Reply to Julio Huato - Formalisation, Maths, Dialectics, Marx, II

Jurriaan Bendien bendien at tomaatnet.nl
Mon Jul 14 09:23:59 MDT 2003


[ Part II ]

YOU:

I'd think, based on the way he argues, that Nicholas Siemensma would object
to my talking of the elements or layers of Marx's theoretical structure as
if they could be separated from the whole just like that.  In fact, I
believe that if the question of the relationship between the whole and the
parts is not muddled, then it can be successfully formulated in reference to
Marvin Minsky's "The Society of the Mind."

ME:

If you treat Marx's ideas as a finished theoretical system, then you are not
motivated to develop it, and in order to develop it, you have to be able to
take a part of that system and explore it further, considering different
possibilities, different interpretations. However, if you do not respect the
integrity of the theoretical system, then your interpretations may
ultimately not be a coherent development of the system. This is not
necessarily wrong, but you must honestly acknowledge your departure from
Marx's theory. A lot of problems are caused by the fact that people
"innovate" something and then present this as the greatest ""orthodoxy" even
although the innovation is inconsistent with Marx's theory.

YOU:

If we are materialists, then our 'explanation' of the human mind has to boil
down to the properties, functions, etc. of elements that in themselves are
mindless *and* to their mutual relationship.  There's nothing else, unless
we draw some mystical card off our sleves.  Likewise, our 'explanation' of
life boils down to elements that in themselves are lifeless *and* to their
mutual relationship.  The novel properties of the whole spring out of the
mutual relationship between the parts.  Etc.  So, saying that the whole
'overdetermines' the parts (or something like that) things of the sort is
waving your hands at a question, unless you take the time to analyze the
parts independently and then describe their mutual relationship from which
the novelty emerges.  The 'overdetermination' of the parts by the whole
doesn't imply that you leave the parts and their relationship in obscurity.

ME:

Well this is an aspect of dialectical theorising I would say.

YOU:

Our problematization of reality (we can frame our practice as "problem
solving," which is just another name for "meeting our radical needs"), i.e.,
the political struggle decides what area of life to study concretely.  I
believe the highest priority for international Marxism nowadays is to
understand the dynamics of the rich societies (U.S., EU, and Japan).

ME:

This is where I think you go wrong, because you are saying that if you are a
Marxist and if this is the situation, then your priorities must be so and
so. But this is impossible to say, because from the same experience,
different people may draw different conclusions, even if they share the same
theoretical framework. This point relates to my theory of heterodox
socialism. Therefore all you can say is, "I believe this is the priority, I
am going to tackle it, and if I am correct, then people will follow me." But
in so doing, you do not have to deny the validity of what other socialists
see as their priority. The real question is whether you can work together
politically. But we must not confuse research priorities with political
priorities, they are related, but distinct.

YOÜ:

IMO,
Marx's choice of the capitalist mode of production (not other modes based on
extra-economic squeezing of surplus product or surplus labor) as his subject
matter and of England as his mental laboratory in the study of such mode of
production hints as to what he thought would give him the biggest bang for
the buck.  I know I should qualify this statement a little (I can imagine
someone saying, "Julio Huato believes that South Africans should not study
their society"), but I'll leave it at that.

ME:

This is not the reality at all. Karl Marx was a political refugee. On July
19, 1849, a police agent came to Marx's house in Paris asking for "Marx et
sa dame", and handed him an order of banishment to Morbihan in Brittany. It
was reported to be an unhealthful region, and Marx was a bit paranoid, he
thought that the order was a deliberate attempt by the French government to
kill him by deporting him to some awful hole. Freiligath advised Marx ten
days later, to seek refuge in England. Marx appealed the order, but this
appeal was defeated. He had to go, but there was no country open to him in
the continent, and Marx lacked a passport to go to Switzerland. He was
convinced that if he went to live in Switzerland as a refugee that we would
be trapped there. If he moved to London, he thought he would be able to
found a new German journal there and rustle up some money from somewhere to
fund it. On August 23 he invited Frederick Engels to come along with him and
not leave him in the lurch, and the next day he sailed to London, Engels
joining him there on November 10. They believed that their stay in London
would be brief, because they were counting on a massive revolution to spread
in Europe. This did not happen, and Marx remained stuck in London which
offered a secure refuge. Marx never gained British citizenship. In
conclusion, the idea that Marx went to England because his theory told him
that this was a place conducive to elaborating his analysis of capitalism is
wrong and a myth. He literally just had to go somewhere.

