Third-rate Hatchet Job
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As is the case with all my Essays, nothing here should be read as an attack either on Historical Materialism [HM] -- a theory I fully accept --, or, indeed, on revolutionary socialism. I remain as committed to the self-emancipation of the working class and the dictatorship of the proletariat as I was when I first became a revolutionary nearly thirty years ago. [The difference between Dialectical Materialism [DM] and HM, as I see it, is explained here.]
Phrases like "ruling-class theory", "ruling-class view of reality", "ruling-class ideology" (etc.) used at this site (in connection with Traditional Philosophy and DM) aren't meant to imply that all or even most members of various ruling-classes actually invented these ways of thinking or of seeing the world (although some of them did -- for example, Heraclitus, Plato, Cicero and Marcus Aurelius). They are intended to highlight theories (or "ruling ideas") that are conducive to, or which rationalise the interests of the various ruling-classes history has inflicted on humanity, whoever invents them. Up until recently, this dogmatic approach to knowledge had almost invariably been promoted by thinkers who either relied on ruling-class patronage, or who, in one capacity or another helped run the system for the elite.
However, this will become the central topic of Parts Two and Three of Essay Twelve (when they are published); until then, the reader is directed here, here, and here for more details.
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Summary Of My Main Objections To Dialectical Materialism
Dumb Or Dumber?
There is a site on the Internet which, among other things, contains some excellent articles -- unfortunately, none have been written by the titular owner of that site -- a Mr Dumain.
Nevertheless, this self-styled 'autodidact' -- and here I would normally use the word "comrade", but Mr D has made it plain to me that he finds that word "sickening" -- has entered the fray, and written a revealingly sub-standard 'analysis' of one of the Essays posted at this site.
Curious readers are encouraged to consult the original Essay, and Mr D's 'analysis', to see yet again just how quickly logically-challenged Hegel-fans tend to go astray, and how totally unaware they are of this self-inflicted intellectual malaise.
However, Mr D, it seems, is only able to find fault with this particular Essay because of my crass failure to compress an entire PhD thesis into every single paragraph (which critical tactic would leave his own 'essays' in tatters if applied by others with equal fairness, or lack of it, to each and every one of them).
So, in response to this passage of mine:
Oddly enough, however, we find a DM-classicist like Lenin arguing along familiar lines, for all the world sounding like a born-again Realist with added Hegelian spin:
"Thought proceeding from the concrete to the abstract -- provided it is correct (NB)… -- does not get away from the truth but comes closer to it. The abstraction of matter, the law of nature, the abstraction of value, etc., in short all scientific (correct, serious, not absurd) abstractions reflect nature more deeply, truly and completely." [Lenin (1961), p.171. Emphases in the original.]
Unfortunately, Lenin forgot to say how any of this is remotely possible if abstractions are creations of the human mind. If scientific knowledge more truly reflects the world the more its abstractions are correct, how could this be if abstractions do not exist 'objectively', in some form or other, for science to reflect? If abstractions don't exist in the outside world then what could there be in nature for scientific knowledge to depict? On the other hand, if they do exist, what are they composed of and what form do they take?
We have these 'words of wisdom':
"Poor fearing comprehension (sic). Nothing here about Platonism. Just the nature of scientific idealization. Compare Leszek Kolakowski. Or Marx's general introduction to the Grundrisse."
"Poor fearing comprehension" meets "scientific idealisation", neither of which terms is explained. One would of course like to know just why the poor fear comprehension. Have they seen what it does to 'autodidacts'?
Once again, my mistake was apparently not to condense the whole of my thesis into this one passage.
[In that thesis (parts of which will be published at this site), I examine at length traditional ideas of 'scientific idealisation' to show that they, like so many other traditional notions (this 'non-comrade' has naively swallowed), fall apart under close examination. Mr D has apparently given no thought (or none of any consequence) to the ontological significance of 'scientific idealizations', or with what in nature they could possibly correspond. But, if science cannot operate without them, and they do not exist independently of mind, then either nature is mind, or science is 'subjective'. But, do not ask Mr D for clarification here, since he will either drop some more names or trot out a few more obscurities that even Hegel would find baffling. (Added 2014: I will be publishing that Essay on science in 2015.)]
And, with respect to this passage of mine:
Traditional theorists often call such abstractions the "essential" features of reality, which, according to them, underlie appearances and/or the material world. In contrast to the particulars we meet in everyday life, abstractions appear to be general in form. Indeed, the use of abstractions, so we are told, allows human cognition to arise from immediate experience to more general knowledge of the world.
