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Saturday, April 18, 2015

Form and Substance

"There is no substance wihout form; but there is much form without substance." Vishnova.

We visited the Andy Warhol Museum in Pitsburgh mostly because we wanted to see the exhibet of Corita Kent that was on display.  But after devouring the Corita works, we walked through the life, times, and works of Andy Warhol.

Andy Warhol plays with forms without much substance. He has us cast our eye on a society, ours, that is more concerned with form over substance by mirroring it. In contrast Corita Kent also considered a "pop artist" like Warhol shows that, for those who can see, substance is everywhere even in empty forms like commercial ads, ugly structures, and banal propaganda. We frame always. But when we conscientiously frame, we can get beyond the frame that we are using and change it. We become masters of our forms rather than manipulated by them.

In politics and religion, in markets and urban streets, in science and ordinary discourse, in all of culture, can we free ourselves of the frames which are being foisted upon us through media, talk shows, pundits, politicians, and preachers who pretend to be telling us the news, the facts, the truth?

Both artists help us notice the forms by which we frame so that we can free ourselves of them. Not absolutely. For we are never without form. But transcendently we can choose anew.

Both Andy and Corita, one using form to empty himself of bland and course substance, the other using form to fill herself and us with exciting and creative substance, show us a way to free ourselves, to become ourselves, to lift ouurselves thrrough and beyond form to greater and greater substance.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Thinking Economics (2)

Many economists, historians and social critics are questioning whether capitalism, especially its American variety, is in demise. They see us caught in a 19th century utilitarian, social Darwinian pattern of thought and behavior that may have been useful for some who captured earths resources and furthered the Industrial Revolution while wrecking havoc on small farmers and industrial workers. That is until they organized for reforms during the Progressive ages of the two Roosevelts aided by labor unions and progressive leaders of industry. These reforms inducing government regulation and initiative moved large numbers into the middle class during the mid 20th century to enjoy the fruits and technologies of the industrial age as well as its nationalism, colonialism, and wars.

Study after study shows that the middle class is now threatened and diminishing within a new Gilded Age of plutocrats. The Right, now solidly organized in the Republic Party, blames government intervention and would roll back the clock to the laissez-faire approach in which government stops trying to distribute wealth and let wealth accrue to the wealthy who will make the economy work for everyone. "Let the Market decide," the Right proclaims. The Left, now solidly organized in the Democratic Party, blames the plutocrats (e.g. "Wall Street") who have bought government officials, lobbied successfully to shrink government regulation of too-big-to-fail financial institutions, to defund "entitlements" and programs for the poor, and to effectively reduce progressive taxes on the rich with the promise that they will trickle down to the deserving poor. "Let Government defend the 99%," the Left proclaims.

Both assume the economic system as both Adam Smith and Karl Marx described it and as Milton Friedman and John Maynard Keynes attempted to adapt it to the 20th century. This is a "free market" system of "producers" separate from "consumers" in a "supply and demand" cycle constituted by the millions of individuals furthering their individual "self-interests." This is a system where "capital" consists of material resources owned privately and exclusively that are measured in money and that can be used in making things and providing services that consumers will buy over and above the cost of making or doing them. This accumulates additional capital through "surplus value" or "profits" to owners who can invest in new enterprises thus growing wealth for themselves first and desirably for all. It is the system that government defends by enforcing free trade when it doesn't impede local business, fighting pirates and countries that impede American businesses, ensuring a free market in which competition can thrive, correcting abuses, and mediating conflicts.

But that is not the way the system works any more, say many new entrepreneurs and economists. Or at least the way it should when it is clear that it is causing record climate change, disparity in wealth, high levels of imprisonment, push-back terrorism, and political dysfunction. There are thousands of experiments in what economists are calling "new economy," "beyond capitalism," "social capitalism," and more. To identify and catalogue many of these experiments and the new emerging economic theory to explain them, I recommend consulting with the Next System Project being organized by Gar Alperovitz, Gus Speth, Joe Guinan, and hundreds of other activists and intellectuals. This is the opening of a conversation that calls for a rethinking of the total political economy, its assumptions, its values, its policies, and the narrative that gives it meaning.

