Fibonacci series -- and Culture

ScottH9999 at ScottH9999 at
Mon Feb 19 18:17:38 MST 2001

George and Louis:

First, George says:

> Scott,
> now, you have gone too far. "rational" is not a word like "big." "rational"
> has a philosophical history, what we might call "ideological baggage." this
> is not the case in the uses of "big." for example, rational can mean
> thinking which embodies calculation of means and ends (Weber). it can also
> mean that embodies reason in the sense of a humanely rational society.
> however, a "rational society" can also mean one which is under domination by
> a repressive form of capitalism (Marcuse). so things are not so country
> simple. perhaps it would be better to say that there is a dialectical
> relation between the two meanings of "rational." my original objection was
> to your use of this term as if it were simply a description of a progress
> from one form of society to another: feudalism to capitalism? however,
> capitalism is both rational and irrational at the same time (Marx).

I didn't say that 'rational' is like 'big' in EVERY respect; only that it is
like 'big' in the way I indicated, namely that both may be used to make
diverse judgments without their being any implication that difference SENSES
of either word is being used. When a person makes an analogy it does not mean
that they believe the two things which are claimed to be analogous in the
respect at issue, are analogous in every respect (i.e., identical).

It is quite true that the word 'rational' has a lot of "ideological baggage"
associated with it. This is PRECISELY what I am objecting to! I say we should
try to use words in their ordinary ways, that we should try to CLARIFY
matters, and not make them OBSCURE by using words in bizarre and
ideosyncratic ways.

(It is also true that sometimes it is necessary to introduce technical terms,
that is, words or phrases which are given a special meaning by fiat. Every
science does this (including Marxism). But this should only be done where it
is really necessary, and where it will help clarify things, not make them
more confusing. And great pains must be taken so that these technical terms
are NOT confused with ordinary words and phrases. If someone does not do
this, then one can only suspect that they PLAYING off of the confusion. That
is, that their argument DEPENDS for its plausibility on the confusion of
words and meanings.)

You pointed out earlier, George, that Max Weber talked about "traditional
rationality", by which he meant things like a parent praying to God for their
child to be cured from sickness. This sort of terminology is OBSCURANTISM
exactly because such "traditional rationality" is NOT REALLY rationality at
all. (The parent may BELIEVE the prayer is rational, but in point of fact it
is not.) I don't see that Weber's other technical use of the term
'rationality' ("purposive rationality") is much better. There is no good
reason, that I am aware of, not to use the word 'rationality' as it is
defined in the dictionary. WHY does anybody want to use it in some other
special sense? JUST WHAT are they up to? There is a tremendous amount of
posing in bourgeois sociology. In fact, that is what the whole subject
amounts to in my opinion--an attempt to confuse and distort matters, and
thereby to construct an "alternative" to Marxist social science. Our goal
should be to cut through this confusion, and obscurantism, to clarify
matters, and to bring out the simple truths of the actual conditions and
situation in society.

One more thing. You seem to imply that saying things like "capitalism is both
rational and irrational at the same time" is a matter of dialectics. Tain't
necessarily so. No more than saying a mountain is big in relation to a human
being, but small in relation to the whole earth is a matter of "dialectics".
In fact this is merely a matter of CONTEXT. (Dialectics is far more profound
than that. It is a matter of the inherent contradiction within things.)

                                              *   *   *

Now, to what Louis wrote.

In a message dated 2/19/01 3:59:59 PM Pacific Standard Time, lnp3 at

>  >As far as I can see there are no great difficulties in the semantic
>  >or use of the word 'rational'. The only real "difficulties" come from
>  >(usually those trying to cover up explitative class interests and the
>  >using the word in objectionable ways.
>  >
>  >--Scott Harrison
>  Just a reminder on terminology since I started the thread. By rationality,
>  I was not using the word in the positive sense, as in "Cuba makes rational
>  use of resources" or "It is not rational to eat genetically modified food."
>  I was using it in the sense that the "Eurocentric" historians--Max Weber,
>  most of all--use it. It has to do with the introduction of capitalism and
>  the associated technological-scientific revolutions of the 15th to 18th
>  centuries. For example, some Eurocentric historians would argue that the
>  Spanish conquered the Aztecs because they were more rational. This is not
>  to say that they were decent or reasonable, only that they had mastered
>  certain technologies that made it possible to sweep across Mexico. So in
>  this sense we can also say that capitalism is a "rational" system even
>  though it is filled with contradictions. Moreover, in a very real sense the
>  problem with capitalism defies "rational" fixes since the problems exist at
>  the root: declining rate of profit, etc. The economic system generates
>  destructive wars and economic crisis, even though at a certain period of
>  history it represented an advance over feudalism. When Marxists talk about
>  rationalism, we are using the word in an entirely different manner. We mean
>  it as a descriptive term for the scientific use of labor power and natural
>  resources for the benefit of humanity.
>  Louis Proyect
>  Marxism mailing list:

Well, what I am saying, Louis, is that we should NOT use a word like
'rationality' in the obscurantist ways of Max Weber, Eurocentric historicans,
and others. If we quote them using a word in such an ideologically distorted
way, we should explain how they are doing so, as you did above. That's fine.
But we shouldn't use the term that way ourselves. That would be to join in
propagating the confusion and distortion.

Our goal should be to CLARIFY, CLARIFY, CLARIFY, and to ceaselessly fight
against those who try to cover up and distort social reality. (And that
definitely includes Max Weber.)

I suspect that both Louis and George would agree with this. At least I hope

One final point: Rationalism, at least in most of its philosophical senses
(and especially the way it is used within Marxism), is a completely different
concept than rationality. (Rationalism typically has a WHOLE LOT MORE
ideology packed into it.)

--Scott Harrison

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