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Monday, April 30, 2012

Value clarificatiion

Cousin Vern is a good conservative who helps me clarify my thinking. My last couple of posts relating to Morris Berman's pessimistic view that America has already failed led him to counter that money, finances were important. It is the economy, stupid.

I agree.  Money is important.  Money = the ability to consume.  And we are living bodies (e.g. animals) and need to consume to live.  And because we need to consume, we also need to produce. Production/consumption (i.e. the economy) is essential to life. The human capacity to increase production (first hunting/gathering, then agriculture, then crafts and trading in the market, then industrialization, now information technology) is definitely a progressive advance of the human species to provide all that is necessary for life.

But when life becomes the only good, when we just keep expanding our economy to get more and more ability to consume, we are losing some other goods. Association to shape common space (e.g. "politics" in its root meaning--not the way we use it today) is a fundamental good as well and the source of our power and freedom. I would argue that while economy is a basic good, association for common good is a higher good--that we seem to be losing today by making the economy the only standard of success.  

Another important good is value itself, that which a culture expresses in its language, art, religion, manners, science, sports, architecture, cities, and spaces for recreation and discovery.  Civilization (derived from "civis" meaning city/state) also articulates this concept.  

For me these are the three different, but interdependent, goods and relate to three motivators of human existence: self-interest (production/consumption measured by money), affiliation, or what Aristotle called "recognition," (association for common good), value (culture and its activities and expressions).  When culture and politics are subordinated to economy, you have what Berman is talking about and what have been becoming as a nation of "hustlers." And we have a politics and a culture which is corrupted by money.

Again I am not saying self-interest, the pursuit of the ability to consume (money), is wrong or bad.  It is a basic need (and I would say a "right") for all of us so we can be about higher pursuits. I am just saying let's not make it the end-all, the purpose of our existence. I can see young people thinking they need to secure the basic needs of life and so are focused on "making it."  But we older, wiser people should be much more progressive and balanced than that.

The solution is correct balance and proper subordination. Human dignity is #1 and that means ability and opportunity to speak and act with others to shape our common space and time (i.e. freedom and power). This ability is only there if people have their basic material needs satisfied and are civilized--i.e. through education can express themselves creatively.  Economics, Culture, Politics--self-interest, value, affiliation--money, language, power--private wealth and cultural value for common good.

Economic behavior is a means to the end, Civilization is the expression of the end, Associational Being (Friendship, Love) is the end.

Our problem today is that we have reversed the order.  Let's make this election more than the economy but about who we want to be as a people.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Restoration vs. Transformation

For Obama and Romney, 2012 Is a Referendum on the Past

The president says his rival wants to take America "back to the future" -- and Romney doesn't disagree.

Look at this interesting article from Atlantic Magazine.   

Restoration vs Transformation.  Tremendously different attitudes.  And values.  

Reminds us of earlier British, French and other societies of Europe. Tories/Lords/Monarchists wanting to restore the ancien regime and its old belief systemWhigs/Commoners/Revolutionaries wanting to transform society into a brand new belief system: libert√©, egalit√©, fraternit√©.   

It all depends on who was winning or losing in those good ol' days.  Romney glorifies 19th century capitalism and the great growth of industrial America--which Teddy Roosevelt challenged through his progressive movement and Franklin Roosevelt finally changed in the New Deal and so was considered "a traitor to his class."  And Romney harks back to the easy, comfortable, safe, prosperous (for whom?) 1950s--when I grew up--with Jim Crow, McCarthyism, Cold War (Guatemala, Vietnam), suburban sprawl, triumph of the automobile and big oil.  So is this the choice for America?  

Are restoration and transformation reconcilable?  In my ethical model, yes. We do embody our past and need to build on it to project our future. When John XXIII was trying to open up the Catholic Church, he said that transformational change can occur by returning to origins--but that meant before Vatican 1, Trent, and the Fathers of the Church. Transforming a corporation starts by returning to true original vision and mission and then re-appropriating, renewing, and, yes, revising it for present circumstances. We need restorationists and transformationalists in dialogue.

