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To Know a Pear One Must Bite Into a Pear

To Know a Pear One Must Bite Into a Pear

By Dennis Loo (3/28/14)

I came of age politically during the revolutionary upsurges of the 1960s. They are principally responsible for who I am politically and socially today.

These movements made it unmistakably clear that not only were powerful and large social movements possible – these movements, after all, were rocking the nation and world – but revolution itself was possible. Revolution was most definitely on the table.

My academic studies as an undergraduate also taught me something profoundly important. I was a government major and I studied closely two examples of bureaucracies' behavior, the US Interior Department’s attempt to protect cattle ranchers by poisoning prairie dogs and the US military’s defoliation campaign in Vietnam. In both instances not only did I learn that the empirical foundation for these governmental policies was at best suspect – the prairie dog wasn’t causing cattle deaths and destroying the jungle wouldn’t win the US’s war in Vietnam – but I also more importantly came to see the disjuncture between what public officialdom said they were doing and why they were doing it versus their actual policies and behavior.

I also took a course on education and in this course there were two TA’s, Herbert Gintis and Sam Bowles, who were Marxists and who introduced me to a Marxist analysis of education. They explained that the reason why schools were unnecessarily alienating was because schools were preparing people to perform in alienating occupations in which the goal was extrinsic – grades in school and money in jobs – instead of focusing on the intrinsic value of learning and working. This made total sense to me and explained a conundrum that I had been living with for years: why, if the goal was learning, did schools emphasize grades instead of learning?

Because I was an undergrad at Harvard I had the rare opportunity to meet up close and personal elites who were literally running the country. Most people in the world don’t have this chance as these movers and shakers are normally only visible to the public over the TV or from a distance in some large crowd in tightly controlled and managed events. What I saw in these close encounters showed me that these individuals had fairly distorted value systems and that I could not in good conscience model myself after them. I would not likely have recognized how messed up their worldview was, however, without the other factors above.

I thus had concrete exposure to the possibility of another way and I was willing to follow through in my studies intellectually to their logical conclusion. I also became a political activist and learned an enormous amount through that work. Without that extensive experience I would not have been able to parse through and determine how to make full sense of Marxism.

I came across for the first time in a library during a school winter break Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach. This work contains the distilled essence of Marxism. I recall very vividly the powerful impact this very brief but concentrated essay had on me. It has informed what I’ve done as an intellectual and an activist ever since.

As Marx points out in it:

[Feuerbach] regards the theoretical attitude as the only genuinely human attitude, while practice is conceived and fixed only in its dirty-judaical manifestation. Hence he does not grasp the significance of 'revolutionary,' of 'practical-critical,' activity.”

As everyone knows from the 11th thesis that is its most often-cited passage, Marxism aims to resolve the historic gap between contemplation and action: “Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.” The full meaning of this perspective continues to provoke debate.

The widely varying takes on Marxism that we see in the academy are testimony to how people can pick and choose and see in a body of theory what they wish to see. In the academy what you learn about Marxism is mostly academic Marxism, robbed of its revolutionary soul.

Marx argues in Theses that it is impossible to truly know things without actively engaging with them. You cannot be an armchair philosopher and claim to really know the world because there are limits to what can know through sheer contemplation. As Mao Zedong put it once: to know a pear one must bite into a pear.

There is another angle from which to view this: those who claim to be “value-free” and who say that they are not taking a side or taking a stand are in fact either deceiving themselves or others, or both. It is not possible to be “value-free.” People who have suffered from a very specific kind of brain injury and who lose the ability to make value judgments but who continue to retain their reasoning abilities find that they cannot come to conclusions. The reason? You cannot reach conclusions without having a value stance.

The basic cleavage in humanity in value positions is that between those who regard their individual lives as more important than anything (or that of their immediate family or other “tribe” such as their nation) versus those who see principles such as the common good as paramount. A common form of this is the oppositional views between those who see “my nation” first compared to those who view the lives for all peoples as of equal value.

Any debates that occur between these two groups are not resolvable on the level of reasoning alone since those reasons rest ultimately on two radically different value stances.

Another way of putting this is that for some people, “truth” is whatever serves their group’s interests versus those who regard truth as something that exists objectively in that it is not subject to being either elevated or downgraded based on whether or not it suits one’s personal preferences and group allegiances. Truth is the truth, regardless of whether or not it suits one’s personal desires. Someone, for instance, can be stating the truth, even if their motives are not pure and even if they do not belong to the group about which their observation is being made. Truth is truth.

The comments thread on my article about the Oscar Pistorius murder trial is very interesting in this regard. Some people who have left comments have trouble distinguishing between their personal desires for what they want to believe from the facts of the case (e.g., they think that Pistorius can’t have done such a heinous thing as murder his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp because “it’s out of character” for Pistorius to do so).

