Wednesday, May 25, 2005

An Eternity at the Opera

Charlie (CO), a frequent contributor to Roger Simon's blog and elsewhere, pointed me this morning to this rather cynical post by Mickey Kaus. In response to Senator McCain's holier-than-thou pronouncement that he is (once again!) taking the money out of politics, Mickey suggests that the reality is precisely the opposite. Namely, that it is the solely the threat of filibuster which keeps the Democratic Senators important, which keeps corporate money flowing into their PACs. Mickey quite rightly argues that in a simple majority-rule house they would be rather irrelevant. But the air of cynicism toward money he ascribes to McCain doesn't strike me as quite on the mark here. McCain is self-interested of course, but it seems to me he's interested in self-aggrandizing by promoting his persona as the go-to anti-big-money man in Washington, not in grabbing money per se.

Pondering Kaus's attitude, I noticed a link he provided to an article he wrote five years ago comparing Darwinism to Marxism. Kaus is a former Marxist who still sorta wants it to be true. He's the proverbial idealist hiding inside the cynic.

Which got me to wondering--what the heck is the appeal of "Marxism" anyway? Of course there's the naughty-boy appeal of surreptitiously adopting a philosophy opposed to the parental figures in government--the "Establishment"--at the height of the Cold War. That should be good for a few sophomores but fails to explain the lingering appeal after all these years. What exactly does "Marxism" represent. Scanning Kaus's article, the following ideas appear: 1) the material trumps the mental/spiritual, 2) things occur because they're worked out through a back-and-forth interactive process (called the "dialectic"), not an all-at-once ab initio creation, 3) there are "laws" by which these processes can be described in a particularly laconic manner, 4) religion and culture are reduced to "epiphenomena", which is really simply an elaboration of 1).

Do these things really make sense? Well, can there be anything more hilariously absurd than a bunch of academics--people whose very existence is devoted to the primacy of mind--solemnly declaring in a religious way that mind doesn't matter and religion is mere fluff? So much for 1). 2) strikes me as nothing but common sense. Whereas philosophers famously seek the "philosopher's stone" in the form of an overarching system that explains all, every mere mortal understands in his bones that other people "get a vote" in the current military parlance, i.e., that the whole world is a vast interactive system that can never be explained or predicted by any one system. Which means that 2) is really a direct contradiction to 3). 3) is itself the most interesting. It is the glory of modern science that it is able to explain vast amounts of observation from a few very sophisticated laws. Wonderful, but there are limits to the abilities of science to proceed in this direction, limits to the use of rationality itself. These limits are not just somebody's theory, but are hard and fast mathematical proofs. The theory of Kolmogorov complexity for example proves that in the grand scheme of things the "laws" we can conceivably create are only a small fraction of the facts we will observe. Gödel's Theorem and the Halting Problem are similar results.

The bottom line is that Marxism seems to be nothing more than a hodge-podge of outdated Nineteenth Century science amalgamated with common sense and silliness. So, what's the appeal?


Anonymous W-girl said...

I don't get it myself, but I've always thought it was a natural extension of Christianity. If Christianity demands charity to the poor, then it's only one step farther in the same direction to actively redistribute everything at gunpoint.

9:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are about as intelligent and self-obsessed as your source guy here. Why are we still having this argument? Bertrand Russell was right about socialism, to wit, it may be a pretty good system, but, like xtianity, we don't know because nobody has ever actually tried it. People are inevitably corrupted by the ability to control other people's lives.

10:28 AM  

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