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Dennett’s Parable of the Sower
Posted: 09 August 2009 01:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]  
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SkepticX - 09 August 2009 05:14 PM

Still, I think our nature is to resist the pure presumption that is religious faith.

“I ain’t no monument to frickin’ justice.”

If by that we mean resisting the pure presumption. But we don’t have to. It ain’t a presumption on our part.

What’s inescapable is that religion consists of bullshit for which the woo-heads cannot produce evidence. It’s a vulnerability. They made their beds, and should lie in them, the lying liars.

[ Edited: 09 August 2009 01:42 PM by Traces Elk]
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Posted: 09 August 2009 03:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]  
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SkepticX - 09 August 2009 11:44 AM
John Brand - 09 August 2009 10:50 AM

Dennett misses the central point of the Parable because he is working with an inadequate definition of his subject.  He is talking about dysfunctional religion.  His limitation comes from his belief that all religion is by definition dysfunctional.

That’s just to say that you disagree with Dennett. I don’t. Religious communities and individuals may be perfectly functional, but it’s because they overcome the influence of religion (or rather, they don’t allow it to overcome them).

I don’t find Dennett helpful in understanding the great critiques of religion from those who retain its essence:  “belief in a supernatural agent whose approval is to be sought.”  That agent, force or eternal ground of being is the influence of religion in the mind of the believer; it is the intentional object.  Dennett makes a good move by accepting the inexistence of the object for the purposes of studying the intentioinality or the aboutness within the human mind.  This isolates the human variable in the equation: influence of religion + human being = dysfunctional or zombie human being.

Dennett argues that we need to remove the influence of religion.  And, yes, I disagree.  It is the human variable that is the problem and will continue to be the problem even if all religious influence is overcome. 

Ancient critics of dysfunctional human constructs (religious systems, political and social institutions, etc.) point to desire which leads individuals to construct something beyond the ground of being.  This is the essence of the dysfunction.

Dennett is arguing that there are no oranges on the apple tree in question. I think he’s right.

Where I think Dennett could improve his argument is to modify the idea that all apples are bad.  There are some bad apples on the tree in question.  To use his metaphor:  He could say that there are some zombie ants.  What makes them dysfuctional?  Religion?  It is the lancet fluke.  It is the idea that has turned the ant aside from his essence, from nature.  What is the idea?  The idea is desire to live beyond nature (the ground of being).

In contrast to this Dennett wants to say that there is no essence.  We are Coke Machines. There is room for improvement in his argument.

[ Edited: 09 August 2009 03:57 PM by John Brand]
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Posted: 09 August 2009 03:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]  
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SkepticX - 09 August 2009 05:14 PM

The question then, it seems, is whether it’s still a chocolate chip cookie even if there are no chocolate chips, but only some residual chocolate, or even none at all, due simply to having been produced from the same batch of spooge.

Buddha and the Epicureans ignore the residual chocolate chip and talk about what makes for good cookies.  I find his analysis helpful.  For example, in the Kalama Sutta he advises the Kalamas to rid themselves of trust in teachers and questions about intentional objects.  The focus should be on what the Kalamas know works:  “When you know for yourselves that ‘these qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to harm & to suffering’ — then you should abandon them.”

The qualities he lists are greed, murder, lying, etc..  When these are abandoned, they tend to produce good.  This is a restatement of what I was saying in my earlier post:  It is the human factor that is the problem rather than the religious factor.

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Posted: 09 August 2009 04:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]  
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John Brand - 09 August 2009 07:45 PM

It is the human variable that is the problem and will continue to be the problem even if all religious influence is overcome.

Upon what basis do you separate “religion” from the “human variable”? It sounds like you’re reifying religion when it’s just a category of human ideology and behavior.

A better way to word the question would actually be; how can you separate religion from the human variable?

As long as you’re thinking of religion as some thing that exists distinctly from humans (i.e. as I distinguish them, Religion vs. religion) you’re going to probably misunderstand more critical and astute points about it, I think likely dramatically.

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Posted: 10 August 2009 11:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]  
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SkepticX - 09 August 2009 08:41 PM

Upon what basis do you separate “religion” from the “human variable”? It sounds like you’re reifying religion when it’s just a category of human ideology and behavior.

