that outlook makes me want to take a nap! *laughs*
One key issue, for me, is the 'postmodern' view of the world as one of unending change; a "fluid world" in which there is no place for "binary oppositions" and "rigid determinism".
Well, I think "dialectics" is crap and I have no particular problem with the idea of a "fluid world" of "unending change".
But fluids flow in channels...they don't just wander around at random.
Their behavior is, in fact, rigidly determined by the laws of physics.
The "laws of history" are obviously much more probabilistic and perhaps even semi-chaotic...nevertheless, if (1) nature is orderly and can be understood by human reason, and (2) humans and their societies are part of nature, then it follows that the evolution of human societies must likewise be subject to "laws" or at least coherent regularities which can also be understood by human reason.
Either of those premises may be challenged, of course, but I've never run into one that made sense.
Nor do I ever expect to. If something comes along to "supersede Marxism", it will be a paradigm that makes better sense of human societies than Marxism does.
Scientifically speaking, the possibility can't be ruled out...but I'm not holding my breath.
First posted at RevLeft on June 13, 2005
The economic determination of life was attacked as a simplification that forced change into predetermined channels - an inappropriate stabilisation of the fluid world.
Well, that's just a really lousy metaphor.
Fluids are not "forced into channels" except by gravity. Channels exist whether we know about them or not...we don't "invent" them, we discover them.
Change may be orderly or semi-chaotic or entirely chaotic...but "stabilization" of change seems likewise to be an inappropriate metaphor. You might use it in an argument against "dialectics"...but there are much better arguments against that crap.
Humans must, in some fashion, compel nature to yield up the means for continued existence and reproduction. Unlike all other forms of life, humans innovate different ways to do that. Those ways, whatever they might be, constrain the possible social relationships that might exist.
They are...channels that, in turn, tend to impose an order on change itself.
The Hellenic Age had everything it needed to industrialize...except a material incentive. With an abundance of slaves, there was no "channel" for "steam-powered toys" to become steam engines.
Trying to order the world is futile (according to postmodernists). Although I expect they might point out that wanting to order the world - wanting to make sense of it all - is a 'hangover' from the Enlightenment era.
Yes, I understand this is their view...I just cannot take it seriously.
I can't see any usefulness to their view beyond their next paycheck or, perhaps, royalty check.
And, of course, whatever small amount their principled inertia contributes in the way of intellectual legitimacy to the prevailing social order (which is why they get those checks).
Far from being "ashamed" of the Enlightenment, I am proud to acknowledge the role they played in making me possible.
But I will concede that Evolution, as a theory, has some holes in it... Which may have been ignored by Darwin, or even missed, as he made sure that his preconceived notions of laws and rules applied to the natural world. I think the same criticism could apply to Marx.
Evolution has no "holes" in it that are not, in principle, "fillable".
Marxism also has "problems" that people are trying to "solve".
The pomo criticism suggests that since our scientific knowledge is always incomplete, therefore it is not "really knowledge" at all.
First posted at RevLeft on June 14, 2005
But [Marxism] is not the only historical method available, and it is by no means best suited to every case.
Is it not a matter of what you are trying to explain? The micro-details of history, it seems to me, are explained as well by random chance as by any other explanation. Marxism is concerned with "big questions" -- macrohistory, as it were.
What "other methods" are available?
If we assume that there are an infinite number of available "channels" (representing different ideologies, belief systems, methodologies etc.), then Marx's assertion that all change can effectively be explained in terms of the class struggle DOES confer primacy on the "economic channel"!
If "we assume"...but why should we make that assumption?
It's one of the theorems of chaos theory that the outcome of chaotic phenomena are heavily dependent on initial conditions...a small difference at the beginning leads to a huge difference at the end.
But is history genuinely chaotic? I don't think it is...at the macro-level.
The micro-causes of events may indeed be potentially infinite in number, but most of those events cancel each other out in the course of time while the macro-causes continue to operate and make their impact felt no matter what.
You tend to assume that all knowledge MUST be 'real', 'true', 'useful' and MUST serve a progressive purpose; presumably, any 'legitimate' world-view also has to offer a "way forwards" - which needs to be defined according to laws, etc. etc... Coincidentally, follow the logic and we end up adopting a Marxist stance! The system has become "self-referential" and "self-fulfilling"; a closed loop. Much like 'religion'!
Marxism does not rely on supernatural "causes", so the religion analogy does not apply.