Jeremy Rifkin, The Zero Marginal Cost Society, attempts to do just that. He traces the development of the two Industrial Revolutions of the 19th and 20th centuries into the third that is coming to fruition in the 21st. He shows how the Internet of Things, which began with the Internet of Communication, is now pursuing the Internet of Energy and soon the Internet of Logistics, has reduced marginal costs of production almost to zero, has promoted more emphasis on access to things than ownership of them, and is reducing the distinction between producer and consumer. He sees that the Market theory of economics supported by 19th century utilitarian ethics, Calvinist Protestantism of divine favor by wealth, and the failure of feudalism and mercantilism led to personal property rights, financial capital as human fulfillment, competitive nationalism, and individual self-interest as the highest desire and drive of humanity.

He predicts and encourages a new political economy which he calls the "Collaborative Commons" to replace the private Market economy. He sees this already occurring in "prosumers" creating and sharing their products at near zero marginal costs. Prosumers are also using and sharing bikes, cars, and homes, enrolling in free online university courses, and even bypassing banks through crowdsourcing and alternate currencies. In the Collaborative Commons social capital (including intellectual, spiritual, and cultural) is more important than financial capital, consumerism gives way to sustainability, and lateral peer-to-peer governance overrides vertical integrated management. Rifkin sees that capitalism and the market economy will be with us for a while but will be diminishing in influence as progressive corporations and government link into and try to profit in the growing Collaborative Commons.

Here is the model that I think Rifkin is developing:


Let me describe it by discussing some of my own experiences.

My son and his spouse have developed their own enterprise: A Mighty Girl. They have created a website for both social and business purposes. They support themselves frugally in a way they enjoy all the necessities of a good life by promoting girl empowerment. They interact with thousands of parents who help each other in the upbringing of girls to become powerful women. They offer books, clothing, toys, movies, communications, organizations, and services they have reviewed at no extra costs to parents and teachers of girls. They get a small commission from retailers like Amazon, Google, and others to sustain themselves. Recently they spent time in India at the invitation of the government on the occasion of the Year of Women to discuss girl empowerment with parents, teachers, students, and other web entrepreneurs. I think this is exactly the type of Collaborative Commons enterprise to which Rifkin is referring.

My wife, Bernie, and I just moved into Asbury Methodist Village, a non-profit Continuum of Care Retirement Community, to spend our last 30 years. (I'm 77, she 72.) I compare our arrangement to a reverse mortgage with long-term care insurance. We sold our home and plunked the proceeds down (with some of our savings) as an entrance fee over which, after five years, we will have no claim. We pay a monthly fee that takes up our Social Security and our small pensions payments but will cover our housing with lots of amenities, our meals, and our medical needs forever even if we use up all of our other savings. We own almost nothing; but we want nothing; and I am able to volunteer regularly in pursuit of my vocation. Most important this is an open community in which you see many children and grandchildren, in which people run their own university and classes for continuing education, their own computer centers, sports programs and galas, pastoral care, work with local schools, and really take care of one another. I just wish every aging person had this opportunity and am thankful for Social Security, Tax Deferred Annuities, Pension Plans, and Medicare for our ability to participate and to the diverse Asbury Community starting with the early Methodists who created this sharing community.

I worked in many non-profit organizations supported through philanthropy, United Way, churches developing self-help community development organizations and cooperatives in neighborhoods. I once lived in a religious order which shares its work and proceeds so that everyone who continues to commit to the community has all that is needed to live a good life and participate fully in society.

Each of these enterprises are hybrids of a sort, using and being used by private corporations and public agencies and assuming many of the non profit and non governmental organizations that serve and are supported by corporations and governments. In the age of Rifkin's Third Industrial Revolution, will the Collaborative Commons grow to assume more of the Market Economy and Government and bring with it the Empathic Civilization that he and many of us envision?

But again I remind the reader that my primary purpose is not promoting a certain political, cultural, or economic model of thinking and behaving. I simply want to remind us that our present dogmas, idols, and mythologies are not fixed and sacrosanct. I want to promote thinking and rethinking partially for the delight of it, but mostly because it is our way to preserve and progress.

____________________________
An after note: I just finished reading The Bully Pulpit by Doris Kearns Goodwin. She made it clear that though the greater majority of the population wanted reform and to dethrone the political bosses and their patronage system and subservience to the robber barons, Teddy Roosevelt could do little until people were informed and mobilized through their organizations and associations. Change is not a merely a matter of big donors and huge rallies, but day to day organizing in neighborhoods, churches, workplaces where publics might emerge to preserve and extend the commons.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Water and Wisdom

It all started when Cousin Vinnie sent out a post entitled "What is Scarce is Wisdom, not Water" by a conservative author dealing with California Governor Brown's action calling for a 25% reduction of water usage to adapt to the Great Drought. 

