Sunday, December 10, 2006

Internal & Structural Logic as Unseen Drivers - some musings

Well, here are some musings on internal / structural logic and dynamics in systems, that I initially wrote in a mail to Paul Illich after he had forwarded some of a Marxmail thread that set me off! I have elaborated and expanded a little.

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The thread concerned was on the subject of whether "Atheism is foundational to Marxism". My view is that it is an important element of some Marxisms, but that theism is demonstrably an important element of some other Marxisms. I am an atheist, and see atheism as an important position, not a mere irrelevance that is "over there" somewhere, but central to all political and philosophical positions I might take.

Marx has preconceptions that he has questioned to some extent, but which nonetheless give a strong and independent dynamic to his overall theory, and, as you'll see below, such a dynamic is not limited to his views. It is my contention (hardly a radical or 'new' one, I think) that all systems of thought, structures of command, hierarchies... have logical pathways that are often outside the intent or control of those that create the system, structure, hierarchy... And that these are dynamical, revealing themselves and their effects over time, sometimes to the surprise of the observer.

Theistic elements lurk unquestioned or under-explored in many modern ideologies and belief systems, and I think Marxism is one of them. Quasi-religious elements also exist in other ideologies, and so what I say below was prompted by that position.

> David Walters writes:
>> My problem with Dawkins method is that in his view, it seems to me, there
>> is an *inevitability* to god-belief and fanaticism, even though he doesn't
>> condemn religious belief by all people who don't act fanatically. In this he
>> doesn't prove it at all and it's an unfortunate deduction on his part.
> I posted this thread to Tim Barton, of bluegreenearth, as I know these
> issues do it for him. He replies to David's post as follows:
> Paul

Hi Paul,

I think that such an "inevitability" exists, though it is context dependent as to whether it manifests or not. For example, must an individual who subscribes to Xristain thought be a fanatic? My answer is that, No, he or she needn't by some strange process become an extremist/fanatic, the circumstances of her overall experience in the real world; the nature of the pastor; the cultural place in which the religious group finds itself... are all factors that determine whether or not an inherent logical dynamic manifests in its most 'pure' form or not. However, that fanaticism is deeply encoded and easily revealed in the "right" circumstances...

I think that an "inherent logical dynamic" is to be found in religious beliefs. It has several elements, from the consequences of insisting on a creator, through whatever weighing the specific religion gives that God in regard to interventionism; the specific emphasis on immanence; the specific balance struck between quietism and wrath; the specific weight given to 'chosen people' ideology; to teleology in general... In the raw or pure form, most often in situations where it feels embattled by other forces (such as by secularism) or where (conversely) it feels it is the only true faith and feels widely regarded in the wider society as being so, the logical flowering is, I believe, towards an authoritarian fundamentalist arrogant stance towards all others (the Inquisition / witching stool attitudes that if you are harmed unfairly in this life for the glory of god, that is OK, as you'll get your reward in the next one, is illustrative of one of the problems of belief in afterlife/reincarnation/etc).

This is patently not deterministic in individual cases, as there are countervailing forces for good within each religion, but under pressure these are not so strongly hardwired in the religious tenets and texts as those elements those of us who do not share the belief of that religious sect rightly fear.

As a socialist-anarchist-atheist, I accept such "inherent logical dynamics" as a matter of course - from analysis of Capital for example, where a similar logic applies. Hence, I deny absolutely the possibility of a genuine "green capitalism", but absolutely do not deny that some individual capitalists can act in a green manner: ditto actions towards labour and wages and health and safety... A grow or die economy can only be giving towards these profit-wrecking or at least margin-reducing on the basis of ethical views that are imported from other cultural sources, as indeed Adam Smith, the supposed founder of the rampant globe-raping strain of neo-liberal capitalism sponsored by Thatcher and Reagan, acknowledged in his Theory of Moral Sentiments, though I'd deny that this can create a sufficient bulwark against the internal dynamics of Capital... and here both socialists and some Xristian groups [and other religions too of course] _can_ be beneficial, though to what extent you interpret that as "mere reformism", and whether you regard that as a negative or not, is another matter).