Am I not consistent with Dennett as well as the original context of the Parable in making this separation? 

In Dennett’s interpretation of the Parable, the seed is the word this is the external construct that you would call Religion.  This could be called the Faith.  In the Parable’s original context (i.e. Matthew, Mark and Luke), the human variable and the word are separate as well.  Faith is combined with hearing the word to transform the human variable. The human internalizes the Faith so that it becomes his faith.  However, there are many influences on the human variable outside of the faith. 

Dennett calls the human variable an intentional system(i.e. an organism with goals, desires, beliefs, etc.).  Behavior is the result of the intentionality of the system (organism/human/ant).  The zombie ant, for example, acts abnormally when compared with a natural ant because of a parasite that is lodged in its brain.  Human beings may have goals that come into conflict with other human beings and this will lead to problems. But the goals come from a belief about the nature of the universe and how the human variable believes that his/her needs will be met.

A better way to word the question would actually be; how can you separate religion from the human variable?

As long as you’re thinking of religion as some thing that exists distinctly from humans (i.e. as I distinguish them, Religion vs. religion) you’re going to probably misunderstand more critical and astute points about it, I think likely dramatically.

Religion in Dennett’s metaphor of the Zombie Ant is separate from the ant, itself.  I understand this to be the external construct or the institution.  But the external religion is transformed by the intentional system through faith.  The religious ideology has taken over the intentional system and is using it to further its own ends. 

Maybe we agree on definitions of Religion vs. religion. 

Religion: the construct outside of the individual.

religion: the external construct internalized but mixed with other influences, perceptions, etc. resulting in a ‘belief about the nature of the universe.’ 

The internalized religion will vary from person to person.  For example, one person might believe that the universe is cold, hostile and impersonal.  A place where dog eats dog and every man must take care of his own interest or lose his interest.  Another might believe that the universe is a warm place (not necessarily personal) where satisfaction is easily attained through sitting quietly or going for a walk in the woods or working at a project.

Hopefully, I am clarifying what I mean by the influence of the human variable.  You can substitute Religion for any ideology and the result of the equation will still be the same:

Religion + Human Variable = Zombie

Marxism + Human Variable = Zombie

Scientism + Human Variable = Zombie

etc.

[ Edited: 10 August 2009 02:18 PM by John Brand]
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Posted: 11 August 2009 02:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]  
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John Brand - 10 August 2009 03:02 PM

Hopefully, I am clarifying what I mean by the influence of the human variable.

I think I get it now. Your problem with Dennett’s metaphor is that humans have the willful complacency for injesting the parasitic infection (Religion), thereby becoming intentional Zombies… ants do not. Depending on the individual’s capacity for resistence (religion), its potential for lethality may be reduced, and its symptoms may range from mild to severe.

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Posted: 12 August 2009 04:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]  
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goodgraydrab - 11 August 2009 06:46 PM

I think I get it now. Your problem with Dennett’s metaphor is that humans have the willful complacency for injesting the parasitic infection (Religion), thereby becoming intentional Zombies… ants do not. Depending on the individual’s capacity for resistence (religion), its potential for lethality may be reduced, and its symptoms may range from mild to severe.

That’s the ticket!

Given your restatement, I would, then, agree with Byron that Religion is a reification of religion.  But religion, in that case, is the view of the universe as a cold and nasty place where everything is working against rather than for the individual.  The god of the religion must constantly be appeased and cannot be relied upon.  This produces zombies.

But religion of the more positive sort has the enduring capacity to resist the view of the universe as a nasty place.  Across the board of great spiritual teachers is the idea that it is our religion that is the core problem that must be developed in a positive direction. 

I gave the example of the Buddha’s teaching on the harmfulness of greed:  “[The] greedy person, overcome by greed, his mind possessed by greed, kills living beings, takes what is not given, goes after another person’s wife, tells lies, and induces others to do likewise, all of which is for long-term harm and suffering” Kalama Sutta

But the Buddha, and numerous other spiritual teachers, also emphasizes the benefit of not being overcome by vices such as greed:  “[The] ungreedy person, not overcome by greed, his mind not possessed by greed, doesn’t kill living beings, take what is not given, go after another person’s wife, tell lies, or induce others to do likewise, all of which is for long-term welfare and happiness.” Ibid.

