"Dialectical" Drivel August 14, 2005 by RedStar2000
It's been brought to my attention that my collections on "dialectics" are "too easy"...that I have been arguing with "intellectual lightweights" who have a hopelessly simplistic "understanding" of the matter.
This may be true! I can only respond to those who take the trouble to challenge my position.
So should you happen to be a "dialectical heavyweight", please come to the Theory forum at Revolutionary Left Forums and begin a thread on why "dialectics" is "true".
Meanwhile, time to empty the trash.
So do not use this post as a template for what Marx' dialectics is all about, but rather as a hint.
The problem is precisely that no one -- not even Marx or Engels -- can summarize "dialectics" in such a way that it becomes a useful tool in understanding and explaining "the totality" of anything.
As in your summary, many people claim to be able to "explain it" and "use it"...but where is the evidence for their "special understanding"?
The more people talk about "dialectics" and "how important it is", etc., etc., the more the words just pile up higher and higher and the abstractions become more and more abstract...until the reader finally gives up!
Dialectics is nothing else but a way to think that sets change, movement, collaboration and interaction in a totality.
But you don't need "dialectics" to do that. Modern science does that stuff all the time while never having recourse to "dialectics".
There is some scientific phenomena that one can use "dialectical terminology" to describe -- wave-particle duality, for example -- but you don't "have" to use it. In fact, the only really accurate description of something like wave-particle duality is mathematical -- words are just "not good enough".
In addition, I think most scientists would say that the "totality" is probably unknowable -- at least with the tools we presently have available. We learn more and more -- our approximation of reality gets better and better -- over time...but apart from very simple processes, the totality is elusive.
Does it ["dialectics"] sound tricky and complicated as hell? Well, it is.
Social reality is complicated. The problem with "dialectics" is not simply that it's "complicated" or "tricky" -- the problem is that "dialectics" doesn't tell us anything useful.
And I have an example to demonstrate that.
Consider the problem of the transition from capitalism to communism; more particularly, what are the correct techniques for making a proletarian revolution that successfully introduces a viable communist society?
Right now, all we know about this subject is completely empirical...we look at past (unsuccessful) efforts and say X seemed to help while Y and Z were harmful.
If "dialectics" had any utility, then this is the kind of problem it should be able to solve.
But you look at all those (starting with Engels himself) who claimed "mastery" of the "dialectical method"...and what do you find? Empirical platitudes and verbose abstractions -- most of which turned out to be wrong.
Keep that in mind: all those people who claimed a "special understanding" of the "totality" either failed in their revolutionary attempts or simply were unable to even make any revolutionary attempts at all.
Why didn't "dialectics" tell any of them "how to get it right?"
In my opinion, the reason is that "dialectics" can't tell you anything, period.
More precisely, you can "make it" tell you anything you like...regardless of evidence to the contrary. All you have to do is learn to manipulate the terminology properly...and you can make yourself sound really "erudite" and "profound".
And your "erudition" and "profundity" -- along with US$5.00 -- will buy you a very fancy cup of coffee at an upscale coffee bar.
First posted at RevLeft on April 19, 2005
The problem is with the "dialectical" half of "dialectical materialism".
Ordinary materialism is what scientists actually use to discover the nature of objective reality.
It really "works".
"Dialectics" doesn't. It can be made to "look like" it works in the following way:
1. Use an ordinary materialist approach to investigating a problem.
2. When a reasonable solution emerges, reformat that answer in "dialectical language"...scatter phrases around like "unity of opposites", "negation of the negation", etc.
3. Present your "dialectical" solution as both evidence of the "power of dialectics" and of your own "mastery" of "dialectical thinking".
4. Under no circumstances ever admit the fact that "vulgar materialism" was your real tool and actually generated the solution.
There is one situation where "dialectics" really comes in handy. Suppose that "for political reasons", you find it "necessary" to represent some piece of nonsense as "dialectical truth" -- here the object is to confuse the reader to such a degree that s/he has no choice but to "take your word for it".
