The Hegelian Dialectic
Many years ago, I had watched a certain documentary, the name of which escapes me at the moment †. The one thing I do remember about it, however, was the opening song: "Listen," by Jordan Page.
The thing that stuck out to me about this song was the line, "Listen to the sound of the drums callin' players to the game of the New World Order." I was big into conspiracy theories back in those days, and this was perhaps the first time I'd ever heard an artist reference the New World Order in their work. My jaw nearly hit the floor.
It's a great song in itself, and one I still enjoy listening to every once in a while.
Jordan is an artist who uses his music as a medium for political activism, to help bring awareness of major issues to the public's attention; and unlike most artists and musicians these days, his message seems to target everyone, not just one faction. That's because the problem he chooses to write about and sing about (in this case, the New World Order) is something that affects everyone on all sides, not just some people.
Jordan has another really great song that I like called "Pendulum." If you can't listen to the audio link, then just read the lyrics below. Tell me if this doesn't strike a chord with you in terms of what's going on in the world today:
I been walking a tightrope between fact and fiction.
I been wrestling with demons in small bottled prisons.
I been talking with sinners who claim to be Christian.
I been shouting at leaders who claim to be listening.
And the pendulum swings from the left to the right.
Its momentum increases the need for the fight,
Like a moment of blindness in a lifetime of sight,
And I ... am caught somewhere the middle.
I saw a president blind to the needs of his people.
I saw a camel that passed through the eye of a needle.
I saw a group of old men whose money was evil.
I saw a cross breaking free from the cage of a steeple.
I saw beggars and cripples dying in squalor.
I saw a son whose sins had exceeded his father.
I saw a nation of sleepers whose dreams were forgotten,
And a bushel of apples from a tree that was rotten.
There's a lot more to it than that, but does that not sound like a song for our time? Indeed, does it not sound rather timeless? Even if you think things are generally going well at the moment, I'm sure you can think of a few areas in life where they aren't; or even stretch back to the not-too-distant past and find the same.
I'm big on subliminal symbology in art, as well as evocative visual imagery, and the idea of a pendulum swinging from one extreme to the other is a very apt description of the course of human history. It's also an apt heuristic for what's known as the Hegelian dialectic.
(I know the modernists in the audience are probably cringing right now, but bear with me a moment.)
So what is a dialectic, first of all? Wikipedia states:
Dialectic or dialectics (Greek: διαλεκτική, dialektikḗ), also known as the dialectical method, is a discourse between two or more people holding different points of view about a subject but wishing to establish the truth through reasoned arguments.
In philosophy, dialectic or dialectical method implied a methodology used for examining and cognition of philosophical objects. Dialectical methods demands the users to examine the objects in relation to other objects and to the whole system, and examine the objects within a dynamic, evolutionary environment. Dialectical method is usually contrasted with metaphysical method, which examine the objects in a separated, isolated and static environment
The purpose of the dialectic method of reasoning is resolution of disagreement through rational discussion, and, ultimately, the search for truth. One way to proceed - the Socratic method - is to show that a given hypothesis (with other admissions) leads to a contradiction; thus, forcing the withdrawal of the hypothesis as a candidate for truth (see reductio ad absurdum). Another dialectical resolution of disagreement is by denying a presupposition of the contending thesis and antithesis; thereby, proceeding to sublation (transcendence) to synthesis, a third thesis.
Fichtean / Hegelian dialectics is based upon four concepts:
1. Everything is transient and finite, existing in the medium of time.
2. Everything is composed of contradictions (opposing forces).
3. Gradual changes lead to crises, turning points when one force overcomes its opponent force (quantitative change leads to qualitative change).
4. Change is helical (periodic without returning to the same position), not circular (negation of the negation).
The concept of dialectic (as a unity of opposites) existed in the philosophy of Heraclitus of Ephesus, who proposed that everything is in constant change, as a result of inner strife and opposition. Hence, the history of the dialectical method is the history of philosophy.
Right, so to most of you, that probably sounds like a bunch of gobbledygook. Let me see if I can simplify it down for you a bit.
The basic idea of the Hegelian dialectic is that nothing exists in a vacuum. Whether we're talking about people, things, or ideas, everything is a reaction to what came before it - and usually an overreaction, with the pendulum starting at one extreme (the thesis) and swinging through to the opposite extreme (the antithesis) and back and forth it goes until eventually it settles somewhere in the middle (the synthesis).