However, restoring the past is never an option. Nor is total transformation. Both are absolutist, utopian ways of thinking and that does not fit my model. Let's hope that Obama and Romney avoid that kind of thinking and behavior even though I know many of their followers will not.

Well, maybe Romney is the better choice. . . .

NPR just published a study that demonstrates that the Republican Party is the most conservative it has been for over 100 years.  Because of that there seems to be little possibility of compromise on large issues related to governance, e.g. the debt and the possibility of raising additional revenue through increase in taxation among the wealthy, immigration reform that provides the possibility for naturalization for long term contributing residents, overcoming high medical costs through a national insurance plan, increased investment in alternative energy policies, reduced tax loop holes for agribusiness and oil companies, reducing the influence of money in elections and lobbying, preserving the programs of New Deal, War on Poverty, and Civil Rights. 

If Obama wins the presidential election, there will be more gridlock by Republicans who have announced that their highest priority is to get rid of him, even over solving problems for the nation.  (See Robert Draper book.)

It makes me wonder if it would be better for the nation if Romney won. I won't vote for him because I refuse to reward obstructionism. However, I still wonder if a more centrist Romney (if he could swing back from his stated "extreme conservatism") could get more done because he could corral the conservative dogmatic true believers. 

I look at Nixon's China initiative. A Democrat could not have done that because the Republicans had blocked all such efforts as "being soft on communism." Nixon was also able to get the Environmental Protection Act passed to create the agency that now rabid neo-conservatives want to destroy and blame Democrats for. Reagan of course was able to "quit and run" in Lebanon (something no Democrat could have done for fear of being seen as weak). Reagan was also able to raise taxes, as was GHW Bush, and so make possible the surpluses under Clinton. LBJ was able to overpower the conservative southern Democrats to get the Civil Rights Bill passed as well as the War on Poverty. I very much doubt if conservative southern democrats would have let Kennedy do that. And as LBJ predicted, it led to the demise of the Democratic Party in the South. 

And yet GW Bush, one of the beneficiaries of the Republican takeover of the conservative South, led the country to its worse recession since the great depression, to two wars, and to a huge deficit mainly by pushing the "ownership society" and deregulation of the financial institutions (started under Clinton); and, instead of raising revenues to pay for the wars and other pet projects, he pushed through huge tax decreases for the wealthy. So instead of using his conservative credentials to seek some balance, as did Nixon, Reagan, and his father before him, he allowed neo-conservatives free reign to destroy the balance before him.

Once the recession hit, Bush used the government, including the 700 billion TARP bailout funds and the central bank, to spend huge amounts on saving financial institutions and their insurers, but again without at all considering the revenue side of the equation. Obama supported this policy to keep from another great depression, then, once president, did push through some regulatory controls, and some investments in old and new industry, but in general has been able to do little to change fundamental inequitable structures as he had promised and we had hoped. Although he did do what was necessary to keep the US from going into a 1930s level depression.  In this atmosphere, when politicians are more concerned with their outmoded beliefs and principles (especially free-market fundamentalism) than the welfare of the nation, it seems unlikely that much will change and more gridlock will occur. There seems to be no leadership strong enough to forge a majoritarian strategy. I doubt Obama can since that is not a priority of the so-called loyal opposition. It only takes 40% to block Senate action.

But to select Romney at this time I think would be penny-wise and pound-foolish.  It might move to some compromise and cooperation in the short term; but it would keep America on the path that has led to the stark divisions in the US and to American decline.  It is strange that as we departed from our vacation in Belize, our driver to the airport saw it this way; but many Americans, whose message has been framed by radio commentators and TV ads, cannot. Republicans say we are waging "class war." Would that we were and the 99% could see it!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Does the presidential campaign show a conflict in values?

Does it?

Probably not, reading Morris Berman, Kevin Phillips, Bill Moyers and others.  Looking at the two candidate webpages, both put Jobs and Economy as the #1 issue. "It's the Economy Stupid" was the mantra of the Clinton campaign (and Reagan's and Bush's). Yes, there are different approaches: the old 19th century or U of Chicago more libertarian approach vs the New Deal or Keynesian approach. But the measure of success for individuals and for the collective remains the same: compensation or income, value of stocks, GDP, amount of wealth or assets, housing prices, consumption, balance of payments. The higher all these measures are the more successful we are.

