Real Learning and Scholarship vs. Lyndon LaRouche's Quackery

"xlcr4life," Factnet, 08-16-2008, 08:31 AM:

"What I do remember very clearly was how much time was devoted by Lyn and the leadership at every available moment to denounce academia, schools, teachers, professors and every single vestige of school work or life..."

I was looking at some back issues of The Campaigner [FN 1] yesterday and had a flashback to how there were many references to the impotence of academia in them. Back in my day the recruitment was more leftist oriented and you would find that on campus. What I do remember very clearly was how much time was devoted by Lyn and the leadership at every available moment to denounce academia, schools, teachers, professors and every single vestige of school work or life as not just impotent, but far worse. You could not stay in school and work around or support any ideas you thought were worthy unless you left that environment. In other words, if you chose to just read and buy some lit, your inaction in leaving everything and joining the LC [the Labor Committees] was contributing to the end of civilization and whatever apocalyptic crisis happened to be occurring at the moment.

If you review every year of your life, there was, is and will always be a major crisis happening somewhere in the globe. If you are Lyn [Lyndon LaRouche], then the cheap parlor trick is to just link that to some complex order of delusional enemies where eventually one of the enemies will connect with you.

Lyn has lived off the pathetic Abba Lerner story [FN 2] for decades and decades as if that one room encounter which no one on the face of the Earth gives a rat's ass about, knows about or cares about suddenly gave Lyn secret powers. That was the moment for the LC to twist this into a mythical Lyn slaying the academic beast for our own folklore.

What we did later was another pretty simple and cheap parlor trick when I think about it. Instead of challenging a conventional view or scientific fact, we just had to employ the "polemical method," which basically is using LaRouche "connecto" to spin some incredulous web of conspiracy to whatever we wished. There was no need to either understand the subject or to be able to present a critique with real info or to present any realistic alternative. It was sufficient for us college dropouts to stomp into some poor teacher's classroom, denounce him or her for miseducation and being part of the ever-expanding 6,000-year-old worldwide plot which has enslaved humanity.

You may find a few members who had some knowledge--they usually learned that and had that in the back of their heads while it was slowly being "Laroucheified." The rest of us could spout some names of famous or obscure people, throw in the latest crisis like plant shutdowns, banks, housing, famine, etc., and leave a bewildered group of people who both laughed and were annoyed at us at the same time.

You and your partner left with your heads in the clouds for doing another successful "intervention" to save humanity. That was written up in the local report and sent to NYC or Leesburg where if it was mentioned in the briefing, you felt even more world historical.

Lyn cracked open another bottle of Rheingau, checked the hourly income and enjoyed yet another day of fulfilling his destiny of ruling the world.

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"Doran," Factnet, 08-16-2008, 04:19 PM:

"Nothing [LaRouche] writes is clear; it is a jumble of references to Gauss and Kant designed to...confuse you into thinking that you are not smart enough to understand his points and that it would be best if you would just shut up."

Hello xlcr (and others),

Your reference to the "polemical method" is very funny and nicely defined. I have seen something like this before. In fact, my old pal (the one I mentioned in previous posts) said that Ted (presumably Andromidas) did this once to him. Here is how it (or some cruder version thereof) "worked" (if you can say it worked--more on that below).

My pal challenged Ted on a point. Ted took off his glasses and wiped them in that utterly preeny way and said, "Wait a minute. Have you read (points glasses/arms at my friend dramatically here) Plato's Gorgias? Do you know what the point is of the Gorgias?"

My pal said, abashed and shamefaced, "Uh, no, Ted, I haven't."

Ted looked at him, eyes blazing, and said, "Wait a minute. Are you trying to tell me that you are trying to make ANY ARGUMENT AT ALL when you have not read the Gorgias? How you can dare to advance any argument whatsoever on any topic whatsoever if you have not read the Gorgias is simply beyond me."

My pal laughed as he told me it, partly because he felt ashamed and didn't know what to do, and partly because he thought it was so very effective, annoying as it was to be "shown up," but he admired Ted's boldness and rhetorical exposition as well.

This is how this sort of nonsense works. At least one teacher tried it on me once when I was talking about syncretism in Roman religion: she asked if I had read Edward Said's book Orientalism. I had not, and to my credit I admitted it. She said, "Well, read that, and then tell me if you still believe that about syncretism."

The problem is (and it's a big one), THIS IS NOT AN ARGUMENT. This is a way to avoid argument. This is a way to "win" (note quotation marks) by getting your opponent to back down. But you have not actually used an idea or convinced your opponent. You have only gotten him to (temporarily) shut up. If he has a streak within himself that desires to subordinate him to a wiser master, he may never question the value or validity of this "argument." If he has a logical mind (unless logic has been bleached out of him by some utterly specious "Platonian negation of mere Aristotelian logic") he will eventually, sooner or later, realize that this was not a battle he lost. Nor one that the other person won. No one won or lost anything. The discussion was only derailed temporarily. The only thing that happened was that Ted Andromidas felt like a badass to be able to cow my old friend who was superb at kung fu and could have turned Ted Andromidas into a vegetable with a single punch. In that brief, precious moment, Ted Andromidas felt that he had a large and heavy schlong.

