Friday, January 12, 2018

The Application of the Hegelian Dialectic to the Political Spectrum (Abbreviated)

Written for Issues Magazine

     Unlike the magazine you're reading, the world is not always black-and-white. As history develops, we are learning, more and more, that many concepts exist on a continuum or a spectrum, and not always in starkly-opposing binary pairs.
     Being colorblind to the “gray area” can make it harder to perceive the dichotomies and false dualisms that limit our capacity for abstract thought. But through seeing those false dichotomies for what they are, we can transcend them, and understand the world around us a little bit better.
     A dichotomy refers to a cutting-in-half, and to something being torn asunder; while a false dichotomy is the illusion of separation, difference, or disagreement. Right now, the two major political parties are perpetuating a false dichotomy. They jointly wield a “two-party duopoly”, literally meaning a state of two sellers. And what they're selling is, of course, bullshit. But they need a public who's willing to buy it.
     It is no secret that the Democratic and Republican parties are “two wings of the same imperialist war-hawk”. Through complicity with the Electoral College and first-past-the-post systems, and through the Commission on Presidential Debates, candidates and parties are vetted, to make sure they lie within “Overton Window”. This term refers to the narrow range of debate which the controllers of free speech deem appropriate for the public.
     “Gate-keeping” is a term often applied to such a vetting process. Additionally, each party looks for “controlled opposition”; people in the other party who are similar enough to the original party, that they're willing to tow the party line of their opponents. An example would be a partnership between the Republican Party and the “Blue Dog” Democrats who are moderately conservative on social and/or economic issues.
     The purpose of all this is to create an illusion of disagreement, while avoiding the instability which that tends to cause, by “compromising” on what matters most: the best way to ignore everyone's freedoms and confiscate all of their earnings. This maintains an appearance of a house which is “divided against itself”, yet somehow still standing. Simply put, if the parties fight too much, the country could get invaded, but if they don't fight enough, then people will vote for the other party.
     Aside from keeping We the People in a state of perpetual terror and complicity, these tactics achieve the goal of suppressing dissent; through suppressing free speech, free debate, and free elections. What we have now is the illusion of a voluntary society, while every day we are presented with binary choices and ultimatums, and wondering where all of our other choices went, and why. Whether on the street, in politics, or both, each day we're pressured into answering questions like “Your money or your life?” and “My way or the highway?”, and then we're told that we're responsible for every decision we make.
     While there are clearly too few choices in our elections, democracy and markets both suffer from the choices being too similar to one another. In the market, the feeling of being overwhelmed by having too many choices, has been termed “overchoice”, “choice overload”, and “analysis paralysis”. However, the real problem is not that we have too many choices at the grocery store; it's that the “alternatives” we have to choose from, are all too similar to one another. Preserving a multiplicity of distinct choices is essential to fostering open markets and open elections.
     With all the false dichotomies and false binary oppositions, the stress of trying to make an informed decision when the choices are limited and/or similar, and the limitations on speech and debate, it is getting more difficult to feel that our “choices” are actually our own. The state being profoundly illogical, and having abandoned the people, the people turn to philosophy. That's because it's only through philosophy that “multi-dimensional” abstract thinking becomes possible.
     While it may be helpful to develop schema or systems through which to understand and categorize ideas and things, it is binary, one-dimensional thinking to continuing seeing things in terms of black and white, good vs. evil, Left vs. Right. To see above and beyond the Left-vs.-Right line, on the other hand, is to transcend the planar realm (think Nolan chart) to the third dimension. It is to observe multiple dimensions of political and ideological “space”, and to discover just how limited your world-view once was.

