historical materialism (was science and morality)

K d-m-c at worldnet.att.net
Sat Oct 24 14:10:38 PDT 1998

Off list, I've been told we have an audience other than ourselves doyle, so I've tried to leave intact so that those following this thread can keep up. It's a lengthy one, in other words. And for those who are just interested in HM, that's at the end

Doyle says: >My contention was that strong feelings applied to a rule, represented moralizing And, Doyles also says: > I reject the rationalist theory that feelings can be withdrawn from thought to make objective judgments of the world.<

Snit: I dunno Doyle. You still remind me of Descartes toasting his feet by the fire and trying to figure out if god exists. Because I’m finding these two statements completely contradictory.

Doyle maintains: Behavioral psychology collapsed in the fifties with Chomskys' famous attack upon B. F. Skinner.

Snit: Goshes I wish you’d tell someone in the psych dept down the hall this

In any event, I did recognize a distinction between the two projects. I called one the behavioral psychology lark, and then went on to reject neuro phys as an adequate basis upon which to build *social* theory. And, on my view, social theory is different from those pyschologies that study of human behavior isolated from a socio-historical context, though some may draw on the insights of these disciplines. A social theory is distinct from a psychological theory because it recognizes that society is more than the sum of individuals and you can’t always explain social phenomenon like the operations of the market, the institutions of the media or family, or the operations of ideology by recourse to psychological laws of human behavior or, in this case, human thought processes based on nuerophys laws of brain functions. It may well be important to study neurophys, but that doesn’t make it social theory. It needs work (The macro question Paul raised)

Doyle more hesitantly asserts: I believe neuro-science is moving rapidly toward an adequate basis of understanding the brain. The meaning of that is still cloudy, but it does help at least to know the anatomy of the brain. That means it is easier to distinguish certain kinds of claims. I can much more easily understand what you assert Kelley when you use strong feelings as a basis to understand your consciousness claims

Snit: Again, pls explain where I used ‘feelings’.

>Doyle: That is why it looks like an attempt to define
moralizing as
>thinking, when the two processes are different. The two
processes are different in the brain.

Snit: Pls explain what you mean by moralizing and not by recourse to the dismissive descriptor christianism because that’s not an explanation. Also, what about the vast body of moral philosophy that wasn’t an outgrowth of christianism? And what about people who write about ethical-political thought who’ve never been christians, but maybe buddhists, atheists, muslims, pagans of various stripes all of them work within systems of moral thought which make assertions about the good life. And what about marxist ethical thought. Do you just dismiss it out of hand? Tsk Tsk And remember that , while it does not necessarily etch out a blueprint for the good life, critique operates according to a vision (however obdurately vague) as to what the good life might look like. That is, when you criticize me or anyone you are doing so because you’re motivated by ethical-political claims about what a good society might look like. In your case, you want to shout from the roof tops that you think neuro sci has something to offer marxism, a social theory constructed some incredibly impassioned work, especially early on.

Doyle says: I can get how feelings interact with the neo-cortex better than you seem to

Snit: Doyle, sweetie, what do you expect. I’m a silly grrRl. Well I’m afraid that I don’t think you’re playing nice as you’ve just thrown sand in my eye and I’m going to get the other grrRls together and we’re going to banish you from the sand box cause you’ve violated that rules. But seriously: why would I necessarily know a thing about neuro phys. You charge into the sandbox a couple posts ago, telling me that I ’m doing it all wrong and that I’m basically stupid (not marxist) because I’ve just never ever heard of building sandcastles with boxes and pails, (neuro phys) since what I know is how to build them with a water-sand mix that I dribble around in various patterns. (peeeuuuh non marxist christianist moralizing.) Now that’s really weird. Typical, but still weird. You should read Don Morton on hostile pedagogy, you’d LOVE him. So, when I replied with a conscious rhetorical strategy that basically turned the tables by drawing on marxist theories you don’t know, , and maybe suggesting you were stupe (not marxist) and showing you what I know and you don’t. Well it should. I do not see how applying an external critique to my arguments is useful.

