Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Cut your strings Pinocchio

Pope Leo XIII – “Concerning New Things”

In my life I have seen people who try to manipulate and control other people.  The ability to do this comes from the presumption that the person is completely understandable; it is a mechanistic view of a person.  That person’s levers can be pulled in a certain order and a predictable response will occur.  I also think that people don’t respect something they completely understand and control.  I also think that love is based on respect.  The implication of course is that a person can’t love something they can manipulate.  This applies to everything from nature to societies.  
Governments should not be all controlling, because they are just people and shouldn’t presume to know how people work.  There is just too much mystery.  I think this is why the Confucian system is attractive to me.  The Confucian system puts the most moral man as the example for all to follow.  It is based on the morality of the people in the system, not the system itself.  I think this is the truth; a system is only as good as the people that make it up.  
So what does this have to do with Pope Leo?  Pope Leo argued that the place of the church was paramount in society; it is what teaches people how to live.  I think the danger of Pope Leo is that he is advocating for a large Church system, not for people’s spirituality.  The Church can become just another system that is as good as the people in it.  I think the Church could have a dramatic moral impact on society.  However, it isn’t going to come from the Church, it will come from a grassroots desire for spirituality, not someone to tell them what is right, but for a hunger for justice and truth and morality.  That hunger just has to get bigger than fashion and greed.  Fashion and greed have made our lives meaningless (to borrow from Jung).  I think there is a sense we are getting jerked around, money and fashion aren’t everything, and it is time to cut the string Pinocchio.  Because the truth is that we aren’t dolls, we have our own desires and the strings of greed and fashion are just holding us back from the deeper people we are, and the deeper lives we are meant to live.        
People can have incredible freedom, freedom to do good or bad.  Just a brief look at the bible reveals that the Jews started out with religion as their guide, there was no government.  They eventually wanted a king though.  I think this is because it is much easier to have someone tell a person what to do than for that person to do what she knows is right.  This isn’t directly what Pope Leo is arguing, but the similarities are striking.  He is a proponent of limited government and a strong church.  People will then take their cues of how to act from the church instead of from binding law.  This is going part way to making people free to live by their own consciences, but it is only part way.  The church is still supposed to be a big structure that tells people what to do.  
     In conclusion, I think that anarchists are the only ones that argue for complete freedom, but I don’t trust humanity with the freedom we should have.  The freedom Christ gave us.  In that sense a religious conservative is a bit of an oxymoron.  

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Humility and Class

Leo Tolstoy – “The Three Hermits” - http://www.ccel.org/ccel/tolstoy/23_tales.pdf

 8"But you are not to be called 'Rabbi,' for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. 9And do not call anyone on earth 'father,' for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10Nor are you to be called 'teacher,' for you have one Teacher, the Christ. 11The greatest among you will be your servant. 12For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 28)

33They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, "What were you arguing about on the road?" 34But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.  35Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, "If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all."  36He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37"Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me" (Mark 9).

This short story raised a dilemma that I have been thinking about for a while. In the search for the answer the question has changed.  I began with the question of what is greatness as a Christian.  My starting point is: wanting position so my peers will look up to me and I will be respected.  Then the verses above flipped that around to: serving to gain a place of position because my circle of friends accepts the idea that serving is the path to greatness.  However, service is also matched with humility.  This internal desire for greatness and respect is achieved by humility.  In my experience humility can be achieved even with a motivation of greatness, because the motivation of greatness slips away.  But it comes crashing back with a single compliment.  This has been an enormous struggle in my life.  The pursuit of humility is a joke when the most humble person is the one who has got things right and so should be respected because of that.  If I based my claim to fame on my humility I am instantly a sham.  
     Matthew 28:8-10 provide an important step that helps.  There is no position to be achieved.  There are only two levels, the student and the teacher.  Christ is the only teacher so the rest of us are all the same.  There is no position to attain.  
     I think this is what Tolstoy is trying to convey with the story of the three hermits.  He contrasts the spirituality of the hermits and the bishop.  The bishop has position, when he approaches the sailors they all became very timid, quite and respectful.  The bishop had captured the religious reverence and used it for himself.  He had taken the place of Christ as the teacher.  Tolstoy then compares his spiritual depth to that of the three hermits.  The three hermits are simple men that are always described as holding hands and pray simply “we are three, ye are three; have mercy on us.”   They are equals.  
     In the meeting between the hermits and the bishop, the bishop assumed the position of a teacher and spent the day teaching the hermits the Lord’s Prayer.  They eventually got it and the bishop returned to his ship.  The hermits however forgot the Lord’s Prayer and walked on the water to the boat to find the bishop so he could teach it to them again.  
     Humility can’t be taught, nor do I suppose the spirituality that makes the three hermits so enigmatic.  The three hermits achieved brotherhood by accepting Christ as the teacher and the status of student.  

There is one paragraph that I don’t get; the context is the sailor is describing his experience with the Hermits to the Bishop: “I asked the tallest whether they had lived there long.  He frowned, and muttered something as if he were angry; but the oldest one took his hand and smiled, and then the tall one was quite.  The oldest one only said: ‘Have mercy upon us,’ and smiled.”
My thoughts are that the tallest one was angered by the fact that the sailor had missed the point, he didn’t get that time didn’t matter.  Or, maybe Tolstoy didn’t actually mean to imply that he was angry, but it was just a miscommunication, in that case the tallest one may have just been having a hard time talking.  My inclination is that it is the latter explanation and Tolstoy was trying to portray the simple nature of the Hermits.  

What ever the case, I find myself completely taken by the hermit spirituality.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Trade your pound of flesh for freedom

John Perkins – Confessions of an Economic Hit Man

This book is the system exposed by an insider and it gets to the simplicity that is lacking in so many other works exposing the truth of the system we currently live in.  Perkins began his life as an Economic Hit man (EHM) at Chas T. Main, an engineering consultant company, as an economist.  His job was to produce inflated reports of economic growth that would justify huge infrastructure projects which the World Bank would finance, and which would benefit only the richest families in the country.  These forecasts of growth would not happen of course and the countries would be burdened with a debt that they could not repay, allowing the USA to demand its “pound of flesh” whenever the corporate agenda was in need of natural resources.  

