Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Paul Kurtz and Marxist humanism (3)

In previous posts I began to document Paul Kurtz's interaction with the Yugoslav Praxis School, particularly Svetozar Stojanović. This time we will feature another leading light of the Praxis School, Mihailo Marković. He also happens to be the Praxis philosopher with whom I am most familiar. In other contexts I prefer to highlight his brilliant philosophical contributions rather than his political degeneration later in life; for example, on my web site:
There are numerous books by Marković and Stojanović and at least one by Gajo Petrović in English, as well as several essays by these and other Praxis philosophers in English in print and on the Internet, not to mention the secondary literature. (See for example the Praxis Group in the Marxists Internet Archive.) I just want to mention these books:
Crocker, David A. Praxis and Democratic Socialism: The Critical Social Theory of Marković and Stojanovic. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press; Brighton, Sussex: Harvester Press, 1983.

Marxist Humanism and Praxis, edited, with translations, by Gerson S. Sher. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1978.

Sher, Gerson S. Praxis: Marxist Criticism and Dissent in Socialist Yugoslavia. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1977.
The Praxis School is compared with related philosophical dissidents in Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia in:
Satterwhite, James H. Varieties of Marxist Humanism: Philosophical Revision in Postwar Eastern Europe. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1992. (Series in Russian and East European Studies; no. 17)
But back to the philosophical interaction between Marković and Kurtz. I refer now to an interesting volume which contains the contributions itemized below:

Humanist Ethics: Dialogue on Basics, edited by Morris B. Storer. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1980.
Comment by Mihailo Marković on Kurtz [“Does Humanism Have an Ethic of Responsibility?”], pp. 31-33.
Reply by Paul Kurtz to Marković, pp. 33-35.
“Historical Praxis as the Ground of Morality” by Mihailo Marković , pp. 36-50.
Comment by Paul Kurtz on Marković Article, pp. 51-54.
Reply by Marković, pp. 54-57.
When I am able to secure the full text, I will report in greater detail.

Crocker, who incorporates analytical philosophy into his analysis of Marković and Stojanović, devotes some space to a critique of “Historical Praxis as the Ground of Morality.” In a couple of places he mentions disagreement between Marković and Kurtz:
It must be admitted that Marković appears to have two minds about what this “appeal to history” amounts to. On the one hand, he says that three normative attitudes to the course of history are possible and that if soft procedures fail to bring consensus, then “discrepancy in value judgments cannot be overcome” (HP 40). Moreover, in responding to Paul Kurtz, who takes Marković to be trying to deduce the Ought of praxis from the Is and Was of history. [44] Marković says, “It [Praxis] cannot be derived from any factual judgment (which would constitute the naturalistic fallacy) but it is linked with a basic factual assumption—'Praxis is enente of history,' or more clearly: ‘Praxis is the specific necessary condition of all historical development’” (HP 57). On the other hand, both in HP proper and in his response to Kurtz, Marković appears to have something close to hard justificatory intentions. In the latter Marković claims that ethical pluralism gives rise to the need for “a foundation of ethical values” (HP 55). That is, because “various groups or individuals have genuine moral convictions with implicit claims to universal validity,” and because “these convictions are different or even incompatible,” one must ask oneself, “What is the ground on which his implicit claim to universal validity rests?” (HP 55). [p. 214]
. . . with this footnote:
44. Kurtz charges, “Marković seems to be committing one form of the naturalistic fallacy by defining as intrinsically ‘good’ one aspect of human history (praxis) and then reading that into the process as a ground for his preferences.” “Comment,” in Humanist Ethics: Dialogue on Basics, ed. Morris B. Storer (Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1980), p. 52. [p. 223]
And here is the other comment:
Because people are used to a dichotomous either‑or (or to compromise positions), they (like Paul Kurtz) are likely to construe Marković’s procedures in terms of the dichotomy [of relativism and absolutism/dogmatism]. To the hard justificationist and skeptic, Markovic’s approach will look like no justification. To the absolutist, Markovic’s soft procedures will appear relativistic. After all, Marković does not demonstrate praxis and proceeds on the assumption that there is no way to get conclusive proof that one ethical outlook should hold for all people at all times. Moreover, what else is relativism but an unhappy compromise that weds skepticism to the view that each moral outlook is true (for its group)? And do not Marković’s procedures entail that any group (or individual) that employs them will emerge with what is ethical truth for it (him and/or her)? [p. 219]
These are, of course, only fragments of Crocker's presentation. In Storer's volume itself there are main essays by both Kurtz and Marković, and exchanges between the two on both of them. I will save further commentary for a future post.

