Archive for the 'world view' Category

On the correlation between Noel Pearson’s and Mao Zedong’s dialectical outlook

I’m not saying that Pearson has even read Mao. I wouldn’t know. I suspect he hasn’t because he has invented his own terminology, which is different from classical marxist terminology. This is not unusual. Dialectics has been discovered and rediscovered many times in parallel fashion. eg. quite a few scientists employ some sort of dialectical method.

Mao’s explanation of dialectics is the clearest that I’m aware of. Partly because of that I see it as a useful exercise to outline the connection between Pearson’s philosophy and Mao’s. The fact that Pearson has invented his own independent terminology – and in all likelihood has come to his philosophy by a different pathway – makes the comparison all the  more interesting. “Great minds think alike” – or something like that.

Most of the quotations below come from the following two essays:

White guilt, victimhood and the quest for a radical centre by Noel Pearson (2007)
On Contradiction by Mao Zedong (1937)

Dialectics as the way in which things develop


The fundamental cause of the development of a thing is not external but internal; it lies in the contradictoriness within the thing

Qualitatively different contradictions can only be resolved by qualitatively different methods

This dialectical world outlook teaches us primarily how to observe and analyse the movement of opposites in different things and, on the basis of such analysis, to indicate the methods for resolving contradictions


My contentions are these. First, it is important to correctly identify the fundamental dialectical tensions that define human policy and political struggle. Second, the resolution of each of these tensions lies in their dialectical synthesis, and not through the absolute triumph of one side of a struggle or a weak compromise. Third, other subsidiary struggles fall out of these classical conflicts. Fourth, complexity arises because questions of human policy are not confined to the neat and isolated categories of a ten‐point list. Rather, they involve a number of tensions simultaneously

Importance of all sided, concrete analysis and the identification of the principal contradiction


Lenin … said that the most essential thing in Marxism, the living soul of Marxism, is the concrete analysis of concrete conditions … Without concrete analysis there can be no knowledge of the particularity of any contradiction

Lenin said:

“… in order really to know an object we must embrace, study, all its sides, all connections and “mediations”. We shall never achieve this completely, but the demand for all-sidedness is a safeguard against mistakes and rigidity”

There are many contradictions in the process of development of a complex thing, and one of them is necessarily the principal contradiction whose existence and development determine or influence the existence and development of the other contradictions … in studying any complex process in which there are two or more contradictions, we must devote every effort to finding its principal contradiction

Aboriginal people are faced with a wide variety of problems – substance abuse,  dependency on passive welfare, racism, dispossession and trauma.

Out of this variety of issues Pearson identifies the main problems of the aboriginal people as substance abuse and dependency on passive welfare

He doesn’t reject or dismiss the importance other problems (racism, dispossession and trauma) but he does distinguish clearly between the current main problems and the longer term historical legacy, putting these latter problems in a secondary position for now.

“When abusive behaviour is deeply entrenched in our communities it is not the material destitution , the social ills and historical legacy that fuel the abuse epidemics. It is the epidemics that perpetuate themselves.”
On the human right to misery, mass incarceration and early death (October 2001).

This analysis gives hope and real guidance because it means aboriginal and white people can get on with tackling real and urgent issues rather than becoming passive (paralysed by the complexity) and possibly guilty about a huge morass of unresolved issues. Pearson rejects “symptom theory thinking”, that the main reason for substance abuse is the despair, hopelessness, social dislocation of aboriginal communities and other “underlying causes”. He identifies such thinking as a real problem, causing paralysis.

Identity of opposites (Mao); pyramid and radical centre (Pearson)

Mao’s identity of opposites:

Lenin said:

“Dialectics is the teaching which shows how opposites can be and how they happen to be (how they become) identical–under what conditions they are identical, transforming themselves into one another,–why the human mind should take these opposites not as dead, rigid, but as living, conditional, mobile, transforming themselves into one another”

It is only the reactionary ruling classes of the past and present and the metaphysicians in their service who regard opposites not as living, conditional, mobile and transforming themselves into one another, but as dead and rigid, and they propagate this fallacy everywhere to delude the masses of the people, thus seeking to perpetuate their rule

Pearson’s pyramid and radical centre metaphors:

We are prisoners of our metaphors: by thinking of realism/pragmatism and idealism as opposite ends of a two‐dimensional plane, we see leaders inclining to one side or the other. The naïve and indignant yaw towards ideals and get nowhere, but their souls remain pure. The cold‐eyed and impatient pride themselves in their lack of romance and emotional foolishness: pragmatism and a remorseless Kissinger‐esque grasp of power make winning and survival the main prize every time. Those who harbour ideals but who need to work within the parameters of real power (as opposed to simply cloaking lazy capitulation under the easy mantle of righteous impotence) end up splitting the difference somewhere between ideals and reality. This is called compromise. And it is all too often of a low denominator.

