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Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Analogical Mind

The recent debate regarding Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor featured the clash between “originalists” and “contextualists” in applying the law. I think it demonstrated the more fundamental clash between the univocal and analogical mind in American society.

George Murray was about three years ahead of me at our Jesuit School of Theology. He loved and promoted progressive jazz and argued that those who do not understand it “have a univocal concept of being.”

You have to understand that the predominant philosophy in our school at the time was Neo-Thomism. For Aristotelian Saint Thomas Aquinas, Platonists have a “univocal concept of being.” The “Real” means the same thing at all places and all times for all things and comes by attaining true and absolute Ideas through intuition and/or divine revelation. But Thomas, following his Aristotelian Islamic masters, affirmed that the concept of being was “analogous.” This means that knowledge starts with sense experience and is collected in categories through concepts that we infer through analogy or literally “cross reason.” We learn through similarity, metaphor, relationship and applying words and images so they best fit the situation. We could argue that it was this insight that gave rise to empirical science which many univocal thinkers today still oppose with their revealed truths.

I don’t think that all who don’t like jazz have a univocal mind. Jazz is a very culturally shaped medium. Nor do I think that all jazz lovers have an analogical mind. Certainly not “smooth jazz” elevator music lovers! But I love Murray’s characterization. Jazz experiments. Jazz weaves diverse themes and tempos, discovers harmony in discord, and builds on improvisation. Jazz is never the same. It seems to me that Murray was on to something when he divided the world between univocalists and analogicians.

And I think the distinction has relevance to not only taste in music, but also to religion, economy, politics, and human life itself. Life’s battle is not between civilizations, eastern and western, or religions, Christian and Muslim, or political parties, liberal and conservative, or psychological types, introvert and extrovert, or economies, socialist and capitalist, or classes, haves and have-nots. Rather I think the battle is between the univocal and the analogic mind in all of these and in all of us.

The analogic mind acknowledges that the images that it uses to deal with the world and other persons are indeed images, fashioned by humans, developed through historical usage, and used to project and shape the human future. It is the complex of these images in a certain time and place that make up a specific culture. These images and concepts can be set in stone as well as in pictures and words but never in eternity though the naïve mind seems to think so simply because it has not come across others.

The analogic mind is characterized by a profound sense of humor, which is not just the ability to make jokes. The sense of humor I am talking about is a sense of irony or impermanence in all our beliefs. The analogic mind laughs with the gods at all of our human conceit and foibles. The analogic mind does not take itself or the world very seriously which is not to say without passion or importance or commitment.

The analogic mind therefore is not a “true believer,” i.e. never identifies its faith with its beliefs and is always suspicious and ready to examine beliefs, especially those held most vehemently, which is why the analogic mind is not a good subject for religious conversion. This mind has made peace with uncertainty and actually revels in ambiguity finding itself in a continual point of tension between the inner life and outer action, tradition and innovation, individuality and communality, privacy and publicity.

The analogic mind is a relational thinker and doer. While avoiding absolute ways of speaking or living, it can also express and commit itself to principles and purpose. It can be argumentative, opinionated, passionate, and loyal but never unmovable. It has causes, but never ultimate ones. The analogic mind has the ability to see itself from many other viewpoints. It also recognizes that even in recognizing diverse viewpoints that there is no viewpoint without a blindspot. Scotoma is just part of the human condition from which we cannot extricate ourselves even in our fantasy of fleeing flesh to unite with the Great Spirit.

When Bernie and I saw the film No County for Old Men, we were mind-swiped. It’s the story of a man who while out hunting in the vast desert plains of Texas comes across the results of a drug deal gone wrong. He finds many men shot dead and a truck full of bags of dope. One man is alive but dying and asking for “agua’ which he does not have to give. He also finds a man dead under a tree with a case full of money which he takes home with him. The rest is the hunt for him by a sociopathic killer who seems totally at home in the country and by a tired aging sheriff for whom the country has accelerated way past him.