Monday, May 23, 2011

One Marxist view of Dawkins & Harris

This is old stuff, but here's the info. I could quibble over some details, but there are important criticisms here of the political and social ignorance of Richard Dawkins and especially of Sam Harris. These pieces come from the World Socialist Web Site. Sectarian politics notwithstanding, there are some intelligent commentaries from a philosophical perspective.

Atheism in the service of political reaction: A comment on author Sam Harris

By Christie Schaefer, April 16, 2007
In the recent review of Richard Dawkins’ new book, The God Delusion, Joe Kay mentions in passing the author Sam Harris, noting that the idealist standpoint of Harris and some of the other advocates of atheism is often bound up with reactionary political conceptions. (See “Science, religion and s

Science, religion and society: Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion

By Joe Kay, March 15, 2007
In his new book, Dawkins has done us a service, if only in making more acceptable the general proposition that religion and science are at odds with each other, and that it is science that should win out.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Social paranoia: one photo says it all

I snapped this photo in early April 2011 across the street from the Southeast branch of the Washington DC library. It perfectly illustrates the ideology of right wing paranoia that forms the subject of my current research.

Theorizing Social Paranoia (2)

 Listen to my podcast on this subject:

Dumain, Ralph. “Theorizing Social Paranoia,” 22 May 2011, 58 min., an episode of "Studies in a Dying Culture" on "Think Twice Radio".

Monday, May 16, 2011

Martin Gardner vs. Wilhelm Reich & Orgonomy (2)

There have been numerous attacks on Paul Kurtz's organizations, all now falling on the singular Center for Free Inquiry, from several directions. One is from advocates of parapsychology, who have expressed numerous complaints. I'm not to deal with them now. Wilhelm Reich's orgonomy does not belong to parapsychology, but it is fringe science nonetheless. Here is the second article I've found attacking Martin Gardner, and now Kurtz, Corliss Lamont, and the Amazing Randi along with him:

CSICOP, Time Magazine, and Wilhelm Reich by John Wilder, Pulse of the Planet #5, 2002, pp. 55-67.

Wilder links Time magazine and the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal in the scurrilous trashing of Reich's reputation. He reviews the attacks on Reich by the Freudians and the Stalinists.  Wilder accuses Einstein's secretary of sabotaging Reich's attempts to continue correspondence with Einstein. Historians of philosophy and ideas have not been kind to Reich, not Peter Gay, at least. Paul Edwards is claimed to have treated Reich favorably, except for his dismissing Reich's later orgonomy as crank pseudoscience. Edwards alleged Reich's American acolytes to be right-wingers:
Interestingly, Edwards now decries what he calls the ‘right-wing’ politics of [Elsworth] Baker and others of Reich’s students in America, as he believes they have missed the contributions of Reich’s ‘Marxist’ period. The reader should recall that Reich, himself, dismissed this part of his work as a ‘biological miscalculation,’ as immature, as being insufficiently aware of the of the extreme stubbornness of the Emotional Plague.
Wilder asserts that the Kurtz's skeptic organization is wedded to mind-body dualism:
Despite Edwards lukewarm admiration of Reich, CSICOP seems to be populated with men who adhere to modern civilization’s mind-body split, a split which underlies the mechanistic-mystical dichotomy that fuels CSICOP’s engines.
Wilder further complains:
The membership, organization, and style of CSICOP reveal its traditional patriarchal, ‘top-down’ authoritarian character. Its membership, according to Hansen, is 95% composed of ‘white’ males; and nearly 100% of its members are intellectuals, mostly drawn from the non-scientific disciplines, despite CSICOP claiming ‘science’ as its patron. Few active research scientists belong. The membership at large, the ‘Fellows,’ has little, if any, power to formulate or change policy.
Wilder likens Paul Kurtz to the Kurtz of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, who faces irrationalism with a psychological regression:
Facing these unexpected outbreaks of apparently irrational behavior in the masses [in the late 1960s], facing what Reich had faced in the early 1930s (due to what Reich termed the biological miscalculation), Kurtz struggles to reforge his Marxist-Humanism into a weapon of control and repression. While Reich had turned away from politics to supporting changes in child rearing, to advocating sexual reform, and to studying biophysics, Kurtz, still at his core a political man, seeks elitist political and social solutions to suppress these uncontrolled, ‘unscientifically’ emotional horrors emanating from the masses.
Kurtz is painted as a control freak—espousing one-world government, praising the behaviorist B. F. Skinner, engaging in scurrilous character assassination of scientific claims he disdains.