This is empire building.  The control is indirect, but that is how the British ruled their African colonies, the fact of the matter is though that effective control lies in foreign parliaments.  This control has also opened the door to a less blatant form of imperialism, that of consumption.  In an earlier book Perkins wrote, he talked about the world is as you dream it.  The USA has created the American Dream, based on conspicuous consumption.  Some of the world has bought in to it, and that part of the world is now a colony of the USA, because they depend on it for their dream products.  

The truth is that this system is widening disparities of wealth and killing the world we live in.  The world we dream of has to change, we can’t dream of big houses with infinity pools that disappear into the ocean.  We have to dream of sustainable living with decreasing disparities of wealth.  Interesting that I can describe the dream of conspicuous consumption but just the idea of equality, there needs to be a vision of it.  So the world may be as we dream it.  

My dream world is a world where all the products are fair trade, where there is no 3rd world debt, where there is no desire for conspicuous consumption and it isn’t pushed in our faces everyday, where we don’t rely on oil, and indigenous cultures that hold some answers we need to look to.  The world where public services are not privatized, healthcare and water and education will be accessible by everyone.          

The wizard of economic growth is just an old man behind a curtain.  It is not the saviour it is made out to be.  Perkins had a good point that the US economy isn’t invincible.  It has a 7 trillion dollar debt (securities mostly exchanged by China and Japan for consumer goods) this isn’t a problem because the world economy is in US dollars, if they want their money Bush just goes to the basement and photocopies enough money to pay them.  But if the world economy switches to the Euro, which could be done by OPEC selling oil in Euros instead of dollars, then Bush can’t go to the basement, the USA actually has to produce goods to trade.  Paul William Roberts (reporter for Globe and Mail) projected that if this happens the US dollar will fall by 40% immediately, the US economy will fall.  I find it ironic that the fate of the US economy is in the hands of the leaders of the Middle East.   Maybe its time the Middle East demands its own pound of flesh.  The only hope though is that the disease of conspicuous consumption isn’t transmitted in that pound of flesh.  But I am not holding my breath.  
This gets to something that I have been thinking about.  It actually is expressed in the idea that the world is as you dream it.  Institutions can’t change people’s dreams.  The institutions however can support a different dream, so we don’t have to worry about changing the systems so much as the people in them.  

Friday, November 18, 2005

I don't value what your good at

Nietzsche, Part 2

The weakness that Nietzsche despises was explained to me the other day and it really helped me understand what he is talking about.  He hates weakness that doesn’t accept it’s weakness nor struggle to overcome its weakness, but the weakness that legitimates its weakness by attacking strength.  For example, if I am a bad painter, it is alright to admit it, or try to get better at painting, but not ok to call what I do good art and what good artists’ work bad art in comparison to my art (hum, I wonder what he would say about modern art?)  

Being a development studies student I have the largest ego on campus because I am saving the world while everyone else is learning how to blissfully go along with the system that is killing everyone (George Bush opened up the equivalent of Banff national park in Alaska to the extraction of oil a couple days ago).  This ego was a topic of a good discussion, the question was do we have a big ego and accept this paradigm because we weren’t winning in the other way of looking at the world?  My immediate reaction is no, my thinking changed because I saw life from the other side of the exploitative relationship the first world has with the rest of the world, but the question is was that a more favourable position for my ego?  I would have to say no, because I was very excited about going to business school and making the money, but it was my faith that changed my perception.  

I just finished another book, The other side of Eden by Hugh Brody, and at the end of this book Brody says that what makes us who we are is inheritance, the way our bodies are, and the “hard-wiring” of the brain, also language.  The thing with language though is that it is shared, so part of what makes us who we are is our relationships.  When I was a kid I always went on the team that was losing.  I remember switching teams to help out the losing team.  I never wanted to be on the winning team because I always felt sorry for the losers.  That is who I am in a nut shell.  I hate oppression, of the weak.  I always liked playing for the underdog team.

Actually I do remember thinking that I liked playing for the underdog team because I would get to play a lot more, my contribution was more valuable, I had the chance to be “that guy” if the rest of my team sucked.  So maybe I am not so noble.  I found a way of reconciling my two conflicting forces: wanting to be valuable, and wanting to help the underdog, the weaker party.  

I value strength in myself, but like to be surrounded by weaker people.  But I think that is something that I have come to terms with because my best friend is better than me at everything.  But he is my best friend and I trust him not to demean me.  

That is what I despise is mean people that are strong: people that take a weakness in comparison to their strength and rub it in another’s face.  How does a person deal with those kinds of people?  Taoism – avoid them, Christianity – turn the other cheek?  I think a popular way is to focus on the areas I am better at then he or she is.  For example, I am an average athlete, so I am smarter than the dumb jock, so I value being smart.  Our values are how we get around it, but the tough question to ask is how we come to those values.  A good test of this is to ask yourself if you value what you are good at.  

Getting back to Nietzsche, he despises the person who deals with their weakness by changing what strength is, so the truly strong person is stifled.  

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Strong are the Weak Struggling

Friedrich Nietzsche – The Genealogy of Morals

Throughout most of the readings I have tried to defend / synthesize my version of Christianity with the views espoused.  I suppose I have done this as part of my liberal tendency to give merit to other opinions.  My goal has always been to show that Christianity (in my interpretation of it) isn’t antithetical to what seems to be good to most people who aren’t Christians, and that the values of our society are not that far off from Christian values.  This goal of synthesis of culture and faith is probably not looked on favourably by “fundamentalist” Christians, amongst whom I do have friends.  

I have not been able to do this with Nietzsche because I do not believe his view of what is good.  However, his view of what is bad I cannot defend either, except to say that it is not the way he presented it.  

