I hope you don’t mind my seeking your help on an issue related to the history of philosophy. I and a few friends are have a disagreement re: the origin of belief in divine apatheia.
In Manana: Christian Theology from a Hispanic Perspective, Justo Gonzalez discusses the political motivations behind the origin and development of the concept. His claim is that belief in divine impassibility merely reflects the desire for permanence (of power) on the part of the ruling class so that Athenian politics is responsible for the philosophical development of the belief, a projection onto God of the political aspirations of the elite.
The question of how apatheia got adopted/revised by Christians isn’t so much my concern at this point (as legitimate a question as it is). I’m interested in Gonzalez’s history and whether and to what extent he’s right in supposing apatheia was a projection onto the divine being of the political aspirations for the permanence of the city and its ruling class.
Does that ring true with your understanding? Thoughts?
Well, if it serves my political interests to believe that p, that leaves open the question whether p is true or false. Suppose I am a member of the royal court. Then it would serve my earthly interests if the masses were to believe that the king rules by divine right. But one cannot show that the king does not rule by divine right by showing that the interests of the ruling class are served by that belief's being widespread.
So there are two logically independent questions. Does the holding of a belief serve interests? Is the belief true? To say that the questions are logically independent is to say that both an affirmative and a negative answer to the first is consistent with both an affrmative and a negative answer to the second.
If God exists, then he is either impassible or not. This question cannot be decided by showing, assuming that it could be shown, that widespread belief that God is impassible would help legitimate the dominance of the ruling class. (I am having a hard time imagining how such an abstruse doctrine could get a grip on the popular mind. Does Joe Sixpack think about such things?)
The bolded thesis supra is a 'weasel' thesis. Gonzalez does not state unambiguously that the impassibility doctrine is nothing other than an expression of class interests, and therefore either false or unsupportable by reasons. But that is probably what he means.
If that is what he means, then he is guilty of the logical/epistemological error of confusing the holding of a belief with the propositional content of a belief. It is a concern of the sociology of knowledge to study the incidence of beliefs as states of people, their causes and effects and modes of transmission. But the evaluation of belief contents as to truth, falsehood, consistency, inconsistency, rationality, etc., does not belong to the sociology of knowledge.
There is nothing new about the move Gonzalez appears to be making. It's old hat. It is the standard Marxist rubbish of reducing belief systems to systems of ideology in the service of class interests. But if all is ideology in the service of class interests, then so is the system of Marxist beliefs. In which case it is a self-vitiating system of beliefs if not outright self-refuting.
There are four new philosophical-political posts at Mike Valle's infrequently updated weblog that I recommend. Start with Marxism-Leninism and Islamism and scroll up. Excerpts with some comments of mine:
One thing that people got wrong with the communists, and they get wrong with the Islamists, is that they think that people can’t really believe this stuff. They think these people think that they are acting from these ideas, but they are really reacting to oppressive conditions, and these crazy ideological ideas are only an indirect way of expressing their frustration with their conditions.
What Bochenski argues for communism, I also argue for Islamism: Yes, they really do believe this stuff, and we insult not only reality but those very people themselves by suggesting that we know more than they do about their own motivations. Yes, an Islamist does, in fact, believe that Allah will reward him for his violent martyrdom. He believes it in the marrow of his bones. Not only that—he will believe it even if he is no longer oppressed, lives in a big house, has a great job, has a university education, and the rest of it. Throwing money at Islamists does not kill ideology. Ideology is more powerful than wealth. Just as with communist terrorists, the Islamist terrorists are quite frequently well-educated and, by the standards of history, not particularly oppressed. They are ideologues.
Mike is on the money. What's the best test for belief? Action! By their fruits shall ye know them. What people believe is manifested by their actions in the context of their verbal avowals. People who think that Communists and Islamists don't really believe what they say they believe are probably just engaging in psychological projection: "I can't believe this stuff, so you can't either."
But the fact that I can't bring myself to believe in, or even entertain with hospitality, any such nonsense as a classless society or the dictatorship of the proletariat or post-mortem dalliance with 72 black-eyed virgins as recompense for piloting jumbo jets into trade towers, or that the USA is permeated with 'institutionalized racism' -- cuts no ice. People believe the damndest things and they prove it by their behavior, and the fact that other people can't 'process' this at face value means nothing. People really do believe this crap.