I need to point out a streak of anti-communist paranoia that runs through the article, not all instances of which I cite here. Corliss Lamont is excoriated for his pro-Stalinist position, for example.

Wilder moves on to attack Kurtz's skeptical colleagues, among them Wilder's arch-villain Martin Gardner. Gardner was apparently in his youth a fundamentalist and a radical socialist, later became a magician and eventually "the foremost advocate of atheistic scientific orthodoxy, of the science of his patriarchy." Wilder outlines Gardner's five symptomatic criteria for judging pseudoscience: according to those criteria, Reich and Einstein would be judged alike. Wilder finds these demarcation criteria (citing Popper for the term) unusable in practice.

Wilder also finds the presence of erstwhile and practicing magicians in the skeptical movement suspect. He deems magicians to be "cynical, nasty people" as someone else puts it. An illustration of this is the Amazing Randi's participation in Alice Cooper's sadistic spectacles.

I now skip to the author's Postscript of August 1, 2010. Here is the most telling statement of Wilder's position:
I want to clarify that I see Communism as a particularly vicious head of the Emotional Plague, a social pathology described by Reich. This Plague is a hydra that has many heads, like the Inquisition, the KKK, the NAZIs, and Al Qaeda. Cutting off these heads has not and will not permanently end the Emotional Plague, anymore than removing cancerous tumors, while necessary and important, ends an underlying cancer biopathy. There are right wing and left wing variants of the Emotional Plague. There are even middle-of-the-road and non-political variants. Read the studies of pathological mass action and inaction.
In judging all this I am not going to address any of Wilder's factual claims. Nor will I address his evaluation of magicians. I question his analogy of Reich and Einstein, but I have always had a problem with Gardner's demarcation criteria myself, so I will refrain from taking apart Wilder's ridiculous argument. I also don't think there is an infallible formal criteriology for labeling someone a paranoid, and in any case, sometimes real paranoia and real persecution overlap in the same suffering individuals. It is not the mere eccentricity of Wilder's argument that I criticize. It is his underlying metaphysical perspective, and the characteristically paranoiac way in which his systematizing reasoning proceeds. His copious historical references notwithstanding, historical reasoning is excised from his world view, recapitulating the late Reich's retreat to metaphysics. If everything is a result of the Emotional Plague, which is an ahistorical psychobiological category, then the real historical development of society and its ideologies is eclipsed by a metaphysics, and one which bears all the characteristics of a right-wing world view, and hence of right-wing paranoia, regardless of Wilder's actual apolitical politics. This bizarre indiscriminate linkage of communism with Kurtz, a Time editor, Einstein's secretary, Lamont, and Gardner is characteristic of a paranaoic world view, however one might rationally analyze possible deficiencies of any of these individuals.

Finally I must mention the Editor James DeMeo’s 2002 Postscript. DeMeo wrote the article I analyzed in my previous blog post on this subject. Here DeMeo attempts to link Prometheus Books with pornography and pedophilia. If this is not the paranoid mind in action, what is?

