Re: Real History Vs Imaginary "Historical Processes"

Thu, 10 Apr 1997 21:39:16 -0400
David Lloyd-Jones (dlj@inforamp.net)

Andrew Austin's long and very tedious posts are pitted with lies about what
I have said and held.

Austin:
In that document, David denies and
the affirms having claimed that evangelicals are the primary force in
opening up China to the world.

False. I have never used the word "evangelicals" except in the attempt to
correct Austin's gross ignorance about American religous groupings. I have
written about actual American evangelists, a very different group, and
their families, who tend to be significant opinion makers in the US. I
have said nothing about "opening up China to the world." I d not know that
China has ever been closed off to the world -- though the US closeted
itself from 1949 until Kissinger opened it up again. "Fog in Channel,
Continent isolated, " American version.

Austin:
The context of the discussion has been established. David and I are
talking about the political economy of the world, in particular change
going on in China.

No. The original question was about the United States: what is the motive
of US policy toward China. Austin proposed that it was the machinations of
capital; I added that in US society past evangelists and their present
families are an important political force, and I believe their sentiments
are more important at present than any profit or los calculus, important
though this may be to some.

Austin has imagined this:
We are weighing the relative importance of variables
that we are implicating in these changes.

I have said offhand that I think the main thing happening in China is the
collapse of communism. That has been my only reference to China, other
than as an object of US policy. The entire thrust of my posts has been to
the motive of US policy within the US, and then into beating back Austin's
farrago of lies, misquotation, name-calling, (´ntellectual cowboy,"etc.
etc.) and general bad-acting.

David observes that scientific materialism can be useful when recognized
as a way of looking at the world. Of course; how could it be otherwise?

It can be otherwise when it is invoked as a false name for Marx's
Hegel-on-his head compilation of mystical and imaginary engines, forces,
impulses and what-not.

When I criticize David's subjectivist idealism I do so based on a
recognition that subjectivist idealism is one way of looking at the world.

My "subjective idealism" is simple name-calling on Austin's part. There is
nothing more to it than that. Pure schoolyard nyah-nyah.

Austin:
Finally, and most importantly, I never claimed that scientific materialism
is an engine of history. Scientific materialism is a rigorous and critical
way of looking at the world. It is a scientific paradigm.

This is relatively true of 19th century physics, chemistry, etc. As
applied to history it is a pitiful dribble of ideological pretence and
self-delusion on Austin's part.

Austin again:
Moreover, the
dialectic is a methodology and a process, not an a priori force working to
change the world.

Horsefeathers. "The dialectic" is a sad bit of metaphysical prestidigitatio
n -- useful in the same way as Santa Clause is, as an explanation for
presents and lumps of coal. Here it is Austin who is the "subjective
idealist." The dialectic exists in his mind. Period.

I then asked David, "What do you mean when you say I hold a "reified"
history?"

He answers in this way, "Quite simply -- ya could look it up -- you
talk about history as if it were a material object. What else would need
an engine and be expained [sic] in only material terms?"

First, I asked David what he meant by this because his terminology is
typically at odds with generally accepted social scientific terminology. I
understand what "reification" is, just not so sure how David might have
meant it. History is real.

Yes, but the events of history are not collectively a thing. Its reality
is the reality of sociology or economics, not the reality of a 1938 Ford,
with the much worshipped flat-head engine.

Austin: History exerts a tremendous causal force on the
present.

No. Past events exert causal force on the present. Austin can't be
trusted with the word "history" any more than you can trust a child with a
wet paint brush. He will just make a mess of things. This is his clumsy
reification in operation.

Austin:
In many ways what occurs today can be said to be caused by what
occurred yesterday.

Pretty much correct. -dlj.

Austin:
History should not be conceptualized as a word made
object (we should avoid solipsism for obvious reasons).

Both correct points which I have been trying to bring home to Austin.
-dlj.