We all seek a transcendental meaning to our lives, except for those few of us who live as animals. National Socialism, Communism, and Islamism give people that meaning, and having such a meaning is, for many people, far more important than material comforts and wealth. I think this is fine, as long as one’s transcendental purpose isn’t murderously evil, of course.
Mike here touches upon the problem of misplaced idealism.
It is not enough to have ideals, one must have the right ideals. This is why being idealistic, contrary to common opinion, is not always good. Idealism ran high among the members of the Sturmabteilung (SA) and the Schuetzstaffel (SS). The same is true of countless millions who became Communists in the 20th century: they sacrificed their 'bourgeois' careers and selfish interests to serve the Party. (See Whittaker Chambers, Witness, required reading for anyone who would understand Communism.) But it would have been better had the members of these organizations been cynics and slackers. It is arguably better to have no ideals than to have the wrong ones. Nazism and Communism brought unprecedented amounts of evil into the world on the backs of idealistic motives and good intentions. Connected with this is the point that wanting to do good is not good enough: one must know what the good is and what one morally may and may not do to attain it.
It is therefore a grotesque error, one that libs and lefties have a soft spot for, to suppose that being idealistic is good in and of itself. The question must follow: idealistic in respect of which ideals? No doubt John Lennon in his silly ditty "Imagine" expressed lofty ideals; but his ideals are the utopian ideals of the Left, and we know where they lead. It is not good to be idealistic sans phrase; one must be idealistic in respect of the right ideals. Only then can we say that being idealistic is better than being a common schlep who serves only his own interests.
Bochenski was right about communism. Too many are still in denial or ignorance of the destructive and evil nature of communism (as were so many of my professors), just as too many are hopelessly naïve about the power of Islamist ideology (as are so many “intellectuals”).
I would add the following. Communism is not dead. it lives on in those leftist seminaries called colleges and universities. To understand the Left and its political correctness, you must study the history of Communism. As I have said more than once: PC comes from the CP!
A related point is that Islamism is shaping up to be the Communism of the 21st century. Which is another reason to study Communism.
The Left is dangerous for a number of reasons with its disregard for truth being high on the list. For the Left it is the 'narrative' that counts, the 'script,' the 'story,' whether true of false, that supports their agenda. An agenda is a list of things to do, and for an activist, Lenin's question, What is to be done? trumps the question, What is the case? Paraphrasing Karl Marx's 11th Thesis on Feuerbach, the point for a leftist is to change the world, not understand it. See here: "Die Philosophen haben die Welt nur verschieden interpretiert, es kömmt drauf an, sie zu verändern." "The philosophers have only variously interpreted the world; the point, however, is to change it." (my trans.)
The leftist's aim is the realization of 'progressive' ideals, and if the truth stands in the way, then so much the worse for it. Inconvenient truths are not confronted and subjected to examination; their messengers are attacked and denounced.
So when Larry Summers, then the president of Harvard University, speculated in 2005 that women might be naturally less gifted in math and science, the intense backlash contributed to his ouster.
Two years later, when famed scientist James Watson noted the low average IQ scores of sub-Saharan Africans, he was forced to resign from his lab, taking his Nobel Prize with him.
When a Harvard law student was discovered in 2010 to have suggestedin a private email that the black-white IQ gap might have a genetic component, the dean publicly condemned her amid a campus-wide outcry. Only profuse apologies seem to have saved her career.
When a leftist looks at the world, he does not see it as it is, but as he wants it to be. He sees it through the distorting lenses of his ideals. A central ideal for leftists is equality. And not in any such merely formal sense as equality under the law or equality of opportunity. The leftist aims at material equality: equality of outcome both socially and economically, equality in point of power and pelf. But the leftist goes beyond even this. He thinks that no inequalities are natural, and therefore that any inequalities that manifest themselves must be due to some form of oppression or 'racism.' But because this is demonstrably false, the leftist must demonize the messengers of such politically incorrect messages or even suggestions as that the black-white IQ gap might have a genetic component.