The author is saying that water, a commodity like everything else, should be privatized and should be bought and sold on the open market. But as long as prices are kept artificially low by government action, there is no incentive to move water where demand is high and supply is low. If prices for water (like air, land, sun, DNA, human organs, and humans themselves) are allowed to rise, the profit motive will spur innovation to secure and sell these things to consumers and create competition in which rivals will fight to provide the best service and products at the lowest prices. It is the market that will conserve these commodities and distribute them (fairly?) through efficient pricing. For instance, letting market forces rule would have farmers who own water rights now sell water and make more profit than they would by selling crops.

This led me into a wonderful dialogue with a good person (whom I will call Adam) that I think helps clarify the point I am trying to make in my "out of the box" thinking on thinking. At least for my primary intended reader--myself. 

Adam: The point that the author is making is that govt control maintains water at an artificially low price. Although privatization is a dirty word to Progressives, it simply means free market: when the price rises market forces kick in to take advantage and stabilizes the market by providing solutions and innovations. No government solutions which are generally hidebound and and politically motivated, are as efficient as the laws of supply and demand.


Me: 

Adam, look at your language. "When price rises market forces kick in to take advantage and stabilizes the market etc."  This is the language of religious faith. Your mythology is not mine. But let it go at that. I'm not saying you are wrong, I'm just saying this is a very different paradigm. Water is is not a commodity in my mythology. It is not owned by capitalists and should not be subject to market forces. 

I am not a socialist or a capitalist; and I really would like to see a truly free market though I think that one does not, and maybe cannot, exist. However I think we are caught in old concepts based on an old (19th c) mythology in which we make all God's gifts a commodity for those who get control of them first.

Adam: 

I do look at the end result. Cutting water supplies has economic effects. No matter how we wish it, supply and demand rules persist. I'm reminded of the parable of the servants: the ones  who ventured gained; the one who cowered lost.

Me: 

Yes, they do if that’s the way we want to make our world. You make it a law of God. I make it a social construction.

Adam:

No, Rollie, there is no, and has never been any government entity that could control market forces effectively. These forces aren't ordained by God but are the result billions of individual decisions by millions of people, both vendors and consumers that guide the market. They have a life of their own and government's paltry efforts to control them are quite often thwarted by those millions. The basic law of human nature is that individuals tend to make decisions based on what they perceive to be in their best interests. Granted that the decisions they make may not actually be in their best interests but, nonetheless, these decisions make part of the market force. 

A case in point is the water problem in CA. Probably the best solution is atomic powered desalinization plants but, see foregoing paragraph, the left coast will pass on that option.

Me: 

Just one last response. I promise. (Afternote: it turns out that I lied!)


What you say is a belief. And I respect that belief as I do all religious dogmas. It is a belief in step with a 19th century utilitarian philosophy based on a 19th century doctrine of human nature with supernatural “market forces,” “invisible hands,” “monetization,” “surplus values” and more. It is not my belief or doctrine; but I respect it while at the same time I advocate for the separation of church and state. Religious doctrines may influence politics. I acknowledge that my beliefs (Catholic Social Teaching) certainly influence my politics; but at the same time I recognize that all doctrines need to be revisited, criticized, and revised to better fit the changes in human nature, culture, politics, and economy.


I think along with Peter Diamandis (AbundanceBold) and Jeremy Rifkin (Zero Marginal Cost Society) that with the Internet of Things we are on the verge of a whole new zero-margin economy (and thinking) that transcends the old timers view that pits free market against government (something BTW that Adam Smith did not do except for his condemnation of mercantilism) and capitalism against socialism. The old doctrine would have capital signify ownership first of land then of machines and labor measured in money while leaving out all the other capitals which are important to humanity. Moreover it identified public with government which the financial wealthiest vied to control over the working poor. That is a passé way of thinking the above authors and other new economists say; and I agree. A whole new paradigm is emerging; and both the so-called laissez-faire conservatives and the so-called government control liberals are caught in an argument that 

belongs to the Industrial Revolution of the 19th and 20th centuries, but not the new industrial revolution we are now experiencing. Both of the American political parties are caught in these old habits of thought.

Thankfully, many businesses and corporations, 
and certain government officials, are recognizing that they might play an important role in the new economy (sometimes called “new capitalism,” “social capitalism,” or “collaborative commons”); and they need to if they are to survive. Neither private nor government control of resources and the means of production is the answer in this new economy in which we seek access to products, but not necessarily ownership of them. 

So what is the answer? I sure don’t pretend to know. I am just delighted to see so many in the millennial generation experimenting with new ways to think about business, human worth, economics and politics "as if people mattered." 

