Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Invisible Civil War Within: Part II

My Big, Fat Greek Philosophy Goes to Germany

Well, not my philosophy, but certainly it belongs to several somebodies out there. The groundwork starts with the Trivium, a fancy way of referring to “the three ways” that formed the basis of medieval liberal arts education. Wikipedia quoted Sister Miriam Joseph as decribing the trivium succinctly as:

Logic is concerned with the thing as-it-is-known,
Grammar is concerned with the thing-as-it-is-symbolized, and
Rhetoric is concerned with the thing-as-it-is-communicated.

Her word Logic is referred to in Greek philosophy as Dialectic. Since I ignore grammar in my writing for the most part, I will stay true to form and ignore that part of the trivium. That leaves us Rhetoric and Dialectic. To keep things moving, I will rely a bit more on Wikipedia to give us the condensed versions of these topics.


In classical philosophy, dialectic (Greek: διαλεκτική) is controversy, that is, the exchange of arguments and counter-arguments respectively advocating propositions (theses) and counter-propositions (antitheses). The outcome of the exercise might not simply be the refutation of one of the relevant points of view, but a synthesis or combination of the opposing assertions, or at least a qualitative transformation in the direction of the dialogue.

It certainly isn’t hard to see how this philosophy plays into politics and current events. Wikipedia continues:

Dialectics are based around three concepts:
1: Everything is made out of opposing forces/opposing sides.
2: Gradual changes lead to turning points, where one force overcomes the other.
3: Change moves in spirals not circles. (Sometimes referred to as "negation of the negation")

Application of these concepts leads to using these opposing sources towards learning the nature of reality through their resolution towards some synthesis that eliminates the contradictions between them. This is a vast oversimplification of course. People don’t spend generations studying things only to finally have them broken down into a few bite-sized concepts. I am not the person to be lecturing on dialectics anyway; I am just building groundwork here and this is "good enough" to keep us going.

Rhetoric, in the barest form, is the art of persuasion. Wikipedia describes classical Rhetoric thusly:

Rhetoric (from Greek ῥήτωρ, rhêtôr, orator, teacher) is generally understood to be the art (Latin) or technique (Greek) of persuasion through the use of oral, visual, or written language. However, this definition has expanded greatly since rhetoric emerged as a field of study in universities.

Well, if that doesn’t sound like politics, nothing does. It also sounds like democracy, propaganda, marriage, childhood, and a host of other things. Rhetoric, in this sense, is a large part of this multi-part post but it plays a silent, guiding role instead of being in the spot light.

This is all fine and good, but how does Dialectic and Rhetoric explain anything other than the deep ponderings of academics and providing explanatory entertainment at debates or public confrontations? Well, it probably doesn’t so if you want to quit reading now I will completely understand. After all, there is bizarre video clip of William Shatner at Atomic Romance that is more entertaining than all this poppycock. However, it IS leading somewhere I promise you.

We need to flash ahead several centuries past the Greek era to somewhere around the late 18th century/early 19th century to see the dialectic undergo a revival in Germany by two different men. The first one was a philosopher named Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. The Hegelian Dialectic is a variant of the original Greek form. Once again, I rely on Wikipedia to distill things a bit for us (skip it if it gets too bogged down, but come back it later):

Hegelian dialectic, usually presented in a threefold manner, was stated by Heinrich Moritz Chalybäus as comprising three dialectical stages of development: a thesis, giving rise to its reaction, an antithesis which contradicts or negates the thesis, and the tension between the two being resolved by means of a synthesis. This model is named after Hegel but he rarely used these terms himself. Rather it is due to Fichte.
In the Logic, for instance, Hegel describes a dialectic of existence: first, existence must be posited as pure Being (Sein); but pure Being, upon examination, is found to be indistinguishable from Nothing (Nichts). When it is realized that what is coming into being is, at the same time, also returning to nothing (consider life: old organisms die as new organisms are created or born), both Being and Nothing are united as Becoming.

As in the Socratic dialectic, Hegel claimed to proceed by making implicit contradictions explicit: each stage of the process is the product of contradictions inherent or implicit in the preceding stage. For Hegel, the whole of history is one tremendous dialectic, major stages of which chart a progression from self-alienation as slavery to self-unification and realization as the rational, constitutional state of free and equal citizens.