This truth-indifferent and reality-denying attitude of the leftist leaves the conservative dumbfounded. For he stands on the terra firma of a reality logically and ontologically and epistemologically antecedent to anyone's wishes and hopes and dreams. For the conservative, it is self-evident that first we have to get the world right, understand it, before any truly ameliorative praxis can commence. It is not that the conservative lacks ideals; it is rather that he believes, rightly, that they must be grounded in what is possible, where the really possible, in turn, is grounded in what is actual. (See Can What is Impossible for Us to Achieve be an Ideal for Us?) And so the conservative might reply to the activist, parodying Marx, as follows:
You lefties have only variously screwed up the world; the point, however, is to understand it so that you don't screw it up any further.
There is a paradox at the heart of the radically egalitarian position of the leftist. He wants equality, and will do anything to enforce it, including denying the truth (and in consequence reality) and violating the liberties of individuals. But to enforce equality he must possess and retain power vastly unequal to the power of those he would 'equalize.' He must go totalitarian. But then the quest for liberation ends in enslavement. This paradox is explained in Money, Power, and Equality.
Every one of us comes into the world endowed with a material and cultural inheritance that we have not earned and can never justify. There are no "takers" and "makers" in our society. All of the takers are makers, and all of the makers are takers. And quite often those who start out with, or end up with, the most stuff have worked considerably less industriously than those who start out and end up with the least.
It is this fact that constitutes the real justification for Marx's Critique of the Gotha Program slogan: "From each according to his ability; to each according to his need."
The first sentence expresses a conjunction of two claims. The first is perfectly obvious. I did not earn my good eyesight or any of the material and cultural benefits that accrued to me upon birth. The same is true of all of us. The second claim, however, is not obvious. The claim that I can never "justify" unearned benefits presupposes that they need justification. It is not at all clear that unearned benefits need justification, or even what 'justification' in this context means. It is true that I didn't do anything to deserve my good eyesight, my intelligence, my being born in Southern California, etc. But I have a right to my natural and cultural endowments despite my not having earned them. It is my right to my two eyes that makes it wrong for the state to take one of my eyes and 'redistribute' it to a sightless person.
Wolff's first sentence, being a conjunction of a truth and what is arguably a falsehood is itself arguably a falsehood. However his argument proceeds, it will be arguably unsound.
As for the second and third sentences, it is trivially true that all takers are makers, and vice versa. Charles Manson is a maker and Bill Gates is a taker. But no substantive juice can be squeezed from a trivial truth such as this. In particular, one cannot validly infer from it the socialist "From each according to his ability; to each according to his need."
Nor can the utility of the taker-maker distinction be impugned by hammering on the trivial truth. To put it mildly, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are much more makers than takers, whereas Manson is much more a taker than a maker.
Wolff is essentially just reiterating the Obama "You didn't build that!" riff, to which I respond:
1. It is true that we have all been helped by others and that no one's success is wholly a matter of his own effort. "No man is an island." No one pulls himself up by his own bootstraps. But of course no conservative denies this. Not even libertarians deny it. What Obama is doing is setting up a straw man that he can easily knock down. He imputes a ridiculous view to the conservative/libertarian and then makes the obvious point that the ridiculous view is ridiculous.Wolff is doing the same thing.
2. Not everyone is lucky enough to have great teachers, but most of us have had some good teachers along the way. Sure. But there is no necessary connection to Big Government. I went to private schools: elementary, high school, college, and graduate school. And my teaching jobs were all at private schools. Obama falsely assumes that only government can provide education. That is not only a false assumption but a mendacious one as well. Obama is certainly aware that there are alternatives to public education such as home-schooling and private schools. There is also autodidacticism: Eric Hoffer, the 'longshoreman philosopher,' didn't even go to elementary school. A relative taught him to read when he was very young but beyond that he is totally self-taught. Of course, he is a rare exception.
There is also the question whether the federal government has any legitimate role to play in education even if one grants (as I do) that state and local governments have a role to play. It is simply nonsense, though in keeping with his Big Government agenda, for Obama to suggest that we need the federal government to provide education. It is also important to point out that the federal Department of Education, first set up in the '60s, has presided over a dramatic decline in the quality of education in the U. S. But that is a huge separate topic.
3. With respect to roads and bridges and infrastructure generally, it is ridiculous to suggest that these products of collective effort are all due to the federal government or even to state and local government. Obama is confusing the products of collective effort with the products of government effort. It is a silly non sequitur to think that because I cannot do something by myself that I need government to help me do it. One can work with others without the intrusion of government. He is also confusing infrastructure with public infrastructure. The first is a genus, the second a species thereof.