Yes, what is scarce is wisdom, not water. 


Adam:  

I'm not sure why religion has become a part of this conversation on economic theory. Obviously we view the world through two different prisms and the twain shall never meet.

Me: 

Exactly. That is what I am saying. You have your values, faith, and doctrines which are not mine.


Adam:

I admire your persistence, but you are still talking religion and I am talking Economics and Psychology. We are not discussing the same subjects, no matter what our religious bents.

Me: 

No, you miss the point. I’m saying your economics, like most, is a mythology.

Adam:

Do you mean Obamanomics for example? I follow current economic theory, but you are the first to suggest that conclusions with which you disagree are based in religion. Economics is more an art than a science because of the billions of elements that are involved and is thus subject to rational 
interpretation, not religious fervor.

Me:

Yes, including obamanomics and reaganomics. I am just saying all economics (just as Weber taught about capitalism) has a cultural component with unproven assumptions and undefined terms like any formal system (see Gödel’s proof on mathematics). Not all religion is fervorous, but all includes an imaginative narrative for understanding the universe, a paradigm through which even the hardest of sciences depend (see Thomas Kuhn’s great work on the scientific revolution). Einstein himself said that imagination was the chief component of science. I’m not judging the mythology (assumptions, values, symbols, and imaginative framework) which is grounding your economics and giving meaning to its terms. 

In sum:

My vocation (which I attribute to Socrates and a few other great teachers) is simply to know that I do not know (i.e. wisdom). That means recognizing that these imaginative frameworks, symbols, images may be useful, but are not absolute and not forever. They need to be continually critiqued and transcended. When you absolutize your doctrines, your concepts, and your models, then you leave the realm of rational interpretation and move to religious fervor. All I am asking you to do is to recognize that a lot of your language (e.g. “market forces,” “supply-demand,” invisible hand”) are metaphors that might or might not work in certain limited times and places—just as I suppose as “spirits,” “angels,” “gods,” “revelations” “ether,” “humors,” "bad vibes,” etc, worked in others. Let's just keep open that with other values and perspectives, there may be other ways of doing economics. 


Adam:

Are you sure that you're not a defrocked Jesuit, or perhaps a Nihilist? Your analysis would not allow of any proof of anything. Both social scientists and physical scientists have working hypotheses, some of which seem to work under certain circumstances, but fail under others. Even Einstein's Theory of relativity has its doubters.

Reagonomics may have had flaws, but compared to Obamanomics (which was a pale reminder of Roosevelt's New Deal), it was a jewel of great price. Keeping an open mind may be great or it just may be an excuse for failure to commit.


So here I stopped to leave the last word to Adam. He begins to move from argument to characterization--i.e. name-calling. And I am reasonably sure that I am not a defrocked Jesuit (whatever that is) or a Nihilist because I accept my transiency. And I do agree (and thought that is what I was saying about his laissez-faire economics) that scientists use hypotheses which work under certain circumstances and fail under others. And that all 
proofs (even the theory of relativity) should be critiqued--usually by incorporation into a broader theory as Einstein did with Newtonian physics. As I noted much earlier in these reflections, Descartes' fault was not to doubt everything but to achieve absolute certainty.

I continually denied that I was saying his analysis was bad. I just think it is not in tune with changing circumstances and is quite paradigm limited.

I like his statement "keeping an open mind may be great or it just may be an excuse for a failure to commit."  But my commitment is to keep an open mind--that is my path to Infinity, Universality, and Integrity. 

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Thinking Economics

Economics, that dismal science, provides us ways of thinking about human livelihood by identifying the resources for and means of production and distribution for consumption. It defines systems of economies and their development: e.g. hunting and gathering, agriculture, trades, services, industrialization, information. It defines the means of distribution and exchange: tribal communalism, barter, monetarism, mercantilism, laissez-faire capitalism, state run socialism, state regulated social democracy, government aggregate-demand stimulation. Economics also defines the social groupings and order within the various systems.

The category economy is distinguished from politics and culture in order to develop an understanding of human behavior related to three basic desires or drives: to biological life, to social recognition, and to transcending meaning. Many of the problems humans face nationally and internationally are due to the confusion of these categories and how they are related to one another.