I quoted a rather long section to show that the Hegelian dialectic is subject to a number of interpretations and it isn’t a cut-and-dried philosophical thesis. Even Wikipedia is all over the place on this one. They weren’t the only ones; so was that great Western anti-hero Karl Marx.

Marx took a part of Hegel’s dialectic, turned it on its head and created his own dialectic. The Marx Dialectic was one of the underpinnings of his concept of dialectical materialism; a main tenet of Communism (and we all know how well THAT turned out). Marx claimed that his dialectic was the direct opposite of Hegel’s. Marx stated:

"My dialectic method is not only different from the Hegelian, but is its direct opposite. To Hegel, the life-process of the human brain, i.e., the process of thinking, which, under the name of 'the Idea,' he even transforms into an independent subject, is the demiurgos of the real world, and the real world is only the external, phenomenal form of 'the Idea.' With me, on the contrary, the ideal is nothing else than the material world reflected by the human mind, and translated into forms of thought."

(FYI: I think “demiurgos” refers to the creation of worlds)

This is an important point because some schools of modern political thought are based on an assumption that these two dialectics are natural offshoots of one another. I don’t think they are, but neither do I reject the premises of these schools of thought because I think might be on the track of something.

However, that is a topic for another day. If, on that day, I don’t start relating this ephemera to the Church of What’s Happening Now, you can smite me with mighty insults and general verbal abuse.

For you Heavy Metal fans, here is a band called Trivium...


ladybug said...

Well, at least I didn't have to pay $400 per unit hour for that info!

But seriously, I really like how you've presented some basic philosophical underpinnings of Western thought. It's clear there is lack of knowledge in this area, and I appreciate learning new things!

The Moody Minstrel said...

Where do Zeno's paradoxes fit in with all of this?

Actually, as it turns out, Aristotle called Zeno the "father of the dialectic".

That's why this multi-part is really an illusion. Before you get to your point, you first have to complete half of that point, and so on. Or has calculus proven that wrong?


Don Snabulus said...


You have to put up with me. That must be worth close to $400/hr.


I will take the engineer view...

A mathematician and an engineer agree to a psychological experiment. The mathematician is put in a chair in a large empty room and a beautiful naked woman is placed on a bed at the other end of the room. The psychologist explains, "You are to remain in your chair. Every five minutes, I will move your chair to a position halfway between its current location and the woman on the bed." The mathematician looks at the psychologist in disgust. "What? I'm not going to go through this. You know I'll never reach the bed!" And he gets up and storms out. The psychologist makes a note on his clipboard and ushers the engineer in. He explains the situation, and the engineer's eyes light up and he starts drooling. The psychologist is a bit confused. "Don't you realize that you'll never reach her?" The engineer smiles and replied, "Of course! But I'll get close enough for all practical purposes!"

Dean Wormer said...

With regards to the dialectic and your quote-

Dialectics are based around three concepts:
1: Everything is made out of opposing forces/opposing sides.
2: Gradual changes lead to turning points, where one force overcomes the other.
3: Change moves in spirals not circles. (Sometimes referred to as "negation of the negation")

Often when we speak of the elites that govern our society (or the Freemasons if you will :) ) we sometimes characterize them as being devious in their self-interest but intellectually lazy.

I would say that the elites are anything but intellectually lazy. They're certainly individuals that subscribe to a dialectic world view and use it to their own ends. The status quo is not the calcification of a more conservative philosophy into the society but the calicification of the conflict between the conservative and progressive points of view.

The elites try to use all means at their disposal to keep the conflict going because they recognize that the resolution of the conflict will probably not work out too well for them and that the conflict itself keep the masses occupied.

Just my humble (and unworthy) riff off of what's turning out to be a terrific series of posts, don.

DewKid said...

He can move the chair all he wants, I'm married.

Dave said...

I'll take the conservative free market point of view, if it doesn't produce an income that I can use to survive, its a hobby. Nothing against hobbies mind you, I have several. However, philosophy, no matter how well intended, doesn't hold a candle to hard work, and producing wealth.

