A Critical Shift Away from an Extractive Downward Spiral
We can no longer maintain an opportunistic, ever-expanding extractive mindset toward planet Earth’s ecosystems and resources, toward human labor and creativity, toward the cooperative infrastructure of civil society, or in the “taking for granted” of life itself. Our extractive habits are unsustainable in economic terms, but more critically they are destroying everything around us at an accelerating pace. To fully appreciate both our extractivist habits and their consequences, please consult the following resources:
“Deep Adaptation: A Map for Avoiding Climate Tragedy”
by Professor Jem Bendell (full paper available here
; editorial article available here
UN Report: Nature’s Dangerous Decline ‘Unprecedented’; Species Extinction Rates ‘Accelerating’
(Detailed report overview with many key statistics here
; full “advanced unedited” IPBES report here
“Capitalism is destroying the Earth. We need a new human right for future generations”
— Guardian article by George Monbiot here
“Extractivism and neoextractivism: two sides of the same curse”
by Alberto Acosta (full essay available here
The only solution is to shift as rapidly and all-inclusively as possible to regenerative solutions — and a regenerative state of mind. Collectively and individually, there is really no other choice. Why? Because hopes that global capitalism can be reigned in or civilized are naive and Pollyannish — as all such efforts are routinely undermined by enormously well-funded and fanatical neoliberal investment
in the extractive status quo. Because trust that human innovation will address the most serious consequences of extractivism with new technologies is contradicted by the enormous complexities of natural ecosystems, the stunning scale and current momentum of the problems we must address, and the dismal track record of a majority previous technologies that created unanticipated negative externalities. Our only reasonable option is to implement regenerative systems and vigorously restrain and extinguish extractive systems.
And again, these changes are not restricted to how humanity views and utilizes natural resources
— that is really just the tip of the iceberg. Equally import are how we view people — human creativity, labor, economic behavior, social behavior, spirituality, etc. — as well as how we view the institutions of civil society, and how we view both the wonder of Nature and the miracle of life itself. Does everything exist merely to be used up and exploited? Or does everything in this amazing reality have intrinsic value apart from any utilization by humanity? This is the fundamental question we must answer in order to guide effective transformations of our old, self-destructive habits into new, sustainable and thriving ones.
If These Concerns Are the Primary Drivers of Reform, How Can We Change?
What do “regenerative solutions” look like, then? Certainly there are many proposed frameworks for sustainability that have already proven themselves on various scales — many of which are described in proposals on my Level 7 website
, or would easily dovetail with those proposals. Successful recycling programs and materials sourcing, renewable energy, and sustainable agriculture have demonstrated genuine promise in their workability and scalability — even using capitalist metrics, they have increasingly been able to compete with traditional extractive models in terms of productivity and efficiency. As for human exploitation, worker-owned and managed cooperatives, Open Source production, P2P models, and commons-centric governance likewise have an established a meaningful track record of self-sustaining success — again even when using capitalist metrics to evaluate them, they often exceed the productivity and efficiency of traditional exploitative models.
Apart from the understandable resistance of established power and wealth to what will inevitably be a self-sacrificial change, what is the barrier, then, to transitioning away from extraction and exploitation? What is stopping us, and how can we overcome that barrier? Is there something more deeply rooted in our psyche that prevents us from moving forward. . .?
This is my intuition: that we need to fall in love again
— with everything that our hectic, worried, materialistic, technological lifestyle has distanced us from. We need to re-invoke some of the mystery and wonder that once existed for us as we beheld the magnificence of Nature on a daily basis. We need to reconnect with each other in more personal ways — as neighbors, as community members, as citizens and fellow travelers of a rich cultural heritage. We need to cultivate more gratitude regarding the stunning gift our very existence. We must abandon a mechanistic, individualistic, reductionist and profit-centric view of ourselves and the world around us, and reacquaint ourselves with the felt experience of community and mystery. And we must not only grudgingly allow the possibility that life on Earth has intrinsic value, but actually celebrate it as we honor all species, all ecosystems, all habitats, all beings — including each other. In other words: we must return to more authentic, intimate and wonder-filled relationship with All That Is.
