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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Progressive Republic and the Ethics of Integrity

To further discuss my proposal for a Progressive Republic Party (PRP), as one vehicle to achieve my vision for a Progressive Republic (PR) (see last blog) built on a combination of libertarian, social democratic, and conservative republican principles, each in their own realm of culture, economy, and politics, I inquire what is the ethical foundation of the PR and the strategies to achieve it.

I am sure you are surprised that I advance my theory of the Ethics of Integrity (EI), outlined earlier in this blog series, as the ethical foundation of the PR and the PRP. How so?

You remember I hope that EI arises from the nature and existence of humanity and especially its special and peculiar capacity to deal with (adapt, know, act in) its environment through ever-complexifying symbolic forms, e.g. metaphors, analogies, images. It is in this fundamental capacity of our nature/existence that we analyze at least four characteristic and universal dimensions, which I shall call the axes of human existence.  Like a diamond, each axis cuts across the others to form the whole. Like a wagon wheel, each axis pushes out to the outer rim; but all are held together at the center hub.

Axis 1: inner and outer space; interiority and exteriority.  This is the axis by which the more we push out to matter in the world through our symbolic forms of language, science, art, and others, the more we become present to our own awareness, consciousness, our interior life.  (I gave many examples of this and the other axes, as well as the neuroscience explanations for them, in earlier posts.)

Axis 2: past and future time; before and after. This is the axis by which, in symbolic action in our world, we inherit or remember the genes and memes that make us what we are now along with the recognition that we not only are who we are, but also will be all we can be by accepting and realizing our past. It is also the axis that propels us into the future, to surpass the memes (ideas, symbolic forms) and even perhaps the genes that we have inherited in order to become a new humanity in a new world.

Axis 3: self and other society; individuality and communality. This is the axis by which, through communication of language, mathematics, dance and other symbolic systems, we are aware of our organism projecting in space and time as a singular and unique body and consciousness. But at the same time, through symbolic behavior, we are able to interiorize other unique patterns of human existence.  We grasp that our creative, unique individuality is achieved only in interaction with other unique conscious bodies in an ever widening circle of relationships. Our "I" is inherently connected to the "you" and the "we."

Axis 4: real and ideal; the empirical and the visionary. This axis may be a sort of summary of the other three. It is the axis of our existence through which we experience in all our thought and action the the tension of existence between the real and the ideal, the world as it is and the world as it should be, we as we are and we as we could be. This is the axis of transcendence in which the dynamic character of human nature and existence is realized in all its dimensions or axes, along with its center, its point of unity or integrity.

And so, let me now talk about the relation of the three principles of libertarian society or culture, social democratic economy, and conservative republican politics and how these intersect to achieve Justice in the Progressive Republic.

The libertarian (or just "liberal" some say) Progressive Republic, with its primary value of liberty, appeals to the sense of inner space and creative individuality, often placing its ideal in an imagined past where there were no restraints or regulations (e.g. Rousseau). It pushes back on the encroachment of a mass society and its government or Leviathan. It carves out a space of privacy in which the public cannot enter.

The social democratic Progressive Republic, with its primary value of equity, appeals to the sense of other and communality, focuses on the external structures imposed on the world and society that retard the progress of all persons, often placing its ideal in the future where there will be no class or in the Pauline vision of "neither Jew nor Gentile, neither master nor slave, neither male nor female." It pushes back on rule by plutocrats and a dividing society between rich and poor.

The conservative republican Progressive Republic, with its primary value of power (e.g. capacity to act, local self-determination, vibrant communities) appeals to the sense of local community and outer space, a public as a free association not to be confused with government and its agencies, though protected by and holding accountable government, often appealing to the foundations of publics in the past. It pushes back on mass democracy or populism, rule by poll of unchallenged opinions.

Justice for the PR and the PRP is the "right ordering" of these three principles and the balance-in-tension of all the polarities and axes of human existence.  I suggest that the right order is libertarian principle for culture, social democratic for economy/ecology, and conservative republican for politics while at the same time all are subject to the no-harm mandate and holding tension among themselves--each limiting the others.

