A perspective on social change
As far as I can work out, post-modernism acknowledges the different “truths” of differing perspectives and maintains a certain detachment to be able to observe these different “truths” as equally valid in their context. There is much examination of the “discourse” within and between these independent truths.
Conversely, Structuralism appeals to universal notions of truth such as social equality, human rights or a range of other values and principles that transcend any cultural relativism or pluralism. Structuralism and its related philosophy humanism propose notions of universal humanity that, while manifesting differently in different cultural circumstances, contains an essential moral and value framework related in one way or another to life and liberty.
The post modernists correctly critique the structuralists by saying that their notions of universal humanity are simply constructions of a cultural, sexual, class and ethnic framework specific to the structuralists social history and environment.
The structuralist correctly critique the post modernists as essentially believing in nothing, having no moral or value framework that can distinguish between “right” and “wrong”. Post modernism is the academic parallel of Buddhism – nothing is real.
I say there is a universal truth – a natural law that manifests not only in human history but also in ecological processes. I speak of dialecticism. I declare that I have never read Hegel so my notion of dialecticism probably has no bearing on traditional dialectical theory. Marx’s notion of “the midwives of history” is interesting though.
Dialecticism is basically the process of dynamic friction between a thesis and an antithesis – two separate (but not necessarily opposing) historical entities. For example, capitalists and the working class, men and women or sunshine and rain, sperm and ova. From the dynamic friction from the thesis and anti thesis emerges a synthesis – the natural and inevitable consequence of the interface of the differing forces.This synthesis is a material, historical reality every bit as much as the thesis and antithesis. It exists in its own right and on its own terms and is not defined by or rooted in either the thesis or antithesis.The synthesis is unplanned and unexpected. Historical and political change occurs through the confluence of many competing forces, none of whom actually plan or direct the nature of the change.
It seems to me that all radical political philosophy in Australia, with the exception of indigenous philosophy, is essentially to build a thesis or an antithesis with no attention to a synthesis. We construct our culturally determined illusion, reinforce it, and try to build it to a point where it can overpower the dominant status-quo paradigms.
We try to build a big influential green movement or women’s movement or workers movement in the hope that one day we will be powerful enough to create real change. Until that point of power our primary task is to describe and recruit to our own paradigm. We haggle and compromise to achieve the lesser of two evils of tangential and trivial issues within public debate, deluding ourselves that every small and irrelevant step is still a small step forward.
What is missing in the modus operandi of social change movements is the universal capacity and perspective of transcendence – the ability to take a detached observer perspective of all three dialectical elements while being an active participant in one of the elements (thesis or antithesis).
In this transcendent perspective we are aware of not only our own culturally constructed illusions by way of self examination, we are also aware of the culturally constructed illusions of those we find ourselves in creative friction with.
We are aware of the superficiality and delusional nature of the manifested conflict. Such a perspective on war is easy – what political objectives could ever justify such brutality? The rhetoric and morality of the warmongers displays itself as an obvious delusion. But what about the more subtle illusions a bit closer to home? What about our own self constructed moral frameworks?
Nobody has ever yet come up with empirical evidence that our dream state is not historical reality and our waking state is not chemical and electrical impulses creating a hallucination that we, through habit and tolerance alone, perceive as our primary reality and consciousness. On the basis of this, I suggest that we can never take such petty notions of “right” and “wrong” too seriously as a basis of our own identity as it is highly likely that right, wrong, identity and the circumstances that we apply right and wrong to are all illusions, or at least realities that we are almost totally ignorant of and have created illusions to represent these unknown realities.
Sounding a bit like “deep-post-modernism” now hey? Perhaps Buddhism is “D.P.M.”? However the budhist dialectic of yin and yang has the third element of the circle in which yin and yang exist, taking it that one step beyond post-modernism which only identifies disconnected elements or discourses.
However where Buddhism and post modernism connect is the notion of nothingness – nothing is real, or more precisely in the case of Buddhism, nothing is the reality.This nothingness is static, a state of equilibrium, a neutrality -which I suggest is a matter of escapism not enlightenment. This nothingness is a yearning for relief, a desire for the removal of the friction and as such represents a similar psychological matrix as “The Great Australian Dream” to relax in the suburbs with a labrador and escape the harsh realities “out there”.
Apparently Buddhism is the fastest growing religion in Australia. I am not surprised that its popularity coincides with the rise of academic post modernism and the explosion in the Australian real estate market.
So beyond Buddhism to neo-dialecticism (its really an ancient concept but I like the sound of “neo-dialecticism”, it distinguishes it from Hegel and Marx too). Transcendence or enlightenment is the stripping away of illusion, our own and others. Once the illusions are shed we are not left with “nothing”, we are left with “everything”. This is not a semantic interplay between two concepts of the infinite. One is dead and static, the other alive and volatile.
Illusions make us blind, we perceive them rather than what is really manifesting in front of our nose, on a personal level as well as a mass political level. The enlightenment of stripping away illusions is a starting point, a “rebirth”, not the end of the journey, the aspirational state or the extinguishment of motivation.
Back to the dialectic.Transcending the three elements and knowing that the synthesis, the outcome, is really beyond our control, the best thing for us to do is to throw petrol on the fire of the conflict between thesis and antithesis and prepare for the onset of the synthesis, because we know it is coming.
Although the synthesis will unfold of it own design, if we are aware of it and watch it unfold during the friction we can see which way the wind is blowing and change our direction if necessary. When we see it manifest we can become involved in its unfolding as active participants which will logically and naturally involve a new dialectic emerging.