We've looked at their webpages. Now let's look at their speeches: Romney's speech accepting his position as presumptive nominee and Obama's state of the union speech which were opening salvo's in each of their campaigns. What are the most fundamental values to which they are appealing?

  • "Economy": as above--same measures and priorities, different approaches.  Public sector subordinate to the private sector. Everybody seems to accept uncritically that this election is about the economy as whether people see that Obama saved it and we are on the road to recovery or that our recovery is slow because Obama interfered too much.  No one seems to be questioning how the economy is dominating our lives, character, and spirit.  
  • "America First":  denial by both of the changing role of the US in the world.
  • "Strong Military":  denial by both of the need to draw down (Ron Paul better on this); and the constant use of the "troops" as if they are the "saints and martyrs"for the American religion.
  • "Fairness": both use the word but mean different things. Obama is closer to Rawl's definition.  Romney doesn't mean "dignity of the human person," but reward of the "deserving." Procedural justice rather than substantive justice. Romney buys into Ryan's budget which will reduce substantially the support of the working poor.
  • "Nature and Role of Government". Government as an enemy of the people vs government as an instrument of the people. Less government vs proper role of government.  
  • "Principle of Initiative": For Romney it is 19th century free market: corporate leaders and entrepreneurs (who will become corporate leaders) seeking to expand their wealth without government interference. For Obama it is government leadership with leadership of corporations and NGOs.  (I of course disagree with both of them!)
  • "Values":  Romney means traditional marriage and right to life. Obama means civil rights of groups on the edge.

PS:  Just read this and I think it makes Berman's point (previous blog).

"Mr. Romney," (Utah Governor Herbert) said, "should frame his financial success as a totem of the America he is fighting to restore — a free-market economy, unburdened by overregulation and big government, in which entrepreneurs thrive and, in turn, employment grows.  He has been way too timid about talking about his successes in the private sector. It’s what’s great about America. I can be the next Bill Gates or Mitt Romney.”

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Art of the Hustle: the American Value

I just ordered Why America Failed by Morris Berman.  I read lots of reviews and interviews with Berman so I think I will probably want to argue that his description is insightful, but oversimplified.  And I will choose to disagree with his prescription.

As I search to understand the American Civil Religion and the key values driving its institutions through the presidential campaign, the communitarian voluntary association that Tocqueville revealed in Democracy in America and the Individualism that Bellah revealed in Habits of the Heart will both be a target for understanding.  But here is Berman who cites other major historians articulating as the underlying and prominent American value as the "hustle."

It's Michael Douglas in Wall Street proclaiming greed as the prime motivator of human economy and society.  Berman writes how it has corrupted all the American Institutions and is driving the Decline of America economically, politically, culturally.  But it is not simple self-interest or even just greed, it is the art of the hustle.  Donald Trump, Richard Fuld (Lehman), Ken Lay (Enron) are personifications and indeed models of this value.

Some quotes:
  • America has had one value system, and it is finally showing itself to be extremely lopsided and self-destructive.  
  • The ‘hustling’ way of life says that virtue consists of personal success in an opportunistic environment, and that if you can screw the other guy on your way to the top, more power to you. 
  • “Looking Out for No. 1” is what really needs to be on the American dollar. Appearances to the contrary, this is what “democracy” always meant in America—the freedom to become rich. This ideology is so powerful that we don’t even recognize it as such.
  • As Jerry Seinfeld’s lawyer in the final episode of the series tells him: “You don’t have to help anybody; that’s what this country’s all about!” 
  • David Ehrenfeld, Professor of Biology at Rutgers University, recently wrote: “A society driven mainly by selfish individualism has all the potential for sustainability of a collection of angry scorpions in a bottle.”
I think Berman is right in naming this as a, maybe the, central American value that fuels our corporations, churches, governments, political parties, schools and corrupts all our economic, political and cultural institutions.  Indeed both presidential campaigns are measuring success for the nation in terms of wealth--cost of homes, value of stocks, compensation, ability to consume, dominance of corporations defended by a strong military.