"Dialectics" is perfect for this project; you can use it to verbally prove anything.
And if the target of your efforts continues to balk, you can always say (in the loftiest tone you can manage), "Your problem, comrade, is that you fail to grasp the dialectic."
Hegel (the modern inventor of this scam) used it to "prove" that the perfect embodiment of democracy resided in the person of the King of Prussia. *laughs*
It is one of the misfortunes of history that Marx and Engels were suckered into this crap; the consequence is that "dialectics" enjoys a prestige that is totally unmerited.
But those are the breaks. Every year there are probably thousands of young lefties who beat their poor heads in trying to "master dialectics"...wasting time and energy trying to make sense of nonsense.
To no avail.
First posted at RevLeft on July 29, 2005
Two words for you: Big Bang.
Two more words for you: Dark Matter.
Oh yeah, mechanical materialism really "works".
Defenders of "dialectics" have frequent recourse to the pejorative "mechanical" -- as if anyone who has failed to "master dialectics" or thinks such an endeavor superfluous "must" perforce see the universe as "Newtonian wheels and gears".
This is simple slander, of course. Modern scientists both investigate and attempt to explain the complexity of the universe with a wide variety of models...of which Newtonian mechanics is of decreasing importance.
The existence of dark matter, however, was first learned from an application of the much despised "mechanical materialism".
In studying the rotation of galaxies, it was discovered that the outer edges were rotating almost as fast as the inner portions...something that violates Newton's laws.
Physicists were loathe to "give up" on such useful tools...and postulated that there must be a considerable amount of "invisible mass" (or "dark matter") in each galaxy in order to explain why it rotates the way it does.
This, of course, generates a new and, thus far, intractable problem: what is dark matter? Here, Newton is of no assistance and we must turn to post-Einsteinian physics.
There are hypotheses: for example, "dark matter" is some form of atomic or sub-atomic particle(s) that have yet to be discovered. (Many suggestions for what those particles might be like have been made -- but, so far, none have been observed in our particle accelerators.)
But "dialectics" plays no role in this investigation. Right now it's all mathematics (of a very high order).
As to the "Big Bang", I believe that only a few propositions have been suggested...
The big bang is a "quantum fluctuation" writ large. (!)
The big bang resulted from a collision (or near miss) of two "branes" -- super-universal structures. (!!!)
And we cannot overlook the fact that "big bang" was first suggested by a Jesuit astronomer...who saw the "hand of God" at work. *laughs*
The serious stuff is many decades or more away from observational confirmation...at least.
But "dialectics" doesn't even suggest an explanation.
(Note that the "quantum foam" can be verbally expressed dialectically. What evidently happens "down at the quantum level" is that electrons and positrons spontaneously appear "out of nothing" for a tiny fraction of a second and then annihilate one another, releasing a tiny gamma ray. "Negation of the negation"?
And you can do the same thing with "wave-particle duality" -- matter sometimes has "particle properties" and sometimes has "wave properties" depending on how we observe it. "Unity of opposites?" *laughs*)
First posted at RevLeft on July 30, 2005
The only successful revolution in the history of the workers movement was carried out by a party rooted in the understanding of Dialectics.
Hey, great response! *laughs*
Lenin pulled off a successful coup and Lenin said he was a "master of dialectics", and "therefore", "dialectics" really "works".
Not only is that an utterly wretched argument on its face...it's even worse when you recall that this "master of dialectics" and "maker of successful revolution" was restoring capitalism four years later!
I doubt very much that a party will be built on redstar's 'papers'.
I certainly hope not!
My ideas, with all their admitted limitations, are directed to revolutionaries...not wanna-be despots.
Stick to Trotsky...he'll tell you what you want to hear. *laughs*
First posted at RevLeft on July 31, 2005
Postmodernism is the ideology of the neoconservative corporatists. Anyone calling themselves a "socialist" or "communist" and subscribing to postmodernism is a cancer in the body of the movement, and should be excised immediately upon discovery.
