Re: Faith, Philosophy and Dogma

Aparthib Zaman

Re: The article by Setara Hashem (SH) at: 

The definitions of faith, philosophy and dogma as cited by S.H from The American Heritage Dictionary is essentialy the same as the ones I gave in my article that was referred to. So I am confused as to what would it serve to compare my defns with those of The American Heritage Dictionary. Nonscientific terms of social issues need not be nor can be defined in an exact way. No two philosophers would define these notions in identical words or expressions. In fact the definitions in American Heritage Dictionary (AHD) differ more from Merriam Webster's dictionary (MWD) than from my definitions. (One can look up MWD at  to verify, I am not citing them here). It will not serve much purpose to compare the definitions of MWD with those of AHD. Dictionaries are quick and easy way to get the general meaning of any word used in a given context. It is not the authoritative guide or standard to settle philosophical notions or to gain insight into such notions in any discussion. Definitions cannot alter principles or facts of reality. One cannot discover new facts of reality or disprove any view of reality solely through redefining words. Definitions can change, the objects of definition should not, they are the invariants. Like alternate routes to a mountain peak (the invariant), alternate definitions are acceptable as long as they all lead to a consistent and exhaustive categorization of the objective facts of reality. Anyway let me address some of the remarks in S.H's article in random order, starting with the last part on relativity.

The assertion that "everything" is relative is vacuous. As philospher Hillary Putnam of Harvard said "if everything is relative, then so is the assertion that everything is relative". It is a self defeating statement. Citing Enstein's theory of relativity to make such a general statement reflects popular misunderstanding of the technical aspects of Einstein's theory of relativity. Einstein's theory is really not about relativity, but about invariance. In fact Einstein himself did not call his theory, a theory of relativity, but a principle of the invariance of the laws of physics with respect to changes in frames of refernece. Special relativity results from the invariance of the laws of phyisic relative to non-accelerated frames of reference and the general theory results from invariance relative to accelerated frames. The claim that Marxism is science, not a dogma is quite a novel one. The chain of reasoning to make that claim was that "Marxism is not a dogma, because Marxism envisages change and gradual evolution. And and hence Marxism is also science". This reasoning is based on misinterpretaing both the notion of dogma and science. First of all even if Marxism was not a dogma, it does not have to be science just becasue of that, that would be a fallacy of false dichotomy. Marxism IS a dogma. It authoritatively affirms its goal (i.e classless society, abolition of private property etc) as the only acceptable and the RIGHT one. And it stipulates force to implement this goal. It has fixated goal. It does not admit of any change regarding this goal. All these are hallmarks of a dogma. In fact it meets one definition of dogma as given in MWD: "something held as an established opinion; especially : a definite authoritative tenet". Granted, Marxism envisages stages that the revolution has to go through stages to arrive at the goal. But that view is a strategic one, not a principled one. Religious dogma (at least their apologists) also envisages gradual changes to bring the world under religion in phases. But both the religious dogma and communist dogma are uncompromising about their stated goal being the only right one. That certainly sounds like a dogma. Arguing that "Mine is the only right one" is not the same as "Mine is the absolute truth" is a pedantic one, verging on sophistry. The notion of dogma does not split such hairs in its definition. The two most important attribute of dogma as I had stated viz. 

(1) Affirmation of its doctrine as the only right one 

(2) Exercise of force to imoplement it, are both satisfied by communism. 

It is a great stretch to call Marxism a science. Science does not make such affirmation of idealist doctrines, nor envisages the doctrine as the terminal one, unlike communism. Science is truly about change and evolution, depending on objective evidence and observations, communism does not. Science strives to take a third person perspective on reality, communism and religion a first person perspective. If change was part of communist doctrine, then communist apologists would have viewed the present market economy in China as a more improved stage of communism, or would have viewed view the former Soviet Union as an evolved stage of communism. Rather they condemned it as revisionism. So the claim that communism admits of change, or mandates change is a contradiction. Economy is a chaotic system. It is a far from equilibrium system, that is very susceptible to socio- cultural factors. It is governed by nonlinear laws. No formal theory can be given to achieve the optimum solution that will be best for a society for all times. The optimal solution has to be an evolutionary one (i.e working through selection pressure) and based on accountability and checks and balances, as guaranteed through democracy. This can be illustrated with a parable as Nobel laureate Physicist Steven Weinberg did in his book "Facing UP', p-254, (in " The The Best and Brightest Utopia" section) :