YOU:

In a sense, we are much less constrained now than Marx was.  Depending on
the economics of the project, we may want to take a more 'computational,'
trial-and-error approach to this.  In Marx's time, there were no word
processors -- or even typewriters (my gosh, not even that!).  If we don't
have a simple algorithm to find for us the 'best' approach (in your sense of
allowing for further refinement in a coherent way), then use computational
brute force: approach things from as many plausible angles as possible and
let things sort out as they may.  Let one thousand flowers bloom.  To
facilitate that, it would be good if we overcome the tradition of
intellectual intolerance bequeathed by our heroes (the dirty water), but
retain their theoretical discipline (the baby).

ME:

Yes, this is a principle of the theory of heterodox socialism.

YOU:

I don't think mathematics or logic -- as practiced nowadays -- is
incompatible with 'several mutually exclusive implications.'  Because you
also say that/how those 'contradictory implications' are logically
reconciled.

ME:

Yes, you are correct, but the statement of how the contradictory statements
are reconciled is itself not a formalisation or a formal-logical operator. I
am saying that the "dialectical work" occurs prior to formalisation and
might work on the implications which result from the formalisation. And
therefore dialectical thinking and formalisation are still different
processes which should not be run together.

YOU:

The rabbit goes in the hat first.  Marx warns us a few times that
his presentation will leave the impression of being an a-priori construct.
His presentation hides his research and analytical effort to a large extent.
 It's like a Camejo speech -- it seems so effortless.  Try giving an
effortless speech.

ME:

Yes. This is why I am drawing a sharp distinction between the method of
inquiry and the method of presentation. People think that when Marx presents
his findings that this is his theoretical work, this is his way of working.
This is not true. He is just presenting results, and in presenting his
results, he aimed to "bring a science by criticism to a point where it can
be dialectically rrepresented" in an artistic way, which sets traps for the
reader and forces him to think. People may ape Marx's a style, but then they
still do not know anything about his method of working.
'
YOU

 I imply that it makes sense to produce social science when we need to get
rid of exploitation, oppression, *and*
alienation.  That is, when social life is opaque.

ME

You need social science ultimately because it is impossible to arrive at an
objective view of the social totality in which you live in any other way.
Part of the opaqueness is simply a product of the complexity of the
interactions between very large numbers of people. This is why Max Weber
takes a Kantian approach and says that all he can do is produce an
ideal-typical typology and compare that with a social reality which cannot
be known as it really is. But here again, Marx is more rigorous, he asks,
where do the conceptual distinctions on which the typology is based come
from ? Weber thinks this is just him being "creative". But this is an
ideological view, because Weber does not exist in a social vacuum. This
becomes palpably evident when he apologises for German imperialism. The
advantage of Weber's approach is that Weber cautions us not to be
overconfident in our ability to grasp social reality. Because of the power
of Marx's social thought, which derives with the rigorour he applies in
deriving his concepts, Marxists often get overconfident, they think that
they can grasp life, the universe and everything with Marx's theory even
although they do not have much of a clue.

YOU:

Just in case it is not obvious, I am referring to, say, Newton's variational
calculus (or Pontryaguin's optimal control), as a *metaphor* for Marx's
historical materialism.  I'm not as naive as to believe that the state of
these tools is such that the complexity of history can be fitted in them
fruitfully.  There's the issue of uncertainty that, because of the
self-referential character of social analysis, we may not be able to model
at all with the available tools.  There's the issue of time path dependency,
and a host of other issues.  It is just a figure of speech.  But the very
fact that we can draw these analogies is telling.