I enjoy philosophizing. I like to learn new ideas, and I expose my mind to a never ending flow of political dialogue which has no effect on me personally what-so-ever. THat is frustrating at times, because I would really like to change the course of history with my ideas. However, I lack the desire to dedicate myself to promoting those ideas to such an extent that I could obtain a political office and bring about true change.

Instead, I have to a point, relied on the Internet to modify public opinion in some small way to get more people to think like me.

Trouble is, NO ONE thinks like I do. If I could find just one woman who thought like I did, I would marry her instantly.

By the way, asteroid TU24 may have been a lot closer to us than was given, and that some advanced craft built by Lockheed Martin may have actually intercepted the object in an attempt to alter its course.

For more you would have to be an avid Coast to Coast AM listener.

Just an update for ya'll

The Moody Minstrel said...

However, philosophy, no matter how well intended, doesn't hold a candle to hard work, and producing wealth.


What percentage of wealthy people in the world actually worked to produce it rather than simply inheriting the fruits of someone else's success?

ladybug said...

What percentage of wealthy people in the world actually worked to produce it rather than simply inheriting the fruits of someone else's success?

Second you on that. As an employee of a private school I saw plenty of folks who had their houses, vacations, and children's tuition paid by very wealthy grandparents. There were some who worked, like doctors, lawyers & the Intel/Nike crowd...but a significant portion of them and the "self-employed" parents were nothing but parasites (IMHO) on the actual work performed by their subordinates/"employees".

In fact many of them talked openly & freely about how to avoid work, get the corner office (i.e., screw their fellow back-stabbing co-workers), and who had the cheapest, quietest gardeners/"nannys"/houskeepers (quick guess, illegals??!).

The outrageous abuses of redneck/black urban poor are paraded around the media (they don't work! They take drugs! They spend money on video games rather then on their children's teeth!)...wonder how they got this sense of entitlement?

"The fish rots from the head down" I always say...

DewKid said...

MM - I believe the answer to your question is that most (at least 80%) of today's "wealthy" are 1st generation, which indicates they worked for it. Remember too, that for every wealthy entrepreneur, you've got a whole bunch of people helping them make money, and that means jobs for the rest of us.

Dave said...

Dittoes to what Dewkid said. I should have said honest hard work, the rest are cheaters.

Don Snabulus said...

DK & Dave,

Unfortunately, the article linked is behind a registration barrier (which I have no desire in registering for). I don't think anyone here is denying that entrepreneurs exist and that they have the ability to create jobs through their business acumen (some of these jobs are even in America!). My business is owned by an entrepreneur that has invested her whole business in my ability to write and manage software.

While I might debate the 80% figure, I don't really need to because the question being explored here is whether there exist a very small minority who are trying to exert an inordinate amount of power over our lives in contravention of our Constitution and, depending on who you listen to, the sovereignty of America. The assertion from some is that few of this group are part of that first generation crowd.

I don't think anyone denies that there are plenty of cheaters, but there are also plenty of good people who are having difficulties through no fault of their own that churches and NGOs seem unable to reach. Either charities need to help the citizenry kick it up about 5 notches or the government needs to be involved. It doesn't really matter, but real needs are not currently being met.

Swinebread said...

The wealthy have gotten plenty of breaks the last few years and there has been more than enough corporate welfare for outsourcing companies. It’s time to take that entrepreneurial sprit and invest in the American people and our infrastructure.

Haves and the Have mores are toppling this country and the creation of a few McJobs isn’t helping the economy in the long run.

Pandabonium said...

Dave said "if it doesn't produce an income that I can use to survive, its a hobby."

That isn't a conservative viewpoint, that's the IRS definition.

and "However, philosophy, no matter how well intended, doesn't hold a candle to hard work, and producing wealth."

Which position itself is in fact a philosophical one - brought to the America by the Protestants who rather than produced wealth, largely stole it from the lands and peoples they conquered and those that they enslaved.

But we are all, in the industrialized world, the benefactors of the enormous energy windfall of fossil fuels which were the result, not of human industry, but of tens of millions of years of natural processes. A fact humans are about to discover the hard way as their demand for it exceeds their ability to access it.

Al Capone was first generation wealth as well.