    [ W.S. Gilbert proposed an admirably simple solution to 
      this problem. In the Savoy opera Utopia Limited, the
      King exercises all power but is in constant danger of
      being turned over to the Public Exploder by two Wise
      men, who explain,
       Our duty is to spy
          Upon our King's illicities,
       And keep a watchful eye
          On all his eccentricities.
       If ever a trick he tries
          That savours of rascality,
       At our decree he dies
         Without the least formality
     We just have to get used to the fact in real world 
     there is no solution, and we can't trust anyone. The 
     best we can hope for is that power be widely diffused
     among many conflicting government and private
     institutions, any of which may be allies in opposing
     the encroachments of others-- much as in the United
     States today. ]

All complex chaotic systems evolve through selection pressure, so does economic system, which will have to react to changing social and cultural pressures and select out the optimal one. It should contain both the elements of free market principles and state interventions to assure social justice without signigficantly infringing on individual rights to property and freedom, the goal always being an exploitation free society. That is a self evident axiom of humanism that no one can dispute. There can be a considerable room for variation within those ideals. A mathematically classless society is a Utopia. Even an uneducated wise farmer named Aroj Ali Matubbar realized it and commented that (From Collected works of Aroj Ali Matubbor, vol-1) :

   [Exploitation free (Shoshonhin) society is not the same as
    classless (Srenihin) society. Socialism strives to achieve
    exploitation free society, not a classless society." (p-282)
   "just as a human is not possible without its limbs, so is the
   establishment of a classless society not conceivable" (p-283)]

Such utopian dream of a classless society is mathematically possible ONLY if every member of a society were truly selfless, had identical demands and aspirations among other requirements. Human species as we understand it from sociobiology will not satisfy it. Maybe a future progeny of human species based on a mixture of carbon and silicon, or just pure silicon might achieve that, but certainly not carbon based human species as we know it. The very notion that a dedicated, selfless elite will lead the communist revolution is an utopian one, as humans who desire to lead are prone to corruption. They may remain selfless during the revolution phase, but not guaranteed to remain so for ever. Nor is a selfless leadership guaranteed to succeed the initial selfless leaders during the later phases. An authoritarian dictatorship, by a few, even in the name of the proletariat cannot ensure checks or balances. Truly selfless people seldom harbor leadership aspiration, let alone strive for that.

On the issue of atrocity, SH seemed to have taken a relativist position on it. Again, that is self defeating position to take. Because then any atrocity can be justified. Killing of non-combatant civilians, specially children and women, CAN NEVER BE JUSTIFIED. The atrocities of Pak military in 1971, the atrocities of Stalin are both wrong. Stalin ruthlessly killed hundreds of thousands of his potential opponents (political and ideological as well, suspected or real). The atrocities unleashed on the Polish by Stalin during second world war is well documented. If the atrocities of Stalin are defended by relativist arguments as was done by S.H then ANY atrocities by any dictator, by any political party in power to violently suppress its opponents can be defined by that same relativistic arguments. Such relativist argument then makes any criticism of oppression by AL, BNP or any party or government towards their respective opponents null and void. It is impossible to cite any atrocities that cannot be defended by relativist arguments.

I am not sure what SH meant by "I hope writer will not say that the killing done by Moktijodha in 1971 was atrocity". The killing by Muktibahini of Pak soldiers and their collaborators was not atrocities, but part of the accepted rule of engagement in war. That killing one's adversarial combatant is not an atrocity is self- evident. So I am not sure why this question was asked if that was what was meant. But if the killing of non-Bengali children and women by (SOME) Muktibahini members (It did happen) was meant then quite affirmatively that was an act of atrocity, a heinous one indeed. It would be an appalling thought if anyone thought that was not an atrocity. True, killing combatants in a war is not atrocity, as stated earlier. But killing defenseless children and women when such killing does not prevent or punish the military for committing their own atrocities, is an act that is grossly wrong morally. Not that killing innocent adult men are defensible. But killing innocent children and women, who don't pose any threat to the adversaries, reveals a spirit of pure bloodlust, not a spirit of struggle for freedom. Even in the religious or tribal warfares of the 7th century Arabia, children and women were spared, or were accountable if anyone broke that rule. But such killings in 1971 by some Muktibahinis were not subjected to any accountability, as far as I know. It is an irony that the killings of children and women in 1971 by SOME of those who were supposedly fighting to end exploitation and oppression in the name of religion, in fact outdid the religious atrocities of 7th century. The bottom line is killing innocent human lives, specially when they don't serve any strategic advantage in a war, be it in the name of religion, communism, or gaining liberation, is wrong. period.


Published at Mukto-mona 

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