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Dialectic and Dialogue
The Problem of Sophistry and Its Solution
Like most of us, as a young person, I was indoctrinated into a fundamentally patriarchal historicity that presupposed, and projected, a linear paradigm primarily characterized by the concept of progress. It is assumed by most that humankind evolves consistently in a forward motion from less advanced into higher states of technical ability and conscious awareness. Nowhere is this fundamental prejudice more apparent than within the context of a dialectical sense of history first proposed by Friedrich Hegel in his now canonized text, Reason in History. This book posits a historical paradigm defined by violent conflict between thesis and antithesis, resulting in a synthesis, propagating a new zeitgeist that dominates until the development of a new antithesis. This cycle repeats, according to Hegel, until the “end of history” when humankind transcends the repetitive conflict and utilizes systems of pure reason in order to determine the path of the entire human race in its inexorable, if theoretical, drive to advance.
Dialectics in History
Though Hegel posits this resolution occurred at the beginning of the 19th century with the establishment of representative democracies, perhaps it was inevitable that a new antithesis emerged with the work of Karl Marx, who proposed a final stage in the cycle of violence resulting in the creation of a communist utopia guided through the application of what he called scientific socialism. Despite the fact that these philosophers fundamentally agree on this dialectical sense of historical progress, the disagreement concerning the endpoint of historical evolution has defined political discourse throughout the colonized world for well over the past century.
Unsurprisingly, the modern technocratic movement continues to propagate this linear sense of history through the works of Amitai Etzioni, who now posits the notion of Communitarianism as the new synthesis representing an “end of history”. This new blend of Capitalism and Communism will be steered by a scientific elite charged with the task of engineering a culture capable of transcending the cycle of violence created through the process of movement from thesis to antithesis, according to the theory. For more on Communitarianism, you can listen to this interview with Niki Rapaana who has been challenging the implementation of these ideas, and the technocratic movement as a whole, for over two decades.
The function of this essay is not just to dispute the historicity of Hegel and Marx, and now Etzioni, but the very epistemology behind the use of dialectics at all. It is my strong feeling that the use of dialectical thinking is tacit, if most often subconscious, approval of psychological systems of colonization that ultimately work to the benefit of those at the top of the technocratic pyramid.
Socrates, Sophistry, and Dialectics
The concept of dialectics in history is predicated upon the fundamental belief that rational dialectics, the notion that truth is determined through a debate between thesis and antithesis, can be applied to historical movements as well. If this fundamental epistemological premise is untrue the entire historical narrative falls apart as well.
For me, the first cracks in the wall of my prejudice concerning dialectical thinking, and its applications to the fundamental concept of historical progress occurred with an exposure to the philosophy of Socrates at university. While many, influenced by the predominance of dialectical epistemologies not only taught in most educational facilities but also ingrained in family, community, and cultures throughout the colonized world, interpret Socrates as simply the superior logician, there exists an alternative interpretation to which I am attracted.
This perspective holds that Socrates represents more of a trickster character, reminding his interlocutor that their logic is not only flawed but will always fail. The point is not to defeat the opponent through debate, but to actually point out the failure of dialectic epistemology at its core. Logic, while a useful tool, can not be used to determine a truly objective truth. While a thorough exploration of Socratic interpretation is beyond the scope of this essay, I urge readers to listen to this interview with Dr. Julianne Romanello where we discuss Socratic philosophy as described by her mentor Dr. Eric Voeglin, its relationship to the history of philosophy, and the emergence of the technocratic system.
Within the context of the Socratic Dialogue, Socrates was often in a debate with a member of the Greek school of philosophy known as the Sophists. These philosophers were often hired by members of the upper class, not only to teach the ways of rhetoric to the younger generation, but to produce well-honed and sophisticated arguments in favor of policies that benefited the nobility of the day. I posit that the philosophical lineage of sophistry leads directly to the dialectical thinkers of the modern-day, and that these thinkers continue to work in service to upper-class interests.
The use of dialectical thinking through well-honed argumentation produces very convincing arguments for one perspective or another, but if these arguments are in service to power, then can such displays ever result in benefit to the common person? It is my fear that the current preponderance of dialectical thinking may well be the largest factor in preventing a unified movement against upper-class manipulations utilizing sophistry methodologically designed to divide and conquer. Not only is the epistemology of sophistry predisposed to conflict, but its application to historical movements creates political divisions that have clearly resulted in more class-based disparities than ever before.
I do not mean to imply that there is no use for the human faculty to reason or utilize logic in order to make sense of the world around us, nor do I ascribe to a philosophy that advocates a completely subjective view of our interpretation of reality. The function of this essay is to provide an analysis of the very real dangers of a system of belief that imposes truth based on the quality of argumentation alone. It is quite possible to convince many of a path forward based on such arguments, then feel empowered, even obligated, to impose this path on others without their consent.