First off, what is his view of what is good?  Strength, “To expect that strength will not manifest itself as strength, as the desire to overcome, to appropriate, to have enemies, obstacles, and triumphs, is every bit as absurd as to expect that weakness will manifest itself as strength.”  To be fair I will also present his version of strength that most appealed to me: “The noble person will respect his enemy, and respect is already a bridge to love…Indeed he requires his enemy for himself, as his mark of distinction, nor could he tolerate any other enemy than one in whom he finds nothing to despise and much to esteem.”  I could respect strength that struggles against its equal or even its better, but strength that oppresses those weaker than itself, I think that is the weakest weakness.  It is being nothing more than a bully.  It isn’t challenging yourself, it is taking your natural advantage and using it to feel strong, it is not actually being strong because there is no struggle if there is no chance of failure.  

Perhaps I am misreading Nietzsche in his advocacy for bullies.  If I am than my problem with his ideal is that it is based on competition, not cooperation.  I believe there is enough in the world to struggle against and for without having to struggle against each other to secure our place in the world.  

So, what is the good, to struggle and succeed or to work together and live in peace?  Maybe there is a season for both.  The former reflects the value of the individual and the ability to test oneself and know what one is capable of.  The latter is the support of community and the sense of community that provides a place to belong.  I think both are important.  But are both Christian?  Certainly the sense of community is, but what about the individual struggle.  Self-control is the answer to this, what is a more formidable opponent than myself?  

Last night I had coffee with a close friend and one thing we discussed was the transcendence of God as opposed to the social gospel.  The transcendence of God is exactly what Nietzsche disliked so much, “They call it Judgment Day, the coming of their kingdom, the ‘Kingdom of God.’ Meanwhile they live in ‘faith,’ in ‘love,’ in ‘hope.”  He disliked this so much because, first of all, weakness has been made a virtue.  Not fighting has been made an effect of choice not weakness.  I think that the social gospel is something that he ignored.  He did not touch on what Jesus said so many times, that the kingdom of God is at hand.  It is here now in part.  This means that evil is to be struggled against, not apathetically accepted.  It is however, as I mentioned before, only here in part.  This means that there will still be oppressors, and the struggle will not always be successful, but this is not an excuse to struggle against the oppressors of people, it provides a motivation that they will eventually get what they deserve (I personally believe this not in the cliché sense, but that everyone will go to heaven and God will give them over to the kind of people they have chosen to be, the kind of person he or she created, I borrow this idea from CS. Lewis’ book The Great Divorce).  

I actually think that Nietzsche might like this version of the gospel (minus the transcendence of God part, and the bad guys getting what they deserve), but in my defence, I think it is much like how Thoreau writes.  Start off with a bit of idealism, then spend the majority on dealing with reality, and end off with a bit of idealism again.  

So in conclusion, I have found that maybe I am not so far away from Nietzsche, unlike my initial analysis.  I also think that he brings an important critique to dispensationalist thought (the idea that the world has gone ‘bad’ and the ‘good’ Christians should go down to their bunkers to wait until Jesus returns to clean up the mess).  

Monday, November 07, 2005

Morality not Majority

Thoreau – Civil Disobedience

A couple things stuck out to me.  First was Thoreau’s commitment to both idealism and reality.  He spent the first and last thoughts on idealism, imagining the way things should be, but the bulk of the text is about the application of this vision to his current circumstances.  I think this is revealing because it is an important balance to maintain.  If we don’t have a vision then there might as well not be a discussion to start off with, basically not having a vision is like saying that everything is the way it is supposed to be.  However, focusing only on the vision will not get anything done.  If there is no practical application or fix of what you see is wrong, then that can be quite depressing.  
The substance of Civil Disobedience is that a state is best served by morality not by what the whole feels is most expedient for itself.  Sometimes the state acts in a way that is immoral and it is the duty of the individual to uphold morality and act as a balance for the voice of society.  He talks about citizenship as being more than voting, but fulfilling your duty to the state to oppose immoral actions.       

It is too bad that the system is set up to reflect what the majority (educated or not) wants and not what is moral.  I suppose an accomplishment is that standing up for something isn’t considered treason.  

Sunday, November 06, 2005

If your bored, your missing the meaning

Henry David Thoreau – Walden

Finding meaning in simple things and simplicity (having a life about simple things)
“I got up early and bathed in a pond; that was a religious exercise” said Thoreau.  There is a verse in Leviticus about going 40 yards past the border of your camp to go to the washroom.  I thought this was quite insightful because of the medical implications of going to the washroom within the camp limits.  This is done today through sewers.  But what are we missing.  Maybe it is about more than just avoiding bacteria and being clean.  Maybe it is a time away from life, from camp to think.  Maybe some of the “primitive” habits have more meaning than just the physical implications we associate with them because we are a materialist society.  We have stripped the meaning out of every day life and it is hard to find, so people search for meaning in complex places instead of in the simplicity of a pond in the morning, or in the solitude of the bathroom.  Maybe there is more to the joke that the bathroom is where people get the best thinking done.  

Being alone
Thoreau argues to the farmer that he can spend all day in the field working alone, but when he comes inside he is bored.  The student can spend all day inside alone because she is busy doing her work. As for leisure time, he offers his own life as an example.  He said that he only once became lonely when he started to think about other people in the town not far away, but he then got to thinking about “such sweet and beneficent companionship in nature, in the very pattering of the drops, and in every sound and sight around my house, an infinite and unaccountable friendliness all at once like an atmosphere sustaining me, as made the imagined advantages of human neighbourhood insignificant, and I have never thought of them since.”  As I was writing this quote it occurred to me that nature is much like poetry.  It takes work, you have to read it a couple of times, and on the first read the mind wanders, it is like two poles of a magnet; once you start concentrating your attention is immediately on something else.  But once I can read it through a couple times it is addictive.  It conveys so much meaning in just a couple short sentences, something prose takes a long time to convey.  

I would argue that our complex lives are very simplistic in meaning, but the simple life is very complex with meaning.  The more meaningful something is, the less busy we have to be to escape boredom.  

Maybe this is best communicated by poetry:

Busyness is a substitute for meaning
Use boredom to find the meaning
Then expand it, into the rest of your life
And find the boredom retract

That wasn’t really poetry, its distilled prose, I’ll keep trying.