As I said, the whole of human history can be viewed this way. Let's zoom out for a moment and take a sort of broad brushstroke view of things to see how that might be the case.
In ye olden days, we mere mortals used to believe in all manner of absurd crap, like that mental illness was caused by demons, women who wore pointed hats were evil witches, the earth was flat, and boiling your own shit made for decent treatment of the plague. This we all believed because we viewed the world through a religious filter. Thesis.
Obviously, that was a very bad thesis in many ways, and soon people invented the scientific method to come up with more rational-sounding explanations for things, like neurological disorders, globular earth, and actual medicine that wasn't literally shit. We stabbed the religious filter through the heart and left it to bleed out on the side of the road where we thought it belonged. Antithesis.
But soon a strange thing occurred - something most of us couldn't predict, but a few in the religious camp foretold. We started to realize that our scientific filter was missing something. We created a cold, dead universe that no one really wanted to live in, because nothing mattered. There was no real good explanation for things like ethics. Everything simply boiled down to compulsive, nihilistic perpetuation of the species ad infinitum because ... why?
We had ironically taken our science so far that it started to loop back around on itself (in a helix, not a circle) and show that some of the religious stuff wasn't actually wrong, just our explanations for why it was right were wrong. Things like the whole notion that we're all connected by something unseen, being made of starstuff, and the like are actually starting to be proven true by rigorous science. So those of us ahead of the curve adopted a New Age filter that sort of combined the best of both worlds. Synthesis.
The interesting, and somewhat unfortunate, thing is that, in reality, Hegel's pendulum doesn't just swing once and then stop. Rarely are we so lucky. It usually goes back and forth many times, passing through the center point and then allowing momentum to take hold and push it past a reasonable middle ground back towards the other extreme, but never quite as far - because we remember how shitty the original extreme was and that we left it for a reason and don't wanna go back to there, but maybe just sort of in that general direction. Then we eventually find that, nope! We went too far the other way, so it's back the way we came yet again.
Oh, but wait, we were here already too, so best not go quite so far. Nope, this still sucks. It's better than before, but still not enough. Back the other way, and so on ...
"And the pendulum swings from the left to the right ..."
The problem is, we're doing all this in realtime, from the perspective of the pendulum's head (the counterweight), and so we can kind of feel when we're near the middle, because we sense a massive shift, but we don't really know how to stop it or even exactly when.
Each action creates a reaction, which in turn becomes the action for yet its own reaction.
Let's take another broad example.
When humans first showed up on the scene, we were ten hairs away from being baboons. We were a young and stupid species, primitive and archaic in our thinking - much like children, really, with a very concrete sense of the world. Things were what they were and what we saw was all there was. Thesis.
This state of being had its uses, especially in comparison to the chimp-like creatures that came before (a pre-thesis thesis), but it also had its limitations. For one, we weren't really capable of abstract thinking, so evolution bequeathed us with that, and soon we began seeing abstractions all over the place, even where they probably didn't belong. We created animism and tribal shamanism and other superstitious filters through which to view the world, thinking that when the druidic high priest put on a bear skin, he literally became a bear spirit. Antithesis.
Eventually, this shamanic tribalism became problematic. For one thing, it forced people to sacrifice their own needs for the group, and to deny their basic material needs for the sake of (largely fallacious) spiritual ones. Not surprisingly, this reaction led to rampant and selfish individualistic materialism with people breaking off from the tribe to become lone wolves, party-animals, and sometimes even sharks and jackals who flip the bird to any notion of divinity and morality. (Tony Montana, for instance.)
Not quite. More like an anti-antithesis.
The reason it's not a synthesis is because it pushed too far to the opposite extreme again. Not as far back as our Neanderthal ancestors, since these hyper-materialists still had the capacity for abstract thinking and spiritual union, they just de-emphasized that part of their being in favor of its polar opposite. Instead of a healthy balance between the self and the group, between the material and the spiritual, between the abstract and the concrete, our unrepentant egoist kicked the pendulum passed the midpoint yet again.
"And the pendulum swings from the left to the right ..."
Eventually, this hyper-individualism leads to criminality and degeneracy in a general disregard for the concerns and well-being of others. Thus, a need for strict moral order and a re-infusion of divine ethics and traditional societal values emerges. Thus, we get the traditional religious filter, and then the modernist scientific filter, and the postmodernist New Age filters like we discussed already, but even that still isn't all the way to synthesis, though it's certainly a lot closer to the center with each pass.
