Monthly Archives: June 2014

On the Human Psyche as a Synthesis of the Social and the Biological

On the Human Psyche as a Synthesis of the Social and the Biological

Consciousness is not simply a passive reflection of social relations but is a most active element in the development of these relations. Vygotsky remarks that…

Any function in the child’s cultural development appears on the stage twice, on two planes, first on the social plane and then on the psychological; first between people as an interpsychological category, and then inside the child, as an intrapsychological. This applies equally to voluntary attention, to logical memory and to the formation of concepts. The actual relations between human individuals underlie all the higher functions. [1]

He proposes that the ‘inner dialogues’ of consciousness are intrapsychological transpositions of the dialogues and social interactions between individuals. These interactions become psychologically internalised in the form of ‘inner dialogues’ thereby reflecting the social structure and content of the actual relations between human individuals. Implicit in this conception is that social relationships and psychological processes mediate each other i.e. the whole process can be described by the term psychosocial. The inner dialogues of consciousness are an intrinsic part of this whole process and do not exist in separation from it but only in relation with and to it.

In the psychological internalisation of social relations, not only does consciousness arise in the individual but it also develops the ability to consciously monitor itself. In this self-relation of consciousness, that which is being monitored constitutes an organic dialectical unity with that which is monitoring: both constitute different sides of the same process of conscious thought.

This ‘monitor’ is an elevated function of conscious awareness. In this self-monitoring capacity of consciousness, humans possess the ability to reflect upon the process and progress of their own inner thought content. The individual becomes aware of his or her own thinking and feeling, involving the ability of humans to reflect upon the conceptual content and development of their own thoughts and feelings. This self-monitoring activity of consciousness constitutes what might be referred to as the internal eye of consciousness itself whose operation mediates the internal dialogues of consciousness.  This internal eye is the means by and through which consciousness monitors itself; consciousness elevating itself into its reflective mode whilst remaining itself in this monitoring ‘otherness’.  Hegel had this process of reflection in mind when he postulated that….

Mind, in spite of its simplicity, is distinguished within itself; for the ‘I’ sets itself over against itself, makes itself its own object and returns from difference…….. into unity with itself [2]

On a psychological plane, the origination and historical development of humanity is the enduring, unfolding process of an aware yet non-conscious natural being (the pre-human, animal primate ancestor) becoming a conscious social being, conscious of Nature and of itself (self-consciousness) as being in and a part of Nature.

Thought consciously monitoring the unfolding of its own conceptual content is an exclusive property of the human mind not found in animals or in higher primates. Animals are aware, are sentient, but ‘non-conscious’ natural beings and do not possess this capacity to reflect. For example, when an animal encounters its image in a mirror it merely sees, if at all, the image of its physicality, itself as an object.  When a human being looks into a mirror it observes not only a physicality but also the ‘me’ or ‘I’.  For the animal there is no ‘I’ to which this physicality is intrinsic.  ‘I-ness’ (ego) is a function of the reflective capacities of conscious beings.  Consciousness itself, as distinguished from the simple, non-conscious awareness of animals, is a specifically human form of awareness embracing and incorporating within itself an awareness of the ‘self’ involving the capacity to reflect.

The mind functions as a singularity. Each aspect does not operate in isolation from the others but only in unity with and relation to the others. Each side or aspect is only distinct and has its own particular functioning in its connection and relationship to the movement of the mind as a whole. Thus Hegel remarks that….

our own sense of the mind’s living unity naturally protests against any attempt to break it up into different faculties, forces or, what comes to the same thing, activities conceived as independent of each other [3]

We can recognise this when we consider the relationship between thinking and feeling. They constitute different sides of one single psychological relation. Thinking is both a conceptual source of feeling and a medium for its articulation and expression. Specific forms of thinking are related to specific emotions. The conceptual content, meaning and mode of thinking conditions the emotional life of the individual.  The origination and socio-historical development of consciousness brings with it all those emotions which are specifically human.

