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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Liberation Day 3

Yesterday we went to LA to visit Jack.  We also went to City Hall to participate in the "Solidarity with Wisconsin" rally.  About 2000 people there--lots of speeches, some songs, some celebrities.  Like old time religion.  But maybe it's a start to change we can believe in.

But also some name calling--some attribution of evil intentions or souls in the hearts of the bad Republicans on the dole of the corporate elite.  (While I think the dole part can be demonstrated and behaviors can be opposed, evil intentions and souls and hearts cannot or at least should not.  It's none of our public business.)

The name-calling at the rally was minimal, certainly not as much as those saying Obama is a Muslim terrorist or a Nazi and we who do not believe in them are "nuts" or "idiots."  An article in the LA Times today quotes people (the other Michelle and her rival Sarah and of course Rush) as accusing the first lady of being a hypocrite, trying to get government to coerce good eating and exercise habits and endanger citizens by urging them to walk.

"Civility" and "civilization" of course comes from the Latin "civitas."  "Civitas" is often translated as "city" or "state."  It is the Latin translation of the Greek "polis" from which we get "politics"--often translated as "city-state" like classical Athens--and better translated as "public realm."  It is the place where people come out of their private households to discuss with, argue with, persuade fellow citizens with both thoughtful argument and emotional passion on the shape of the polis and on collective action for public welfare.

"Ad hominem arguments" have no place in the polis or civitas.  Disagreement, persuasion, passion backed by logical argument and science do.

When we citizens argue for our point of view by calling others who disagree bad names.  When we label them "evil" to stir up hatred for them, we not only commit a logical fallacy, we undermine the civitas, the public order, the nation.  We open the public space, not to collective speech and action, but to physical force or violence or simply passive silence.

Bernie's cousin Vern,  whom I like personally, disagrees vehemently with my politics.  But we can never carry on a conversation.  He would just pass on to me "bumper sticker" unfactchecked emails and when I would try to counter with an argument call me a "socialist" (which is not a bad name to me, but is for him), "nuts," "duped by idiots."  I tried over and over to have a civil (though admittedly passionate) discussion with him.  But I only received ad hominem arguments--i.e. name calling.  So no more conversation.

Nothing kills a republic like the kind of "politics" that is now being exercised--especially by many of the tea party enthusiasts who have a valid point of view and even some good positions.  Those positions are more in the interests of the haves than the have-nots than I would like, but that's certainly what the res publica is all about as Madison pointed out in the Federalist Papers, his defense of a strong central government.  But the name-calling, the we vs them, good vs evil mentality,  just undermines it all.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Liberation Day 2

 (A break from "Coming Storms")

I am thinking again of Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Iran.  It is like 1848 when all the capitals of Europe experienced "revolutions."  Regimes were thrown out by popular uprisings.  Unfortunately, in a very few years they were all reestablished.  But it still did lead to some additional movement towards democracy and maybe some additional rights.

Why are not the youth and their allies on the streets in the USA?  Well, there is Wisconsin.  Is that a beginning?  There was also grass roots energy behind the Obama election and the Tea Party movement.  But like all "revolutions" we just elect our masters and turn over power to them. There was authentic revolutionary discontent in the Tea Party movement but then they let themselves be defined by Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman, Rand Paul, and Glen Beck--pure defenders and products of the established regime.  And the Obama movement wound up in an election in the same old structures.  I experienced their appointments--safe and reactionary.

I go back to my original distinction between "revolution" and "rebellion"--or really Albert Camus's distinction.  Revolutions revolve back.  Rebellions like Sisyphus and Prometheus are on-going.  Jefferson and Trotsky were advocates of perpetual revolution.  Each generation must wage its own.  No absolute state, no utopia. 

The US is I think in a condition that begs revolution. It is totally controlled by corporate based plutocrats who shape the values, the perspectives, the behaviors, and the leaders of the existing social order.  They often decide who will win elections--most important they decide what will happen no matter who wins elections.  They set the limits for any change that might affect them--e.g. health care, taxation, military equipment, contributions, foreign aid, business, communications, energy.  They do not form a party or "interest group."  No need for that since they can generally shape what any party does and also support the think-tanks, magazines, and media that represent their regime.