For example, many have come to believe that imposing education and healthcare systems originating within predominantly European cultures upon others is simply a matter of virtuous action. These systems are considered so superior to those of other cultures, or even other options within the dominant culture, that many now consider inclusion into these institutions as a human right within which it is a privilege to participate. While many great arguments have been produced which propose that these institutions are superior, even necessary, for a healthy and abundant life in the modern age, can we use these arguments to impose this lifestyle upon everyone?
Taken to its logical conclusion, the epistemology, and historicity of dialectic thinking can more appropriately be described as a will to power over others. By producing a theoretically superior argument, all manner of social controls is justified, often even encouraged as virtuous. Indoctrination, propaganda, and other tools of social engineering are employed all in the name of progress as claims are made that objective reason has proved, through a process of dialectics, that what may be good for one person, must necessarily be good for all people. Such is the utopian dream of the “end of history”.
The ancient Greeks had a term for this type of fundamental arrogance. They called it hubris. Hubris most fundamentally referenced the human tendency to believe that their logic could be used to control, not just other people, but the natural world as well. A prominent theme in Homer’s Illiad, the characteristic of hubris was typically attributed to the main characters of Greek tragedy. Much like those characters, if our dominant culture continues to be defined by dialectical thinking, things will not end well. We must find a path forward that includes epistemologies, historical paradigms, and pedagogies of harmonization, not domination. We cannot discover that path utilizing the same tools that caused the problem in the first place.
The Proper Use of Logos
It is my fear that the overuse of dialectics in Western culture has resulted in the unintended proliferation of an epidemic of neurotic behavior. By treating reason as if it is capable of discovering transcendent truths, we have repressed an emotional side of ourselves necessary to provide a happy and truly healthy experience within our personal lives. To continue with the Socratic metaphor, we have denied the old gods of the country in order to idolize a god whose desecration incurs the wrath of those invested in this “modern” way of thinking.
My purpose is not to forgo logic as a tool, but to put it in its proper place in harmony with the emotions that connect us with the broader experience of life in a good way. The discipline of logic is most effective as character building tool designed to help make personal decisions about our lifestyle choices. Perhaps the best example in Western history that exemplifies this path is the Stoic tradition which developed alongside Sophistry in the pre-Christian Mediterranean. The Stoics used logic to avoid potentially unethical behavior caused by imbalanced emotions, but adhered to a system of ethics based on natural systems, rather than effective argumentation. Logic can be used as an aid in making personal decisions that harmonize with the natural world while allowing the practitioner to avoid emotional triggers that lead to unethical, often controlling, behavior.
Perhaps the most concerning characteristic of those now indoctrinated into the dialectic paradigm are the many not only convinced of the veracity of their argument, but that process of dialectic conflict has become so ingrained that they now self-identify with their particular point of view. The ego attachment has become such an integrated part of their personality that a simple difference of opinion becomes a personal attack. When was the last time you witnessed a self-proclaimed conservative (Hegelian) change their mind through rational discourse with a progressive (Marxist) or vice versa? My guess would be almost never. Conversely, how often do we see ridiculous mudslinging on social media between these two opposing views? For me, this is a daily occurrence.
The reason for this clearly infantile behavior can be traced back to a misplaced use of logic. The psychological attachment to one side or the other on the dialectical spectrum creates a feeling of literal danger within the mind of one convinced their perception must be true, while the “opponent’s” reality must be false. Rather than utilizing logic in the Stoical sense, to prevent the emotional trigger through calm, rational, and open-minded exploration of the new information, the dialecticist is thrown into flight or fight mode when their world view is threatened. They perceive an attack on their principle argument to be an attack on their very self. Ad homonyms are thrown, straw men are built and even other passive-aggressive coping mechanisms such as gaslighting emerge. All forms of avoiding engagement with concepts outside the “argument” that has come to define their very sense of reality.
A Solution: The Use of Dialogue and The Trivium Method
Logic and reason should be tools we use to help each other refine our worldview, not a methodology for argumentation that presents a clear “winner” or “loser”. In a healthy community, individuation will not be determined by a self-identity with a particular ideology, but through a process of dialogue where each person’s unique perspective is respected, their feelings validated and their voices heard. This process requires not just an emphasis on logical discourse, but the harmonization of logic and emotions that represent community partnership with individuation, rather than the domination model imposed through a dialectical conflict.
When incorporated with an open mind, the opposite of the hubris expressed by Sophist’s method of argumentation, new information does not need to be experienced as a threat but as an opportunity. Within the context of a safe, free and tolerant environment, new information can be welcomed. Through a process of community dialogue and the use of healthy rationality, the truth will rise to the top and be obvious to all.
Though it sounds simple enough, indoctrination into the dialectic is a powerful psychological force. The journey from Sophistry to Stoicism, from dialectic to dialogue, requires the patience and compassion needed to heal from any other form of compulsion. The addiction is real. The feeling of being “right” is just as powerful, if equally delusional, as believing the dopamine hit obtained off an illicit drug will actually make the pain go away.