     The works of German philosophers Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, and Rudolf Steiner, all exemplify radically self-aware attempts to confront and overcome dichotomies through reasoning, leading to the creation of third solutions, and sometimes even more. Although Fichte was the first to develop a “dialectical method”, the most popular method is the Hegelian dialectic. These are methods of philosophical discourse which aim to expose and resolve contradictions.
     To describe an initial idea, its opposite, and the idea which results from their resolution, Fichte coined the terms these, antithese, synthese (thesis, antithesis, synthesis). In the dialectical method, the resolution of the contradiction between thesis and antithesis, is referred to as aufheben or aufhebung. These are usually translated as “sublate” and “sublation”, while they literally refer to a “moving” or a “picking up”. Perhaps it helps to think of sublation as “picking up” the parts you like out of two broken philosophies, and putting them together to make a new one.
     The goal of sublation is to suspend, cancel, or abolish two ideas, while at the same time preserving them, thus overcoming and transcending – and perhaps, hopefully, even resolving - the apparent contradiction between them. The dialectical method has been used successfully to expose contradictions and false dichotomies, and to “synthesize” new ideas, through making the thesis and antithesis interact and engage in a discourse with one-another.
     Whether the reader needs more help understanding the dialectical method or the political spectrum, it will be helpful either way to assign the “thesis” and “antithesis” labels to socialism and capitalism. Whichever one chooses as the thesis, these two economic systems – just like the two major parties – are popularly perceived as polar opposites, and through taking away all other options, the people are “given” the binary choice between them. A sublation of the two ideas should take equally from both – whether it takes completely, half from each, or not at all – and result in a synthesis, a man-made idea whose novelty (newness) exposes just how similar the first two ideas actually are to one-another.
     The problem, of course, is figuring out how much – and what - to take from the thesis and antithesis; in this case, deciding what we like best about socialism and capitalism. And naturally, if we want to synthesize a new political philosophy, we must take precautions, so as to avoid the historical problems associated with each. If what we like about socialist and capitalist regimes is their ability to keep order, cling to power, and run people's lives, then our synthesis will tend towards fascism, command-and-control economics, price controls, and rationing. But if what we like about these systems is their histories of promoting freedom and equality, then our synthesis will be more radical, activist, freedom-loving, and perhaps even anarchist.
     Oddly, what this fact exposes, is the possibility of the creation of two syntheses which are polar opposites of one another. This should tell us that the puzzle has not yet been solved. Each the dialectical method, and the lessons of Steiner's “social threefolding”, is helpful when it comes to ensuring that we have more than two bad choices. But if we stop after a single synthesis, then all we have done is replace a false dichotomy with a false trichotomy.
     The “four-fold truth” can only be created through opposition to, and contradiction of, the synthesis. We must develop two or more syntheses, and compare and contrast them using the same dialectical method which gave us the first synthesis. This will result in an antisynthesis; an idea that negates the original synthesis. This forces the first synthesis to look itself in the mirror, so we can know which one is the real evil twin, and shoot it. Synthesis is like Hell: “If you find yourself going through [it], keep going.” Synthesis is not just a one-step process; if you haven't found an antisynthesis, then you haven't finished synthesizing.
     While logic tells us that totalitarians and anarchists hate nothing more than each other, this could very well be just another false contradiction. The public perception of anarchists as bomb-throwing radicals - and some misogynistic, petit-nationalist, and even anti-Semitic statements by radical theorists such as Marx, Proudhon, Bakunin, and Makhno – have caused some people to suggest that anarchists and fascists might unite to spread terror and chaos, disrupt stable democracies, or even infiltrate national politics so as to threaten minorities.
     Going forward, anarchists must avoid the mistakes these men made, and avoid the pitfalls of synthesizing towards power. Synthesis-anarchists (like the “anarchists without adjectives” of the Alliance of the Libertarian Left) have every reason to be wary that organic nationalism, social nationalism, national syndicalism, and National-Anarchism, could channel Right-nationalist sentiment. Anyone who wishes to form a nationalist movement, re-define nationalism, or find a “Third Way” or “Third Position”, should avoid ultra-nationalism, statism, and territorialism, or else it is practically inevitable that people will be forced to participate in it against their will, or else submit to it.
     It is only through philosophy and etymology that we may understand what terms like nationalism, socialism, and private property even are, in any sense other than how they have been historically practiced. While results matter, the intentions and ideals of a philosophy matter every bit as much. Only when we understand the intentions, ideals, and goals of the systems we're describing, may we conscientiously synthesize new ideas that are truly freeing, and neither burdened nor haunted by past failures.
     And once we've formulated these new ideas, we must develop them, so that we may represent and explain them well, so as to differentiate them from their competitors. Only then may voters and consumers make truly voluntary choices, from among distinct, distinguishable alternatives. Then, the market for political half-truths can at least function fairly.

     The modern world is complex; it is no longer enough to simply say “caveat emptor” (“let the buyer beware”), and assume that the market will sort this all out. Some continuing education is imperative. Think of philosophical discourse as a sort of consumer advocacy organization; for people who need help understanding how to stop buying the government's lies.

Written on January 11th, 2018, and
Based on the Original “Extended” Version,
Which Was Originally Written on January 8th and 9th, 2018,
Originally Published on January 10th, 2018,
Edited and Expanded on January 9th, 10th, and 12th, 2018,
and Edited on January 11th, 2018