Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Bernard and Karl

My interest in Lonergan largely stems from an epistemic exigency, namely a need for higher-level systematization in my understanding of method. I recognized that when it came to studying the biblical texts, their world, and their impact, there were genuine insights in the work of more traditional exegetes, and there were genuine insights in the work of historians of the ancient world, and there were genuine insights stemming from the work of Marxist scholars, feminist scholars, womanist scholars, etc. The problem that I had was how to integrate and coordinate these respective insights into a synthetic whole. Lonergan's notion of functional specialization resolved this, allowing me to situate the insights of exegesis within the specialization that he called "interpretation," of historians within the specialization that he called "history," and of Marxist, feminist, womanist scholars, etc., within the specializations that he called "dialectics" and "foundations." Because these specializations are recursive, with each supposing and building its antecedent--foundations upon dialectics, dialectics upon history, history upon interpretation--I found the rudiments of a way in which to integrate the quite genuine insights that I was discovering in these disparate areas of scholarship.

Recently, I've been returning to some of the Marxist thinkers with whom I engaged earlier in my graduate career, with an aim of thinking through how to best situate their insights within Lonergan's system of functional specialization. I'm currently reading Boer and Petterson's recent monograph,  Time of Troubles, in which they argue that "it was precisely through the symbiosis and integration of polis and chōra that economic exploitation was enabled and made even more efficient" (p. 78). At a risk of bastardizing Boer and Petterson's argument through over-simplification, the argument is that city-dwellers in the ancient Greco-Roman city were essentially parasitic on those labouring in the country-side, extracting the fruits of their labour without providing anything of comparable value in return. There's no doubt much truth in this. For the Lonerganian, this would be an example of group bias at work: the city-dwellers formulate policies that benefit primarily themselves, with inadequate attention to those who work in the countryside. The Lonerganian would also likely grant that it was more specifically the most powerful and wealthy among the city-dwellers--i.e. the elite, following common parlance used today--who formulate these policies, for they would benefit most fully, and likewise identify that as group bias. The Lonerganian could further grant that insofar as this bias begins to distort peoples' psychological life, such that the irrationality of this group bias becomes the condition by which all groups within society process their world, a "dramatic bias" sets in, thus allowing her or him to affirm many Marxist insights regarding the nature of ideology, false consciousness, etc., perhaps particularly as these were developed by the Freudo-Marxist moves of the Frankfurt School. The Lonerganian could further argue that group and dramatic biases are the grounds of (respectively) shorter and longer cycles of decline that eventuate in the need for radical transformation, thus allowing her or him to affirm many of Marxist thought's legitimate insights into the matter of revolution.

There is a question looming over all this, however. That question is whether or not the relationship between country-side and city, or more generally between producers or non-producers, is constitutionally parasitic. Consider an arrangement in which it is agreed that producers will give up portion of their produce, and in exchange they and their dependents will receive access to the best in cutting-edge medical care. The producers would not have access to that medical care otherwise, and thus this could be seen as a mutually beneficial situation. The Marxist might respond by suggesting that while a situation in which producers receive access to the best in cutting-edge medical care might well be preferable to one in which they do not, nonetheless their relationship with the non-producers at the top of the class hierarchy remains unequal, and indeed such an arrangement could be said to constitute a particularly sophisticated and insidious form of exploitation as producers become all the more dependent upon the non-producers for their survival while the non-producers are able to decide which producers receive what level of care. Again, a Lonerganian can happily grant that group and dramatic bias can create such a situation, but would likely raise the question of whether such bias is endemic to the relationship between producer and non-producer.

The question for the Lonerganian raised by such Marxist analysis might be summarized as follows: can there be human societies that are free of systemic group and dramatic bias?

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