I found another application of this principle in my own life.  I just got married and my wife and I are just finishing the process of setting up our home.  We needed to find a pepper mill, and in the store they have one just like my parents have.  That pepper mill has a lot of memories attached to it, you could even say it has meaning for my life.  If I surround myself with things that have meaning, as opposed to surrounding myself with things that are fashionable it escapes the fading of fashion.  I think it is a form of contentment, probably a degraded form, but still the beginning of it.  

The news
A big critique of civilization Thoreau had was the fascination with the news.  He said it is all pretty much the same, once you’ve read about one murder the rest are the same.  I think what he was getting at was that people just read about stuff to keep busy.  It serves no other purpose than entertainment, so why read the news at all.  

What to do with this life
“I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavours to life the life which he has imagined, he will meet with unexpected success… If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost’ that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them” The problem that I have is that I am not sure what my dream is.  I find compassion very beautiful, so I want situations to be compassionate.  But being compassionate is only part of a beautiful world, and I want to live in a beautiful world; a world that is full of meaning and empty of busyness; a world where everyone gets along and genocide isn’t in the dictionary.  This seems to be young and idealistic, but then didn’t Thoreau just say that “he will meet with unexpected success”?  Thoreau wouldn’t want me to give up my dreams even though they won’t happen, but in having them I will get things closer to them.  This is young idealism.

Dream big, but judge realistically
Reality isn’t meant for dreams
It’s meant for judging accomplishments

This is another side of life, one that contrasts Tocqueville’s prompt and easy with delayed and difficult

Content to Exist

Walt Whitman

I’m not big into poetry, but when I get into a poem, it is almost like a drug.  

I liked the last line of As the Time Draws Nigh

“O soul, we have positively appear’d – that is enough”

Chesterton wrote a short poem of the same vein…

Here dies another day
During which I have had eyes, ears, hands
And the great world round me;
And with tomorrow begins another.
Why am I allowed two?

This almost mystical appreciation of the earth and existence makes me feel humble, content to exist, it informs my environmentalist side.  Humans aren’t here to rule the earth, but as stewards; to appreciate the existence of every living thing.  Enough of my words, read the poetry again, I don’t have to say anything, argue for anything.  

Grade 2 John

Alexis de Tocqueville – Democracy in America & Beer at the Black Lounge

Tocqueville begins by exhorting the value placed on equality by Americans: “liberty is not the chief and constant object of their desires; equality is their idol.”  He then goes on to show that this is indeed a myth, that equality may be valued in word, but not in deed: “It is much more easy for them to admit slavery, than to allow several millions of citizens to exist under a load of eternal infamy and hereditary wretchedness.”  Also, Tocqueville’s analysis of the relationship between men and women shows misogyny and a lack of equality: “While they have allowed the social inferiority of women to subsist, they have done all they could to raise her morally and intellectually to the level of the man; and in this respect they appear to me to have excellently understood the true principle of democratic improvement.”  Just in case you missed it, he used the words social inferiority and the excellently understood principle of democratic improvement.  He is saying that women are allowed to “develop” to the level of men, but they still don’t have equality.  

In class, the educator put this social inferiority in a framework.  He said the equality was a myth, the hierarchy was now based on the economic system (as opposed to aristocracy).  The losers feel like garbage, so they oppress another group.  Hence, people labelled white trash are racist against black people.  

I personally am not winning in the hierarchy; I deal with this by demonizing the hierarchy.  Luckily, this fact does not lead me to a moral dilemma because I still think that the system will kill us all if we keep going.  Scientists have said that we are facing the 6th mass extinction in geological times.  George Bush is proposing drilling in a national park in Alaska, someone told me it would be the same thing if Encana started drilling for oil in Banff national park.  

Our economic system is based on competition; everyone has to have what their neighbour has.  It reminds me of when I was a kid and no toy was really interesting until my sister had it and I couldn’t play with it.  This led into wanting what was in the store, except then I didn’t fight the cashier for it; the method of getting what I wanted was to go to work and buy it.  Then next season the marketing department told me that what I had wasn’t the toy they were playing with anymore.  Have we in the west passed grade two yet?

Tocqueville talks about the subject in this quote: “It may readily be conceived that if men, passionately bent upon physical gratifications, desire eagerly, they are also easily discouraged: as their ultimate object is to enjoy, the means to reach that object must be prompt and easy, or the trouble of acquiring the gratification would be greater than the gratification itself.”  The key words for me are prompt and easy.  After class on Friday there was a group of people who went to the black lounge.  In the discussion we were wondering how to change people’s behaviour to be more environmentally friendly.  This led us to wonder why Wal-Mart is such a huge success (of the richest 10 people in the world, 4 are Waltons).  We came up with the fact that it is fast and easy, or “prompt and easy”.  Of course the link was made to prostitution (university students in a bar).  I like things that are fast and easy, does that make me an economic John?  

“Hello, I am in grade two and my name is John” (Western Civilization)  

Friday, November 04, 2005

I am a Pragmatic Radical Conservative Liberal

Bakunin – Anarchism

Until I read Bakunin I made no distinction between anarchy and chaos.  The image Bakunin describes is quite nice, everyone taking responsibility for their own actions, living off their own labour.  Liberty flowing from liberty, meaning by giving liberty (through rights, and education) to people it will ensure the liberty of everyone.  

I also think that it solves the problem that Berman raised about liberalism.  The case when there are some people who just don’t want to participate and you can’t argue them into participating.  Bakunin will simply allow those people who want to live like animals do so, and be treated like animals.  

Even as a Christian I would like to live in the ideal state Bakunin has imagined.  I have no problem with his proposition of de-establishing organized religion.  I think it might actually do the cause of Christ a great service.  Also, Bakunin has space for religion in the ability of free association.  

There is a parable that says what you sow you reap.  I think this is both the strength and the weakness of anarchism.  Bakunin envisions a society that sows liberty and will reap liberty, a person can’t be forced into liberty, and I think the liberty of this society while a form of liberty is a degraded form because of the social pressures and doing what is acceptable places control on liberty, also, the lack of personal responsibility.  This is the great strength of anarchism.  However, my contention is how Bakunin will get humanity to this state.  Through violent revolution, “a war of extermination is bound to erupt, with no quarter and no respite.”  This is not sowing liberty and responsibility; it is sowing murder and violence.  My prediction is that once the revolution is over peace will not reign, but chaotic warlordism.  