When the film abruptly ended, we just sat there gasping. When we were able to, we talked. We saw illustrated in the film an allegory of our time, our nation, and our choices. The film haunted our dreams that night and we discussed it more the next day. I had read Blood Meridian by Cormick McCarthy and we both read The Road so we knew that this artist was continuing his very ambiguous portrayal of an America past and present between violence and redemption. For a further sense of the film I went to the net and read reviews and comments by critical moviegoers. Large numbers of them said that the film was too violent, was boring, and were unhappy with an ending without resolution.

Here was the univocal mind encountering an analogical masterpiece.

I see Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh as extreme illustrations of the univocal mind. Their jokes are not funny to me because they are all disparaging and without understanding of their own foibles. They are strident in their attacks on people with whom they do not agree or who challenge their cherished principles and beliefs.

It is not because they are conservative. John Kekes is a powerful conservative with an analogical mind. So was Russell Kirk. I enjoy engaging with them as I do sometimes with George Will (though he often falls defensively into the univocal mindset) and certainly David Brooks.

On the so called “liberal” side, Alexander Cockburn often demonstrates a univocal mind without a sense of irony. I hear commentators on Pacifica Radio who take themselves and their ideas too seriously. Christopher Hitchens is just a little too fervent in his atheism. Richard Rorty on the other hand is epitome of the analogical mind in the progressive camp and was sometimes attacked by the true believers of the left.

William Kristol is a brilliant neo-conservative, much more affable and easy to listen to than the Coulters and Savages but as un-nuanced as Dick Cheney. Whereas Francis Fukuyama I think is an analogical mind in the neo-conservative camp, highly nuanced, self-critical, not at all absolute in his pronouncements. I have learned much from him.

Other examples: Vladimir Lenin vs. Leon Trotsky, Donald Rumsfeld vs. General Powell, Pope Benedict XVI vs. John XXIII, John Calvin vs. Martin Luther, Pat Robertson vs. Bishop Spong, Mel Gibson vs. Woody Allen, the Left Behind Series vs. the Chronicles of Narnia, Unitarian-Universalism vs. Focus on the Family. But you make your own list.

The inspirations behind most of the great religions were analogical minds; and maybe that is the “great transformation” of which Karen Armstrong is speaking in her book by that title. Lao Tsu, Jesus of Nazareth, Socrates, the Yahwist, Buddha Gautama, Paul of Tarsus, Rabbi Gamaliel all had analogical minds that challenged the univocity of the established order; their teachings and lives were then distorted by the univocal minds of “the Fathers” of the religions that codified them.

So what makes a mind analogical or univocal? I leave it to neuron psychologists and evolutionary anthropologists to identify the genetic or cultural causes.

Maybe it is education? But I think back on my early training in philosophy and theology where I found so many professors of Aristotelian Thomism who, while teaching the epistemology of analogy over intuition, were total univocalists. They taught Thomism because Rome commanded it; but they were loathe to adopt any of the insights of the great British empiricists, German idealists, or French existentialists that were then challenging thinkers and pushing beyond not only fixed ideas but the very correspondence theory of truth itself. According to these old professors, there was one reality and one truth and Thomas and Rome had it. A univocal mind does not play with ideas.

Is one approach more successful? But then I realize that univocal and analogical minds have much different gauges of success. Univocal success is usually evaluated in terms of material capital accumulation, influence on others, security and stability. While analogical success consist in the thrill of adventure, the tension of ambiguity, spiritual capital, and relational action.

Maybe the difference is just a matter of Jungian personality preference such as measured by the Meyers-Briggs test. This implies we all range in degrees between a univocal and an analogical approach to reality at particular times and positions. This explanation of course appeals more to analogical minds.

In any case, at parties and in lecture halls I do prefer the analogical mind; and I tend to engage with others of that mind no matter to what philosophical tradition, political party, religious persuasion, economic class, racial type, age or geography they belong. I don’t like univocal minds. They are too pious and preachy and righteous. And I don’t like myself when I am being a univocalist. Deliver me from the strident reactionaries and dour radicals of the world.