In that case, abstractions seem to be required in order to express generality and help in the formation of scientific knowledge. But, if they are general in form, does that mean that abstractions are somehow 'spread out', as it were, dispersed over the concrete objects they collect together, uniting the seeming diversity we see in nature? Or, are they no more than 'unifying principles', which are essential for the progress of science?
Perhaps they are, but more work will need to be done before it is clear just how such 'principles' are more than merely "useful fictions", handy at least for boosting the morale of scientists.
We find this example of penetrating irrelevance:
"Lenin does not promote the former idea of abstraction, nor does any Marxist. What you call generality seems to be closer to what Marx and Lenin are getting at."
Those with poor eyesight might like to ask Mr D for some assistance in finding where in this passage I assert anything of Lenin, or of any Marxist. I must confess that I too couldn't find where I must have said this, so I will have to defer to Mr D's superior ocular skills.
However, with respect to this passage:
Well, are abstractions like classes, then? Classes are abstract particulars of a rather peculiar sort: they are singular in form, but compound in nature. If Universals are like classes -- which exist anterior to material reality -- that would appear to suggest they are like ghostly containers of some sort, but with material contents. Does this intellectualist approach to reality therefore commit us to the existence of classes over and above their members? Indeed, does such a theory amount to a sort of bargain basement Platonism?
We are faced with this devastating response (also born of 'superior eyesight'):
"This has nothing whatever in common with the cite from Lenin. We know that Marx & Engels criticized this conception in THE HOLY FAMILY."
Mr D was not to know -- but only because he cared not to check -- that I make this very point in Part Two of this Essay. Once again, how foolish of me not to compress the latter (all 48,000 words of it) into this one paragraph.
But, in relation to this passage:
Nevertheless, using their 'natural' abstractive skills, intrepid abstractors are supposed to be able to ignore certain features of material objects, enabling them to form more general ideas or concepts to which increasingly wider classes of objects belong. At least that is what the metaphysical brochure would have us believe. But, materialists should be suspicious of such moves: how could abstractions be material (in any sense of the word) if adepts have to disregard certain aspects of material reality to derive some idea of them? Indeed: if, according to Lenin, materiality is bound up with "objective existence" outside the mind, how could a single abstraction be material if it requires the exercise of mental gymnastics to conjure it into existence? Even worse, how could any of them be "objective"?
We are given a lesson in precision -- well, it's more a 'how not to achieve any precision' sort of lesson; in fact, it's a master class:
"This has nothing to do with Lenin's claims. And see Marx in Grundrisse: from vague notions of a complex whole to decisive general abstract relations to the conceptual reconstruction of the concrete."
Once more, the reader is invited to find where I say this is Lenin's view (in fact, I use several other things that Lenin says to undermine this caricature of abstractionism, as is plain from the context and the passage above).
As far as Marx's claims (in Grundrisse) are concerned, what sense can be made of them I will allow others to decide (but merely note that Marx did not see fit to publish them). However, Mr D's own comments in this regard are about as clear as the mud he slings randomly about the place.
[But, what exactly is a vague notion of a complex whole? Is it possible to say without having to use yet more obscure jargon (and then yet more of the same to explain the latter, and so on...)? How do any of the vagaries directed at these ill-defined 'entities' differ from confused thought, or, indeed, no thought at all? And what is an 'abstract relation' except another of those syntactic monstrosities I exposed in the Essay in question? Furthermore, it appears we have here yet another nominalisation -- which miraculously (and by linguistic fiat) has itself conjured into existence another Ideal entity --, invented by someone with more leisure time at his disposal than seems good for him. And how, for goodness sake, can anyone construct (let alone reconstruct) anything concrete in thought? A more apt metaphor would perhaps be demolition, if all we have to guide us are the wrecking thoughts of Mr D.]
Turning to this passage:
Clearly, there is no way that surgically enhanced words like these could have been social products, nor could they have been grounded in material reality -- by material practice. They had a strictly limited utility radius and a highly exclusive clientele; and deliberately so. Only words such as these could act as intermediaries between select groups of human beings and the 'Mind of God'; only they could reflect "Essence", "Being" and the "Rational" order of reality. In this way, therefore, theories exploring the relationship between "Thought" and "Being" are plainly covert extensions to Theology.
