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The Dialectic

October 11, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

“He got it from Hegel,” Mr. Sorenson said. “But Marx’s biggest mistake was thinking it would stop.”

Sorenson was a lean, fit, good looking guy with dark blond hair and his tie perpetually tucked between two buttons of his white shirt. This was a habit from his time in the Army ‘reaching out’ to unfriendly, pragmatic Marxists for a couple years as the allies broke out of the Pusan perimeter, landed at Inchon and made the long march back from the Chosin Resevoir during the Korean War.

On this day, he was trying once again to pour some historical understanding into us ‘gifted’ kids at my high school. I think he did a great job. His approach was that you must know the facts: places, dates, names, etc. That got you a ‘D’. Then, you had to be able to think critically about them.

No one ever left his class with any unmerited sense of self-esteem. And, even if we felt good about our work, we’d always learned a few ways it could and should be better next time. His standard for everyone always ratcheted up based on your best performance to date.

For a bright but monumentally lazy teenager like me, that was much more helpful than I felt it to be at the time. I’d found that, luckily for me, facts were easy to remember. It was the thinking about them part that was hard. 

But, back to the Dialectic. It’s simple: Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis. Or: something succeeds, that success breeds the thing’s opposite, then conflict between those two creates a new thing. And the cycle repeats.

In rough terms, Karl Marx thought material things were the measure of humanity. I’m much more in the “man does not live by bread alone” camp. Marx thought that the success of Capitalism with it’s attendant obvious ills would cause workers to rise up and create the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, where all means of production would be jointly owned and goods would flow “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.”

If that sounds like today’s Social Justice, it is, just re-branded Marxist ideology, but now applied to non-workers and parasites as well as workers. But, as Mr. Sorenson pointed out, if a Peoples Republic is achieved in some form, the proletariat’s dictatorship will have it’s own evils and spawn a new Antithesis. Then, the fight between ‘the Party’ and ‘the Revisionists’ will yield some new Synthesis, and so on.

I actually subscribe to much of the concept put forward by Hegel. It seems to me an insight into human nature. I also think it ties in neatly with Voltaire’s insight that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

 I’ve even come up with a couple possible examples for your consideration:

The Modern First World

Thesis: As the power of private companies grew, they were corrupted by it.

Antithesis: After some time, bad companies bred the need to create unions. As union power grew, unions became corrupt.

Synthesis: Conflict between these two created a triad of: generally responsible companies, generally corrupt unions and powerful regulators. This triad is today’s new Thesis.

Industrial Revolution

Thesis: Machines save labor and require advanced skills. Time saved from finding food and shelter can be spent learning skills. For decades, machines have needed much less labor to fulfill needs than is available.

Antithesis: Time formerly used for self improvement has become time for sloth and indolence. Skills to master machines or complexity reside in fewer and fewer people as a fraction of the whole, and most people are less and less inclined to learn them. Therefore, most people expect their self-defined ‘needs’ to be met but are insulated from most practical aspects of cause and effect.

Synthesis: Belief in myth, mysticism, magic and the charlatans who prey off that belief has returned. Arthur C. Clarke wrote: “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” For most people today, almost all technology might as well be magic. This widespread credulity and the time to act on it is today’s Thesis.

Hegel was brilliant and Marx was a fool, as history and the deaths of sixty or seventy million people have proven. Though, Kim Jong Il is still re-running the failed experiment, and others have re-branded the snake oil to sell anew.

We live in interesting times.

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