March 2012


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Carrol Cox <[log in to unmask]>
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Science for the People Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Thu, 1 Mar 2012 13:27:04 -0600
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Kamran wrote: 

Meanwhile we can try Learning by Doing as I am sure people on this list have
been doing.  It may be the character of our epoch--of crises of nature and
society--that forces humanity to perhaps finally over come our condition of
alienation from nature and from ourselves. K 

Cbc:   Kamran has reached the wisdom of Thesis 11: "Philosophers have
interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it." Dick
Levins wrote a fine article in Monthly Review on this a few years ago, his
emphasis being on _changing_ the world. This thesis can _also_ be read as an
epistemological rather than ethical proposition. Mao's vulgarization of it
points the directioj: If you want to know what a pear tastes like, he wrote,
you have to change the world by biting into a pear. That is only a pointer,
and leaves outmuch of the richness of Marx's aphorism. The  Theses on
Feuerbach were notes Marx scribbled to himself as he was wrestling with the
idealism (or as he was to call it, ideology) of German philosophical and
political followers of Hegel. His claim, running through all his early work
and assumed in his later work was that it was by collective activity in
changing the world that we would both come to a deeper understanding of
'external' reality but also begin to understand more fully the goals
implicit in our actions. It was a denial, among other things, of the
separation of thought from action: thught emerges fromour efforts to
understand more precisely what our ationmeana. We cannot simply 'observe'
the world, abstractly calctulate our goal, and only then begin to act.
Kamran's "learn by doing" catches up much of this. 

Let me give a specific example from very recent experience, the reaction of
a highly intelligent (I'll call him P) intellectual to OWS in its early
days. He first objected, "No organization, no goals, no analysis." Then he
spoke to one of the occupiers and asked him what his analysis was. The
person replied, musingly, "There's a lot of bad shit out there." P reported
this as though the young man had convirmed the diagnosis of "no analysis."
This was profoundly wrong; "There's lots of bad shit out there" was a
beautiful, a powerful, way to LAUNCH a new world, for OWS in the intervening
months has indubitably changed the world, enabled on the part of many - 10s
of thousands, perhaps millions - a new level of "interpretation," a new
world of possible goals of further struggle. In many cities new (and often
separate) campaigns around home foreclosures have emerged over the winter,
and are growing ever more vigorous. In some areas many new activists are
joining the struggles of Latinos against the horrors of immigration policy
and enforcement -- a movement that might yet (de facto if not de jure)
change the very meaning of the word "citizen," forcing the state to in
practice honor the civil rights of "non-citizens." And there are those,
perhaps formerlay believers in Officer Friendly, who are achieving a deeper
understanding of the "Police function of the State." None of this was
predictable last September; none of this would have been discoverable by
first spending months, years, decades, "analyzing" with precision the nature
of the neoliberal world, struggling (only in the mind) to excogitate the
precise goals appropriate to that nalysis and the form of organization in
which those goals might be embodied. 

Engels quotes Napoleon: "I act, the see what happens." The process of
"seeing what happened" since OWS and formulating the meaning of the changes
has barely begun, but it is clear that OWS has opened up a new world of
possibility, which we must now explain and act in.