Materialism – A Brief Introduction

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Materialism is a set of related theories which hold that entitles and processes are composed of – or are reducible to – matter, material forms or physical processes. All events and facts are explainable, actually or in principle, in terms of body, material objects or dynamic material changes or movements. In general, the metaphysical theory of materialism entails the denial of the reality of spiritual beings, consciousness and mental or psychic states or processes, as ontologically distinct form, or independent of material changes or processes. Since it denies the existence of spiritual beings or forces, materialism typically is allied with atheism and agnosticism.’

The English word ‘matter’ has its origins in the Latin words ‘mater’ (i.e. ‘mother’), and ‘materia’ (i.e. ‘all physical things’). As existence is composed of matter, matter is viewed as the foundation of all things. Generally speaking, all matter is said to possess both volume and mass. Within the Chinese language, the concept of ‘matter’ can be expressed using the ideograms ‘物质’ (wu4zhi2). ‘物’ (wu4) is written using the left-hand particle ‘牛’ (nui2) – meaning ‘cow’, ‘bull’, or ‘ox’, and the right-hand particle ‘勿’ (wu4) – originally meaning ‘flag’. When combined together, the ideogram ‘物’ (wu4) literally means ‘matter’, ‘things’, and ‘objects’. ‘质’ (zhi2) is written using the ideogram ‘贝’ (bei4) – meaning a hard sea shell, and the right-hand particle ‘斦’ (yin2) – originally written as ‘two axes’, but also used to refer to a measure of weight equalling around one kilogram (i.e. ‘two catty’). Within Chinese thought, when taken together, the concept of ‘物质’ (wu4zhi2) represents the entirety of existence, or by implication, that physical substance which possesses  (measurable) mass and volume. Ancient India, despite its association with spirituality within popular culture, developed a school of materialist thinking named ‘Lokayata’ (लोकायत) in Sanskrit, which suggests a system of developed thought grounded in the observation (or perception) of the physical world (which is directly accessible to the senses). This school rejected all religious thought that advocated karma and karmic retribution, a belief in ‘invisible’ theistic constructs, and any notion of ‘rebirth’ or ‘reincarnation’. Therefore, the validity of inference and the authority of scripture are firmly rejected. For the Lokayata followers, only that information directly perceived through the senses is real. The Lokayata developed a theory of physical existence that involved four basic elements which combine to generate all of material reality. As a consequence of this thinking, Lokayata is associated with ‘atheism’. The origin of this school is problematic (due to the loss of primary texts), but evidence suggests a date anywhere between 600 – 300 BCE – with the possibility that the ideas associated with this school could be far older.

Whatever the case, the Buddhist Pali suttas mention the Lokayata, which is associated within the tradition of Buddhist commentary, as representing a ‘hard materialism’ (not favoured by the Buddha). However, detailed with the ‘five aggregates’ teaching of the Buddha, it is clear that his system of mind-matter integration is a form of ‘soft materialism’, which recognises a plurality, (but not a duality). This is because the Buddha’s system is premised upon ‘rupa’ (रूप) – or ‘physical matter’, which he defines as particles (paramanu) that flash in and out of existence (similar to the observed behaviour of sub-atomic particles within quantum physics). The Buddha sees the physical world as ‘existing’, but being non-substantial and changeable in nature. This ‘Buddhist’ definition of matter is different to that of the ‘Ucchedavada’ (ဥေစၧဒ) – which the Buddha criticised for assuming a permanent and unchanging physical world – despite the fact that the Buddha agreed with the Ucchedavda that there is no ‘atma’, or permanent soul. The Buddha’s soft materialism deviates away from the hard materialism of the Ucchedavada (which maybe directly linked to the Lokayata), by stressing that karma does function (in a limited, non-theistic sense), and that moral behaviour is required to escape worldly suffering.