But as to "the closed loop", yeah, I don't have any particular problem with that. Every scientific paradigm is "a closed loop" in that sense -- and paradigms are overthrown when objective data "breaks the loop".
Suppose humans "suddenly decided", for example, to restore medieval Christianity and social conditions typical of the medieval era. If that could actually happen and did happen, then Marxism would be decisively refuted.
It would be a case of "consciousness determining being" as well as a deliberately chosen regressive way of life. Marxism says that can't happen outside the realm of catastrophe.
Catastrophes do happen, of course. The ones which we are most familiar with are ruinous military defeats and biological pandemics...which can temporarily "play hell" with Marx's "laws". Many a civilization that "should" have evolved into capitalism and better "didn't make it" because of one or both of those catastrophes.
But one finally did make it...and it would take something really massive to throw it backwards -- global nuclear war, an incoming asteroid, etc. The chances are not zero...but I think they are very small and actually getting smaller. (We are, for example, mapping all the "near-Earth objects" that might cause us potential future problems.)
I actually think postmodernism damages the 'status-quo'. It's not a legitimising influence at all... At least, I've not seen it that way!
In what way does post-modernism "damage" the status quo?
First posted at RevLeft on June 14, 2005
What I really meant (and I apologise for using the wrong words, etc.) is that there are other categories of analysis. 'Class' is one factor we can isolate when looking at the past - so is 'religion', for instance, or 'gender'.
To be sure...but what do those other categories reveal?
Take the category of religion, for example, since critics of Marxism often use it to attack the base/superstructure model.
People appear to do things from "religious motives"...often things that are very energy-consuming, time-consuming, resource-consuming, etc. -- like fighting crusades, building cathedrals, or hunting down and executing witches and heretics in large numbers.
Are these activities a case of "consciousness determining being"?
Marxist and even non-Marxist historians influenced by Marx have looked for the "economic motives" that might lie beneath the "religious motives"...and found them!
In stunning profusion.
Religion turns out not to be a simple case of mere human ignorance and superstition; it really is a racket!
Even building a cathedral turned out to be a business proposition. If your cathedral was taller than others nearby, your town gained prestige...with commerce to follow. If you could acquire some "relics" (saints' bones) for your cathedral, then pilgrims would come...and spend money. You might even acquire a bishop, an archbishop or a cardinal...more money flowing into the local economy.
Modern cities build elaborate sports stadiums not because they truly "love sports" but because stadiums attract more money than they cost to build.
Medieval Christians built cathedrals for the same reason.
'Language' is another important issue.
Quite so...but I don't see how one could write a "history of language" without reference to the social context that the language evolved to reflect.
I'm sure you're aware that there were hundreds of words peculiar to feudalism...almost all of which have been utterly forgotten (except by historians of the medieval period). Those words were once necessary and even vital for the precise descriptions of rights and obligations in medieval law and custom.
Once those rights and obligations passed away or were abolished, the words themselves were no longer useful...and "withered away".
I tend to think that these "certaintist theories" (a term used in postmodern discourse, I believe) are outdated, and inapplicable to the "fluid world" in which we live.
Abstinence from certainty as a matter of principle does have one advantage: you are never surprised by anything that happens. You really can't rule out much of anything.
People could spontaneously revive medieval Christianity and serfdom.
By refusing to legitimise their rule. Anything that doesn't support 'the way things are' necessarily causes damage.
Well, it's true that post-modernism is not a suitable tool for specifically bolstering the legitimacy of the existing order.
But since it also refuses to bolster the legitimacy of any opposition to that order, what remains is rather "weak" in my opinion.
Almost indistinguishable from irrelevant.
First posted at RevLeft on June 15, 2005
But it's a 'miracle', don't you think, that these (economic) motives were only revealed after Marx wrote his masterworks! You see, I think all historians look at the past with their own prejudices and ideas, of "how it was" and "how it ought to be", firmly in their minds. And if you subscribe to an ideology that can definitively state: "The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles", then you're bound to 'unearth' these struggles in your excavation of the past!
No "miracle". Whenever we construct a new instrument for examining reality, new discoveries are inevitable.
In some cases, the effects are dramatic. Astronomy, for example, is "instrument-driven" to a very high degree...when new telescopes come on line, new phenomena are routinely discovered.
Prior to Marx, historians looked at the past very superficially. If some guy in the 11th century said he was fighting for "the greater glory of God", they dutifully wrote that down in their books.
It never occurred to them that their subject might have very different motives entirely.