I prefer a pyramid metaphor of leadership, with one side being realism and the other idealism, and the quality of leadership dependent on how closely the two sides are brought together. The apex of leadership is the point where the two sides meet. The highest ideals in the affairs of humans on Earth are realised when leadership strives to secure them through close attention to reality. Lofty idealism without pragmatism is worthless. What is pragmatism without ideals? At best it is management, but not leadership …

Idealism and realism in leadership do not constitute a zero‐sum game. This is not about securing a false compromise. It need not be a simple trade‐off where one splits the difference. The best leadership occurs at the point of highest tension between ideals and reality. This is the radical centre. If the idealism is weaker than the realism, then optimum leadership cannot be achieved. And vice versa. The radical centre is achieved when both are strong

Development is uneven, equilibrium is always temporary


In any contradiction the development of the contradictory aspects is uneven. Sometimes they seem to be in equilibrium, which is however only temporary and relative, while unevenness is basic. Of the two contradictory aspects, one must be principal and the other secondary. The principal aspect is the one playing the leading role in the contradiction. The nature of a thing is determined mainly by the principal aspect of a contradiction, the aspect which has gained the dominant position…. Nothing in this world develops absolutely evenly; we must oppose the theory of even development or the theory of equilibrium


“… it is difficult for the same actor to play several roles in the dialectical process. It is possible for the same person to have an overall intellectual analysis, but practical politics and the production of theory are not the same thing. For example, in a socially and economically successful country, there is competition between interests and forces which represent capitalist principles on the one hand, organisations which represent communal and socialist ideas on the other, and inspired political leaders who perform the synthesis between these contradictions. It is possible for an individual to have an intellectual appreciation of this, but that individual can hardly play all three roles …

I will finish by setting out some reflections on my experience of driving an agenda of rights and responsibilities in Indigenous policy. By the end of the last millennium, it was not possible to continue in this area without facing up to the gaping responsibility deficit. It was a deficit of which I had long been aware, but the prevailing currents were averse to this particular R word. Two other Rs – rights and reconciliation – were ruling. I have never doubted the correctness of our claim to rights; I have made a contribution to the struggle for the rights of my people in Cape York Peninsula, and have continued this contribution. Our rights to our traditional lands, to our languages and our cultures, our identities and traditions are a constant part of our work for a better future for our people.

When I decided that we could no longer go on without saying that our people held responsibilities as well as rights, is was not a repudiation of rights. It was just that all of the talk, all the advocacy, all the analysis, all the leadership, and all the policy and politics was about rights. There was no talk about responsibility. So when we talked about child malnutrition, we spoke of the rights of the children and the responsibility of governments, but we didn’t talk about the responsibilities of parents. We didn’t ask “how come children are malnourished?” It can’t be because the parents have no money, because in Australia the government provides money to all those who don’t have an income. It can’t be because there is no food available – there are shops in these communities where the malnourished children live, as well as bush food.

There was a widespread refusal to even think about responsibility. If there were no practical consequences to our failure to talk about responsibility – and strong strategic reasons not to make the responsibility concession to the political right – then this situation could have continued. But there are practical consequences galore! It is simply not possible to see how any social or economic problem can be solved, or opportunity seized, if we don’t first accept responsibility. No progress can be made without filling the gaping deficit.

My view is that the main reason why people have refused (and still refuse) to talk about responsibility is not for strong strategic reasons, but because they actually believe that better health and better education and better housing and better life expectancy and better survival of traditional languages are rights that can be enjoyed if other people – specifically governments, but also the wider society – take the necessary actions to make them materialise. It amounts to this absurdity: my rights depend on you fulfilling your responsibilities to me. Who in world history has ever been saved by anyone in the way we hope whitefellas will save our people?”