Western scholars tend to date the Buddha as living either 563-480 BCE, or 483-400 BCE, whilst within traditional Chinese Buddhism, his date is given as 1028/29-948/49. Obviously, the Buddha’s existence, if dated accurately, would determine the antiquity of the Indian schools of materialism. In ancient Greece, however, the materialist origins of philosophy are said to have developed through the thinking of Democritus (460-370 BCE), who conceived of the universe as being composed of tiny, irreducible atoms unobservable to the naked eye. These atoms operate in a deterministic fashion, and combine to form the various forms associated with physical existence. Epicurus (341-270 BCE) – the student of Democritus, developed this thinking by asserting that every so often atoms ‘swerved’, as a means to explain unusual behaviour or happenings in the physical world. Ancient India developed a theory of materialism, whilst Buddhism developed a theory of the atom, but the (modern) Western world follows the ancient atomic models as devised within the Greek philosophical tradition. Whatever the origin, the doctrine of materialism stands in philosophical opposition to that of ‘idealism’. Idealism is usually understood as advocating that ‘mind’ is primary, and that the physical world exists only as an expression or appearance of that mind. This suggests that the physical world is not truly ‘material’, but rather ‘psychological’, or ‘mental’ in origination and nature. Within the Western philosophical tradition, theistic idealism is associated with Berkley, transcendental idealism of Kant, and the absolute idealism of Hegel. Idealism is often interpreted as being a secular version of theology, and directly related to ‘creationism’, whereby the physical world is viewed as being created by an unseen theistic entity (theology), or ‘projected’ into existence by the agency of mind (idealism), as if by an act of will and/or perception.

Within the subject of ‘philosophy of mind’, the theory of materialism has three distinct definitions, the first two of which represent ‘hard’ materialism, and the third ‘soft’ materialism:

  1. Eliminativism. This theory seeks to ‘eliminate’ entirely any notion of ‘mind’, and all theories of ‘psychology’ from modern science, on the grounds that such notions are the product of misunderstanding, and akin to ‘fairy tales’ that are the product of the residue of religious thinking. How human beings perceive their own minds is viewed as erroneous and the consequence of historical and cultural conditioning. As a consequence, as there is ‘no mind’ in reality, there can be no true experience of ‘raw feelings’ (qualia), or the exercise of intentionality. Theories of psychology are viewed as expressions of out-dated science which need to be abandoned as a necessary means to progress scientific understanding.
  2. Reductionism. In its simplest form, ‘reductionism’ reduces all psychological states to that of easily observable and measurable behaviour (i.e. ‘behavourism’). This reduces mind states to a mode of expression acceptable to modern science. Mind processes might exist as a function of the physical brain, but are viewed as knowable only through the measuring of behaviour. Other than as a producer of behaviour, the mind cannot be directly understood (because although it might generate qualia and intentionality, it does not ‘independently’ exist), and is of no further interest to reductionist.
  3. Irreducibility of mind. Although it might be accepted that ‘mind’ could exist as an apparent independent entity, nevertheless, its existence is so inherently related to matter, that this apparent ‘independence’ is not an issue. The mind is related to matter in a matter far more profound than mere causal independence. This means that the irreducibility of the mind is not a threat to the primacy of the materialist theory. Mind is a product of matter, even if the exact process of the emergence of consciousness from matter is as yet not fully understood.

Karl Marx studied Hegel’s absolute idealism, and understood it (through the work of Feuerbach) to be ‘inverted’ in nature. When turned the right way around, Marx developed the theory of ‘historical materialism’ (which replaced Hegel’s theory of ‘historical idealism’). The theory of historical materialism is ‘scientific’ in nature, and states that it is the economic reality of a society that determines the physical reality of that society. This is an ongoing historical process that does not allow for any ‘divine intervention’ in the affairs of humanity. It is through this materialist theory that Marx explains the historical reasons why it is that the impoverished working class (i.e. proletariat) exists in a subordinated and exploited manner, whilst being dominated by affluent middle class (i.e. bourgeisie), and how it is that this situation contains within itself, the seeds of its own inevitable transformation (through the agency of ‘revolution’). On this point, Marx states ‘In the social production of their life, men enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will, relations of production which correspond to a definite stage of development of their material productive forces. The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which rises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the social, political and intellectual life process in general. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.’ (Preface: A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy). Marx goes on to say that at some point in time, the material productive forces if become so strong that they out-grow the current organisation of society, and come into direct conflict with the existing (bourgeois) relations of society. As the workers become aware of their own material and productive powers, they mass organise and initiate an era of social revolution, eventually seizing the means of production, and radically transforming society through the agency of a socialist revolution. This is the playing-out of class antagonisms, and explains why Russian Marxist Georgi Plekhanov further developed this idea (in 1891), by referring to this process as ‘dialectical materialism’. This was developed from the work of Friedrich Engels (found in his book entitled ‘Dialectics of Nature’) whereby Engels uses the term ‘materialist dialectics’ as a means to combat and neutralise ‘idealistic dialectics’. The theory of scientific socialism as developed by Marx and Engels adopts a materialist outlook to explain human society and the human condition, but Marx and Engels rejected two forms of materialism prevalent in the 19th century, namely those of the ‘mechanistic’ and the ‘metaphysical’ variety. Marx rejected the mechanistic view because it suggested nothing could be changed, and he rejected metaphysical view because he recognised the existence and purpose of a human consciousness – even if it is generated from the brain and conditioned by outer circumstances and events. Marx views the immense productive forces of labour as the driving force behind the unfolding of history. The unfolding of the historical process is not a passive or indifferent passing of events, but is a dynamic, directing and transformative force within human affairs. Metaphysical materialism, strictly speaking denies the existence of this dialectical and historical materialism that Marx clearly sees as operating throughout human history, where it has reached a particular intensity after the Industrial Revolution. The concept of ‘dialectics’ within Marxism can also be applied to personal education, and the development of a proletariat mind that is freed of the oppression and limitations of the past, and which is collective in outlook, and thoroughly progressive and scientific in nature. This maybe taken as the use of Hegel’s dialectic of thesis, antitheses and synthesis – reworked to interpret the changes of the material world (through the negation of the negation) rather than the changes of the ‘idealistic’ (or ‘religious’) world.