They took everything at "face value"...something that no reputable historian would do now. (Popular histories still frequently suffer from that error.)
To be sure, historians look at the past through the eyes of the present...there's no other way to write history short of a working "time-machine". They attempt to re-construct what really happened on the basis of partial and sometimes misleading evidence.
Like evolutionists, historians must try to "fill in the gaps" in the evidence with the most plausible assumptions that they can make...assumptions invariably shaped by modern views, like Marxism.
It's a tough job! And "absolute certainty" is hard to come by.
But aside from a handful of reactionaries (both religious and secular), I don't think anyone wants to go back to pre-Marxist hagiography.
The German Reformation, for instance - if you read the Marxist analysis of this momentous 'event', then glance at the relevant sources for a moment, you'll realise what nonsense the 'disciples' of Marx have been spouting.
Oh? Well, it's "not my field" so I can't really comment on the "relevant sources".
But do you really imagine that the German princes would have supported Martin Luther in the absence of economic motives?
It seems highly probable to me that Luther would never have amounted to anything more than a minor league heretic (of which there was a very large number in late medieval/early renaissance times)...without the support of the German princes.
Who had excellent reasons of their own to resist the insatiable financial demands of the corrupted papacy.
Luther was a "useful heretic" with a useful heresy...to the lords of Germany.
(He was also a vicious bastard in his own right, by the way. His writings in opposition to the peasant rebellion and his virulent anti-semitism are some of the most revealing documents in the history of Christianity.)
I can't explain it too well, but the key concept is that 'words' do not correspond directly to 'reality' - there are loads of literary theorists out there, waiting to be read!
I think you have to do better than this to arouse my curiosity. There are likely tens of thousands of books that I could read and learn from, with thousands more published every year.
It saddens me enormously that I will never live long enough to read even a tiny fraction of what I wish I could.
But those are the breaks. To really master an appreciable portion of human knowledge now, we would require life-spans measured in millennia...and that still seems a while off.
People like certainties; they feel safe, if there are 'absolutes' to fall back on.
True...but I see nothing "reactionary" in principle about that if the certainties are valid ones.
Consider an animal's life...it is almost totally governed by chance. It lives or dies depending almost entirely on circumstance.
When modern humans evolved, we started trying to reduce the impact of chance on our lives. For a very long time, our "certainties" were, in fact, just chance under a different name.
But when we finally learned how to do real science, the realm of chance began retreating. We could start to say with real confidence that "this is true"...because it was true.
Now, our science is still quite primitive; what we don't know far exceeds what we do know. Chance is still "in control" of our lives to a degree that would be really alarming if we thought about it seriously.
So mostly we don't think about it seriously...except when the opportunity arises to reduce the element of chance a little more. We seize such opportunities with alacrity...even though many of them are still not real opportunities at all (astrology, fortune tellers, "good luck" charms, etc.).
But there are real opportunities to reduce the impact of chance and, if we are sensible, we take advantage of them...or as many of them as we can.
Some reactionaries are very upset with our general "risk-averse" outlook. It leads to, among other things, contempt for the "martial virtues".
Communism, of course, would be an enormous blow to the "laws of chance" -- a society in which no one would ever worry about economic survival is so difficult for us to imagine now that people mostly reject it as "utopian".
We've never had anything like that before; it "boggles the mind".
But when you stop and think about it, it's hard to avoid concluding that communism or something very much like it is inevitable...an obvious next step towards reducing the role of chance ("the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune") in our lives.
A minority of humans do express a marked preference for betting the "long odds"...most of us happily settle for the sure bet!
You can easily frame an opposition movement within the (loose) framework of postmodernism - it'll just be one 'discourse' among many, that's all...A "fluid world" is all there is - I hope Marxists can escape the confines of a rigid eschatological system and come to realise this!
Far be it from me to underestimate the verbal ingenuity of the post-modern academic -- no doubt they could come up with "something".
But few would be able to read it and even fewer would be able to understand it.
I don't imagine that any Marxists will even be interested.
First posted at RevLeft on June 15, 2005
My point was simply that Marx's methods, applicable though they are in many cases, have been overused; also, that there is a tendency to assume that everything can and will be explained in these terms - so 'research' is neglected, and Marxist interpretation applied regardless of the "evidence"!
I'm not sure how to respond to that. If a "Marxist" writes "bad history", then criticize it just like you'd criticize a bad bourgeois historian.
If "research is neglected" in some field, then you must either do that research yourself or ask that others do it for you.
