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Freud and Marx

One Freud and one Marx makes two Frauds. Hm… is that really thinkable: venerable Karl Marx — a fraud? And Sigmund “Ziggy” Freud a fraud as well? (Actually, the latter sounds not wholly implausible… “Freud” and “Fraud” goes so naturally together, doesn't it?)

I wrote this short note shortly after discussing with a friend the ten most harmful books of the last two centuries, with two of Marx' books in the top ten (see note below). And I assume that this “Fraudian” slip will cost me dear, at least in certain circles, but I'll say it nevertheless: these two men are indeed some of the biggest frauds the world has ever seen. Oh, they are of course perfectly entitled to their various views and “theories”, as we all are. And I am the first to admit that both have given us loads of interesting ideas to think about. Both were certainly great manipulators and outstanding men. But so were Hitler, Stalin and Mao.

However, greatness is not everything. To claim that any of their great theories has even remotely anything to do with science, the sort of science I learned to deal with while I did my chemistry and physics courses, is just preposterous. I would never say that we can explain everything in this funny old world by science and science alone (though I might have said something along these lines thirty years ago and I am still convinced that, given enough time, we can push the limits of scientific understanding much,much farther than most people believe). But I can't help it: for something to have any real significance in the big scheme of things, in the real lives of millions of people, it needs to be built on a sound fundament, a firm base we can trust.

One such is Karl Popper's idea that a theory, any theory, in order to be taken seriously, needs to make predictions, detailed and falsifiable predictions. Einstein, an intellectual giant if there ever was one, showed brilliantly how to do that with his theories of relativity (and the very fact that all his rather elaborate predictions have turned out to be correct, though they could have been wrong, strengthens his work enormously).

It is exactly at this point that my problems with Marx and Freud and their grand ideas begin: both have developed theories that can be used to explain everything. That have been used to explain everything: because in all fairness, a lot of the trouble these two men caused over the decades (and amazingly, unbelievably still cause) stems from over-zealous disciples and has nothing to do with the masters themselves. (By the way, Freud is deconstructed very nicely in Richard Webster's book “Why Freud Was Wrong”. I know of no book that does a similarly devastating and yet balanced job for Marx and his legacy, though Popper's “The Open Society and Its Enemies” is not a bad shot.)

Well, the two got away with it, even got seriously famous (Freud's avowed aim). And isn't that what we all want, consciously or (he, he:-)) subconsciously?

(For the record: I do not agree that Marx (or Freud, for that matter) wrote “harmful” books. This idea, of a book being harmful, is even more preposterous than any of Marx' or Freud's theories. Okay, so perhaps, if a really heavy book, a Collins Concise English Dictionary let's say, falls from the tenth floor and hits Michael Palin or his faithful dog squarely on the head… that could probably be considered “harmful”. Fortunately, most dictionaries are rather inert bricks.)

(Note to myself: next rant should perhaps go against “Intelligent Design”.)

$updated from: Freud and Marx.htxt Sat 18 Jan 2014 13:12:47 thomasl (By Thomas Lauer)$