This is why I am a radical visionary and a conservative liberal pragmatist.  A bit of a paradox, but being a Christian, I am all about paradox.  My interaction with Bakunin has shown my radical visionary side (the more popular of the two).  Now to explain my conservative liberal pragmatism; first off, what is it?  It is someone, like me, who thinks that change needs to come slowly and be well thought out.  I think this must be the way because otherwise too many people get killed (not that a lot of people aren’t getting killed already).  Here is an example of a case of development.  There is a community that is starving to death, it is a horrible thing and we have to do something quickly to stop people from dying.  So what usually happens is a supply of aid is flown in and the crisis is averted, then they try to implement the “big fix” that is supposed to save the people.  All this happens in six months.  Well the big fix fails and Red Cross is back in five years with another emergency package of food aid.  What if we worked with them over the five years to identify their issues appropriately (ie. by asking them) and build off what they have already done?  Develop a relationship instead of being the saviour in a crisis and applying a project that worked wonders in another area, in another context.  The idea is that if we just sit down with the people and talk it through then maybe we will get somewhere, instead of wasting five years of the community just surviving.  

Marx and Bakunin saw a system that wasn’t working and envisioned a new system.  This is a job that is too big for one person, even for that person and his group of friends.  It is easy to criticize, but hard to build something new.  Lets avoid building something new and tinker with what we have got, and by the end of the process we will have something new.  It is a lot easier to build a car by replacing the old pieces with new parts, even adding new parts, but it is really hard to put a car together from a bunch of parts sitting in a box.  

I am conservative because I think we should work off the good things that are existing
I am liberal because I think we should talk to everyone about what is going on
I am pragmatic because I think we should think things through in their context
I am not a revolutionary because I think we don’t have the capacity
I am a radical because I think we can work toward utopia

"After Socialism" (and capitalism)

Kors – Can There be an “After Socialism”?

The basis of this article is that it is time to stop idolizing socialism and face the ugliness that it has caused, the millions of people that have died in all the socialist countries in the world.  History is in a period that is “after the Nazis” because there was a sort of reckoning, the Nazis have become our generation’s manifestation of evil, but the Nazis didn’t even kill a tenth of the people that socialism did.  So why is socialism still so popular, why isn’t there a recognition of the millions of people that were murdered?  

In short, I think it is because socialism is going toward an ideal that western intellectuals like, while the Nazis were going toward an ideal that western intellectuals despise.  This is the idea that I have been living with, it is manifest in the statement, “well, if the circumstances were better, or if this variable were different, etc.”  This is not getting past socialism; it isn’t dealing with the millions of people that have already died.  Kors brings up a good point, maybe a system that has killed hundreds of millions of people should be laid to rest.  

This point however is where Kors and I part ways intellectually.  Kors goes on to the thinking that since socialism can be proclaimed dead then capitalism has won and everyone can sing and dance in the streets (except he would probably charge admission with the price depending on how badly you want to be on the street).  But to seriously approach his arguments, he did have one that I had to deal with.  He said that “profits are the measure of other people’s satisfactions of want and desire.”  This at first sounded virtuous to me because of the ability to satisfy the needs of other people, but what about advertising, and fashion, that manufacture wants and desires, even more, what about basic needs, are wants and desires more important than basic needs?  

I think the statement Kors made is really telling.  First off, he didn’t say needs, he said wants and desires.  I think (maybe hope) that this is because there is a perception that profit from the needs of people is immoral.  Second, North America is a place of consumption; that is how we sustain life.  We buy food, clothing and shelter.  The problem isn’t consumption; everyone needs to consume things to survive.  I just have a problem with consumption with the purpose of validation.  It just doesn’t work, if you’re a loser with bad jeans, better jeans won’t make you more popular.  The truth is that my jeans don’t make me a geek, my self-consciousness about my jeans do.  If I am comfortable with myself, so will other people.  

Back to basic needs, in one of my classes we are doing recommendations on Alberta’s water for life conservation strategy.  In this project we are trying to think of how to get people thinking about basic needs.  It is really hard to do, and I think it is because we don’t know where the raw materials come from.  For me, water comes from the tap, I can’t tell you what stream, or treatment plant it has gone through, so I am not thinking about the use of a natural resource.  In this same class my prof talks about a Homeland verses a frontier perspective.  The homeland perspective sees this land as our home, something to be taken care of.  I take car of my car because it is my partner in the job of getting me to work, if I abuse my car, then I won’t get to work.  The frontier perspective is that of exploitation.  I will just drive it till it dies then get another one.  That is a pretty common perspective for vehicles, but it just doesn’t work with the earth.  We don’t have that option with our water supply.  The first law of thermodynamics is that we live in a finite system.  The view that “profit are the measure of other people’s satisfactions of want and desire” is just not sufficient.  

My professor does work with the Inuit and the other Northern populations of Canada and other artic countries.  The Inuit don’t see a distinction between capitalism and communism.  Western intellectuals have been drawn to communism for so long because it is the only alternative to capitalism, and capitalism just isn’t working (unless your rich white and have no conscious).  But the world isn’t binary; there are more viable options of how to organize society.  It’s just that we can’t see past the boundaries of the west, the place precisely where some answers lay.  

