My "debate" with Jurriaan
nestorgoro at fibertel.com.ar
Sat Jul 26 10:31:04 MDT 2003
Dear cdes. & friends,
As you may know, my contributions to this list tend to focus on
historic, cultural or political issues in the strictest sense.
I seldom dare to broach economic issues, and I am certainly reluctant
to discuss in public my -admittedly- quite general and not thoroughly
reasoned/substantiated opinions on most complex issues, as the ones
Jurriaan and I have been talking about offlist during a relaxed
workday (for me).
Jurriaan, however, has found the "debate" interesting enough to turn
it public. Though I understand the importance of the issues at
stake, I want to leave it very clear that I consider myself quite an
outsider on these issues, so that what follows should not be
considered a "statement" of any kind, but simply my own layman's
reply to Jurriaan's last posting, which forwards our ongoing "debate"
as it was by mid-afternoon, Friday 25.
After this final clarification, I would really want other cdes., if
there are any who find it interesting, to take up the discussion. I
am sure that there would be lots to learn -for me, at least- if _all_
the people involved were actually knowledgeable.
The first one to benefit from such a development would be Néstor
Gorojovsky. But allow me to make my last replies before I fall into
Re: A comment on sexuality: reply to
Nestor on civilisations and human nature
Date: Sat, 26 Jul 2003 02:55:09 +0200
Cc: "Marxmail List" <marxism at lists.panix.com>
[...] you suggest that Marx
counterposes "natural" to "human". I don't think he does that in such
a hard-and-fast way, although he has this concept of the
"humanisation of nature" suggesting the rearrangement of the natural
world to suit human purposes. As far as I am aware, "human" and
"natural" are relative distinctions in Marx, just as "human" and
"inhuman". See The German ideology on this:
I am not copying my full wording, which can be found on your own
posting, Jurriaan. But I by no means wanted to suggest that Marx
counterposed "nature" and "human" in a formal, mechanicist, way (you
write "such a hard-and-fast way", but I prefer my own, more
I agree with you, Jurriaan, in that "human" and "natural" are
_relative_ distinctions. Only that Marx _never_ blurred the fact that
there were, so to say, "axiological levels" within the dialectics of
self-deploying matter. One of the ways in which these levels can be
grasped is, among others, the existence of a "human-&-natural" realm
of material reality, and a different, somehow "lower" level, that one
would term the "unhuman-&-natural" level.
The basic difference between both IMHO residing in that the "human-&-
natural" realm of organisation of matter, human societies, provides
the medium and tool for matter -metaphorically- to attempt to
"understand itself" as well as the relations that link matter and
energy in the general environment of Universe.
Marx turned Hegel's dialectics "upside down" but did not reject it:
the repeated operation of Aufhebung actually allowed for the creation
of _new realms_ of material reality (in Hegel, of individual
consciousness), each one of a higher level than the one it was
produced by, mainly because it was able to "understand", thus
control, the "lower" level.
Thus, there is no mechanicist counterposition between matter and
spirit, natural and human. What we have is a dialectically developing
contradiction within matter that eventually generates the human world
as (dialectically) against non-human world. This is, at least, my
profane's reading of Marx on these issues.
As to Marx's quotes from the _German Ideology"_, I must tell you,
Jurriaan, that I have been lucky enough to read Engels's _Feuerbach_
before M&E's _German Ideology_. In the _Introduction_, Engels tells
us what did M&E believe of the "old manuscript that we gladly left to
the criticism of mice" (at the same time, he raises the _Theses on
Feuerbach_ to the level of the "first formulation of the new
doctrine", or words to that effect).
The _German Ideology_ displays the first stage (or moment) in the
development of dialectical materialism, but only the _first_ moment,
which consists in the proposition of a consequent materialist
understanding of history in antithesis against the consequent
idealism of the Left Hegelians. The _German Ideology_, thus, doesn't
IMHO reflect anything but a good version of _historical_ materialism
(which I find very useful, BTW, against every idealist misconception
of history): the idea that facts in the realm of "spirit" have no
immanence, are not self-explanatory, cannot be understood without
their material roots.