Therefore, thought and emotion, in their dialectical relation, mutually condition and determine each other and, in so doing, are simultaneously self-determining. They are, in their relation with each other, both simultaneously determining each other and self-determining. Thought becomes expressed in emotion whilst thought, in its movement, simultaneously expresses the emotions which it has itself engendered. The movement of this contradiction is continuously passing into new forms in the unfolding of the psychological processes in each individual.

The resolution of one form of contradiction between thought and emotion is, at the same time, the positing of a new contradiction between them which then develops towards its resolution. The relationships of human society are the ultimate source of these contradictions in the psyche which only possesses a certain degree of autonomy in so far as it is engendered and exists in relation to these established social relations. This does not deny, of course, that psychological processes are simultaneously a product of the human brain itself. But they are its social product.

In the process of thinking itself, an identity exists between thought as a socio-historical phenomenon and thought as a neurophysiological phenomenon. Thought as a socio-historical phenomenon (conceptual content) is, however, simultaneously distinct from the neurophysiology of the brain. It is a socio-historical product of the neurophysiology of the brain and therefore must become constituted in an identity relation with it.  This paradox of the human mind makes it a product of both the socio-historical and the neurological and therefore a synthesis of both. It constitutes a qualitatively distinct, human form or mode of existence. It incorporates within its development both the social and the biological whilst sublating and synthesising them into the psychological.

The conceptual content of human thought is socio-historical in origin. But thought is also a product of the neurological movement of matter in the brain. The neurophysiology of thinking links its animating conceptual content to the general physiology of the human body as a whole. This becomes manifest in the effects of emotional states on human physiology.

Neurologically, the brain is linked to the rest of the body through the nervous system, the cardio-vascular system and the endocrine system which is regulated and controlled by hormonal systems. The linkage between neurological processes and the general physiology of the body as a whole forms the material basis through which psychological states can alter the physiological state of the body. For example, studies in the area of psychoneuroimmunology has demonstrated the effects of mental states on the human immune system. In this relatively recent medical area of psychoneuroimmunology, the source of such modulations in physiology (for example, reduced blood counts of leucocytes) can be traced to the formation of mental states animated by specific forms of the conceptual content of thought and thus, implicitly involving the character of social relations conditioning the life of the individual. Scientists working in this area have shown, for example, a connection between anxiety levels and lowered resistance to infection as a result of the anxiety-mediated depletion of white blood cells.

The prevailing character of established social relations conditions the mental states and emotional life of human beings and, in so doing, contributes to the physiological modulations and state of the human body itself. Human thought – whilst being a social product of the brain – is simultaneously a neurological process which can, as a consequence of this relation between the social and the neurological, mediate and modulate the physiological state of the human body. Without an acknowledgement of this fundamental proposition, the scientific investigation of the impact of social relations on human physiology would possess no rational foundation and could not be conducted. Likewise, the study of the effects of psychotropic drugs on human perception, which is conceptually mediated, demonstrates – or must imply at least – that there is a connecting physiological mediation between neurological states of the brain and states of consciousness.

Specific forms of thinking are intrinsically related to certain emotional states which engender corresponding neurological states in the brain. These neurological states along with endocrinological responses to these states can then activate physiological changes in the body as a whole.  All these interrelated processes are monitored and regulated by the brain via the nervous system.  Out of the different forms of thought derive the specifically different human emotions.

The implication here is that a continuously changing conceptual content of the thinking processes in the individual is continuously altering – no matter how subtlely, discretely or indiscernably – the physiological state of the nervous system as expressed and registered subjectively in the alteration of feeling states or emotions. The individual subjectively registers these states as ‘feeling’. The socio-historical basis of the existence of conceptually-mediated feeling is revealed in the connection between the character of the dominant social relations, on the one hand, and the character of the individual’s relationships with others, on the other, during any given phase in the evolutionary history of society. The mind reflects the character of the prevailing social relations and human feeling expresses their general character in the life of the mind as registered subjectively in the life of the individual.