The debates during and since Trayvon Martin’s murder by George Zimmerman have also had a similar character, with Zimmerman’s defenders having no trouble believing that Trayvon must have provoked his own death, despite no empirical evidence to support that view (e.g., DNA tests showed no DNA of Zimmerman on Martin and vice-versa), and all of the evidence (such as the fact that Zimmerman was stalking Trayvon) pointing to the opposite conclusion. Moreover, if you believe that Zimmerman had a legal right to use deadly force to “defend” himself, then to be consistent you would have to argue that Trayvon had at least an equal right to use deadly force to defend his life, in which case Zimmerman can not have been found not guilty of Trayvon’s murder given that even if Trayvon had properly defended himself, this would not and could not have justified Zimmerman using deadly force to kill someone who was only defending himself against an unidentified stalker with a gun.

These cases illustrate how much of a political and attitudinal Rorschach test these legal cases can be.


0 # shannon barkley 2014-04-05 05:15
To me public oficials t and water down information for the publics eye, or they phrase things in simpler ways for the people. Even thought they do thid their actions are still being seen, whether they are good or bad, hence the phrase actions speak louder than words.
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0 # Soc 123 2014-04-07 05:30
I totally agree; the phrase "action speak louder than words" sums up Marxism. The idea can be used in everyday, especially when it comes to relationships I tend to look at their actions instead of their "talk".
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0 # jnc 2014-04-05 17:03
I regards to the Trayvon Martin case i believe that there are truths that have not been told. Everyone has their own side to the case. This being said, I was sitting in on a drug talk and one deputy Sheriff brought up this case. She first said what was in Trayvon's hands, Arizona tea and skittles. She then brought up the ingredients to make the popular drug "purple drank," which includes these two ingredients and cough syrup. After hearing this, it had me wondering what the truths were of this case. Was Trayvon on his way to make this drug? Was he already on his high to begin with? Could it be that Zimmerman was actually defending himself if Trayvon was acting in a threatening state due to the drink? Or is this in fact a hate crime? These are truths that will never been known, and this case although has a verdict, still has not been solved in my opinion.
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0 # Jessica Ulloa 2014-04-05 23:08
I find the comment very interesting about a deputy speaking at a drug talk in regards to what Trayvon Martin had in his hands. I find it interesting that this comment was made at all. How can one make an assumption of a young man walking down the street with common snacks that teenagers his age would have.. and twist that around to believe he will be making drugs with that. Like state in the article about 'Truth is Truth.' The truth shows that there is and was not empirical evidence to believe that Zimmerman's life was in danger by Trayvons actions. With that said, how can one say that Trayvon was going to make drugs based on what he had in his hands. This is similar to saying that someone who Sudafed (common nasal congestion medicine)is going to make Methamphetamine , as it can be created by breaking it down some way. This conclusion does not make sense at all to me. Rather it seems as though it is a way to show that Zimmerman was not WRONG in what he did to an innocent teenager.
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0 # tiamari 2014-04-06 22:35
I watched this trial from beginning to end. There was evidence that was not addressed during the trial that I think could have change the outcome of the trial. But as Dr. Loo, states that a juror thought the trial was predetermined from the beginning.
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0 # Dennis Loo 2014-04-05 23:10
Quoting jnc:
Could it be that Zimmerman was actually defending himself if Trayvon was acting in a threatening state due to the drink? Or is this in fact a hate crime? These are truths that will never been known.