 

 

Kirkaldy Testing Museum – London (2.7.2017)

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Kirkaldy Testing Museum

We arrived on the Tube – one form of modern technology – as a means to take our children to the Kirkaldy Testing Museum in Southwark, London. This is the home of a magnificent and still functioning Victorian era, scientific measuring machine, which was designed by Scotsman David Kirkaldy (1820-1897) and eventually stationed in a purpose-built London factory (the site of the museum today). In fact, Kirkaldy entitled his device ‘Universal Testing Machine’ (weighing 116 tons), which although premised upon leverage, pulleys and weights, was actually water-powered.  Any substance could be put under a pulling or pushing pressure to see how much poundage it could take before ‘snapping’. In the case of wrought iron, this was very important for buildings, bridges and other structures that were reliant upon iron -girders for their stability and correct functionality.  One of the volunteers – Roz Currie – helped Mei-An use a similar but much smaller machine (made in 1926) which usually tested the strength of parachute cords. Mei-An tested a piece of nylon-type string used to wrap packages sent through the post. the string snapped at 200 lbs of pressure! David Kirkaldy’s motto was: ‘Fact not opinion.’

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Black African History Restored

Portrait of Gertrude Caton Thompson

Gertrude Caton Thompson

This documentary describes the power of racism – a very dangerous but addictive myth – that together with ‘literalist’ religion, has conspired to usurp, hide, obscure and even destroy the facts of material history. When modern (White) Europeans arrived in Africa prior to, during and after the Industrial Revolution, they ascribed their technological advantage to a god-concept ‘blessing’ the White race (rather than acknowledging human intellect and human labour, the real driving forces of the Industrial Revolution). Africa was (falsely) depicted as being ’empty’ of history, and a continent peopled by backward primitives. Any archaeology that contradicted this racist view (and there are many), were either suppressed, or interpreted as the product of ancient White settlers who had travelled to Africa hundreds or thousands of years ago. This quite frankly ‘weird’ take on African culture was further compounded by the stupidity of assuming that ancient Africa was somehow physically linked to Old Testament stories – again more imagination.  Apparently, Europe had traded with Africa prior to the Industrial Revolution (often with Arab merchants as middlemen), and much of the gold and ivory that fuelled the European Renaissance is now thought to have originated in and around Zimbabwe. Europeans have been lied to by their ancestors, and modern Europeans must throw-off these out-dated and out-moded (racist) interpretations of history, and psychologically and physically start studies anew. Early White colonialists even created the lie that Blacks and Whites had arrived in Southern Africa ‘together’, and that prior to this, there was no Black-African presence. The residing Black-Africans must have thought the violent and ignorant White settlers to be truly insane. On the other hand, the British Feminist – Gertrude Caton Thompson (1888-1985) – one of the first female archaeologists in the UK, led an all-woman team on behalf of the British Academy in 1928, on a quest to objectively study the ‘true’ or ‘real’ origins of Zimbabwe. Thompson rejected the racist ‘White’ interpretation, and the Old Testament gloss, and proceeded from the study of objective facts. Thompson uncovered vast (and ‘new’) archaeological finds in and around ancient Zimbabwe, proving that there were many and numerous different types of ancient African cultures – all apparently feudal in nature – but able to build large rock buildings and structures of religious and political significance. This was augmented by stratified social strictures, military formations, voluntary labour (people work 7 days a month free of charge to honour the king), and there was much sophisticated metal work, jewellery making, and stone-caving. Of course, African people already knew this, and did not require a European woman to tell then their own history, but for ‘White’ Europeans, the work of Thompson has been essential as a ‘corrective’ to otherwise highly ridiculous and racist interpretations. All African gold was owned by the African kings, and only used (together with ivory) strictly in trading with civilisations outside of Africa (which included Europe, the Middle East and China). The internal currency appears to have been the exchange of cattle – with those owning the most cattle being considered the most influential and successful. At one-time (during the 15th century CE), the Africans (Swahili) also sent a giraffe to China – causing great surprise and admiration at the imperial court. As Africa boomed, impressive town and cities developed all-over the continent – including East Africa (prior to Arab domination of the area).  Following African people converting to Islam, it was assumed that ‘Arabs’ had built the beautiful and ornate mosques (and other structures), but recent archaeological discoveries (made by the British academic Mark Horton) suggests this is wrong and just as ‘racist’ in nature as the ‘White’ imaginings. According to Mark Horton, it was Swahili Africans that conceived, built, maintained and prayed in the great mosques of East Africa – that only much later were taken over by Arabs. Eventually, of course, despite the greatness of African culture, a time came when this culture started to decline. This decline was almost complete by the 15th century CE – just prior to the arrival of the first Europeans.