Any thoughts about these and / or other principles of dialectical philosophy and how they can or should be applied to the current local or world situation? eg. What is the principal contradiction in the world today?

ancient myths and their corollaries

Something to think about for world environment day

Alston Chase:

To understand why the ecosystem idea is so broadly popular and so seldom questioned, we must go deeper than politics, to consider the underlying culture, or deep structure of society … Sometimes cultures become dysfunctional …

Ancient Myth #1: There is a balance of nature

Modern Corollary #1a: Ecosystems are “self regulating” and, so long as left undisturbed, maintain themselves in balance.

Modern Corollary #1b: Since ecosystems regulate themselves, leaving them alone is the best way to preserve them.

Ancient Myth #2: Nature can be “healthy” or “unhealthy”

An old notion, derived from the supposition that nature is like the human body.

Modern Corollary #2a: The goal of preservation policy should be to maintain ecosystem health, which is defined as ecosystem balance.

Ancient Myth #3: In the beginning, all was perfect.

This is the millennia old belief in a Garden of Eden or Golden Age. It has many corollaries, including:

Modern Corollary #3a: Existing species can disappear, but new ones cannot be made; hence, “biodiversity” can only decline.

Modern Corollary #3b: “Native species” are good for the environment, “exotic” species are bad for the environment

Modern Corollary #3c: Native peoples never harmed or altered the environment, but modern peoples, especially technological societies, inevitably damage it.

Modern Corollary #3d: The goal of preservation should be to “reestablish original conditions”

Ancient Myth #4: Nature is sacred

This pantheistic supposition, for centuries embraced by many cultures around the globe, was introduced to the European settlers of North America via Puritan theology, whose views of nature were, in turn, infused by German romantics and religious writers

Modern Corollary #4a: Sound environmentalism must rest on a “biocentric” point of view, not on an anthropocentric one.

– Alston Chase. In a Dark Wood: Introduction to the 2001 Transaction Edition

This website kills fascists!

Right-wing conservative columnist, Andrew Bolt, has perplexed some of his followers by putting on his site a youtube clip of Woody Guthrie singing “This Land is your Land”. Another right-wing site, Just Grounds Community , has commented on those conservatives who do not have the knowledge of history or the “empathy” to understand why and how Guthrie supported socialism and sympathized with communism during the 1930s. I’m not precisely sure where JGC is coming from but they certainly make sense in their understanding that Woody Guthrie would not have been impressed with the pseudo-left of today – “the two bit hustlers… the present day chancers and fuzzy thinkers who would claim his endorsement”.

I sometimes wonder how many people identify with the right – the libertarian right in particular – because what passes for ‘the left’ is so appallingly unworthy of support.

Continue reading ‘This website kills fascists!’

Postone’s analysis of the malaise of the “left”

History and Helplessness: Mass Mobilization and Contemporary Forms of Anticapitalism by Moishe Postone (pdf 18pp)

This article is an analysis of the reasons behind the malaise of the Left which has in common some of the themes discussed at this site as well as raising some new angles

For example, the following quote outlines the superficiality of the reflexive anti-Americanism of many on the “left” in response to the 9/11 attacks:

“Let me elaborate by first turning briefly to the ways in which many liberals and progressives responded to the attack of September 11. The most general argument made was that the action, as horrible as it may have been, had to be understood as a reaction to American policies, especially in the Middle East. While it is the case that terrorist violence should be understood as political (and not simply as an irrational act), the understanding of the politics of violence expressed by such arguments is, nevertheless, utterly inadequate. Such violence is understood as a reaction of the insulted, injured, and downtrodden, not as an action. While the violence itself is not necessarily affirmed, the politics of the specific form of violence committed are rarely interrogated. Instead, the violence is explained (and at times implicitly justified) as a response. Within this schema, there is only one actor in the world: the United States.

This sort of argument focuses on the grievances of those who carry out such actions without engaging the framework of meaning within which those grievances are expressed. The actions that flow from those meanings are taken simply as expressions of anger, however unfortunate. Such arguments neither interrogate the understanding of the world that motivated this violence nor critically analyze the sort of politics implied by violence directed intentionally against civilians. Consequently, such arguments can become implicitly apologetic rather than political; they make little attempt to understand the strategic calculations involved — not so much of the bombers as of their handlers — and ignore issues of ideology. It is a serious error, for example, to interpret the felt grievances underlying a movement like al-Qaeda in narrow terms, as an immediate reaction to American policies and Israeli policies. This ignores too many other dimensions of the new jihadism. For example, when Osama bin Laden speaks of the blow inflicted on the Muslims eighty years ago, he is not referring to the founding of the state of Israel but to the abolition of the caliphate (and, hence, of the purported unity of the Muslim world) by Ataturk in 1924 — long before the United States was involved in the Middle East and before Israel was established. It is noteworthy that the vision he
expresses is more global than local, which is one of the salient features of the new jihadism, in terms of both the struggles it supports (transforming them into manifestations of a single struggle) and its driving ideology. And an important aspect of the global character of that ideology has been anti-Semitism.