I imagine some readers will think I'm overly generous in even bothering to analyze a manifestly crackpot view as seriously as I do. But this is not a randomly generated piece of craziness: there is a conceptual structure underlying it which needs to be analyzed. The more astute and acute our analytical capability becomes, the better will be be able to distinguish the merely eccentric and marginal from the fundamentally distorted framework of a wrongheaded world view, whether or not there are partial truths in it.

Paul Kurtz and Marxist humanism (2)

Here are a couple of more pertinent references.

Re-enchantment: A New Enlightenment, Editorial by Paul Kurtz, Free Inquiry magazine, Volume 24, Number 3.

Here are two quotes:
The Enlightenment's quest for knowledge inspired numerous scientists, philosophers, and poets, including Goethe, Bentham, Mill, Darwin, Marx, Freud, Einstein, Crick, and Watson.
Regrettably, post-World War II Parisian savants spawned a vulgar post-modernist cacophony of Heideggerian-Derridian mush. Incoherent as some of their rhetoric may be, it has been influential in its rejection of the Enlightenment, the ethics of humanism, scientific objectivity, and democratic values. This literary-philosophical movement had made great inroads in the academy, especially within humanities faculties (though, fortunately, it is already being discredited in France itself). But it has taken a terrible toll, undermining confidence in any progressive agendas of emancipation. In part such thinking is an understandable response to the two grotesque twentieth-century ideologies—fascism and Stalinism—that dominated the imagination of so many supporters in Europe and betrayed human dignity on the butcher block of repression and genocide. "After Auschwitz," wrote Theodor Adorno, we cannot praise "the grandeur of man." Surely the world has recovered from that historical period of aberrant bestiality. However, many intellectuals are still disillusioned because of the failure of Marxism to deliver on the perceived promises of socialism, in which they had invested such faith. Whatever the causes of pessimism, we cannot abandon our efforts at reform or at spreading knowledge and enlightenment. We cannot give in to nihilism or self-defeating subjectivism. Although science has often been co-opted by various military-technological powers for anti-humanistic purposes, it also can help fulfill ennobling humanitarian goals.
1962-1975: High expectations, lean years | International Humanist and Ethical Union

The IHEU member organizations undertook a program of dialogues in the '60s:
In the mid-sixties a series of 'dialogues' was started. The main dialogues were those with the Roman Catholics and Marxists, but many others were attempted-though only few attempts were successful. The dialogues were meant: 1 to clarify ideas and correct misunderstandings about the other party; 2 to bridge ideological gaps-not by minimizing differences but by establishing modes of communication; 3 to support humanist minorities within for example the Catholic Church. 'By our communication we say: you are not alone'; 4 as 'a critique of our own self-righteousness [...] We learn that humanism is not the sole possession of an "elect"; that our "wisdom" is only wise in confrontation and [...] before the continuing question'.
On the dialogues with Marxists:
Dialogues with Protestant Christians have never been very successful. Since 1967 IHEU approached the World Council of Churches (WCC) to discuss the possibilities of constructive co-operation, and in 1968 the IHEU Chairman and Secretary personally visited Geneva for talks with the WCC. To no avail, the Council turned out to be not interested. On the other hand, an IHEU dialogue with the Marxists seemed more promising. In the late 1960s, several Eastern European countries tried to carve out a more open and progressive political course that was less dependent on the Soviet Union than before. In particular Dubcek's Czechoslovakia (until 1968), Tito's Yugoslavia and Ceauescu's Romania showed various forms of 'communism with a human face'. This seemed to make a dialogue with them interesting. After several prominent Marxists had been approached in 1967 and 1968, three dialogues took place: Vienna 1968, Herceg-Novi 1969, and Boston 1970. Subjects discussed were alienation, bureaucracy, tolerance, freedom, human nature, social structure, revolution, and social change. The Marxists professed being 'humanists with a Marxist flavor' rather than 'Marxists with a humanist flavor', yet there were profound differences:
'The Marxist humanists were inclined to condone less humane means for the achievement of high purposes and ideals, the non-Marxists from principle did not want to resort to inhumane means, at the risk of not realizing their ideals.'
The hoped-for establishment of a separate section for humanism and ethics by the national philosophical societies succeeded only in Yugoslavia. This Humanist and Ethical Section of the Yugoslav Association of Philosophy (HESYAP) became an associate member of IHEU in 1970 and was promoted to consultative status one year later, apparently as a token of support. In 1970 the dialogue with the Marxist humanists could be continued in Boston, though on a small scale, as only a few Eastern Europeans were able to participate. After that, the dialogues were hampered by increasingly uncooperative Eastern European authorities, and planned dialogues in 1972-1974 were cancelled. Not until 1979 would there be another meeting. However, IHEU found other ways to support the Marxist humanists in their struggle for human rights. When in the early 1970s the HESYAP group was put under increasing pressure by the Yugoslav authorities, IHEU intensified its support, both by issuing public declarations, and by choosing HESYAP figurehead professor Mihailo Markovic as an IHEU co-chairman.
A positive outcome of the dialogues is assessed:
Some humanists have expressed doubts regarding the usefulness of the dialogues. Paul Kurtz, however, who has been present at nearly all the dialogues with Marxists and Catholics, is convinced that they were constructive and they had a significant influence. The dialogues with Marxists, he says, have 'in a modest way helped to convince intellectuals about the importance of humanism. [...] In retrospect, Stojanovic and other philosophers believe that Marxist Humanism had an important role in moving communist countries away from Stalinism and towards democracy.' 