I don't blame the Obamaists and the Tea Partiers for getting caught up in the electoral process since I think the blame game is unwinnable.  Also the electoral process is important, but that's not where the revolution is.  The revolution is redoing the constitution, i.e. the social order (I don't mean rewriting the American Bible) so that there really is freedom and justice for all. 

That will not happen through populism (e.g. mass movement or democracy) which just changes players in the same game with the same owners.  Populism is like the NFL--huge cheering crowds with the owners choosing the coaches and players and the rules of the game.

Social justice will be achieved only through republicanism--that is the creation of publics, localities in which people educate themselves in the interests and values of each other, develop their own rules, exercise leadership collectively, and continually learn from and connect to other publics.

Hannah Arendt described these publics occuring in the townhalls of the American colonies, the soviets of Russia, the societies of France, and in civil society institutions of developing countries.  She also described how the townhall, soviet, and societe traditions were overcome by centralized domination of economic concerns.

Jefferson, a member of the landed plutocracy, was no democrat and like many of the founders of America distrusted the masses.  But he was a republican intellectually and morally and had faith that people who thought, spoke, listened, and acted together, could continue to change.  He, and the other founders, knew that the American Constitution as written as well as the constitution as actually performed were very flawed leaving out the rights of many people (e.g. blacks, native Americans, women), trade-offs necessary to create a strong central government.

His republican hope, and ours, is that people by meeting, speaking, listening, and acting together would continue the progression of humanity towards greater freedom and justice for all.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Coming Storms 3

I am getting ahead of my story.  But before I discuss each of the coming storms and their unique convergence in our century, I think the big story may not be the six or so storms coming, but the mounting reaction to them.  "The action is in the reaction."

And to each of these forces are extreme reactionaries who will be in struggle (sometimes violent) with each other.

In respect to global virtualization, the nearing Singularity, i.e. info technology reaching such an exponential speed that the new "superman" is being created, and the understanding that the Matrix is all there "really" is will bring out contemporary Luddites to destroy our computers and undo the internet and the Technophiles aiming to issue in a utopia without limits where the tool becomes the master.

As for global secularization and the ascendancy of science, already the battlefield is being staked out by the old time Religionists or fundamentalists who demand sworn allegiance to the absolute truth as it is written by divine authors in Bible or Constitution and cynical Nihilists who mock those looking for some transcendent meaning by which to live and act.

And so on:

global regionalization:  tea party nationalists and ethnic terrorists.

global entropicalization:  denying ostriches and resource controlling capitalists.

global urbanization: top-down planners and laissez-faire developers.

global civilization:  alien-phobes and individual rightists

I know there is a lot to explain here. 

But the gist of it:  Our globe is changing really fast economically, politically, culturally.  There are tremendous dangers and opportunities.  New battlefields are being drawn.  Our children and grandchildren could be on these battlefields or may experience collateral damage.  They need to be prepared.  Not to react.  But to act creatively. 

I am convinced they will look back on these times--as we do the 1960s.  These will be their times.  They will organize and act.  They will make mistakes as we did.  But they may also move the world and humanity to the next stage--as we did.  I hope so.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Coming Storms 2

The six storms that I see coming over the seas and about to converge into a perfect storm for our 21st century are:

1. Virtualization--by this I mean the blurring (erasing?) of the lines between the virtual and the real as well as between the human body/mind and computer/internet.  This raises the huge question of the meaning of "reality," "knowledge," and even "human." 

2. Secularization--the postmodern mentality finally in place with its ultimate irony, relativity, ambiguity.  This raises the question of the meaning of "transcendence," "morality," or even of "meaning" itself? 

3. Regionalization--the marketplace of goods and ideas beyond traditional boundaries (e.g. nation-states) into interdependent regions.  This raises the questions of "value," "justice," and "equity." 

4.  Entropicalization--the dissipation of energy (or the shift to new energy resources), the change (or desecration) of habitat, the undermining (or renewal) of the conditions for species preservation.  This raises the questions of "nature" and "survival."

5. Urbanization--the migrating and resettling of humans into large settlements that diminish the reality and sense of the rural and the wild.  This raises the question of "society" and "community."