How does thinking influence mood and how is this, in its turn, capable of modulating the physiological state itself, of the CNS and human body? Must there not be some form of neurological mediation between thinking and altered states of mood and physiology? Thinking itself must have neurological correlates for this to happen. If my mood alters as a result of thinking about, .e.g., an emotionally “painful” experience, and this starts to make me feel anxious or depressed then there has to be a real neurological mediation in operation. Do not states of mood or “feeling” have to be neurologically correlated in order to be subjectively registered? In this way, does not the actual conceptual content of thinking processes actually influence, mediatively, “matter”, i.e. living matter. We cannot think without the active neurology of the brain and yet thinking itself – being linked to or associated/correlated with this neurology – must be capable of influencing this neurology. In other words, there is a dialectical relationship between neurology and psychology in operation which does not, at the same time, deny the essentially social character of the conceptual content of consciousness. This, to me, seems like an adequate synthesis of the social and the neurological as expressed in the psychological.

We can also recognise this relationship between the social and the emotional in the arts. For example, consider the capacity of music to evoke certain emotions and thoughts. The tentative question I would like to pose : does music evoke specific emotions because the experience of listening to a piece of music reproduces neurological states in the brain that are usually associated with the emotion or ‘mood’ which the piece of music is conveying?  For example, a melancholic symphony can engender neurological states which are associated with the emotion of sadness or despair. Human emotions and ‘mood’ become associated with corresponding neurological states. And these moods and emotions can be conceptually-mediated.

Psychologically, thinking and emotion intermediate each other’s movement and this dialectical process, in itself, can serve to alter and modulate mental states which actually affect the physiology of the human body. This is most apparent in the human response to threat or danger. The biochemical systems that are active in fear are necessary for human survival. They are evolutionary legacies of our animal ancestors stretching back millions of years. However, the overactivity of these mechanisms can exert detrimental physiological effects which serve to encourage the onset of, and aggravate existing, medical conditions and diseases. Hence existent social relations which are a real source of stress, anxiety and fear detrimentally affect the physiological functions of the human body.

Attempts to alter individual perceptions of these social relations does not, in itself, change their real existential character as stress-producing and illness-producing social relations. It merely acknowledges their real existence independently of the individual who is him/herself a product of these same social relations. This is why to alter the fundamental character of humanity it is the character of these social relations which must be revolutionised.

Herein lies the basic flaw and limitation  –  the Achilles Heel  –  of all forms of psychotherapy which may present in secular form but are essentially theological in their methods of approach. The different schools and branches of psychotherapy arise from the same epistemological stock and are fed and watered by the same concealed theological roots. Psychotherapy locates the individual in the ‘ideological form’ (Marx) and espouses and practices an alteration of thinking about self and others in order to transcend the psychological effects of social relations. This approach is, implicitly, a negative recognition of the real character of social relations rather than an effective attempt to transcend them in practice.

The collectively-practiced, psychotherapeutic precept acknowledges and asserts that it is possible for the suffering alienated human individual to transcend or, at least, resolve to the point of personal acceptance or ‘comfort’, the psychological effects of the prevailing socio-historical conditions of existence by means of shifts in consciousness or mental adjustment. It fails, in its self-preoccupation, to see the proverbial ‘wood for the trees’ in that any such shift or adjustment to a supposedly more ‘comforting’ or ‘enlightened’ state is, in this apparent negation, merely a reaffirmation of those historical conditions which form the individual and through which he or she actively lives life replete with problems and contradictions in the age of the reign of global capital. All psychotherapy therefore, whatever its character, is both an expression and implicit acknowlegement that alienation and estrangement continues to prevail in social relations and that a psychotherapeutic sticking plaster is utterly and completely inadequate for patching up the wounds which these relations daily inflict on the lives of human individuals. The psychotherapist is, usually unconsciously, the latter-day priest of the secularised mind.

