Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Human Consciousness

The following, from a piece entitled Canadian Persepectives 2009: The Failure of Capitalism and the Need for a Socialist Alternative written by the Canadian section of the IMT, is a wonderful description of the dialectal nature of human consciousness. Understanding this is key to understanding how societies change, and this excerpt is some of the best writing on the subject I've ever read. (Click here to read the whole piece.)

The most revolutionary observation about human consciousness is that it is inherently conservative. People do not expect or welcome change. The empirical philosophy of "what you see is what you get" is how most people live their lives. For most of their lives, this philosophy is a close enough approximation of reality that it does not cause people too much distress. However, during times of great change and crisis such as the period we are currently passing through, the philosophy of empiricism is woefully inadequate. Capitalism has failed, and yet the psychology of the mass of the population is more reflective of the past than the present. If psychology faithfully kept track with objective reality, we would have been living in a socialist society for at least 100 years.

The relationship between reality and psychology, the objective and the subjective, is not linear. However, there is obviously still a relationship. This relationship is contradictory and dialectical - in other words, after doing everything possible to resist change (taking on increased overtime, a 2nd or 3rd job, sacrificing health and family, etc.) a limit is reached where there are no more "individual" solutions. It is impossible to determine exactly when this limit will be reached; people are willing to endure more in some periods than others. But eventually, people start looking for collective, systemic explanations and solutions to the change going on around them. They reject the old justifications (and those who peddled them) and look for ideas that explain reality. Consciousness does not catch up to reality in a gradual, linear, reformist manner; it catches up in a convulsive, sudden, and revolutionary way. A conservative consciousness leads to revolutionary conclusions - dialectical philosophy calls this phenomenon the unity and inter-penetration of opposites.

The "old" discredited idea of socialism is coming back with a vengeance. Newsweek magazine even declared, "We Are All Socialists Now." Those who extolled the virtue of small government and free markets are now spending billions of dollars of taxpayers' money to intervene in the economy. They are even nationalizing banks. The captains of industry, the best and the brightest with their multi-million dollar bonuses, have driven the largest banks, corporations, and the entire economy into the ground. In this environment the ideas of genuine socialism can again get the ear of the masses. When every other "solution" has failed, when the so-called experts have failed, and when workers are faced with the prospect of unemployment and homelessness, the idea of occupying your factory to save your job no longer seems so outlandish. People ask themselves, "Why should the bosses receive billions while there is no money to help workers facing foreclosure and bankruptcy? Why couldn't we use that money to nationalize industry to save jobs? What purpose do these bosses play anyway?" Marxists have long explained that it is not revolutionaries that cause revolutions. It is capitalism that creates the conditions that lead workers to revolutionary conclusions.