[OPE] Marx's Method

From: Jurriaan Bendien <adsl675281@telfort.nl>
Date: Sat Dec 05 2009 - 05:18:39 EST

Howard asked:

"how could the human mind work for more than 2000 years to get to the bottom
of something that still lay in the womb of the future?"

I wrote a draft paper on this topic some time ago but it is still in
preparation. But, just briefly -

Firstly, Marx never said at all that people did not understand economic
value and its forms across 2000 years. This is another absurd Marxist
falsification. He just means that people could not consistently theorize the
content and form of economic value at an abstract level, and work out the
implications of that, even although they knew very well, practically, how
the "economy of labour-time" was linked to "the economy of trade".

Secondly, Marx's argument is that human thought could not reach the
theoretical answer, until human labour-time itself had really become an
abstract tradeable quantity in practice, ruled by the laws of exchange, i.e.
when every form of work became in practice generally convertible into every
other form of work, when the general exchangeability of labour was
accomplished via a growing cash economy.

According to Marx's materialism, people first solve a problem in practice,
and only later do the intellectuals begin to theorize the solution which
already exists in practice, in a more consistent way.

That is to say, at first the complete meaning of what people are doing may
still escape them, even as they do it - what the broader or full
significance of it really is, only becomes apparent in the course of time.
As educationists, we can demonstrate this process very exactly in tracing
the evolution of infants to adulthood and old age, since people often "do
things before they know what they are doing".

This is also the basis of Marx's materialist principle that "mankind sets
itself only such problems as it can solve". This idea has nothing per se to
do with "historical optimism" (a Marxist fallacy). It just means that the
awareness of what the problem really is, its full significance and
implications, only dawns on people when the solutions of the problem are in
practice already in the making.

A contradiction arises in human awareness only when the terms of the
contradiction already exist in reality. Inversely, a problem will not be
substantively tackled, until we can "think the problem", until something is
problematized in the course of practical activity. Obviously in order to do
something, you do not necessarily have to know all the "why's and
wherefores", unless you are an intellectual.

According to a materialist view of history, the general causes of recurrent
errors and deficiencies in human consciousness are mainly (1) the essential
conservatism of human consciousness to which Marx refers, which bases itself
on memory, custom, continuity and habit, and (2) human interests and basic
beliefs dispelling any alternative conceptualization that contradicts those
interests and beliefs. People are just very resistant to any messages or
propaganda which conflict seriously with their own lived experience. Faced
with the reality that different conclusions can be drawn from the same
experience, and different kinds of significance can be given to it, they
typically opt for the interpretations that cohere best with their own

But at some point they really do have to solve problems, it is not optional,
in the way that an academic may decided to look at a topic or shelve it. The
most intense changes occur in wars, and it is therefore unsurprising to find
that wars are often the most powerful disturbance of accepted frames of
reference, leading to creative improvisations previously thought
unimaginable. "Necessity is the mother of invention" and that necessity
asserts itself powerfully in conditions of extreme adversity, or in
extremely contradictory situations.

What motivates people to correct errors or deficiencies they've put up with
for a long time on a large scale, is typically a situation where there is
the absolute practical need to do so. Typically that happens when the
deficiencies of thought become so great, that they create an unlivable or
intolerable situation: the insight dawns that something has to change, and
people are motivated to do so. Usually the solution is already there, but
conservatism and sectional interests prevented it from being realized, until
there is no other way out, and people are forced to confront "the error of
their ways".

Learning in this sense is most simply the process of how we go about
correcting errors and deficiencies (a process of adjustment), but the
greatest difficulty is usually the recognition that an error, fault or
deficiency really is a mistake requiring an adjustment. Hence the
materialist idea, that an important prerequisite for learning efficiency is
the ability to distinguish realistically and meaningfully between success
and failure. In other words, in order to understand a task so that it can be
operated according to conscious, willed choice, the organism has to
understand correctly "what it would mean to succeed in the task", and "what
it would mean to fail" (the pernicious, confusing influence of Marxism is
very evident in that context).

But learning according to a materialist view of history doesn't occur in a
void, and some "environments" (historical settings) are more or less
suitable for learning. Learning requires at the very least a non-arbitrary,
non-chaotic environment permitting some predictability and allowing definite
experiential conclusions. In a very uncertain, chaotic, highly changeable or
contradictory situation, it is very difficult to know what to infer, or
evaluate what the consequences of alternative behaviours would be.

But, more profoundly, a learning process is unlikely to occur, unless the
"learning environment" is "ordered or configured" in certain basic sorts of
ways so that it encourages particular conclusions to be drawn, and not
others. Of course, it may seem remarkable to an intellectual outsider why,
given a myriad of choices, that people generally came to one sort of
conclusion, but that is only because the outsider did not understand the
context within which the learning process occurred. The pattern of choices
that people made, reflected the fact that they could not very well choose
something else under the circumstances.


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Received on Sat Dec 5 05:32:58 2009

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