We need Presidents, Justices, journalists, and community leaders who like jazz.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Ethic of Transparency

Recently I listened to Janice Stein reflecting on the notion of “accountability” which has all but replaced “responsibility” in our language. Since words not only express, but also shape thought and the worldview within which that thought has meaning, I found this a very useful reflection.

We have finally begun demanding accountability. And well we should, as presidents lead us to war on false premises, as financial institutions sell products with less than stated value, and religious organizations hide their officials’ wrong doings. We now speak of the accountable public or private organization and of holding our leaders and institutions accountable. We use less the word of the responsible leader or organization or of the responsible self and society. Or we simply use the words interchangeably. And there is a loss in that.

To hold accountable or require accountability has a different nuance than to be responsible or take responsibility. To account for something to someone has a different meaning than to respond to someone for something. Rendering account focuses on measured worth. Being responsible focuses on value, but not the kind that can be easily quantified. Accountability connotes an external referee and a balance sheet. Responsibility connotes a more internal judge, a conscience. An accountable politics is one of checks and balances and looks at forms, processes, and regulations. A responsible politics is one of social justice and looks at the substance of human freedom and equality.

Elsewhere I wrote of five metaphors for ethics. And here are two: the scale or balance in commerce (accountability) and the foundation of a building (responsibility). These two are important to each other: responsibility will require accountability, which in turn can measure and promote responsibility.

Yet there is tension when we look as the behavior of corporations and encourage social responsibility, when we look at voluntary organizations not just in terms of what we get for the money, but for what kind of a community they embody and promote. There is certain a tension in a leadership that is directing and supervising according to rules and one that is trusting and encouraging innovation. Education that teaches to the test may be accountable, but may not be responsible and educing responsible citizens.

Another word is being used a lot lately: “transparency.” Maybe that could resolve the tension or make it constructive. Transparency does mean visibility—out in the open for all to see and judge. But it also means illuminating or glowing from within like a radiance you can see through.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Rewiring HUD into the 21st Century

Rewiring HUD in the New American Political-Economy
A Proposal for a Different Kind of Federal Agency

What if HUD were made up of?
  • Eighty field offices, linked to political, intellectual, economic, and cultural institutions, in a dynamic regional network for social planning and action.
  • Eighty venues for communities to strategically join federal, state, and local assets to meet their issues and achieve their opportunities within a sustainable metropolitan and regional environment.
  • Eighty communities innovating within their regions, horizontally communicating good ideas across regions, retooling local and regional institutions so that all people through local congregations and associations have the ability to act to change their circumstances.
  • Eighty organizations creating a dynamic and resilient national organization that shapes policies for a new urbanism that protects the rural countryside, that locates people close to transportation, jobs, and educational opportunities, and that promotes sustainable communities in a new clean energy economy.
  • Eighty places for interaction, education, and power to build a diverse and equitable region that competes successfully in the global economy.

What if the role of HUD was?
  • Not only to administer and manage programs established by Congress according to rules established by technicians.
  • But also to constitute vehicles for all HUD programs and other federal and state agencies to connect to local communities.
  • And also to service local governments and their private and nonprofit partners to provide opportunities in human development for people in their communities.
  • And also to assist partnering institutions and leadership to think about and influence the policies that affect them at all levels.
  • And then also to foster innovative leaders and the organizations to support them?
What if HUD was not first a federal bureaucracy, but a dynamic and resilient organization of people and their organizations and if HUD staff worked not for a bureaucracy but for people and their communities?


I have worked almost eleven years for HUD, mainly as a Director of a Field Office in Fresno that serves the Central Valley of California. My previous 30 years of experience have been in nonprofit organizations that provided planning and organizing services to local communities, e.g. neighborhoods in Chicago and Toronto, Metropolitan and Regional communities in San Jose, Honolulu, and Cleveland. In every place I also taught and attracted students in urban planning and community organizing.

As an experiment for both the organization and for me, I signed up with HUD as a Community Builder and have stayed a Community Builder. As the director I have maintained the Fresno Office as a Community Building organization even when the program was terminated. We could do this in Fresno because the office was small and served a very poor region that drew little notice and support. I believe that our small team of field specialists did some of the best community organizing of my career by finding and promoting local leadership to create regional institutions that cut across jurisdictions and became vehicles for federal, state, and local public-private partnerships for smart growth, clean energy, new jobs, land use and transportation, and affordable housing.