If my philosophical travels had not made the idea of "inherent logical dynamic", however framed, a meaningful and real thing, I _might_ be neither socialist, anarchist, green, nor atheist, as the concept (seen also, of course, in the Hegelian idea of the end being encoded in the beginning, as in an acorn>oak tree, or the idea that we ourselves become god through time [not one I subscribe too, of course, though I do think a secular variant that allows aspects of our nature to give us the technical and cultural and moral tools to become stewards of the Earth is valid as an idea of one of several competing "inherent logical dynamics" within our so-called "nature"]) is one that underpins my critique of capital, of religion, and indeed of other teleologically inclined philosophies that aren't very upfront about what those dynamics are and why they are positive.

Thus, although I think Popper went off in a rabid manner when writing about Marx, I at the same time value much of The Poverty of Historicism and parts of The Open Society & It's Enemies as they in fact address (badly) a real problem we must guard against (hence my refusal to take a
sectarian socialist/communist stance without reference to 'other' ideas from the anarchists (about the role of the state and hierarchy under both left and right) and the greens (about the results of both leftist and rightist continued industrial productivism and trickle-down economics).

[and in a later post]

I was also going to compare, in regard to teleology and historicism, the Xristian 'Rapturists', some of whom seem to want to have a nuclear war or suchlike to accelerate the process of reaching apocalypse for the glory of God, and other overdetermined ideologies aimed at a future utopia. Hegel sees the human race evolving into a fully adult entity, as an acorn does an oak, that may or may not be a 'godhead' (and Catholics such as Teilhard de Chardin, or even the more secular Marshall McLuhan, have analogues of that in their beliefs). The weltgeist as seen by Hegel through his dialectic, like the rapturists or the inquisition, more of less justifies means by reference to the ends sought. How many leftists do you know for which the same can be said? I certainly know very many, most of them, of course, vanguardists. Unlike Popper, I don't see this as problem uniquely dangerous in Marxism (as I said earlier, Popper is rabid in this issue), but as a very typical human trait - hence it's occurrence in so many other ideologies. However, it is one that is exaggerated and amplified in ideologies and cultures that lionise hierarchy and teleological ends.

Old fashioned though it may be, I take Aldous Huxley's Ends & Means essay seriously. The ultimate goal, no matter how 'glorious', does not justify _any_ means, and indeed bad means tend to create structures and obstacles (within and without) that make the success of the ultimate ends impossible. The cellular secretive and authoritarian methods often used (not without reason, it has to be said, when under surveillance by secret police and threatened with persecution if caught) by the Bolsheviks, the SWP in Britain, etc, create people who agree on the goal but are psychologically incapable of living or behaving in the manner required in the society aimed at, and indeed often will make its attainment impossible.

From that viewpoint, whilst atheism may or may not be hardwired in Marx, a semi-religious teleology that creates a "this thing is bigger than both of us" entity to which we are in thrall, IS hardwired in Marx. This is a problem, I believe, and one that clearly has parallels with theism. Again, hence my refusal to tow the party line and instead to happily engage with anarchist and green ideas, such as social ecology, that attempt to address the dynamical problems inherent in the logic of many variants of Marxism.

I'd add that these tendencies are not necessarily missing from scientific ideas too.

Dawkins himself is strong on making it clear that he does not support an 'evolutionist' take on evolution - one that suggests that (in the words of Ophelia Benson, co-author of Why Truth Matters, in her piece New Darwin War, who is, BTW, not defending the concept) "[...] 'Darwinism' leads ineluctably to atheism". He would suggest that, instead, "evolution makes atheism intellectually sustainable". But theistic interpretations of the theory of evolution (yes, it is a theory, but please remember that not all theories are equal!) abound, from those that simplistically regard evolution and the science of unearthing more facts about evolution as exhuming "god's work", not of denying it, to the more sophisticated views of the Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin, whose view was that man himself would evolve to godhood (in a similar way to Hegel), at which point we would all disappear up our own fundament, oops! sorry, "reach the Omega point". This view is also reflected in Marshall McLuhan's "Extensions of Man" ideas about our evolution having now transferred to our tools, such as TV, satellites, radio, and - in a modern version of his work - the internet... all of which lead us to a global village and from there to a global brain that transcends individual humanity. His ideas are similar to Chardin's noosphere, which was quite definitely seen as a consequence of evolutionary theory, and one to be embraced as a step on the way to "God".