Sunday, October 30, 2005

IKEA The Opiate of the Masses

IKEA – The Opiate of the Masses  

Marx and Engels’ Communist Manifesto

The Manifesto talks about the incredible ability of the modern economy to produce stuff, over production becomes the problem.  This leads to Imperialistic empire building:
The cheap prices of its commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces the barbarians’ intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate.  It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilization into their midst, namely, to become bourgeois themselves.
I am currently reading a book called the Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkin (a link to an interview with Perkins about his book http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=04/11/09/1526251).  In this book Perkins describes how the NSA (like the CIA) recruited him and trained him as an EHM (economic hit man).  He then became the chief economist of an engineering consulting firm.  Basically, what he did was get countries to agree to loans from the World Bank or IMF that benefited the rich in the country.  The stipulation to these loans was that the construction had to be done by a US company.  So the money was transferred from a bank account in Washington to another one in New York and the poor people of a country had to pay for the loan (for the impact of debt on the poor see http://www.globalissues.org/TradeRelated/Debt.asp, or the big one is http://www.jubilee2000uk.org/).  He would offer these countries loans from the World Bank that the country just couldn’t pay, then the IMF would take over with Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) which would effectively implement policy that is favourable to US corporate expansion, making an empire.  When the EHMs didn’t work, then came the real CIA kind of hit men, and when they failed (like in Iraq) then war comes.  

     One for Marx, but then the question I have is: if he was right about the capitalist system why isn’t there a revolutionary proletariat?  The answer to this question is a lack of class consciousness.  I think hierarchy and globalization have created big divisions in the proletariat.  For example, the office worker in Canada isn’t fighting in an act of solidarity for the rights of the sweatshop worker in China.  Both are working for a fat middle aged white man, but globalization has spread the two workers thousands of kilometres apart and the cultural and language barriers not to mention pay scale provide more differences than commonalities in even a desire for struggle against the “oppressor.”  Further there is no way to communicate between the two workers.  The Canadian once saw a documentary on sweatshop workers and the sweatshop worker is too busy working to try to feed herself to go to an internet café and chat with her co-worker in Canada.

     So why won’t either revolt with their co-workers where they are at?  The answer is dependency theory.  Marx put it this way, “Just as it has made the country dependent on the towns, so it has made barbarian and semi-barbarian countries dependent on the civilized ones, nations of peasants on nations of bourgeois, the East on the West.”
The core exploits the periphery and the periphery allows its rape because it has bought into the system that the core is the centre of the world.  I have seen this; I spent two months in Albania and the people I was staying with warned me not to give out my email or make promises about letting people stay with me when I got back to Canada, because they would come with their family and move into my house.  Everyone wore Nike and every night the local TV station would play an American movie.  This is because the American propaganda machine pumps out the utopia of America as the core, the centre of the world.  I like to call this culture envy.  
     So how does dependency theory and culture envy relate to why the sweatshop and office workers won’t revolt.  First, the sweatshop worker; the sweatshop worker won’t revolt because she will lose her job, in fact she won’t even complain about the situation because she will lose her job.  And if everyone revolts or complains than the factory will just pack up and go to somewhere that will appreciate the below subsistence level job they have to offer.  So why won’t her government do something about the situation?  Because the government has bought the gospel of capitalism, that they have to develop through industrialization, and when they do then they will be like the core, the centre of the world.  
     Side note for a rant: I think Marx’s view of development as a forward march of progress is flawed first of all, it is too linear and simplistic, the world just doesn’t work that way, things are diverse and as can be seen in development theory, context is more pertinent to successful development than how the west did it. Developing countries can follow their own paths, but if they knew that then the West would no longer be the core and the centre of the world.  
     Finally, why won’t the proletariat of Canada revolt?  It comes back to dependency theory for me, envy.  The periphery wants what is at the core, and at the core is a good office job that you don’t have to work too hard and a nice house with a nice family and it can always be a little bit nicer.  They keep us at work by making us want more.  So subvert the system, be content.  With Contentment I won’t depend on the system to give me what I want and can follow my morals and fight for my sweatshop co-worker.  I’m sorry Material Girl, but maybe materialism is the opiate of the masses.  Also, Sulty, a classmate, is from the former USSR, and gave a presentation on life under soviet rule.  He said something that really stuck out to me, he said: “No body had a lot of stuff, but everyone was happy, and together.”  

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Popular Opinion is Irrational

Paul Berman - Terrorism and Liberalism

I had to read a couple chapters of this and it renewed my belief in evil. As you can see from my blog on certainty I am a poster boy for liberalism (more or less). The premise of Berman’s article is that liberalism is naïve in its belief that there is no evil without a reason. Everything has a cause and effect, and to humanize the villain all a person has to do is find the reason that a person decides to do evil acts. This makes life a lot less scary because everything is understandable. Look at the cliché, ‘people fear what they don’t understand’.

Berman showed, using history, this premise can lead to dangerous sympathies. Example 1, the French socialist party during the late 1930s said that the German people were oppressed by the Jews (the Jews were financiers and being socialist fought against the financiers and didn’t see a racial distinction, so they rationalized the actions of the Germans). Berman describes,
"The anti-war Socialists wanted to know: why shouldn’t the French government show a little flexibility in the face of Hitler’s demands? Why not recognize that some of Hitler’s points were well taken? Why not look for ways to conciliate the outraged German people and, in that way, to conciliate the Nazis? ...But the political arguments rested on something deeper, too – a philosophical belief, profound, large, and attractive, which was reassuring instead of terrifying. It was the belief that, in the modern world, even the enemies of reason cannot be enemies of reason. Even the unreasonable must be, in some fashion, reasonable."
This raises for me the sympathy of the oppressed and the hatred of the oppressors. I used these terms in a class a week ago and was chastised for it because it is an old polar way of thinking. Which made me think of Chesterton saying that everything is not black and white, but neither is it grey. In everything there is black and white. The simplification into the categories of oppressed and oppressor, good and evil to explain why bad things happen is not sufficient for understanding the world. As for the French, they allowed half their country to be annexed and it resulted in the death of a lot of people.

The main point of Berman’s article was that mass movements of pathological killers exist. There is no reason why. Berman quoted an Auschwitz SS officer “here there is no reason why.” The liberal mind always asks why, so this was/is a tough one to get my head around, but he also gave the example of suicide bombings in Israel, and the rise of public support with the rise of suicide bombings, the support of murder, a contemporary version of the French and the Nazis.

