I figure everyone goes through periods when their beliefs are shaken and reshaped. And I figure that this is an awesome thing, most of the time. A few months ago I experienced a “reshaping” of sorts, and it was pretty damn awesome.
So it all comes down to something called historicism. I guess I’ve always been aware of the term but I never really probed it or investigated the crux or first principles of it. It was always more of a personal aesthetic leaning for me. I was drawn to that romantic, prophetic idea of having the awesome power of being able to not only see history but to see into and behind it, being able to predict its impending action. I was lured in by the idealistic prophesizing of Marx. I was tantalized by his feat of penetrating societal prediction. How beautiful it was that a man could place his sociological stethoscope on the heart of history and diagnose and predict its coming “birth pangs”. I was hooked. That is, until I stumbled across a pdf of “The Open Society and Its Enemies” by the badass philosopher Karl Popper.
Wow. How wrong was I… Popper starts out with a view of Plato’s political philosophy and how it, in every instance, supports and proposes a totalitarian system. So apparently Plato had it all figured out. No wonder the democracy that was burgeoning at the time of his political writings was so “wretched”. Society was moving away from its Ideal Form. Everything in the “natural” world, you see, is a diluted, imperfect version of its Form. Form is something that exists independent of our realm, something that is untainted by the dirty progression of the natural world, something that is Ideal. And to change, to progress, is a furthering away from this Ideal.
Progress! Then, a guy named Aristotle, one of Plato’s students, took the reins. He liked the basic concept of his prof’s work. Ideals, sure, let’s keep ’em. But he wasn’t so keen on the idea that change was a sliding away from those Ideals. He decided that instead, Ideals are present inside each object, as it changes. No longer was the Ideal confined to the ethereal. As Socrates saw it, with each change, each object came closer to its ideal, “Final Cause”. So on the cover, since change is no longer demonized, this philosophy, at its base level, no longer advocates totalitarianism, right? Ehh… not really.
All is still
fucked with the Forms. As it happens, Forms and Ideals aren’t that great of ways to look at the social world–or really any world for that matter. Let’s suppose you ask, “what is the “essential nature” of mankind?”. What would this entail? An infinite–nonsensical–regress. Because to discover an “essential nature” this nature must be defined. But how much better is that definition, as it is still only a basic lexical definition, lacking scientific specificity. An infinite regress like this isn’t so helpful when it comes to scientific, analytical thought. And such thought is extremely important when looking at near infinitely complex matters as society and history. You can’t just slap a term and a lexical definition on it, no matter how pretty and aesthetically awesome it sounds.
So, when we look at someone like Marx, it becomes brutally obvious how scientifically, analytically lacking his historical prophecies are. Society’s progression through time is an extremely intricate, multi-layered process that cannot be “read” and predicted with a few simple maxims directed at a strangely–and unduly supported through reasoning and evidence– specific bourgeois-proletariat dynamic. Such an idea is akin to isolating a few processes that are central to a cell in an organism and extrapolating those processes to produce a 50-year-long “prophecy” of that organism’s health and function. It simply does not work like this.
With that said, I’m damn happy I stumbled across Karl Popper’s ideas and I really hope other people can experience the same sort of “awakening” that I have.