Tuesday, November 22, 2011

God as First Cause

The “first-cause” argument for God may be one of the most blatantly fallacious arguments ever devised. 

The argument, to compress it into a categorical syllogism, begins by proposing that “everything has a cause.”  It then submits that the universe itself must have a cause and concludes that this cause must be God.

The argument is ridiculous on several grounds and, in fact, is rendered untenable by its own internal reasoning.  Following the logic of the premise that everything must have a cause, God too must have a cause and the cause of God must have a cause and so on to infinity.  If God does not require a cause then the first premise, everything has a cause, is false. 

The above is the most popular form of the argument, known in philosophy as the “cosmological argument”; however, there are more sophisticated versions (to loosely use the term).    

Some have refined the first premise to state, instead of everything has a cause, that everything contingent, or everything caused, has a cause (nothing more than an observation of the trivially true).  This qualified first premise places itself beyond criticism and requires a closer analyzing of the second premise and the conclusion. 

The second premise, refined, states that the universe is contingent and must have a cause.  However, there has never been a serious argument to sustain this premise.  Bertrand Russell rhetorically asks “[j]ust because everything in the universe is contingent, must the universe itself be contingent?” 

The best argument considers time.  It is argued that were the universe to have always existed the very fact would require an infinite amount of time to have already passed and that this would be contradictory and thus impossible because an infinite amount of time would never pass (the passing of an infinite cycle of time would never, by definition, be completed). 

The problem with the argument predicated upon time has been known since at least the work on General and Special Relativity by Albert Einstein.  Einstein calculated that time itself is relative and can be warped.  The Big Bang hypothesis, proposed due to the Doppler Effect, suggests that the observable universe was produced by the explosion of a dense, hot initial state of gravitational singularity and has been offered by many a theologian as support for the cosmological argument’s second premise.  While current work on this is pure speculation, the best guesses by the most acclaimed physicists in the field point out that time is the relative fourth dimension of the universe created by the Big Bang and that time more or less dissolves the closer it gets to the gravitational singularity.  Discussion of time with regards to the origins of the universe and the Big Bang may very well be nonsensical. 

The second premise cannot currently be verified one way or the other and cannot therefore sustain conclusions.  While work is still being conducted on the nature and origins of the cosmos it is beyond rash to draw any definitive statements and arguments about it, which is why the conclusion only further exacerbates current work.  While it remains unknown why there is something rather than nothing it only confounds this question to introduce the further problem of why and how there is also God.

The conclusion now looms.  The first obvious problem with the conclusion is that a sufficient reason is not given as to why God must be the cause.  It would be as logical to argue that extra-dimensional space aliens were the first cause or that the universe is the product of the functioning of a super-computer. 

Furthermore, the argument only establishes a first-cause in the past; it does not demonstrate the continued existence of this first-cause.  The argument that everything contingent must be caused does not demonstrate that the first-cause continues to exist presently or eternally and it does not elaborate any qualities of the first-cause (such as life, consciousness and so on) which undermines the very purpose of the argument.  The argument against an eternal universe being contradictory because of the paradox of an infinite cycle of time concluding equally applies to an eternal God.      
The essential points about this argument are relatively elementary and the fallacies readily identifiable to anyone who takes time to consider them rationally.  This is why there are only ever illiterate charlatans who invoke the argument and never any serious philosophers, at least since St. Thomas Aquinas, and when viewing his philosophical work against the great works of philosophy, it seems to pale in comparison. 

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Karl Marx and the State

Karl Marx is among the most cited of intellectuals.  He is, in fact, the most cited intellectual in the Arts and Humanities Citation Index.  Most people would at least recognize the name.  It is therefore quite odd, given such widespread recognition, that there could be such incredible misunderstanding and confusion regarding Karl Marx and his work. 

In the general sense of the Left it is more than predictable that there should be not only misunderstanding but also an intentional misinformation campaign waged against an individual so greatly associated with revolutionary movements.  Within a hierarchically class structured society where there exists a ruling class with special privileges and power (among them, near absolute domination of the means of communication) it follows almost axiomatically that there should be waged a disinformation campaign against all that which threatens the current relations of power. 