However, there are also movements and institutions of resistance and rebellion.  I know many people in North America, families, congregations, businesses, communities that do not live by this dominant principle and in fact offer, or at least search for, a counter-cultural approach where value and success is not measured in terms of the art and product of the "hustle."  I also have participated in wonderful acts of resistance in drama, novels, political commentary, comedy.  I serve on two boards of citizens volunteering to develop affordable housing and build community.  I participate in a congregation where social justice is its reason for being.  Most of my family and friends are NOT living by this value to get more.

And I reject Berman's solution of withdrawal.  I understand his flirtation with monasticism and his own settlement in Mexico. Hermits withdrew from the institutions of the ancient Church when the "Fathers" prescribed orthodoxy in order to become the established religion of the declining Roman Empire. But they also formed religious orders to be an alternative to the established Church and its princely bishops.

My former city of Fresno, pressured by a vigorous enlightened citizen action, just adopted a progressive new-urbanist General Plan that was opposed by the developers of sprawl looking out for growth of their portfolios.  People have said this was a miracle. And indeed it was because it broke the traditional and predictable order of "hustling" by developers that was projecting a urban form that destroyed community.

Although I reject religion in all its denominational forms, I do not reject my faith in redemption, forgiveness, reform, and even resurrection.  Resistance and rebellion is always an option.  Coming together to act is the "miracle" that breaks the natural trends that Berman describes so well that have led to the decline and failure of America.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

But some of my best friends are theologians

Just read an interview of Lawrence Krauss in the Atlantic posing the question of whether his book A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing spelled the end of religion and philosophy. In the interview he did come off a bit arrogant in his critique of "moronic" philosophers and theologians. But it was nevertheless a good reminder and even clarification of his book which I had read and enjoyed.

His demonstration as to the plausibility of particles of matter and anti-matter emerging in empty space and of multiverses I accept as I do Darwinian evolution without going through all the research, observation, and testing that these scientists did. I think it would be most exciting to resolve the "something from nothing" quandary without an appeal to supernatural entities.

However, I don't think that undermines the profession of theologian and philosopher.  Maybe that of bishop and ayatollah (I hope!).

Religion I think will always be with us as long as our species does not self-destruct or morph into some higher one.  It is simply the way we work. Numerous studies in neuroscience have shown our capacity for building and interacting with our environment through ideas within belief systems.  One of the belief systems that expresses transcending experiences in many of our symbolic activities is religion. The most we can hope and work for are religions that are self-critical and so not an obstacle to passing beyond or transcending our beliefs towards greater understanding and more worthwhile action.

And that is where good philosophers and theologians come in. They raise questions about our belief systems.  They probe the concepts by which we are expressing our latest interactions with each other, our social order, our world, and our universe for elegance, consistency, and meaning. They create a community of inquirers and let us all in. That's why they often get in trouble with those who are trying to maintain the organization, i.e. the ayatollahs and bishops.  (I remember going with my parents to Mass at Saint Dominic's when Pastor Neri from the pulpit said that the only problem with the church was the theologians confusing laypeople with new ideas.)

For example, head of the Catholic Conference of Bishops, Archbishop Doyle, is the CEO of a large institution.  He is NOT a theologian, nor are any of the popes or most priests even though they studied church doctrine.  Neither are they educators.  Their theology and their "teaching" is really apologetics--repeating and defending the present doctrines, dogmas, decisions of the hierarchy--keeping it from"error." They settle, not raise, questions.

Bureaucrats serve a very useful purpose to an institution, but it is one of preservation, not agitation.  I know.  I was a CEO or director of numerous organizations and charged with maintaining and growing the institution.  I had to believe in that organization or that I could change the organization in order to head it.  I also know that a healthy organization encourage entrepreneurs and innovators from within.  And there were times when I realized that I could neither believe in, nor change, the organization and quietly resigned.