These essays, I repeat, are not to tell you what to think or even how to think. They are meant to foster thinking in me and in you. My purpose arises from the conviction that thoughtlessness is the root of all evil and the disease of the world and that thoughtfulness is the remedy. We have already stipulated that how we "cut" the world, the categories and models we use to construct and understand especially our social world, determine how we act in the world. It is important to accept that there are different ways of patterning, singing, explaining the economy and to question them all. It is important to recognize our constructs, our categories, words, designs, and ideas so that we can criticize, refine, expand, redefine, or dismiss them. We must keep thinking to stay alive, enjoy respect, and have meaning.

To understand the politics of a situation, community or nation, we do a power analysis. Who are the factions that shape the political order and its policies? To whom, individually or corporately, are the governing agencies ultimately accountable and through what institutions? Who are recognized and respected?

To understand the culture of a situation, community or nation, we do a value analysis. What are the dominant values by which a society or nation holds itself together and achieves meaning? What are the various ethnic, religious, ideological, sexual, and other identity groups? How do they interact to achieve a common identity and morality and standards for inclusion and exclusion?

To understand the economics of a situation, community or nation, we do an interest analysis. What are the various interest groups in the gathering, production, and transfer of resources to maximize health, housing, education, nutrition, fecundity, wealth and all the necessities of biological life? Which groups achieve more or less of these resources?

Production, consumption, transfer--related to supply, demand, and distribution--have been the staple categories of economic theory. The definition of classes based on material or physical interests, related to supply, demand, and distribution, has been a key part of economic analysis. Also the distinction between public and private and the role of the key public institution, government, vis-a-vis the key private institution, the corporation, has been a matter of major controversy since the beginning of the industrial age. Or in Marxist terms, the State's power over the means of production and the States role in the distribution of wealth.

In the analysis of capitalism by Karl Marx, there are three major classes: capitalists (owners of the means of production), bourgeoisie (trade, service professional, artisan, small business leaders), proletariat (workers selling their labor for less than its worth to create a surplus). But world war, nationalism, state accommodation to labor unions, and new technologies changed the situation that Marx encountered and that required a change in categories. Without such a change, socialism becomes a fixed ideology or dogma as does its rival laissez-faire capitalism.

Class analysis today focuses on the "middle class" as solution for the problem of low or no-income poor and for equality in distribution of the surplus wealth gathering rich (either through taxation or trickle down). Both American political parties recognize the importance of the middle class to a stable liberal democracy and the strength of the nation. Both see that a shrinking middle class is a problem. Each has strategies to claim, expand, and recruit the middle class, one more by stimulating wealth that accrues more to the higher-income who can then distribute it more widely through investment in industry that creates more supply, the other more by stimulating capacity of the lower-income so as to achieve wealth and create more demand. Both parties, except those on the far right or far left, are not considering a more total restructuring of the present economic system. A few new thinkers and practitioners, who avoid both left and right categories, are experimenting with projects for a "new economy" which promotes personal initiative and communal participation and results.

How we define the middle class significantly influences how we define or construct the upper and lower classes. One way is to simply lay out the median income (same number of persons or households below and above) and set up percentiles averaging the persons in each percentile determining the percentiles that achieves the income for attaining basic necessities for life. Or lay out the present population, determine the average wealth in percentiles, and identify the percentiles that meet the average of all wealth. This also demonstrates the range of equality or the lack thereof. Another is to consider the source of income and wealth and so uses factors of occupation, education, neighborhood, social status, and perhaps even age and gender. Or we can use a mix of the three.

For example:

or

But this presumes historically constructed categories like surplus value, profit, margin cost, self-interest, national interest, producer and consumer, free market, capital and labor, class, trade, money. These are categories of a money (sometimes backed by precious medals) economy that makes human worth and power a matter of individual private financial assets and the worth and power of human society a matter of the sum of these private financial assets.

But a new paradigm with a new narrative with a new measure of value may be emerging that may change our categories and models of thinking.

To be continued.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Order of Thought

I continue to think about thinking. Just can't get it out of my head!

I just read in SA that Neanderthals made jewelry 130,000 years ago which shows they had developed symbolic thinking in Europe even before homo sapiens came in from Africa. So if they had art, they probably had language, raised questions, mapped out their areas and days, and communicated all that to each other. I guess they learned to communicate with the newcomer homo sapiens since there is evidence that they mated with the result that most of us with European ancestry have Neanderthal genes

Terry Pratchett who I earlier named my favorite theologian is also now my favorite philosopher of thought since I read his The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents. Here he tells the story of how Maurice the cat and certain rats by ingesting some mysterious substance achieved the ability to think and speak together and with humans. This leads to all kinds of problems that have to be worked out. All of a sudden they have a sense of individuality and "I." Then they realize that they are part of a community of thinking speakers, a "We" that carries with it some responsibilities that they never had to deal with before. For example, they raise questions about their own existence and their purpose; they even wonder if they have gods like humans have. And they get a terrible sense of right and wrong. Maurice can still eat rats, but not rats who talk; and the same for the rats who used to eat dead rats. It just doesn't feel right. Kinda hard to get down! Linked with their ability to speak comes an ability, even duty, to respect each other, to plan and collaborate to achieve concerted action; and the struggle arises to achieve some respect from humans.