Of course, these are not mere suppositions; what we know of the history of Philosophy fully supports this unflattering view.
This quasi-mystical approach to knowledge supplied a rationale for the use of language as a handy device, one that enabled adepts to gain ready access to truths about the underlying 'necessary' structure of Reality. Profound secrets of "Being" could be laid bare by thought alone; no expensive equipment or messy experiments being required. In fact, no contact with the material world was needed at all. Wealth, patronage, leisure, a lively imagination and a flare for jargon are all that were required. No coincidence then that this approach to abstract ideas has proven to be highly conducive to a ruling-class view of nature and society. [More of this later.]
This ancient, aristocratic attitude to 'knowledge' has re-surfaced many times, in many disguises, in different Modes of Production right throughout history. It is in fact a common theme that unites every shade of ruling-class thought, despite its frequent re-packaging as history unfolded.
The master of clarity had this to say:
"Much truth in this, but sloppily conceived from the first sentence. A number of philosophers of different stripes would agree, from Dewey to Adorno."
This from the man who brought you "Poor fearing comprehension", a phrase I wish I had invented. But, since I am a rank amateur slop-freak -- unwisely sticking to plain English --, I know when I am out-slopped. Indeed, I bow to the slop-meister himself.
And, as if to underline his well-earned status, Mr D helpfully presented us with Exhibit A for the Prosecution:
"OK. Marxism at least officially rejects this view. But anticipating your argument, I suppose that Engels began the trend where objective and subjective dialectics are fused, thus 'materialistically' replicating Hegel's notion of objective spirit."
Readers can check for themselves which passage the above was written in response, as they can this, too:
"This is certainly not Engels' philosophy, but this mode of thinking became tacitly rooted in Soviet Marxism as a state doctrine."
Most of Essays Two, Four, Five, Seven, Eight (Parts One and Two), Nine (Parts One and Two), Eleven (Parts One and Two) Twelve and Fourteen (summaries here, here, and here) are devoted to showing that this 'received' view is about as accurate as an Iraq WMD dossier, which is partly the reason why DM itself was so easily transformed into a state religion, and helped dialectical hacks rationalise the substitution of the Stalinised remnants of the Bolshevik Party for the working-class --, and then Stalin for both. Once more, and foolishly, I neglected to condense these 500,000 words into the paragraph in question.
And now we are regaled with a few choice technical/dialectical words that the uninitiated might not comprehend:
"This is horseshit. British bourgeois philosophy of the most insipid sort. It's not even intelligent ideology critique."
Sweet words indeed; and so well constructed.
[However, as far as bourgeois Philosophy is concerned, it is all too easy to forget that Hegel himself wasn't exactly a coal miner. His not being "British" made all the difference, of course.]
To be sure, Mr D is welcome to cling on to his own particular flavour of ruling-class confusion (in this case, a priori superscience culled from the mother-lode itself in Hegel), in preference for ideas derived from materially-grounded language and science, but he should at least have allowed the argument at this site to develop first before he made a public fool of himself in such a grand manner. And so the argument does develop in Essay Twelve (all 250,000 words of it, when it is finally posted; part of it already has been, here), where the house of cards within which he is happy to shelter will be demolished, right after its ruling-class provenance has been exposed.
Well, others, more competent judges of animal waste -- in relation to which I am sure Mr D aspires to be first among equals -- can be trusted to decide, but the 'offending' claims are more than adequately substantiated in the many passages and Essays Mr D did not consult. Or, if he did consult them, perhaps he found he could not follow the argument. This is indeed a failing he shares with many other Hegel-fans. (One suspects incipient dialectical dementia, here.)
And now, the piece de resistance, the knock-out blow:
"You confuse means with ends. Metaphysics is not merely linguistic megalomania. Childish."
This was in commentary on the following:
However, the point worth emphasising here is that what had once been the product of the social relations among human beings (ordinary language) was transformed and fetishised into a medium that now appeared as an expression of the real relations between things; in its more extreme form, as those things themselves, and then as the only guide to the nature of "things-in-themselves". Language was thus imbued with magical powers; linguistic megalomania now had a political licence to practice.
Means? Ends? "Childish"? [Recall: Mr D was the expert who brought us "horseshit" --, an eminently grown-up term-of-art. Not to mention: "poor fearing comprehension".]
The reader will note Mr D's measured profundity here; the maturity of thought, the wealth of supporting argument, the extensive detail, the penetrating analysis, the PhD length explanation, the...er, kettle calling the sterilising dish "sooty".