In my blog on Mill’s Liberalism, Mill talked about the oppression of truth is due to the times, that is, the context. Berman showed that as the suicide bombings rose, so did the support for the Palestinian cause in the west. He linked this to an obsession with transgression “that sometimes takes an overtly sexual form.” He goes on to say that he can’t prove this, but it is interesting that the support of Palestinian causes rises and falls with the suicide bombers, not the suffering of Palestinian people. This points out our own irrationality. Those whose religion is rationality seem not too faithful in our marriage to it. So, is rationality just a cerebral explanation to follow our emotions (meaning that rational thought is illusion, we argue for what we feel?). I think it can degenerate to that, by one sided arguments (fundamentalists don’t have a corner on the market of closed mindedness). The challenge of being a rational being is always seeing the side I don’t want to see.

This gets back to the oppressor/oppressed language, in that it is very easy for me to see the side of the oppressed, and fight for that person, but I don’t want to see the side of the oppressor, I don’t want to be in dialogue with something that I hate, but I think that hate is also due to the fact that I think of a CEO as the embodiment of everything that I despise because I don’t know a CEO. Even Hitler loved some children. I also think that is where the most effective change can come from, it is much easier to effect change if I can influence people in power. I think underlying it all I have a fear of talking to CEOs because I don’t want to turn into what they are.

Back to Berman … where has reason gone wrong, why has the desire for discourse led to the support of murder? Should it be abandoned? I think reason failed because opinions are privileged. There is such a wide diversity of opinions that it is very easy to not run into important critiques; especially the critiques that don’t explain the why. So sure the suicide bombers have had a rough oppressed life, but that is not enough to explain why, and reason will not take me to some opinions that need to be voiced. For example, intuition, and faith.

I am not yet ready to abandon reason, but Berman gives a caution to absolute faith in reason. There will be sides that I am not seeing, and life is complex and cannot be explained by tight circles of logic in which a couple of steps show the process of becoming a suicide bomber. In conclusion, I think that a person can very easily rationalize things that are wrong to make them seem right at the time. Maybe this can be avoided by not seeing things as polar opposites, by not rationalizing evil acts. Sure corporate oppression is evil, but so is killing and to be sympathetic to murder because I think I can understand why they did it doesn’t make it right. I don’t think this is what Berman is trying to say actually. I think he is trying to say that we are sympathetic to murderers because of reason and shouldn’t be because they just need to be brought to justice.

I just used the term ‘we’ (not intentionally) because liberals try to bring unity to humanity, but we are faced with factions that have the goal of destroying portions of humanity. The two goals are incompatible. Berman’s point is that we can’t reason pathological factions over to our side because they play by different rules. There are people that want to kill us and we can’t talk them out of it. That leaves limited options as a response. Do we have to speak their language and hunt them down and bring them to justice for our survival, or is there a better way?

Christ said to turn the other cheek, but was he talking on the level of international relations, or just personal relations? Can I turn the other cheek to people I don’t know? Does turning the other cheek have to do with not taking insults personally?

Friday, October 28, 2005

Truth or Survival

John Stuart Mill - On Liberalism  

I have definitely been procrastinating writing this one, but the time has come.  I think that I have been procrastinating because this one is very foundational; it is like a writer that has a hard time writing the pinnacle work of her life because it is just so damn hard to do.  

So I have been sitting here for an hour; this is what I’ve come up with, Liberalism embraces evolution as a method of cultural interaction. Mill published On Liberalism in 1859; the same year Darwin published The Origin of Species and the Descent of Man.  Wow, that was quite a year, modern science is based on Darwin and modern politics is based on Mill (in Canada at least).  

1. Importance of Diversity
I think that Mill advocated for an intellectual environment that didn’t suppress diversity: “If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”  This is a powerful statement supporting diversity in dissenting ideas.  He saw the value of diversity of opinion as:  “If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth; if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth produced by its collision with error” and in that way the limiting of freedom of expression is not robbing the individual but “it is robbing the human race.”  

But What’s the Point?
Near the end of On Liberalism Mill talks about the saying that truth will overcome persecution; his assertion is that this is not true, but goes on to show that it is: “The real advantage truth has consists in this, that when an opinion is true, it may be extinguished once, twice, or many times, but in the course of ages there will generally be found persons to rediscover it, until some one of its reappearances falls on a time when from favourable circumstances it escapes persecution until it has made such advance as to withstand all subsequent attempts to suppress it.”  At this point however, if I am going to continue the comparison of liberalism to evolution the end goal needs some thought.  For example, I don’t think there is an end goal of evolution, other than survival.  Maybe that is the function of truth, truth is what helps us survive an philosophical paradigm.  The philosophical paradigm is truth.  As the paradigm changes so does truth. But to get back to the quote, maybe it was my reading of the quote, but I didn’t get a subjective understanding of truth, but an absolute truth that is enigmatic and unrecognizable in some instances.  I don’t think Mill would agree with the idea that truth is what helps us adapt to survive intellectually.  I think I’m on to something though, because…

Not that there can’t be truth that transcends culture, but there can also be truth that helps us survive

I’m using the word truth a lot so I had better define it.  I’m using truth in this blog as the ideas that people agree upon.  

However, people agree upon some stupid things, like slavery.  I don’t want to say that the arguments for slavery were true at the time.  What made it alright for Nazi Germany to exterminate Jews?  It was illusion, not truth…

Maybe what a civilization agrees upon may or may not be true, but it is intellectual adaptation for the individual.  But what is true and how close a person’s civilization’s intellectual paradigm (what the civilization agrees upon is their intellectual paradigm) resembles that truth may be the determining factor in how good that civilization is.  This idea isn’t evident in evolution however.  That is what I am struggling with.  The only goal of evolution is survival.  The goal of culture goes beyond survival to the ideal of truth.  This is very Hegelian in that the best civilization to live in will be a model of truth.