Those biological mechanisms (mediated by the animal’s acquired learning and awareness of its surroundings) which enabled the animal ancestors of humans to respond to the immediate danger of threat became incorporated into the human organism in the course of its origination. In the life of ancestral primates, they were necessary in order to prime them to respond accordingly in threatening situations. The activation of such responses in situations of real imminent danger is therefore a necessary survival mechanism in the primate and hominoid ancestors of humanity. Implicitly, as long as the violent and aggressive character of human relations continues to exist, the operation of this incorporated survival mechanism will also continue to be expressed in the violence and aggression of these social relationships.

In the actual operation of this mechanism, where an immediate response is necessitated to imminent danger or threat, the processing of incoming stimuli by means of reflection would tend to hinder the survival of the individual in the face of such threat because it would require time to think and hence disadvantage the individual in responding to threat.Those biological mechanisms in ancestral primates which are mobilised in threatening situations are those which have become sublatively incorporated into the human mind as it originated and are active in anxiety and fear in humans.

However, we must also consider the proposition that with the historical emergence of humanity as a distinct species, the so-called ‘fight or flight’ response found in ancestral primates also became integrated with – and subject to activation by – the mere movement of the conceptual content of the human mind itself, even in the absence of any real, immediate threat. This relation, for example, is operative in the different forms of anxiety. This specifically human form of the activation of this response (anxiety) is distinguished from the fear of the animal as a response to direct threat from predators, etc. Anxiety itself is a social property of the human psyche; a function of social relations at a particular stage in their historical development. Even in its ‘autonomy’, mind is, therefore, essentially a social creation and is the finest, most perfect, mirror of history, arising and evolving as a product and function of it.

The fear in the animal in Nature is always a response to real or possible threat based on the immediacy of its conditions of its life, arising out of its direct awareness of the immediacy of its environmental situation. But the experience and psychological internalisation of violent, oppressive and exploitative social relations both helps to form and condition the conceptual content of the mind at any given point in the historical development of society.

The general character of social relations constitutes the basis upon and within which the human personality is formed and develops. Where such relations are mediated by malevolent forms of social control, violence and aggression, oppression and exploitation, the psychological corollary of these relations is inevitably a human personality characterised by fear and anxiety. These attributes accordingly come to arise in and mediate interpersonal relationships under such conditions. This is the characterisation of human individuality as the ensemble of social relations (Marx) in that..

human beings become individuals only through the process of history [4]

Each human being individually expresses the essential and universal characteristics of the historically dominant social relations of the period.  Each individual typifies the prevailing social relations and, in this sense, is a representation of the universal character of those relations. However, each unique individual expresses, in a particular way, the general character of humanity at a definite stage in its socio-historical development. These ‘particular ways’ – which give the individual uniqueness – are an outcome of the conditions and relationships of the individual’s personal history. These ‘conditions and relationships’ are an intrinsic part of the ‘life’ of society as a whole. Accordingly, individual human behaviour expresses the nature of social relations.

The individual is always, to a certain degree, self-directing, but only within the parameters and direction of the wider current of development of a given society. Thus, whilst the individual is self-directing, he or she remains a social creation in their self-direction and is accordingly both ‘directed’ and conditioned as such in their ‘self-directedness’. Freely-willed human behaviour is always determined, always conditioned. Individual behaviour always takes place within the historical context, conditions and parameters of society as a whole.


[1] Vygotsky, L.S. Development of Higher Mental Functions.  Psychological Research in the U.S.S.R. (Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1966) pp.44-45.

[2] Hegel.  Philosophy of Mind. (Clarendon, Oxford, 1971) Zusatze, p.11.

[3] Hegel.  Ibid. p.4.

[4] Marx. Grundrisse : Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy. (Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1993)p.496. Notebook V.

Shaun May

revised June 2014


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On Planned Economy and Ecosystem Disruption (Part Two)

On Planned Economy and Ecosystem Disruption (Part Two)

“What defines a climate change as abrupt? Technically, an abrupt climate change occurs when the climate system is forced to cross some threshold, triggering a transition to a new state at a rate determined by the climate system itself and faster than the cause. Chaotic processes in the climate system may allow the cause of such an abrupt climate change to be undetectably small”

[National Research Council. Abrupt Climate Change: Inevitable Surprises. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2002.]