ME:

Yes, you are correct. But even Hegel already knew this. He says, "in every
necessity, there is an element of the accidental". A process may have a
certain "logical" or law-governed way of working itself out in history.
Nevertheless, the specific way in which it works itself out may contain
numerous accidents and coincidences which mediate it, which we may only be
able to grasp in probabilistic terms, or which are explicable only in
chaos-type theory. This is essential to understand the Marxian
"transformation problem".  I can give you an example of this, from my
experience as a forest labourer in 1977. I sat down to eat lunch, and it
started to rain, and I put on my parka and placed a sheet of plastic on the
ground. I looked beside me, and I saw a tiny rivulet of water which very
slowly searched its way downwards, following the law of gravity, down the
hill. Because the surface was not flat and smooth, but porous and full of
obstacles, and because the gradient was not steep, the water could not flow
straight down, rather, it had to flow around obstacles in its path. But, for
example, it would hit a stone, and then it was not clear at all whether the
rivulet would make a path on the left side of the stone or the right side,
the pullet of water at the front of the rivulet would tremble and shake,
until, at the very last moment, the surface tension broke, and the water
would flush past the stone, on one side of the stone. And as the water
flowed slowly down the hill, it would do so not in a linear way, but in a
zigzaggy way. Nevertheless, I can say with certainty, that the water did
flow down the hill, even although I could not in advance predict the precise
path by which it would do so, other than specifying a general direction and
certain boundaries, within which the water would be most likely to flow.
This is how most natural science works. But in social science, we have the
additional possibility of consciously intervening in the flow of the water,
so that by our own action, we alter the course of the water flowing down the
hill. We may not actually have been able to prevent it flowing down the
hill, unless we had built a dyke, but nevertheless we changed the normal
pattern of a natural occurence with a human intervention. You may now object
to this story, because you will say, natural science does controlled
experiments on natural phenomena which requires human intervention in those
phenomena. This is correct, which is why natural science also has a social
dimension as a human science. But natural science deals with purely natural
objects from a human point of view, social science deals with a purely
social objects. The distinctions between natural and social science are only
relative. However, the possibilities for changing the object of social
science are usually much greater than the possibilities for changing the
object of natural science. Conservative ideology which aims to rationalise
and justify the status quo as being good the way it is, however turns the
matter around. It de-emphasizes the power of human agency to change the
social world, while having an exaggerated expectation of natural science to
improve life and generate profits.

YOU:

Finally, IMHO, a life worth living is both enjoyable and productive (in the
sense of helping others).  Like many things, life comes with different
degrees of enjoyability.  Sometimes our way to increase its enjoyability is
to focus on our productivity.

ME:

I have tried to do that in this mail

YOU:

And no, I don't mean 'economy of time' in a way that sacrifices quality of
life.  It is not 'rational' to spend too much time trying to economizing
one's time.  The flowers are real -- they must be rational.   They must be
the result of an optimization exercise made by this Hegelian nature.  An
exercise aimed to maximize our sensorial pleasure, of course -- which is the
highest realization of the Idea. :-)

ME:

A lot of motivation guiding modern research consists in pleasure-seeking
hedonism, and an attempt is made to "sell" the boring parts of scientific
research with allusions to hedonistic pleasure which can be obtained from
having it. But this is a scam, because it forces people to act as if
something that is not pleasurable is nevertheless "pleasurable", because
only through this "mask" is it possible to solicit real pleasure. But once
the hedonist myth is stripped away, it turns out that the pleasure is really
non-existent and that people are doing things which do not cohere with their
real species being. Scientific pleasure is not simply a matter of the
intrinsic interest of the subject, but of the social relations within which
it is carried out, and these relations may be exploitive, oppressive and
alienating, even although they are "marketed" as pleasurable. This means
that as a socialist, I may in certain circumstances support the revolt
against science, if scientific activity stuffs up people's lives in a bad
way, either because of the way it is organised and conducted, or because of
the way in which its results are applied. This leads to the last point I
wanted to make about science, which is that it includes an irreducible
ethical component, even if the responsibility for scientific activity and
its practical application is displaced to someone else.

Regards

Jurriaan









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