This is not a new concern, or a new remedy. Writers, activists, leaders, organizations and movements since capitalism first clawed its way to prominence have warned us of its dangers. However, this re-invocation of mystery has often been framed as an individual journey or choice — sometimes mystical, sometimes psychological, sometimes inviting methodological holism or integralism — but I would contend that this individualistic framing is itself destined to fail. A disproportionate emphasis on individual transformation and development is, in fact, just a new manifestation of the underlying error, confining the solution to the same atomistic, alienated, disconnected separateness that is causing the problem. The re-invocation of mystery must therefore be deeper, more encompassing, and more pervasive and participatory for any enduring, systemic transformation to take effect. It cannot be restricted to “me,” or “my tribe,” or “our community,” or even “our species” or “our planet,” for the egotism of individualism is too easily converted into the arrogance of anthropocentrism.
No, the smallest scope of this shift in relationship must, of necessity, be “All Life,”
and then cascade through all other strata of being from there. To love all of life itself, to cherish it and commit ourselves to its thriving a a whole, is the beginning of cultivating kind, compassionate, caring relationships with everything else. And humanity must, as a whole, participate in this renewed relationship. We must all collectively revive a worshipful passion for the sacredness of life — certainly here on Earth, but really all of its forms wherever they may be found. And we must operationalize that passion within every system, every institution, every mutual agreement, every law, every collaboration and competition, every collective act. We must all live this truth together as if our lives depend on it — because, in light of the cataclysm we have created, our lives do in fact depend on it.
Yes, there will always be outliers, rebels, egoists and psychopaths, some of whom will continue to attain positions of power and influence. And there will be plutocratic pushback against all reforms challenge the supremacy of greed. But despite corporate capitalism’s endless efforts to reenforce, elevate and amplify such antisocial aberrations — through its heartless obsession with transactional relationships, commodification, externalized dependencies, self-indulgent hedonism, and the almighty dollar — that is not who we human beings are in our heart-of-hearts.
Instead, we want to belong, we want to contribute, we want to care and be cared for, we want to love and be loved, and we long to have our intrinsic value and worth acknowledged. That is the basis of society itself — and family, friendship, and lasting romance — rather than the will-to-profit. So it follows that if we can, altogether, remember who we really are, then all the wonder and mystery of our relationship with life itself can be restored.
In many ways what we are aiming for here is recovering a long-abandoned faith. Not faith in the sense of a blindly adherent belief system — and not the faith of any particular religious tradition — but faith as an intentional quality of character that trusts in certain fundamental realities:
realities like the interdependence of all living things; the true miracle of existence; the joy of connectedness and belonging available to all; the power of lovingkindness; and the awe that we can be conscious of any of this. A faith that leads us to conclude with gratitude that, because the Universe has conspired in favor of our consciousness, our consciousness can now conspire in favor of the Universe. A faith that inspires us to celebrate rather than exploit, to regenerate rather than extract, to create rather than destroy. A felt experience of trust in the triumph of love over fear. A faith in life itself.
If such an intuition is correct, it demands that any reformation or revolution begin with this shift in focus, however that can be accomplished. As a small first step in this direction, consider the following short exercise with one or more friends and loved ones, and — if it feels helpful and right to you — practice and share it with others. And if it doesn’t work for you, perhaps you can come up with your own participatory practice that inspires a similar result.
In a quiet space, free of technological interruptions, have everyone join hands, and describe the following steps:
1) With heads bowed and eyes closed, take three deep, slow and even breaths to calm and center the body and mind.
2) Then, take three more slow and even breaths, and silently say to yourselves “May our faith reawaken” as you exhale each time. Focus on the meaning of those words.
3) After three repetitions, open your eyes and look at each other.
4) Breathe in slowly together, and then, as you all exhale, speak aloud in unison: “May our faith reawaken.”
5) Listen to each other, see each other, and again feel the meaning of those words in that moment.
6) Repeat the slow intake of breath and speaking the phrase aloud together two more times ― as an affirmation and encouragement.
7) Afterwards, pause for a few moments to allow this experience to settle and sink in.