The most common myth regarding Karl Marx involves associating him with Soviet Russia’s Bolshevism and state totalitarianism in general.  Exacerbating this confusion are the various self-described Marxists who are nothing more than the descendents of the Bolsheviks.  A great many so-called Marxists are Leninists, Trotskyites and Maoists of one form or another who, in concert with bourgeois propaganda, hold up Karl Marx and his work as the foundation for their positions and actions regarding the seizing of the state by a party dictatorship. 

With the self-described Marxists who follow in the footsteps of Lenin and company there is a great sense of anachronism.  It may have been quite forgivable for socialists living after Marx and before the dissemination of his unpublished works to assume that Lenin’s work and actions paralleled the work of Marx due to much of it remaining unpublished and unknown as well as suppressed by the Soviets.  Modern Bolshevik sympathizers have no such excuse.  Long has Marx’s unpublished works been rediscovered and distributed by people of a wide variety of political persuasions, largely beginning with the Marxist Humanists such as Raya Dunayevskaya, Erich Fromm and Maximilien Rubel, among many others, who popularized Marx’s Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 (Dunayevskaya was the first to translate the manuscripts), among other lost and obscure texts.

People can no longer pretend as though the Communist Manifesto contains the final word by Marx on the matters of state and revolution.  It is no doubt true that in the Manifesto Marx lays out the revolutionary transition in stages with the first stage seeing to, “little by little,” the means of production, the means of transportation and credit all being centralized into the state.  However, even were the Manifesto to be the last word on the matter it must be observed that Marx does not end socialist transition with centralized state power, as many bourgeois reactionaries often incorrectly shriek, but rather with the eventual dissolution of classes and the state into the association of individuals.  No matter familiarity or lack thereof with the entirety of Marx’s oeuvure, the end goal remains a stateless free association.  It remains libertarian socialism.     

With this established it is quite obvious that the bourgeois misinformation confuses the end whereas the so-called “Marxists” who follow the likes of Lenin, Mao and others confuse the means as well.  For the Manifesto does not contain the final word and was, in fact, itself revised with a forward (dated June, 24 1872), as described in Daniel Geurin’s No Gods No Masters.  Marx and Engels explain in the forward that “in many respects” they would now “rephrase” the Manifesto’s content regarding the state.  Geurin points out that “they cited in support of such redrafting ‘the practical experiences, first of the February [1848] revolution, then, to a much greater extent, of the Paris Commune, when, for the first time, the proletariat held political power in its hands over a two month period.’”  Marx and Engels conclude the forward by stating that all of this “means that, in places, this program is no longer up to the minute.  The Commune in particular has supplied proof that the working class cannot rest content with taking possession of the existing machinery of the State in order to place it in the service of its own aims.”      

The Paris Commune discussed in the forward is discussed at much greater length in perhaps Marx’s most underappreciated and ignored work: the three addresses drafted by Marx for the General Council of the Workers’ International on the situation in Paris, better known under the pamphlet name The Civil War in France.  The Paris Commune saw to the implementation in Paris of the federation of communes, the basis of libertarian socialism, and at once the negation of state power.    

Arthur Lehning writes that Marx’s addresses involve not a “’withering away’, but rather” the “utter extirpation of the state.”  This could not possibly be any clearer when in the third part of the third address given by Karl Marx he writes that “the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes.” 

Following the unequivocal comment about state power, Marx then further analyzes the role of the state within developing industrial society.  He writes that “[a]t the same pace at which the progress of modern industry developed, widened, intensified the class antagonism between capital and labor, the state power assumed more and more the character of the national power of capital over labor, of a public force organized for social enslavement, of an engine of class despotism.”  He continues the analysis several paragraphs later when he writes that “[i]mperialism is, at the same time, the most prostitute and the ultimate form of the state power which nascent middle class society had commenced to elaborate as a means of its own emancipation from feudalism, and which full-grown bourgeois society had finally transformed into a means for the enslavement of labor by capital.” 