Since religion will always be with us, we act to encourage a religion that is open and transcending, never stuck in its traditional beliefs and doctrines.  That can happen at the congregational level even in as closed and oppressive an institution as the Roman Catholic Church. Pastor Neri was right.  It often happens when good, usually "controversial," theologians get involved or are at least read.  And, even nontheist that I am, some of my best friends are theologians.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The American Religion 2012

Now that I have worked out my theory of justice or ethical model in dialogue with many neuroscientists, evolutionary psychologists, and ethicists, I want to test it.  Again, ethics for me is critical inquiry into prevailing morality in order to guide personal behavior and public policy.  I have many role models for this enterprise.

I propose to examine the American religion which is related to, but not the same as religion in America.  I do this as a way into the American morality.  In this effort I follow in the footsteps of great sociologists of civil religion.  (Also because of the politics of culturalism, new religions, and extreme partisanship, have we fragmented into more than one civil religion?)

A religion has a creation myth, supernatural entities, symbols, rituals, holy texts, and sacred space and time.  It sanctifies certain behaviors that strengthen the social fabric of a culture and prohibits those that might undermine that fabric.

I propose to use the current presidential campaign as my source: analyses of campaign speeches and webpages, party platforms, and political commentary, even comedians.  I want to identify the key themes and ascertain the often unexpressed religious symbols, principles, and values behind proposals, the private and public behaviors they encourage, and critique them in the light of a standard of justice which will also be under review.  If resources permit, I would like to check and refine our findings through interviews and against complementary studies.

I realize that I cannot do this alone so I am looking for fellow travelers.

I am not sure what form this study will take--book, series of papers, presentation.  I do know that I would like it to be accessible and feed back into the American ethical and political process so that citizens will be more thoughtful about their choices that will affect the future of our descendants.

(PS click on links in text above for more explanation.)

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Serpent and the Woman

One of the great creation myths relating to the origins of humanity is the story of the Serpent and the Woman. It is found at the beginning of the Hebrew Scriptures though it is probably one of the later additions to the collection with sources in Mesopotamian mythology. Serpents and Trees of Life or Knowledge are also figures in mythologies worldwide.

The story has Woman (Eve) formed from Man (Adam) by Yahweh, the creator god, living without the need for labor--work or childbearing--in a beautiful garden of abundance. They could live blissfully in this garden without care. But there was one stipulation given by Yahweh. Eat the fruit of all trees except one, the tree of knowledge. But the Serpent talked Eve into eating the forbidden fruit promising they would be like gods and Eve got Adam to follow her. Yahweh therefore drove the couple out of the Garden and decreed that from then on they would have to work in struggle and pain.

There are lots of interpretations of this literary piece. It is an extension of the answer of the origins of the world and humanity's place within it. It is an answer to the question of the origins of pain in childbearing, of work, and of sexuality. It is an answer to the question of the hostility of nature and the need to "tame" it. Two interpretations predominate. I call one the "priestly" or establishment account; the other the "rebel" (prophetic) account.

The Priestly Account.

Priests are the sanctifiers of establishment order and the morality of the old ways. In CW Mills terms: they are the "advisors of the kings."

The priestly story of the Woman and the Serpent is a morality tale of the consequences of disobedience. The reason Yahweh told Man not to eat of the tree of knowledge was to get Man's free compliance to His order without questioning. The story is of the Fall of Man from an original state of harmony to one of disorder due to the prideful violation of authority: Man over Woman and all animals (including serpents), Yahweh over Man. The only way of restoring right order is by the act of obedience such as Abraham demonstrated when he was ready to sacrifice Isaac and by Israel's observance of the laws of Moses.

Christian priests (e.g. the Fathers of the Church) took the story farther when they taught that the original sin could only be rectified by an act of sacrificial obedience of the very Son of God, Jesus. The Serpent is Lucifer, the archenemy of Yahweh, who works through the Woman to frustrate God's plans for creation. The Serpent in many cultures is the symbol of both sexuality and of knowledge and uses both to elicit Man's Fall from grace. The only way for Man to become right with God is to be born again in baptism or in the blood of Jesus and follow the laws of the Church and Scriptures, including controlling sexual conduct, temple support, conversion or destruction of infidels, and hegemony of God's elected people. Some think paradise can be returned when humanity under Christ creates the perfect order founded on God's laws as found in His words. Others teach that this will happen only after death when the soul is reunited with Jesus in Paradise.

