[OPE] Bhaskar as Marx's method?

From: Jurriaan Bendien <jurriaanbendien@online.nl>
Date: Sun Feb 06 2011 - 05:56:38 EST


I respect and admire your expertise, as I said, but I have a different idea
about social science, and about approaches to a theory of dynamics.
I get quite agitated I guess when I understand you to be embarking on an
approach which I consider - after 30 years thinking and research - flawed,
for reasons which I have indicated. I think there are a lot of hidden
assumptions in your models which are simply not tenable upon closer
inspection. I guess though I should not take it that too seriously though.

In general, I do take the trouble to formulate myself precisely, and I do
mean what I say. I am a published academic translator and editor. If you
have an objection, by all means state it, but if you want to parent me, you
are talking to the wrong person, I am 52 years old.

You effectively operate a double moral standard, in my opinion - you want to
make undefended accusations, sideway insinuations and insults against me
from an academic position (like Jerry Levy) but you feel mortally offended
if I simply disagree with you, and explain plainly why I disagree. When you
talk about "hot air" I am supposed to sit there meekly, but if I talk about
a "giraffe" it's wildly out of order. When I voice an objection, you just
start talking about something else. When I hit the sore spot, the advisory
commitee is appealed to, in order to purge me from the list.

Okay, you don't have to respond at all to my criticism, but it doesn't make
your case any more convincing.

"Ritualistic references to Marx"! What is this then, if you please? What are
you accusing me of now? How do you think, I like you saying patronising
things like this, and then lecturing me about communication? I have provided
a brief exposition of the concept of ritual at the end of this message, for
your reference.

As I have explained across many years, my experience of the Marxian
community is that for all his worthwhile ideas, Marx has often been badly
translated, badly studied and badly taught; in addition there is:

(1) the hangover of Marxism-Leninism and all that, and
(2) Marx is assimilated or absorbed into schools of thought which he never
had any affinity with anyway.

If you then want to clear up the resulting confusions, you necessarily have
to get back to what Marx himself said. So yes, I do this sometimes. I see
nothing particularly wrong with that, many Marxian scholars do it. Some
people consider themselves the supreme judge of the correct Marxism, but I
am skeptical of them. I feel I have every right to be skeptical of them.

My interest in Marx was kindled in 1978, and since that time I have been
interested to read the important scholarly literature in the area that was
coming out (in part also because courses and seminars I took required me to
read that stuff) plus the important literature in the preceding century,
until, in the 1990s I could no longer keep up with everything, because I was
fulltime in the workforce. I was lucky because my alma mater had a very
extensive collection of books on Marxian topics. People that knew me,
acknowledged that I had read a lot of literature in the area and could talk
knowledgeably about it (I can provide referees if you want them).

I used to own a personal copy of Bhaskar's Realist Theory of Science,
purchased in 1979, I think the NZ Workers Party might now have it, since
they inherited a lot of my books. It had a purple cover.

I studied Marx's method 1979-1984, reading all the epistemological and
methodological literature on it that I could find (if you want a list I can
provide one), and I am very convinced that Bhaskar did not really capture
Marx's method and approach.

Obviously, since: Marx was committed to (1) the idea of a knowable,
mind-independent world, and to (2) a reality or a causal process which
exists without necessarily being observable, then: Bhaskar's realist theory
did have something in common with Marx. Marx's materialism is a species of
realism, that is certainly true. Marx was not a vulgar empiricist.

But saying that is just trite generality, since the real, challenging
epistemic issues concern:

(1) the reflexivity of human behaviour and practice in society, and the
nature of social causality
(2) the role and efficacy of human ideas,
(3) the precise way in which "society" is a different scientific object than
"physical nature" is, and what the methodological consequences are.
(4) to what extent and how Das Kapital applies to empirical reality

Richard Rorty attacked the very idea of essentialism, and then it is
important to get clear about what essentialism really means, operatively
speaking. Marx's specific idea of "materialism" goes well beyond the
conventional philosophical ideas of scientific realism.

I worked 1991-1994 as research statistician designing and evaluating
official survey questionnaires and revising classification systems. It was
not a question of me publishing my favorite idea among the cognoscenti to
show how bright I am, but of having the official responsibility of routinely
adjudicating on categorizations and turns of phrase which had large
practical and financial consequences for thousands, tens of thousands, or
hundreds of thousands of people.

Through this experience I gained a lot of applied knowledge about the
processes whereby observations and observational responses are turned into
numbers, used to compute official statistics. I am therefore not easily
fooled anymore by the apparent "wizardry" of mathematical operations. If the
math guy cannot actually explain and justify what he is counting in plain
language and why, and provides no real defense for what he is assuming, I
just cannot take the computations very seriously.

My criticisms are there. You haven't responded to them. That is your perfect
right, but it is also my right to state my criticism. If it isn't I
shouldn't even be on this list.


PS - a ritual is a formal, deliberately executed series of symbolic acts,
that only occurs in a specific situation, according to a fixed, recognizable
pattern, repeated regularly. "Symbolize" here means to give expression to
something invisible and fragile, with creative imagination. Behind every
ritual is usually a story that clarifies the meaning of ritual, its own
"language", and a certain tradition.

Rituals are first experienced in early childhood (the stuffed animal,
toddler play, story telling bedtime, meals) in which the repetition of acts,
whether playful, evokes a kind of certainty, or allays fears. Often rituals
are performed when the natural course of life is broken and life is turned
upside down. The ritual gives certainty in a situation where we try to find
an outlet for our feelings. Rituals arise from deep experiences in life, and
they arouse profound experiences that provide hope for life. Living with
rituals means mindful living, consciously or regularly drawing attention to
important aspects of life.

A ritual is much like a regular habit, but the difference is often that with
a ritual people think you cannot live without it, and that it is consciously
or formally executed, often according to fixed behaviroural rules. Rituals
can be expressed by such things as attitudes, facial expressions, gestures,
dance, singing, clothes, ornaments, pronunciations, sounds, meetings,
yelling, eating, fasting, drinking, killing and self-injury.

The purpose of a ritual is often to honor or confirm, or express or
emphasize a certain truth or meaning, to provide certainty or inspire awe,
strengthen group unity and identity, or by ritually acting as though
something is true, reinforce the belief that it is true. A distinction can
be drawn between cyclical rituals, transition rites, and crisis rituals.
Cyclical rituals relate to repeated transitions from one situation to
another, for example meals, getting up and going, cleaning, the seasons,
negotiations, commemorations. Transition Rituals are related to the
transition from one life to another, eg from child to adult, the acceptance
of an office, marriage, birth and death, anniversaries. The reasons for
crisis rituals are often disasters, accidents, illness, death or crime, for
example a silent procession, or laying a wreath, praying for healing,
mourning, music.

We can also distinguish between: personal rituals (e.g. household rituals)
and collective rituals (e.g. the start of a sports match); rituals that
playfully engaged in (as with a child), or very seriously implemented (in
politics); religious rituals (which give expression to something superhuman)
and non-religious rituals (which express something which is the same for
every human being).

In psychopathology, "ritualistic behavior" means an unhealthy compulsive
behavior by a person with a disorder, where the same act is repeated acts,
without any apparent reason or purpose, or where the original purpose has
been lost. In the behavioral sciences, a ritual can also mean a series of
acts which originally had a meaning that with time degenerate
into a ritual formality, where the original purpose or meaning is lost.
For example, a man and a woman might embrace each other or make love,
although they do not really love each other anymore, the contact remains
only a "ritualistic" gesture or a formality without any real content.

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Received on Sun Feb 6 05:59:59 2011

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