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    Veteran Member PyramidHead's Avatar
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    Dialectical materialism

    This should be in politics if we're going by practical application, but it's a philosophical concept so I'm posting it here.



    I.
    Dialectical materialism is a combination of two ideas, dialectics and materialism. No big surprise there. What do these ideas mean, and why are they important if you want to understand historical and/or current events? One J. Stalin provided a breakdown in 1938.

    "Dialectical" means you appreciate four basic realities:

    1. Nothing in nature can be understood in isolation from its surrounding factors, as everything is interdependent and co-determined to some extent.
    2. Nature is constantly in a state of flux, so understanding something requires knowing where it is moving, not what it currently is (since it will be something else in an instant).
    3. There is no such thing as abrupt qualitative change apart from the gradual accumulation of smaller quantitative changes. This should be familiar to anyone who knows Darwin's work.
    4. Nature is not in a state of harmony but in a state of innumerable internal conflicts, the resolutions of which are what we observe unfolding in the world.

    Basically, the whole enterprise stands in stark opposition to the metaphysical notions of essentialism, of fixed or pure forms, of discrete chapters in history precipitated by sudden events, and of gentle shifts from one phase to another. Or in other words, in opposition to the whole of talkfreethought.org/forumdisplay.php?43-Political-Discussions! Just a little joke to lighten things up...

    "Materialism" should be uncontroversial around here, but it needs to be included in this package, otherwise you're stuck with Hegel or Schopenhauer, thinking everything is being pushed around by grand ideas and overarching forces. The materialist mindset says:

    1. The world is made of material stuff, and humans are no exception.
    2. Our consciousness doesn't determine objective reality; on the contrary, there is an objective reality that determines our consciousness, or within which our consciousness resides.
    3. We can know how the world works if we study material things and how they interact.

    All of which is contrasted with philosophical idealism, a view that holds humans as special or fundamentally incorporeal, holds consciousness as primary/fundamental, and regards reality as either unknowable or without substance.



    II.
    What does this look like in action? Well, I think it reveals a lot of political discourse as ungrounded and childish, especially when it involves trying to explain history. I've argued with people about the dangers posed by resurgent fascist and fascist-adjacent tendencies in America and across a lot of Europe, and how we should deal with it.

    The majority of responses are predicated on what might be called metaphysical idealism about the history of fascism and its current status in civilization. The line of thinking goes: fascism was defeated in the last century, so you must be crazy if you think it's a problem today. By framing the issue in this way, one treats history as a discrete series of encapsulated periods that operate on fairy-tale logic. Once upon a time, a very bad wizard named Hitler decided to do a bad thing, and so the good wizards of the world decided to stop him forever, and then there was nothing more to fear from the bad wizard.

    By contrast, dialectical materialism sees the rise of fascism as something that started long before its manifestation in World War II, and its "defeat" as an ongoing process that can be strengthened or subverted by actual physical events taking place throughout the world. Material reality doesn't wait for the consensus of world powers and official pronouncements thereof; it proceeds as always, as an amalgam of individual behaviors situated in ever-changing structures that affect and are affected by what they contain. It's a situation that doesn't let you rule something out just because the era of history during which it came into prominence has been posthumously encapsulated by a cultural narrative.

    Taking the concept beyond fascism, dialectical materialism says much the same thing about cherished principles of liberal society like democracy, free speech, and any of the various descriptions of social/economic organization you can name. None are particularly useful beyond embodying impossible points of reference, because in the real world, all of them must pass into the sphere of interconnection, constant change, material conditions, conflict, and the resulting ambiguity those factors create. This is why I have such dwindling patience for talking about systems of government in the abstract. Despite what the internet may tell you, there is no way to compare capitalism to communism by comparing capitalist societies to communist societies. You can only compare, say, Mexican capitalism to Vietnamese communism, and only in the context of each society's trajectory, the circumstances each endured, and in relationship to the rest of the world.