M. Scott Peck (The Road Less Traveled) says that love has the power to transform one’s internal religion. It is the cure for all forms of neurosis (hiding from others).  He defines love as the ‘will to extend oneself for the purpose of nurturing one’s own and another’s spiritual (i.e. religion) development.’  If this ‘will to extend oneself’ isn’t present, it doesn’t matter what a person believes about the nature of the world in terms of his ideology (akin to Religion), (s)he will always be vulnerable to parasitic ideologies.  This is what I was getting at with the illustration of Marxism and Scientism in my last post:

Marxism + Human Variable = Zombie

Scientism + Human Variable = Zombie

There is a Sufi parable that brings the point I am making home through metaphor:  Two frogs decided that they were unhappy in the place where they were living.  One lived in Baghdad and the other lived in Bozrah.  The one that lived in Baghdad thought it would be much better in Bozrah.  And the one that lived in Bozrah thought that it would be much better to live in Baghdad.  Each started out on his journey and met the other about halfway. 

Upon meeting and hearing about their similar attitudes but opposite destinations, they were curious but continued on their chosen course nonetheless.  When the one from Bozrah had lived in Baghdad for awhile, he realized that it wasn’t all that much better than where he had come from.  And, the one from Baghdad reached the same conclusion about Bozrah.

The moral of the story, say the Sufis, is that for a frog there is very little difference in the cities where (s)he might choose to settle.  Its all the same pond and lily pad with a limited view. 

My application of this parable is that religion within is what needs a transformation:  Our view of other intentional systems should evolve so that we view our world as potentially peaceful and work toward making it peaceful.  But this has to start with our own inner belief or worldview.

[ Edited: 12 August 2009 04:30 PM by John Brand]
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Posted: 12 August 2009 05:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]  
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John Brand - 12 August 2009 08:23 PM

He defines love as the ‘will to extend oneself for the purpose of nurturing one’s own and another’s spiritual (i.e. religion) development.’  If this ‘will to extend oneself’ isn’t present, it doesn’t matter what a person believes about the nature of the world in terms of his ideology (akin to Religion), (s)he will always be vulnerable to parasitic ideologies.  This is what I was getting at with the illustration of Marxism and Scientism in my last post:

Marxism + Human Variable = Zombie

Scientism + Human Variable = Zombie

I guess there are two possible objections to this.

1.  By “Marxism,” do you mean dialectical materialism?  Leninism?  Stalinism?  Trotskyism?  If by Marxism, do you have any idea of what Marx and Engels were actually studying?  Do you include Marx’ economic work as “parasitical” or just his polemical work?

I assume that anyone who who refers with a straight face to a definition of “love as the ‘will to extend oneself for the purpose of nurturing one’s own and another’s spiritual (i.e. religion) development.’” would object to dialectical materialism, but I could be wrong.

2.  When you refer to scietism, you link to a definition created by, among others, Friedrich August von Hayek.  Hayek is, of course, wingnut free market cultist extraordinaire who, with Ayn Rand and Milton Freidman, have turned the concept of a “free market” into a virtual autonomous diety.  They regularly plant big wet free-market kisses on each other.  His “The Road to Serfdom” is clutched against the cold, heartless breast of every free marketeer here and in the U.K.

So, do you include “the efficient market theory” as a possible parasitic ideologies, or just some undefined form of Marxism and what Hayek calls “scientism?”

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Posted: 12 August 2009 10:50 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]  
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teuchter - 12 August 2009 09:45 PM
John Brand - 12 August 2009 08:23 PM

He defines love as the ‘will to extend oneself for the purpose of nurturing one’s own and another’s spiritual (i.e. religion) development.’  If this ‘will to extend oneself’ isn’t present, it doesn’t matter what a person believes about the nature of the world in terms of his ideology (akin to Religion), (s)he will always be vulnerable to parasitic ideologies.  This is what I was getting at with the illustration of Marxism and Scientism in my last post:

Marxism + Human Variable = Zombie

Scientism + Human Variable = Zombie

I guess there are two possible objections to this.