I began this blog with the idea that Darwin and Mill were advocating for diversity as a basis for survival (evolution), but I am ending with a thought that they are quite different, using the same means, but with vastly different ends.  It is insufficient to have a cultural paradigm whose goal is survival, rationalizing the current context.  I know for myself, that if the goal of the current paradigm was to rationalize the context then I wouldn’t put much faith in it.  The question that must be asked is: Do ideas legitimate power, or does power bring life to ideas?  Legitimate government is power bringing life to ideas, but I think as time goes on and contexts change and regimes stay the same that ideas are produced to legitimate the regime.  That is survival; the first is a commitment to truth.  To living beyond survival, living for ideals…  

Monday, October 24, 2005

Feel Good Morality - With or Without God

Feel Good Morality – With or Without God
John Stuart Mill – Utilitarianism

This blog will be my attempt at the reconciliation of utilitarianism and Christianity.  Mill defines utilitarianism as “the ‘greatest happiness principle’ holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness; wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.”  When I first read that I thought oh yeah, what kind of crack pot society will you have if everyone is looking out for their own happiness (oops, capitalism =) ).  But, as I read on I discovered that there was a lot more to it than that.  
The next quote got my attention: “The comparison of the Epicurean*(emphasis on the pleasure of the mind and body in moderation) life to that of beasts is felt as degrading, precisely because a beast’s pleasures do not satisfy a human being’s conceptions of happiness.”   Mill goes on to say that the higher pleasure is the mental instead of the bodily pleasure.  
This brings up a little side note, I have a prof that is of the opinion that the mind/body split is absurd.  I can see this, look at depression and mental illness, it is a deficiency in a chemical in the body that effects the mind.  The split has also been the basis of misogyny, because the man is more of the mind and the woman is more of the body.  Also look at the favouring of rational over the intuitive.  I read an article earlier this year by Flyvbjerg (Rationality, body, and intuition in human learning), he showed that a beginner level was characterized by rationality and slow thoughtfulness.  The expert on the other hand is characterized by intuition.  Just a side note for thought, but maybe the mind/body divide is as artificial as country borders.    
Back to utilitarianism…The point that stuck in my head was this, “the utilitarian standard… is not the agent’s own greatest happiness, but the greatest amount of happiness altogether; and if it may possibly be doubted whether a noble character is always the happier for its nobleness, there can be no doubt that it makes other people happier.”  This creates morality as the goal of utilitarianism; the idea that the good of other people is above the good of the individual.  
Mill was writing to fill the abyss that God left in the secularization of society.  My argument is that maybe the argument is a repackaging of the first and second greatest commandments, to love the lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind; and to love your neighbour as yourself.  In both I find a focus on the other.  A critique that I need to hear of my own life.  

Friday, October 21, 2005

On Certainty And How to Get Along

On Certainty …And How to Get Along

What is certainty?  I have had a lot of problems with this stupid idea from Descartes because to me certainty is not being open to other people’s opinion on a topic.  It is a kind of off limits to discussion.  It also seems that people who are certain about their beliefs are jerks to those who don’t agree with them.  For example… you don’t see things the way they obviously are so you must be an idiot.  
     People are way too valuable to be talking about them like that.  Being a Christian I believe Jesus loves people way too much to have that kind of attitude, where if you don’t conform to my system of belief then I just won’t talk to you as a human being and will write off your experience as invalid because it doesn’t line up to the way I see the world.  
     But what if certainty is re-conceptualized as not being a closed-ness to the opinions of others, but instead as an openness to other opinions.  The thing that I am certain about I shouldn’t have to protect from questioning. It should stand on its own.  
     This leads me to the question of the application of certainty, namely to the undisputed topic of gravity and to the highly disputed topic of Religion.  Gravity just isn’t disputed, I think it is because it is a pretty simple concept that applies to a single phenomena that shapes our lives.  I guess the question I am getting at is what makes religion such a contentious topic?  Everyone can agree that gravity works the way it does and apply the open concept of certainty.  Is it arrogant to apply the same open concept of certainty to religion because there is a diversity of opinions?  
     The real question is how do people of different religions get along?  Can I say to a Buddhist friend that I am certain about my faith in the way that doesn’t rely on me to defend it; which puts me in the unique position of being able to question my own faith.  In this situation my Buddhist friend and I can ask questions of our faiths together and learn from each other.  We can be united in our questioning, and I don’t think it matters that at the end of the day he may remain Buddhist and I Christian (and as a friend commented on the last blog, ‘God forbid a fundamentalist sees this’).  I think this fulfills my calling as a Christian to “preach the gospel” because my Buddhist friend and I are both more intimately aware of each other’s faiths and further it is alright that she has remained a Buddhist because free choice is more important than being a Christian (it’s the way God set it up).
In conclusion, I would have to say that this is true from my experience as well.  I relate to people of other faiths by going into a religious conversation of lets question together.  The openness view of certainty is precisely that.  The closed view of certainty would say “let me teach you what I believe.”  I think the first is a lot more sustainable in a diverse society.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Why bacon is better with books.

Why bacon is better with books.  How to get out of illusion and to the truth.
What I will try to do is legitimate learning from reflecting on the books that I read.  This is something that Francis Bacon wouldn't have agreed with, but I hope to win him over. 
Through Experience
Francis Bacon said that knowledge doesn’t come from books it comes from doing things.  (His big thing was that we can't be sure that we aren't falling into illusion if we don't have any direct experience, learning through observation)
In a lecture Mao Zedong gave his comrades two examples of knowing something.  One person can cook following a recipe in a book, a second person who has much experience cooking can do it intuitively.  The first person is literate the second person can cook
Through Discourse
In an interview with Jay Leno Will Smith said, “Whatever you are going through someone has gone through it before and written a book about it.”  - Will Smith isn't so focused on avoiding illusion, but he does bring up the point that we can learn from other people.  Put more eloquently: John Stuart Mill in On Liberty "If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth; if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth produced by its collision with error."  - A person can get to the truth by talking about it with other people and comparing opinions.  

Relationship between Experience and Discourse
To take the example of the person who can cook, that person reflected and discussed the use of spices and the cooking temperature with his fellow learners.  A person experiences something but there is no learning without reflection on that experience.  Theory is the discourse of that reflection on experience.  The cook is backed by booth experience and theory.  
     This leads me to the title for my Blog.  My discourse on theory occurs between talking to my friends, and reading (a one sided conversation).  This is where I will round out the one-sided conversation of reading.  This is my talking back to the authors I read, summarizing what I think they are saying and how that relates to my reflections on topics.  This is discourse.