Austin:
Rather history is
a objective category that contains those structures and processes that
occurred in the past. This means that history contains both objective
material and objective ideational components. History is comprised of what
actually occurred in the past.

No. This is utterly flippo. Austin simply does not understand the
meaning(s) of the word "objective." There is no such thing as an objective
category. Categories are by their nature arbitrary, though often
convenient and obvious. "Arbitrary" is one of the opposites of
"object´ve." Similarly there are no such things as "objective ideational
components." Things happened, and we know about them with more or less
accuracy -- and greater or lesser ideological biaes for that matter. The
sentence "History is comprised of what occured in the past" is a set-up for
Austin to follow up talking about history -- but using it with a completely
differnt meaning: he will then proceed to talk about what he believes
happened in the past, something which may or may not duplicate the
"history"of the sentence quoted.

Austin:
David has conflated his philosophical perspective of subjectivist
idealism, which holds that all reality is a mental creation, with world
history, and reduced all of social and material reality that has passed
before us to a mental event.

<Yawn> There he goes again.

This is a hopeless enterprise and rather
ironic; if my arguments are to be dismissed because they ultimately cannot
make reference to some independently existing reality (that is, a reality
that stands distinct from the conceptual categories describing it) then
David's arguments can have no such ground to stand upon either, and every
argument he has made thus far amounts to nothing but personal, subjective
ramblings. The question then becomes: What is David's purpose in joining
lists inhabited by historical materialists who use of scientific
(dialectical) methods?

In this case we have a simple matter of my being relatively well informed
about the number of evangelists and their families active in American
politics, and Austin's utter ignorance, made obvious by his falling back
upon newspaper idioms and idiocies about evangelicals -- people who tend to
evangelise each other, rather than the people of China. My knwledge is
relevant to the history of China-US relations; Austin's ignorance isn't.

Finally, David has accused me of employing only a materialist
understanding of history, that is, a conception of history needing a
material engine, according to him.

Not at all. I have confined myself to discussing Austin's ill-informed
attacks upon myself personally and from tie to time upon what I have
written. I have very little interest in Austin's view of history, which I
find stilted and uninteresting.

Austin:
I asked David if he was "arguing that collective behavior is not
qualitatively different from individual behavior?

His answer was inappropriate. "Again, I don't understand the question
without any context. Which individual? Which group? Which quality?" he
wonders."

The answer is not inapprpriate. Austin's metaphysical style is to pull a
rabbit out of a hat, his precious dialectic, some force or other, an
imperialism or a capitalism, or whatever he needs to concoct on any
occasion, to explain things. His bogus "scientific materialism" is
extremely elastic that way. Hence I refused to be drawn into a discussion
of his airy categories. I am perfectly willing to look at any specific
individual/collective event he is interested in -- but ahistorical category
mashing is a bore, words, air, and as always, metaphysics.

The question is a methodological one meant to expose David's
methodological individualism.

<Yawn.> This guy seems bound on name calling, but he doesn't have much of
a vocabulary, does he?

Austin again:
I suspected that, since he has in the past
denyed the existence of society,

*the lie direct** I have never denied "the existence of society." I have
denied the objectivity of any particular definition of it, insisting that
it is again, a category, a viewpoint, a construct, depending on
circumstances.

he believes that there are only
aggregates of individuals and individuals, in which case there is only a
quantitative distinction rather than a qualitative distinction between
individuals and groups. It is a question that needs no context, just a
straight answer. I was optimistic.

Utter hooey. Of course it needs a context, partcularly when one is dealing
with arguments as slippery or as confused as those Austin piles up.

Because David suggested that I was nuts for even believing that the owner
of a bank made decisions about how the bank was run, I asked "Why is the
idea of elite management so unbelievable for you?"

"Nuts" is Austin's word here, not mine. I may have used it of an argument
from time to time. The suggestion that Austin personally is nuts is made
by him, not by me.