Theoretical Marxists are no different from other scientists -- if a certain area of study, in their opinion, lacks "interesting problems", then they'll just ignore it.
"Filling in the gaps" becomes a matter of asking: 'What would Marx do?' This is damaging and counterproductive - and happens all too frequently!
I disagree. In the absence of direct evidence, asking oneself how Marx would "fill that gap" is a potentially very fruitful question...perhaps suggesting indirect evidence that might be searched for.
It's always legitimate, of course, just to say "I don't know" and leave the problem for future research.
Over the centuries, hundreds of thousands of men and women have acted contrary to their material / economic interests to die for a cause which they believed was just. (I'm still talking about the Reformation and its effects...)
This is part of a much larger question in Marxist historiography.
What is the relationship between perceived material interest and actual material interest?
Why do people "get it right" very quickly in some circumstances and take a century or even several centuries to grasp their real material interests in other circumstances?
I don't know!
The only conclusion that I can draw from the available evidence is that "sooner or later", they do "get it right".
Material reality prevails...but often takes a ridiculous amount of time to do so.
I find it surprising, then, that you're willing to dismiss the entire postmodernist school of thought without so much as a token effort to "know" it!
I have made a "token effort"...and that seemed sufficient.
As far as I'm aware, 'religion' has not yet been disproved...
I'm disappointed in you.
After more than three centuries of organized investigation of the real world (science) yielding nary a trace of reliable evidence for the "existence" of the "supernatural" (much less one that is "inhabited"), I cannot imagine anything that has been more clearly and definitively disproved.
The only people who still dispute this are believers (who reject science as a matter of principle) and the few remaining agnostics (who insist on infinite negative evidence against all possible religions).
There's no such thing as the "supernatural" -- the question is settled from the standpoint of rational thinking.
It is sad to note that some 85% of the world's population is not yet rational on this subject...but progress is being made.
I've even seen it happen on this board.
Besides, who defines "valid"? We're back into the "self-referential loop" again; Marxism is valid for Marxists, just as Buddhism is valid for Buddhists!
Which paradigm is most useful in explaining social reality?
Marxism "works" -- Buddhism is just mindless babble completely lacking in any objective evidence for its validity.
But eliminate the problem altogether, and you eliminate the possibility of positive change.
If it were possible to eliminate all misfortunes due to chance, then there would be no perceived "need" for further "positive changes".
I think we're quite a distance away from that. *laughs*
What was Shakespeare's relation to the means of production, anyway?
He was in the entertainment business...a proto-bourgeois, as it were. Today, he'd no doubt be writing and producing "blockbuster" movies.
Like Star Wars.
In fact, the 'core' of postmodernist academics "started out" as Marxists.
They've come a long way, baby.
I think it unlikely they'll ever find their way back.
First posted at RevLeft on June 16, 2005
The trouble with this, is that said Marxist historian can fall back on the idea that his thesis is based on LAWS.
Not if his "evidence" is wrong or inadequate. Granted that I have a high opinion of Marxist scholarship in general, that doesn't mean that I or any Marxist just swallows uncritically anything written by anyone who invokes "the holy name".
That would be..."unMarxist".
The point I was making here is that Marxists tend to "fill in the gaps" by assuming that economic factors determined particular 'events'. The study of causation becomes a matter of routine; evidence is not needed - or is sometimes ignored - since "we're bound to reach the same conclusion anyhow"!
Let's assume for the sake of argument that your indictment is justified. What then?
Should Marxism be abandoned? Or should shoddy Marxist "scholarship" be abandoned?
There is something of a similar controversy in cosmological circles these days...and the growling is becoming noticeable. Persistent efforts to discover empirical evidence for string theory have come up empty -- yet string theory is taught in many university physics departments as "truth" and that physical evidence is "only a matter of time and ingenuity". Now some physicists are starting to complain (loudly!) about the string theory paradigm biasing a whole generation of cosmologists...closing off innovation and imagination.
String theory is an elegant mathematical truth...but may not correspond to physical reality at all.
String theorists may be brilliant mathematicians...and bad physicists.
Some (perhaps many) Marxists may have a sound grasp of Marxist theory...and yet be poor historians.
Marxists don't do this. "If we falter..." (We are lost!)
Well, I do! With some frequency.
I don't feel "lost". I just wish I were equipped with the time, energy, and imagination to learn more.
You could, of course, just accept the existence of a 'spiritual interest'.
I do accept it...but I want to know where it comes from?