Marx’s analysis of the state is in this sense virtually indistinguishable from the analyses of many anarchists.  Rudolf Rocker is in a sense paraphrasing Marx’s analysis when he writes that “[a]s long as within society a possessing and a non-possessing group of human beings face one another in enmity, the state will be indispensable to the possessing minority for the protection of its privileges.”

Marx’s analysis, in fact, anticipated the role of the state within Soviet Russia and the form of state capitalism ruled by a single-party dictatorship centralized within the state as manifested in Soviet Russia and in China.  It must not be overlooked that socialism never existed within Russia and has never existed in China (the two nations most readily misidentified as socialist or communist).  Many anarchists, libertarian socialists and, in this sense, true Marxists (such as Gorter, Ruhle, Pannekoek, Luxemburg and so on) predicted that the policy of the Bolsheviks was going to lead to the state despotism that sunk the Russian people into the Soviet dungeon.  They argued that rather than replacing capitalist relations with socialist relations the Bolsheviks were merely condensing many capitalists into the single capitalist of the state.  The political economy of Soviet Russia remained capitalist.  It was the ultimate form of state capitalism, where the state is sole capitalist. 

Nothing could be more counterrevolutionary and nothing could be more contrary to the totality of Marx’s work than turning the state into the single capitalist and centralizing all power therein.  Doing justice to Marx’s work and doing justice in the real world period means dismantling the state altogether.  Not piece by piece or with the hope, after seizing it, that it will simply disappear on its own accord with the dissolution of the antagonism of classes.  Instead, the state must be rendered superfluous and powerless through the instituting of the power of the federation of communes (the workers’ councils, community cooperatives and so on), in the face of which the state can only dissolve into irrelevance and out of existence and history altogether. 

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn and Censorship

Shame on all those who are currently advocating the censorship of Mark Twain’s masterful The Adventures of Huckelberry Finn and disgraced are they who support such malfeasant censorship. However, one must not be overly worried by the transgression, for America has quite an inspiring tradition of respect and defense for freedom of expression thanks to countless activists, organizations and the right kind of lawyers and judges. Furthermore, in a positive sense, as is often observed, bad publicity is good publicity and when the publicity is for the American treasure Mark Twain and one of the greatest works of American literature it is all the better.

Mark Twain is rightly regarded by many as one of the greatest American writers and as the originator of American literature (influencing later writers of such scope and achievement as T.S. Eliot, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway) who first developed characters who spoke in the unique and authentic American languages and dialects found in the regions and cultures he wrote about. Ernest Hemmingway claimed that “[a]ll American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn…All American writing comes from that. There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since.” T.S. Eliot compared Twain’s character, Huck, to other “permanent symbolic figures of fiction” such as “Ulysses, Faust, Don Quixote, Don Juan, Hamlet and other great discoveries…” The book is perhaps the best example of Twain’s invention using, as he prefaces the book himself with, “a number of dialects.”

Mark Twain is also known, unfortunately to a lesser extent, for his radical views grounded in a strong and independent moral vision of right and wrong. He was involved with the Anti-Imperialist League with its links to civil rights activism. He was an opponent to slavery and to racism (he was acquainted with Frederick Douglass and married into the abolitionist Langdon family, being the son-in-law to a leading conductor of the New York Underground Railroad) and Huck Finn is an ingenious expression of this.

The current movement by the publishing establishment advocating censorship is due to the fact that the word “nigger” is used commonly throughout the book, as the word was for sure used by such characters at the time, in accordance with reality (the commonplace usage of the word, I also must insist, is by no means yet a pastime).

Through Huck Finn Twain exposed the ugly everyday realities of racist ideology (such as the common use of the word “nigger”) and developed a main character, Huck Finn, who was immersed in such racist ideology, indoctrinated into believing that it was not only right, but God’s Will.

In the story Huck Finn lives with an abusive and alcoholic father and decides to escape by faking his own death and floating down the Mississippi. In the process of so doing he runs into a slave, Jim, who has escaped because he fears being sold and sent to New Orleans and they set off down the river together.

The book is about the adventures of Huck and Jim on the river and contains quite a breathtaking moral statement about racism and slavery. Huck Finn has been indoctrinated into believing that slavery is sanctioned by God and that to help a slave escape is theft (immoral and illegal) because a slave is actually a piece of property the Master rightfully owns and to help in such an escape would earn one an eternity in hell’s burning furnace.