We can of course make this exercise more specific by adding to the phrase: “May our faith in each other
reawaken,” or in humanity,
or in the power of compassion,
or in life itself,
and so on. But if we were all to consecrate our day, our actions, our relationships, our intentions, and our purpose with this kind of mutual affirmation and opening up — with a clear understanding of what it invokes regarding a sacred relationship with all of life — could such a small spark make a difference? Could it ignite a unity of compassionate restoration, and energize a critical transformation? Could it reawaken a quality of relationship with ourselves and everything around us that will restore balance and harmony?
In my teaching and coaching, I am always amazed at the power that connectedness and shared intention can create in small groups. That observation is what inspires this exercise, and the entire framework of Community Coregroups
that I discuss in much of my writing.
What if, suddenly out of the blue, I insisted that you stop trying to control other people?
What if I said that, when you try to control what other people say or what they do, it’s just a symptom of your own insecurity? And what if I said you needed to do some tough personal work
on yourself first, before trying to make other people conform to your expectations of how they should act towards you? And what if I said that, eventually, if you actually did that tough personal work, you’d almost certainly stop trying to control others anyway?
How would that make you feel? And, most importantly, would it change your behavior at all…?
Or would it just piss you off? Perhaps make you challenge my self-appointed role in policing your behavior? Would you maybe ask: “Who the heck are YOU to tell me what I can and can’t do???”
Okay then. So now consider the following situations:
- A woman doesn’t like the way a man is touching her arm.
- A transgender person wants coworkers to use their chosen pronoun.
- A gay person is offended by the homophobic jokes of fellow students.
- A Vegan is horrified when someone brings a meat dish to a potluck at their home.
- A person of color feels alienated by a politician using coded language – language that reveals prejudice or even hatred towards their race.
- A religious person feels persecuted and excluded by a law, a business practice or a cultural tradition that belittles or contradicts their beliefs.
- A person of a particular political persuasion believes another group routinely looks down on them, dismisses their ideas, and laughs at their beliefs.
- A member of one socioeconomic class feels targeted and oppressed by members of other socioeconomic classes.
- A politically correct audience is angry and judgmental about a comedian’s sense of humor regarding any-of-the-above.
These examples aren’t meant to be equivalant, but in any of these situations there can be real emotional pain involved – a genuine felt experience of demeaning oppression
– that could lead to debilitating despair over time. But, even though real harm may be occurring, does the offended person have the right to demand that those causing offense be ridiculed, shamed, accused or blamed? To demand that they apologize, admit they were wrong, and commit to changing their behavior? To insist they be punished in some way – that they resign, be fired, lose status, be publicly harassed, or are deserving of threats and intimidation? To essentially become an example of accountability for all similar wrongs experienced in society...a scapegoat for those collective ills?
Can you see what is really happening here?
It isn’t just that the abused is turning into an abuser – it can be much subtler and more insidious than that. For if each of these individuals (or groups of folks) insists that everyone else conform to their particular standard of conduct, to respect their particular sensitivities, to always consider their feelings and perspective and honor their particular belief system…well, then this leads to everyone constantly policing everyone else’s behavior, and thereby amplifies mistrust and even hatred.
And this, in turn, has everyone pissing everyone else off, to the point where we all declare: “Hey, what gives YOU the right to tell me what I’m allowed to say or do?!”
And so we all begin to resent the shackles that our society seems to be placing on us; we all begin to question whether living in harmony with each other is really worth it – and whether our civic institutions are all that important…or worth preserving. We begin to doubt the very foundations of civil society itself.
And yet there is increasingly a reliance on impersonal institutions, the court of public opinion in mass media, and often disproportionate personal punishments to correct what are essentially ongoing cultural and interpersonal challenges. Whether it is a left-leaning social justice warrior or right-leaning religious conservative, promoting the imposition of personal preferences via such impersonal mechanisms is actually destroying the social cohesion required to repair these longstanding problems.
And this is where we have arrived in the U.S. culture of 2019. In every corner of our current political, religious, racial, and economic landscape, folks are arming themselves with accusations against other people who don’t seem to respect or honor a particular boundary or standard of behavior. Everyone is able to take offense, and demand that everyone else change.