To which he responds, "Hunh? [sic] What on Earth makes you think I think
that? Obviously there are elites of various kinds, and obviously they try
to exert their collective and individual wills -- with varying success.
Best laid plans of mice and men... But as a past, present, and I hope
future member of various elites, perhaps I am more aware of their/our
limitations than some of the soi-disant non-elites you have been
reading."

For once Austin gets a quote correct. Praise be to Microsoft.

Austin:
We have now established that bankers do have some control over the banks
they own.

No, actually. Austin can't get the simplest thing right. Very few bankers
own banks, nor do owners in general control what they own. Gardiner &
Means. Basic to understanding American business.

Austin again:
Moreover, we have established that elites are constrained by
objective historical and social structures. This was why I asked these
(sic)
series of questions: they reveal that once we boil out the insults and
hyperbole from David's rhetoric he is forced to admit to the simple
realities that are contained in my arguments and the arguments of social
scientists generally. (I am also curious as to which "*soi-disant*
non-elites" David thinks I have been reading.)

This last is a jibe as lefty academics'pretence of speaking for and
listening to proletariats. Damn, Austin needs a fucking program.

To take the discussion of human agency to a more structural level I asked,
"Do you deny that the IMF imposes structural adjustment on countries in
debt crisis?"

David answers. "Of course not, or at least it tries, with mixed success. I
even object strongly -- and probably in more detail and with more effect
than you -- to their tendency to decontrol the price of rice and beans,
rather than capping military expenditures, a much faster and easier way of
bringing a country's finances back into line."

The question was not which policy focus David prefers enacted by the IMF
or any other global institution. The question was meant to force David to
admit to the fact that there is global planning. David has agreed that
there are. It is turning out that on several substantive points David
actually shares my views. Why does he disagree with the same points in his
more insulting diatribes?

I don't think that I do; Austin misquotes me so often he probably doesn't
understand what I write. As for my "diatribes" being "insulting,"I think I
am rather forebearing with Austin. He is the one who resorts to personal
name-calling. In this whole lengthy train I have name-called only once,
and the victim was Sam Huntington, who can probably stand the shock.

I asked David about several past and present global institutions and
processes, Bretton Woods, the United Nations, the World Bank, and the
World Trade Organization. I wondered why did or do these organizations
exist.

David argues that it is "The triumph of hope over common sense."

Not only has David admitted to global capitalist management,

{I have admitted nothing of the sort. Austin is off in fantasy-land of his
own construction again. He name-calls, and then believes his own
diatribes.}

....but he has
admitted to supporting global capitalist management, describing it as a
"triumph of hope [capitalist exploitation and domination] over common
sense [freedom, democracy, and human rights]." This is a position, I
suppose, but it is strange that in this same post David claims to be a
social democrat of the Second International variety. I find this puzzling.

I am not surprised by Austin's puzzlement, but I attribute it to his own
inabilities, not to my lack of clarity.

Back to Austin:
I asked another simple question. "When the board of directors for a
mammoth TNC makes a decision about where to locate production, you do not
think this is planned?"

"The CEO remembers where his wife liked the priests at the temple near the
hotel, as often as not," David remarks. Then writes, "Seriously, if you
think it is done rationally, I have this bridge for sale."

The return of David to this tone is unfortunate, but the content of the
statement is rather ridiculous and contrary to what we know about human
behavior under capitalism. A CEO inserts a production facility in a
country based on several factors, the least of which will be whether "his
wife liked priests at the temple near the hotel." His plans are "rational"
if he calculates costs versus benefits, makes an assessment of level of
infrastructural development, the education and skills of the labor pools,
the political stability of the region, the wage levels, degree of
environmental regulation, level of taxation of business, access to
transportation, presence or absence of labor unions and the strength of
worker and other groups organizing, etc. Successful TNCs/MNCs weigh these
factors over the aesthetic or religious pleasures of their wives.