Huck Finn several times faces this moral dilemma. When Huck and Jim first run into each other Huck promises not to tell on Jim: “But mind, you said you wouldn’t tell – you know you said you wouldn’t tell, Huck.”
“Well, I did. I said I wouldn’t and I’ll stick to it. Honest injun I will. People would call me a low-down Abolitionist and despise me for keeping mum – but that don’t make no difference. I ain’t a-going to tell.”

In one instant Huck lies to some people passing them, telling them that his family has smallpox so the men make sure to stay away, saving Jim from being found, caught and sent back. Huck then feels regret for not doing what he was taught he should do, report a runaway slave, but he feels good that Jim was not caught: “They went off, and I got aboard the raft, feeling bad and low, because I knowed very well I had done wrong, and I see it warn’t no use for me to try to learn to do right; a boy that don’t get started right when he’s little, ain’t got no show…Then I thought a minute, and says to myself, hold on; - s’pose you’d ‘a’ done right and give Jim up, would you felt better than what you do now? No, says I, I’d feel bad – I’d feel just the same way I do now. Well, then, says I, what’s the use you learning to do right, when it’s troublesome to do right and ain’t no trouble to do wrong, and the wages is just the same? I was stuck. I couldn’t answer that.”

Later on Huck begins to think about helping Jim escape and the possible consequences and becomes torn: “The more I studied about this the more my conscience went to grinding me, and the more wicked and low-down and ornery I got to feeling. And at last, when it hit me all of a sudden that here was the plain hand of Providence…letting me know my wickedness was being watched all the time…I most dropped in my tracks I was so scared.”

He recalls that had he gone to Sunday school they would have taught him that the way he was acting now would send him “to everlasting fire.” The thought makes him shiver and he decides to pray but cannot and he realizes he cannot pray of giving up the sin of harboring a runaway slave because it was a lie, he wasn’t going to and he knew it. He decides that he should write a letter to Jim’s owner and then pray.

He writes the letter and feels washed of sin but then begins to think of Jim and their trip down the river, he recalls “a-floating along, talking, singing and laughing” and finds that he is unable “to strike no places to harden” him against Jim, “but only the other kind.” He remembers how Jim would stand Huck’s watch on top of his own so that he could “go on sleeping,” how Jim called Huck “honey” and “do everything he could think of” for him and how “grateful” Jim was when Huck told the lie about smallpox, preventing Jim from being caught and how Jim said that Huck “was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the only one he’s got now.”

Huck then sees the letter he just wrote: “I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: ‘All right, then, I’ll go to hell’ – and tore it up.”

Such a profound situation and moral statement provides the proper context for Twain’s use of the word “nigger” throughout the rest of the book and, after all, it is the context that is most important in matters such as these. The word is most assuredly an ugly, horrible word that conjures images of lynching, slavery, murder and the darkness of America’s past and present or, as Chester Stevens put it, the word “rings out like the sound of rifle fire,” and that is precisely Mark Twain’s point. Twain uses the word almost as a bludgeon by which he beats the heads of the complacent and the unconcerned. He is showing a little bit of the reality in all its ugliness and forcing one to confront it honestly and forthrightly.

It was in this sense that Booker T. Washington wrote that he could “not believe any one can read this story closely without becoming aware of the deep sympathy of the author in ‘Jim’…[O]ne cannot fail to observe that in some way or other the author without making any comment and without going out of his way, has somehow succeeded in making his readers feel a genuine respect for ‘Jim,’ in spite of the ignorance he displays. I cannot help feeling that in this character Mark Twain has, perhaps, exhibited his sympathy and interest in the masses of the negro people.”

Mark Twain has always been controversial and there have always been attempts to censure and ban several of his books, notably Huck Finn. In fact, Huck Finn was first banned just a few weeks after publication in 1885 in Concord Massachusetts due to the dialects used; deemed too course and vulgar and only fit for the slums by the well-to-do bourgeoisie of Concord. As recently as 2000 there was a move in Enid Oklahoma to have the book removed from the local high school’s required reading curriculum. The debate was heated.