Changes in climate can be abrupt and leaps forward from one state to another qualitatively different one can take place relatively quickly, with catastrophic consequences for all life. It is not ‘man in the abstract’ which is the main source for generating these alterations in climate but rather man at a certain stage of historical development where capital is the dominant relationship of production. Unplanned production for profit based on this relation-in-crisis is the fundamental causality behind human-mediated climate changes. Not ‘man as a species’ per se, not ‘man in the ahistorical abstract’, which we often get with ‘green’ or ‘ecopolitics’.

A planned socialist system of production and distribution – worked and democratically controlled by a free association of producers with all the science and technology at its disposal – will be one which places humanity’s relationship with Nature at the forefront of all actions and considerations in the course of human activity and planning. In destroying Nature, humanity destroys itself.

Climate changes taking place which are mediated by human activity can only now be the result of the continual and ruthless drive of global capital-in-crisis to augment its value which is, at its very core, an unplanned and anarchic system as Marx noted many years ago. Professional climatologists will be aware of any climate changes taking place which are not now mediated by the crisis of this global capitalist system.

The rising levels of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and oceans is serving to alter climate. It is only since the Industrial Revolution commenced in England in the 1750s, that the concentration of carbon dioxide has been consistently rising as a trend. The melting of the Arctic and Antarctic ice shelves also raises the question of the salinity of the oceans which is a central consideration in the flow or the supension of the flow of the ocean currents, such as the Gulf Stream. The suspension of these currents (which are important in the regulation of the Earth’s climates, especially maritime climates) would undoubtedly have catastrophic implications, for some parts of the globe at least.

In truth, the whole question of climate change has everything to do with the question of planned or unplanned production in the broadest sense of the term and not simply in the narrow economic sense. Formally, the Soviet system was a “planned” economy but one which was a forcing house for the development of production after the Russian Revolution. In a certain sense, it was an “unplanned” form of planning which inevitably brought destruction and the thoughtless pillage of Nature in its wake. The term “planned” in this article does not, therefore, refer to the Stalinist system of “planning” in the now defunct Soviet system.

The conception that it would make no difference if production were planned or unplanned (with fossil fuels as the major energy source) and that both forms of production would equally damage the planet’s ecosystems is a false ahistorical identity. This conception contains the pessimistic implication that climate change and ecological destruction is simply a function of technological development and not of the prevailing character of the dominant social relations or of the mode in which this technology is actually socially utilised. The false implication is that changes and shifts in climate and ecological destruction is simply the consequence of “technology” and has nothing to do with the character of social relations, to do with planning or no planning, with the existence or non-existence of capital as a global social relation in crisis.

What are the fundamental determinants and causality underlying these changes? And where does the historical development of the capital relation stand in such a conception of these changes? A socialist sytem would not approach humanity’s relationship with Nature purely as a function of the stage at which scientific knowledge and technique had arrived. The nub of the question in regard to climate change and ecological destruction is the existence or non-existence of capital as a dominant relationship of production. And, accordingly, of the social mode within which “technology” is utilised to meet human needs. To assert that it does not really matter (for these questions of climate change, ecology, etc) whether global society is socialist or dominated by capital – because it all depends on knowledge, technology and scientific discovery – is a bogus conception which separates the historical conditions within which technology is used from their actual mode of utilisation.

This, of course, is not to dismiss the actual physical operation of technology itself. In a planned, socialist system of production – as knowledge and technology advances – we will be able to adjust and modulate (i.e. plan) our activities accordingly in order to minimise or eliminate any environmental damage to Nature’s creation and its ecosystems which stem directly from the actual physical-operative character of technology used. This, of course, is not the primary consideration for capital in its relationship of reproductive destructiveness with Nature’s creation.

The deleterious and destructive effects of capitalist production on Nature were well known at the time of Marx and Engels. But in a planned economy, even the controlled use of fossil fuels need not be polluting as we have (and have had) for many years the science and technology to prevent this and, indeed, to utilise the by-products of burning fossil fuels. The fact that the atmosphere and oceans are concentrating carbon dioxide is the result of the fact that, under capitalism, the implementation of technical processes to stop it are not profitable and would take a massive bite out of the produced surplus value and thus interfere with capitalist accumulation.