Though foundational to almost all modern pedagogies in the Western world, indoctrination into dialectics is actually a traumatizing event. From a young age, many are taught to uncritically repeat the thoughts and perceptions of authority. Guilt and shame are used as tools against the rebels who dare think independently.
Symptoms of this abuse present later in life in a person easily triggered by those who question the dictates of authority figures or who question the prevailing argument currently presented as “truth”. Symptoms of such triggering will manifest in thinking that no longer follows the discipline of logic and reverts to the use of logical fallacy as a form of avoiding the perceived attack. A thorough understanding of these fallacies is crucial for the development of a post dialectic worldview, providing a much healthier relationship with the human faculty of reason harmonizing with emotional and psychological needs. Once presented with fallacious thinking, accompanied by a cognitive dissonance that refuses to recognize the fallacy, logical dialogue is no longer an effective tool at processing information with any hopes of accessing a clearer perception of the issue at hand.
Though many cultures throughout the world utilize a variety of pedagogies free from the stultifying impacts of dialectical thinking, it is not often possible to access or even appropriate to engage with communities and cultures outside the Western purview. The ravages of colonialism and the hubris inherent in dialectics rightly cause consternation among many.
For this reason, if you have been raised within the dialectical pedagogy with no access to alternative paths, it is important to look within the pages of our own cultural history to find viable alternatives to the relatively recent imposition of dialectical thinking. At least to start, I recommend the Trivium Method of education popular before the adoption of government education and the centralization of educational pedagogies within the rubric of the nation-state. Utilizing a three-part system of Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric, the Trivium presents a system of understanding the art of reasoning designed to improve the character of the student, rather than indoctrinate into a dialectal sense of reasoning that simply advances the most sophisticated argument and is used as a methodology of control.
A conversation about the functions of reason and its proper usefulness may seem esoteric and unnecessary to many, but from my perspective, these distinctions can not be over-stressed. If we are to resist the imposition of a technocratic system literally threatening our very organic autonomy and ability to make personal choices, we cannot use the same tools in the same way as those who are building the machine. Dialectical thinking, with its foundations in the Sophist movement, has become so ingrained in those educated within pedagogies of colonization that many inadvertently continue to use these systems of psychological oppression long after the realization of the true nature of the many false truths accepted by those hypnotized through mass propaganda.
The path towards liberation is a personal journey that includes questioning the very processes we use to interpret the world around us. Dialectics have been used to present a perspective based on the promise of an objectivity that does not exist. Logic through Dialogue builds personal character. False truths discovered utilizing dialectics create a false sense of virtue reliant on a foundation of complex argumentation ultimately signifying nothing. Understanding the baselessness of dialectics destroys the root cause of the many conflicts continuously observed through social interaction, and the alternative provides a path towards symbiosis within both the individual and community context. Dialogue helps us help each other to expand conscious awareness while Dialectics requires argumentation where one side prevails over the other.
The use of Dialogue also individuates us from these larger processes of history theorized by sophists such as Marx, Hegel, and Etzioni. By de-identifying with essentially fabricated thesis and antithesis, we become free not only to live more fully in the present moment but to analyze particular situations as independent events separate from these larger theoretical models claiming to explain the movements behind historical events. Not only is this approach more pragmatic, but it also eliminates the multitude of conflicts created out of the left/right paradigm.
Perhaps most importantly, Dialogue allows for the reintroduction of healthy psychology into the conversation. Our emotions ultimately make us human. They separate us from the machine currently being built all around us threatening to engulf this definitive characteristic of organic existence. Dialectic epistemology is inherently anti-emotional. It demands the suppression of feeling in favor of the domination imposed through argumentation. By favoring logic over emotion, Dialectics does not eliminate this fundamental aspect of our lives, it merely represses it. Ultimately, repressed emotion presents as one of the many neuroses commonly displayed at community meetings and on social media platforms. Logical fallacy has become ubiquitous, often utilized by those who believe they are the most “rational” among us.
Dialogue is a path forward that harmonizes the emotional self by utilizing logic to raise awareness of our emotional triggers. It allows us to analyze where our emotional body has been damaged by often generational traumas and uses logic to heal, rather than to harm, to liberate rather than oppress. Logic becomes a tool used to build personal character and aid in making rational personal choices. Dialogue is the path forward that allows us to help each other not only heal from the emotional traumas created through dialectic conflict but strengthen each other in preparation for the challenges to come.
Please consider subscribing if you are interested in learning more about my perspective, and I look forward to engaging in the broader conversation as those of us resistant to the technocratic takeover continue to seek a healthier relationship with life, the planet, and each other as we move forward.
For more information about my work and to find all episodes of my podcasts, go to www.theshiftnow.com. Paid subscribers to The Populist Papers will receive a subscription to “The Shift with Doug McKenty” and have access to all feature-length versions of the podcast.