Sunday, May 27, 2007

Believers and Non-Believers.

"Neither God nor Master!" is an old anarchist slogan first stated by Bakunin, and a mighty fine one. But how does this jibe with the many anarchists, like Leo Tolstoy and Dorothy Day who were believers? Then again, how about the anarcho-pagans and their Goddess? How can such two widely divergent viewpoints be reconciled? Or can they be reconciled?

I say they can be reconciled to a degree. First off, what does one exactly mean by "God" ? For Bakunin, God was a vengeful authoritarian monster, a purely imaginary and human creation modeled upon earthy despots – a tyrant of infinite dimensions – one that had to be overthrown to liberate humanity. As long as people were beholden to such a horrible fantasy, they were in mental and spiritual chains and thus incapable of liberating themselves from their human masters.

This cruel monster is the God of religious "fundamentalists" everywhere, and to this extent Bakunin was absolutely right. But talk to the anarcho-believers, and this is definitely not how they see God. For them the Divine is benevolent, agree with Bakunin that the Monster is a human creation and reject it. Tangentially, many proto-anarchist Gnostics saw the Old Testament God - the one who creates, murders, curses and destroys seemingly in fits of psychopathic or infantile folly, not as God, but as Satan.

Fine, we now have an evil God and a kind one, and the anarcho-believers follow the latter. Such a God is not a "master" anymore than the eco-system is a "master". It just is and one goes with it, or one does not. If you don't go with it, you are "punished" by your own foolish behavior and not by some Super Cop In The Sky, in the same way we are being "punished" by Global Warming for the stupidity of polluting the atmosphere.

Neither Evil, nor Master, but surely the God concept is still irrational and a purely human invention? Maybe our believer comrades have a screw loose somewhere in wanting to believe in this fiction?

To answer this query we have to turn to the German American libertarian socialist philosopher Joseph Dietzgen, (1) who discovered the underlying materialist aspect of the God concept. A dialectical philosopher, he sought the rational kernel within all thought and belief. For Dietzgen, the basis of all rational thought was the interconnectedness and unity of all existence, also known by philosophers as the Absolute, the Universe or the Totality. It is this unity of existence that is the materialist basis of the God concept, or as he put it, ...the all-perfect Being, with the conception of God, with the Substance of Spinoza, with the "thing in itself" of Kant, and with the Absolute of Hegel, has its good reason in the fact that the sober conception of the Universe as the All-One with nothing above or outside or alongside of it, is the first postulate of a skilled and consistent mode of thinking... (2)

When you think about it, the Totality of Existence or the Universe does have the classic attributions of God – it is infinite, it is greater than anything else, and since everything is interconnected and every action ultimately effects every aspect, one can even stretch the notion to include a degree of omniscience. The basic idea is not wrong, it is what people do with it. The reification and anthropomorphication of the Totality creates the God that atheists deny...the infinite, eternal, is not personal, but objective. (3) [my emphasis]

The Totality is not too far removed from the Tao, or for that matter, (even though they have become reified) Dharma, Karma and Rita of Hinduism and Buddhism. And is not The Great Spirit of the First Nations more of a Creative Force-Totality than the personal God of the Abrahamic religions?

Now, I agree that the folks who desire a personal God, let alone those who crave a Celestial Monster to bully them, will not find the Totality satisfying, and this problem I cannot even begin to resolve. But what it ought to do, is make non-believers more sympathetic to believer comrades and to realize that both of us share a certain spiritual-philosophical common ground.

1. The Joseph Dietzgen Page

2. Joseph Dietzgen, Some of the Philosophical Essays, p. 274

3. Joseph Dietzgen, Popular Outcome of Philosophy, p. 437

This has been published in the Carnival of Anarchy

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Myth Of Idealism

I have been very busy of late, hence no postings for the last few weeks, but now things are back to normal...

I have never been an idealist. A favorite tactic of the upholders of the status quo is to drag out the old story of the person who was once "young and idealistic" but has now "grown up" and is now "practical and pragmatic" – ie ,who has adopted the conformist and retrograde ideology of the speaker. Another aspect, is to speak of socialists of whatever age as "left-wing idealists". It all boils down to seeing leftists as some sort of soft-hearted (and soft-headed) dreamers working for causes because of some inner need, isolated from the lives they actually live.

True, some people who come from privilege may see them selves as idealists, working out of guilt or compassion for causes which are not theirs. But in the main, most of us are driven more by a sense of enlightened self-interest rather than fuzzy idealism. This is something the reactionary cannot understand, indeed, will not understand. For the apologist of corporate power, blinded by a narrow and irrational ideology, everything happens in isolation. It does not matter if the corporate state drives masses of people into poverty, the tragic results are excused by claiming personal failure on the part of the victims. It does not matter if we destroy the environment in a quest for corporate profits, the negative consequences, such as global warming, are merely coincidental.

The socialist, the anarchist, indeed thinking people of any ideology, do not see reality in dislocated, isolated lumps, but, as it is in reality – as interconnected systems. Thus, what seems as "idealism", such as trying to preserve a forest 3000 miles away, organize a farmers coop in Africa or supporting a workers struggle in Mexico, is in fact, a form of self-interest. That forest produces oxygen for all of us, and the more poverty and oppression exists, the more likely we are to be impoverished and abused ourselves. The more sucessful others are, the more successful we might be. The old IWW slogan "an injury to one, is an injury to all" encapsulates this truth so well.

The reactionaries atomistic and false world view isn't their only (deliberate) misunderstanding giving rise to the myth of idealism. There is also their over-emphasis upon competition. Seeing the world in a dog-eat-dog "struggle for survival" mode does not make for an easier life. In most instances, it is far easier to get tasks accomplished in a cooperatively rather than everyone struggling against each other, not to mention being bullied into acting in a co-ordinated manner, seemingly the only other alternative allowed with the corporate mentality. Hence, those of us who opt for cooperation, self-management and voluntary effort are the practical ones and the "survival of the fittest" types are the practitioners of idealism, albeit a most perverse variety. (*)

(*) This is not to say that cooperation, self-management and voluntarism are always easy in a society where most are indoctrinated from birth into a short-sighted and narcissistic false individualism.

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