The Rebel Account

Rebels (often called false prophets by the priests) tell the story differently.

Man is born into a state of ignorance which is maintained by the established authorities. The Serpent fulfills the name of Lucifer, bringing light by agitating humans to question and even disobey authority. In a male dominated society, it is primarily through women and other persons at the bottom of the order that questions will be raised, enlightenment sought, and the mighty overturned. It is by eating the forbidden fruit of knowledge and free sexuality that the bliss of ignorance is dispelled. Man leaves his state of false paradise to go out to struggle for truth and freedom from authority. It is through this act that human consciousness is born.

Christian rebels carry the story farther. They see Jesus in a line of prophets that question the priesthood, destroy the temples, and upend the clientism and oppression of societies or parts of societies. They do so under no one's authority but their own and of the people who have been left out of the established order and its rewards.

There are of course lots of variations of the story of the Serpent and the Woman depending on the time and space in which it is told, but mostly depending on one's perceived station in the social order.

Which interpretation do you favor?

A Carnivore's Defense

I like eating meat.  It tastes good.  But is it?

My veggie friends and relatives don't think so; and they make me think.

In my mind, ethics and morality are different.  Morality, usually sanctioned by religion, is how most people in a culture behave, supported by their values and institutions.  Ethics is critical thinking about morality. So when my friends make me think about eating meat, they kick me out of my morality into ethics.

Among the latest findings of evolutionary biology and psychology, homo sapiens sapiens not only evolved as a carnivore but can probably thank the ancestors who began eating meat for the development of the frontal cortex and their most unique capacity to imagine, symbolize, plan, conjecture, think.

Now there's a powerful argument for meat-eating from human nature.  But of course, just because we are or have been a certain way, doesn't mean that we should be.  After all, just because we grew up in a slave or genocidal culture, based on primary needs to consume and to flee or fight doesn't mean we should continue that behavior.

Elsewhere (with many more words) I argued for an ethical model or theory based on this almost unique capacity to symbolize.  The model is a formula for being present: here, now, with.  A dynamic unity in tension between past and future, self and others, interior and exterior, real and ideal. I call it integrity and it is a primitive (not chronologically) position and experience of being the unity of all these dynamic tensions.  And the very dynamism of these tensions make it possible for us, personally and collectively, to advance that union or to dissipate it.  We are in our activity choosing to become what we will be.

Now apply that to eating meat. 

My ethical model indicates that we are struggling to make ourselves what we are and could be more of--a union with all nature (Spinoza had that right!).  The primary rule from my model is simply to treat oneself and all beings with dignity.  Dignity, freedom, meaning, creativity, power are descriptions of the state of being fully human.  But we are in the process of achieving them (should we choose to) and that process is called respect, liberation, empathy, or empowerment.  It starts with ourselves in union with an expanding circle of humans, out to those who were once considered just things or objects but with whom we can share feeling, learning from the past but imagining a better future.  Yes, that includes animals.

I think we are (and should be) moving towards a world where we do not trap, enslave, kill, and eat other animals.  But I don't think we are there yet.  First we need to make sure that all humans are receiving enough nutrition (including protein from meat or an alternative) and other resources to fully develop as persons in dignity.  Second, we need to protect those other animals with whom we can best communicate and with whom we have feeling.  Third, we need to advance ourselves as part of an overall process of moving humanity to the next stage of humanization called for in our very dynamic existence in an evolving universe.

I am willing to work with you and all towards greater integrity in our lives and existence with each other and all beings, including a life without eating meat.  Until then, however, I will enjoy my fillet of red snapper.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Much Simpler Ethics

Elsewhere I advanced a pretty exhaustive and exhausting Theory of Ethics, Idea of Justice, Model of the Good. Its a theory, model, idea that I think has consistency, explains diversity in human behavior, makes predictions, includes other grand ethical theories. It uses recent findings of science and builds on past philosophies.

