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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Monad or Node?

The present political campaign illustrates two different world views and their ethical approaches.

No, not liberal and conservative, not capitalist and socialist, not religious and secular, not smart and dumb, not logical and illogical, not good and bad. It relates to earlier posts I made between a univocal vs. analogical perspective and the two fairness doctrines. But now I call it node vs. monad.

The monadical point of view sees the person as a self-contained entity or monad responsible for itself first and foremost but interacting with other monads. Cooperation and team work is a good thing among monads because each can profit by it. But finally a social order and the universe itself is the totality of the individuals each doing what it must do to survive and thrive.

The nodal point of view sees the person as a point or node of relationships within a larger totality that is greater than the sum of individuals. Relationships constitute not only what one does, but who one is. The universe is understood as emerging and merging, surging and ebbing dynamic relationships in which all beings, including human ones, are ephemeral centers.

A modadical point of view is generally single centered and hierarchical. It is the point of view of classical, mechanical science. A nodal point of view is generally multi-centered and holographic. It is the point of view of quantum theory. Both can be defended because both are ways to understand things.

I just finished Edward O Wilson's The Social Conquest of Reality and am now reading Jonathan Heidt's The Righteous Mind. These books by an evolutionary biologist and an evolutionary psychologist gather the evidence for the multi-level evolution of homo sapiens. Through the history and longer pre-history of humanity, natural selection worked at both the individual and the group level. Traits have been selected through the adaptation process for those that would benefit the individual organism within a group and those that would benefit the group organization in relation to other groups and the total environment. Self-interest and public interest (selfishness and altruism) are both part of the human genotype.

This is the biological basis for the tension between self and other which I described in my ethical theory of integrity. It is also the biological basis for the monadical and nodal viewpoint. Both are necessary to our human nature though different cultures emphasize one more than the other. Certainly our "western" culture, especially since the Enlightenment, pushes individual creativity, opportunity, and success as a criterion of group achievement. Individual rights and social justice is our vocation individually through personal activity and collectively through public action.

Taking one or the other to extremes will undo human existence turning us into a hive of altruistic bees (the collectivist Borg) or a bunch of self-preoccupied dandies (the narcissistic Dorian Gray). Both are considered psychological disorders, ethical corruptions, and political disasters.

Nevertheless, I think that we must still give priority to the public over private interest, to eusociality over libertarianism, to the nodal over the monadical perception because the public nodal viewpoint subsumes the private monadical viewpoint. You cannot maintain personal liberty without sociality including accountable government.

Even the most innovative and creative of individuals has acknowledged this in his "The World as I See It." Albert Einstein writes:

How strange is the lot of us mortals! Each of us is here for a brief sojourn; for what purpose he knows not, though he sometimes thinks he senses it. But without deeper reflection one knows from daily life that one exists for other people -- first of all for those upon whose smiles and well-being our own happiness is wholly dependent, and then for the many, unknown to us, to whose destinies we are bound by the ties of sympathy. A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life are based on the labors of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving...

"I have never looked upon ease and happiness as ends in themselves -- this critical basis I call the ideal of a pigsty. The ideals that have lighted my way, and time after time have given me new courage to face life cheerfully, have been Kindness, Beauty, and Truth. Without the sense of kinship with men of like mind, without the occupation with the objective world, the eternally unattainable in the field of art and scientific endeavors, life would have seemed empty to me. The trite objects of human efforts -- possessions, outward success, luxury -- have always seemed to me contemptible.

"My passionate sense of social justice and social responsibility has always contrasted oddly with my pronounced lack of need for direct contact with other human beings and human communities. I am truly a 'lone traveler' and have never belonged to my country, my home, my friends, or even my immediate family, with my whole heart; in the face of all these ties, I have never lost a sense of distance and a need for solitude..."

There may be a path to individual prosperity in the libertarian Paul Ryan's plan; but it will be short term if the advantages to the wealthy that the plan provides leads to the continuing division among classes and factions. Tribalism (plutocracy, vigilantism, revolution) will emerge to overcome the conditions of political order as Fukuyama has noted: a strong state, accountable government, rule of law. Also, as I have noted in earlier blogs, by making economic growth ("the ideals of a pigsty") the primary goal of the election puts our nation on the path of the greatest immorality, the path to disintegration.

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