I think that the greatest impediment to the USA in becoming a just Progressive Republic is the main two national parties that are swayed by big money and by driving policies that enrich the rich and leave the poor behind. This also leads to a sense of powerlessness at the local level among people who cannot counter wealthy organizations and plutocrats who command the attention of politicians and mass media. It also promotes thoughtlessness in which so-called liberals and conservatives accept an ideology, often against their own self-interest, because they do not have the means or occasion to challenge and refine opinions based on knowledge not only of facts (which are often ideologically interpreted), but also of dominating ideas.

The remedy and the restoration of justice is multi-leveled and multi-centered with many avenues and vehicles of reform or transformation. The PRP is merely a figment in my own mind game. I do believe that real transformation (and maybe a kind of PRP itself) must come through self-legitimating local publics which act by and for the libertarian, social democratic, and conservative republican principles. Integrity is the uniting and homeostasis of these three principles with their values of liberty, equity, and power in our persons, our institutions, our communities, and our nations. Integrity is the face of justice.

PS--Am I just reaffirming my lifelong vocation of promoting community organizing? As I did when I worked for churches, for non-profit neighborhood groups, for social and urban planning organizations, for schools and universities, and for government. Yes, I am. But I hasten to say that my understanding of that vocation has changed over time with my experiences and is still developing now.

I must add that when Sarah Palin attacked community organizing and Newt Gingrich attacked Saul Alinsky as a "liberal," it demonstrated their lack of knowledge of their subjects. I realized then that Gingrich, whether or not you consider him a good politician, is no historian. Community organizing, especially as inspired by Alinsky, is based on the conservative republican principle and is focused on preservation of and agitation for local engaged communities, i.e. publics that bring the powerless into positions of influence in public life and action. Nothing is more conservative than that. And nothing more republican.

Progressive Republic Party Vision and Platform

I am returning to discuss my proposed Progressive Republic Party--which is a combination of libertarian, social democratic, and conservative republican principles, each in their own realm of culture, economy, and politics. I would like to work out the vision and platform for the Party with a group of activist visionaries who like me espouse the overall values of liberty in culture and in private limited by the no-harm principle, equity in basic economic requirements to live decently in our society with expectations of taking responsibility for livelihood as one is able, and power within vibrant communities to engage and have influence on the shape of public life.

Vision (just a start; we will keep coming back and refining this)

My vision for a Progressive Republic looks something like this: Inclusive interdependent learning communities with people
  • of various lifestyles and tastes interacting with one another and respecting each other's privacy and choices in regards to religion, reading, writing, and speaking, loving and marrying, mobility, fashion, sexual orientation, friendship, association, hobbies, entertainment, financial wealth, personal property, vocations and livelihood, and the disposition of their own bodies; 
  • enjoying all the basic provisions of a decent life in their local communities including nourishment, shelter, health care, education, safety, income, and transportation; 
  • having opportunity and resources to better their lives culturally, financially, spiritually, physically, and intellectually without any regards to their sex, race, culture, sexual orientation, family history, immigrant status, or income level;
  • enjoying public health: clean air, water, and energy, safe streets, food, schools, common lands;
  • making local and easily accessible space for gathering and speaking as a public to vote and act on issues that affect the shape of the community, to form associations and partnerships among institutions to resolve issues that ensure freedom within the community, to police and protect the community and all residents from harm, to plan for emergencies, to enter into agreements with other communities for regional planning to save open spaces, farmland, recreational opportunities and increase, and to form and shape government and public agencies to insure cultural liberty, economic equity, and political power.
Instances of this vision already exist in these United States, Canada, in Latin America, in Europe, and in many other parts of the world. However they are minimized by excessive military spending and favors to well financed special interests, by the influence of money on public policy, by hate groups and cultural bigots, by tribalism in many forms, by populist mass democracy that undermines local self-determination, by a representative system that fosters patronage. That is why the three principles of liberty, equity, and power need to hold tension with one another and so achieve balance.

Platform (just a start; we will keep coming back and refining this)

Tax and Investment policies that will achieve a Progressive Republic include:

Protection for civil liberties; limitations on governments that do not honor or which deny civil liberties.

