Mario Bunge:

BEIJING REPORT

Montreal, 2011.10.25

Marta and I just spent 12 intense days in Beijing as guests of Peking University. We were awed by the usual sights–Great Wall, Forbidden City, and Temple of Heaven–as well as by the frantic modernization pace. Beijing is a huge town teeming with people, just as Marco Polo found, but also engaged in many new grand projects, public and private. For instance, the city has 11 subway lines and is building its 12th, and it is trying to stop the desert by planting millions of trees. However, everything seems to be moving as smoothly and peacefully as quickly. In particular, although the traffic is just as dense as Manhattan’s, it flows well and the drivers are deft and polite.


The food is incredibly varied, wholesome and delicious–far better than at any Chinese restaurant abroad. All the public spaces, from sidewalks to buildings, are kept sparklingly clean. So are the two hospitals I visited due to the injury I suffered on my scalp shortly after arriving. Nearly everyone is decently dressed. And the Chinese seem to be invariably polite and peaceful. The only disturbing sight is the scarcity of children.

Marta and I were given the VIP treatment, and we lectured at Tsinghua University. I also lectured at Peking University, the Academy of Sciences, and the Schools of Marxism at both Peking U and the Central (National) Communist Party. Our audiences were attentive, curious, and polite.

We were welcomed with huge bouquets of flowers, and rewarded with lovely mementoes and opulent dinners sprinkled with toasts. Oriental hospitality, indeed.

Although I tackled a different problem in every lecture, I also delivered my central message in all of them: Your philosophy has not kept pace with you economy, your technology, or your science. In fact, the very core of your philosophy, namely dialectics, is wrong in the best of cases, and confused, hence impregnable to rational debate and therefore untestable, in the worst.

In particular, it is not true that conflict is the mother of all change. Although competition and even strife abound everywhere, cooperation trumps them both, as shown by the existence of the very systems within which, and among which, conflicts emerge. Moreover, the cult of conflict is politically suicidal, for the main role of the manager of any social system, from head of family to business CEO to political leader, is not to exacerbate conflict but to resolve it. Remember that the disastrous Cultural Revolution was justified by the idea that the Chinese society, having solved its main “contradictions”, was bound to stagnate, whence it needed a jolt to keep advancing.

Hence my exhortation: Get rid of Hegel and his dialectics, and update materialism and realism with the help of modern logic and contemporary science, social as well as natural. Admit that these disciplines have grown essentially outside the Marxist box, and that most Marxist philosophers have played a reactionary role in rejecting nearly all the scientific breakthroughs. Remember that Engels admired Hegel but despised Newton, and that he wrote his Anti-Dühring against an obscure amateur instead of an Anti-Hegel.  You should move forward from Marx and Engels: replace dialectical materialism with scientific systemic materialism.

My talks were respectfully received, and most of the questions they elicited were pertinent and interesting–though too long. Moreover, my listeners expressed admiration for my quick and spirited responses. Presumably, old sages are expected to be slow, moderate, and dispassionate, even solemn, as well as to refrain from thrashing hallowed icons and from making jokes.

I do not know what impact my criticism and advice will have, but the leaders of the organizations where I spoke assured me that my talks had been successful, and they invited me to come back. Mere Chinese politeness? We shall see. After all, my Scientific Materialism was published in Chinese translation shortly before the Tianamen repression; and the Party congress, held at the same time as my talks, called for the strengthening of Chinese culture.

One of the organizers of my visit assured me that they intend to translate all my main works, starting with my Philosophical Dictionary. Will this effort include my Political Philosophy? Why not? Nearly everything seems possible in a 5,000-year civilization that has survived the aggressions of Mongols, Brits, Japanese, Yanks, dialectical philosophers, and others.

Marta and I thank Jason Chung, our efficient and generous guide and protector, as well as our personal assistants, sweet Amy and energetic Mr Ho, for their affectionate help, in particular for pushing my wheelchair.

I’m also indebted to my former student and assistant, Robert Blohm, now a dismal economist living in Beijing, for originally proposing this visit to both me and the Chinese and helping with lecture arrangements and presentation.

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