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Tag Archives: Dialectics

The Elements of Dialectical Materialism

Yin Yang Symbol

My Favorite Representation of What The Dialectic Represents

I am not an academic. Neither am I a philosopher or a journalist. Nevertheless, I do write on occasion and make an effort to share my thoughts in a somewhat coherent manner. I have to admit it’s gotten a little bit more difficult over the last few years, what with Twitter, Facebook, and other social media apps, platforms, and sites, slowly turning me into a scattershot reader of content.

My goal for the foreseeable future is to reverse that trend somewhat and spend more time writing and sharing my thoughts, perhaps some of my dreams, and a few (or more) of my memories. I’ll be 70 years old next June and, in mid-April of next year, will have outlived my father by a decade. Although relatively healthy, I do have my share of ailments that seem to come to everyone eventually: Mild Hypertension; Type II Diabetes (though, thanks to Fitbit and a little willpower made easy by the data retrieved from my Aria scale and Charge HR (link is to their latest version), I’ve lost a little over 30 pounds in a little over a year — and it’s had its salutary effect on my blood sugar); surgery for a Melanoma; Dupuytren’s Contracture; trigger finger; and a bunch of weird-ass nerve issues that are making many reaching movements with my hands problematic. In other words, I’m doing pretty good for an old guy.

I’m hoping to live long enough to share a little of the adult life of my children, who are currently 15 and 13, but there’s no way to know if that will happen. A lot of folks around my age have been dying off lately, and I can feel the inexorable decline of my physical strength, stamina, and overall health accelerating as I age. It’s a strange trip, I must say. Sometimes I worry a bit that I’m paying too much attention to the end, but I have always been one who has enjoyed the ride and I’m not really too concerned with its conclusion. I just happen to be fascinated by the concept of nothingness, which I contend is nigh onto impossible for we humans to comprehend. I also believe it is a big part of what has long attracted people to religion; they need to believe there’s some sort of consciousness after they die. I don’t believe that’s possible.

As someone who has embraced (if not always lived up to the practices inherent in doing so) Systems Thinking, I long ago came to the conclusion that the philosophy of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Dialectical Materialism, is the framework from which systems thinkers can best view the development of the natural world which, of course, includes human beings and our social constructs.

In that regard, I thought I would share this compilation of the elements of the philosophy, as culled from the works of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, one of the world’s clearest explicators of the work of Marx. Here are the 16 elements I’ve been able to find. I once had a slightly shorter version, which I had printed out and displayed at my desk. Several years before I retired, someone had the audacity to take it down from the wall, rip it in half, and leave it on my seat. I’ve never quite understood the cowardice it takes to do something like that but, no matter, the words — and the concepts they represent — can’t be erased quite that easily. Here’s the list:

Summary of Dialectics

Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

  1. The objectivity of consideration (not examples, not divergences, but the Thing-in-itself).
  2. The entire totality of the manifold relations of this thing to others.
  3. The development of this thing, (phenomenon, respectively), its own movement, its own life.
  4. The internally contradictory tendencies (and sides) in this thing.
  5. The thing (phenomenon, etc.) as the sum  and unity of opposites.
  6. The struggle, respectively unfolding, of these opposites, contradictory strivings, etc.
  7. The union of analysis and synthesis — the breakdown of the separate parts and the totality, the summation of these parts.
  8. The relations of each thing (phenomenon, etc.) are not only manifold, but general, universal. Each thing (phenomenon, process, etc.) is connected with every other.
  9. Not only the unity of opposites, but the transitions of every determination, quality, feature, side, property into every other [into its opposite?].
  10. The endless process of the discovery of new sides, relations, etc.
  11. The endless process of the deepening of man’s knowledge of the thing, of phenomena, processes, etc., from appearance to essence and from less profound to more profound essence.
  12. From coexistence to causality and from one form of connection and reciprocal dependence to another, deeper, more general form.
  13. The repetition at a higher stage of certain features, properties, etc., of the lower and
  14. The apparent return to the old (negation of the negation).
  15. The struggle of content with form and conversely. The throwing off of the form, the transformation of the content.
  16. The transition of quantity into quality and vice versa.