Since what we are debating here is _dialectical_ materialism, I am
not very sure that your own quotation of the _German Ideology_ is
very useful in our debate, nor to understand this that I am painfully
trying to explore in my own very limited way.
What we are debating, if I am not wrong, is the concrete,
dialectical, way in which "human" and "natural" contradict each other
within a capitalist social formation (more pointedly, in the most
intimate contradictions of human beings belonging to such a
formation). The idea that every expression of this contradiction,
even spiritual expressions, is "natural" is common to both your
approach, Jurriaan, and that of yours truly, so that I don't see any
need to resort at this point to the old volume that miraculously
escaped M&E's objective will (which was, in the end, to provide for
rodents' metabolic needs).
The most important development in our generation is that that revolt
against inhumanity, the attempt to assert one's humanity against the
status quo, itself becomes an object of commercial exploitation,
insofar as the revolt is innovative, and is reduced in a bourgeois-
individualistic way to sexual frustration and trivialised. That
tendency existed before, but not on the same scale. That is,
inhumanity is reduced to a sexual problem or the inability to obtain
a satisfactory (set of) personal relationships.
"The tendency existed before", you write, Jurriaan. And this is
exactly what I am trying to point to. What I try to stress, is that
the tendency was (and is) _built into capitalism_, particularly in
the general phenomenon of alienation (Entausserung) through
_widespread and generalized commoditisation of individual selves_
under the conditions of advanced capitalism (1).
Jurriaan, quoting me:
> I have never said that reification can end with or without
> capitalist civilisation. I have only said, following Marx IMHO,
> that no civilisation, whether precapitalist or postcapitalist, can
> be as reified as the capitalist civilisation. While in the latter
> reification is the _basic social relationship between people_, in
> other civilisations it is, so to say, a > necessary evil that can >
be gauged and constrained (or should be).
[...] In order to compare civilisations objectively in this way (with
respect to reification and suchlike), we must be able to find some
common characteristics which make the comparison possible, and be
able to evaluate the civilisations from a standpoint which is
"outside" or "beyond" those civilisations, or perhaps from the point
of view of an unchanging "human anthropological core" which defines
what human nature is, at least in outline.
I object this research agenda, because I find it mechanicist and
undialectical. The dialectical method tries to superate the
classical antinomies of rationalism, which your paragraph above IMHO
displays adamantly. Dialecticians start by assuming that
(a) it is _impossible_ to understand that which is historical from
"outside" or from "beyond". This is not a Marxist problem, but a
rationalist or empiricist (that is an atomistic) problem. Since the
whole set of social relations within a capitalist formation
(particularly so within an advanced capitalist formation) tends to
generate an atomistic consciousness, I don't find it outrageous that
you have so naturally drifted towards this particular conclusion,
But this is quite an old problem, a problem that was detected by the
philosophers of tragedy (that is of the unmediated, unsolved
contradiction) such as Pascal, Kant. And the task of overcoming this
problem was was the task of the philosophers of the mediated,
historically solved contradiction, that is the philosophers of
dialectics: Hegel and Marx. IMHO, in the realm of that which is
historical, dialectical thinking is the only way to circumvent the -
in the end, false- opposition between "value" and "fact".
The fact is that we cannot set ourselves "outside" history, we can't
thus separate both aspects of reality (values and facts), because
when we are trying to understand the human world (unlike, say, the
world of outer space, thus astronomy), we are _at the same time a
part_ of that world. Any choice of "common characteristics" will,
from the very onset of the research, contain values which cannot (and
_should not_) be sanitized. We thus cannot "find some common
characteristics which make the comparison possible", because these
"common characteristics" will always be "formal" and "abstract".
If we want to broach the issue at all, it is in "the whole-parts
dialectics", not in the terrain of formal comparison, that we can
find a path ahead. This path ahead, however, will not be established
on the slimy ground of
(b) 'the point of view of an unchanging "human anthropological core"
which defines what human nature', either, as you suggest and
immediately (which is a mild way to put it) 'find difficult to do'.
There is no "unchanging human anthropological core" for a dialectical
point of view.
