[OPE-L] Anthropogenesis

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Wed Nov 22 2006 - 13:28:00 EST

I see what you mean. I'd just like to say that I think (contra Norman Geras)
that Marx did not have a general theory of human nature, only one of human
natures. Already in Die Deutsche Ideologie, he and Engels noted that what is
considered "human" in one epoch is regarded as "inhuman" in another, and
that what happened to be decried as "inhuman" by the bourgeoisie depended a
lot on its own position in the world, and whom it happened to dislike.

That is to say, notions of humanity and inhumanity were historically
changeable, and strongly influenced by what people thought to be fitting for
a human being at the time. We are talking here about the moral feelings of
social classes. Hence Marx's reluctance to pronounce general verities about
"humanity" - he knew how influenced the controversies were by the ruling
ideologies of the day.

It is very fashionable in the West these days to argue that humans are
little better than animals, and to accentuate what humans have in common
with other organisms, rather than what sets them apart and makes them
unique. In good part, this is simply a result of the sexual revolution. But
that is also an ideology, an ideology which reduces what people are to
biological factors, with diminished expectations of what human beings can
be, and how they can change. After all, if we are simply a product of
biological factors, there is little we can do other than accept our
biological make-up and live within its limits. It is of course true, that
there are biological limits, but people can rise above them in spectacular
ways as well. What is thought to be "inevitable" at one point is overthrown
in the next.

A basic problem with "Marxism" I think is that it has a penchant for
extrapolating specific scientific findings into a general ideology of life,
the universe and everything. This I think is essentially a metaphysical
endeavour. I wouldn't deny that everybody has a personal metaphysics of some
kind, but it is another thing to argue that other people should accept your
own metaphysical beliefs. As soon as we do that, we are no better than
missionaries prosytelizing a faith and looking for converts. It is much
better so say that we share certain *values* about life and people, which is
what real socialists do. The main thing is, that we agree about what is to
be done, not our personal faiths.

As regards Friedrich Engels, he originated from a background strongly
influenced by christian religion, and he struggled to emancipate himself
from that. In his sober biography, which investigates Engels's childhood and
youth, Terrell Carver makes this very clear. This helps to explain a lot of
Engels's later writing I think. He wanted to free himself completely from
superstititous mumbo-jumbo, and strove for a complete alternative. Yet,
probably mindful of Marx's caution about "general philosophies", Engels did
not in fact publish a number of essays and notes he wrote about the "big
picture" as regards nature and human evolution. He could have easily done
so, given his stature in the socialist movement, but he didn't. And I think
that in itself is significant.

There was a pressure on Engels in later life to have "all the answers to all
of the questions" but he resisted that role, most probably because he
believed that people should verify what is true for themselves, using the
available evidence, rather than take somebody's word for it. Which is of
course essential to the idea of self-emancipation. That aside, nothing about
the scientific findings was final and fixed forever. A genuine scientist
always proceeds on the basis that he could be proved wrong, in contrast to a
religious person who feels the truth is on his side already, or a bureaucrat
who wants to make a rule that covers all cases without exception.


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