I largely agree with this. To assume that someone who has no time to waste on "dialectics" therefore "must" be a post-modernist is just as silly as assuming that they "must" be trapped in the Newtonian realm of 18th century French clock-makers.
Post-modernism is essentially an argument that objective reality is unknowable -- that all attempts to construct coherent explanations are "social constructs" and no one of them is any "truer" than any other.
This is a view that "bites its own tail" of course -- post-modernism is also a "social construct" and therefore also no "truer" than any other.
But it certainly is fashionable...as an "intellectual" rationalization for collaboration with existing power, it's tough to beat.
One of its founders began his career writing anti-semitic trash for the Belgian press under German occupation...and they've been sucking up to whoever is in power ever sense.
Their ideas are mostly too rarefied to be appreciated by the paleolithic neo-cons (who prefer the more robust imperial doctrines of Leo Strauss).
But corporate marketing types worship at the altar of post-modernism as do some executives as well. Enron was a "post-modernist corporation". Smoke and mirrors are real if we say they are.
And the neo-cons do appreciate the post-modernist idea that "the world is what you make it" -- if you can make people believe that Iraq is now a "sovereign democracy"...then that's just as good as if it actually were one.
It's not too much a stretch to call post-modernism a kind of coherent or at least semi-coherent madness.
I was just wondering what particular revolutionary theory you ascribe to, redstar?
I call it Marxism without the crap.
One of my persistent critics called it "crap without the Marxism". *laughs*
"Dialectics" is often suitable for constructing witticisms.
Same old bourgeois crap about the Bolshevik coup.
October 1917 -- Revolution or Coup?
Anyways, this stuff is a departure from the thread topic.
Wave that dialectical wand, Comrade Potter, and astonish us with mysteries and wonders.
Or retreat to the "Church of St. Leon" and "pray for us sinners". *laughs*
First posted at RevLeft on July 31, 2005
However a *materialist* dialectics is also possible.
It may be "possible"...but is it useful?
Is there anything that you can do with it that you can't do easier and more simply with "generic" materialism?
I've already mentioned the examples of dialectical reasoning in jury trials, in parliaments, in debating, and the fact that the sources of the dialectic are Aristotle and Heraclitus, two of the greatest philosophers of history (despite Aristotle's sexism and racism!). So actually I think you have the burden of showing that dialectics is *necessarily* idealist and *inevitably* metaphysical, that is *mysticism and obscurantism*. These are the greatest minds in the history of humanity and you want to say they have their heads up their collective arse?!?
You have a colorful way of expressing the option...but yes, even "the greatest minds in the history of humanity" could be and have been nevertheless wrong.
Heraclitus survives only in fragments, of course. But a good deal of Aristotle survives...and he was wrong about a whole bunch of stuff.
I think at best we should consider him as a competent field biologist -- he correctly understood that dolphins were mammals, for example.
It's certainly an advantage to be "a great mind"...but even the greatest minds must have objective material data to work with. There's no such thing as "pure thought"...that's of any use.
As to the "burden of proof", well, it's a two-edged sword.
People who defend "dialectics" are, in effect, making a positive assertion about the universe (or at least about that part of the universe that involves human societies).
Objective reality is dialectical.
In science, the burden of proof generally rests on the person who makes the positive assertion...not on the person who is skeptical.
What is the evidence that "objective reality is dialectical"?
And moreover, even if it were, so what?
If someone makes a "dialectical" analysis of a social phenomenon and a second person makes an analysis of the same phenomenon using "generic" materialism, can we distinguish between those two competing methods?
Is "dialectics" really "superior" (as its defenders claim) or is "generic" materialism superior...as I claim?
Consider the concept of struggle...and how we readily assume that all struggles can be reduced to two opposing sides. If there are three sides to a struggle, we assume that two of them will unite to defeat the third...and then settle matters between themselves after the defeat of their common enemy.