Sorry, those last phrases were a bit ugly. Anyway. The funny thing about the choice of Plato's Gorgias if I remember that dialogue correctly (it has been five years since I read it in Greek): aside from the Laws and of course The Republic, the Gorgias is the longest of Plato's works. (I may be slightly off, but not by much.) It is a fictionalization of the visit to Athens of Gorgias of Leontini, a highly esteemed Sicilian orator. In this dialogue, mere rhetoric is exposed as charlatanship in contrast to actual philosophy. A rhetorician has only a "knack," Plato's Socrates says, but a philosopher has actual knowledge. Here is the imaginary test: if a truly accomplished rhetorician were arguing against a real medical doctor as to who should receive the post of the official doctor of a city, in front of the city's Assembly of citizens, the rhetorician would surely win. But his patients would die, and the actual doctor, whose rhetorical skills are more modest, would lose the contest, dooming the city's people to an impostor. The fact that Ted used that particular dialogue to show up my friend shows a sense of humor that he understands that what the LaRouchians are perpetrating is sheer nonsense. He must have a brutal sense of humor. This insight is probably in conformance with the impression that others have of him.

The notion that the academic establishment is useless, corrupt, controlled by the British, or full of lies is also huge nonsense. I will be the first to admit that much nonsense is passed by teachers. Postmodernism, for example, at least in its stronger forms, is (as far as I am concerned) sheer quackery. However, the difference between academia and the LaRouche cult is the same as the difference between science and Lysenkoism under Stalin.

Science and academia have built-in sifting mechanisms to TEST the claims that are made, to test them rigorously against other claims, and there are thousands and thousands of people who are eager to do this. All the time. They will try to invalidate the claims of others, WHEN THESE CLAIMS ARE STATED FORTHRIGHTLY, and a huge apparatus of journals exists in which potential articles are reviewed by the journal editors and by a committee of other scholars whose job it is to poke holes in the article that is being submitted. IT WOULD BE IMPOSSIBLE FOR A SINGLE OLIGARCHY TO CONTROL THIS APPARATUS. Because it exists in many, many countries, and editors have many, many different ideological stripes. Postmodernism is being refuted by books like The Flight From Science and Reason. A controversial idea like sociobiology is being fought over in books like Segerstrale's Defenders of the Truth (evenhanded but fairly in favor of it), Bock's Human Nature and History (against), and Laland and Brown's Sense and Nonsense. And when enough arguments are published to invalidate large parts of a model or idea, its maker modifies his claims if he has been convinced.

Even if a journal accepts an article, there are thousands of scholars who have worked on these problems and are reading the journal and they will publish articles in that journal or another one in which they attempt to refute that author's claims. Reading about whether Athens was popular amongst the poor in the cities of its empire in the fifth century BC requires many articles, all of which were written in reaction to each other or to a previous, published point of view. It is a fascinating process and in addition to really getting to know Thucydides and the debate at hand, you learn a great deal about how arguments are made, how assumptions stand on what evidence, and how the scholarly world operates. The arguments are published, and any person can read them and respond to them, and they do.

But all of this depends upon two important things. First, a set of clear propositions. LaRouche never, ever does this, and neither do his writers. Anything he says can, if later disproved, be defended as "metaphor." "But the crash didn't happen." "Oh, well, it was a metaphorical crash." Nothing he writes is clear; it is a jumble of references to Gauss and Kant designed to do exactly what Ted Andromidas did to my pal: to confuse you into thinking that you are not smart enough to understand his points and that it would be best if you would just shut up.

Second, there must be an apparatus consisting of many minds working on the same problems who can test other people's claims. This does not exist for the LaRouche people either. Nothing by any member of the cult has ever gotten into a real journal, as far as I know. Why couldn't some arm of the LaRouche movement edit their articles and submit them to a real scholarly magazine? OH, THEY'RE ALL CONTROLLED BY OLIGARCHS. THEY'D NEVER PRINT US. Besides the fact that no oligarchy could have the personnel to monitor all these academic journals, this is nonsense for another reason, for the academic journals do print outsiders sometimes. Some of the most important books that have gotten the greatest scholarly attention have been written by outsiders. Take Black Athena by Martin Bernal. Yes, it got panned by my profession, but it also got people talking. Because it was a real book, making real claims.

Claims originating from the LaRouche establishment are never clear enough to be falsified, nor good enough to actually get past a peer review.

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"Xlcr4life" belonged to LaRouche's National Caucus of Labor Committees (NCLC) in the 1970s and 1980s. "Doran," according to his prior postings, had a close friend in the LaRouche organization in the early 1990s and was able to observe its modus operandi on numerous occasions.

[1] The Campaigner, now defunct, was the NCLC's theoretical magazine in the 1970s and 1980s.

[2] Abba P. Lerner (1903-1982) was a major American economic theorist. In 1971, when he was a professor at Queens College in New York City, he consented to a debate with LaRouche. This event took place not at a professional academic conference but at a student forum. When it became clear in the course of Lerner's remarks that he was not taking seriously LaRouche's half-baked ideas (Lerner was a mathematical economist; college dropout LaRouche knew little about mathematics), the latter became agitated and started calling Lerner a fascist and a Nazi. Afterwards, the painful memory of Lerner's insufficiently respectful attitude rankled in LaRouche's mind. To salve his wounded ego, he constructed a myth in which his obscure encounter with Lerner became an epochal event--the counterpart, in intellectual history, of Beowulf's battle with Grendel's mother. Thereafter, LaRouche and his followers would hound Lerner's reputation--even beyond the grave--via numerous abusive comments in NCLC publications. Click here for a 2004 example of both the abusive language and the mythmaking. For verifiable information on the real Abba Lerner, go to American National Biography Online's article on his career and theories here (fee-based version here).