Addressing anti-Semitism is crucially important when considering issues of globalization and antiglobalization, even if it can be subject to misunderstandings because of the degree to which the charge of anti-Semitism has been used as an ideology of legitimation by Israeli regimes in order to discredit all serious criticisms of Israeli policies. It is certainly possible to formulate a fundamental critique of those policies that is not anti-Semitic, and, indeed, many such critiques have been formulated. On the other hand, criticism of Israel should not blind one to the existence today of widespread and virulent anti-Semitism in the Arab/Muslim world. As I will try to elaborate, anti-Semitism poses a very determinate problem for the Left.”

Continue reading ‘Postone’s analysis of the malaise of the “left”’

Yes, Clive, “all that is solid melts into air”, you just don’t get it…

People coming here in response to David’s article in the Australian today (Green Wowser is no Leftie), may also be interested in an article about Hamilton that I wrote for Spiked last year : “Liberal Tyranny on the World Wide Web

Also,   few months ago it was the 40th anniversary of Woodstock so the media was full of articles about it.   Hamilton wrote one which he entitled  “From Free Love to Narcicissm”.  I began drafting a response to it, but as is fairly usual for me, I became  distracted by other stuff before I finished it.   However it seems appropriate to publish what I had written up to the time I stopped, rather than leave it languishing on my hard drive.  It’s not really finished, and should really be edited a bit …. but better to just put it here than wait till I  have the time and inclination to do any more work on it .   So here it is:


The recent anniversary of Woodstock has prompted various public intellectuals to whip up  media pieces on the legacy of the ’60’s era. I was particularly irritated by Clive Hamilton’s piece “From Free Love to Narcissism“, published in Crikey. But I’ve since noticed the similarity between his and several other articles. On some levels they could have been woven from the same cloth.

It’s especially irritating that these people are so ready to describe  Woodstock as a (or even the) defining event of the worldwide upsurge of the  1960s. It clearly wasn’t. Throughout this period, young people around the world fought real battles which actually changed things. The counter-culture which emerged alongside these struggles most certainly had its rebellious side, but it was also heavily influenced by  the ‘turn off, tune in, drop out… ‘all you need is love’  mentality. And that aspect of it was struggled against by the leadership of those groups fighting for serious change. The idea that a mass stone-in at a rock n roll concert could be a world-changing event was not one that was widely embraced.  At best, Woodstock reflected (rather than drove) the general rebellious spirit of the times. It may have been a demonstration that the youth were no longer prepared to accept the old social conventions, but it was not a centre-piece of any particular struggle.

However, 40 years later, it suits both the overt Right and the pseudo-left to look back  on Woodstock as some sort of pivotal event.   The pseudo-left is quite comfortable redefining  the ’60s era as having been all about  peace, love, harmony, tolerance,  while  the Right has fun lampooning the idea that a muddy gathering of half a million drug addled, group-thinky, tie-dyed, incense burning kids, should be viewed as having been of positive significance.

Ayn Rand wrote:

“The hippies are the living demonstration of what it means to give up reason and to rely on one’s primeval “instincts,” “urges,” “intuitions” – and whims. With such tools, they are unable to grasp even what is needed to satisfy their wishes – for example, the wish to have a festival. Where would they be without the charity of the local “squares” who fed them? Where would they be without the fifty doctors, rushed from New York to save their lives – without the automobiles that brought them to the festival – without the soda pop and beer they substituted for water – without the helicopter that brought the entertainers – without all the achievements of the technological civilization they denounce? Left to their own devices, they literally didn’t know enough to come in out of the rain. “

I actually have some sympathy with Rand’s view, although her contempt is far too extreme for me.