As I said, I am hardly a philosopher; merely a person who has found Materialism, whether it be Dialectical or Historical, to be the best method available to understand history and the development of society without — and this is important — the intervention of the supernatural. I try to apply this type of thinking to everything I ponder, but I do fall short at times. I, like most of us, am a work-in-progress. More to come.


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The Many Uses of Facebook

Speak Up?

Thinking Back

A while back I wrote about the dilemma I faced when I first realized my Facebook “friends” consisted of numerous constituencies, and my concern that speaking frankly to one may unwittingly offend or alienate some from another. I also mentioned that, despite this initial fear, I quickly resolved it in favor of just being myself and not worrying too much about it.

Lately I’ve noticed another phenomena that’s been slowly creeping into my activity on Facebook. While it’s related to my interest in economics and politics, it does seem to be driven considerably by the Occupy movement (I use only Occupy advisedly, as there exist not merely an Occupy Wall Street group – which started this whole thing – but also other groups, most evident on Facebook as Occupy Together, Occupy Marines, etc.)

As part of my decision to just “let it all hang loose” and be myself, I have increasingly shared articles, pictures, etc. from some of the political sites I either frequent or that like-minded friends have shared with me. As it happens, I generally characterize my political leaning as so far to the left I’m almost a Libertarian (mind you, emphatically not one). I have also responded to some posts from people with whom I don’t exactly agree, telling them politely of my problems with their positions. Most of these conversations have been quite pleasant; spirited debates over policy and principle. Several times someone has actually commented on how they were pleased with the civility of the thread and its participants.

Is Useful Political Discourse Possible?

So, what I’m beginning to wonder is if this is, indeed, a new phenomena that may turn out to be useful and healthy for political discourse. If you have a fair amount of friends there’s a substantial chance they will represent numerous viewpoints and positions on the important issues facing us. Might not we be able to understand each other better and, consequently, move away from the precipice of irreconcilable differences we seem to be teetering on lately?

I have to admit there is a bit of a dark side to this as well. Two things have happened to me that I find a bit chilling. The first was a friendly “suggestion” I received that I might want to tone it down a bit when discussing the Occupy movement and the politics and economics behind it. The impact this might have on my standing in the business community was the implication, and its seriousness did not go unnoticed by me. The second is related, but needs a bit of background.

UC Davis Pepper Spray Incident

Not Exactly a Meeting of Minds

Maybe We Can’t All “Just Get Along”

I live in a relatively insular city – Simi Valley, CA – home of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum. The City leaders are, for the most part, far more conservative than I am (who isn’t?) and I have become Facebook friends with a lot of them, including the Mayor, members of the local Chamber of Commerce, and at least one City Council member. Being a strong proponent of the right of free speech, I have spoken my mind rather openly; at least on Facebook. I don’t get into too many political discussions when doing business and I am a big supporter of local small business and wish to actively contribute to making our local economy strong and vibrant.

Last night I realized the City Council member had “unfriended” me, presumably due to a conversation I had with a couple of his friends. As I recall, it was one that received a post of praise for its tenor and the level of intellect involved. I do recall, though, I was very adamant in pointing out what I saw as fallacious arguments based on incomplete or incorrect knowledge. Frankly, I’d like to hear of anyone having a really fruitful discussion about the merits of Dialectical Materialism with a rabid anti-Communist. In my experience, the philosophy behind Marxism is little known here in these enlightened United States, and it’s very hard to receive any respect from someone who is certain of the correctness of their knowledge and the evilness of yours.

A Profound Dilemma

So I’m also wondering . . . despite my essentially being out of the job market and, therefore, not having to worry about alienating a potential employer, do I now have to censor myself politically lest I “upset” a city leader and risk throwing a roadblock in my meager, but important, efforts at making Simi Valley a better place to live? I don’t ask that people agree with me; merely that they respect my position and – especially – my desire to do what’s right for the community as I see it . . . just as I respect their beliefs and integrity. I really don’t care for revisiting this whole dilemma around what’s appropriate when it involves the core issues of our lives and livelihoods.