1.  By “Marxism,” do you mean dialectical materialism?  Leninism?  Stalinism?  Trotskyism?  If by Marxism, do you have any idea of what Marx and Engels were actually studying?  Do you include Marx’ economic work as “parasitical” or just his polemical work?

I assume that anyone who who refers with a straight face to a definition of “love as the ‘will to extend oneself for the purpose of nurturing one’s own and another’s spiritual (i.e. religion) development.’” would object to dialectical materialism, but I could be wrong.

2.  When you refer to scietism, you link to a definition created by, among others, Friedrich August von Hayek.  Hayek is, of course, wingnut free market cultist extraordinaire who, with Ayn Rand and Milton Freidman, have turned the concept of a “free market” into a virtual autonomous diety.  They regularly plant big wet free-market kisses on each other.  His “The Road to Serfdom” is clutched against the cold, heartless breast of every free marketeer here and in the U.K.

So, do you include “the efficient market theory” as a possible parasitic ideologies, or just some undefined form of Marxism and what Hayek calls “scientism?”

I won’t speak for John, but I would include any “ism” under that definition, at least with respect to people who neglect the wise words of the caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland: “It’s a matter of who is in charge, you or the words.”  When I was 15 I was struck by the way that people seemed to be controlled by words, which are, after all, nothing but means of communication.  But people will froth at the mouth when they hear certain words (as the current health care debate illustrates in spades) and abandon all rationality and demonize anybody who doesn’t react in the same way.  It really is a truism that nobody can be free until they have attained an internal freedom, and the market for accomplishing that is unfortunately not all that large—we all want instant gratification.

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Posted: 13 August 2009 07:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]  
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burt - 13 August 2009 02:50 AM

I won’t speak for John, but I would include any “ism” under that definition [...]

So Darwinism:Bad
  Evolution:Good

  Marxism:Bad
  Dialectical Materialism:Good

  Objectivism:Bad
  Theory of the efficient market:Bad

All right. I can live with this.

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Posted: 13 August 2009 08:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]  
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teuchter - 13 August 2009 11:45 AM
burt - 13 August 2009 02:50 AM

I won’t speak for John, but I would include any “ism” under that definition [...]

So Darwinism:Bad
  Evolution:Good

Assuming that “Darwinism” means unthinking worship of Darwin and something like social Darwinism. 

teuchter - 13 August 2009 11:45 AM

  Marxism:Bad
  Dialectical Materialism:Good

Actually, dialectical materialism is pretty much discredited as a theory of nature (e.g., matter is not infinitely divisible, etc.) and it certainly led to a number of anti-scientific beliefs and actions (Lysenko comes to mind). It also leads into some errors of thinking, just as does formal logic.  E.g.

Formal Logic:
Law of Identity:—> error of belief that nothing can or ought to change (slaves are slaves).
Law of Contradiction:—> error of belief that change isn’t possible, it’s illogical (slaves can’t become masters, that doesn’t “make sense”)
Excluded Middle:—> error of assertion that “it’s either right or wrong and my view is right”

Dialectical Materialism:
Law of Quantity and Quality:—> error of belief that more is better.
Law of Interpenetration of Opposites:—> error of belief that the only way to produce change is through contradiction.
Negation of Negation:—> error of thinking that the old has to be eliminated to make way for the new (Think Mao’s cultural revolution)

I recall a lecture in the late 70s where it was pointed out that while the Soviets claimed to be a dialectically materialist society, the most dialectical nation on earth was actually the US.  And a good deal of the right wing political stuff going on now can be trace to Newt Gingrich’s use of dialectical contradiction to take over congress.

Not to say that formal logic, or dialectical logic are wrong, only that they are tools that are seriously limited in application.  A favorite example of mine is from evolutionary ecology where people (unconsciously for the most part) use a dialectical mindset when they talk about the “struggle for existence” or the “survival of the fittest” and think in terms of species fighting each other for survival.  But that isn’t the way that nature works—species don’t compete for survival, there is a highly interconnected system of species in an environment and the dynamics of their interactions leads to certain niches being available and “attracting” the species that come to fill them and fit into the system dynamics.  It’s a natural dynamic where there is no contradiction, only degrees of adaptation.  In other words, it’s not “survival of the fittest” but rather “being able to fit in some way results in survival.”

