From John Ralston Saul's On Equilibrium :
"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".