[OPE-L:7309] RE: Re: 'De omnibus dubitandum

From: howard Engelskirchen (lhengels@igc.org)
Date: Sun Jun 02 2002 - 23:35:42 EDT

We talk past one another.  Because capital, the social relation to be transformed, is a hierarchical relation of domination and subordination, because without conscious effort it gets reproduced practically and ideologically (as even experience with cooperative production shows), there is positive reason to doubt authority.  But when I look in a mirror to change lanes there is usually no positive reason to doubt the laws of optics.  Also, reference to authoritative texts by appeal to their authority does not develop science.   But applying or extending a theory rich enough to explain the causal structure of some significant part of the world, including the social world, may take complex and sustained argument coherently developed.  Fidelity to background theories we judge to represent accurately (approximately) relevant causal mechanisms is not submission to authority.
----- Original Message -----
From: gerald_a_levy
To: ope-l@galaxy.csuchico.edu
Sent: 6/2/2002 9:40:39 AM
Subject: [OPE-L:7307] Re: 'De omnibus dubitandum

Preface A:  re [7302], you're welcome, Rakesh.
Preface B:  after David Y's plea of "enough of this" in [7299],
I was prepared to let David have the last word in this thread and
let this topic drop.   Since Howard has entered the fray and since
I think there are important issues to be addressed, I will -- pace
David -- have more to say now.
Re Howard's [7306]:
[ *Digression* -- if uninterested in sailing, scroll down:
> Since you are off to sea, suppose a boat at sea and no one on
board knows anything about navigation.  What do you suppose
the contribution will be of "doubt everything" to getting you to
land? <
An attitude of "doubt everything" is *exactly* what is needed under
the conditions you suppose.  Countless boats and lives over the
years have been lost following a navigational error in which the
vessels were steered inadvertently -- often under conditions of
limited visibility -- towards a point that the navigator assumed in
the presence of incomplete information to be the destination or
refuge  but which turned out to be another location.  The rule
under these circumstances is never to commit yourself totally
and irreversibly until you *know* where you are (just like you, as
a driver of a car, should *never* change lanes until you *know*
that there isn't a car in the other lane.)   More broadly,
"doubt everything" is an excellent perspective for all phases of
boathandling and outfitting.  At sea one must act as if all 4 of
Murphy's Laws are valid: "contingency seamanship' is required.
This is a life-and-death question for sailors. - End digression.]
Howard continued:
> <snip, JL>  David is right.  The question is whether the purpose of
inquiry is to change the world.  We don't act on the basis of doubt. 
Beliefs shape action.  Doubt stimulates inquiry.  We doubt when
something in or relative to the beliefs we work with surprises us. 
We confront the unexpected in practice.  This generates doubt and
we inquire to resolve doubt.  But to start out by doubt! ing everything
is playing with inquiry.  It is the luxury of academics (always doubt the
consequence of class position!).  It is doubt abstracted from practice.  
In other words, we doubt because we have a positive reason for it,
not because we follow a formal maxim.  Doubt  must be real, living
doubt, not just a formal proposition with a question mark at the end. 
It goes without saying also that being alert to surprise in a far reaching
way is critical to success in science and political action.<
The point that I was trying to make previously is that anti-authoritarianism
was key to Marx's perspective and *should be* key to our own.  This is
not, as you seem to believe, a judgment which is made in abstraction
from practice and history.  Quite the opposite.  An understanding of the
history of Marxism tells us it is a vitally important revolutionary stance. 
*Accepting authority* has been common practice for many movements that
considered themselves Marxist and *arguing from authority* has probably
been the primary form in which debates among Marxists have taken place
since Marx.   Whether the authority figure was Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, Mao,
or Gonzolo the acceptance of authority has discouraged independent
thinking and has been a tool that has been used by authoritarian and
beaureacratic elites  in organizations and institutions.  Indeed, one could
argue that, while authoritarianism may not have been the cause of 
Stalinism, it  formed a necessary ideological  and social-conditional component
which was  required to keep the ranks and masses in line.  In some cases,
the  'authority figure'  (e.g. Marx, Lenin) had to die first before the "followers"
could  re-cast that person's life  in those terms. Thus, following Lenin's death  --
against Lenin's  explicit requests --  statues were commissioned across the
USSR and locations were named after him.  And, adding insult to injury,
invoking his name  horrible atrocities were committed by political opponents. 
Had a culture of anti-authoritarianism  been prevalent within these organizations
and institutions, it would have  been much harder for beaureacratization to occur. 
Viewed from this  perspective, the failure of many "Marxists" to embrace
anti-authoritarianism has been a contributing factor to the deaths of *MILLIONS*
of people in the XXth  Century.   It has also been a contributing factor to the
cult-like status of many smaller Marxist organizations. Yes, we have been given
many, far too many, causes for "real, living doubt".
A good case could be made for us completely abandoning the term "Marxist".
After all, even Marx didn't consider himself to be a Marxist.  Justin Schwartz,
in fact, recently claimed that "Marxism" was an invention of Bakunin who
used the term in a derogatory way (Rubel however suggests that it begins
with Engels).   At the time, M&E and other 'scientific socialists' refused to
accept that title -- in part, for anti-authoritarian reasons (i.e.  they didn't
think that their perspective should be identified by the name of any one
individual).  Interestingly, Engels said (according to Schwartz) that M and
himself  used the expressions "scientific socialism" and "critical socialism"
As critical socialists, we should reject all authority figures: 'respect for authority'
is a profoundly reactionary perspective.  We should have NO heroes.  We
should build NO statues.  We should idolize NO one.  We should be the
"followers" of NO one.  
In [7299] David wrote that he found my "comment" from [72l9l] to be "jesuitical".
Since David brought the Jesuits into the conversation, let us discuss the
practice of the Jesuits.  The allegedly "critical" standpoint of the Jesuits can
only be comprehended within the context of their *faith*.  That is,  their faith
leads them to accept all in "The Bible" as the Word of God.  The question,
therefore, from a Jesuitical perspective is not whether the Word of God is
correct but how to *interpret* the meaning of the Word of God. In this sense,
Jesuitical  and Talmudic debates are very similar.  They are hermeneutic
debates only.   The Jesuits, let us also recall,  are a part  of the Roman
Catholic hierarchy and are *profoundly*  authoritarian (and have a history of
blood-letting in the name of faith, e.g. in the Spanish Inquisition.)  In this sense,
and in all other senses, I have been putting  forward an ANTI-Jesuitical
perspective:  we should "follow" no one; we should have "faith" in nothing;
we should look to the future with our eyes fully open; we should apologize for
no one (except, where applicable, ourselves);  we should be critical to all --
*especially* those  like Marx whose  perspective we to a great extent identify with.
In solidarity, Jerry

--- howard Engelskirchen
--- lhengels@igc.org
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