Housing and urban development:
  • end and prevent homelessness
  • housing options for all 
  • incentives to local jurisdictions for smart growth and inclusive, vibrant, trusting communities
  • new urbanist strategies: focus on design for higher densities, walkable communities, mixed income and use, job-community proximity
Agriculture and food:
  • change tax and subsidy policies to support sustainable agriculture
  • international food service supporting agriculture in service areas
  • programs to provide adequate nourishment to all 
  • protection through notification against non nourishing or toxic foods
Transportation for all:
  • change tax and subsidy policies from supporting private auto to public transportation, 
  • maintain existing roads and bridges but subsidize no more,
Health Care for all
  • affordable, accessible health care while containing costs through single insurance and competition 
Education opportunity and parity
  • publicly funded with options
  • forgivable university loans
  • income supplement--expanded EITC
Environmental protection and restoration

Public health and safety--rivers, lakes, air, climate police, weapon regulation and responsibility, job safety, community oriented policing.

Jobs and wages
  • Decent jobs for all
  • Living wages for households
Open trade and worker mobility cross boundaries

World safety and development through international agencies, NGOs, and especially mobilized citizenry.

Research and development in health, space, green energy, climate, nutrition.

Fair taxation
  • progressive, distributional taxes that keep wealth circulating
  • carbon tax--tax on all costs to the future planet
  • see Stiglitz Tax Reform Plan
Promotion of political discussion and participation
  • separate wealth from public decision-making, strict restrictions for lobbyists.
  • protection and use of local publics for decision-making and action

Monday, April 22, 2013

Ask Ray: Transhumanism and Immortality

The "Ask Ray" reproduced below prompted my own. I hope Professor Kurzweil responds.

Dear Professor:

I am a great admirer of your work and how it has brought to light a central ethical/political issue for thought and action. I consider myself a transhumanist. But what the nature of the new humanity shall be I think is not inevitable, ordained by Moore's or anyone else's law, but the result of many choices guided hopefully by thought and certainly by our actions. It is in that vein I ask my question. 

Our bodies with their brains are the base of our consciousness--personally and collectively.  Working together they are the source of new science and technology which can be gathered, preserved, critiqued, and advanced by the developing human community . But why must or should individual bodies endure (i.e. not die) to advance humanity? Indeed might not immortality be a deterrent to advancing humanity. (Think of Gulliver's encounter with the Struldbrugs!)

Also if I understand consciousness (the "I" or the self) correctly, it is not a kernel (the Cartesian "ego') with wrappings of knowledge, but a process, a developing intentionality, a relational pattern, even a strange loop as Doug Hofstadter finds. So as the body is constantly changing most of its cells, even neurons we are now realizing, so the "I" that went to sleep last night is not exactly the "I" that woke up this morning. Don't get me wrong.  I am all for extending my life with quality.  But I am also for turnover in our organizations, laboratories, and politics. I know we are wired to fear and shun death; but I also think we are crosswired to accept and let go.

Why does transhumanism need to go hand in hand with immortality? Or, better, the ethical question: should it?


Ask Ray | Potential for elitization of the Singularity

Dear Professor Kurzweil,
I was hoping for your views on the potential elitization of Singularity that could lead to exacerbation of class/opportunity/economic division.
The ongoing quest for extending human life and artificially enhancing its quality testifies to our instincts for permanence and survival at all cost.
Technologically acquired supremacy breaks the well accepted paradigm that improved life span, physical and cognitive performance is possible only with practice, studious effort and a healthy lifestyle.
Enhancement made accessible to all holds potential to eliminate interpersonal rivalry, covetousness and even war, by equalizing life span and quality. All of us would be “first (beings) among equals.”
However, the more likely scenario is trenchantly divisive, with those who cannot afford such impressive enhancements being at risk of being outdone, outlived, if not exploited, by enhanced beings. A brave new world where talent and effort becomes obsolete and perfection is for sale is morally transgressive.
— Joseph

There is an approximately 50% deflation rate for all information technology. That is why mobile phones were only affordable by the wealthy 15 years ago and now are dramatically better yet very inexpensive, so much so that there are approximately six billion cell phones in the world and about a billion smart phones.
Technology starts out affordable only by the rich at a point where it does not work very well. By the time a technology is perfected it is almost free. Even physical devices will become almost free with the advent of 3D printing.
Ray Kurzweil
National Nanotechnology Initiative | “Ethical, legal and societal issues”

Monday, April 15, 2013


One of the most important ethical issues is humanity's transition into a new species--however we shall define that.

There is much conjecture regarding a "new" or "transformed" humanity, as technology advances geometrically, as artificial intelligence is joined to human intelligence, as brain and body parts are being modified and replaced, and as we are adapting and adapting to an environment that we are transforming. It certainly looks like we are in the process of transcending human nature. (See my previous reflections on the Singularity.)

