Submitted by AWL on 20 February, 2019 - 12:10

Japanese language not more socialist

Janine Booth’s article on neurodiversity and socialism (Solidarity 494) was valuable and interesting, but I want to query one (maybe unintended) implication.

Janine cites an individual “severely dyslexic in English and not dyslexic at all in Japanese” and takes that as showing that capitalism develops language in a form that “does not suit”. To build anything on a single case is dubious. So far as I can see from scanning the research, there is some indication that dyslexia may be less with ideographic languages (where symbols correspond to meanings rather than sounds), or with part-ideographic languages like Japanese, than with alphabetic ones. But that does not necessarily mean (and maybe Janine did not mean to imply) that alphabetic languages are an evil twist of profiteering, and that socialism will have us all using Japanese or a similar language.

Japanese is difficult to learn to read and write for everyone, dyslexic and non-dyslexic. The learner has to acquire three distinct alphabets, or four if you count the Roman alphabet bits often interpolated in modern Japanese text. Hiragana and Katakana are taught from age 3-5, but young Japanese start learning Kanji (the ideographic characters in Japanese, taken over from Chinese) only in elementary school (age 6-12), and by age 12 they reckon to learn only about 1000 basic Kanji. Apparently you need to know 2000 to 3000 Kanji characters to operate everyday as a fluent reader or writer.

Alphabetic languages have great advantages for capitalism, but in the sense that they have great advantages for any society of large-scale, complex, and fluid cooperation. Alphabetic languages with simple and uniform rules of spelling and structure, like say Spanish, are better than those with manifold irregularities like English or German, but so far as I can establish there’s no clear trend for dyslexia (as distinct from bad spelling or such) to be worse in very irregular languages than in more regular ones.

Capitalism has also generated technologies, such as automatic production of audio versions from text, or e-readers which allow the reader to choose the font, font-size, line-spacing, and layout of any text, which help dyslexics and can be more widely used under socialism.

Colin Foster, north London

Nudging the drinking culture

As Todd Hamer rightly says, the bad effects of the alcohol culture on the working class and the labour movement are not only through the “problem drinkers”.

Many “moderate drinkers” are harming their health, their household budgets, and their ability to contribute actively and financially to the socialist cause. Like the eating of junk food, or the propensity to fall into depressed political passivity, alcohol drinking is a product of social conditions. As I said in my original article, socialist organisations need to unite the activists willing to promote socialism, without being distracted or divided by lifestyle arguments. But a caricature “determinism” is out of place. “Another round? We have no choice. It’s capitalism, you know! Anyway, we can’t cut down, because we have to save the brewery jobs”. Conversely, it’s a real problem if people coming new to socialist politics see alcohol-drinking sessions as the only or main way they can socialise or get informal discussion with us socialists.

Alcohol Change UK cites evidence that Dry January leads to some long-term reduction in drinking, and not often to wild increases in consumption after the “dry” month. The charity does not claim that Dry January fixes the social problems. But if more people choose to reduce drinking even for a while — and more and more young people choose to drink little or no alcohol — that helps the life and health of the labour movement, in the same way as the success of official “stop smoking” campaigns helps.

Socialist organisations have often promoted sponsored “stop smoking” spells, or runs or cycle rides or such, as fund-raising efforts. It’s possible to nudge the culture along without being moralistic and divisive.

Martin Thomas, Islington

Mass job losses

Taken seriously, the call for people to become, all at once, teetotal vegans would, in the absence of any planning, also lead, pretty much immediately, to mass unemployment, amongst pub, brewery and restaurant workers, farm and fisheries workers, and no doubt shop and distribution workers too.

Matthew Thompson, Stockport

Hegel not straightforward

I agree with Les Hearn (Solidarity 494) that Marxism cannot offer advice to the physical sciences, let alone figure as a “super-science” able to establish scientific conclusions by a procedure bypassing the usual difficulties of scientific investigation. The summary of Hegel on dialectics with which Les starts his article, however, I think, overstates the “straightforwardness”.

Dialectics in the general sense is relatively straightforward. Plato’s way of proceeding was dialectical because he constructed his investigations as dialogues, unpicking puzzles, reworking assumptions, making successive approximations. Aristotle’s wasn’t, because he proceeded in a more linear way from axioms or assumptions to conclusions. Hegel saw it differently. For him, dialectics was not really “an art” of investigation. Insofar as it was a “method”, it was a “method” inherent in the object of investigation. For Hegel, dialectics was idealism and idealism was dialectics. The “finite” was unreal. Reality was the Absolute Idea, in its dialectical unfolding. “It is the inwardness of the content, the dialectic which it possesses within itself, which is the mainspring of its advance”.

In his later years, Marx, contrarian as ever, responded curtly to then-current German academic dismissal of Hegel as a “dead dog”. But he did not renounce his earlier critique of Hegel’s dialectical method, or his acceptance of Feuerbach’s critique, which held: “The true dialectic is not a monologue of the solitary thinker with himself. It is a dialogue between ‘I’ and ‘You’... Not alone, but only with others, does one reach notions and reason in general”.

Hegel himself did not enounce super-scientific quasi-laws (as his later popularisers did), like the alleged “law of the transformation of quantity into quality”. He was, however, confident enough about his speculative generalities to think that they could refute Newtonian mechanics: “What Kepler, in a simple and sublime manner, articulated in the form of laws of celestial motion, Newton converted into the nonconceptual, reflective form of the force of gravity”.

Not an approach to copy.

Rhodri Evans, London

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