Zizek & Machiavelli, Not Hegel (was Re: Montesinos)

Doyle Saylor djsaylor at SPAMprimenet.com
Mon Oct 9 14:08:42 MDT 2000

Greetings Comrades, Hello Yoshie,
    In replying to Gordon, Yoshie remarks on Dogmatism in relation to
wisdom, and I wanted to start here where Yoshie observes about Dogmatism

> From: Yoshie Furuhashi <furuhashi.1 at osu.edu>

 Principles, be they ethical or philosophical, necessarily lack
 concrete details.  Possession of correct principles does not
 guarantee correct applications of them (btw, the meaning of the term
 "dogmatism" is that the "dogmatist" applies correct principles
 incorrectly).  Even our attempts to apply correct principles
 correctly do not guarantee that we will be judged by our posterity to
 be moral.  First of all, we are not omniscient -- to err is human.
 One may even go further and turn Hegel against Hegel.  We must be
 prepared to err wholeheartedly, instead of pursuing the perfection of
 wisdom _now_ in a vain hope of covering our moral ass.  The owl of
 Minerva flies at twilight.  History has yet to come to an end, so it
 follows that wisdom is denied us.  In the end, all of us may turn out
 to be asses.

I have different view of dogmatism than does Yoshie.  I want to use Yoshie's
statement which many people would agree with as a means of putting a
different understanding out about dogmatism.

The word dogma originates in Christian practices centuries ago.  These days
in regard to politics usually we mean that a "sect" dogmatically states
their truth (correct principles).  I cannot see how the word correct can
adequately describe what is happening when someone says something
dogmatically that does not work in principle.

In addition from a disability perspective, dogmatism seems to have a
connotation about it of compulsive and obsessive behavior.  I want therefore
to expand a look at dogmatism beyond a concept of "correct" and to open up
the possibility that if someone is disabled with a compulsive and obsessive
brain structures imposed upon their mental life that we think of some way
for them to be part of our movement without blaming them for problems we
must solve politically in a larger sense.

Dogmatism as the church practiced it was a way to collect knowledge workers
into groups to issue church doctrines.  The knowledge produced seems to have
benefited from typically obsessive brain work, so we see a long history of
disabled people contributing to knowledge work in a positive way despite the
onus of dogmatism we all feel.  If we use Yoshie's formulation, a principle
correctly derived and wrongly used, we see then that at some point within a
"sect" someone did the work to produce some principle that is "common" to
the group.  But we still don't know why people wrongly apply something.

Stated as above, we don't know much about the nature of dogmatism to go at
the problem of organizing working class people.  For example, typical to any
group is it open, or closed?  Dogmatism may not affect that question.  A
group can be open, meaning growing and expanding, while still generating
principles (felt internal to that person as the believably truth) that are
correct (the truth) but wrongly applied.  For example, in the U.S. any
Christian sect that grows, like the Mormons is not constrained by their
obviously false doctrines.  So we don't know from seeing dogmatism in
practice what about dogmatism really inhibits political sects if we take as
the main criteria correct principles applied inappropriately.

I would state that the problem with dogmatism and sectarianism is emotional
management of knowledge production within the group.  Not correct principles
inappropriately applied.  In other words, going back to my point raised
about religious sects, whether or not some sect is closed (not growing and
expanding), or open is not about principles but about how group cohesion
works within a group.  And primary to that is a theory in that group of how
people feel about what they are doing within that group.  Principles are
secondary in most cases to that need to feel a part of things.  Hence people
often as Lou remarks recently,

I was telling a friend yesterday how this organization had perfected the
technique of structuring a member's world view--what Jose has referred to
as the "cocoon effect." It made people say things that they didn't really
believe. For instance, when I was leaving NYC in 1977 to get a job in
industry, I told the membership at a big city-wide meeting that workers
were more receptive to revolutionary ideas than at any time in the 20th
century. In actuality, this was the time of Jimmy Carter, disco dancing and
cocaine for most Americans, not socialist revolution.

I only regretted that I had not told people what a really thought, namely
that the turn was based on foolish political projections. There's a
marvelous scene from Costa-Gravas's "The Confession" that expresses my
fantasy. An old Czech Communist is standing up and confessing his "crimes"
during the Slansky trials. He is presenting a lengthy confession along the
lines of: "Yes, I conspired with International Trotskyism to undermine the
Authority of the Proletariat". The courtroom is filled with the
international press and radio. During his testimony, people all of a sudden
start to chuckle. And then the chuckles turn into guffaws. The outraged
Stalinist judge says "order in the courtroom" and has the confessor removed
from the witness stand. It turns out that in the middle of his confession,
he had unbuckled his pants and let them drop to his ankles. That was his
way of telling the press and the radio that the whole thing was a farce. I
regret never dropping my pants in this way when I was in the SWP.

Lou's remark about the coccooning effect of group practice is more important
than trying to pin down dogmatism to principles.  In effect a group such as
the SWP tries to manage how people feel.  Going so far as to take someone as
strong willed and hard to intimidate as Lou and getting them to go along in
public with bit of understanding that the leadership was imposing.  Hence
Lou felt or thought internally that the position was wrong, but also
couldn't get himself to drop his pants and take a shit on the floor.

We can't reliably use the disagreement Lou had to understand why this was
happening.  We can replicate the content, but it still does not tell us why
Lou would bend to the wind.  To make this a bit more clear, certainly here
on the list someone may speak exactly the same doctrine that Lou disagrees
with, but Lou no longer feels "compelled" to agree.  Hence the structure
that imposed a dogma is missing.  The structure that imposed the dogma is
about how Lou felt.  Not the content per se.

Now is this enough to help us break out of the problem of sectarianism?  We
can't psychologize these issues into rules that would guarantee non-dogmatic
groups.  Rather what we can do is look at knowledge production as
importantly shaped by how we feel about the verbal content, and think about
what we might want to see to resolve the issues we all know gets in the way
of the left building a movement.

I will propose a perspective about this.  The e-mail lists are conversations
where information is exchanged.  Conversation implies that both people are
doing knowledge work to weave together an emotional connection between them
primarily through the reading of many people of the exchange.  This of
course sometimes appears not to be so, because I am criticizing Yoshie's use
of the word dogmatism and what feels uniting about that (?), but the point
is that through my working and Yoshie working at producing knowledge we are
advancing through these electronic means our common understanding that many
of us share.  Where I am wrong as Yoshie writes above I have the chance to
be an ass and learn from my errors.  But I will feel stronger over time as I
learn from my errors.  I will know my strength not so much because I cling
to principles, but because I feel happy and stable with respect to my
ability to participate within the group.

The building up of a strong connection that is stable and grows with time
into more powerful structures is what divides a sect from a mass movement.
That is not so much about doctrine, but how we feel hence Lou's example
above.  So that dogmatism is really an issue of group management of
Doyle Saylor

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