Those who are mindful are beginning to realize that only an entirely
new operating system can prevent the collapse of civilization. However,
to date, no one has presented such a system. This presentation outlines
a system that has the potential to serve as a viable replacement for
the current paradigm.
"Science has bred the love of originality as a mark of independence," Jacob Bronowski wrote. "Independence, originality, and therefore dissent."
Where is that independence today? Where is the dissent? Not the independence and dissent of a few brave souls. Where is the normalized independence and dissent which you would expect in a free, developed, educated, prosperous society?
Instead, we are taught that public -- even privately expressed -- disagreement is unprofessional, romantic and disloyal. Besides, it will damage our careers. "Has there ever been a society which has died of dissent?" Bronowski asked. "Several have died of conformity in our lifetime." [p.125]
I'm reminded of the weakness of Colin Powell's presentation to the United Nations -- and the inability of the opposition party to step up and point out the weakness. I maintain that this inability is a function of the acquisitive nature of our culture. This need to acquire leads to debt which leads to fear.
This reimagining -- reconfiguring -- of memory is a key element in the absorbing of all our qualities into the creative process. You could say that this is one of the toughest artistic creations: to look at a past which is known and to give it new life. Painters capture images up through the ages, reinterpreting them in each era as something new. Arguments, phrases, dramatic situations, are reinvented dozens of times, each successful version being a reimagining of the past into the present. Novelists are perfectly conscious that they are working with the material of others, as are philosophers or poets. [p.126]
As a society, we have to re imagine and reconfigure our basic way of life.
Epigraph on Ideology Section [p.14]:
We know the good but do not practice it. --Euripides, Hippolytus
The constant challenge of trying to balance our qualities does seem a difficult, time-consuming business. The Koran summarizes this nicely -- "Impatience is the very stuff man is made of." Writer after writer come back to this challenge. We'd rather have the illusion of certainty. We don't want to hear, as Rohinton Mistry puts it, that we "Cannot draw lines and compartments and refuse to budge beyond them." [p.15]
No sensible, intelligent person would imagine that our desire to buy and sell as effectively as possible should eliminate other considerations.
And of course trade and economics do not stand alone. Without us, they don't exist. And being subsidiary activities, if allowed to lead the way, they will deform every other aspect of our society. [p.53]
Whether public or private, charity indicates a return to societies divided by class. This is ethics denied in favour of moralism; citizens' rights converted into clientism. [p.60]
Because we so often fudge that line [between necessary compromise and ethical choice], hundreds of thousands of adults, who believe themselves to be good people, have collaborated over foreclosures, expulsions, deportations, inappropriate dams, humanitarian inaction, dubious scientific advancements, dubious payouts, information of myriad sorts held back or rearranged and so on. Kurt Waldheim, defending his own wartime activities in 1988, was heard to say: "It is not guilt if you are trying to survive." And in each of these cases we try to tell ourselves that one day, when we are in charge, things will be different. Unfortunately, when someone who has made those sorts of compromises reaches the summit, he usually discovers himself too compromised, too dependent, too tired, to do as he intended. Periodically there is an exception to the rule -- a Gorbachev. But most improvements are brought to societies by those who have all along acted and spoken in a reasonably consistent manner. In Socrates' words, "All knowledge that is divorced from justice must be called cunning." [p.74]
It's not surprising that most of us prefer mental comfort -- a sort of emotional and intellectual stability -- at the centre of our lives, even if it is only an illusion of stability. Few of us are born anarchists. We want something to hold on to. [p.84]
But then ethics is not about good intentions. It is not moralistic or romantic or wishful thinking. "The trouble with transcendental good intentions...," Joseph Conrad wrote, is that they "cause often more unhappiness than the plots of the most evil tendency." That's why it is so important to anchor the ethical reflex in normal life, where it can be exercised daily. [p.86]
The four Confucian qualities are goodness, conscience, reverence and knowledge. You may debate these, but they reflect the same concepts, and when carefully translated, the same words as the various European [Western?] traditions. Phrases generally attributed to the Buddha can be used interchangeably with those attributed to Christ. Most of the Koran is a direct reflection of Judaic and Christian texts.
The standard cliche has it that Islam is violently militant, promotes its martyrs to paradise and admires revenge. But Christianity has precisely the same tendencies within it. In both cases these are their expressions of "transcendental good intentions", not of their ethics. And if you look at the sweep of history, Christian militancy has wreaked far greater destruction than anything managed by Islam. [p.87]
That the death penalty has returned with such a vengeance in one Western society tells you more about the social crisis that place is experiencing than the meaning of ethics.