Are humans born with "a spiritual interest"? Obviously not. It's something that many humans acquire in the course of growing up. Why is that?
In whose material interests is it that "spiritual interests" exist and are perpetuated? Because we know there's really no such thing, why are people persuaded that there is?
Just to say that so-and-so sacrificed his life "for the greater glory of god" doesn't really explain anything. It's based on the assumption that human motivations "fall out of the sky" more or less randomly.
That doesn't make any sense.
This would not disturb the tranquility of a post-modernist, of course. To him, nothing makes any sense.
Nothing has ever been proved - and nothing ever will be (though that doesn't stop people from claiming to have found "the ultimate answer" to the "ultimate questions").
And tomorrow morning, the sun will rise in the west. *laughs*
I confess frankly that I fail to see the appeal of this doctrine -- the certainty that "nothing is certain".
I suspect, in fact, post-modernism is just agnosticism carried out to its ultimate absurdity.
Agnostics act like atheists although they claim verbally that "no one knows" whether or not there are gods.
Post-modernists behave as if there are quite a large number of certainties...even though they verbally profess that such things don't and can't really exist.
Agnosticism and post-modernism are not meant to be taken seriously...they are an intellectual's amusements, a game of words never meant to be applied in practice.
Nothing wrong with that...unless someone makes the big mistake of taking them seriously and trying to act as if they were really "true" after all.
A clever theist can rather easily paint a consistent agnostic into a very tight corner...where the agnostic is compelled by the logic of his principled uncertainty to tolerate any practice in the name of religion, no matter how horrendous.
The post-modernist is in the same boat as the agnostic -- one of the early fathers of de-constructionism started out writing anti-semitic articles in Nazi-occupied Belgium.
After all, he must have "reasoned", Nazism is "valid for Nazis" and I need a paycheck, so...why not?
Newtonian mechanics proved that certain immutable laws govern the way physical bodies interact... Resultant Force = Mass x acceleration; F = Ma. You know the others!
Then along comes Einstein and changes everything: "You've got it all wrong chaps - try E = M.c^2 instead!" Repeat with 'new' theories, each one purporting to be 'the right way' ad infinitum...
Well, not exactly. You see, if you apply Einstein's new theory to masses and forces operating far below the speed of light, you end up with results just about identical to Newton's.
You could say that "Newton's laws", while not really laws after all, are a special case of Einstein's laws.
Einstein's whole conception of space-time is very different from Newton's...it is in better correspondence with objective reality that Newton's conception. It explains everything that Newton explained and much more besides.
This places a very heavy burden on the "next new theory"...it must explain everything that Newton explained and everything that Einstein explained and still more than that!
Otherwise, no one would be interested.
'Religion' is excellent at fulfilling spiritual functions.
What's a "spiritual function"? Where does it come from? How would we distinguish a "spiritual function" from a "non-spiritual" function? What is "fulfillment" in this context?
I am hungry, I eat, I become satisfied. I am poor and powerless, I rebel, I become prosperous and autonomous.
Any one who watches me can see this for themselves, can easily identify with the process and understand its outcome.
But what in the world is a "spiritual need"? How would the observer identify it or its fulfillment? How would you tell the difference between a person whose "spiritual needs" had really been "fulfilled" and someone who was just faking it to gull you out of your money?
So, to conclude, 'static reality' is... inevitable?
If we were able to completely negate the element of chance in human life, then we might choose to be "static".
On the other hand, stasis might become boring...and we might well choose to deliberately randomize some parts of our lives for our own amusement.
Just as we do now...whenever we can make sure that none of the random results will be harmful to us.
First posted at RevLeft on June 16, 2005
No, not at all - only the notion that Marxism can and will be able to explain every human interaction in terms of material interests. It just doesn't work like that!
No, I don't think any Marxist would make such a claim. What we seek to do is explain "the big stuff"...the trivia may or may not be explainable in Marxist terms -- I don't really care much one way or the other.
However, I would argue that a distinct 'spiritual interest' exists independently of any sort of 'economic interest'.
On what grounds? That "spiritual people" claim it is so?
Since I have no evidence that their claims are anything more than self-interested "marketing", why should I take them seriously?
Damn, we're judging doctrines on their personal appeal now?
Actually, what I said is that I fail to grasp the appeal of "certainty about uncertainty" -- that is, the reasons that one might find such a doctrine to be an attractive or compelling "description" of the real world.
You clearly do find post-modernism attractive...but you have failed to effectively convey what the "appeal" might be.