Finally: Objectivism: Bad (again, taken as a controlling ideology rather than as a quaint thought toy for Sunday afternoon debates), but Theory of the Efficient Market: neither good not bad if viewed as a theory that has some points of application but is extremely limited.  With theories the need is to discover their limits and use that knowledge to develop more accurate theories.

[ Edited: 13 August 2009 08:44 AM by burt]
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Posted: 13 August 2009 09:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]  
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burt - 13 August 2009 12:41 PM

Actually, dialectical materialism is pretty much discredited as a theory of nature (e.g., matter is not infinitely divisible, etc.) and it certainly led to a number of anti-scientific beliefs and actions (Lysenko comes to mind).

I would certainly agree with that, just as I have argued on a number of occassions that Natural Selection is a piss poor theory of social development.

 

burt - 13 August 2009 12:41 PM

Dialectical Materialism:
Law of Quantity and Quality:—> error of belief that more is better.

I must have missed this chapter.  I am aware of the proposition that quantitative change leads to qualititative change;  this can be illustrated by adding heat to water, and at some point liquid turns into steam. (Illustrated by, not explaining the states of matter.)

But more is better?  Only heard that from apologists of laissez-faire capitalism.  Never heard someone apply dialectical materialsim to argue that more concentration of capital, more WalMart Stores, more nuclear weapons or more wiretapping was better.

burt - 13 August 2009 12:41 PM

Negation of Negation:—> error of thinking that the old has to be eliminated to make way for the new (Think Mao’s cultural revolution)

Again, I’ve never read this formulation.  Think about the discussion of changes in quantity leading to changes in quality.  I’m no Marxist scholar, but I think it is safe to say that incremental changes in feudalism led to its transformation into capitalism.  This didn’t happen overnight.  Think of our civil war, where a South essentially organized as a feudal society, was at war with a North economically organized as a mercantile/capitalist society.

If one could someone “eliminate the old,” I suppose one would have a vacuum.  The “old” is simply transformed into something new.  Dialectical materialism is a way of understanding how that hsppens.  The formulation “the old has to be eliminated” makes historical development sound mechanistic and determined, which it is not.

Anyhow, I do agree with the problem of “isms” in that references to Xism tend to incorporate broader or extraneous proposition than the method of analysis referred to;  I have often said that if you put two self-identified “Marxists” in a room to analyse a problem, you would end up with a minimum of three opinions.

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Posted: 13 August 2009 10:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]  
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teuchter - 12 August 2009 09:45 PM

1.  By “Marxism,” do you mean dialectical materialism?  Leninism?  Stalinism?  Trotskyism?  If by Marxism, do you have any idea of what Marx and Engels were actually studying?  Do you include Marx’ economic work as “parasitical” or just his polemical work?

Burt’s comments move along in the direction that I am pointing with my examples:  An idea starts with an independent, thinking individual (such as Karl Marx or Richard Dawkins).  From this an ideology develops which tends to take on a life of its own.  I would argue that most people are not thinking individuals.  When Dennett points to religion and compares it to a parasite which takes over the brain of an ant, he is talking about what some thinkers have described as an unconscious individual.  Nietzsche used the term slave class as opposed to a master class (or ubermensch

Because most people do not have the time to think, they tend to jump onto the bandwagons of those who appear to be thinking even though they may not understand the details of the ideology they are adopting.  They are not very different from the religious zombie.

If we think with Marx, we are at his starting point and can move forward to consider the historical developments and applications of his basic theory.  He looked at the Revolutions of 1848 as examples of the class struggle that he thought was a good thing and developed his idea into Marxist or what came to be called ‘dialectical materialism.’  This term combines the dialectic of Hegel with the materialism of Feuerbach.  Hegel’s dialectic is being corrected in a couple of ways: 

1.  God as the ideal that moves history toward its actualization is eliminated from Hegel’s theory.  Marx saw the tension between thesis and antithesis of Hegel’s history as a struggle between classes.
2.  History is not moving toward any conclusion.  It is a struggle between classes.

Marx theory points to the rise of the worker class as an entity in and of itself that can make its own rules or determine its own course.

