Monday, June 29, 2009

Thursday March 26-- Progress part deux

Hello everyone,
Thanks to everyone who came out for oppression, no thanks to me, of course. Now you see the violence inherent in the system.
Tapping philosophy will be occurring this week on WEDNESDAY, WEDNESDAY, WEDNESDAY, at 8:00 at Yeat’s pub, with rides leaving from Connelly at 7:30. ON WEDNESDAY. Because I want to watch the basketball game.
This episode of Tapping philosophy is dedicated to Robert McNamara, who wrote on this same topic last year, when I was holed up in the library.
Progress (Part Deux)
Obligatory quotes:
“Communism for us is not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality will have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from premises now in existence.”
-Karl Marx, The German Ideology
“The more strongly the culture industry entrenches itself, the more it can do as it chooses with the needs of the consumers—producing, controlling, disciplining them; even withdrawing amusement altogether; here no limits are set to cultural progress.”
“By sacrificing thought, which in its reified form as mathematics, machinery, organization, avenges on itself a humanity forgetful of it, enlightenment failed its own realization. By subjecting everything particular to its discipline, it left the uncomprehended whole free to rebound as mastery over things against the life and consciousness of human beings… The mythical scientific respect of peoples for a given reality, which they themselves create finally becomes a positive fact, a fortress before which even the revolutionary imagination feels shamed as utopianism, and degenerates to a compliant trust in the objective tendency of history.”
Thedor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, The Dialectic of Enlightenment
“Even in its rudimentary form, the theory [of class] was not merely the most effective tool of agitation, but active instrument of conflict in the age of bourgeois democracy, the proletarian mass party, and strikes, before the open victory of monopoly and the growth of unemployment became second nature. Only the revisionists entered into a discussion of the class question, and they did so to in order to cloak the initial stages of betrayal with the denial of class war, their statistical appreciation of the middle strata, and their praise of a generalized progress.”
Theodor Adorno, “Reflections on Class Theory”
“You know the notion of progress is not a simple notion, not at all. During all the 19th century, intellectuals, artists and political activists were in the conviction that there exists something like a "political progress". Today, we know that it's not so simple. We have really to understand that sometimes under the name of progress, we have, in fact, something that is often against human life, against human beings, against millions of people of several countries. The dialectical relationship between progress and tradition is completely different today as it was during all the 19th century”
-Alain Badiou, interviewed

Badiou was right about something: progress is not so simple. Rob was kind enough to delineate two different kinds of progress, both of which are exhibited within the quotes above, and these are philosophical progress and social/human progress. For those of you who weren’t there, I attached the topic as it was written by rob for reference. My idea is very simple, and it is that we discuss the relationship between the two ideas of progress as Rob had previously defined them for our convenience.
To be more specific, is there a relation between scientific, socioeconomic, technological progress and the progress of ideas, culture, and philosophy? If so what does it look like, and is one component necessary for the other to occur? The standard “enlightenment” narrative tends to assume that the two occur in tandem and are in fact of the same essential category (Hegel fits nicely). For Marx economic progress is what determines history, and all other progress follows from it. For Adorno, progress is really an agent of a destructive downward spiral, i.e. monopoly capitalism, as well as the ideological reflection of the sameness of exploitation. In all of these cases progress is somehow linked between the social/economic/technological and the philosophical/cultural, whether it’s a lie or the way the world works. This means that simply questioning “the reality” of progress on the grounds that it is philosophically unsound won’t be enough, because progress can function without a strict empirical counterpart, by informing people’s practices and beliefs.
Is it enough to say that cultural progress and socioeconomic progress co determine each other, or are there specific instances within history where progress in one area has directly caused progress in another? Can such instances be read as indices for a theory that concerns the patterns of history as well as the future, or is the intersection of history with the disparate possibilities of the present moment too detailed or unstable to expect any underlying linear structures of progress to be at work? In other words, is this idea of progress too simplistic and instrumental, by eliminating the dynamic capacities of the individual as a historical actor, or some unforeseen circumstances?
As a caveat, part of the discussion of progress hinges on our ability to have a conversation about a shared history of events, ideas, cultures, institutions, and peoples. It also hinges on our ability to think normatively about these things based on a set of shared, even though somewhat contested, criteria. I’m not saying this because I want this to be a history lesson for everyone. I’m also not saying that there aren’t instances of marginalization in history; indeed there are plenty that can be brought to bear within the evaluative framework as I have proposed, whether or not they have been historically. I’m merely proposing these limits to keep the absurdity levels to a minimum.
Rob's Topic:
Hey all,

In his infinite wisdom, Frank has allowed me to coordinate the last two Tapping Philosophy meetings of the semester. This week, we will be discussing progress.

Basically I would like to break our question into two parts which are undoubtedly interrelated: progress within philosophy and social/human progress.


Utilizing the generally accepted Western narrative that Plato and Aristotle are the founders of philosophy, has philosophy progressed in any real way since its Grecian roots? Is the discipline of philosophy any closer now to obtaining any more real or more practical truths about the world or life, itself, than it was in its infancy? Is this the way in which we should be judging philosophical progress, or should progress be judged in some other way, or does philosophical progress even make sense as a theory? Philosophers such as Hegel and his dialectical reasoning would undoubtedly assert that actual progress can be and is made, while Kant would say that philosophers can only talk of how things appear to us and we can make no progress towards a more complete understanding of things-in-themselves.


In today's society, we constantly hear about progress, the progress of global democracy, the progress of medicine, the progress of technology; in the second half of our discussion I would like to discuss what this progress is and why it is considered a stock Good. Is total human progress possible, or can progress only be understood in terms of groups of people gaining an advantage over other groups? Does having three TVs, two cars, and a Nintendo Wii really make one's life better, or does our assumption that commercial and technological progress is a stock Good cloud our capability to reflect on whether we are actually better off newer, 'better', and fancier stuff? Is progress an essential human need, or is it a contrivance, I suppose is the essential question here.

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