{I am sorry Austin finds my tone "unfortunate." My the-wife-at-the-temple
was of course shorthand, but I think that it conveys to most people a clear
view of how I think decisions are made in large organizations, without for
a moment denying the -- in most cases comparatively modest -- role palyed
by any rational calculus of profit and loss. I am confident that competent
students of international business will endorse my view pretty much, and
will find Austin's laughably simple-minded. -dlj.}

To make sure David will admit to global management one last time, I ask a
couple of questions. "Is there no complex of organizations moving at the
global level?"

Response: "There are many global organizations, and even more trying to
become global. Some, like McDonalds and Kelly Vacuum Cleaners in fact
operate effectively in a global sense."

Question: "How do all these trade deals get done?"

Another dodge. "'Nuther meaningless question. Name a deal, we'll discuss
it. If you think there is a set of explanations for all of them, see the
bridge for sale, op. cit."

This is not a dodge. I am perfectly prepared to educate Austin on
McDonalds or Kelly. Both are informative, but I will stick to McDonalds,
because it is relevant to the question of objective measures of profit and
loss. McDonalds in Russia, extemely busy, and with vast potential for
profit, is a subsidiary of McDonalds of Canada. This means that its
profits, when they start coming through, will be taxed at Caandian rates
and contribute to the Canadian social welfare program, before they arrive
at the US headquarters. Canadian corporate overhead, which is also levied
on the Russian operation, is spent on McDonalds's very admirable policy of
corporate charity in Canada. None of this is rational from the point of
vie of the largely American owners of the overall McDonalds enterprise. It
is explainable by two things, American anti-Communist paranoia, and the
accident of George Cohen, the brilliant Canadian businessman involved,
having Russsian antecedents.

My claim is that these are important historical facts -- pretty close to
objective, too -- and far more important and interesting in any
consideration of geopolitical realities. If we want to know something
about what's going on in Russia, Austin will blither on about his precious
dialectic and objective forces. I will be much better off: I'll phone
George Cohen, whose office I can see from my balcony. Perhaps we'll wave
at each other, if my cord reaches that far.

Here comesAustin nattering on s'more:
Question: "GATT? NAFTA? Do you not believe that things that happen in
the world are objective reality?"

Answer: "I agree that organizations named GATT and NAFTA exist. I would be
surprised if there was much more than that which has 'objective reality'
in the sense that Manhattan Island (modulo land fill and outgoing garbage)
or my Casio watch do. There are happenings in the world; to call them
'things' is only a convention of English and some other languages."

But doesn't David understand that all labels for "things" are linguistic
conventions?

{Yes, actually, I do. This spares me the embarassment and confusion Austin
gets himself into by not understanding what is objective and what is
arbitrary.}

And that the existence of structures and process are not
dependent on the conventional labels attached to them to be objectively
real?

{Austin pretends, by sleight of language, that he has objective knowledge
about everything that I quite agree
is objectively real. Ever sceptical, I take this implicit claim lightly.
Fortunately we salt our roads here, so I am supplied, even for hauls as
long as Austin's.}

How do animals interact if they have no language to define their
relations? This comes down to a basic question of philosophy.

{I woudl rather plump for zoology.}

Do things
exist because we have named them? Or are names created to describe things
in the real world? Blahblahblah...


<48 more lines of this guff, roughly 8 or ten linear yards in 10 point type
on a 15 inch screen, snipped. You're welcome.>

* * *

Up to now, withthe exception of my crack about Huntington, when I slipped
down to Austin's level, I have avoided personal remarks. However Austin
has made such a large number of personal judgements, guess, imputations,
and personal insults, that I think I am entitled to just one judgement. It
is this, based not on this petty contretemps about American policy toward
China, but on his earlier stuff about weaons and command and control ("C4")
systems: If Austin wer as gullible toward Kraft and Proctor & Gamble as hi
is toward the claims of the weapons and systems makers, you would be a fool
to let him loose in a supermarket with $5 of your own money. I think his
gullibility carries over into his credulity about the supposed realism
historians, philosophers, and of course The dialectic.