Many of my colleagues, usually without fanfare, have forged their local field offices into places for connecting local and regional resources and fostering coordination among HUD and other programs around local institutions, issues, and opportunities. We did this knowing full well that the HUD administration saw HUD primarily a federal bureaucracy distributing and accounting for funds allocated by Congress.

Early on we saw what was happening with the housing market. There was no system for communication or planning within HUD to address a market that, without intervention, was about to fall. We could only prepare locally for rescue operations rather than make the structural change to prevent or deal with the causes.

A Proposal

With the new Obama administration arrives the possibility to rewire HUD using the principles and moving the agenda of the Obama campaign.

I propose that a team of HUD leaders voluntarily gather on their own time and dime, but with the full knowledge and approval of the Secretary and/or Deputy, to discuss ways to reinvigorate field offices to achieve their fullest potential. This team would get the assistance of professional organizers and planners in and out of HUD. The team would explore securing the participation of universities and of national training networks. The team would discuss and propose a recruiting, training, and consultation process, that is voluntary, begins with the regional heads, field office directors, and their field specialists to support and in many cases retool field offices so they perform the powerful function that they are well placed to perform.

Suggested Objectives and Measurements over an Eight-Year Period

1. Build a shared analysis and integral vision of the interdependent, interrelated, and contingent roles and responsibilities and the potential of all HUD activities to increase and sustain health and prosperity nationally, regionally and locally. Identify concrete measurable goals related to poverty, employment, affordable housing in safe and educational neighborhoods. Analyses for each region supported by a field office will take into consideration the industry sectors, the housing market, regional planning mechanisms, regional resources in education and culture, energy use and dependence, the political players and institutions, and the position of the region within the national and global economy. Measure: the quality and usefulness of these analyses.

2. New regional institutions are developed or retooled through collective, collaborative action to be agents of innovation and change for the region. Measure the number and quality of participating institutions. Measure: the significant changes achieved through these regroupings.

3. Citizen participation through congregations and associations, permanent organizations that ensure ongoing participation. Measure: the amount and quality of new leadership.

4. There are concrete outcomes. Measure: housing availability and affordability, energy independence and sustainability, employment and personal asset creation, vitality of the region in the new economy, safety and security of residents, businesses, schools, and educational achievement.

5. The Field Office is positioned and recognized as a vehicle for regional planning and organizing, for linking and changing institutions, for coordinating federal resources around specific placed-based projects, for servicing local jurisdictions and their partners, interacting with other field offices to build a dynamic and resilient HUD. Measure: the opinion of stakeholders and partners.

Process: How to get there:

1. Recruit the planning team with people within and outside of HUD.

2. Recruit a university as a site and resource for training. Recruit experts in new economy, climate change, new urbanism, contemporary science, change theory and practice. (See below)

3. Establish a training curriculum. (See below)

4. Work with the 10 Regional Directors for three days to get them to shape and buy into the objectives and process.

5. Recruit 2-4 field offices from each of the ten federal regions.

6. 5-day training for office directors and their field specialists with the beginning of local regional analysis and agenda. Class of 40.

7. Consultation with each field office on site.

8. Ongoing peer-to-peer communication and reporting.

9. Start with the next class of 40 along the same cycle with adjustments from lessons of the first class.

Elements in Training Curriculum

• The revolution in science and technology
Physics: chaos, uncertainty, and self-organization; string theory and multi-dimensionality; Evolutionary Biology, genetics, neuroscience and learning
Social sciences: new economic, social capital, language and culture
Technology: communications, energy, learning technologies
(The purpose here is to blow minds with new findings about the universe, world, and human development. Agitate towards new ways of thinking beyond stereotypes. Also to introduce concepts that are helpful in understanding the contemporary situation)

• The ecological challenge: global warming and its effects, notion of sustainability. (The purpose here is to help local actors see how they are connected to world processes; also a rationale for the new energy economy.)