Abortion, on the other hand, is one of those rare issues over which we will be unlikely to find an ethical response. It involves a deep, unresolvable confusion between morality and ethics; between personal belief and ethical principle.
Since no agreement is possible, structured choice is the only viable response by the state -- that is, let the citizens' idea of the good life guide their own decision as it applies to them. [p.89]
When ethics is focused on the other -- the neighbor, the fellow citizen, the unknown -- it represents an obligation. That is, ethics is the precise opposite not only of interest but of charity, which grows in societies where ethics has been marginalized. [p.96]
Whatever problems our larger programs may have today relate to the confusing details of incremental laws and administration. These are not the product of universality. Simple, transparent, all-inclusive public policies set us free from bureaucratic interference, the self-interest of elites, the need of the corporations for conformity and loyalty, and of course from paternalism.
What is being suggested everywhere is the exact opposite -- a reversion to old-fashioned, multitiered programming; the charitable patchwork of class-based societies. Those who have will give themselves the best tier money can buy. Having opted out, they will resist, from their positions within the power structures, the taxes and investments necessary to fund the lower, public tier of services. Not because they are bad people, but, as Mazzini pointed out, because they are logical.
Again, the temptation to cry out -- ethics pays! -- is very strong. Every study shows that two-tier services are more expensive -- whether in Britain, Australia or the United States.
Iceland has a single, all-inclusive health system and education system. The result is record-high literacy, remarkable high life expectancy and a lower percentage of GDP in taxes than countries with two-tier systems. It is the identification of tiers and the maintenance of such differences which costs money.
But again, the issue is not cost. It is ethics. There is an obligation to serve all citizens. It is not for one class or corporation to decide how others will be served. [p.100]
The letter of the law is understood by citizens to mean the betrayal of justice; that is, the betrayal of ethics. Utilitarianism and corporatism are dependent upon law being reduced to its letter at the expense of its spirit. [p.109]
It could be argued that today's equivalent of the Athenian debts faced by Solon is the employment contract. After all, here is the chief structural limitation on the citizen's normal, daily freedom to participate in public affairs in an ethical manner. Compare our legal theories of free speech to the very real constraints which now exist. [p.112]
[Epigraph in Chapter 4, p.118]
"Fear First Created Gods In The World" --Statius, Thebaid, AD 93
Not that reason can't play a positive role in helping imagination to fill its normal role. It is there to encourage further questioning by regularizing the process of dissent. But to play this role, reason must be kept in discomfort; kept away from its taste for self-satisfaction; balanced with imagination in order to enjoy the uncertainty of dissent. [p.124]
In a corporatist world built on self-interest, romanticism is the ultimate false compliment, designed to increase marginalization. Yet if you were to look for the equivalent of Young Werther's uncontrolled passion today, where would you find it? Put aside first love, which always exists and which wasn't really the subject of Werther. You certainly wouldn't find it among artists or scientists. Their minds and lives are more likely to be driven by uncertainty. The most obvious equivalent would be the marketplace, with its romantic obsessions. Think of its newly discovered truths which must be pursued until fortune or bankruptcy. Or consider the juvenile pure truths of neo-conservative economists, with their belief that they are "endowed" of a mystical ability "to call up [the] spirits" of inevitable forces and natural non-human balances which "reveal to them the truths", as Schopenhauer put it. Here you see romanticism as the natural shadow of pure reason. [p.130]
As technology, and with that economics, has become our obsession, so our imagining of conscious, intentional human development and relations has become more difficult. [p.155]
You might say that this passive applied animism is timeless. Or that it helps up to understand a whole aspect of ourselves which is timeless. This is the exact opposite of our mortal lives in which a finite amount of time sweeps on to its end and we must choose -- ethically, intuitively, rationally -- all along the way. With passive applied animism we are part of the synchronistic whole.
Think about the sorts of difficulties we have dealing with our reality -- our personal reality and that of our society. Much of that difficulty comes not from reality but from our denial of its existence. And why do we deny it?
Well, in part, because we believe that humans are superior to the other elements on the planet -- a harmless enough conviction. But from that superiority we draw a false conclusion -- that we are set apart from all the rest and driven independently by linear, rational forces. This sense of apartness feeds our conviction that progress is a rather straightforward and inevitable human force.
