[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]
Re: [xmca] Progress: Reality or Illusion?
(What an exquisite given name! I am quite envious--half the kids in my elementary school class were called "David", and the other half were girls.)
The other day I was wondering what it would be like for someone to learn to read and write before he could learn speak. I don't mean a second language--there are many cases of that (I had a friend who did Ancient Egyptian, and I myself am learning written Russian without being able to speak it very much).
What I imagine is deaf and dumb child wandering the streets of Seoul without a first language and learning to read shop signs and going into shops and buying things according to the purely visual aspect of the labels and pay for them with money by matching the signs on the price tags with the signs on the bills. Can we say that such a child knows how to read and write?
I think the answer is no, but I think that this gendankenexperiment and this negative answer tells us something very important about the nature of written language and thus about the nature of progress. What is lacking for the deaf and dumb child wandering in and out of Seoul's Familymarts and Seven-Eleven stores is DIALOGUE: the ability to read a whole utterance in a narrative, to respond with a mental question, and then to have precisely that mental question answered in the process of reading.
It seems to me that such a hypothetical non-reading-but-visually-matching-lettered-displays child is the ontogenetic equivalent of the sociogenetic uneven and combined development that you speak of in your letter, the sociogenetic uneven and combined development that we observe in Russia (but above all in China, which I think Trotsky really had in mind when writing that first chapter of the HIstory of the Russian Revolution).
That is, the child who acquires written speech before actually acquiring speech has acquired, but by unnatural and unfair and even empty means, the most advanced fruits of language development without acquiring the flowers (or even the roots, trunk and branches) that normally precede these fruits.
In much the same way, my wife's family were transformed from subsistence peasants into industrial workers in a gigantic factory complex in a single generation in China. My mother-in-law, as a result, still hoards like a subsistence peasant (and even my wife, when we took our first trip to Europe, kept the plastic cups which were offered alongside peanuts and soft drinks on the plane). And knows almost nothing of unions, strikes, and real socialist consciousness.
Now, one of the conclusions that Trotsky draws is that countries which develop in this way are going to be the very first to overthrow capitalism. This is not simply because, as Lenin wrote, "capitalism will break at its weakest link", it is also because the workers who have seen their entire world view change in an instant are precisely the workers who will believe that change is the normal state of things.
I think the same thing is true of the child who can read before he speaks, and even of me, as I struggle through the writings of Vygotsky in a language that I can read but cannot speak. I recently sought help from a Russian woman who emigrated to the USA at the age of thirteen and as a consequence speaks the language far better than she can read it.
Perhps the question of which of us is backward and which is advanced is best asked with some very concrete and specific question in mind.
That is certainly how Brecht would have posed the problem. You know, he used to say that there are two very different kinds of knowledge: that which serves the oppressor, and that which serves the oppressed. That is a very different distinction from "backward" and "advanced"; I don't think Brecht ever would have confused them.
David (Alas!) Kellogg
Hankuk University of Foreign Studies
--- On Wed, 2/29/12, Brecht De Smet <Brechttie.DeSmet@UGent.be> wrote:
From: Brecht De Smet <Brechttie.DeSmet@UGent.be>
Subject: Re: [xmca] Progress: Reality or Illusion?
Date: Wednesday, February 29, 2012, 8:44 AM
Returning to the original discussion on progress, I'd like to point out that George Novack borrowed heavily from Trotsky's concept of uneven & combined development (later appropriated by Mandel), which was developed, for the first time in detail, in the opening chapter of Trotsky's History of the Russian Revolution. http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1930/hrr/ch01.htm
While one could argue that the chapter is burdened with the sins of eurocentrism (if not in content than at least in tone) Trotsky advances an interesting concept of development.
"A backward country assimilates the material and intellectual conquests of the advanced countries. But this does not mean that it follows them slavishly, reproduces all the stages of their past...
"Capitalism means, however, an overcoming of those conditions. It prepares and in a certain sense realises the universality and permanence of man?s development...
I think this is an important aspect of the "development of productive forces" and "progress": the spatial universalization and thereby historical constitution of "mankind" through the very real process of the expansion of the world market and the capitalist mode of production. Or, in other words, only with the advent of capitalism, one could speak of world history and start measuring the relative "backwardness" or "progress" of one nation or culture.
--Brecht De Smet
Doctoral researcher / PhD candidate
MENARG (Middle East and North Africa Research Group)
CTWS (Centre for Third World Studies)
Department of Social & Political Sciences
Universiteitsstraat 8 / 9000 Gent / Belgium
Citeren "Andy Blunden" <email@example.com>:
> The discussion was around progress, i.e., more or less.
> My original formulation was: "On what basis could one evaluate "human progress"? Evaluating or measuring something presupposes some process of measurement, and thus of comparison."
> Difference is a qualitative comparison and obviously that it ubiquitous,
> Bruce Robinson wrote:
>> Are you really saying that there are no meaningful qualitative comparisons to be made between different societies? If so, I'm not sure how you make sense of historical development which surely involves more than quantitative changes between different social systems? I also don't think it's compatible with a CHAT perspective.
>> Andy Blunden wrote:
>>> Fair point Greg, but if we interpret the question about "progress" as "meaningful" in the sense you give it as "preferable" it really is meaningless, isn't it? So if I say late capitalism represents progress, meaning I prefer to live under late capitalism (so long as of course I get to choose which spot I occupy and don't get John Rawls' veil of ignorance) what on earth does that mean to me or anyone else?
>>> Greg Thompson wrote:
>>>> To turn Andy's original question on its head: what kind of
>>>> *meaningful* comparison can be made "objectively"?
>>> xmca mailing list
> *Andy Blunden*
> Joint Editor MCA: http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/hmca20/18/1
> Home Page: http://home.mira.net/~andy/
> Book: http://www.brill.nl/default.aspx?partid=227&pid=34857
> xmca mailing list
xmca mailing list
xmca mailing list