Ok, "everything is uncertain"...now what?
Why does Marxism 'appeal' to you, RedStar?
Because it provides effective tools for understanding the world and changing it. I wish those tools were even more effective than they've proven thus far...but everybody else's "tool kit" is empty.
If I were a Christian, Muslim, fish, or whatever, I would identify the fulfillment of my "spiritual needs" in accordance with the tenets of my chosen religion. I think that there is a genuine moment of ecstasy, when you contemplate the 'spiritual liberation' your faith has brought you...
Maybe there is, maybe there isn't.
How would you tell?
Objectively, I mean.
...compare that with the freedom afforded by the victory of the proletariat, and I think many will express a preference for the former!!
No doubt...but scientific truth is not decided by plebiscite or, for that matter, by an "ecstasy-meter".
The 'Marxist school', and 'Marx's methods' are under fire from all sides - and in trying to 'defend the faith', Marxist historians are either taking a stand and emphasising the brilliance of the 'traditional ways' (then getting demolished within academia); or they are making more and more concessions to rivals - 'surviving', just about, but with a Marxism so 'watered down' as to be virtually unrecognisable!
This sounds like a neo-conservative's wet-dream. I rather doubt if it's true...but hell, in academia, who knows?
The competition for tenured positions is so frenzied that people will probably say anything these days to get their ticket punched.
First posted at RevLeft on June 17, 2005
All I'm saying is that what you regard as "trivia" may in fact form the foundations of another person's existence...
I don't dispute that point; I just think it is, indeed, trivial.
Marxism is a science of "large numbers" of people over "large periods of time". It's not normally applied to isolated individuals and, when it is, the results are "mixed"...to put it charitably.
In political life, some Marxists will attempt to explain an individual's political outlook directly from their class position and experience. Sometimes that works; sometimes it doesn't.
Some poor nutball wandering through the streets babbling to himself about how he's "Jesus" returned and no one will listen...is not amenable to a Marxist analysis.
The orthodox Marxist position is that material conditions - economics (the relation to the means of production...) - dictates 'reality', right? So naturally, Marxists will either try to force any 'other considerations' to conform to their model (suggesting that they are, in fact, disguised economic factors), or deny their existence.
Well...the "good Marxist" is not supposed to just "suggest" that "other considerations" reflect "disguised economic factors", s/he's supposed to demonstrate that.
You are free to find the "demonstration" unconvincing, of course; bourgeois critics of Marxism raise the charge of "forcing" the evidence to fit the theory with some frequency.
I remain unconvinced of the validity of their criticisms (usually) because I distrust the source. They have not only been known to ignore the evidence in serious controversies but even to fake it.
Oh, and Marxists don't have any self-interest involved here?
Of course we do! I never denied that. It's in our direct interests to discredit superstition whenever we can.
But plenty of people who are not Marxists have investigated "spiritualist" claims...and exposed an almost infinite series of charlatans while never finding a case of "the real thing".
Rational people "uncontaminated" with "Marxist dogma" have come to the same conclusion we have...it's all fake!
As I say, I used to be a fairly 'certain' Marxist. I don't think I'm necessarily a 'postmodernist' (though the term itself is weak, as somebody pointed out earlier), even if I do subscribe to certain of their key ideas... The shift towards 'other' schools of thought was partly a reaction against 'dogmatic' Marxism - from what I've studied, economic determinism just doesn't work, in so many cases. Cultural history, the history of gender, the influence of the "spiritual" - these are valid, too, and cannot (adequately) be explained as a function of economics.
Well, those are value judgments, it seems to me. If you find a Marxist explanation of a given phenomenon "inadequate"...then you find it inadequate and go searching for "better" explanations.
And be sure to show us a trophy or two if you succeed to your own satisfaction.
Postmodernism (at least, on my terms) offers a view of the world in which there are infinite (or, 'unlimited'...) discourses competing with each other for recognition; nothing is "set in stone", to employ a popular cliche - and from what I've seen 'in history', this appears to be correct.
De gustibus non disputandum est.
To me, this babble of competing discourses -- with no way to ever resolve, not even in principle, which one or which ones might be correct -- is no improvement on the furious barking of dogs.
It forces the historian back to the level of the 14th or 15th century "collector of curiosities".
But if that's what you want...
If I'm honest (and I am; how about that?), I also have a deep distrust of all authority - which inevitably applies to 'certainties' (it feels like I'm being told how to think, if you know what I mean!).
