Cultural Marxism and Some Logical Basics

Douglas P. McManaman
February 2, 2018
Reproduced with Permission

The etymology of the word 'perversion' suggests a "turning through", as a piece of clothing is often turned inside out after coming out of the washing machine: the outside part of the sock is on the inside. What we witness today in education and politics is a kind of logical perversion; what belongs first is last, and what belongs at the end is given the starting position. Juries deliberate after listening to hours of testimony, and good scientists draw conclusions after a thorough examination of the data; but today very often a person is tried and convicted in the court of public opinion before the trial, and many young people, including Prime Ministers and Presidents, are outraged when jurors arrive at a decision that differs from their own initial one, which in their minds is self-evident and indefeasible. Cultural Marxism is very popular on college and university campuses because many professors are cultural Marxists, and young students do not know enough of the fundamentals of logic to see through its fundamental inversion (i.e., perversion). The perversion consists of starting with a grand idea and interpreting the evidence accordingly. The logic of the scientific method, however, demands just the opposite: we begin with the evidence and follow its lead, as any good investigator knows. Karl Marx, however, was not an investigator; ideology, not science, was his "trade", and such an unscientific methodology is still very prevalent today.

I have always maintained that young people are attracted to ideologies because they are much easier than logic, and they "make sense" out of a highly complex world. An ideology is a set of ideas, or better yet, a system of ideas that enjoys internal consistency and coherence, as is the case with any system. Marxism has its roots in Hegel, whose philosophical approach begins in the realm of ideas, and the most fundamental idea, for Hegel, is being. However, the idea of being is so universal and empty of content that it is practically identical to nothing: the idea of being has nothing to it. As I think of being in general, I can't help but think of nothing; the two ideas enter into a dialectical push and pull in my mind, and for Hegel this dialectic spawns "becoming" or change. For the idealist, all one needs to do in order to understand reality is examine one's ideas, and so at the heart of reality, according to Hegel, is a fundamental dialectic or conflict. Hegel's philosophical system begins and ends in the realm of ideas, and the first idea is the fundamental conflict or dialectic between being and non-being.

Marx appropriated this idea, but Marx was a materialist. This means all that exists is matter, and the fundamental law governing the changes in the material universe is dialectic, or conflict. History is interpreted as a conflict that arises out of economic conditions, a conflict between the bourgeoisie (oppressors) and the proletariat (oppressed). Cultural Marxists in today's colleges, universities, faculties of Education, Sociology and English departments, etc., continue to interpret human relationships in terms (or categories) of oppressor and oppressed, whether we are talking about male/female, whites/minorities, corporations/consumers, traditional sexual mores versus contemporary sexual mores, predominant religion/minority religion, conventional language, etc. The fundamental role of the educator, including the early childhood educator, is to raise awareness in students of the various forms of oppression and encourage resistance; the goal of course is emancipation.

To address some of the problems with this approach, let us turn to some of the basics of logic. The first thing we should call to mind is "distribution". In logic, we speak of terms that are either distributed or undistributed. A distributed term covers 100% of the things referred to by it; an undistributed term covers less than 100% of the things referred to by it. For example, consider the proposition "All giraffes are animals". The subject, 'giraffes', is distributed, because we are talking about 100% of giraffes, that is, 'all', not 'some'. The predicate, 'animals' is undistributed, because not all animals are giraffes; only some of them are (some are dogs, bears, cats, etc.). An important point to keep in mind is that truth is coherent and consistent, among other things. To illustrate this in terms of distribution, consider that "All that is true is coherent". Another way of saying the same thing is "All that is true 'makes sense'". "Truth" is distributed, but "coherent" ("makes sense") is undistributed. This means that although all that is true "makes sense", it does not follow that all that makes sense is true, just as "all giraffes are animals" does not entail that "all animals are giraffes". The following is a simple figure that illustrates the point:

The category of coherence is larger than truth, just as the category of animal is larger than giraffe. Now what is particularly attractive about a system of ideas (ideology) is that it "makes sense" out of the data, that is, it gives coherence to an otherwise complex and - as of yet - incoherent world. The problem, of course, is that a conclusion that results from a coherent set of ideas may belong within the inner circle of "that which is true", or it may belong on the outside. What is required at this point is rigorous testing.

Testing an idea, however, brings with it its own problems, namely cognitive biases that tend to skew inductive reasoning. One of the simplest and most pervasive biases that derails inductive inference is confirmation bias. Perhaps I have an idea that Chinese women can't drive - after all, I've passed three slow drivers on the highway this week, and all of them were Chinese women. And let's say that after a number of years, my idea has not changed; in fact, it has only been strengthened. The reason is that since then, I've seen a number of accidents involving Chinese women; they tend to stand out in my mind.

Confirmation bias involves recalling, interpreting, or searching for data that confirms an existing hypothesis or idea. I've seen many vehicle accidents on the road and I've passed countless slow drivers, but those that stand out in my mind are precisely those that confirm an already existing idea, namely those incidents involving Chinese women; those incidents that do not confirm my hypothesis remain in the shadows of a penumbra and are quickly forgotten.

Another point to keep in mind is that evidence that confirms an idea - or hypothesis - is not proof. Hypotheses can be expressed using a conditional proposition: "If Jack killed Jill, then he will own a 22 caliber pistol". That it turns out that Jack owns a 22 caliber handgun does not prove that he killed Jill - further testing is required to exclude his gun. What will clear Jack is evidence that definitively falsifies the hypothesis (i.e., Jack was out of the country when the murder was committed). Good investigators know this, but most people outside of investigative disciplines (i.e., physics, chemistry, etc.,) do not. A good scientist will look for evidence that falsifies a hypothesis, but most people today tend not to entertain a skeptical posture towards evidence that confirms an idea or system of ideas that "makes sense" to them - suspending judgment can be very uncomfortable when we desperately want to make sense out of things.

