Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Modern Times

Combat Sectarianism and Dogmatic Responses

Use Theory and Scientific Method to Break the Cycle of Oppression

First Published: Modern Times, Vol. II, No. 1, January 1978.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Sectarianism, ideological dogmatism and other rigid responses to situations we face daily are the greatest weakness among us who seek basic change, real freedom and true democracy in Hawaii. These responses divide us, making is impossible to achieve the genuine power that can come only from unity among the people. These responses emphasize our differences from each other, preventing us from noticing the far more important, very large number of things that are common to us all. Rigid ways of thinking and acting serve as powerful forces splitting us violently apart and, in doing so, they prolong our oppression.

Self-struggle is Necessary

This essay is meant as a guide. Each reader will need to take time to read and re-read it. perhaps, to compare and contrast its hare outline to her or his own experience. All the institutions of our society support and encourage our habits of rigid thinking and acting. To free ourselves of these habits of reacting subjectively and dogmatically to things, and condemning others for the “bad” feelings we have been taught to believe they are causing in us, requires that we look at everything within ourselves. Struggle with ourselves is what readies us to struggle more effectively against those things in our society that oppress us.

The fundamental characteristic of oppression is that it affects all of us, together. This is the chief basis for our unity. The central social means for continuing oppression is dividing the oppressed and pitting us against one another. Different groups of oppressed people then cooperate in maintaining their own oppression. This benefits only the oppressors. So also does the sectarianism and subjectivism of many of our activist circles move us further away from liberation, not closer to it.

Roots of Divisiveness

These divisive responses come. I think, from two basic sources: our desire to be liked by and acceptable to others, and failure to use theory and the scientific method to attain an increasingly sharp view of reality.

All subjectivism, ail cooperation in continuing oppression, is caused by fear that something is wrong with us. Family, school, workplace, church and other social institutions have each played a role in conditioning us to cooperate in our own oppression. When we “go astray”—think independently and challenge the status quo—we are frowned upon or punished. Withdrawal of approval is the primary means that social institutions use to get us to think and act in ways that strengthen the interests upon which our society is based, and weaken our own interests. (One very important way of building unity, fighting oppression and advancing our cause is to frequently show our approval and appreciation of our co-laborers in the struggle.

Past hurtful experiences are the root source of our habitual feelings about ourselves and others. We cannot think objectively about a situation while our feelings are still involved in what we are trying to think about. Struggle with ourselves enables us to separate our thinking from our feelings. When our thinking is separated torn our feelings we can he objective and use theory and the scientific method to advantage.

School provides an example of how the conditioning process works. We are brought up to believe that school teaches us to think, independently, with originality. We assume that the more education we have and the higher our grades are, the more capable we are of using theory and the scientific method. Those who have less schooling often really believe that they cannot think well. This belief that they are inferior to more educated people is a direct result (and indicator) of the strength of this biased attitude that all our social institutions constantly reinforce. School is an institution of our oppressive society. It operates to strengthen the interests upon winch our oppression is based, not our own interests.

Our society is sectarian, serving and promoting the ideology of capitalism: private ownership of the means of production, and the so-called right of a few individuals to use for their sole benefit the bulk of the wealth that is produced. All of our society’s institutions promote this sectarian interest. School is no exception. A primary interest of the sect of capitalism is that we not think clearly and objectively about our personal lives: that we not be able to apply theory and the scientific method to understand the conditions which oppress us. School actually conditions us to use theory and the scientific method only in the very limited ways that are most likely to strengthen our society’s sectarian, profit-oriented interests. We simply must educate ourselves.

The mechanism school uses to withdraw approval is grades. We have to get an “A” to feel 100 percent good about ourselves. If we get an “F” we feel 100 percent unworthy and unlovable (a parent yelling ’you’re a bad girl/boy!’ to a child does the same thing). We feel only about 50 percent lovable when we get a “C.” Stepping out of line or rocking the boat by asking “stupid” (original) questions, we learn, will worsen our situation. In order to get a “better” grade we have to provide more “right”’ answers. In order to provide more right answers we stop thinking for ourselves and instead try to memorize and parrot back the answers given in the texts and by the teachers. School teaches us to be dependent, timid and inflexible in our responses to situations. School makes us afraid to think for ourselves by teaching us to feel as if others won’t like us when we do. To educate ourselves we must overcome this feeling.

The Need for Scientific Method

The essence of the scientific method is: 1) the use of theory to develop a hypothesis or tentative statement about how a particular thing works; 2) testing the hypothesis concretely in the real day-to-day world to determine how accurate it is (this requires careful observation and flexibility to accept just as readily the hypothesis being disproven as its being proven); and 3) applying what is learned from this concrete practice to improve theory, making it more valuable as a tool for predicting the results of subsequent actions. Everyone is able to think this way. We are born with this capacity School and other institutions condition us lo stop thinking for ourselves. The oppressive society is strengthened when we always look to somebody else to tell us what is “right”: teachers, “responsible officials.” previous liberation thinkers, and so on.

The great liberation theoreticians of the past are useful inspirations and models to liberation workers today in many ways, but cannot be applied except in the most general way to a current situation. Of most use is their method of concretely examining the real situation they were confronting, making sure they had the facts, and then thinking fresh and hard for new solutions to that particular situation. All our situations are new. (Harvey Jackings).

Originality in thought about present conditions is absolutely essential to successfully achieve our goal of liberation. We must question everything all the time, most of all ourselves. Struggle with ourselves develops our capacity to think objectively. Each of us must use to the fullest our individual capacity to think objectively and to use theory and the scientific method. Because all social institutions work to perpetuate cooperation in. our own oppression, we must thoughtfully and carefully apply theory and the scientific method to every situation that confronts us in our work, and especially in our lives with the persons we are closest to. Sectarianism, ideological dogmatism and all other forms of feeling-based response to situations actually separate us, frustrate the scientific method, prevent unity and cause us to cooperate in our oppression.

S.N., Big Island