Marxism can be compared with other theories.  If we take what Dennett calls the intentional stance, we can look at the classes as groups of intentional systems or

•  agents with
•  limited beliefs about the world,
•  specific desires, and
•  enough common sense to do the rational thing given those beliefs and desires (Dennett, Breaking the Spell, 109-110)

The struggle that Marx is seeing in the Revolutions of 1848 is a struggle between intentional systems.  Beliefs about the world and specific desires are coming into conflict. 

What to do in the situations that Europe faced at this time in history?  Were the various experiments successful?  How could they be improved?

An intentional system at some point decides to cooperate with another intentional system in order to realize mutual desires and based on common views of the world.  The views of the world would be similar to the definition of religion that I have suggested.  Potentially, altering the view of the world might have averted the conflict that occurred in 1848.  But this view of the world would have to change into a ‘willingness to extend oneself’ in order to promote the evolution of one’s own and another’s view of the world, beliefs and desires.

That is an example of the kind of thinking that I am arguing needs to take place so that we are not moved by blind and not so blind forces as intentional systems.

Back to Marxism:  This ideology was applied to various countries and further developed.  George Orwell’s Animal Farm describes through allegory what happened in the Russian experiment.  The initial idea was turned against the good that could have been done.  In the end things looked pretty much the same as what led to the revolution on the farm.  This is symbolized by the pigs living in the farmer’s house while the other animals looked on in amazement.  But note the zombie effect.  Very few of the animals took the time to see what was happening.

2.  When you refer to scietism, you link to a definition created by, among others, Friedrich August von Hayek.  Hayek is, of course, wingnut free market cultist extraordinaire who, with Ayn Rand and Milton Freidman, have turned the concept of a “free market” into a virtual autonomous diety.  They regularly plant big wet free-market kisses on each other.  His “The Road to Serfdom” is clutched against the cold, heartless breast of every free marketeer here and in the U.K.

Richard Dawkins has been recognized as a leading advocate of modern scientism in articles such as:

FRAGILITIES OF SCIENTISM: Richard Dawkins and the Paranoiac Idealization of Science by Luke Davidson (Science as Culture, Volume 9, Number 2, 2000)

This is another example of an ideology that is developed by individuals and is, then, taken up by people who don’t have the time to do much of their own thinking ... another zombie effect ... and the cure is the same:  internal development.

I assume that anyone who who refers with a straight face to a definition of “love as the ‘will to extend oneself for the purpose of nurturing one’s own and another’s spiritual (i.e. religion) development.’” would object to dialectical materialism, but I could be wrong.

This definition is awkward but might be altered as I have suggested above.  Dialectical Materialism is an ideology that is trying to solve a problem that great spiritual thinkers have also been addressing.  A ‘will to extend’ one’s reach beyond the ideology is all that the definition is recommending as the cure for what I am calling the zombie effect.  If we want to be thinking, we have to get beyond boundaries that produce in-group and out-group thinking.

So, do you include “the efficient market theory” as a possible parasitic ideologies, or just some undefined form of Marxism and what Hayek calls “scientism?”

Hopefully I have clarified somewhat for you the idea of a parasitic ideology.  I am not saying ‘people should stay away from Marxism and Scientism as well as religion.’  I am saying:  Understand what is going on with a given ideology, its history and its field of study.  Further, open the idea up to criticism and let your mind develop in its own direction.  We should feel free to think for ourselves and to have ideas that are new and fresh.

You might want to use a different expression than nurturing spiritual growth but the idea will be the same:  Internal or intentional development as opposed to the zombie effect.

[ Edited: 13 August 2009 02:45 PM by John Brand]
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Posted: 13 August 2009 12:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 29 ]  
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teuchter - 13 August 2009 01:09 PM
burt - 13 August 2009 12:41 PM

Actually, dialectical materialism is pretty much discredited as a theory of nature (e.g., matter is not infinitely divisible, etc.) and it certainly led to a number of anti-scientific beliefs and actions (Lysenko comes to mind).

I would certainly agree with that, just as I have argued on a number of occassions that Natural Selection is a piss poor theory of social development.

 

burt - 13 August 2009 12:41 PM

Dialectical Materialism:
Law of Quantity and Quality:—> error of belief that more is better.