4. How did the Internet begin? This from a libertarian site: "The internet indeed began as a typical government program, the ARPANET, designed to share mainframe computing power and to establish a secure military communications network." So the role of the federal government in the genesis of the Internet cannot be denied.
But what do we mean by 'Internet'? Those huge interconnected mainframes? That is the main chunk of Internet infrastructure. But don't forget the peripherals. For the blogger to use that infrastructure he first of all needs a personal computer (PC). Did Big Government provides us with PCs? No. It was guys like Jobs and Wozniak tinkering in the garage. It was private companies like IBM. And let's not forget that it was in the USA and not in Red China or the Soviet Union or North Korea that PCs were developed. Would Jobs and Wozniak and Gates have been motivated to do their hard creative work in a state without a free economy? Did any commie state provide its citizens with PCs? No, but it did provide them with crappy cars like the Trabant and the Yugo. Germans are great engineers. But Communism so hobbled East Germany that the Trabant was the result.
How do you hook up the PC to the Internet? Via the phone line. (Telephony, by the way, was not developed by the government. Remember Alexander Graham Bell and his associates?) To convert digital information into analog information transmissible via phone lines and back again you need a modulator-demodulator, a modem. Who gave us the modem? Government functionaries? Al Gore? Was Obama the mama of the modem? Nope. Dennis C. Hayes invented the PC modem in 1977. In the private sector.
Back in the day we operated from the C prompt using DOS commands. That was before the GUI: graphical user interface. Who invented that? Credit goes to a number of people working for Xerox, Apple, and Microsoft. All in the private sector.
And then there is Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML). Who invented that and with it the World Wide Web (WWW)? Tim Berners-Lee in the private sector. The WWW is not the same as the Internet. The WWW is a huge collection of interconnected hypertext documents accessible via the Internet. The government did not give us the WWW.
Returning now to the blog that I built. I built the blog, but I didn't build the Typepad platform that hosts the blog. Did Al Bore or any other government functionary give us Typepad or Blogger? No. That too is in the private sector.
And then there are the search engines. Did the government give us Google?
Here is a famous passage from Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The German Ideology (ed. C. J. Arthur, New York: International Publishers, 1970, p. 53):
. . . as soon as the distribution of labour comes into being, each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a shepherd, or a critical critic, and must remain so if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood; while in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic.
With all due respect to Dennis Prager, Marx did not envisage a society in which people do no work, but one in which their work was non-alienating and fulfilling. If you have ever worked a factory job where you are required to perfom a mindless repetitive task for low wages for eight or more hours per day, then you should be able to sympathize somewhat with Marx. But the sympathy is not likely to survive a clear recogntion of the absurdity of what Marx is proposing above.
First of all, it is is silly to say that "each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes." Could Saul Kripke have become a diplomat or a chaffeur or an auto mechanic if he wished? PeeWee Herman a furniture mover or Pope? Woody Allen a bronco-buster? Evel Knievel a neurosurgeon? And if Marx has actually done any 'cattle rearing,' he would have soon discovered that he couldn't be successful at it if he did it once in a while when he wasn't in the mood for hunting, fishing, or writing Das Kapital.
Utopian, reality-denying nonsense. Dangerous, murderous nonsense. Incoherence: dictatorship of the proletariat, classless society, worker's paradise. Cuba? North Korea? Communist China? Dictatorship of the dictator (Stalin, Mao, Fidel . . .). Classlessness by reduction of all to one class, that of the impoverished and oppressed.
Karl Marx in his Theses on Feuerbach protested that the philosophers have merely interpreted the world in various ways, when the point is to change it. (Die Philosophen haben die Welt verschieden interpretiert; aber es kommt darauf an, sie zu veraendern.) His century-mate, Soren Kierkegaard, at the opposite end of the political spectrum, but sharing Marx’s disdain for mere theory, might have said that the point was to change oneself, to become oneself. Both thinkers were anti-contemplative and anti-speculative, but in such wildly divergent ways! The social activist Marx denied interiority by trying to merge the individual into his species-being (Gattungswesen) while the existentialist Kierkegaard fetishized interiority: “Truth is subjectivity” (Concluding Unscientific Postscript).