This makes us see ourselves as entirely time-sensitive. You might say that our superior apartness makes us time-sensitive in a rather rudimentary, naive way. There is only life and death. We are constantly rushing forward. Towards what? Death? A linear idea of progress accentuates a fear-laden obsession with mortality. It isolates us in a desperate way from the context in which we exist and from the timelessness of that context. [p.173]
The warning of the disaster to come was delivered to the original 'Noah' -- that of Gilgamesh's epic -- in a dream. "Tear down your house and build a boat, abandon possessions and look for life, despise worldly goods and save your soul alive."
The practical message is obvious: build a boat and stay alive. But the real message is quite different. It is timeless. Synchronistic. It could be written today. Indeed it often is. We must die. Our house, our possessions, our worldly goods cause us to live in denial. The boat is life and all that matters. It is our "soul alive". It is the timelessness of life, the essence of it, as opposed to the linear, material, short version, which leads to extinction. [p.175]
"By brooding over the future," the Buddha said, "and repenting the past, fools dry up like green reeds cut down in the sun." Unfortunately, most great religions require texts which fix the past in place but do not want a functioning memory. They are fixed on a solution which arises our of the spectrum of a rigid memory. So whatever their founder's intent, they cannot help but become an ideology. [p.214]
I'm not suggesting that people should be criticized for their involvement in commerce. To the contrary. Self-interest is a key utilitarian mechanism of that characteristic.
But neither self-interest nor, more specifically, commerce is a foundation of society or civilization. Why? Because neither has an inherent memory. Those involved in commerce are not troubled by this. If they want to find a place in society's continuity, they can reach outside of their business activities to family life or participation in the public good. Or they use the money at their disposition to draw elements of society's continuity into their world.
Either way, commerce remains commerce, a child of the present. [p.249]
One thing is fairly clear: if you accept that reason is thought, then neither the universe nor nature is rational. They do not think or argue. Nor are they irrational, since they make sense. Rather, they are non-rational. A better word might be that they are animist. [p.268]
After all, the Greeks' rational universe included a complex family of active gods and the regular consulting of oracles. Socrates, the father of our rationality, made particularly interesting use of the Oracle at Delphi. The point of these gods and oracles was not to justify a decline into superstition. Rather, they were a way to embrace the complexity of the world. [p.271]
The humanist view has been with us for millennia. Periodically it must be rethought to fit its time. The debate over its modern shape had begun in the ninth century, gone into a higher gear in the twelfth, and had been gradually put in place from then on, as idea after idea was put forward, debated and won support.
I think that my goal is to promote this rethinking in a comprehensive way -- including developing the physical infrastructure that will encourage it. It will enable those who have an interest to "abandon possessions and look for life."
Two centuries after [Robert] Owen, we are in the midst of a new industrial revolution and the utilitarian declarations are being repeated in an irrational manner. This time around the irrationalists are being comforted by an army of equally irrational, linear micro-specialists -- economists and management technicians first among them. These are often dressed up as consultants and private think-tank researchers. They tend to use phrases such as technological determinism, inevitable economic forces and rational methodology -- a reheated Holy Trinity which is presented as the new truth. [p.280-81]
Our ability to think is our ability to illuminate our disease [dis-ease]. [p.284]
Why do we not build more [palliative-care centres]? Because they undermine the narrow falsely rational obsession with the battle against disease and death. I'm not suggesting that we don't all wish to live longer. But much of what holds us back is an approach towards health built entirely around reacting to sickness. The palliative-care centres remind us of our reality. And they remind us that death is not a disease; that the end of life is part of life, not a lost battle against death. They offer a healthy rational approach towards a system based on wellness and on life. [p.286]
Why not build a system based on wellness and on life that is present for the entirety of our lives?
And the more our education is concentrated on training rather than thinking, the more those divisions are formalized. [p.294]
And so the emphasis on thinking within this system that is ever evolving on these "pages".