And then the most impersonal, coercive and punitive of institutional tools are used to seek remedy. It is as if we have arrived in George Orwell’s 1984
– or even Golding’s Lord of the Flies
– or the worst periods of the Soviet era, or Nazi Germany, or the darkest days of McCarthyism, or the ugly history of the Inquisition…times when folks were ratting each other out to gain praise from those in power, or achieve brief political advantage over someone else, or garner a little more social capital in circumstances where they felt disempowered, or were simply taking revenge on people they didn’t like – and then taking pleasure in their suffering. And, as a consequence, in every one of these historical situations, civil society itself was eventually degraded by pervasive mistrust and mutual oppression.
Is that what we want? Do we want to head any further down this dark and dismal path?
If not, then we need to rethink what is becoming a reflexive and widespread culture of blaming, accusing, ridiculing, shaming, and punishing.
For at its core, when we ask other people to change their behavior to make us feel more comfortable or safe, we are actually giving away our power.
We are offering them all the agency in a given situation, and abdicating our own. We are reinforcing our victim status, and strengthening the bullies even as we attempt to punish them. Often, we may even be galvanizing opposing tribes against any hope of reconciliation. We are, in effect, perpetuating both conflict and our own disempowerment at the same time, rather than solving the underlying problems. And as we give away our own power – while at the same time challenging and undermining everyone else’s – we end up destroying the voluntary trust, empathy and compassion that bind society together. Instead, we replace it with fear.
So…what is the alternative?
There are many observable options that have proven more effective, so why not return to those? For example, in each of the awkward and uncomfortable situations described above:
1. We can fortify our own emotional constitution, instead of taking offense.
We can become stronger and more secure in who we are,
without expecting others to respect or honor us. This may require some real interior work on our part – some genuine fortification of spirit, mind and heart – but the result will be that we won’t constantly require others to conform to our expectations anymore.
2. We can calmly ask for what we want
– not as a self-righteous demand, but as a favor from someone who says that they want to have a professional or personal relationship with us. If they really care about us, perhaps they will at least try. But if our response is met with scorn, dismissiveness or skepticism, we have the option of letting it go. After all, that person’s approval, acceptance and conformance is not required…because we have become more confident and secure in ourselves. We don’t need to demand their conformance – and why would we want it, if it doesn’t come from a place of respect, understanding and compassion?
3. We can accept where other people are, let go of judgement, and be a positive example for them.
This is what authentic, effective leaders (and parents, and managers) do: they lead by steadfast and dedicated example…not through blaming, threats, accusations or fear of punishment.
Bullying is the easy way out. We can do better.
4. We can passively, actively and nonviolently resist.
We can refuse to participate in activities, systems, environments and relationships that demean who we are and what we believe. We can then vote to support compassionate candidates and friendly initiatives. We can purchase goods and services from those who are supportive to our identity and beliefs. And we can do this without hatred, without fear and anxiety, without shame or blame.
5. We can create supportive communities, while also cultivating challenging relationships that bridge differences.
We can surround ourselves with like-minded folks who nurture and encourage who we are and what we believe – especially in our closest relationships. At the same time, we can also cultivate friendships and social or professional connections with people who are different, who disagree, who aren’t as accepting or as tolerant. For how else can we teach by example, or demonstrate compassion, empathy, tolerance and acceptance if we don’t have such diverse relationships in our lives?
6. We can be brave…and bravely be ourselves.
We can speak our truth, share our perspectives, broadcast our preferences, celebrate our identity, and proudly honor our chosen tribe…without making others feel belittled, excluded, accused, blamed or shamed. We can joyfully be who we are, while also being welcoming and kind at the same time. We can be stalwart in our own principles, while being generous towards those who do not share them. This is what real power and agency looks like.
7. We can recover our sense of humor.
Perhaps it’s time to allow just a little bit of playfulness back into our lives and public discourse. A little bit of good-natured joshing. Humor isn’t by definition “mean-spirited.” There is a difference between a joke and a slight – and often this is has just as much to do with how the humor is received, as with how it is intended.