As well, I’m very disappointed this person decided to unfriend me. I believe we have more in common than we differ on. I also wanted to keep up with what he was doing as a Councilperson, as he uses Facebook to post from various events he is involved with. It seems I’ve been cut off from a useful, viable channel to the goings on of one of my city’s leaders and I’m still not sure how I feel about it. How do you feel about this?

Mouth/Flag Image from reading. writing. revolution


Where’s the Anger?

Listening to only minor excerpts (and some exceptional analysis on KPFK Pacifica Radio) I find myself absolutely incensed at the arrogance of the people who caused the financial meltdown and who gladly took our tax dollars, ostensibly to keep the economy afloat, and are now proceeding to pay themselves handsomely for their indiscretions.

Listen . . . I’m doing OK. I didn’t get caught up – at least not directly – in the mortgage fiasco and I’m lucky enough to have a job that probably isn’t going anywhere, but what about all the people who’ve lost so much? Even if they were a bit greedy (or where they just reacting logically to a society that preaches the ethos of looking out for oneself and the hell with everyone else?), I don’t think they deserve this kind of disrespect and the uncertainty that so many face right now . . . with no end in sight.

But I have to ask, where’s the anger? Why aren’t people really paying attention to how we’re being played. Though I think Phil Angelides probably has the best of intentions, I think his commission is going to end up toothless and, once again, the high-rollers of Wall Street are going to scoop their ill-gained winnings off the table and we’re going to be left wondering what happened? Where are the pitchforks? Why aren’t more people demanding accountability? Where’s the call for bringing back the guillotine?


Russ Ackoff, Systems Thinking, and Enterprise 2.0

I posted another “tribute” to Russ Ackoff in my blog at the 2.0 Adoption Council’s collaborative site and thought to share it outside the Council as well. Our site is enabled by Jive SBS and is private, so I’d like to share it with others. What follows, then, is the post as I wrote it the other day:

I am of the opinion it takes a certain kind of sensibility to understand how and why Enterprise 2.0 fits into an organization and, more importantly, how it can increase the effectiveness of everyone and everything with respect to how that organization realizes its goals. In my mind that sensibility was understood well (if not best) by people like W. Edwards Deming and the man I’d like to reflect on just a bit in this post, Russell Lincoln Ackoff. I am writing this because Russ just died last October 29 and the resonance of his passing has yet to settle amongst the community of people who knew him – either personally or through his writings and teachings. Just today I received an email from John Pourdehnad, Director of ACASA at UPenn, with a link to another tribute to Russ, which I urge you to read. I have written about his passing also, as Russ affected me profoundly. I was hoping to visit with him once again next month. Alas, that was not to be. You can read my feeble attempt here, and you can read the latest blog I received from Johnnie here. If you aren’t aware of who Russ was just Google his name and you’ll find plenty out there to inform you.

I raise this issue for several reasons. One is my feeling that, much like so many great people, the full impact of Russ’s influence will only be felt now that he is gone. Whle he was alive he was the spokesperson for his thoughts; nobody could convey what he had to say as well as he could and few tried. Absent his presence it now falls to those of us who stood at his feet to now stand upon his shoulders and try our best to carry on his work. Make no mistake about it, Russ was an important figure in contemporary thought. Not merely in business, but also in education and life in general. No less than Peter Drucker held Russ’s work in high esteem. Drucker once wrote a letter to Russell, which he proudly displayed on the wall of his office. In it, Peter had this to say:

“I was then, as you may recall, one of the early ones who applied Operations Research and the new methods of Quantitative Analysis to specific BUSINESS PROBLEMS — rather than, as they had been originally developed for, to military or scientific problems. I had led teams applying the new methodology in two of the world’s largest companies — GE and AT&T. We had successfully solved several major production and technical problems for these companies — and my clients were highly satisfied. But I was not–we had solved TECHNICAL problems but our work had no impact on the organizations and on their mindsets. On the contrary: we had all but convinced the managements of these two big companies that QUANTITATIVE MANIPULATION was a substitute for THINKING. And then your work and your example showed us–or at least, it showed me–that the QUANTITATIVE ANALYSIS comes AFTER the THINKING — it validates the thinking; it shows up intellectual sloppiness and uncritical reliance on precedent, on untested assumptions and on the seemingly “obvious.” But it does not substitute for hard, rigorous, intellectually challenging THINKING. It demands it, though — but does not replace it. This is, of course, what YOU mean BY system. And your work in those far-away days thus saved me — as it saved countless others — from either descending into mindless “model building” — the disease that all but destroyed so many of the Business Schools in the last decades — or from sloppiness parading as ‘insight.’” (I took this from a comment by Steve Brant – a friend – to Michael Trick’s Operations Research Blog. I have personally read the letter as well, in Russ’s office earlier this year)

Another reason I wish to point to Russ’s work is my belief it can – and should – play a significant role in our understanding the implications of Enterprise 2.0. As Andy points out so saliently in his book, and as I would hope most of us have already come to realize, our work is not merely to theorize about the efficacy and implications of adopting E2.0 principles, but rather to apply them to the conduct of our respective organizations such that they improve their day-to-day operations and assist them in achieving their strategic goals. I think that can best be done by also understanding the systemic nature of the organizations within which we operate, and Russ had unique understanding and insight into how this was so.

The intent I had for my personal blog, which I link to above, was to work on reconciling Systems Theory – as taught by Russ and others – to the philosophy of Dialectical Materialism; perhaps a bridge too far given the demands on my time and energy. I do, however, wish to continue understanding how the principles of E2.0 (here‘s a great overview Dion linked to in Twitter) can be best understood from the viewpoint of Systems Theory. To that end I will continue attempting to reconcile what Russ had to teach us with the work we are all engaged in with respect to this council. It is my hope many of you will asssist in this endeavor. I believe it is extremely important to our success. Actually, I believe it is a valuable component of the continuing development of human thought and organization – economically, politically, and socially. I welcome your comments.

Respectfully,

Rick


Once More Unto The Breach, Dear Friends

Blogging is an interesting occupation or, in my case, avocation. For me it has allowed mostly venting, though I started with a blog about my family that was anything but. I finally gave up on that, believing it really wasn’t my place to put out our personal details for everyone to see. I am considering doing just that in a book, which requires some personal investment and input (like moolah) from the reader; something to salve my family’s wounds for having made our foibles public. That, however, is another venue I will explore. For now we are about blogging.

I propose, for this blog, to explore the symmetries, similarities, and synergies of the philosophy of the Dialectic and the teachings of Systems Theory. I propose to explore the writings of people like Karl Marx, W. Edwards Demming, and Russell Ackoff, as well as others who have studied and written on either of the subjects. As far as I can tell, this is a novel approach; some may say strange or even dangerous. Nonetheless, I find it interesting and quite valid, i.e. the juxtaposition of the two seemingly disparate concepts.

I say disparate because the philosophy of the Dialectic (actually Dialectical Materialism) espoused by Karl Marx, Fredrich Engels, and (yes, even) V.I. Lenin is irrevocably and inextricably entertwined with the Soviet Revolution and State no longer extant in Eastern Europe, while the teachings of Systems Thinking took root in post-war Japan and have flourished in the deeply entrenched Capitalism of the United States and elsewhere.

I don’t expect my analysis to proceed quickly, nor do I expect to be able to post all that frequently. The exigencies of my real job, coupled with my attendance in an online Masters program at CSUN – not to mention the fact I have two quite young daughters who demand a lot of my attention – will make it difficult to attend to this blog. Regardless, I think it a worthy objective and, God willing and the creek don’t rise, I’m hopeful it will be the precursor to either a Doctoral Thesis, or – at the least – a serviceable essay on the subject. Who knows? I guess that’s one of the beauties of blogging. I can put forth ideas and, if I’m lucky, I’ll even get some feedback. At the very least I get the opportunity to blather on about something that interests at least one person in this world.


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