I must have missed this chapter.  I am aware of the proposition that quantitative change leads to qualititative change;  this can be illustrated by adding heat to water, and at some point liquid turns into steam. (Illustrated by, not explaining the states of matter.)

But more is better?  Only heard that from apologists of laissez-faire capitalism.  Never heard someone apply dialectical materialsim to argue that more concentration of capital, more WalMart Stores, more nuclear weapons or more wiretapping was better.

burt - 13 August 2009 12:41 PM

Negation of Negation:—> error of thinking that the old has to be eliminated to make way for the new (Think Mao’s cultural revolution)

Again, I’ve never read this formulation.  Think about the discussion of changes in quantity leading to changes in quality.  I’m no Marxist scholar, but I think it is safe to say that incremental changes in feudalism led to its transformation into capitalism.  This didn’t happen overnight.  Think of our civil war, where a South essentially organized as a feudal society, was at war with a North economically organized as a mercantile/capitalist society.

If one could someone “eliminate the old,” I suppose one would have a vacuum.  The “old” is simply transformed into something new.  Dialectical materialism is a way of understanding how that hsppens.  The formulation “the old has to be eliminated” makes historical development sound mechanistic and determined, which it is not.

Anyhow, I do agree with the problem of “isms” in that references to Xism tend to incorporate broader or extraneous proposition than the method of analysis referred to;  I have often said that if you put two self-identified “Marxists” in a room to analyse a problem, you would end up with a minimum of three opinions.

Wasn’t saying that those errors of reasoning I mentioned were statements of the dialectical axioms, only that they were false conclusions that blind adherence to those axioms could lead to.  I agree that the dialectic describes how change happens under some conditions, but my complaint about it is that the engine of change is always taken as contradiction.  I prefer a form of reasoning about change that acknowledges there are polarities but there is not necessarily a contradiction between the poles, rather there is a functional relation to be understood.  Incremental change happens, but there are also moments of mutational change which happens in sudden jumps.  (I’m thinking Piajet, punctuated equilibrium, etc.).

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Posted: 13 August 2009 03:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 30 ]  
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burt - 13 August 2009 04:07 PM

I prefer a form of reasoning about change that acknowledges there are polarities but there is not necessarily a contradiction between the poles, rather there is a functional relation to be understood.  Incremental change happens, but there are also moments of mutational change which happens in sudden jumps.  (I’m thinking Piajet, punctuated equilibrium, etc.).

A final quibble.  It would have been preferable if “contradiction” had been translated “active attribute” or “opposing factors” or something much more elegant than I can come up with.  But, the contradictions Marx talks about aren’t in the way we usually think about contradiction.

We use “contradiction” to mean two mutually exclusive propositions or two propositions one of which necessarily negates the other.

For example, we might say that witness 1 testified that the defendant left his house at 10:00 p.m., but witness 2 contradicted that.  So, at most one is true but not both.

Or, as I earlier said, the phrase “Scottish Enlightenment” could be understood to be a contradiction in terms, suggesting that one could be enlightened, or one could be Scottish, but not both.

Marx, and more prolificly Lenin, wrote of the contradiction between town and country, and never intimated that one would annihilate the other, or one would become the other;  the general idea is that the two active aspects under review have a dynamic relation, the one with the other, that will form the basis for further development of the structure under study.

More to the point of this thread,  OK.  I agree that there is a big difference between using some analytical tool developed by, say, Prof. Zimmerman, to try to understand a situation or solve a problem, and simply announcing that the analysis or solution is X by dint of one’s complete and unquestionable mastery of the entirety of the Prof. Zimmerman’s body of work.

Reliance on a claim to mastery of an “ism” for validation of one’s viewpoint is merely the flip side of an ad hominem attack.  “I’m attaching this assertion to the general body of Prof. Zimmerman’s work;  he is a genius, therefore what I say is true.”

“No, Professor Zimmerman was proven to be an idiot by Dr. Dylan;  since you attach the proposition to Prof. Zimmerman, it is wrong.” OK, I get it.  Maybe we’re all pulling on the same oar (in which case we will go around in small circles, of course.)

On the other hand, if Hayek said that Seattle is north of LA, I’d want to look at an atlas.

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