• The emerging political economy: The energy challenge, globalization, nation-states, multi-national capital and industries, immigration and outsourcing, regions as starting points, housing markets. (The purpose here is that effectiveness has to take wider contexts into consideration; also to demonstrate regionalism as a starting point even beyond metros; and to see the connection between urbanization and ruralization.)

• Interrelation of HUD products and other federal resources in the Age of Recovery and beyond. (The purpose here is to foster action that breaks not only the silos in HUD but throughout the federal government and to discover creative ways of coordinating resources in places.)

• Organizing at diverse stages and levels. Base building for change. Exercises in leadership development. (The purpose here is to refresh participants in the principles and practices of organizing both so they can use these in the way they construct their office, and also to promote organizing and leadership development in communities).

• The HUD Field Office—ideal and real. (The purpose here is to realistically reconstruct the field office so it plays a more vital and vibrant role in positioning HUD and in fostering new relationships for change in local communities).

• Ethics and social change. Looking at some of the great ethical thinkers (e.g. Niebuhr, Dewey, Rawls, King, Ghandi) in how they found meaning in social action and civil service. (The purpose here is to encourage each participant to come to terms with his or her reason and passion for being an agent of change as a public servant.)

Some possible experts, thinkers, presenters, consultants:

Richard Florida, Rise of the Creative Class
Joshua Cooper Ramo, Age of the Unthinkable
Tom Friedman, Hot, Flat, and Crowded
Francis Fukuyama, Trust
Zygmunt Bauman, Does Ethics Have a Chance in a World of Consumers
CS Holling, Panarchy
Steven Pinker, The Stuff of Thought
Gordon Frazer, The New Physics for the 21st Century
Peter Calthorpe, New Urbanism
Paul Krugman et al. Spatial Economy, Cities, Regions, and International Trade
Robert Reich, Supercapitalism
Naomi Klein, Disaster Capitalism
Peter Senge, The Necessary Revolution
Mark Gerzon, Leadership Through Conflict

Rollie Smith, 4-12-09

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Millennial Housing Commissions

Contribution to a National Policy on Housing and Urbanization 

In 2000 Congress established two Commissions, the Millennium Housing Commission and the Commission on Affordable Housing and Health Facilities for Seniors in the 21st Century.  Their reports, “Meeting Our Nations Housing Challenges” and “A Quiet Crisis,” can be the starting point for a National Housing Policy.  

These Reports give us an overall look at the history of American policies and practices.  They demonstrate the importance of housing to human and community development, to education and employment, to crime prevention and family stabilization.  They pose the issues for housing in America.  They assume and render national values related to housing and community development.  They collect data that identify existing gaps and project future needs.  They show how federal programs have worked; and they make excellent recommendations in relation to these programs.  

However, most of their recommendations were broad and without any provision for follow up.  Indeed many were not seriously considered for action either by executive or legislative branches of government.  Indeed many were actively opposed by the executive and ignored by the legislature.  And housing practices in the first decade of the 21st century were primarily reactions to crises: terrorist attacks, floods, fires, and foreclosures.  Many were victims of ideological bickering.  

The Reports presented few concrete goals and measurable objectives.  They assumed that housing programs were generally sound, and simply needed to be extended.  They assumed homeownership as a source of wealth, not of impoverishment.  They did not anticipate the consequent housing bubble and its popping. 

They also assumed without question that the primary role for the federal government is to provide incentives and resources so that the private sector could use the market to satisfy the needs and fill the gaps.  They did not examine the costs and efficiencies of government financing directly versus government financing indirectly by tax incentives and insuring risk.  

While there was mention of housing related to jobs, community amenities, and smart growth, the Reports showed little link to energy, transportation, and land use policies.  There was no examination of urbanization, air and water needs, and global warming.  

For the most part there was no consideration of strategy and no plan for implementation.  There was mainly an acceptance, with little examination, of the mechanisms and agencies that the federal government was using to carry out housing programs.  In short the Commissions do not present a housing and urban policy, nor was that their intent which is evidence by their call for one. 



Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Next American Dream: Toward a National Housing Policy

I was going to entitle this essay Toward a New Housing Policy.  However, I do not think we even have an old one.

 What we have is a bunch of programs, some of them excellent, many in need of overhaul.  They were created by Congress going back to the last time we did have a broad look at the urban and housing needs of the country in an era very different from our own and then added to from time to time.  They were also adopted by state legislatures when federal programs did not reach far enough.  Sometimes new programs were added after community organizations developed responses to local conditions.  Many of the programs were allowed to be less effective and more expensive in order to meet the ideology of certain legislators and their constituents.  All these programs need to be reviewed in the light of current technologies, newly discovered approaches, and future challenges—that is, in the light of a national housing and urban policy

 We also have a fragmented federal housing agency, divided into silos administering the various programs, and often out of touch with the real issues of cities and their partners in the field.  Program administrators often do not confer with one another; and this means that rules of one program may not fit the rules of another.  Therefore, field workers, partners, and customers in communities can become confused as to how to work these programs together much less with other state and local programs.  The agency needs to be integrated in itself and with other federal, state, and local agencies by a comprehensive vision, a collective mission, a national commitment, and a restructured high performance organization.                         

We are now in the midst of a housing market crisis partially caused by the lack of direction and confusion among programs and their lack of applicability to the present situation.  The danger is that we will merely react with more programs without looking at our preferred values and directions as a people and without considering long ranged consequences and collateral damage.  

And so in the midst of this housing crisis and with a new Administration taking the helm, I suggest we look at our housing situation, programs, resources, and directions.  I urge that we create a national housing policy by which we can shape our directions and programs and restructure our agencies. 

The New Deal with the creation of the Federal Housing Administration in 1934 and the US Housing Act of 1937 did embody a national policy and created key programs for working Americans—usually new immigrant families, lower paid workers, and returning veterans in our cities.  But that policy, with all the Housing Act’s subsequent amendments, is no longer comprehensive, not generally known and accepted, nor providing guidance.  The Civil Rights Acts of the 1960s too late extended housing support and services to the newest immigrants to industrial cities, African Americans, and to other Americans left out of previous programs. 

When I was a young community worker in Chicago in the 1970s, I directly experienced the results of the old policy and practice—a racially and economically divided city, large concentrations of poverty, urban slums and suburban sprawl.  The leaders with whom I worked organizing the Contract Buyers League uncovered the true source of racial segregation in our cities.  After WW II federally insured mortgages (VA and FHA) were not available in areas at risk of losing value.  And all areas in which black families were moving were considered high risk.  This led to middle men buying homes that European Americans were leaving in panic and selling the homes at twice the price to black families on land installment contract.  Variations of this practice were found in many cities in which black families, fleeing a Jim Crow South, were seeking jobs.  A little later, large investments in public housing and urban renewal, concentrated the poor and usually people of color into huge, dense, often unmanageable housing. 

In the 1980s, as a community organizer assisting leadership to build a regional organization in Santa Clara Valley, I saw the results of laissez faire land use planning and energy policy that assumed freeways, theme parks, and the limitless expansion of suburbs.  Housing prices continued to be tied to the rising income of the new professionals and service workers of Silicon Valley.  Also the institutions for the chronically mentally ill were closed, temporary group homes were established, and chronic homelessness spread.  

In the 1990s, as director of a large association of inner-city and older suburban neighborhood organizations in Cleveland, I worked with the results not only of FHA discrimination, public housing concentration of poverty, urban renewal grasp of land for the wealthy, auto-centered transportation and land use policies, but also the loss of jobs and population through deindustrialization. 

Now in the first decade of the new century, I am with HUD in the Central Valley of California, an epicenter for the present housing market crisis with the highest rate of subprime mortgages, falling prices, and foreclosures.  Here I see it all come together.  I see the consequences of laissez faire housing practices, population growth, cheap agricultural land, and flawed transportation, energy, and land use policies.  