These ideas have a long pedigree in theology, in a nominally different guise (but not all that different), as these definitions from the Merriam-Webster illustrates:


Main Entry: es·cha·tol·o·gy
Pronunciation: "es-k&-'tä-l&-jE
Function: noun

Inflected Form(s): plural -gies
Etymology: Greek eschatos last, farthest
1 : a branch of theology concerned with the final events in the history of the world or of humankind
2 : a belief concerning death, the end of the world, or the ultimate destiny of humankind; specifically : any of various Christian doctrines concerning the Second Coming, the resurrection of the dead, or the Last Judgment

Main Entry: tel·e·ol·o·gy
Pronunciation: "te-lE-'ä-l&-jE, "tE-
Function: noun
Etymology: New Latin teleologia, from Greek tele-, telos end, purpose + - logia -logy -- more at WHEEL
1 a : the study of evidences of design in nature b : a doctrine (as in vitalism) that ends are immanent in nature c : a doctrine explaining phenomena by final causes
2 : the fact or character attributed to nature or natural processes of being directed toward an end or shaped by a purpose
3 : the use of design or purpose as an explanation of natural phenomena
- tel·e·ol·o·gist /-jist / noun

Another science that also dips unknowingly into dodgy territory is Big Bang theory. It is hard to see whether the straight line backward projections are right or not. The math tells us where we might go if this is a legitimate move. Certainly, Fred Hoyle was discomfited by the idea as extrapolated in traditional ways - a Big Bang is a creation event. It is very attractive to those who are born to a religious culture, and the whole world counted as this until fairly recently: recently enough that I, as a 42 year old in the UK, am painfully aware that, atheist though I be, I have had my worldview coloured by the religious upbringing that was the norm here. Yes, a creation event is very sexy, but is it what really happened? Are the absurdities the theory throws up a sign that the theory is flawed or that we don't understand enough yet? I do not claim to able to answer this, one way or the other, but I do know that all too few scientists today are equipped with sufficient objectivity to address the question with an open mind. Quantum mechanics suffers here too, of course.

This historicist tendency is hardly native to Marxian ideas alone - Fukayama's moronic End of History illustrates the return to Eden / rapturist tendency in capitalism too. Indeed, with the Dollar as God, of more than value than mere humans, destined to acheive some miraculous "balance" via the free market seems quasi-religious at the very least. Ayn Rand's objectionable "objectivist" philosophy illustrates a raw and unfettered example of the invisible dynamic of capital, and hellish it is too (though, like Fukayama, she wallows in it unthinkingly and unquestioningly) - here, free market failure is due to insufficient freedom. Experiments that are increasingly unfettered, in the real world result in increasing breakdown, as the economy seeks the point that it's internal dynamic (the Invisible Hand) leads to... for Rand this increasing failure is a sign not that she may be wrong, but that instead yet more freedom of the market is required. The fact is, the internal dynamic is towards that ever popular balanced state of Entropy - every one will be poor and live in shit (bar one or two rich scum that the poor will sooner or later shoot, but if they don't get shot they'll inherit a dustbowl at best), and toward that other point where the cancer kills the host, grow-or-die leading to ecological systemic collapse.

The bottom line is, we must always be awake and critically aware, we must always question our own most cherished beliefs as well as those of others, as the price of freedom is indeed, as the Americans like to say, eternal vigilance. An internal dynamic or logical pressure within an ideology that is ill-understood, ignored, or unseen will take us to places we are not intending to go. Marxism certainly suffers on this count. In part it is it's reliance on a relatively fixed Utopian future that makes it a danger. Anything that appears to help get to that point, no matter the moral character of actions required, is OK, the End Justifies The Means. This I deny the validity of, and many would agree, many Marxists (and a few capitalists) among them... some of them will see that their own views are susceptible to this and will guard against it fastidiously, but many refuse to see it at all.


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