In a comment to an earlier post, I linked to an essay that I believe provides some good counsel for our times. The abstract of that essay follows:
An Abstract of "A General Statement of Hardin's Tragedy of the Commons"
Although "The Tragedy of the Commons" is widely acclaimed, activists in environmental causes as well as professionals in ethics continue to act as if the essay had never been written. They ignore the central thesis that traditional, a priori thinking in ethics is mistaken and must be discarded. Hence the need remains to give the tragedy of the commons a more general statement--one which can convince a wide public of the correctness of its method and principles. In essence Hardin's essay is a thought experiment. Its purpose is not to make a historical statement but rather to demonstrate that tragic consequences can follow from practicing mistaken moral theories. Then it proposes a system-sensitive ethics that can prevent tragedy. The general statement of the tragedy of the commons demonstrates that an a priori ethics constructed on human-centered, moral principles and a definition of equal justice cannot prevent and indeed always supports growth in population and consumption. Such growth, though not inevitable, is a constant threat. If continual growth should ever occur, it eventually causes the breakdown of the ecosystems which support civilization. Henceforth, any viable ethics must satisfy these related requirements: (1) An acceptable system of ethics is contingent on its ability to preserve the ecosystems which sustain it. (2) Biological necessity has a veto over the behavior which any set of moral beliefs can allow or require. (3) Biological success is a necessary (though not a sufficient) condition for any acceptable ethical theory. In summary, no ethics can be grounded in biological impossibility; no ethics can be incoherent in that it requires ethical behavior that ends all further ethical behavior. Clearly any ethics which tries to do so is mistaken; it is wrong.
February 26, 1997 Herschel Elliott Emeritus Philosophy University of Florida Gainesville, FL 32611
Intuitively, many people know this to be true. Most have not thought about how to live their lives under this new system of ethics. Over the years, I have given it a great deal of thought and the result is the "club" that has been described at this blog.
Young people in particular have a strong incentive to see society move towards this new system. The old one screws them big time. The following excerpt from Beyond Growth is relevant:
In standard economics ["mainstream" economics that does not acknowledge the Second Law of Thermodynamics] the balancing of future against present costs and benefits is done by discounting. A time discount rate is a numerical way of expressing the value judgment that beyond a certain point the future is not worth anything to presently living people. The higher the discount rate, the sooner that point is reached. The value of the future to future people does not count in the standard approach. [p.36]
This is in some ways related to the immorality of usury that I have discussed in earlier posts. Although I think that most people will find it difficult to move away from the current, materialistic paradigm, interestingly enough, unmanageable levels of debt may force people to another paradigm -- one in which there is not any monetary income for the creditors to come after. Although debt is an individual responsibility, it is also a societal problem. Debt is embedded in almost all costs of goods and services.
It is possible to see ones life neither as self-made nor as the product of human society alone but as a gift of the total evolutionary process. If I view myself primarily in this way, then it is appropriate for my response to be one of gratitude. The fitting ethical action then is service of that to which I find myself so comprehensively indebted. To serve the evolutionary process can be understood to mean furthering its inclusive work. One would then strive in general to contribute to the progress or growth of life in all its diversity of forms, beginning with human life but by no means limiting oneself to it. [From an essay titled Ecology, Ethics, and Theology by John Cobb, Included in Toward A Steady-State Economy]
There are so many reasons to live differently. Over the past few days I have come to realize that what I am proposing is a liberal arts club -- something that we can get involved with at an early age and have throughout our lives. Most people never get a liberal arts education and most of those that do inevitably enter the world of materialism.
In fact some people, who reason correctly, reason from different premises. They may choose to live simply so as to meet the needs of life with the least effort and with the least damaging impact on the environment. For such persons, simplicity and frugality can afford a better life because they allow more opportunity for leisure, for cultural and social activity, and for intellectual development.
"I don't believe in optimism," he [Ray Bradbury] explained. "I believe in optimal behavior. That's a different thing. If you behave every day of your life to the top of your genetics, what can you do? Test it. Find out. You don't know what you can do. You haven't done it yet. So that's optimal behavior. And when you behave that way you have a feeling of optimism. You see, there's a difference. Not to be optimistic, but to behave optimally. At the top of your lungs shout and listen to the echoes."
For those who are intelligent and highly aware (and by virtue of the combination exist outside of the "cult"ure), this might be a constructive way to view the world.
This post touches on almost every category that I have formerly established. I am sometimes asked what I do. Maybe I should start referring questioners to the About area of this blog. I'm trying to find our why we as a society do not live up to our potential. The fragility of our present circumstance requires some integral and creative answers. We have to create a system that competes with the prevailing system.
Why a "private" hedge club? A public entity requires the oversight of the government. Why anyone would want this government involved in their financial affairs is a mystery to me. Fiscal irresponsibility aside, the government has a "leader" who less than 15 years ago was placed on a board -- through a favor from the well-connected -- and proceeded to distinguish himself during his tenure by telling dirty jokes.