Paul Kurtz and Marxist humanism (1)

Historical amnesia in the USA is quite severe. There are two breaks in historical continuity that directly affect us today. The first was the Cold War McCarthyite repression of the 1950s; the second was the Reagan counterrevolution that took power in 1981. The atheist/humanist movement also suffers from this historical amnesia. The intellectual capital of atheism and humanism in the USA, and perhaps to a slightly lesser extent in the rest of the anglophone world, is severely restricted, yet it too once operated on a larger playing field.

There is no strain of humanism that was ever more intellectually sophisticated than the Marxist humanism generated by Eastern European intellectual dissidents, and, independently in many instances, anti-Stalinist Marxists in the West. Now I want to focus on the East Europeans, who entered into a symbiotic relationship with western humanists. (The Wikipedia articles are not perfect, but they are convenient entry points.) Most influential were the members of the Praxis School in Yugoslavia and various philosophers in Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Hungary.

The documentary record of interaction between western and East European anti-Stalinist Marxist humanists (note that the Stalinists and orthodox Communist Parties also called themselves humanists) is all over the place. There is one book on the subject I need to track down:

Tolerance and Revolution: A Marxist-non-Marxist Humanist Dialogue, edited by Paul Kurtz and Svetozar Stojanovic. Beograd: Philosophical Society of Serbia, 1970.

In the interim, I began to research Paul Kurtz's interaction with the Marxist Humanists on the web. I have found this most interesting and my picture of Kurtz is slightly altering in the process. Kurtz apparently flirted with the left in the 1930s and seeing what Stalinism had wrought, became a mainstream liberal in the Cold War period. In technical terms, he is best classified as a social democrat, which is the more advanced European equivalent of what Americans called liberalism from FDR's New Deal up to LBJ's Great Society. Kurtz's age matters, for his memory reaches back more than eight decades, and can gain more sympathy with his personal philosophical orientation (apart from his functioning in an institutional capacity) from reading his reminiscences. I will begin with some samples in this post and continue in future posts.

Secularism and Religion in America by Paul Kurtz
I am happy to return to Yugoslavia. This is my fifth visit. My first was in the mid 1960s when my wife and I drove as tourists from Italy to Zagreb in Croatia on a sight-seeing expedition. The second was on the occasion of the first Marxist non-Marxist Humanist dialogue, held in Montenegro, in Herzeg Novi on August 11-16, 1969. This dialogue followed an earlier open dialogue in Vienna in 1968 at the World Congress of Philosophy on a similar theme.