Thinking, as Eve and the Serpent taught us, is a terrible, wonderful responsibility.

Words, art forms, categories, symbols, maps, and models are not thinking; but using them is. So is designing, constructing, refining, and extending them. Memory (the ability to store and retrieve images) and sets of rules by which neurons and synapses work to process the symbols, categories, and models or what we commonly call ideas or thoughts are sine qua non conditions for thinking. But thinking is more than memory and algorithms, and therefore more than intelligence (as we discovered when dealing with artificial intelligence).

Is there any order to thinking by which we can understand its progression more? Let me briefly consider six kinds of order: Chronological, Psychological, Logical, Phenomenological, Pedagogical, and Developmental and then try to draw some conclusions.

Chronological: 

In Hebrew mythology the Name came first. Yahweh God created by naming including Adam (Man) and then gave Man the ability to name the animals thus giving Man domination over them. Until the Fall, that is. In Christian mythology in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and through the Word everything was made. In Greek mythology the Idea was primary. Though we are chained in a cave to look at shadows on the wall, the Sun outside casts its light on real ideas that make the shadows.

Cultural anthropologists find pictures before words and then pictures as words. Children studies observe meaningful gestures that are then vocalized in interaction with caregivers.

Psychological: The science of the brain and nervous system is still in its infancy and moving fast. It was previously believed that the evolution of the neocortex over the reptilian and limbic brain is the origin of thinking. Recently however the study of consciousness indicates its association with the total brain and nervous system and seems to be an integration of all parts and areas of the brain. Nevertheless there seems to be a progression from identification of threats and benefits to biological life, to appreciation of other persons who might protect and enhance life and create community, and then to communication by using artifacts or tools as symbols to warn, plan, collaborate, and understand.

This raises the question of analysis which is a major part of science and of all knowing. While atoms and even smaller particles in physics, elements in chemistry, cells in biology, neurons and synapsis in neuroscience can be seen, do they really exist? For it is only in the breaking down through analysis that they appear. And the same for genes and memes. There is no question that the analysis is useful and leads to explanations of physical, chemical, biological, neurological, and cultural (including religious, artistic, scientific) systems. And do these systems really exist? Or are all analyzed elements analogues within one Whole, like the strings in string theory or the notes of a great musical composition? If so, we explain, understand, and even exist by undoing, masking, and even destroying the whole truth. Our signs point the way but we never get there; or put positively, infinity is our destiny through the synthesis of all the parts interacting in an Integral Whole.

Logical: The formal part of every symbolic system (i.e. language, mathematics, artistic composition, religious doctrine) has its own logic as philosophic positivism and symbolic logic has shown. But what Kurt Gödel has proven is that the formal system cannot be internally proven but rests on an informal ground or context of unproven rules and assumptions. This would mean that the logic of any proof or theory rests on a self-evident or given truth "underneath" or "behind" or "beyond" or "before" the formula.

Phenomenological: Therefore we try to reveal the experience not of the thing in the world or of the symbols by which it is expressed, but the lived act of symbolic perception and action as it unfolds "before" or in process of uttering or constructing the symbol. To do this the phenomenologist uses both scientific studies as well as philosophical inquiry to point to or lift up the experience of engaging  others in the world in the thinking act. But any language or model we use to describe the lived experience of perceiving, singing, and understanding bodies in the world become formulations that can be critiqued and refined by a return to the act which utters them.

Pedagogical: Since all the other orders of thinking are limited, we resort to the pedagogical order of thinking by turning to the great teachers from Plato and the classical philosophers to modern times. In modern times, there is Kant followed by Hegel, Husserl, Merleau-Ponty, who turned to the thinking mind by Descartes, use a phenomenological method to understand the thinking mind. There is DeSaussure followed by many psychologists who observe and describe the beginning of language in children. There is Ernst Cassirer and the students of mythic and artistic symbols. There is Karl Popper, Bernard Lonergan who analyze the scientific method. And here I am I suppose trying my own brand of pedagogy by highlighting the masters.