White Privilege

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I remember reading in a book around 30 years ago (entitled ‘Zen Flesh, Zen Bones’) an ancient story about a fish that visits the king fish to ask a question.  The fish asks the king what is water?  The fish had heard of this all-embracing entity, but was not sure what it was.  In fact the fish doubted the existence of water because he could not ‘see’ it.  The king fish laughed and said that the fish was born in water, lived in water, breathed in watered, would reproduce in water, and eventually would die in water.  The king fish explained that water was so much an integral part of the fish’s life that he did not possess the cognitive ability to perceive it as an objective fact.  This means that for the fish, water was an established fact unaffected by his opinion about whether water exists or not.  This is similar to those who deny that the force of gravity exists as they step from the cliff.  Such people drop to their doom denying the existence of the very force that is killing them.

White, European people, whether they be lower, middle or upper class, are historically a part of the European racism that fuelled European imperialism and colonialism over the last five hundred years.  It does not matter whether each of these white individuals are a) aware of this reality, or b) in agreement with its definition.  European imperialism spread around the world as a dominant and oppressive power that deemed ALL non-Europeans to be a priori racially, politically, religiously, socially and culturally inferior.  In fact, European colonialism (through the pseudo-science of Social Darwinism) did not even acknowledge that non-Europeans were ‘human’.  This racist ideology stemmed from the bourgeoisie or the ‘middle class’ who gained control and extensively developed the means of production throughout the Industrial Revolution and beyond.  This edge in technological innovation and mass production created the ships, chains, guns, canons, crosses and bibles that were the implements of European political and military expansion throughout the world.  Populations in other places outside of Europe existed in modes of cultural and technological development that were representative of far earlier times in human development, and were therefore unable to materially compete with the mass production of modern industrialisation.  The Europeans encountered other ethnic groups and cultures in an over-powering and totally dominant manner.  If local people rose-up at any time, their outdated warrior weapons and tactics were destroyed through canon and rifle fire.  The Western Christian Church, in its usual duplicitous manner, ignored the material origin of this dominance, and ahistorically attributed this to their god being ‘white’.  This removes the logical material basis for the European dominance, and instead ascribes to it an irrational ideology of politicised theology.

