Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Dialectic and History

Hegel articulated a manner of thought called the dialectic. In the dialectic, two opposing forces – a thesis and an antithesis – battle each other to create a synthesis: A mix of the two. This synthesis begets another opposing force – an antithesis – which then battles it to create another synthesis. According to Hegel, this process lead to the betterment of humanity.

Hegel was clearly a brilliant men, and dialectic is a useful concept. However it does not always work out that way. There are some situations in which one force battles the other into extinction and either destroys or oppresses it. There are other situations – such as with Israel and Palestine – where we see an ongoing conflict with no resolution. And then of course there are situations in which the two forces destroy one another or when the two mix to create an outcome that combines the worst in each side.

Marx took the Hegelian concept and used it to create Communism. But while Hegel thought that history through its dialectics was working toward the spiritual betterment of humanity, Marx thought that history through its dialectics was working toward the material betterment of humanity. He simply should have studied history better. When Roman Empire was destroyed by the Vandals, the result was not any kind of progress. The result was an effective extinction of civilization and the Dark Ages that lasted for a thousand years.

The concept of the dialectic has application in all sorts of pursuits. When someone fanatically believes in something that is either untrue or incompletely true, it is worthwhile to introduce an opposing opinion. When one or another group in society does wrong, it is rightful that it be met with its opposite. We see this with both women and men; with both business and labor; with both public power and private power; with both environmentalism and economics; with both science and spirituality. All of the above are capable of both right and wrong; and when either side decides that it is universally right and that the other side is universally wrong, it is rightful that this error be corrected through introduction of the opposite force and its defense of its views and its interests. In such situations, the dialectic really does work for the better.

Whereas there have been many situations in history where the clash of interests resulted either in destruction and enslavement or in a destructive synthesis. No dialectic was accomplished when the Spanish destroyed the Moorean, Aztec and Incan civilizations or when the English colonists decimated the Native Americans and the Australian aborigines. No dialectic was accomplished when Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot – exponents of Marxism - slaughtered the propertied class.

In clashes of cultures, we see potential both for the constructive dialectic that works for good and the destructive synthesis that works for evil. When the English colonized India, they gave India knowledge of democracy and economics, whereas India gave England vast wisdom and beautiful literature. Whereas in the current clash between the Middle East and the West, the results on both sides so far have been deleterious, with the Muslim men teaching Western men to abuse women and the Western women teaching Muslim women to be mean.

Dialectic is a useful concept, and it has always been a useful concept. It does not however describe all of reality. Sometimes clashes of opposite forces work for the better; sometimes for the worse; and sometimes for the extinction of either or both. There is positive synthesis; there is negative synthesis; there is also destruction or mutual destruction. History has had plenty of examples of all of the above, and it is important that it be viewed from that standpoint.


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