Why a private "hedge" club? Most people have put all their marbles -- literally and figuratively -- in a system that is fraught with corruption and inefficiency. They need to realize that there can be a way to "hedge" the current system. The fragility of the current system is there -- for us all to see -- but yet we remain in a state of denial. (To be up front, this also permits playing the "fear card." A tool that unfortunately seems to be required in order to get the general public's attention.)
Why a private hedge "club"? A private club seems to me to be the only entity that can encompass all of the elements necessary to create a new institution. Education, a physical infrastructure, lack of dogma and doctrine, and longevity. The term "society" works as well but makes it harder to define the rules that are necessary for sustainability.
Primary Hedge Areas
One of the dominant -- read thought-killing -- characteristics of the current system is debt. Debt is all about possessing. The irony is that so long as debt is involved, the system -- not the bank per se -- possesses you. This is unhealthy and one reason -- in my opinion -- for the high levels of depression. (This reminds me of the standard Christian response with respect to the poor: They will always be with us. Baaad Attitude!) If one wants to hedge the current system, one would create an institution in which "banking" is equity only.
As has been pointed out in earlier posts, our education is primarily geared towards producing certified individuals, rather than critical-thinking individuals. Another dominant characteristic of the education system is that it is concerned with turning out folks who work/manipulate behind a desk -- or in a hotel lobby with a laptop -- rather than doing something that is hands-on. In the new global economy, your desk job will soon be done somewhere around the world where the costs are lower. Why would anyone want to sit behind a desk for 8+ hours anyway? The hedge club will commit resources to shaping an education system that includes hands-on activity and real-world projects.
Opportunity, not charity or propaganda. The current system's tax laws either encourage charitable giving or cause (special interest) giving. A hedge club can be structured to encourage members to quit giving to charity and propaganda. Pay your taxes and use the balance to build up equity in a system that builds and provides opportunity, rather than tears down and gives hand-outs.
Anyone who thinks the current system is not sustainable should contact me and make a commitment to help get the ball rolling. Hit the "Email Me" button (above left) and contact me. We can change the course of history this afternoon.
Eternity has nothing to do with the hereafter....This is it....If you don't get it here, you won't get it anywhere. The experience of eternity right here and now is the function of life. Heaven is not the place to have the experience; here's the place to have the experience.
How's that for an attention grabber? A few additional excerpts from The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy:
Thus, hedonism as expounded by Epicurus, takes excelling at things worth doing -- exercising one's intellectual powers and moral virtues in exemplary and fruitful ways, e.g. -- as the tried and true means to experiencing life's most satisfying pleasures. [p.245]
For one cannot be responsible for one's actions if one is incapable of acting freely, which is to say, of one's own free will. The capacity for free action is thus essential to moral agency. [Section on Ethics, p.249]
In these times, it is often the opposite that is true. Most do not realize that freedom requires responsibility.
Continuing his university career at Jena in those times looked out of the question, so Hegel accepted a job at Bamberg editing a newspaper, and in the following year began an eight-year stint (1808-16) as headmaster and philosophy teacher at a Gymnasium (or secondary school) at Nurnberg. [p.312]
One wonders if there are any future Hegels in our current U. S. school system. Somehow, I doubt it. We need to attract more diverse and critical minds to the education system.
Inspired by Buddhism, Schopenhauer contends that all life is suffering, which only an end to desire can permanently eliminate (as opposed to the respite of aesthetic experience). This is achieved only by the saint, who rejects desire in an inner act termed "denial of the will to live." The saint fully grasps that the same will motivates all phenomena and, recognizing that nothing is gained through struggle and competition, achieves "resignation." Such a person achieves the ethical ideal of all religions -- compassion toward all beings, resulting from the insight that all are, fundamentally, one. [p. 718]
While I can't see society getting to this stage in the next little bit, I do think that we can establish institutions that provide the conditions for getting much closer than we are today. As a related aside, how are we supposed to handle the neighbors who let their pets crap on our lawn? I'm not sure I can rise above this type of circumstance.
Wittgenstein thus came to think of philosophy as a descriptive, analytic, and ultimately therapeutic practice. [p.858]
Dewey's instrumentalism, his special brand of pragmatism, informs his extraordinarily comprehensive progressive philosophy of education; and he once went so far as to define all of philosophy as the general theory of education. He identifies the educative process with the growth of experience, with growing as developing -- where experience is to be understood more in active terms, as involving doing things that change one's objective environment and internal conditions... [p.584]
Our conditions for developing have to be at an all time low. Recognition is the first step to resolving the problem.