And things often work out that way in objective social reality...but not always. Sometimes the three (or more!) sides will all persist in fighting all of their enemies at once. True, this is often a ruinous strategy...but it has nevertheless happened.
If "dialectics" were some kind of "universal social law", then that should never happen.
But it does.
One of the places it happens is in parliaments...and when it does, people speak of a "parliamentary crisis" in which "forming a government" becomes "impossible". A military coup often is "required" to "break the logjam".
Let's take the stock market, just for example: the dialectics of greed and fear on investors result in either synthesis at a higher level, detached rationalism.
This is not a sentence that makes sense as written...it looks like you left the sentence unfinished.
But I do not see anything about stock-market bubbles and crashes that's particularly "dialectical"...except verbally.
And that is one of "dialectics'" greatest faults...that it can be verbally manipulated to "explain" anything -- which is, in practical terms, the equivalent of explaining nothing.
As you know, that greatest of "masters of the dialectic", one K. Marx, once inherited a few hundred pounds from an uncle in Holland...and decided to invest it in pound sterling futures -- essentially a bet on what the pound sterling would be worth at the end of the next 90 days.
He did well...and in a letter to Engels boasted of his success. But, alas, the subject never comes up again...probably because he lost his ass in the market.
If "dialectics" really worked, then Warren Buffet would be a "dialectician"...but he's not.
Because you can use a binary function to represent ANY NUMBER.
You can use any base to construct a numbering system and then express any number in it.
Computers use a "base two system". We use "base 10" normally. Mayans used "base 20". Babylonians used "base 60".
The best you can do here is to say that "base two" is the simplest way to do it.
This happens to be a property of arithmetic...it's really irrelevant to describing or explaining social phenomena.
But when we look at the relation the f/(inflation,GDP) does indeed graph out as a spiral using real world empirical data.
Good example...but is it relevant to anything more complex than a simple 2-dimensional phenomenon?
Real social phenomena generally involve more than two and sometimes a lot more than two operating processes. Bourgeois social scientists attempt to construct "multi-dimensional" models -- though these models are often severely flawed because of the basic ideological assumptions of bourgeois thought.
Perhaps if we knew how to construct multi-dimensional models using Marxist assumptions, we might get somewhere.
We take the best opinions of the best scientists and compare them to each other to obtain the most complete picture possible.
So you redefine "dialectics" just to mean what every sensible person does without ever reading Hegel or Marx or even Aristotle.
But, you know, that won't help either. All the "best opinions" of the "best scientists" around the time that Engels wrote Dialectics of Nature agreed that there were "superior races" and "inferior races".
They were all wrong...and your version of "dialectics" wouldn't have helped us a bit.
The first really effective scientific attack on the "race paradigm" dates, I believe, from 1899 and focused, if memory serves me, on the underlying methodology of "scientific" racism. He said there were "logical flaws" in racist "reasoning" that rendered all their "empirical data" quite meaningless.
He didn't use "dialectics".
You are obviously looking for static eternal truths.
Well, I don't think that's what I'm looking for.
What I am looking for are methods to understand objective social reality that will have, as an obvious corrillary, the best means for changing it.
An "eternal truth" would not be of much help.
We have had a century and a half of well-meaning people who have claimed to be "masters of the dialectic"...but what do we have to show for their "mastery"???
So there are only two (there's that number again!) possibilities.
Everybody "had their heads up their collective asses"...or
"dialectics" is useless!
Whatever my disagreements with Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky, Mao, et.al., might be, it cannot be denied that all of them were pretty smart guys and Marx was a genius.
Conclusion: "dialectics" is useless.
We'd be better off without it.
You probably notice you are surrounded by dualities such as day and night, love and hate, war and peace, man and woman, old and young.
This sounds as if you have been dabbling in Taoism...and is an excellent illustration of why I do indeed think that "dialectics" is mysticism.
Rather we are recognizing reality as it is -- dynamic, unstable and in flux, defined contextually not as we would like but as it is here and now.
I have no problem with that at all...I just maintain that you don't require the verbal apparatus or bloated conceits of "dialectics" to achieve that.