[In an e-mail, Mr D admitted he could not read all of my Essays, since his computer would not load the pages, which meant he could not access the footnotes where I refer to supporting evidence, greatly expand on the argument and respond to objections. Still, this did not stop our 'armchair super-scientist' from revealing all the weaknesses one has come to associate with the 'autodidacts' of this world: sloppy logic, aggressive self-importance, a clear need to impress (which manifests itself in incessant name-dropping), studied superficiality masquerading as erudition, a detached world-weariness which disguises permanent intellectual insecurity, and a reflex dismissal of novel ideas that such individuals have neither the wit nor imagination to form for themselves.]
Mr D is an object lesson to us all, and for this we must thank him. The lesson is simple, yet profound: how might we account for the logically-challenged mentality of any randomly-selected Hegel fan?
But, as a self-styled 'autodidact', it's good of Mr D to take the blame.
Additional comments on Mr D can be found here.
June 2006; Mr D has put his head over the parapet again (clearly he thinks he can dish abuse, but it is no less obvious that he can't take it):
Anti-Dumain, she does me the honour of citing a post I wrote following her
withdrawal from e-discussion:
I marvel again at what a perceptive writer I am.
Rosa also cites me amidst a rebuttal to Rees that has nothing to do with me:
[This has now been moved here -- RL.]
this is very odd.
But Rosa does me the greatest
honour by devoting a whole web page to me:
Third-rate Hatchet Job
I think my typo "Poor fearing comprehension" was intended to mean "poor reading comprehension." Apparently, I am also counted among the "Hegel-fans." Rosa gets bent out of shape claiming I failed to read relevant passages of her essays, and then accuses me of writing obscurantist Hegelian slop. And finally, a psychoanalysis of yours truly. Aside from a list of complaints about my failure to explain myself in response to Rosa's failures to justify her convictions, there's no content there. Rosa really is a fool. How many lives have Trotskyism and analytical philosophy ruined?"
Careful readers will no doubt note that while I have justified my ideas, Mr D merely moans. He might not be able to appreciate the difference, or get his head around arguments that aren't drowned in Hegel-speak, but the penetrating shallowness of this 'response' deserves preservation for posterity.
Now, Mr D does try (rather weakly, in fact surprisingly weakly for an 'autodidact') to excuse his peremptory dismissal of my ideas with this devastating rebuttal:
"Rosa gets bent out of shape claiming I failed to read relevant passages of her essays...."
Of course, it is abundantly clear that Mr D rushed to judgement, and manifestly failed to note that other Essays at my site substantiate the assertions I make in the posts he deigned to read (and which passages responded to his hasty criticisms, even before he made them). Readers who are a little less casual about such things than Mr D appears to be can confirm this for themselves. But Mr D was so keen to rush to judgement, he forgot to check either his facts or his ill-temper. And now he complains when he is pulled up for it, and resorts to yet more name-calling. Clearly, this is the most powerful weapon in his armoury. No doubt we can expect more of the same. [Too right; check this and this out.]
But, he now says I get "bent out of shape". What can this technical term derived from the nether regions of auto-didactsville possibly mean? Perhaps it, too, is a typo. Who can say? Nevertheless, it's an odd sort of response to make when the one producing it has been found out. And, as if to make matters worse, Mr D makes no attempt to defend himself. Even so, he is just as quick to point out that he thinks I have not done the very thing he has now manifestly failed to do himself: justify his latest set of omissions.
But, 'autodidacts' do not need to do proof, do they?
And the man who is to content what George Dubbya is to intellectual achievement adds this contentful comment:
"Aside from a list of complaints about my failure to explain myself in response to Rosa's failures to justify her convictions, there's no content there."
This is in response to a long, detailed argument (original to me), wherein I defend the very things Mr D accused me of not defending. I suspect that, had he been around in the 1870s, he'd have said that Das Kapital lacked "content", too.
And we finish with this stunningly brainless question:
"How many lives have Trotskyism and analytical philosophy ruined?"
Well, I don't know the figures for the lives allegedly ruined by Trotskyism, but I suspect the number of lives Analytic Philosophy has ruined can be counted on the bumps on Mr D's head (so I guess that that will be in the hundreds then), and with a few left over to spare.
If this is the level of the 'intellectual' response to my Essays, then I rather think this 'theory' ['dialectics'] is on the ropes.
Word Count: 3810
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