But I think there is a much easier way to present the meaning of justice and of good and evil and I will try to show it in five steps.

1. Sense of justice. Some have argued that the sense of justice comes from an original sense of injustice. The child seems to know it as she forcefully asserts "it is not fair!" when brother gets something she doesn't. She also seems to know "mine!" and what sharing is all about.

But like matter and anti-matter, the sense of justice and injustice probably arise together. There doesn't seem to be need of a grand theory to explain our sense of justice denied when we listen to the stories of black Americans in Jim Crow South or segregated North, the stories of Jewish families in Nazi Germany, the stories of Indians bounty hunted or force-marched off ancestral lands, the stories of women in Arabic countries, the stories of children sold into sex slavery or forced to kill family and neighbors in war. We know what justice is unless we ourselves have become so dehumanized by our greed or ideology.

2. Names for justice. The sense of justice we see denied is captured in our vocabulary as dignity, freedom, creativity, meaning, power. Dignity means to be worthwhile. When we treat someone with dignity we treat them as at least as worthy as ourselves and maybe more. Freedom means the ability to be an agent as opposed to an object or tool of someone else's agency. It is closely aligned to creativity, the ability to initiate, to shape one's world. Power is also the ability to act, but it is a collective term. I achieve power with others acting in concert. And meaning is back to appraising oneself and others as having great worth because of our power to initiate, to create, to be agents, and conscious feeling subjects rather than brute objects.

3. Process for Justice. Dignity, freedom, creativity, power, and meaning are states of being. The corresponding processes for getting there are respect, liberation, self-expression, speech and action, and inquiry, including wonder and curiosity. Because of the dynamic nature of our existence and it's universe, we never fully achieve the state of justice; but we have it in the striving, the process of respect, liberation, expression, speech and action, and inquiry.

4. Institutions of Justice. An institution is a collective habit that in turn promotes certain behaviors and the values which justify them. There are three major types of institutions: 1) related to economy and the needs of life is the market (including businesses, trade groups, corporations); 2) related to culture and the meaning of life is religion (including denominational church or civil religion, education and arts); 3) related to politics and the power of human community is government (including parties, departments, courts). When and where an institution is furthering dignity, freedom, creativity, it is just and good. When and where it is furthering inferiority, oppression, and dulls creativity and curiosity, it is unjust and evil.

5. Ethics and action. Ethics is a reflection on moralities. As such it criticizes institutions in respect to justice and goodness. But while action without critical inquiry is blind, critical inquiry without action is useless. Action consists in confronting the injustice of institutions with counter-institutions; e.g. for the corporation it is the nonprofit community interest organization, for the church it is the free congregation movement, for government it is the nongovernmental public association. Identify the injustice, organize with those who suffer it and those who care about them, and change or replace the institutions.

More on this later.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Is Ethics a Science?

Elsewhere I have presented an ethical model, a conjecture, an imagined structure that:
1) explains human behavior in all its forms, unifying various dimensions, complexities, elements of human behavior;
2) predicts human behavior generally and so can be tested, refined, or changed;
3) generates principles and models for behaving in specific situations and thus provides a guide to behavior and a resolution of issues related to human behavior.

Moreover I argue that this model is inclusive and explains the most prominent of other ethical theories.

So doesn't that make ethics a science--meeting all the criteria that Popper established for scientific statements and method? And if you argue that ethics is actually a branch of philosophy, then doesn't that make philosophy a science?

No, I think not. Here is why.

1) Description is not prescription. Explanation of what is (e.g. how most or even all persons behave) does not necessarily infer what should be (e.g. how most or even all persons should behave). Ethics to be ethics is founded and even limited by human nature which is discovered and revealed through scientific inquiry. Values and moralities can be ascertained and studied and even shown to have predictable outcomes. They can be taught, cojoled, proscribed, forced. But that does not make them necessarily desireable or, indeed, valuable. Something is needed beyond or outside scientific inquiry.