    Try as you might, you cannot reduce the problem to a comparison of outcomes, because no analysis will ever completely exhaust all the inputs and outputs of either system; what is left, to put it differently, is not an empirical question but a moral one. Evaluating whether to strive for capitalism or communism is something that takes place properly in parallel with the investigation of existing and past societies, as a separate consideration and not as an outcome of the investigation itself. In essence, if you regard capitalism or communism as something to strive for, then dialectical materialism allows you to critically evaluate their imperfect and fluctuating manifestations in the real world in their full context to discover where they succeeded and where they failed (and why).



    III.
    In talking about this topic, I find it helps to switch to something less contentious, something that has been mostly settled in modern discourse, like slavery. The idea that slavery is immoral and should be abolished is properly totally distinct from the analysis of slaveholding societies compared to freer societies. A dialectical materialist who is opposed to slavery would have studied how slavery was imposed in the material world, how it has been resisted in past and present societies, and what each society is moving towards given its social and political conditions. Nowhere in this analysis would such a person suddenly discover that slavery is actually good because slaveholding societies are more prosperous, cleaner, or less congested! That has nothing to do with the wrongness of slavery. It's not answering the same question.



    I think I will stop here for now, and add more if there is any interest.

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    Mazzie Daius fromderinside's Avatar
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    We can get rid of dialectical since when one treats materialism one finds the objective analogs of it under objective research. However they are more conditional when viewed through an objective lense. To wit:

    1. Nothing in nature can be understood in isolation from its surrounding factors, as everything is interdependent and co-determined to some extent.
    becomes:
    Evidences need to be isolated by processes independent from the observer

    2. Nature is constantly in a state of flux, so understanding something requires knowing where it is moving, not what it currently is (since it will be something else in an instant).
    becomes
    reality can be viewed as composed of particles and fields

    3. There is no such thing as abrupt qualitative change apart from the gradual accumulation of smaller quantitative changes. This should be familiar to anyone who knows Darwin's work.
    becomes
    To date we've found nature reduces to more and more fundamental states.

    4. Nature is not in a state of harmony but in a state of innumerable internal conflicts, the resolutions of which are what we observe unfolding in the world.
    becomes
    physical theory is now constructed in macro and micro theory. The former is known to be deterministic while the latter is presently being treated as statistical and sequential but not determined by time.

    My take only and it's a first take at that.

    As for analyses of historical positions if one is actually going for a basis for any social behavior one needs to be aware of both the nature of social behavior and the individual anchors upon which such behavior evolves. Social behavior is based on two directional modes: approach-withdraw/seek-avoid and one conditional: same-different. Those modes are underpinned by hormonal and neural evolution. Using this very basic model should make ones treatment of many things like tribalism and racism much easier to understand.

    This is not to argue that history and social mode should be treated as purely material because there is a lot of hubris included in that evolution which is currently beyond our ability to parse. Bridges and fillers need be inserted in any such analysis and the likelihood they are suitable is quite likely going to be wrong. So the research continues.
    Last edited by fromderinside; 10-19-2019 at 06:37 PM.

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    Veteran Member Tigers!'s Avatar
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    1. The world is made of material stuff, and humans are no exception.
    2. Our consciousness doesn't determine objective reality; on the contrary, there is an objective reality that determines our consciousness, or within which our consciousness resides.
    3. We can know how the world works if we study material things and how they interact.
    What is the objective reality of which you speak in pt. 2? Is it the material world or something else? If it be the material world then why not just say so?
    If not the material world then what is it? You do not use the term with a definition anywhere else in that post.
    NOTE: No trees were killed in the sending of this message, but a large number of electrons were terribly inconvenienced.

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    Veteran Member PyramidHead's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tigers! View Post
    1. The world is made of material stuff, and humans are no exception.
    2. Our consciousness doesn't determine objective reality; on the contrary, there is an objective reality that determines our consciousness, or within which our consciousness resides.
    3. We can know how the world works if we study material things and how they interact.
    What is the objective reality of which you speak in pt. 2? Is it the material world or something else? If it be the material world then why not just say so?
    If not the material world then what is it? You do not use the term with a definition anywhere else in that post.
    Yes, it's the material world. Consciousness arises from and is part of that world, not the other way around.

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    Semms like ot fit my general views.

    Sounds like a form of pragmatism. Reality as observed is what it is regardless of how you try to philosophically spin it.

    Easily born out by the constant change in the USA dorm the founding. The revolution never stops.

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