If we assume for the sake of argument that GZ was threatened by Trayvon and if, as the jury did, we find that GZ had a right to use deadly force to defend himself, then it logically follows that TM also must have had a right to use deadly force to defend himself. This is all the more reasonable considering that it was GZ who was packing a gun and who was stalking TM in the first place. There would not have been an encounter if not for Zimmerman stalking and initiating the fatal encounter. Hence, the view that GZ was justified in using deadly force doesn't make logical sense because to believe that one has to also hold that TM had no right to defend himself! See "What if george zimmerman's version of events is true..."
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0 # Dennis Loo 2014-04-05 23:13
What is not widely known is that the judge in the case ruled in pre-trial hearings that the phrase "racial profiling" or any argument referring to racial profiling could not be sued in court. In other words, the judge essentially decided the case before any testimony or evidence was entered because she ruled off the table from the start that the actual nature of the case and the motive of the case by Zimmerman was not to be considered.
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+1 # Dennis Loo 2014-04-05 23:16
What is not widely known is that the judge in the case ruled in pre-trial hearings that the phrase "racial profiling" or any argument referring to racial profiling could not be used in court. In other words, the judge decided the case before any testimony or evidence was entered because she ruled off the table from the start that the actual nature of the case was NOT to be considered. This helps to explain the otherwise puzzling comment by the one Latina juror who came forward afterward and said that she thought the trial was a circus and a farce and the decision had already been made.
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0 # Slovebee 2014-04-06 21:48
The comment above states exactly why the Trayvon Martin case makes me so angry. The fact that they took race out of the picture is ridiculous. Wouldn't it have been possible that Zimmerman felt threatened by Martin's race and thus became defensive, leading to Martin's probable defense for himself? All conclusions are just assumptions at this point. But in the world we live in, to not consider race in a case like this is mind blowing. Although I would like to think that racism no longer exist it definitely still does, and will for quite some time. To introduce the labeling theory, which turns the argument to the society rather than the offender, what about Zimmerman's surrounding society would have affected him to act they way he did. And that goes for Martin as well. Rather than asking why Zimmerman acted the way he did, let us ask what can we change about our society that would have influenced him to pull out a gun IF Martin was not acting in an aggressive manner.
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0 # Luvlife 2014-04-07 06:56
I agree with the Latina's statement that the trial was a circus as a farce decision was already taken since the racial profiling was ruled in the pre- trial.
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0 # Princess Peach 2014-04-06 00:05
This article brought of some key elements of a Marxist ideology that I completely agree with. I could relate to the Marxist analysis of education. Education today is focused on grades and memorization, rather than analysis and critical thinking. This style of education teaches students to value extrinsic values rather than intrinsic values, so when they enter the job market, they value money rather than working. Another key concept of Marx is that you cannot know something without actively engaging in it. I completely agree with they idea as well. One does not truly know something until they experience it. In class, it is difficult for me to fully understand certain concepts presented because I have not experienced them myself. When we were discussing conformity and the Collateral Murder, the video of the Collateral Murder provided me with a deeper level of understanding of conformity.
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0 # sadiez 2014-04-06 21:08
I concur. My entire educational career has been spent in California and I don't know if this makes any difference, but I can't comment on any other school system because California's is all I know. Nevertheless, I feel like the system that is in place now is doing exactly what the previous comment stated and exactly what the article states in regards to Marxism; that education requires us merely to remember things, and not at all to apply our skills and competence. Therefore, when we get enrolled in a class such as this one, we struggle and the context becomes a bit overwhelming. I basically feel as though it is setting us up for failure. That is why it is important to engage in our education as much as we can, so that we can relate to in on a different level other than simply reading about a particular topic.
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0 # Soc 123 2014-04-07 05:42
What I like about this class and what Dr. Loo states in the syllabus, is that we are going to analyze and understand the material instead of memorizing. In order to truly know something we must experience it, even though I can't relate to some of the material; analyzing and thinking critically would be easier to relate.
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0 # Marisol Parra 2014-04-06 17:18
Experience makes us understand life in a way we wouldn’t have understood it before it happened. Dr. Loo shares his experiences in his schooling and came to realize the school was about grades and jobs about money. Marx’s analysis on wealth and privilege can be compared to that of education yet focusing on learning the concept behind education and not just for the money. Agree one must truly experience to fully understand the true meaning behind it. With the TV and GZ case that was a true hate crime in my opinion however we may not know what truly happened.
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0 # Dennis Loo 2014-04-07 14:40
Quoting Marisol Parra:
With the TV and GZ case that was a true hate crime in my opinion however we may not know what truly happened.

Since no one besides GZ knows saw what happened, we will not know precisely what happened. However, there are many things in life that we don't have direct observation of and must use the best available tools to decipher what occurred. Before viruses were seen under electron microscopes, medical researchers deduced their existence from other indicators. Inference is an extremely important tool, one that we actually need since most things in life we don't have personal knowledge of and we rely heavily on indirect information. We can determine through the other evidence and thru deduction (e.g., the lack of TM's DNA on GZ) that GZ's claim that TM attacked him is false.
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0 # soad 2014-04-07 04:37
The statement "grades in school and money in jobs" is very true. I have had very few classes in which that I have truly learned the course material. We have been taught to have good grades, and by having good grades in college, we can get a well paying job. However, by having this mindset of only having good grades, takes away from the opportunity to really learn the class material. I believe that learning and understanding the course material is more beneficial than the grade received. We shouldn't fear knowledge, but embrace it.
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0 # LA305302 2014-04-07 05:17
i would have to disagree with their only being on general truth weather it applies to you or not. people are all so different, and under different circumstances that i do not believe in a objective point of view. Furthermore, i completely agree with Marx and his idea on education. the school system is one that values a grad point average more than the personal story. since kindergarten its about remembering the alphabet, then remembering your times tables, and so on. are we really grasping the importance that does behind the material? why are the GEMS in education so valued, but something like the liberal arts, and philosophy is doomed failure?
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0 # Dennis Loo 2014-04-07 05:21
There are multiple views of course but do you recognize objective reality as real, independent of multiple perspectives about that reality?
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0 # Brandon Vildosola 2014-04-08 19:14
It makes sense that one can not truly know about something in its full aspects without having actually experienced the situation. As we talked about in class, this explanation of "biting the pear" would make sense in politics when an official is elected into office promising changes in the way things are going now, however once they are actually in power they continue to take on the previous office holders policies. It could be that unforeseen events caused them to continue the standing regime because they perhaps see the greater good keeping the current policy active
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Elaine Brower of World Can't Wait speaking at the NYC Stop the War on Iran rally 2/4/12