For more on this particular dynamic, I'd recommend checking out this video on Spiral Dynamics. It's where I first learned of the concept of multiple levels of consciousness existing in a helical hierarchy.
In order to understand where we are and where we're going, it's important to understand where we've been and how we got here. If you view religious, political, and social issues in isolation - through the so-called metaphysical methodology mentioned above - they won't seem to make a lot of sense. Life will appear random and confusing and chaotic, and we'll wonder how the heck things got so crazy and with seemingly no way to resolve them. But if we instead see the world as a series of action-reactions, we start to understand the cause and effect relationship, and can begin to empathize with our fellow man.
Most people seem irrational because they are starting from a different set of premises than we are, though they they still apply logical reasoning to those premises. The cure for irrationality is to find and attack the inaccurate premises. To do that, we need to trace back the dialectics of their arguments.
So for instance, at one point in history, women didn't have the same rights as men. They couldn't vote or own property or work the same jobs as a matter of law and custom. There was a time when they legitimately faced oppression by patriarchal forces - and in certain parts of the world still do.
Today, women's liberation has made great strides in the West. In many ways, it nears total equality, less-so in others; and in certain limited areas, some would even argue that the pendulum has swung full passed the midpoint and is now reversing with women outperforming men. There are those who even perceive the emergency of matriarchal female supremacists, or at least pro-female bias, with many men feeling like they're coming under attack for simply being men.
In the case of feminists, they're starting from the premise that there's a mountain of evidence which suggests to them there is this thing they call the patriarchy. That the momentum of past systems of injustice still retains influence over people's perceptions and actions in the present, which in turn explains the suffering that women face in daily life. That many women live in constant fear of sexual assault or discrimination and not being believed when they come forward about it. That they have their own desires for who and what they wanna be, but feel they are being told by society that they must be something else based solely on appeals to tradition.
In contrast, the premise of the anti-feminists is that a lot of that is hyperbolic, based wholly or partly on false facts (or false interpretations of facts) and skewed priorities coupled with thin skin. That issues like hoop earrings, catcalling, and sexiness in works of fiction are petty compared to, say, the basic human rights of women in Saudi Arabia or mass rapes in Sweden, which the anti's perceive aren't getting proportional attention by feminist activism.
The same analogy can be applied to race relations and sexuality. At least in the West, it's perfectly true that people of color were by and large viewed as inferior to white people at one point in time (and sadly some still do, though not nearly as many as the media-political complex would have you believe). Some were kept as chattel slaves in a true act of evil. In that, we're all in agreement. But that particular problem has since been solved and then it became about segregation and civil rights, with people of color and LGBT folks being denied the same basic rights as cis straight whites for many decades, which society came together to deal with that as well, and now it's on to tackle social justice, since the legal justice has - in many cases, though not all - been largely resolved.
(Things like the war on drugs, affirmative action, police brutality, and sentencing requirements remain some of the last bastions of genuine systemic legal racism.)
As with women's liberation, people of color and LGBT folks have made great strides, with more progress to still be made; but the dialectic part comes into play in that, in some ways, some people (mostly straight white people) see a reversal looming on the horizon, or even already taking place. That the systemic forces of the media-political complex are now shifting away from a favoring of straight cis white males in favor of literally everyone else to the active exclusion of straight cis white males.
That's certainly the mind-set that gave rise to the Alt-Right and the belief that white people are now suddenly the ones under attack just for being white:
(Update: Video added November 7, 2017. I felt it really encapsulates the antithesis argument with regards to race.)
Some people see it as still tending along the same arc towards equalism, whereas others see it as the beginnings of a reversal - that we already hit dead center sometime in the past; and admittedly, it's hard to really tell for sure one way or the other while we're still in the midst of it. In my opinion, it probably won't really become clear to most of the populace that any sort of reversal is taking place until we're well into it, if and when that happens, if it hasn't already.
It's a matter of debate and context where exactly the pendulum lies on any particular issue at the moment. If we started at three o'clock (full-on patriarchy / white supremacy), some might say we're still only at four or even five-thirty, others might even say we're at six-thirty or seven. Regardless, it's clear the overall trend is heading in that clockwise direction. We're definitely not sliding back to three o'clock, nor are we in any immediate danger of pushing all the way to nine (full-on matriarchy / non-white supremacy), but again, the pendulum is swinging in that direction either way.