6. Civilization--empathic consciousness, the move to instant communication, universal data availability, the collapsing of space and time.  This raises the question of "consciousness" and "history."  

1 and 2 principally affect our emerging Culture; 3 and 4 the new global Economy; 5 and 6 the Politics of the 21st century.

Each one has a prophet or reporter to whom I will make reference when I discuss them. 

None of these are new.  Put "Global" in front of all of them and see them in symbiotic relationship effecting our culture, economics, and politics, converging into our 21st century--our space, our time, our social order--and the importance of these to my children and grandchildren--and to yours--will come clear.

A demain!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Coming Storms 1

I have been on "sabbatical" for a month, getting mind, body, spirit in shape for my next attempt.  Reading lots of books and articles and blogs in new science, postmodern philosophy, new urbanism, and contemporary political-economy, I discern six huge trends coalescing, descending upon us like the perfect storm.  They have been coming for a long time and the weather watchers have been pointing them out.

Storms cleanse the earth and the air, enrich the soil, and bring nourishment for new life.  They can also be terribly destructive wiping out forests, leveling buildings, and flooding habitats.  As I see these storms coming and combining, I worry for my children and grandchildren and theirs.  I want them to be ready.

The six storms that I see coming relate to the generally accepted dimensions of human being, namely culture, economy, and politics.  Let me say something about these just so I can better describe the storms.

What is most definitive of humanity is our unique ability to make patterns in chaos by using forms that we have created.  Our peculiar way of dealing with our environment is through images, including metaphors and stories, that put data together in a way that is useful to our survival and advancement.  In other words, it is our imagination--not separate from, but a means to our understanding and knowing of ourselves, each other, and our world.

What that means I will elaborate later because it is key to answering the huge questions being raised by the coming storms.  This "most human" capacity is being examined assiduously by evolutionary psychologists, neuro-scientists, and biological anthropologists.  And their theories and experiments are casting more light on our special ability to make images and symbols to organize, perceive, and act in our environment.

Why there are three dimensions of human being, culture, economy, and politics, can be explained by looking at this special human capacity/activity.  I will show you this in the next blog.

But all this is just preliminary for understanding the coming storms and their import for our future and that of those we love.

A demain!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Today is Liberation day. Congratulations to the people of Egypt and to all people of the world who risk for social, economic, racial, political liberty, equity, and justice! And especially to the young people who led this revolution.

My Brookings Institution newsletter came today advertising Generation in Waiting a book that captures the situation in the Middle East and perhaps many "developing" regions where young people between 15 and 29 comprise over a third of the population and most of the unemployment which runs around 15%. Most have come to the cities for education and work but have been frustrated with the lack of outlet and reward for their talents.

"While today’s young men and women are more educated than previous generations, educational quality is poor. Moreover, these youth face diminishing opportunities to secure good jobs, access credit and housing, achieve financial independence, and form successful families," says the Brooking's summary.

When I looked at the fact sheet, I saw it mirrored another "developing region," here in the United States--our own San Joaquin (a.k.a. Central) Valley, California. I look at the situation of our youth who are emerging in society just as we are no longer investing in institutions that can most assist them. We are more concerned with our private, immediate short term gain, than with our long term future. We want to relieve ourselves of our private financial debts, and forget our debts to our children. We want to free ourselves from personal taxes, rather than tax ourselves to fulfill our obligations to our children.

The children of Egypt saw the way out was to move from society to the public realm. The old way of wealthy elites buying elections and running governments needs to be upended. When will the youth of this Valley and this country understand the same? The answer is not running for office in a corrupt plutocracy in which you have to accept the values of the plutocrats to achieve office.

You don't enter the public realm by taking office in a plutocracy. You enter the public realm by appearing with others to bring down the plutocracy. Many young people in the US felt they were doing this in the Obama election: "Yes, we can-si, se pueda" "Change we can believe in."

But Obama is not the answer--and of course he was the first to say this. Power is in people appearing together in the Tahrir and Tienanmen Squares and Grant Park and Washington Mall. The best thing that Obama could do now is catch the spirit of the youth of Egypt and facilitate a similar revolution here. Yes we can!