For such a point of view, that "core" is at most the _changing
expression of a permanently evolving contradiction_ between the
individual existences of separate (2) members of a collective entity
("humankind") permanently tending to reorganize the whole of the
material world ("humankind" included) in order to better satisfying
those needs... which change in the very process of their
Again, the only way to avoid wreckage is a dialectic, whole-part,
research agenda. In fact, both ideas (that we can find some formal
starting point and that we can find a common, unchanging, core of
"humanity") are expressions of the IMHO un-dialectical separation of
"value" and "fact" in things human.
However, you yourself, Jurriaan, understand that both approaches are
at least quite difficult ("But I find that difficult to do"), so that
we can safely discard them, all the above being simply a statement of
faith by yours truly.
However, you go on, Jurriaan, and state that for "Marx, the basis for
that comparison is the modalities of human labour and its
exploitation, as a relatively constant factor in human
history" which I agree with albeit I would only add that this
"comparison" is not predicated on (distinct, separate) abstract
"modalities" but on the whole of human history as mediated by
contradictions between the "modalities" and their own development in
the task of ensuring individual existence to the members of each
social whole thus organized.
In this sense, I find it hard to follow your usage of the preposition
"but" in the following: "but what we are talking about here among
other things, is human meaning, the meanings attached by people to
the social and natural world."
Meaning is not an abstract thing. Meaning is a component of human
action. And it is the existence of "meaning" that divides, so to
say, the human from the natural. As Marx somewhere in Capital, I,
states, the worst beehive built by a human being is "superior" to the
most admirable beehive built by a bee in the fact that the "human
beehive" existed in the worker's mind before it was materialized.
I don't think that this distinction should be taken in a crassly
materialistic sense (that is, humans draw blueprints). What we have
is something much deeper. The human-made beehive implies the (at
least potential) consciousness that there is a contradiction to be
solved between the metabolic needs of human beings and the
opportunities that "raw Nature" offers these beings to fulfill them.
The human built beehive, among others and centrally, implies a
general idea of the Whole, of the fact that honey is a part of human
life, that it solves some particular human (thus social) need, and
consciously subjects all the beehive building operations to the
necessities of the whole. Beehive construction by a non-honey
producing animal thus, shows that this animal has been able to
generate its own symbolic representation of a whole which includes
her/himself. From this point of view, what follows does not make much
sense (at least for me):
"Our real ability to transcend the meanings of our own civilisation
are limited, even in anthropological science, if it is genuinely
inspired by the desire for humanisation. Our historical consciousness
is simply not that great, and the possibilities for reinterpreting
the past anew are virtually endless."
That 'the possibilities for reinterpreting the past anew are
virtually endless' is the _starting point_, not the _terminus_, of
dialectical thinking. I would also add that a materialist dialectics
firmly plants itself in the ground firmly consolidated by historical
materialism in, among others, _German Ideology_, to deny that these
possiblilities are "endless", because the limits are set by the
finitude of the "modes of material relationship between human
societies and nature, and thus between groups of human beings (in
class societies, classes) within those societies".
[As to the evaluation of prostitution, etc., I will firmly stick to
my already stated greater concern with very concrete and dramatic
situations in Argentina, which I am sure you will all understand, so
that I will not reply to Jurriaan's reply, namely to his attractive
but IMHO not yet quite well substantiated case for a criticism of
capitalism and bourgeois "goodwill" through a criticism of
N O T E S
(1) Or, if you prefer, "late" capitalism as Mandel wrote: I don't
share the criticisms that this definition aroused, because this
"temporal" definition can also be understood in the sense that we
speak of "late" Roman Empire, "late" Middle Ages, etc., that is in
the sense of a formation where all and every sign of decay and final
disruption are present but which have not nurtured the subjective
elements which will kill it and replace it with something new
(2) in the sense that my own methabolic, instinctive, etc. needs,
cannot be satisfied by another human being
Néstor Miguel Gorojovsky
nestorgoro at fibertel.com.ar
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"Sí, una sola debe ser la patria de los sudamericanos".
Simón Bolívar al gobierno secesionista y disgregador de
Buenos Aires, 1822
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