The Herzeg Novi dialogue was sponsored by the Yugoslav Philosophy Association, the Serbian Philosophy Association, and the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU). Participating in that dialogue from Yugoslavia were Svetozar Stojanovic, Stanisa Novakovic, Mihailo Markovic, P. Vranicki, and Ljubomir Tadic. There were participants from the United States, Germany, Belgium, France Great Britain, Italy, The Netherlands, and from Czechoslovakia and Romania in Eastern Europe. [1]

A second Marxist/non-Marxist humanist dialogue was held at Boston University in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1970; a third dialogue in Dubrovnik in 1973, and a final fourth dialogue, again in Dubrovnik, in 1979. At these dialogues we discussed tolerance, human rights, self-management, and democratic participation. They were important because they helped crystallize an intellectual and democratic opposition to totalitarianism in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, and in a modest way they contributed to the eventual overthrow of dictatorships.

The Praxis Group of Eight philosophers were under constant fire from Tito, who needed Western support in his conflicts with the Soviets. Many people thought Yugoslavia was the most liberal Eastern European country because it permitted some degree of dissent. We in the West supported the Praxis philosophers and provided a constant barrage of letters and press releases to the Western press on their behalf. We thought Sveta Stojanovic was especially courageous for his heroic stance against repression and for democratization. The socialist humanists of Eastern Europe at that time pointed out the contradictions between socialist ideals and reality. They focused on the early Marx in order to defend the principles of humanism. But this is all past history.
[1] The papers of this conference were published in Serbia in a book here entitled Tolerance and Revolution, edited by Paul Kurtz and Svetozar Stojanovic (Philosophical Society of Serbia, Beograd, 1970). Incidentally, this was the very first book published by Prometheus Books, which had just been founded in the United States. Prometheus has since published some 2,500 books and has become a major publishing company.

Note the essay "Humanism and the Freedom of the Individual" in Toward a New Enlightenment: The Philosophy of Paul Kurtz, by Paul Kurtz, edited with an introduction by Vern L. Bullough and Timothy J. Madigan (New Brunswick : Transaction Publishers, 1994), pp. 49-62. "This chapter was originally delivered at the Marxist-non-Marxist Humanist Dialogue held on September 6-7, 1968, in Vienna, at a meeting of the World Congress of Philosophy. Published in The Humanist (January/February 1969), and In Defense of Secular Humanism."

In Defense of Eupraxophy by Paul Kurtz: Kurtz analyzes the failure of Soviet Marxism-Leninism and Soviet atheism. While he judges Marxism a failure in practice, he nonetheless states:
After a century of Marxism—and Marx was no doubt the greatest humanist thinker of the nineteenth century—and after the patent failure of Marxism, the question can now be raised, Where does atheism now stand?
Humanism must address itself to the heart and the passions; it must have some relevance to practice and conduct; and it must have some effect upon how we live. I submit that broadly conceived the freethought movement has failed in that direction. Marxism was an effort to apply humanism to practice, and indeed Marxsaid that atheism was merely abstract, that it only became meaningfully expressed when it was realized in terms of Communism; and so Communism offered a program and an agenda for the future liberation of mankind. The Marxist-Leninists failed because they developed a new tyranny. And so we now see that Marxism without freedom is not an authentic humanism. But we must not give up on Marx's basic insight that humanism only has meaning if it is related to practice.
And here is the concluding paragraph:
We need to step up to a new plateau, and that, I submit, must be a plateau that defines a new eupraxophy that is relevant to the human condition, can inspire human beings to commitment and action, and provide meaning to their lives. This task is all the more pressing given the apparent collapse of Marxism, and the great vacuum in the world for inspiring ideals. Unless an authentic, democratic, scientific, and secular humanism can be identified as a viable alternative, then we may again be threatened by a new outburst of orthodox theism, and new cults of irrationality are most likely to emerge to plague humankind.
The Secular Humanist Prospect: In Historical Perspective by Paul Kurtz, in Free Inquiry magazine, Volume 23, Number 4: Kurtz traces the rise and fall of humanism around the world. Kurtz identifies six major ill-boding changes since the 1970s contributing to the decline of humanism. Note:
The third factor that emerged to challenge freethought and the secular movement was the near-total collapse of Marxism. For a good part of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Marxist-humanist ideals had influenced intellectuals; with Marxism’s eclipse, anticlericalism and indeed any open criticism of religion have all but disappeared.

