Question concerning race and class

Doyle Saylor djsaylor at
Sat Jul 4 14:18:46 PDT 1998

Hello everyone, Wojtek writes: "While I agree that limiting racism to a moral issue is not a very effective way of addressing the problem (I made that statement in my reply to the list) - I am not quite sure if I follow you argument about dyslexia. That English writing system is more difficult to master to a certain type of individuals is a fact not discrimination. It would become discrimination if it were used to deny a certain class of people rights that everyone else has, for example education, health insurance or employment.

Wojtek I do not think that we need to overturn our entire writing system to accommodate dyslexic persons to a productive life. A friend of mine was diagnosed with dyslexia, he is not very good with words, but he is very good with crafts and now works as a jeweler making twice as much as many people with PhDs. So clearly, he is not discriminated against because of his disability."

Doyle Wojtek there are many different issues to sort out in this. So I will take a little more time to go into them. I think you are perfectly right that we don’t want to overturn the writing system in order to "accommodate" dyslexics, because it isn’t a moral question of right and wrong, but a material question of how to arrive best at our goals. So even though I made the moral statement that the writing system is outrageous because it is wrongly constructed for dyslexics, the issues are not that simple by any means. You make an interesting distinction in this paragraph.

Wojtek Ditto for 'race.' No doubt Black kids need to work harder and require additional programs to overcome the disadvantages of poverty. No doubt it is not pleasant to be called names. But I do not think we need to overturn the entire system to 'end racism' in the sense that an average Black person has equal opportunity (to be exploited at work) to an average White person. By contrast, putting the owners of labor on equal footing with the owners of capital would require a major change in the existing system.

Doyle Your point here is to grasp what is possible within this system and what isn’t. In other words, you have a clear picture in your mind that some things can be done within the system as it works and other things require a social revolution. I think myself that the system depends upon racism, and sexism, etc, and can’t really reform itself with regard to these social problems, for to do so would unleash workers from their restraints. The writing system is a good example of how practically difficult such an undertaking might be. There are attempts all the time with the hi-tech business world (Microsoft has a corporate program that is supposed to include disability access to windows OS) to move toward universal designs. The capitalist feel they can deal with these issues even if they are often just pork barrel programs to justify fat research programs in their corporate systems. There are clear signs in hi-technology they would eliminate literacy if it could be replaced by talking and listening computing, but minus a debate about what universal design really means from the class point of view, these are just more gadgets that are shaped by market forces.

Doyle My point is this; how can you be so sure that such things as racism are reformable without ending capitalism? What is it about Marxism or the principles you hold that gives you a clear picture of what that means? That is where I think good strategizing must begin about how to build a movement. For we can boldly advocate things in workers interests now which advance the long term interest of working class. Things the system can’t easily put down because of its mass appeal across the whole of the working class.

Doyle Another point is that I can’t tell from what you say about psychologism there is a difference in principle between psychology which is scientific, and that which is not. I hear your criticism as mainly two thoughts, one that psychology justifies the system in the US, and two the general theories are quackery. Here X agrees with you, and is pretty darn explicit about her views:

X Psychology simply has nothing real to study. As we know it, it is a collection of empirical observations, some of which masquerade as explanations but which, in fact, are not explanations but mere labels for what requires to be explained, and which psychology will never explain any more than ancient or early modern empiric medicine ever explained anything. Behaviorism, psychoanalysis, etc. all suffer from this defect of having nothing to study.

X Because political theory and neuroscience cannot now explain much of what you wish to call human motivation is no reason to flee for an explanation to the wilds of empiric psychology and its various ghillies and ghosties and long legged beasties and things that go boomp in the night. We will simply for the time being have to be content to say, We don't know. Perhaps will never know. Perhaps will know when capitalism is a long-past nightmare and social relations are clear enough, neurology advanced enough, to say something about human motivation that is actually explanatory. Some of the mass of empiric data which constitutes psychology can be useful as rules of thumb or summaries of rough probabilities, but that does not even begin to constitute any sort of knowledge. Certainly it is not a knowledge which has any historical explanatory power.

Doyle I think what I hear in you Wojtek is called in some scientific circles; 'the Cartesian split'. In other words there is no faith on your part that science can provide answers to how the mind really works, or as X says provide "historical explanatory power". You may not feel comfortable being aligned with X, but her voice is sufficiently bold and clear enough to show what a fear of the mind looks and feels like. (A sense the mind is a ‘black box’ would engender.)

Doyle I would say this about psychology. It (under the current academic divisions of labor) examines the external evidence of thought, neuroscience examines the brain, and there are related efforts in biology, computing, language etc. which taken together seem to me to be moving rapidly toward explanatory power. Noam Chomsky challenged B. F. Skinner by severely criticizing behaviorisms focus upon the external without regard to the structure of thought we might examine in language. In other words to halt outside the brain instead of starting the long trek into the mind through science. This halt at the skin around the skull is the long-standing western fear summarized by the term; "rationalism". Mostly this fear is phrased as ‘we do not engage in metaphysical speculation inappropriate for materialists’. Or as X says above "which psychology will never explain any more than ancient or early modern empiric medicine ever explained anything"

Doyle I’ll give an example of a recent synthesis idea in science which claims explanatory power and is touching upon psychology. The evolution of language is claimed to have preceded the enlarged human brain, and to have caused through Baldwinian evolution the enlargement of the brain. Secondly, that the neural networks of a child are suited to learning language without a Chomskian innate universal grammar. And that the difficulties of the adult to learn a new language is due to the immature brains inability to grasp detail unlike the mature brain. Therefore the mature brain is short-circuited by seeing the trees in the forest, when knowing the forest is the best path. This is a typical scientific theory, which gets proved or disproved over time. Just as the grammar rule that Chomsky championed seems to be wrong given the evidence we now have about the brain. It has some resonance concerning bi-lingualism as it is taught in the U.S.

Doyle It is important to distinguish how class arises around the issue of psychology, because the working class pays a price in terms of the disabling working environment, and the discrimination against disability that exists everywhere.

Doyle Thanks for thoughtful, and respectful reply. Doyle Saylor

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