[OPE-L] ad hominem

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Fri Jul 21 2006 - 16:52:25 EDT

Well, quite. Some people make you understand things more, or make you
stronger, which is good. Others only make you confused, and make you weaker.
Even so, I could rarely say definitely in advance I would not associate with
somebody (if nothing human is alien to me), all I can say is that I avoid
some if I can, because from experience I realise it only causes more trouble
than it's worth. But even there it's complex, like maybe a chessgame,
sometimes you need to be in a weaker position to get stronger and more
knowledgeable, sometimes you cannot avoid people, and so on.

As a plain old socialist, sometimes I've criticised Marxist styles, but I
try to keep it on the level, and stick to the argument. Marxism is at its
best when it is profoundly searching, investigative, tackling the big
questions of the age, critically examining how people can really liberate
themselves from the forces that oppress and alienate them, passionately or
dispassionately as the case might be, and how you can contribute something
to that process with integrity. But the doctrinaire, semi-religious
invective has never really interested me.

I'm convinced that egalitarian social structures function better than
elitist social structures, and I think that can be scientifically supported
with a lot of evidence. But even that is not yet saying much, because the
challenge of a just and efficient allocation of resources in the world
raises all sorts of profound moral and social questions, which can be
experienced both at the micro and macro levels, as I have.

Someone at the much despised World Bank could tell that you, for instance,
that throwing more money at a problem doesn't necessarily solve the problem,
which is to say that this institution, which seems to have a lot of power,
may in fact not be so very powerful, insofar as it cannot change people, the
way they are organised, and their social relations, all that much, and maybe
cannot even frame the problem so that it is solvable. Indeed the very word
"helping" ("aid") often becomes a "loaded term", the very structure of the
language of emancipatory endeavours becomes corrupted, so that nothing means
anymore what it says (as Robert Fisk highlighted for example). In my work as
translator, I obviously value clear concepts and good expression, but
sometimes you end up thinking, best to say nothing at all...

If you read e.g. Hal Draper's Vol. 4, you will see that Marx was definitely
ad hominem in his arguments against various people, but basically in his
personal contacts and correspondence, or in his personal assessments of
people, not in his published work, where he was mostly bitingly sarcastic or
satirical in his criticism of particular people. A public/private
distinction operated, which no longer exists in that way, in these days of
"pomo reflexivity". I think the distinction between the published and
unpublished, the personal/private and the public utterances of Marx & Engels
is often disregarded even in scholarship, so that something Marx jotted down
as a thought is taken as his definite "position" when maybe it wasn't.


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