In other words, I’m echoing what Paul said. Perhaps before you dismiss other approaches to building sand castles you ought to consider that other folks have other ways of building sand castles and a good way to convince them of the soundness of your arguments is through an internal critique. This was Marx’s strategy every step of the way. Figure out how they build and ask what merits their method might possess and then trash it, but don’t throw the baby out with the dirty diaper. ‘kay?

Oh and how are you better than me if you’re arguments don’t rest on ethicial-political claims?

Doyle ; I wrote emotions are not separate from consciousness. You confuse the Christian concept of morality with consciousness.

Snit: Precisely how so. I think you read waaaaay too much into my posts and apply an external critique

Doyle writes: >That leaves you open to rigid and obsessive compulsive behavior since you can't >distinguish that strong feelings aren't enough with respect to consciousness to guide >our behavior.

Snit: Goshes. Thanks for the psychoanalysis Doyle. Can’t afford therapy but you’ll do quite nicely thank you, and I don’t have to pay 100 clams an hour for the abuse. It’s free!! Do me a favor though. Will you wear leather, wield a cat o nine, and wear jack boots once in awhile. I kinda like it like that. We’ll work on the s&m fetish once these sessions have cured me of my obsessive compulsive behavior. Oh maybe it’s two-for-one week at the Clinic For Non-Marxists and the sessions will cure me of that too?

Oh and I’d lose the o-c phrase, its too reminiscent of Freud and lawd knows he’s not useful to marxist thought. Gad what can you neuro phys types be thinking to unreflectively appropriate the term. Must make up a new word to identify that behavior. Something on the order of scalar intensities and the like ;-) Must maintain disciplinary turf with an appropriately opaque language so it’ll be taken seriously, you see.

Doyles goes on: This is a primary source of dogmatism in the left. Dogma is the rules, and the strong feelings you associate with them make them morally right.

Snit: No Doyle. Most folks draw on marxist historical materialism through which they construct a theory of how society operates. They generally also espouse develop an epistemological framework through which they then contest one another’s knowledge claims.

Doyle writes as well: You can't account for different value systems arising from different life experiences giving strong feelings to incommensurate sets of rules. Therefore your position is profoundly untenable with respect to even that you and I have incommensurate theories. How do you resolve such differences? What does your theory of morality have to say about resolving this conflict

Snit: Failing to see this on your own part is what Alvin Gouldner called methodological dualism (I can see the light and the rest of the poor slobs in the world can’t) and it too is dogma. I still haven’t yet seen how you make a reasoned argument for your position. Have you offered any epitstemological claims as to how you’re right and I’m wrong. You’ve made interesting assertions worth considering, but I don’t think you’ve made recourse to any evidence or explanation of what you mean by anything you’ve said. You refer to neurophys without explaining what it is in a way that a non-neurophys can understand. You go on in this post to talk about connectionism and chastise me for not knowing that you ’re a connectionist and neurophys is a connectionist project. Well why on earth should I know that Doyle. I’m all for dilletantism and I think its clear that I can mobilize a broad range of ideas because of that. But give a babe a break. Sheesh. As someone who apparently studies this, you must be aware that this something that you’ll face when you shout your faith in neurophys from the mountain tops. And, as I said already, you demonstrate no internal critique of the marxisms that I try to weave together. And no, I don’t just subscribe to one variant of marxism because that would be daft.