If you don't think so, if you think that's a ridiculous notion for me to even suggest, it likely means you haven't spent enough time talking to people outside your own ideological bubble and you're living in an echo-chamber. My advice would be to expand your horizons, to really try and understand the feelings of people who don't share your particular point of view.
"And the pendulum swings from the left to the right ..."
In any case, it's lamentable that we're not where we wanna be, which is six o'clock (true equalism). If we're behind, we need to continue pushing forward, but we need to be aware of the fact that some people will continue pushing even after we've hit dead center, out of a perceived fear that, if they don't, we'll start slipping back to three. The modernists don't think that's possible, and maybe it won't happen, but there is a non-zero chance it could.
Likewise, if not guarded against, this progressive thesis will lead to the antithesis of overshooting the mark, a normalizing of reverse racism and reverse sexism, and the rise of counter-cultures like the Alt-Right, MRAs ... and, the postmodernists are gonna hate hearing this, but ... their complaints will then actually be as legitimate as yours are now. Because once you're in the majority, once you have the reins of the body politic that you claim makes cis white males blind to their privilege and power, the same will apply to you because at the end of the day, we're all human beings and the allure of power and corruption doesn't play the game of identity politics. If you're human, it comes for you all the same.
You might think it justified retribution - a way to teach your former oppressors a lesson - but in that you'd be wrong because the people you'd be harming at that point won't be the same people who harmed you or your ancestors. In fact, many of them will likely have been your (former) allies at one point, and those who continue to be so will be decried as race traitors, internalized mysandrists, and whatever other rationalizations are used, but in reverse.
It won't be justice or equality, but merely another form of suprematism, segregation, and Marxist oppression with you on top instead of them. Again, maybe you like how that feels. Maybe you find it a refreshing change of pace to be on top for a change after feeling like you're always on the bottom. I can understand that desire; but don't piss on people's heads and tell them it's raining. It's not honest, at least not if you claim to care about things like justice and equality! You don't like when they do that to you, right? So why would you in turn do it to others? That just breeds bad karma.
"And the pendulum swings from the left to the right. ..."
Likewise, if it turns out we're still at four and five o'clock, the same advice applies to the present majority - the cis white males of the world. Help your brothers and sisters out. Listen to them. Try to understand what they're going through, because there are still many oppressions and pains left to root out that really are systemic in their nature (I already listed a few).
Whatever side you're on, you owe it to those in the other faction to at least put yourself in their shoes, to listen to their arguments, to find out where they come from, and to analyze their premises to find some sort of point you both agree on. That doesn't mean you have to necessarily blindly accept every complaint that gets levied - some might be petty, others might be legitimate - but it's a way to ensure you're not the one living in a bubble; and unless and until you work through it together, you won't know for sure who's right and who's wrong.
The synthesis is to stop the pendulum at six o'clock. To push it up to true equality and no further; or to at least then apply an equal force in the opposite direction to ensure it stays exactly there, neither driving towards seven nor slipping back to five. It will take a combined effort working on two fronts towards the same shared goal; and ultimately, even that might not be good enough.
Or the pendulum in this case.
My intent with this article is not necessarily to persuade you to change your mind on any particular issue, but merely to show you that your views and those of your perceived adversaries do not exist in a static vacuum, but a dynamic synergistic symmetry, each feeding on the other. A yin and yang, push and pull, tick and tock.
There are two sides to every story. And I do mean every story, no matter how wrong you think it might be. If you don't understand the history of those views and how they came to be, you can't hope to discover your proper place on the spectrum or where the true synthesis lies relative to where you are now. If you go about dehumanizing your opponents, attacking them, belittling them with ad hominems, you're never going to convince them to change; and in fact, it may well be they're not the ones who need changing, so much as you. In all likelihood, it's probably some mix of both. Without knowing where you've come from, however, you can't know where you are, and so for all you know, you could be close to the center or way out in left or right field.
Again, the details I leave for you to discuss amongst yourselves. I'm just providing you with a hopefully useful tool and a framework in which to view whatever issues you choose to tackle. If it leads to greater empathy and a more civilized discourse between human beings, I'll consider it a success. Namaste.
† I could have sworn it was the late Aaron Russo's "America: Freedom to Fascism," but in searching for a link to the video, I rewatched the beginning and it doesn't seem to be in there. Not sure if I have the wrong title, or if it was taken out in a later version. I remember it was around that same time period c. 2009-ish, with the footage being a low-angle shot of someone walking on a city sidewalk. If anyone knows what film it's from, let me know so I can amend this.