2) The experience that is used to test and verify the ethical theory or model is not sense or empirical experience. It is direct or "lived" or "ground" experience of persons in the activity of sensing, imagining, thinking, verifying, choosing.

3) The principles, imperatives, guidelines that are generated are informed by, but not based on, empirical evidence. They are ultimately based on choice--our progressive, cumulative, communal decision making as to the desired meaning and future of the human species, including the human institutions which condition and embody that chosen meaning and future.

So, yes, ethics is a branch of philosophy, the love of wisdom, not of science though the sciences and their methods are necessary sine qua nons to the endeavor. And the progress of science will also lead to the progress of philosophy. But philosophy comes after science and all the other human behaviors in the world. It is a "secondary" reflection grounded in the experience of the experience of building and knnowing the world through art, science, history, religion, politics. It is the critique of these activities and of the cultures and moralities they constitute based on a more primary experience of what it means to be fully human.

Ethics (including politics) is the primary outcome of this critique and guides us in the decision-making as to the meaning and future of the human prospect. Ethics, therefore, is both a very personal as well as collaborative enterprise. Yes, a product of corrupting old men like me who have lived a full life, but also for the hopefully corrupted young who are in fact now making our future.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Arrow of Time

There are some serious scientific theories that conjecture that time is not a property of the multiverse but is a dimension of a bubble belonging to our human world created by human consciousness. In this view, the arrow of time is our perception of entropy in which order is dissipated and the universe runs down.

Another way to consider the arrow of time is our perception of the growing complexity of an evolving universe, including of course human development. Then the measure of time is not entropy, but syntropy (a word I found first used by the French Jesuit scientist and poet, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin).

But apparently even the laws of thermodynamics, including entropy, and the laws of complexification need not be laws for all of reality and certain theories, yet to be verified or falsified can do without time as part of the ultimate explanation of reality.

I can't really fathom this, but there is a lot in theoretical physics that has been verified that I struggle to understand. But just think that if time is a sort of illusion (and some Buddhists have taught this for centuries), what does this mean for my aging and eventual death. And what does it mean for the "singularity" when a further evolved homo sapiens sapiens becomes immortal?

I think it leads to the "eternal now" which we are at this moment, in this time, place, community.

There are three kind of time: chronos: ongoing progression or regression; mythic return: circular, recurring, revolutionary; and kairos: momentous, this moment--which I think takes primacy. It is in this moment that I/we are in touch with past, future, here, with each other in the whole of reality. This moment with you is the foundation of all meaning in secula seculorum.

Hold me.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Is Christopher Hitchens Happy?

Is Christopher Hitchens Happy?

Or not?

I suppose not if he lost Pascal's wager. Then he is feeling the torments of a wrathful, tyrant god for all eternity.

I do admire Hitchens, his writing, his enjoyment of la belle vie, his courage to be public with his faults (even his arrogance which I did not much care for). I disagreed with him on his support of the Iraq war. I attribute that in line with his disgust with the religions of "God is Great" that would murder and enslave or sacralize it under some just or holy war doctrine.

He was a man of faith--certainly not that of the popes or ayatollahs. But that of philosophers and scientists and humanists.

Stanley Fish wrote recently that the scientist made as much of an act of faith as the religionist. I somewhat agree. But I dont consider faith an act, but a virtue, an habitual stance or approach to the world, the result of many acts and choices. Faith (along with the other two cardinal virtues) is an openness to reality wherever it might lead. It is the habit of curiosity, of discovery, of continual learning, of dialogue and argument in search of being found wrong and therefore coming closer to truth.

An ”act of faith” which closes matters, that achieves righteousness, that limits or denies the need to question is no faith at all. This is why ”God is not Great”! A born-again experience, an acceptance of Jesus in my heart, an absolute commitment to the Prophet is not faith at all. It is Belief which is the obstacle, even the enemy, of faith, hope, and love.

I remember learning in my catechism that when we go to heaven, we will no longer have faith ”for we will be seeing God face to face.”

If Hitchens is in heaven, then I know he is not happy.