But I also see the opportunity of renewal in which housing policy and urbanization are connected to energy, land-use, environmental protection, and agricultural policies.  Here is a region where, with some bottom-up engagement and expert-enlightened direction, a new style of urbanization can be achieved that preserves prime agricultural lands, situates housing close to work and oriented to transportation, develops well-paying jobs through clean energy, builds sustainable mixed-income, walkable communities, and achieves much higher density and more interesting diversity through high design.  National and local housing policy can promote this in all regions of the country.  

The elements of a national housing policy might include: 

  • The values we hold as a people in relation to one another which shape the rights and responsibilities in housing people.
  • Historical and situational analysis: frank acknowledgment of the shortfalls of our past and existing housing practices.  A true assessment of the housing gap.
  • A vision of our cities and housing and the role of government vis-à-vis the private sector in urban and housing development.
  • The balance of affordable workforce rental housing and homeownership.
  • Housing and human development through health, education, jobs, community, public space and citizen action.
  • The mortgage industry: the right relationship of FHA, Ginnie Mae, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Rural Development, and the regulators the Federal Reserve Bank, FDIC, and Treasury. 
  • Housing and transportation, land use, the preservation of agriculture, clean air and water, and global warming
  • Special needs—an aging population, chronically ill or disabled, homeless families and youth
  • Housing and urbanization:  New urbanism, smart growth, form-based zoning, and creativity through advanced design.
  • Dimensions of a policy:  What is global, what is local?  What is urban and what is regional? What is public, what is private?
  • The organizational design of the federal housing and urban development agency to carry out the policy.
  • Short and long term strategies and actions.

I suggest that the creation of this policy be broadly consultative and inclusive, that it be culturally appropriate and community based, but also that it be centrally administered with an urgency and a strong commitment from the President. 

The steps to such a policy might entail: 

  • A Presidential declaration and order with timetable.
  • A broadly based commission led by the Secretary of HUD.
  • An extensive listening and local organizing process: state and local hearings; suggestion process from people, organizations, local jurisdictions; interviews with members of congress, mayors, housing industry leaders, housing activists.
  • Expert papers and discussion in house meetings, churches, community centers.
  • A Preliminary Report
  • A Whitehouse Conference
  • A Report to the President and to Congress with proposed legislation
  • Congressional hearings and legislation.  

What are the next, or really first, steps?  Let’s approach the new Secretary of HUD who will propose to President Obama a recommendation for the birth of a new policy to house all Americans in a way which promotes their full human development, which organizes safe communities and public space, which cleans and protects our planet, which promotes clean energy, and which fosters creativity in arts, education, science, industry, and spirituality.  A housing policy for an ideal Republic. 


Now what do you think?

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Models for a Public Ethic

We think through models--sometimes referred to as metaphors or images or symbols.

Science--which means "knowledge" but is the most formal and, most would say, highest form of knowledge--develops models to explain observation or experience and then sets up more observations to collect more data to either refine, reject, or prove its models for explanation. Science, the great scientists affirm, is a highly imaginative acivity. Its results are often fantastic. But what sets it apart from fantasy or fideism is its commitment to verification--making the model fit the facts or the data of observation.

In our history we humans have used many metaphors to answer the question into human values and behavior, the quest for a good or fulfilling life, the secret of human happiness. Among them are: 1) foundation like that of a building or even the universe, 2) balance like that of the scale which the goddess of justice holds, 3) tool like a knife that works to carve a beautiful figure, cut a path to the sea, or kill an animal for food, 4) pact like a marriage covenant, business contract, agreement among friends or treaty among foes, and perhaps the most recent 5) the metaphor of metaphor itself like a fractal or a complexity model of science itself. Each of these give rise to the various models of ethics: Revealed ethics, natural ehics, ethics of proportionality, utilitarian ethics, social contractualism, and postmodern ethics.

All these images are useful I think for getting a handle on our present unexamined ethics towards the creation of a new ethic, a Public Ethic, that can critique our present actions and their assumptions, that can evaluate our policies and their consequences, and that can reform the institutions through which we habituate our behaviors. I think the new Public Ethic will subsume and so include the other models, culminating in Progressive Pragmatics which shall indeed be the model that I shall propose. I also think that this is an ethic subject to refinement and development and verification by experience.