What I deeply resent about authority is not its attempts to tell me "how to think" so much as it is the attempts to pass off lies under the guise of "truth".
And, moreover, lies that turn out to conceal material self-interest.
I value Marx a great deal because not only did he expose a large number of such self-interested lies but he also taught me how to spot them "on my own".
A truly priceless gift.
The only constant is change!
Something you and Marx agree on.
After all, you seem to use that word [reactionary] to describe ANYone who doesn't share your scientifio-rationalo-Marxian(o) worldview!
I do use that word a lot -- it seems most appropriate in a wide variety of circumstances these days.
I think we do live in a period of reaction -- the American Empire triumphant and the world submerged beneath an ocean of superstition and folly.
This is all-too-frequently reflected in many of the posts on this board.
I think things will improve...but this is going to be a long arduous century.
And I suppose that in these 'knowledge factories', where people will after all "say anything to get their tickets punched", scientific truth is never 'influenced' by a little bribe here, or a personal vendetta there, is it?
It certainly is! We have to be especially skeptical of that guy in a white lab coat with horn-rim glasses carrying a clipboard...what he says may well be true but even he will lie if the price is right.
First posted at RevLeft on June 17, 2005
quote (Karl Marx):
They were originally free peasants, each cultivating his own piece of land on his own account. In the course of Roman history they were expropriated. The same movement which divorced them from their means of production and subsistence involved the formation not only of big landed property but also of big money capital. And so one fine morning there were to be found on the one hand free men, stripped of everything except their labour power, and on the other, in order to exploit this labour, those who held all the acquired wealth in possession. What happened? The Roman proletarians became, not wage labourers but a mob of do-nothings more abject than the former poor whites in the southern country of the United States, and alongside of them there developed a mode of production which was not capitalist but dependent upon slavery. Thus events strikingly analogous but taking place in different historic surroundings led to totally different results.
I rarely get the opportunity to...um, disagree with Marx, but I don't think this is very well argued.
Picking out one aspect of a historical situation and pointing out how "analogous" it is to a later one violates his own insistence on the "totality" of the picture. It would be a very "vulgar" Marxist indeed who said: "Peasants have been dispossessed of their lands...they can only become urban wage-laborers"...without any consideration of the means of production at all.
The reason that Roman proletarians did not become wage-laborers is because there was no bourgeoisie to hire them. There was indeed a significant merchant/trader class in late republican and early imperial times...but they did not own or aspire to own manufacturing facilities. In fact, the only really significant "factories" of Roman times were devoted to the manufacture of arms -- they were owned by the government and mostly employed slave labor.
Successful merchants/traders moved into the Roman aristocracy by purchasing estates and equipping them with slaves.
Nor was the Roman proletariat necessarily "abject"...they were frequently rebellious under the republic and later succeeded or nearly succeeded on a number of occasions in overthrowing particular emperors. They did engage in class struggle, but they never became a genuinely revolutionary class or sought power for themselves after the inception of empire.
In fact, they were so different in character from modern wage-workers that it really is unfortunate, in my opinion, that Marx chose to use the name "proletariat" for the modern working class...it doesn't really "fit" well at all.
quote (Karl Marx):
If Russia, continues to pursue the path she has followed since 1861, she will lose the finest chance ever offered by history to a nation, in order to undergo all the fatal vicissitudes of the capitalist regime.
Marx, in my view, had something of a "soft spot" for Russia; it was the first country where Capital enjoyed a genuinely enthusiastic response among the tiny intellectual circles there. (Bakunin's translation must have been a pretty good one.)
Consequently, I think Marx sells his own theory "short" in this comment. I don't think there was ever any chance that Russia could "avoid" the "fatal vicissitudes of the capitalist regime".
Or, in broad outline, any other pre-capitalist society. The rise of capitalism in each country may be relatively humane or brutally harsh, may be convoluted or straightforward, may be quite slow or relatively rapid, etc. Specific circumstances can have a significant effect on the details of social change.
But Marx would have to trash his own work if he were to seriously argue that the development of industrial production does "not" necessarily demand the corresponding rise of a capitalist class and a working class.
Indeed, he would have to retreat to a kind of "post-modernist" position that, well, "anything can happen".
That's no good.
First posted at RevLeft on June 18, 2005
This is another gripe of mine - the overbearing focus on the "macro" level. I think this is another unwanted inheritance from the Enlightenment era - the desire to comprehend the "universal significance" of life and the universe; the belief that "everything" can and ought to be known... Hence, the development of science and history towards this end. 'Grand narratives', seeking to offer models by which we can interpret the "totality" of human consciousness, ignore so-called "historical accidents" at their peril!