Today, many Western countries are described as ‘multicultural’, because non-European peoples have settled in the homelands of their previous colonial masters.  Whether black, brown or yellow, these people have faced racial prejudice and discrimination from the white population.  This is because the capitalist system encourages all forms of blatant competition between individuals and groups, with racism being akin to nationalism, and being proud of one’s country and imperial history, but whose ‘white’ history is this?  The white working class are victims of the bourgeoisie who own the means of production and virtually all the profit, but it is white middle class that perpetuates class distinction, racism and oppression.  White working class people are discriminated against because they are working class (and not because they are ‘white’).  Black, brown and yellow people – regardless of whatever class they happen to belong to in society – are routinely discriminated against due to the colour of their skin, their religion and their ancestral history.  Being middle or upper class does not prevent this racism from occurring, and can even serve to intensify it through resentment.  The middle class uses racism within a society to keep the working class from uniting.  It does this by making platitudes about being ‘anti-racist’ whilst continuously and ruthlessly pursuing a racist agenda designed to keep white, black, brown and yellow-skinned people perceiving one another as a ‘threat’.  If working class people are kept apart in this manner, they cannot ‘unite’ to form a correct class consciousness.  Part of this racism is to ascribe a ‘specialness’ to being ‘white’ that automatically lifts the poorest white person ideologically above the richest and cleverest black, brown or yellow person.  Of course, the stupidity of this thinking is that the poor white person is not enriched at all simply by thinking deranged thoughts of racial superiority – but this is exactly what the bourgeois want.  Poor white people are taught by the bourgeoisie to blame the oppression they experience (which originates solely from the middle class) on other people with differing skin-colour, language, and religion, etc.  This is nothing but a sleight of hand designed to prevent poor white people from seeing the truth of bourgeoisie oppression and uniting together to over-throw it.  White working class people are not racist but are made racist through bourgeois brain-washing.  The white working class should throw-off bourgeois oppression and reject all forms of racism – and unite with black, brown and yellow-skinned people to over-throw the true enemy – which is the bourgeoisie.  White privilege should be acknowledged as existing and then thoroughly rejected as a legitimate manner to run society.  White supremacy is a lie that does not help poor white people out of poverty.  White people are poor because the bourgeoisie constantly ‘steal’ wealth from them.  It is not black, brown, or yellow skinned people that impoverish white people – but the capitalist system within which they live.

Revolutionary Alternative Non-Meat Diets

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The meat industry is nothing more than the capitalisation of the bodies of animals.  This is the turning of other living beings into a ‘commodity’ that can be bought and sold, whilst completely ignoring the fact that these bodies are ‘alive’, have feelings and are afraid of dying and terrified of the ‘killing’ process.  The Judeo-Christian approach is that most animals are placed on the earth for use by humans – with human beings ‘special’ because they are made in god’s image.  Animals, of course, can be worked to death, brutalised, murdered and eaten because they are ‘not’ made in god’s image.   I find this a very dangerous precedent to set that in the human world it can be easily extended to categorise human ethnic groupings into ‘desirable’ and ‘undesirable’ – with the eradication of the groups that do not conform to what are in essence, entirely arbitrary categorisations of ‘pure’ and ‘impure’.  Prior to the Industrial Revolution, ordinary people ate mostly fruit and vegetables (which were readily available) and tended to avoid meat-eating because animals were precious agricultural workers – or produced other useful commodities such as milk, cheese and wool, etc.  Only the upper classes could afford to eat meat, and pay for these valuable animals to be raised, looked after, killed, cooked and eventually eaten.  After the Industrial Revolution, farmers switched the emphasis of their out-put from crop production, to the rearing of animals for meat production, because ‘meat’ fetched a greater profit than ‘fruit’ and ‘vegetables’.  Even though meat-eating is not good for human-beings, the propaganda that treating animals terribly and then killing them for food has become the a priori norm for modern, Western society.  However, this despicable industrialised farming method can be beaten in two revolutionary ways:

1) Dietary Change – Do not eat meat.

2) Economic – Do Not Buy Meat or Animal Products.

Education is the means to achieve both of these objectives.  Adults should bring their children up as vegetarians and take them to petting farms to interact positively with many different kinds of animals.  This breaks-up the underlying Judeo-Christian cultural approach that killing animals and eating them is correct.  It also removes children from the capitalistic economic cause and effect that conditions individuals to purchase and eat meat without thinking, as if it is natural and there is no alternative.  The industrialised farming business can be brought to its knees by directing the productive forces of capitalist society to modify its incessant search for profit away from meat production, and to that of catering for the needs of vegans and vegetarians.  This action may be viewed as ‘revolutionary’ as it undermines the capitalist system.  Alternative non-meat-eating diets involve:) Veganism – a vegetarian diet with no eggs, milk, cheese or the consumption or use of any other animal-related products.

1) Veganism – a vegetarian diet with no eggs, milk, cheese or the consumption or use of any other animal-related products.

2) Vegetarian – no meat products consumed – but may eat eggs, milk and cheese.  Many vegetarians move toward veganism by drinking soya milk, and consuming vegan cheese and egg-substitute.

3) Pescetarian – a vegetarian diet consuming no meat products, but continuing the consumption of fish and sea-food.

4) Fruitarian – a sub-vegan diet of consuming only botanical fruit supplemented by nuts and seeds.  Some strict fruitarians consume only fruit that has naturally fallen from trees.

5) Raw Vegan – a sub-vegan diet that emphasises the consumption of ‘uncooked’ or ‘raw’ fruit and vegetables.  Further defined as not consuming fruit and vegetables cooked over 48 degrees Celsius.

 

 

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