If we conceive that there is no difference between capitalism and socialism in terms of their destructive effects on Nature’s creation, then we do, indeed, replicate the ahistorical, destructive ‘man in the abstract’ notion of some forms of ‘green politics’ and ‘ecopolitics’.

The questions which we are raising here concern specific eco-historical problems which are now in development or are in the process of formation as mediated and deepened by capital’s crisis. We recognise them as the humanly-problematic product of the historical development of the capital relation which stands as the basis (cube root) of a whole bourgeois mode of life which is destructive of Nature’s creation. But these questions can only be fully and comprehensively addressed in practice in the course of the period of transition and cannot, therefore, be addressed simply within the realm of prescriptive thought or advocacy as we sometimes find with the ‘greens’ and the left sectarian groups. We must leave the recipes to the pre-occupied cooks in the kitchen of history. However, most importantly, they cannot be addressed within the framework of an order which is the historical source of the actual problems we seek to resolve.

We cannot truly approach these questions outside of practice, that is, in the actual living struggle to transform these conditions. Once again, how do we move forward to the formation of agencies of revolution which will form the basis for going beyond the capital relation itself and really tackling the problems which are raised here?

These enormous, historically-posited problems can only be progressively diminished, therefore, in the actual historical process of actively countering and resolving them. And this means the struggle to eradicate the capital relation from the global social metabolism. Prescriptions, previously made up by our busy Egon Ronays, will be of no use because we simply do not know what we are to inherit after the state power of capital has been irreversibly dismantled and we fully enter this period of revolutionary transition. We can, however, be certain that what we inherit from the capitalist epoch will be a whole mass and complexity of global problems and contradictions which identify the social and the ecological.

We will have no option but to address the living reality as we inherit it in the transition period and this means, of course, proceeding with the resolution in practice, over lengthy periods of time, of all these various contradictions and problems inherited from the epoch of capital. History does not present a smooth line of unproblematic, uncomplicated, unparadoxed development. The “point is not to interpret the world, but to change it”. This is the only way in which we can really proceed since only when the necessary “social conditions are actually in existence or are in the process of formation” can we truly address the specific questions raised here and not by means of a mere rationalistic or even prescriptive approach to their complexity.

The conception and associated perspectives of how to address these problems can only be developed in the course of the unfolding of actual historical practice mediated by the requisite conditions and possibilities. And not simply by seeking to convince others by conceptual means or otherwise.

Commonly, we find in ‘green’ and ‘ecopolitics’ a fetishistic approach to these questions of climate change and ecosystem destruction. Man’s relationship to Nature is socially mediated and the operation of technology is incorporated as an intrinsic moment of this social mediation. In this relation, taken as a historic totality, the mode of utilisation of technique is a function of social relation. Technique is only utilised in a historically specific mode according to the requirements of the character of the prevailing social relations. With the rule of capital, we have the drive for surplus value and all the ensuing destruction, etc.

In an age beyond capital, a totally different mode of utilisation is deployed in accord with human needs and not in consonance with the augmentation of the value of capital. And human needs, of course, implies a qualitatively different relationship with Nature’s creation. Hence the form of mediation between man and Nature is fundamentally altered because the social relations have been revolutionised. The fundamental question is how do we eradicate the capital relation from the social metabolism and, in so doing, alter the actual social mode of utilisation of technology. But to try to understand these developments merely in terms of technological evolution is bound to lead into a fetishistic conception. In the same way, we cannot understand capital simply in terms of its material manifestation but must grasp it as a social relationship of production which is also a “mode of control of the social metabolism”.

To propose that technologies developed by both global socialist and global capitalist society would have the same damaging effects on the world’s ecosystems and climate is a fetishistic and ahistorical conception. It abstracts technique from its real social conditions of utilisation and the intermediation of these social relations and the natural pre-conditions of human life. The degree of damage which human society does to Nature’s creation is a function of the character of its dominant social relations and the mode within which technology is actually operated and applied in order to wrest our needs from Nature. It is not simply and exclusively a function of “technology”, knowledge or discovery.

