Friday, May 29, 2009

An Alternative to Materialism's Funeral?: The Frankfurt School Option

After the critical setbacks of World War One, the international Marxist community experienced a crisis - an existential crisis that forced them to confront the validity of their entire worldview, and which sounds ominously like the crisis materialism is experiencing today)…

To quote Pat Buchanan in his book, The Death of the West:

“Nothing the Marxists had predicted had come to pass. Their hour had come and gone. The workers of the West, the mythical proletariat, had refused to play the role history had assigned them. How could Marx have been so wrong?”

To address that question, “In 1923, [Georg] Lukacs and members of the German Communist party set up, at Frankfurt University, an Institute for Marxism…It would soon come to be known simply as the Frankfurt School….The Frankfurt School began to retranslate Marxism into cultural terms….And their ideas have triumphed.”

What was their main idea?

You may have heard of it.

“False consciousness.”

Before explaining “false consciousness” (and what it means for materialism), here's some background

In the 19th century, Karl Marx “offered an objective theory of class, based on an analysis of the objective features of the system of economic relations that constitute the social order. A person's social class is determined by his or her position within the system of property relations that constitutes a given economic society…. People also have subjective characteristics: thoughts, mental frameworks, and identities. These mental constructs give the person a cognitive framework in terms of which the person understands his or her role in the world and the forces that govern his or her life.

Social mechanisms emerge in class society that systematically create distortions, errors, and blind spots in the consciousness of the underclass. If these consciousness-shaping mechanisms did not exist, then the underclass, always a majority, would quickly overthrow the system of their domination. So the institutions that shape the person’s thoughts, ideas, and frameworks develop in such a way as to generate false consciousness and ideology.”

While it’s true that Marx invented the overall concept of “false consciousness,” he didn’t invent that exact term (his partner, Frederic Engels, deserves the credit for that), and neither Marx nor Engels gave the idea of "false consciousness" much importance.

In the 20th century, however, the Frankfurt School elevated “false consciousness” to the penthouse of Marxist doctrine.

Even today – 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall – the idea of “false consciousness” permeates our culture. Political leftists continue to insist that people who disagree with them but SHOULD AGREE with them (for example, white working class families) have been blinded to their true class interests by “superstructures” such as Christianity, capitalism, etc.

In other words, YOU (the “common people”) are NOT rational, because if you were, you would agree with us, and since you don’t agree with us, we must explain to you WHY you are irrational. Once we do that, we will neutralize your credibility to wage an argument, and finally, defeat you by default.

For a fuller explanation of this theory and strategy, see Thomas Frank’s best-selling book What’s the Matter with Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America.

To quote Pat Buchanan again: “America’s elites, who may not even know today who the Frankfurt thinkers were, have taken to their ideas like catnip.”

Still with me?

Sorry for all the retro Marxist mumbo-jumbo.

Now to the main event…

As I’ve mentioned before (here, here, and here), the reductionists aren’t just aggressively protecting their turf when it comes to Darwinism (using the courts to squelch Intelligent Design, for example), they are also going on offense when it comes to neurobiology – using the media to champion the idea that free will is an “illusion” and that our behavior is determined by a proper mix of genes and environmental factors.

There’s a lot of reasons for this new offensive, but it’s probably likely that on some level – at least beneath the surface – one of those reasons is to deflect attention away from the compelling logic of Intelligent Design by…wait for it…denying the power of logic itself!

In the same that the Frankfurt School reacted to the failure of Marxism (by blaming the “distortions, errors, and blind spots in the consciousness of the underclass”), the Reductionists are reacting to their failure to earn the conviction of the American people (see these polls), by reveling in the idea that people themselves CAN'T make rational convictions – that “people often have little or no information about the real causes of their own behavior” and that “it has been hard to find any correlation between moral reasoning and proactive moral behavior.”

In other words, if you don’t agree with the Reductionists, it’s because your rational capacities are really a disguise created by your emotions, and you suffer from “false consciousness.”

On an intellectual level, the Frankfurt School kept the spirit of Marxism alive for decades after it became clear that the economic underpinning of Marxism (which was the original inspiration of Marxism) had been proven false by their undisputed failure in the Communist Bloc.

Subtly, this new “Frankfurt School” of Reductionism is hoping to pick up where the old cultural Marxists left off –
by keeping the game going a little while longer – not by waging an objective battle for truth, but by denying Man’s ability to know Truth altogether.


**UPDATE, JUNE 2, 2009**

In case you thought I was exaggerating, take a look at this article, Childhood Origins of Adult Resistance to Science. This piece gives new meaning to the term "reductionism."

From the abstract:

"Resistance to certain scientific ideas derives in large part from assumptions and biases that can be demonstrated experimentally in young children and that may persist into adulthood.

In particular, both adults and children resist acquiring scientific information that clashes with common-sense intuitions about the physical and psychological domains.

Additionally, when learning information from other people, both adults and children are sensitive to the trustworthiness of the source of that information.

Resistance to science, then, is particularly exaggerated in societies where nonscientific ideologies have the advantages of being both grounded in common sense and transmitted by trustworthy sources." from the Darwinist perspective, people who disagree with the "reductionist paradigm" are stuck in childish ways of mature!


**UPDATE, JUNE 3, 2009**

As the old saying goes, “those who live by the sword die by the sword.” According to this article, scientists have to overcome their own “childish” mindsets.

Religion among Academic Scientists: Distinctions, Disciplines, and Demographics

Abstract: The religiosity of scientists is a persistent topic of interest and debate among both popular and academic commentators. Researchers look to this population as a case study for understanding the intellectual tensions between religion and science and the possible secularizing effects of education…

Using data from a recent survey of academic scientists at twenty-one elite U.S. research universities, we compare the religious beliefs and practices of natural and social scientists within seven disciplines as well as academic scientists to the general population.

We find that field-specific and interdisciplinary differences are not as significant in predicting religiosity as other research suggests. Instead, demographic factors such as age, marital status, and presence of children in the household are the strongest predictors of religious difference among scientists. In particular, religiosity in the home as a child is the most important predictor of present religiosity among this group of scientists.

So...if both scientists AND believers are prisoners of their “childish” mindsets, who then is qualified to discuss these critical questions of existence? Apparently, no one.

Luckily, we have an alternative: We can stop psychoanalyzing our opponents, recommit to logic, and follow the evidence wherever it leads. Of course, the Darwinbots might oppose that idea too - because they know the evidence does not lead in their direction.


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