If we are always reactive, always defensive, always on-edge…well, we are not likely to be able to create or maintain the relationships required to heal a polarized society. Perhaps, if we let a little humor back into our world, we wouldn’t all be so angry, defensive and fearful so much of the time.
These are the methods that make a real difference over time, that can effectively heal through compassionate and welcoming personal relationships, rather than deepening divides with institutional vindictiveness and “Us vs. Them” groupthink.
In essence, if we want everyone in a diverse and multifaceted society to thrive together, then we all must assert our own place and space to do that – not by demanding others create that space for us, but by claiming it ourselves and standing firm
…without anger or condemnation towards anyone else. In essence, we need to stop blaming and accusing. This is not easy, but it demonstrates genuine strength of character. And it is the content of our character by which we all would prefer to be judged, isn’t it? I think we need to return to this standard of measure, if we want to avoid spiraling backwards and downwards, into the greatest horrors of human history.
Just my 2 cents.
Thanks for the question (in reference to this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yZYQpge1W5s
), but my god that was an incredibly painful video to attempt to watch — simply because of the level of aggressive combativeness in play. And so, alas, I couldn’t find the relevant bit in this video (though I actually scanned through most of it…Ack!). However, I have heard Peterson riff on “equality of outcome” in several other interviews and lectures, so I have a pretty good idea of why he doesn’t like it. In essence, he believes that the only realistic avenue for achieving equality of outcome is to impose it — via the tyrannical force of authoritative institutions. He will then use things like Soviet era agricultural disasters or the failures of affirmative action hiring to exemplify just how tyrannical and ridiculous striving for equality of outcomes ends up becoming.
The problem, of course, is that Peterson is shoehorning or conflating a lot of subtly different concepts into one very narrow box of his choosing. He is also missing the forest for the trees. Probably the best way to appreciate his error is to understand the idea that “fairness” of distribution is tied to a presumption of equality.
In other words, that regardless of how someone begins their life in society — rich or poor, male or female, black or white — they should have sufficient barriers mitigated by society so that their opportunities are truly equal.
That is the heart of most philosophical frameworks which include equality of outcome as a desirable goal: there really is very little difference between authentic equality of opportunity and pragmatic
equality of outcome in these frameworks, because for opportunity to be effectively equal, similar outcomes must be realistically achievable.
As a simplified example, imagine that two runners are set to race around a track. One of them has shoes, is well-rested, has had regular meals for the past week, has had time to train and prepare for the race, and really wants to win. The other runner has no shoes, is emaciated, hasn’t slept well or eaten in the last few days, and doesn’t have a complete understanding of what a competitive “race” really is (let alone had time to train for it). In Peterson’s vision of the world, once the parameters of such a race are set, and both runners are placed in the same starting positions on the track, then they effectively have “equal opportunity.” Any attempt to level the playing field between them is, for Peterson, an interference with merit.
And such interference is anathema to Peterson, ostensibly because it’s “Marxist” (it isn’t Marxist, actually, but anything with the remotest hint of Marx will generally set Peterson off into irrational and pedantic histrionics). No, but seriously, Peterson really hates the idea that any external agency or institution can judge the requirements necessary to achieve equity in such situations.
Now Peterson does have a point: it is very difficult to know how to structure society so that distributions are actually fair (and not punitive, or gamed, or generating unanticipated consequences, or ultimately biased and unfair, etc.). But this is really where Peterson doesn’t “get” the forest of successful civic institutions, and fixates instead of instances of failure (i.e. the trees). Where the intent of a given system of shared opportunity — and the people operating within it — is genuinely grounded in the presumption of equality, it actually works pretty well. Elinor Ostrom’s Nobel-prize-winning research into real-world examples of common pool resource management has definitively proven this to be the case. These CPRMs were organic, self-organized and self-managed systems all around the globe. No imposition of government tyranny was required to make them work. So really, Peterson’s argument is specious because he (apparently?) just isn’t aware of such real world instances.
Anywho, my fun meter has peaked on this topic, but hopefully this can help others navigate these treacherous waters.
My 2 cents.