But I would add an additional dimension to your formulation...we need a tool or tools to tell us not only what reality "is" but what it will be.
This is an area where "dialectics" totally collapses into incoherence. When it comes time to say "what will happen next", "dialectics" is worse than chance.
(Bob Avakian knows this...that's why he rambles so dreadfully. He's got to cover "all the possibilities" to maintain his own claim to be a "master of the dialectic".)
Because a theory which is more parsimonious in its scientific terms and which explains more phenomena more accurately is a better theory.
Quite so. But it has to actually explain...not just offer us a few sweeping platitudes.
Had Marx written a "Hegelian" text on the transition from capitalism to communism, how useful would that have been to us?
Or, in other words, which turned out to be Marx's lasting contribution -- "dialectical materialism" OR historical materialism?
You know my answer; what's yours?
Do you know of any other theory that accounts for rapid unexpected change as elegantly?
That's exactly my objection. Just saying "reality is dialectical" doesn't "account for" anything.
It's on the same level as some godsucker claiming that the reason so many people believe in "God" is that "reality is spiritual".
And there is, by the way, a theory that does account for "rapid unexpected change"...it's chaos theory.
It suggests that certain kinds of human insitutions involving many variables are "semi-chaotic" -- a series of small and almost unnoticable changes can produce "wild and sudden" departures from past norms.
I'm not endorsing that theory...but there seem to be some parallels in nature and, at this point, it "sounds plausible".
Certainly a lot more plausible than "dialectics".
We use a scientific tool because it works, no more no less.
I enthusiastically endorse this criterion.
But I assert that "dialectics" fails this test...abysmally.
Analytics can never ever explain why it is that 10 men working together are more productive than 10 individuals. Only a holistic approach can do so, for only a holistic approach sees 10 men working together in their mutual relations and in their relationship to society as a whole.
This was probably the most interesting response...even though it only indirectly defends "dialectics".
Adam Smith explained it in terms of specialization...that it was more efficient if each worker did one part of a task all day long than if he "made a pin from scratch".
An analytic approach could, in principle, measure this very accurately. The worker who must make a pin from scratch will perform many tasks in the course of the process. He must stop and remember at each point what to do next. He must put down some tools and pick up others. He must examine the finished product to make sure the job has been done correctly. These are "inefficiences" that delay the completion of each pin that he makes.
If he does one task all day long, then he picks up one tool at the beginning of his shift and does not put it down until his shift is ended. He does not need to think or remember what to do next...it's always what he just did.
He "works like a machine" and needs a brain no more than a machine does.
A "holistic theory" could verbally summarize what is going on...but I think an analytic theory would be a better explanation of "why specialization works".
First posted at IT'S RIGHT TO REBEL on August 9, 2005
I think [Aristotle] was the greatest mind in history.
Up to you.
I think such "rankings" to be rather childish, myself.
You've never said what your method is other than a rejection of all dialectical reasoning.
Just ordinary "garden-variety" materialism...like real scientists use.
No mystical "unity of opposites" or "negations of the negations", blah, blah, blah.
Just a serious investigation of each problem as it arises, using all the accumulated "tools" of scientific research.
And most especially, no attempt to tailor objective reality to "fit" an obsolete and mystical paradigm.
I would also say, since we are dialectical MATERIALISTS *we cannot say in idealistic abstractions what would happen among any three competing forces!*.
But in that case, you subvert your own claim to the "universality" of "dialectics". Don't forget: you are the one that claims there are "universal abstractions" like "unity of opposites", "negation of the negation", etc.
If you cast aside these "universal abstractions" as soon as you begin the investigation of a concrete situation -- something I think Marx and Engels almost always did -- then we have no dispute. At most, we might argue the best interpretation of a body of accumulated evidence...but we'd agree that an appeal to the evidence was the only legitimate argument.
If you attempted to fudge the evidence in order to make it "fit" the "dialectic", both I and every scientist would call you on it...and quickly.