Juan Chi / Ruan Ji (210-263): Chinese bohemian poet

Transmission of cultural and intellectual information across linguistic boundaries is far from perfect, and the notion that one will readily find everything one could possibly want in English is erroneous. I have blogged before on intellectual figures I could find almost no information on in English but learned about thanks to Esperanto, which has a history of serving as a bridge language between cultures. One such figure is the Chinese philosopher and freethinker Fan Zhen. Another is Ruan Ji, or Juan Chi in the older transliteration, whose life span was 210-263. All the relevant information in Esperanto can be accessed from my Esperanto blog:

Ĵŭan Ĝji, Saĝulo de la Bambu-Bosko

Works by and about Ruan Ji in English are difficult to find. Here's what there is:

Ruan Ji / Juan Chi: Selected Bibliography

"Speaking My Mind" by Juan Chi / Ruan Ji

Cultures all over the world have had their "holy fools": people who act eccentrically, in defiance of prevailing norms, whose extreme unconventional behavior—in complex civilizations, anyway—functions as a form of social critique. In the West, we have heard of Diogenes from ancient Greece. China, too, had many such persons. Here is an anecdote I have translated from Esperanto which I have not found in English:
He opposed feudal etiquette, acted strangely and unceremoniously; he took the space between heaven and earth as a chamber, his house as his trousers, remaining naked. When someone would enter his chamber, he would ask: "What are you doing in my pants?"

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Michel Onfray in Esperanto

I've blogged about Onfray on my Esperanto blog Ĝirafo several times, as I have on this one. Onfray is cited or mentioned from time to time in Le Monde Diplomatique en Esperanto. Onfray has subscribed to a petition regarding the acceptance of Esperanto in the French academic establishment: Campagne pour l'espéranto au bac, which advocates:
Pour toutes ces raisons nous demandons que l’espéranto soit ajouté à la liste des langues admises en tant qu’option au baccalauréat.
Now Onfray's Traité d'athéologie, which has been translated into several languages—in the USA it goes under the title Atheist Manifesto—is available in Esperanto translation: Traktaĵo pri Ateologio. I have blogged about this in Esperanto: Michel Onfray en Esperanto.

On this blog you will find my critical remarks about the ideological perspective underlying Onfray's work. I have not seen a critique in English that matches the thoroughness of this Russian Esperantist's critical review:

Ateismo subjektiva, limigita kaj katolika [An atheism that is subjective, limited, and Catholic] by Nikolao Gudskov

Gudskov cites a number of omissions in Onfray's historical account, but in addition to other specific criticisms, Gudskov criticizes Onfray's underlying methodology. Gudskov, who has no sympathy for Stalinism, nevertheless evidently learned something from historical materialism, as he insists that religion as a historical phenomenon cannot be understood as an abstraction isolated from the social factors that motivate it, and that the critique of religion cannot be limited to the critique of the Abrahamic religions or monotheism in general. He sums up Onfray's work as intellectually inadequate but useful as a popular work that articulates what fledgling atheists feel but have not yet fully articulated for themselves. I concur.

This is an interesting example of prevailing ideological differences among the intellectual cultures of different nations or linguistic spheres, in this case the French, Russian (formerly Soviet), and Anglo-American, though I should hasten to add that different intellectual cultures overlap said boundaries and can be found within them. Of course, Esperanto is not indispensable for overcoming provincialism nor does it by any means guarantee doing so. Nevertheless, it provides opportunities for dialogues among persons that would not exist otherwise.