Michelle M. Houle writes that “the school district contacted Jocelyn Chadwick” who was a leading Mark Twain scholar and an assistant professor at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education “to ease some tension.” Houle notes that Chadwick is “an African American whose ancestors were slaves on both sides of her family. Her parents were active in the civil rights movement when she was young, and she says that they gave her Adventures of Huckleberry Finn when she was just a child.”

Chadwick believes that “[t]hrough the controversy surrounding this book alone, Twain brings into schools what all of us in this country desperately need, yet fear, most: discussions – frank discussions – about race, race relations, interracial relations, race language, racial stereotypes and profiling, and, ultimately, true and unadulterated racial equality.”

Eventually the Enid school board voted to keep the book in the curriculum after Chadwick had visited, spoken with people and held a workshop (the workshop “included discussions about the book’s place in history, teaching strategies, and useful resources”).

The move to censor Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is essentially the move to efface the stark and dreadful realities of slavery and racism from history and to evade the difficult issues Twain illustrated in Huck Finn to which Chadwick refers to above.

NewSouth publishers has already censored their 2011 editions of the book, replacing "nigger" with "slave" (a change that makes little sense considering Jim, on the escape, is no longer a slave) and erasing the word "injun" altogether. NewSouth holds up Auburn University at Montgomery in Alabama English Professor Alan Gribben as justifying their censorship.

Gribben argues that the censoring places Twain's "ideas" and novel in the 21st century and prevents the book from possibly being banned. The latter argument is an affront to any notion of freedom of expression - you do not prevent a wrong, a book being banned, by committing a perceived lesser wrong, censoring - and should be discarded as nothing more than unprincipled confusion. The former argument is perhaps an even greater affront.

The argument that the censoring brings the book into the 21st century is hopelessly unknowing and misguided. The characters in the book are not 21st century characters driving down the highway in an SUV, they are characters who emerge from and exist within the Antebellum South and float down the Mississippi on a raft (the book is an obvious period piece, documenting a specific region in time).

If Twain’s Huck Finn is to be censored of the word shall then Frederick Douglass’ “Narrative” of his life be so censored as well? The book, being as it is Douglass’ autobiography, obviously contains the offensive word. Oddly enough, Douglass edits such vulgarity as “dumb bitch,” writing instead “d-b b-h,” while leaving “nigger” wholly intact.

The usage and context of the word in Douglass’ work is on a whole far more offensive than in any place in Huck Finn, having been derived from actual events rather than Twain’s sympathetic imagination. For just two such examples one should consult the last paragraph on page 35 and the last paragraph on page 40 that continues onto page 41 (cited in the Barnes & Noble Classics edition).

The examples quoted and recounted by Douglass consist of the true realities of racism and slavery and it is intellectually and morally acceptable to include these realities in a work of fiction that deals honestly with these realities. It is morally misguided and intellectually lost to suggest otherwise.

As observed earlier the word "nigger" is an incredibly offensive racial slur, but so too was the culture of racism and the structure of slavery and Jim Crow within which the word commonly existed. It is to sanitize and diminish the ugliness and terror of these realities to begin erasing the very details that constructed the horrific racist edifice in its totality.

First the ugly language of racism and slavery are erased, then what? Shall depictions of the whipping of slaves be banned or censored? For, certainly, the whipping of a slave, the chaining of slaves together, the selling off of slave children, the hanging of slaves and the whole of violence, murder and terrorism, all integral aspects of the evils of racism and slavery, are all an order of magnitude more offensive than the word "nigger."

The evils of racism and slavery must never be sanitized. Not in any detail. NewSouth must be boycotted and their products never purchased again.

The only thing more disgusting and repulsive than the everyday, commonplace realities of slavery and its aftermath is to compound these horrors by pretending that they did not happen and attempting to efface them from history.

Douglass, Frederick, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass an American Slave

Houle, Michelle M., Mark Twain: Banned, Challenged, and Censored

Twain, Mark, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Williams, Tenley, Mark Twain: “The Lincoln of our Literature,” Bloom’s BioCritiques Mark Twain