Friday, August 02, 2013

One of the reasons people in the U.S. have trouble understanding Marx --Hegel

Namely, they don't have the Idealist background that Marx and the folks who were with him were working from. Although he called himself a materialist, Marx on many occasions set himself apart from the vulgar materialists of the rationalist school of his day, instead seeing his materialism as finding the material truth within the idealist conceptions of society and history that were present. Actually, "Organicist" would be a more accurate term of what Marx was operating within. Putting the issue of the Ideal within Idealism aside, the social ground that Marx was covering was heavily influenced by the idea that society and human life was structured in a way that resembled organic, biological, life, in many respects.

Now the key word here is "resembled". Many people took what was a different way of understanding truth in general, the holistic view as we'd call it today, as being literally true, with disastrous consequences.  What the more thoughtful people who followed the Idealist movement were trying to put out there was that beyond the normal, analytic, rationalistic, idea of people as separate points, there was also the notion that the relationships between people themselves were important, and that added up these many different social relationships constituted a different whole of society that added a different total truth to that of the individuals that made it up.

August Comte made a distinction between the truth of bare facts and the truth of the relationships between those facts, saying that to get to the full truth of what a fact was about you had to not only consider it in its relationship with other facts but to consider that totality of their relationships with each other, and that together both the individual facts and the content of the relationships described the whole truth.

What was noted by many people was that this perspective of wholes and the relationships between the parts that made up wholes resembled in certain ways the functioning of organic systems, whether these constituted the body or something else. This whole/part functioning was also generalized to the functioning of the parts of nature itself with itself, making up an ecosystem that could be looked on as a self regulating whole, something that we still use today.

The problem came when these ideas were directly applied to human society as it exists in relation to nature itself, and to human societies in relation to each other. The defining feature of human society is that although we're part of the natural world, we're not integrated into it like animals are but have the freedom to pursue life from a more relaxed standpoint. The development of the economy as a whole frees us successively from the dictates of pure nature. We exist in symbiosis with the natural world, sometimes healthily, sometimes very unhealthily. Because we're not directly integrated into the natural world like animals are, it's not possible to use metaphors and ways of thinking about things that would put human beings as just one more animal species in an accurate way.

Instead, Marx and other thinkers who focussed on the lived reality of human life instead of on abstractions took the organic whole/part relationship and applied it to society in a way that was stripped of many of its biological features. Many of those features introduced confused philosophical notions into things, such as teleology, that is looking to the ultimate purpose both of the parts of society and to society as a whole, as well as those that come from trying to apply human biology to a complex social system made up of a group of people interacting with both nature and each other over time.

While the literal biological metaphor might not stand, the whole-part arrangement and the idea of organic relationships that form a part of it have faired much better, and it's these that are really necessary for a good understanding of Marx, and are what we're lacking in the U.S.  People just don't have a concept of social relationships in their totality as forming a whole that supplements--but does not supersede, the individual. The reasons for this are largely historical in that the intellectual evolution that Europe took in the 19th century was not followed here, and every time that a more organic notion of society was attempted to be introduced it was defeated.

But the totality of individuals within a community, taken in relationship with each other, do in my opinion form a kind of whole, but not one that negates the individuals that make that up. Both the organic and the analytic features of people and a community are both true, it's just that if you want to understand a community, or a society, simply interviewing everyone about themselves and adding that up is going to miss an essential part....which comes from looking not only at the individual but in his or her interrelationships with other individuals, and then trying to sum up what those interrelationships on the whole add up to.

The whole could then be seen as the sum of the inter-relationships, or the social structure that is produced by multiple individuals interacting with each other over time.

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