To point to the Soviet system as a model for “socialist development and planning” is clearly inadequate when capital was functioning in a mediating “mode of social metabolic control” in this system. And, moreover, the Soviet system was undergoing a historical “forced march” from a backward peasant-based economy to an urbanised industrial society. Before we start to comment on and understand the football match of history, we need to know precisely where the actual football is located. If we think it is in the field when it is actually in the spectator seats and vice versa then our commentary becomes dislocated and inconsonant with the football match itself. Most of us are aware of what happened in the SU ; the widespread ecological destruction and disruption of Nature’s ecosystems, the pollution, the murderous destruction of humanity in the Gulags and Stalin’s genocidal purges of whole peoples, etc. But to point the finger here at the Soviet system as an exemplification of “socialist economy” or “socialist centralised planning”, etc, is nothing short of a complete misconception of the nature of the Soviet system. We cannot take the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, etc, as models for “socialist planning”. The Soviet system was never a “socialist economy” and “central planning” was not and never can be socialist.

Marx had lots to say about the destructive capacity of industrial technique under the rule of capital, the disruption and damage of the planet’s ecosystems and climate change but without explicitly saying it. There is much in Marx which history has left behind but we have his approach, his method, his mode of working and grappling with problems and contradictions. In this sense – and with the unfolding of capital’s global structural crisis – Marx is more relevant today in regard to understanding the effects of this crisis of the planet’s ecosystems than he was in the nineteenth century. In this respect, there is plenty in both Marx and Engels which explicitly or implicitly warns against the deleterious effects on Nature’s creation of the development of the forces of production in the social form of capital. This has been well documented by various writers and essayists. Generally it is implied but is, nevertheless, still most definitely there in Marx and has to be developed out of the overall conception. Marx did not live at a time when the full destructive force of the development of the capital relation had started to exert its effects on Nature’s creation as we see today around the globe. If he had witnessed all this, what would have been his conception and perspectives? The question is hypothetical but perhaps worth posing.

It is the deepening and widening of capital’s global structural crisis which is profoundly affecting the planet’s ecosystems and climate. Not ‘man in abstracto’, not ‘homo sapiens’ per se, but rather man at this global capitalist stage which is the stage of its unfolding, enduring structural crisis.


Shaun May

June 2014

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From A Notebook on Dialectics : Part Three

From A Notebook on Dialectics : Part Three

All mathematical equations are formalised statements of dialectical relations.

For example, take Newton’s Law, F = ma

This equation expresses an identity between distinct variables or a distinction between variables in their identity as represented by the ‘=’ sign.

Force is identified as the product of mass and acceleration. But mass and/or acceleration are not force. It is only in their relation that they constitute force. The fact that different variables (representing real entities) appear on opposite sides of the equal sign itself implies identification of distinct variables.

The very existence of the equation itself denotes the distinctions within the identity and articulates the dialectics of the relation but articulated in a formalised mathematical expression. If there were no distinction and opposition in the identity, there would be no need for the equation itself. Force is the product of mass and acceleration and yet it is more than simply this product.

To assert that Force is absolutely identical with the product of mass and acceleration is akin to asserting that the whole is absolutely identical to the sum and product of its component parts without the distinction in which the whole is also greater than the summation and product of its parts. In other words, for practical purposes, the equation is only a formal approximation which does not fully embrace the dialectics of the relation but, in spite of this, it does remain an approximated and formalised expression of the dialectics of the variables representing real entities.

The ‘formal logician’ sees all identity and no distinction or all distinction and no identity. He always misses the distinction within the identity and vice versa. In other words, the positivist, empiricist, pragmatist, etc, would deny this latter principle (call it “illogical” or “contradictory of logic”, etc) but the dialectician would acknowledge its existence in thought as an intrinsic part and expression of all forms of development and would recognise it expressed in the workings and equations of Physics and Mathematics. Christopher Zeeman’s and Rene Thom’s work on Catastrophe Theory, for example, is a demonstration of dialectics in higher mathematics as Darwin’s work was in Biology.