Developmental: And so I present my own developmental model for the order and progress of thinking. I see us moving from specific images, concrete analogues, simple concepts, immediate forms towards greater and greater abstraction (vertical line of complexification), towards more and more universality (horizontal line of inclusion), and towards a synthesis into a larger and larger whole (the vector line of transcendence), all striving for the infinite.





Friday, March 20, 2015

Political Thinking 3

Political Order and Decay by Francis Fukuyama is an excellent, illustrative exercise and demonstration of political thinking. I do not pretend to criticize the thesis and conclusions of his book though I find them quite convincing. My own purpose in these essays is not to think about the political order, but about thinking itself and argue to my own thesis and conclusions regarding this singular human capacity by which we engage with each other in the world and continually transcend our limitations on our way to Infinity, Universality, and Integrity.

What Fukuyama gives me in this book, in its precursor The Origins of Political Order, and others that I have read (Trust, End of History and the Last Man, America at the Crossroads) is what political thinkers Max Weber and Hannah Arendt gave me before him. These are categories developed by interacting with historical records and other thinkers that you and I can use to understand where we have come from, where we are today, and what we might do to advance a better future for humankind. These are categories that can be worked into a complex model for political thought and action that can be tested, refined, and transcended into new categories and models.

Max Weber gave us the way to think about the modern bureaucratization or rationalization process following its moments of charisma and tradition that give rise to different kinds of authority and power in social organization. He also indicated the role of culture, including religion and ideology. Hannah Arendt distinguished the economic and the political realms, the economic centering on the means of biological life and the political centering on the human desire for recognition through power and the quandary of subordinating the latter to the former.

Fukuyama has articulated three elements of the political order: the bureaucratic state, the rule of law, and accountability to the governed. And he shows their relationships with economic growth and social mobilization creating a model by which we can understand the development and decay of nations and international relations. He uses those five categories and the differing relationships among them to interpret the history of nations and other political entities, to gain insight on where they stand today and the troubles that plague international and global relations, and to point possible paths to the future.

All these political thinkers and many others (whether left wing liberal or right wing conservative oriented) are "progressive" in that they assume the possibility of progress and decline based on standards of "better" or "worse" that are consistent with their notion of human good. But none of them assume the inevitability of progress. None of them are simplistic or reductionist in that they articulate many variables and determinants in the development and decline of modern, desirable states and civilizations. These include geography and climate, geology and material resources, presence and rate of industrialization, available technologies, nationalization, experiences of wars, colonization, inherited class structures, and, perhaps above all, ideas.

I only wish that politicians and pundits, journalists and opinionators, would wrestle with Fukuyama's and other original thinkers categories and their applications to avoid the useless stereotyping, sloganeering, and polarizing name-calling and fear-mongering that is a mark of thoughtless speech and action, which is destroying our political space and possibilities. I also wish that social workers, philanthropists, and well-meaning activists would also struggle with these concepts and their applications in their understanding of when and where and how to intervene to help people and to learn from the mistakes that have been made in political and economic development and peacemaking.  (I want to say more about this in a future essay as we create an organization in and for Haiti, i.e. Community Empowerment Network.)

Francis Fukuyama himself is a model for me of political thoughtfulness. He was accused of being a simple believer in free-market, capitalist liberalism and progressivist determinism in his End of History writings (wrongly, I believe). He was also accused of being a neoconservative advocate for war in the mid-East and missionary of the American religion. And indeed he was a signer of the Neoconservative Principles of the Project for the New American Century from which he distanced himself by repudiating the war on Iraq in America at the Crossroads; Democracy, Power and the Neoconservative Legacy. He is hardly a simplistic or reductionist thinker, i.e. a simpleton.

But, again, I am not defending all his theses and conclusions. I am finding in him an illustrious model of political thinking which I offer to all elements of the political ideological spectrum including my communty organizing colleagues and cynical Cousin Willies.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Do you believe in God?

"Do you believe in God?" I am sometimes asked.

No, probably not the god the asker is talking about. I do not believe in some separate supernatural entity out there beyond. Certainly not a superhuman person, a Big Daddy or Mom in the sky, someone who answers my requests if I pray to Him or Her, someone who punishes bad guys and rewards good guys, someone who gives rulers authority, someone or something who starts and ends everything that is. I understand those images and where they come from; but I no longer find them useful or even worthy.