To be continued.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Why a Public Ethic?

An Ethic is Public when it 1) is inclusive and accessible, 2) anticipates consequences on others, 3) advances public space, and 4) can be reformed.   Transparency, responsibility, participative, and accountable are the hallmarks of a Public Ethic.

The piece in the NY Times today by Michael Lewis and David Einhorn demonstrates our need for a new Public Ethic.  The ethical approach of a Bernie Madoff, Wall Street, and the SEC were totally guided by short term private interests of a few.  They were elitist and secretive.  They had no concern for the effect of their practices on others.  They destroyed trust--the bonds of the public realm. They fought or hid from review and evaluation.  

This is the ethic that has been promoted by our economic institutions and our political rhetoric and sanctified by religious doctrines and churches which teach private benevolence over social justice and personal mores over public good.  

The challenge of new republican order, which will hopefully be created during the next administration, is to 1) reform the institutions (as Lewis and Einhorn are suggesting), 2) restore the trust, 3) limit private agrandizment, and 4) be open to all.

A renewed public ethic reconizes that a public is both constituted by and yet transcends personal interests, values, and affiliations and that the Public is constituted by and transcends all publics.    

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Beyond Clan Ethics

We see what clan ethics is producing in the mid-East, Africa, the Balkans, and the America's. Action our of cultural difference often based in territory and sanctified by religion leads to mistrust, suspicion, blame, and violence--even that of war and genocide.   

The different is totally Other, a violator of the gods' laws, a threat to existence, and therefore alien.   Language, color, race, ritual, lifestyle, sex--all become signs of the alien, godless and without spirit, that must be confined, defeated, or even eradicated--for the sake of the homeland and usually in god's name.

These ethics will no longer do.   The old time religions are deficient.  The economics of winners and losers and the politics of domination are killing us all by destroying the very conditions of our being human.  

We have entered an era of instant communication, of global marketplaces, of shared planetary effect, of weapons of world-wide destruction.  An ethic of the tribe, an ethics based on religion, nationality, or an indiviualist economic ideology will be out of sync with our new reality.

So we must together, across tribal, national, religious, and political boundaries search for a new public ethic with the folowing characteristics: universality, inclusiveness, accessibility, stability. And as soon as we assert that our religion or nation or economy has the true and correct way of being and acting, we relapse into tribalism.  Beware of those with staunch beliefs, invariable principles, and ultimate truths whether achieved by revelation or reason. They are the obstacles to our common achievement of a Public Ethic.

Friday, January 2, 2009

A New Public Ethic

I have a relative who goes to Mass everyday he can. With his Church officials, he also opposes same sex marriage and the freedom of a newly pregnant woman to choose to abort her fetus; and he thinks that these should be enforced by government. He also supports all military actions by government. He also drives on government supported highways and takes advantage of every government real estate program he can.

Yet, influenced by Hate Radio, he believes that government spending, taxes, and regulations are evil and need to be stopped. He sees no inconsistency with his positions.

Ideology, in the sense of absolute beliefs, do not admit of thought. Indeed faith supplants reason according to religious ideologues.

The Public Ethic, John Dewey demonstrated in the last century is Pragmatic Progressivism. But Progressive Pragmatism should not be understood as relativism or survivalism or acting without value moorings. Progressive pragmatism is not just "what works." Because "what works" or what is considered "progress" always presumes principles.

Indeed Reagonomics, the Vietnam and Iraq wars, and the so-called free market and laissez-faire capitalism work. The question is: work for whom?

Most of the ministers of reactionary economic and political theologies, including the hate radio preachers, are indeed pragmatic. Their preaching works well for them even if it really doesn't for so many of their dittohead listeners.

I contend that, with the present election, America and perhaps the world, are nearing the harbor of a new progressive pragmatics--a new public ethic. That is hopeful for the species. It is that public ethic that I want to examine and show how it indeed can advance the humanity and the conditions that sustain us.

More later.