That should not come as a surprise to any student of science or anyone who has visited a decent natural history museum.  But formerly we thought there were complete breaks between species that could be defined by distinct "essences" in some great chain of being. After all species means "essence" which consists of a distinctive and separable "form" structuring "matter." But new archeological findings show that the evolutionary nature of human and of all living things has been a ongoing and gradual process.

And while our new understanding of understanding allows for "forms"(which we now realize are symbols, metaphors, or analogies that we jointly mold in order to deal with and know our world and ourselves), it does not admit of absolute, unchanging, or eternal forms--somehow already out there in some Platonic heaven. We are sculpting these forms jointly in our language, our science, our art, our collective imagination.

All this means that our knowledge of species, including homo sapiens, is somewhat arbitrary. Somewhat! Because there are definitions and laws that are discoverable in human nature and in matter, living and not. These limitations and rules are written in our nature as it is now--whether you see that nature as the result of the stars, the gods or God, or of natural and cultural evolution (as do I). This is why I have argued that a universal ethic that is neither absolute nor relative is possible. And it is that ethic which I call "the ethic of integrity," can guide our transition to a "transhuman world."

What is that transhuman world? Science fiction writers have been imagining that for the last two centuries. And before that were explorer and romance writers from the 14th to 19th centuries. And before that the makers of mythology.
  • Does the new transhuman species mean instant communication beyond the limits of the internet? Probably so since the internet even in its infancy contains unlimited memory and ever increasing speed of communication. 
  • Does it mean greatly enhanced capacity for mobility, for learning, for production. It seems that we are already on that projectory.
  • Does it mean a much longer life expectancy, even extending to virtual immortality? Many think so. 
  • Does it mean a joined intelligence in which every person is going through the knowing process together? Does it mean a common experience and consciousness? Possibly so. 
What does it mean for our social systems, our living spaces, our politics?

We are evolutionary equipped to defend life and yet prepare for death, to hold tight but at the same time to let go. If death were delayed indefinitely, that would be a major change in what we are.

We are evolutionarily equipped for individual and personal creativity and innovation. If we were to be absorbed in total societal behavior, that would be a major change in the structure of our human existence.

If we were to step beyond all limitations into a sort of unconditional liberty without restraints, that would be a major change in our nature.

Just think of the changes in thought and behavior these changes would mean.

Yes, we are in the process of creating the superman--ubermensch. We are in a process of constant change. We are in a process of defining who and what we will be, what is progress and what is regress. All we have to guide us is our own tensional and ambiguous nature. But that is enough if we truly take responsibility, if we value our existence as both personal and communal, if we listen to each other, and respect the past and future of us all.

Whatever the transhumanity we choose, it will be regressive if we leave anyone out. It will be progressive if we include us all in the choice. That our present nature tells us clearly.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Further Thoughts on Religion Without God

1. Faith and Belief Again.

Dworkin obviously distinguishes faith and belief since for him both an atheist and a theist can have faith.

Let's reexamine belief. A belief is a position, a formulation, a formula, an expression we use to deal with our world or act in our environment. It's a mean of communication, a way of passing on information that will affect behavior. A belief is part of and takes significance in a system of beliefs--a language, ritual, behavioral system that is dynamic and holistic. Each belief or expression holds up in relation to other beliefs and expressions in an evolving complex whole.

A belief is also held or uttered by a society (tribe, community) that is developing in an environment that is continually changing. Therefore a belief can never be wholly adequate, complete, or unconditioned.

Some use "faith" to denote a belief system as it is constructed and evolving. But faith as an act, an attitude, or a virtue is not a belief, but the transformation of beliefs. It is an act of critique. It is an attitude of openness to the new. It is the virtue of continual transcendence. In a sense, to have faith is to be an unbeliever, to nurture a doubt, to search for a new insight or revelation.  But it is also an act of believing--of expressing and dealing with doubt and of transforming one's belief system.

I keep coming back to this distinction because I think that it is the confusion of faith with belief that leads us to destructive judgments, fixed positions, and the suppression of faith thus retarding human progress. Beliefs separate while faith unites. I think it is very important distinction when we are talking about Religion with or without God or God with or without Religion. (Though, as you will see, I'm not sure I want to talk about either.) (And yet I keep doing so, don't I?)