The equation presents an identification of different variables in a specific relationship with each other which reflects the real character of a relationship in Nature. Accordingly, even in the mathematical formulae of Physics, etc, the humble dialectic rears its ubiquitous head and haunts the enunciations of formal logic, regardless of its current forms or lineage. They cannot escape its universality. Hence, formal logic as a limiting case of dialectical logic. Every mathematical equation is a formalised statement of dialectics, however well disguised those relations may be within the formula itself.

Needless to say, if ‘formal logic’ is beginning, in today’s forms, Frege, Kripke, etc, to articulate the dialectics of the world, then it is in process of ceasing to be ‘formal’ and indeed becoming dialectical. This is the dialectics of the evolution of logic itself and an implicit recognition of the dialectical character of the cosmos. Why else would it be compelled to move in such a direction?

Moreover, relative to this, if we recognise dialectics as having a heuristic function then this, once again, is an implicit acknowledgement of this dialectical character of the cosmos. If we are using dialectics as a means of investigation and discovery then it would be absurd to use it if the world itself were not dialectical in its actual relations. It would be counter-productive as well as counter-intuitive, revealing an absence of insight. The empiricist protests and directs us to ‘evidence’ alone

Philosophically, if we proceeded on the basis of ‘evidence’ alone – which is the hallmark of the empiricist – the whole of the Marx’s project would not have come into being. One of the sources for Marx was, of course, the ’empirical’ but the source of Marx’s theory as a whole was not ‘evidence’ alone. But for the empiricist, ‘evidence’ is the gold standard of knowledge.

In the end, the whole question of dialectics is not as complex as some think. The dry, dense and impenetrable language and terminology of Hegel is a problem and ‘turn off’ for many. However, in the finality of the question, there are two fundamental bifurcations on the whole journey. One : either the cosmos (embracing Nature, Humanity, Mind) is in a constant state of development, of evolution, arising and vanishing determinations and negations or it is not. If you think it is not, you will tend to walk down the road of formalistics which, sooner or later, leads to political conservatism and/or reaction. Two : once we have accepted the proposition that the cosmos is in constant development we reach another fork in this road : either, (a) all this evolution, this life and vitality, is producing and produced by conflicts and contradictions i.e. the cosmos, including Man’s relations to it, is inherently dialectical without the need for gods, ghosts or ghouls. This is the first step onto the revolutionary road. Or (b) we fall into the loving embrace of the Heavenly Father and accept that the ultimate cause behind all this evolution is divine impulse and intervention. As with Newton the Unitarian. And as with Hegel the Theist, the high tide of historical development of Idealism. We then embrace the religious, theistic, call it what you like. This is the road to the monastery, to mysticism or to the theosophical seminary. Or for intellectuals and postmoderns who wish to throw the paper darts of philosophy at each other and egoistically pleasure and congratulate themselves on making a “hit”

If you reject materialist dialectics, you also reject the philosophical basis of Marx’s theory. You may use all manner of subtlety, conceptual evasion and sophistry to reject it. All the back alleys, shortcuts, refuges and hiding places of the philosophical fugitive, Kantianism being the usual one. But there are others, of course. Including Hegel’s sophisticated form of transfigured theology. But by rejecting Marx’s materialism, you automatically reject Marx’s theory and the tradition which has arisen therefrom. No matter how “dialectical” and sophisticated you may appear to be in your elaboration of the “concept”, etc. You cannot reject the underlying method and then claim to be in accord with its results and findings. It is as simple as that. There is nothing ‘complex’ about it. You may reject materialist dialectics as a comprehensive outlook in one breath then refer to yourself as a “Marxist” in the next breath. Sorry. Logically impermissible. Cannot be a whitewasher and chimney sweep simultaneously. Sophistics. Useless for the coming revolution.


Shaun May

June 2014





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