[OPE-L] ad hominem

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Tue Jul 18 2006 - 16:24:18 EDT


Bit of blog - the general norm I learnt from my psychological inquiries is
"respect the person, criticize/change the behaviour". This is sometimes
difficult to do, I admit, certain behaviours may cause a loss of respect and
so on, tempers flare etc. Nevertheless it's not a bad norm to have for
general human conduct, consonant with the general moral norm of civil
society "don't do to other people what you don't want them to do to you". A
person usually cannot help being the persona he or she is, and if you attack
that, it's unlikely to generate any positive change, as you can learn from
the discourses on racism, and so on. Attacking a person for what he is or
isn't, is usually more a puberal thing, reflecting more the identity
problems of the attacker. Of course, somebody can pretend/claim to be
somebody that he isn't, that's usually what ultra-leftists and far-righters
home in on - they want to "expose" people, and so on.

As an extreme case, Bernard Shaw wrote about Leon Trotsky that "Like
Lessing, when he [metaphorically] cuts off his opponent's head, he holds it
up to show that there are no brains in it; but he spares his victim's
private character... He leaves [his victim] without a rag of political
credit; but he leaves him with his honour intact." (The Nation, London, 7
January 1922, cited approvingly by Deutscher). I don't think this is quite
accurate, as Trotsky like his mates could in reality be exceptionally vile
at times, but generally speaking that was probably true, and that was a
principled approach. I cannot say the same of some Trotskyists I conversed
with though... Generally, Marx recommended that you distinguish between what
somebody or a group actually does, and the various ideological notions they
may have. So, for example, you don't criticise a religious person for his
religion, but, as appropriate, for what s/he does in the name of his

I do not know Lynn Marcus, didn't he hang out with Tim Wolforth? Nor have I
read his book on dialectical economics (didn't Larouche write that?), so I
can't say.

I tend to judge a book on its own merits, supposing that I have read it,
though it often helps to understand the context in which it was written.
Terrible people can write good books, and good people can write terrible
books. I remember how Althusser was all the rage among leftists, and he
strangled his own wife to death in a deranged state (!). Books can be read
in all sorts of contexts also, you can also have a pomo or pragmatic view of
books as a semiotic "sign". As an Education student in New Zealand in the
late 1970s, I had to learn about Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the author of "Le
Contrat Social" and "Emile", who sent his own kids to the orphanage, as
Voltaire commented "ad hominem" (it's a bit like the Blairites versus the
Liberals and the Tories nowadays). Even so, Rousseau's books made a dent,
and are they completely invalidated because of his somewhat messy life? I
don't think so. Lenin was happy to appropriate findings from Rudolf
Hilferding's Finanzkapital, while strongly disagreeing with Rudolf's
political views. Rosa Luxemburg was a genuine revolutionary, most people
agree, but can you really agree with all her economic theories? Are those
theories validated, simply because she was a revolutionary?

I don't really like to sit in on judgement about people who have made
(ideological) leaps or somersaults in their lives, you gotta do what you
gotta do obviously, and it may take considerable personal courage to make
that change, but whereas what somebody does later might not invalidate what
they did/said earlier (though wildly different), of course you'd prefer not
to associate with some in the end, and it is reasonable to regard rapid
changes to a substantive point of view opposite to what was held earlier,
with a dose of skepticism or cynicism. A job with the World Bank could be a
job like any other, or it could be a job where you end up doing the exact
opposite of what you originally believed, it all depends on the given case.
Sticking to the same point of view all your life might be consistent or show
integrity, but it could also be terribly conservative.

Particularly the younger leftists, on the way to an independent life, like
to pronounce judgement on somebody's "character" or "moral fibre" but
personally I am more interested in understanding characters and what they
can do, which can be pretty difficult already, and you might be old before
you truly understand it anyway, insofar as the understanding you gain, is
intersubjective, and thus reflexive in the "it takes one to know one" sense,
it is a matter of your experience of life, and some things you'll never
understand, simply because you are who you are, or you'd rather not know

The more substantive analytical issue concerns the developmental processes
through which a personal or social radicalisation occurs, the motives forces
behind it, i.e. why/how does somebody or some group radicalize, and is that
a healthy or an unhealthy radicalism? What is its real or deeper source? How
does it relate to the progressive forces in society? If you have a real
societal crisis or problem of some sort, it may be relatively easy to
understand how somebody radicalizes "organically" in response to conditions;
but under conditions of relative social peace, it may be more difficult to
understand, and individual (psychological) factors or fads may play a bigger
role, including e.g. a rebellious nature, biological factors, a
counter-culture or a critical intelligence. Moreover, each generation
redefines the terms of what it is all about. You can have a sort of "flash
in the pan" radicalism also which is more a personal developmental problem,
than something thought through to the end, and consequently is more

I don't consider myself especially radical by the way, I've tried to be only
as radical or critical as I think the situation warrants, even so, there are
no guarantees, I could get it right, or get it wrong, it can be difficult
enough to truly probe "to the root" of an issue to one's satisfaction, as K.
Marx challenged us to do, often I have more questions on the brain than real
answers (you can also read a bit too much for your own good, though a
librarian assured me once you could never read enough). Also, sustained
political militancy takes considerable stamina, and as they say, "if you
can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen". There might be times you can
contribute a lot, other times little, being the person you are. This is of
course never good enough for some doctrinaires, but because they place
impossible demands on people rather than bring out their best, their groups
usually stay small, or fracture.


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