2. Symbolic Insight.

Another source of perplexity I think is the lack of understanding of the human capacity to make symbols. And the distinction between the symbolic act and the symbol or the speaking and the spoken. I know that totally confused my brother-in-law Dick in my piece on the Pope leading Roman Catholicism back to the Universal Church. I know it confused my friend Pat in my last piece on Dworkin's Religion Without God.

In the middle of the 20th century, symbolic behavior (including the use of analogy and metaphor) was recognized as the human way of behavior. Language, fine art, mythology, religion, philosophy, mathematics, and science are all symbolic modes of getting along in the world. That doesn't mean that the symbol (including analogy and metaphor) is a form between humanity and reality, i.e. a medium which stands for or associates with real things. It is the form by which we approach, appreciate, know, and communicate reality.

Since the symbolic insight of the 20th century (what Suzanne Langer called a "philosophy in a new key"), neuroscientists have converged upon the elements of the brain that have evolved to make our capacity to symbolize possible. As far as we know, symbolic behavior (at least to the extent of creating a culture) is peculiar to homo sapiens, but that doesn't mean it originates in Krypton or has some supernatural origin--as in a divine infusion of a soul.

I think that the recognition of human behavior as symbolic and of the symbolic character of the world is terribly important for maintaining our ability to transcend the artifacts (including so-called revealed truths) that we create to deal with each other and our world. I also think that it is essential to faith and to humor which I have shown elsewhere go together like love and marriage.

Indeed the problem with Stalinists, Islamacists, fundamentalist Christians, America exceptionalists, and other true believers is that they do not appreciate the symbolic nature of the universe and ourselves within it. They take what they or others say and believe too seriously and so undermine human transcending existence.

3. The End of Theology

With symbolic insight, one can interpret from one belief system into another. That is the enterprise of political punditry, art criticism, philosophy of science, ethics, and theology. I once studied theology in a Jesuit School of Theology and then in the U of Chicago Divinity School. The job of theology is to make sense in contemporary terms and worldview the beliefs that arose in an earlier time and worldview. A theologian is at the service of his/her church or religion charged with interpreting traditional doctrine for contemporary believers and thus to maintain the relevancy of the religion and church.

I appreciated Hans Kung, Karl Rahner, Paul Tillich, Edward Schillebeeecks, Karl Barth and their reinterpretations of Christian teachings using modern historical criticism. They were trying to maintain the currency of Christian institutions.

As a theologian, I was able to defend the RC Church's teaching on infallibility, real presence in the Eucharist, priesthood, God the Creator, the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, virgin birth, resurrection of the body, heaven and hell and everything else in the Apostles and Nicene Creeds and the proclamations of Rome by showing how they could be understood using social psychology, symbolic act theory, and new science. I still can. I can translate and affirm all the dogmas of the Church.

But why? It no longer interests me to translate Christianity into contemporary language or to save Christian institutions. I no longer think that the theological project is important. It is the project of Kafka's Hunger Artist. The sooner we let go of the theological project, except as a historical curiosity, the better. I do value the work of Mircea Eliade and Joseph Campbell, the historians of religion and the Jesus scholars who are attempting to lift up the values of human transcendence in understanding mythology and religious symbols. But I do not care to support religions that preserve, rather than challenge, values, economic interests, and political hierarchies.

Theology was once considered the queen of science. I think biology is now queen but in process of passing the scepter to cybernetics--the science of information systems.

4. From symbolic interaction theory to universal information theory

I am in uncharted lands here--unsure of my paths ahead. After reading Douglas Hofstadter "Analogy as Core of Cognition,"James Gleick, The Information, Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, David Deutsch, The Beginning of Infinity, Ray Kurzweil and all the other techno-visionaries, I realize I am still somewhat stuck in a 20th century philosophy. Symbolic Interaction Theory, while an advance in our understanding of cognition, humanity, and the world is being subsumed into universal information theory. I think this will have a tremendous influence on our culture, economy, politics, and ethics that will need to be explored.

Perceiving the universe as interconnected, flowing bits of information, humanity as transmitter of memes, society as information exchange, the world as information transmitted and exchanged provides new insight into the globalizing economy, into the unifying theory of science, into culture and religion, and for the ethics of integrity.

But that is for a future blog.