It's a risk we have to take. History at the "micro-level" does seem utterly chaotic as far as we can tell...there doesn't seem to be anything of substance to learn there. It's like looking at a painting under a microscope...you will see many interesting things but you won't see a painting.
I further agree with you that accidents can, on occasion, attain temporary "macro-significance". The premature death of a reforming emperor in China delayed capitalism there for five centuries.
Future historians might well argue that Lenin and his heirs gave at least a century of additional life to capitalism and maybe more.
Well what about the "poor nutball", wandering around Galilee about 2000 years ago (give or take a kick in the teeth), claiming to be the Son of God? I am willing to bet that you don't believe in the possibility that Jesus was the Son of God; that goes without saying. But I, for one, am convinced that Jesus - whoever [H]e was - existed. He lived, breathed, ate, drank and died (even if he was not subsequently resurrected) millennia ago; yet [H]is influence throughout history has been enormous!
This is, as I'm sure you know, a question fraught with many difficulties.
First of all, we lack any significant contemporary evidence of Jesus's existence at all. The initial evidence for "what he taught" comes from the authentic letters of Saulos of Tarsus (known to the gullible as "Saint Paul") which were written 20 or more years after the death of "Jesus".
I am inclined to accept Jesus's historical reality...as a rather simple-minded country preacher who really disliked "big city Judaism" and its theological complexities. "Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!" is probably as close as we can come to "what Jesus really taught".
Christian doctrine, on the other hand, comes from Saulos and his followers and may or may not accurately reflect the views of the Nazarene. The "influence" of which you speak really belongs to Saulos.
This was indeed an "accident"...Christianity arose in common with quite a number of mystical religions in the Roman Empire and it was by no means inevitable that Christianity would "win out" over its rivals. Indeed, in the first couple of centuries of the "Christian era", Judaism enjoyed considerable appeal among educated Romans and were it not for the rite of circumcision, might well have become the religion of Constantine or one of the other late emperors.
But this "historical accident" has affected so much - is it really feasible to 'preach' about the insignificance of the individual?
I think that if "by magic" you could remove all the world's major religious figures of the past, you'd discover that a whole set of new ones would have replaced them. Doctrines might be different...even very different. But the social role of religion would have been the same.
That part doesn't change...ever.
Incidentally, do you think Lenin conned the Soviets into supporting his Bolshevik party?
Or was he hiding a material self-interest of his own? And Stalin - why did he pursue power?
Well, remember my caution...trying to apply Marxist analysis to individuals yields very mixed results.
My guess is that when Lenin returned to Petrograd in the spring of 1917, he was very disappointed in the performance of his comrades up to that point...concluding that "only he himself" could really be relied on to "get it right". And while he never concentrated "all power" in his own hands, he seemed to develop a pretty firm grip on the leading role within the party.
Stalin, by contemporary reports, was a rather modest fellow in the early days...willing to take on a lot of bureaucratic "shit work" that other, more "famous", Bolsheviks thought "beneath them". After Lenin's death, Stalin must have looked around and said to himself something like: "Hey, I'm the guy that's really holding this whole fucking project together...so why shouldn't I be Lenin's heir and rightful successor?".
If there are multiple theories regarding "how to proceed" in the event of a revolution, who's right? Who has correctly interpreted the 'reality' of material conditions? Who is the 'judge' of all this?
Like all real controversies, your questions can only be answered by argument and evidence.
In the long run, experience will tell "who is right".
First posted at RevLeft on June 19, 2005
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· Conversations with Capitalists May 21, 2006
· Vegetable Morality April 17, 2006
· Parents and Children April 11, 2006
· The Curse of Lenin's Mummy April 3, 2006
What Did Marx "Get Wrong"? September 13, 2004
Class in Post-Revolutionary Society - Part 1 July 9, 2004
Demarchy and a New Revolutionary Communist Movement November 13, 2003
A New Type of Communist Organization October 5, 2003
The "Tools" of Marxism July 19, 2003
Marxism Without the Crap July 3, 2003
What is Socialism? An Attempt at a Brief Definition June 19, 2003
What is Communism? A Brief Definition June 19, 2003
A New Communist Paradigm for the 21st Century May 8, 2003
On "Dialectics" -- The Heresy Posts May 8, 2003
|If "morality" is important to you, start a church.
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