A *dialectical materialist* analysis of the KMT and CCP would say that *with respect to each other* that they are in opposition, but they are *both* in opposition to the Japanese imperialists who are *in turn* in opposition to the U.S. imperialists.
A fruitful example. A generic materialist like myself would reason...
1. From the standpoint of the CCP, there are three (not two) options.
2. They are
a. unite with the KMT and the U.S. imperialists to defeat Japanese imperialism.
b. unite with the Japanese imperialists to defeat the KMT and the U.S. imperialists.
c. make no alliances at all -- but fight the nearest available enemy...the Japanese in one part of China, the KMT in another, etc.
3. Take into consideration the actual appeal of the CCP -- to poor and landless peasants and to middle class nationalists.
4. Conclusion: option "c" -- fight the Japanese occupiers in the occupied territories and fight the KMT where it still has power.
Mao, using "dialectics" arrived at option "a"...and he won.
So that sounds like "dialectics" is superior to my "generic materialism"...or is it?
Had he followed my option "c", might he have won faster and more completely? Might he have prevented the escape of the KMT to Taiwan and all the mischief that caused?
What does it mean to say (or imply) that "whoever wins" must have "understood dialectics" and "used it correctly"?
Because that is the real content of your argument.
Unable to see how greed and fear destroy each other in a rational investor? Ok, you won't be making lots of money.
Back in the 80s, the old San Francisco Examiner would invite some "reputable" investment brokers to package an imaginary portfolio for the coming year -- what they thought were the "best stocks" that money could buy.
Their competition was a guy throwing darts at the New York Stock Exchange list...from behind his back.
And what do you think happened? The "random portfolio" outperformed the "experts"...not just once but for several years in a row.
"Dialectical Darts"? *laughs*
So, yes, Marx was a *stupid* investor, apparently.
But not on his first try. He applied "dialectics" and made a handsome profit...but then, "dialectics" (like "Lady Luck") deserted him.
But he IS!
Buffet's investment method is NO SECRET!
He does fundamental analysis over the past few years, looking for companies that consistently make a profit, and then examines those profitable companies to see whether they are undervalued. And when does a company get undervalued? WHEN FEAR TAKES OVER. And what does Buffet do? He RATIONALLY INVESTS for the long term. He does not buy/sell/buy/sell! He studies the stock in dialectical terms of what forces are RISING (profits) and what forces are FALLING (price, hopefully) and when he finds a company that has a solid materialist historical base that is profitable, he buys it and holds on to it.
ANYONE could get rich like Buffet does! It is NO secret. I am not saying anyone could get rich *as quickly* as Buffet. But yes, he is looking at COMPETING OPPOSITIONAL FORCES WHICH ARE MUTUALLY DEFINED SEEKING TO FIND A POINT TO WHICH THEY WILL SYNTHESIZE.
So what are you saying here? That Buffet, who has no known acquaintance with Marx, Hegel, or Aristotle, has nevertheless "independently" stumbled on the "dialectical secret" of making money in the market?
And the "evidence" for this is that he is successful?
Do you have any idea of how unconvincing that sounds?
Yes, because you can decompose ANY multidimensional phenomena into a 2 dimensional expression!
And with this, you simply crash and burn.
With your approach, you couldn't even plot an accurate description of the moon's rotation around the earth...much less anything really complicated.
BUT ALL PHENOMENA CAN BE DECOMPOSED INTO TWO VALUES!
Not even with "caps lock".
Yes, if you look at Taoism *as a materialist* you may well figure something out about dialectics.
If you look at Taoism as a materialist, you are much more likely to learn something useful about the social role of religion than you are to learn anything useful about "dialectics".
You can only figure out synergies using a holistic approach.
You don't "figure them out", your "holistics" is simply a tool of description...and usually a pretty fuzzy one at that.
If you really want to know what is happening and why, then you must dig a lot deeper than that.
First posted at IT'S RIGHT TO REBEL on August 9, 2005
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