Furthermore, I don’t think it so easy to make absolutist epistemological claims about marxist theory and which version is the one, the good, the true, the beautiful. I am committed to fallibilistic pluralism, a position which draws on pragmatist epistemology. Human knowledge is fallible, it is limited, it is contingent. When we don’t recognize this, we collapse into logical contradictions which Karl Otto Appel called ‘performative contradictions’ (we undermine our claims through our very own actions as you did above.) It’s hard to avoid this so I try to examine my own activities in the first instance, vigilant about it sometimes too. Sometimes, though, it is rhetorically necessary to be absolutist about this and other principals. It makes for a good convo, sometimes results in real practical events (like getting someone to change their mind), and the like

Doyle: This statement acknowledges that feelings aren't attached to events in the way you understand them from other statements you have made in this thread of postings.

Snit: Again, I really have no idea what you’re talking about when you use the term feelings. Call me a dim bulb if you will, but do remember that we are speaking through two different disciplinary languages

Doyle maintains as well: So I am trying to sort through various kinds of contradictory understandings in you. You can't both assert that shame is a tool to use in building working class consciousness and assert that feeling sad when death happens is contingent.

Snit: Doyle sweetie. I’m operating from an understanding of the social world which recognizes that social life is broadly conventional. There is nothing absolute about the particular ways in which we experience and give meaning to feelings. In contemporary US society for example, we have a conception of romantic love that we did not draw on a thousand years ago and folks in other cultures don’t draw on at all. So, while feelings are social constructs, they don’t bend and change with every wind that blows. I can say all this without contradicting myself because I have a marxist conception of how individuals and society operate, to wit: Society is a totality which consists of the dynamic interplay between two levels of social reality: the macro level of social structure which encompasses institutions, culture and ideology and the micro-level of social interaction which is composed of intersubjective face-to face interaction. This conception of society presumes that because the micro and the macro are distinct (though dialectically related) levels of social reality. The theory of society also insists that social relations have a fundamentally interpretive dimension and that social action is both constitutive of and constituted by more encompassing social structures. While social structures are socially and historically constituted, they also shape and are shaped by relations of domination, exploitation, and power and thus have an *OBJECTIVE FACTICITY* that is independent of individual actors. Both the interpretive (micro) and structural (macro) are constituted across space and time: they are both statically reproduced and dynamically produced through social interaction. (Historical materialism)

So. The ways in which we manifest feelings, expect others to exhibit them in certain social contexts and not others, etc becomes embedded in society through everyday practices that produce and reproduce wider systemic social processes. In this way you can pretty much count on expecting people to interpret themselves as feeling certain feelings and to act accordingly depending on the social context. (Hence, the fish story.) I can count on shame because though a broadly conventionally socially constructed response to brain functions at this historical moment, it also obdurate, it has an objective facticity because it is enacted and reproduced in countless human interactions.

Doyle asks: You reject neuro-science. Do you reject science?

Snit: No. I think it incomplete form of knowledge if left to languish as a positivist project and if it is not politcized dialectically. I also would like to see folks who uphold science and who are marxist demonstrate that they understand that science is a project that emerged w/ and operated alongside and in the service of capitalism. But as with the free speech/bourg ideology thread I don’t dismiss it out of hand as bourg, but recognize the revolutionary potential that science might have, though currently doesn’t have under contemporary political conditions. It proceeds through hypothetical-deductive reasoning and yields a policy science that dictates what must be done. But it is undemocratic in certain respects because it leaves decisions about how to create social policy in the hands of experts. And expertise is mechanism through which information is monopolized. I have no problem with knowledge, I have a big problem with positivist, objectivist, empiricist rationalist science.

Doyle asks: How do you propose to discuss the mind except from a material basis?

Snit: I’m sorry Doyle, but did Marx construct his theories by investigating the operations of the physical body or the brain or look at the physical mechanics of labor or somesuch? No. Material doesn’t just refer to the physical. Marx was an HISTORICAL materialist for cryin out loud and he examined the social as an historical-material ‘thing’ that exhibited relatively obdurate laws and properties. (Recall what I typed above: While social structures are socially and historically constituted, they also shape and are shaped by relations of domination, exploitation, and power and thus have an *OBJECTIVE FACTICITY* that is independent of individual actors)


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