Poor old Clive Hamilton wants to have it both ways. In his Crikey article he wrote: “The original  Woodstock festival was imbued with a sense of harmony and  tolerance and was everywhere seen as a ‘victory of peace and love’ “. The rest of his article is a sermon about  the sixties movement more generally in which he explains that it’s time we woke up and realised that in reality  the “rebellion [which] shook the foundations of conservatism in the sixties and seventies  [ has resulted in]  the most materialistic, egocentric and decadent societies the world has ever seen”.

Apparently we were conned, instead of winning we really lost because the main impact of winning more freedom and greater personal autonomy was the unleashing of … da Market Monster!!

Continue reading ‘Yes, Clive, “all that is solid melts into air”, you just don’t get it…’

ALIENATION: from Karl Marx to Merle Travis and beyond

Sixteen tons
Whadaya get?
Another day older
And deeper in debt
Saint Peter don’t you call me
‘coz I can’t go
I owe my soul to the company store.

‘Sixteen tons’ is one of many songs about alienation under capitalism. The song was recorded in the USA in 1946 by Merle Travis , whose father had worked in the mines of Kentucky. Merle’s father often used the phrase “another day older and deeper in debt” around the house. The song has been covered by many country artists, as well as blues and rock performers – my favourite version is by Eric Burdon. (Merle Travis’ version is here:

Check out Eric’s too:

The ‘sixteen tons’ refers to work, specifically in the coal mines during the era of the ‘truck system’ (under which workers in company towns were paid with vouchers recognized only by the local store rather than paid in cash). This may seem to date the song, even make it irrelevant to the current time. However, I think ‘sixteen tons’ can mean any kind of work people do for wages under a system in which wealth is socially produced yet privately appropriated. It’s certainly true that mechanization and automation continue to reduce the numbers of people doing such work; the kind of toil that my father always referred to in my youth as ‘dirty work’. (He worked in factories and used to nag me: “Son, study hard and go to uni and then you’ll be able to become a school teacher. Don’t end up in a dirty job.”).

Continue reading ‘ALIENATION: from Karl Marx to Merle Travis and beyond’

Since when has it been left wing to be green?

Here’s an article  by Barry and published at On Line Opinion .  The comments thread at On Line Opinion is worth reading too.

In the political discourse around green issues, the world outlook associated with various green groups is portrayed as left wing. This is largely because the green world outlook generally opposes capitalism, its leaders frequently use the rhetoric of the Left, are promoted as being left wing by the mainstream media, and usually identify themselves as being of the Left.

Moreover, many green leaders and activists were radicalised in the 1960s and 1970s and have genuinely left wing backgrounds. They see the green movement as a continuation of their previous left wing radicalism.

Continue reading ‘Since when has it been left wing to be green?’

Allying with the Right

You cannot avoid being allied with right wingers. It is just a matter of who and when. The people we describe as pseudo-left are in alliance with Pat Buchanan, The Cato Institute and The Independent Institute in opposing the US liberation of Iraq. On that matter we side with Bush and the neo-cons. We have written a lot on the question both here and at our parent site. We see it as a switch in US foreign policy from supporting “stability” in the region to supporting democracy and “draining the swamp” in which all sorts of creepy things fester.

Many pseudos in the US would side with Pat Buchanan and Ann Coulter on trade protection. We would ally with Cato and support free trade. Both we and the pseudos would side with The Cato and The Independent Institutes on a range of civil liberties issues and on ending the embargo on Cuba.

But we must ‘fess up. We are doing more than our share of fraternizing and endorsing.

Continue reading ‘Allying with the Right’

Bonjour étrangers

This blog is called “Strange Times” for two reasons.

1. Politically the times are especially strange. The old ways of thinking have become formulaic and no longer help us make sense of world events. “Left” is now Right – how’s that for a start?

2. I think that “strangeness” is in some sense an intrinsic characteristic of life, the universe and everything. The times will always be strange. Let’s beware of the warm glow of “understanding”.

This is a group blog. Although we share a common stance, each blogger here writes for him/herself.

We are a bunch of people who all have communist backgrounds and are still committed to the overthrow of capitalism. We want the working people to take over, which means that the means of production will be socially owned and wage slavery (the final form of human slavery) will become a thing of the past. When this occurs it will be a truly revolutionary change, a leap into the future, qualitatively more dramatic and far-reaching than the democratic revolution which has been (slowly) transforming the way of life of people on this planet since the 17th century. Continue reading ‘Bonjour étrangers’