I accept that I am being heretical in Christian, Hebrew, Muslim, and probably most other religious teachings. But I am not writing this for persons with religious beliefs. I am writing this for myself and for others who like me reject most religions and their beliefs. I write this for fellow skeptics, atheists, agnostics, secular humanists, infidels, postmodernists, and nonbelievers. I write this to affirm that you and I are people of great faith, love, and hope and that in our thinking and acting we are as devout as religious people. And maybe more so because we criticize and transcend our myths and doctrines, our moralities and institutions, our communities and nations. And we would never sacrifice a person to a belief.

Nor do I mean to disparage religious persons or their religions or their religious practices. Indeed many of them also have great faith that surpasses their own myths, rites, and doctrines and that drives them to the same infinity of meaning which we all experience in our thoughtful action with each other beyond belief in God.

Asking if I believe in God is like asking me if I believe in my Self, other Selves, and the World. I have discovered that my Self, Others, the World, and God are all constructions of my/our thinking and acting or, better, are in process of being constructed through our interactions with each other, the world, and the infinite. I affirm them. However, they/we are not fixed, final, or absolute constructs, but are discovered becoming in the awareness of our thinking and acting in space and time and community thrusting to infinity.

Let me say what I mean by "becoming constructions" starting with my Self.

I was born a body with a genotype. That genotype equips my body with capacities and proclivities evolved over hundreds of thousands of years. And over the years of my body's life, despite my body aging and changing almost every molecule, I pretty much retain the same structure of genes. But I am not my genotype.

My body becomes a self with the awareness of individuality or an "I" only when it exercises its capacity to think. And though my genes provide me a nervous system with this capacity, it is only realized when it is exercised in interaction with others who are using symbols and categories to communicate. First my mother, then my father, siblings, friends, teachers, colleagues, communities, and, most of all, the person with whom I choose to spend my life. Without them I would not be able to think. I would have no "I." They are contributing to my character or soul, that is, who I am choosing to be; and I am contributing to theirs. We are constructing ourselves over the whole period of our lives; and we die unfinished.

And at the same time we are co-creating our world through our language and symbols. I am not saying that there is nothing outside our minds prior to our ideas and constructs. Matter aside from mind is real. But we are creating and finding the patterns and forms of matter by constructing categories and applying them so that they work for us to live and get along.

I constitute my world using words, symbols, ideas--constructs which have been given to me and which I extend, expand, and reshape to form my world. I have many worlds--an artistic world patterned by images, a common world of ordinary language, a scientific world of mathematical formulas, a mystic world of religious myths. I try to integrate them into one world which I call my world. I try to integrate my world with yours so that we can learn from each other and so we can build one integrated world where we can all live and thrive, grow and know together. The creating of our world, one of integrity, justice, and love is not a useless enterprise; but it is an endless one.

Together we construct more than our world; we create the Future. Together in this human experiment we are intending the Infinite of which we have an inkling in pi, the infinite number for understanding the perfect circle, in the vastness of the expanding universe, and in our eternal desire to understand. Future, Infinity, Universality, Eternity is known by us only in our personal and collective in-tension to it.

Spinoza and St. John called it Divine Love. And this myth is connected to the Stoic image of the divine spark in the soul that comes from and returns to the Universal Fire, the neo-platonic image of the idea that receives from and points to the Eternal Mind of ideas, the rationalist image of Reason working its way through History, the Christian image of a Beatific Vision seen through a dark glass. Spirit of life, truth, and love are some of its other names in poetry and mythology. And God.

But does that Infinity, Eternity. Universality, and Future exist now is what you are asking. No. I would rather say that it exists in the now, in our tension towards the Infinity, Universality, Eternity, the Future. Poetically the Future beckons to us. It calls us. It guides us to itself. But the Future is truly future--not now. Infinity, Universality, Eternity--like when pi runs out of numbers, like when we know everything there is to know, like when when we achieve an end where there is no end--are also truly and forever Future. And like the gods of Terry Pratchett's Discworld, they exist only if and to the extent that we believe in them.

By that I mean only if we have the faith to commit ourselves to construct the Future, to know the Infinite, and reach towards Eternity by continuing to think and act humanly now with each other in the world to construct the Universal Community. And that means holding this faith in the manifest absurdity of war, of destruction of the earth, of death of self and loved ones, of selfish fear and hate of others, of millions of refugees living in tents and children traumatized by abuse and slavery, and of a broken world. There is as much reason to succumb to nihilism with the conviction that nothing matters as there is to grasp meaning in the creativity and loving kindness of greathearted men and women affirming the Future in which everything matters. It is our choice, our conviction, our faith, our wager that will tip the pendulum.

Fellow skeptics and seekers, let's help each other keep the faith.