Finally, a conclusion is typically grounded in a set of data each piece of which enjoys a degree of plausibility that is less than certain. A piece of data can be highly plausible (this murder was not a robbery and the victim knew the killer), or moderately plausible (the killer lives in the neighborhood), or minimally plausible (she was killed by someone passing through town), or downright implausible. Established facts are easy to work with, and drawing conclusions from a set of data consisting in maximally plausible data is not difficult at all. What makes science so difficult and its progress relatively slow is that we just do not have the luxury of drawing conclusions from maximally plausible data, as do mathematicians. All we can do is estimate on the basis of the best evidence in our possession. The frustrating part of this process, however, is that new data can and often does upset the applecart of our best estimate drawn from our initial set of data. Nicholas Rescher offers a simple example to illustrate an important point about plausible reasoning and its relationship to data. Consider the following question: What will John do to occupy himself on the trip? We require an answer, but the following data becomes successively available: 1) He loves doing crossword puzzles. Hence, it is highly plausible that he will occupy himself with crosswords on the trip. But further data reveals that 2) he loves reading even more. And so, in this light it is likely that he will read a book. Further data comes to light and we learn that 3) he forgot to take any books along with him on the trip. Hence, he will likely occupy himself with crosswords. But then we learn that 4) one of his fellow passengers lends him a book. Obviously, he is going to read.

What, we may ask, will step 5 bring? The answer is: we simply don't know; nor can we assume there will be no next step. If there is, no doubt it will further enrich our body of information, but that may not bring us closer to the "truth", but away from it. We've been oscillating back and forth, not moving in a straight line. The important point here is that additional data need not settle matters by bringing us closer to the truth; it does not follow that a conclusion based on more complete information is necessarily an improvement; thus, it is an error to suggest that a conclusion cannot be falsified if its "inferior" predecessor was already true; further data can cause us to oscillate between an increase and decrease of plausibility.

This is why it is of the utmost importance not to begin with what belongs at the end of a long and arduous investigative process. Before trial, it may appear that the accused is guilty, but evidence unavailable to us at this point - but available to a jury - may radically alter the plausibility of our initial estimate if it was made available to us - or if we were jurors. Moreover, although grand ideas such as "history unfolds according to a predictable dialectical pattern", that is, a pattern of conflict between the poor and the rich, or female and male, or racial minority and white majority, etc., allow us to "make sense" out of an otherwise messy and confusing world, it is simply not the case that all that makes sense is true. Every effort needs to be made to pay attention to data that fails to fit into the grand idea and renders that idea less plausible, thereby increasing the opacity of reality. Still relevant today is Karl Popper's criticism of Marxism, Freudianism, and Adlerian psychology. In his Science: Conjectures and Refutations , he writes:

These theories appeared to be able to explain practically everything that happened within the fields to which they referred. The study of any of them seemed to have the effect of an intellectual conversion or revelation, opening your eyes to a new truth hidden from those not yet initiated. Once your eyes were thus opened you saw confirming instances everywhere: the world was full of verifications of the theory. Whatever happened always confirmed it. Thus its truth appeared manifest; and unbelievers were clearly people who did not want to see the manifest truth; who refused to see it, either because it was against their class interest, or because of their repressions which were still "un - analysed" and crying aloud for treatment.

The most characteristic element in this situation seemed to me the incessant stream of confirmations, of observations which "verified" the theories in question; and this point was constantly emphasized by their adherents. A Marxist could not open a newspaper without finding on every page confirming evidence for his interpretation of history; not only in the news, but also in its presentation which revealed the class bias of the paper - - and especially of course in what the paper did not say. The Freudian analysts emphasized that their theories were constantly verified by their "clinical observations". As for Adler, I was much impressed by a personal experience. Once, in 1919, I reported to him a case which to me did not seem particularly Adlerian, but which he found no difficulty an analyzing in terms of his theory of inferiority feelings, although he had not even seen the child.

Slightly shocked, I asked him how he could be so sure. "Because of my thousand-fold experience," he replied; whereupon I could not help saying: "And with this new case, I suppose, your experience has become thousand-and-one-fold." What I had in mind was that his previous observations may not have been much sounder than this new one; that each in its turn had been interpreted in the light of 'previous experience', and at the same time counted as additional confirmation. What, I asked myself, did it confirm? No more than that a case could be interpreted in the light of the theory.

It follows that a certain hubris ought to be avoided, namely that which regards our current body of knowledge (data, information) - and our best estimates formulated on its basis - as definitive and indefeasible; it is always incomplete. Science does not necessarily progress accumulatively, but often revolutionarily - we speak of scientific revolutions. This means that long accepted theses and their implications are rejected as a result of new data, and new theses and their implications are accepted, leading to new questions, which in turn spawn further conjectures that require rigorous testing. That is why physicist Richard Feynman refers to science as an ever expanding frontier of ignorance. Absolutistic overconfidence, the kind we see on university campuses today, is rooted in a serious lack of appreciation for the logic of the scientific method as well as the process of scientific discovery as an ever expanding frontier of ignorance. The result is not a learned ignorance, which is the mark of the truly learned and wise, but ignorance pure and simple.