Thanks for the question Avishek. I would say authentic compassion has four primary components — ideally all of these are present as a reflexive and unselfconscious orientation to others, but sometimes they require additional, more conscious cultivation:
1) A felt experience of affection, concern, caring and kindness that is informed by empathy and a deep respect for the other’s being.
2) The felt experience is amplified by a generous and unconditional intentionality: a desire to aid, comfort, nurture, encourage and support the other’s being, with no expectation of reciprocation or reward.
3) These feelings and intentions are then skillfully operationalized as love-in-action, within the context of the greatest good, for the greatest number, for the greatest duration.
4) Efficacy in this operationalization requires discernment, insight, wisdom, humility, and a willingness to continually observe outcomes and adjust methods to improve skillfulness.
The question of how to measure outcomes also becomes important over time. For example, authentic compassion tends to relieve dissonance, ignorance, confusion, suffering and pain for all involved — while at the same time nudging joy, harmony, peace, excellence and truth into the foreground. Authentic compassion also propagates and enlarges itself: compassion begets compassion, becoming a strong force or field that unifies and harmonizes everything it embraces.
Lastly, because these ideas about compassion are so specific, I will often use the term agape instead.
My 2 cents.
Thanks for the question Chris. Tom Gregory has a great answer regarding the Gini distribution. I would only offer a slightly different “intersubjective” take….
IMO, the values of society (or “values hierarchies” in the sense of social mores and ethical assumptions) should move away from valuing material wealth entirely. In itself, the obsession with economic materialism is destructive to social cohesion, prosocial traits in individuals, and the growth and stability of civil society. Paul Piff’s research has been pretty conclusive in this regard. The more we fixate on material wealth distribution, the more we remain distracted by class, social status, inequalities, competition for resources, consumerism and a host of other maladies that drive the collective mental illness and corrosion of civil society we are experiencing today.
The alternative is to just let go of economic materialism altogether. Let go of wealth accumulation, the profit motive, the moral infancy of I/Me/Mine, and indeed the conflation of “freedom” and affluence. To do this, I suspect we will need to develop a different orientation to private property itself — reinvoking a mode of collectively shared resources without demanding ownership, a mode that has been successful across many different cultures around the globe. To appreciate this shift, I recommend reading Private Property As Violence.
Thanks for the question Bruce. First...I can only speak for humanity. I cannot speak for all of Nature. For humans, however, I believe there are values hierarchies that plot along a spectrum, and I’ve included a first draft of a chart that describes that spectrum below. The idea here is that there are indeed absolutes…but those absolutes intersect in different ways, at different times, in different people…to be expressed as what someone will inevitably perceive as a “relative and subjective” difference. In other words, the contexts of culture, time-in-history, underlying belief system and so on shape how a given values hierarchy (and how it is actualized) plot along the spectrum, and how it is understood. But although the perspectives on a given values hierarchy may shift — be refined over time, be critiqued, be valorized or devalorized, etc. — the position of that values hierarchy is actually pretty fixed.
To appreciate the backdrop of concepts from which this chart was derived, see this article: Functional Intelligence
I hope this was helpful.
Ah. Good one.
I think the answer to this question depends on the level of moral maturity involved. An immature person will tend to disregard the rights of others unless someone (or some thing) is present to enforce or defend those rights. A moral grown-up, on the other hand, will recognize the importance of such rights even if there is no one and no thing present to enforce or defend those rights. This is true of most ethics. The morally mature person may choose to work hard whether their boss or coworkers are watching or not, because they believe it is the right thing to do; whereas the morally immature person may only work hard to impress upon those watching them that they are indeed “a hard worker,” or to reap some sort of advantage or reward. Really what defines being an adult has a lot to do with this willing acceptance of societal expectations without expectation of reward (i.e. simply because it is prosocial), while refining one’s own conscience to act in the spirit of those expectations on the other. A child, in contrast, might only follow the letter-of-the-law while someone is watching, and be excited and thrilled to deviate from societal expectations if nobody is looking.
These contrasting levels of moral maturity quickly become evident in contexts like driving a car: the mature person “drives carefully and responsibly” out of compassion for their fellow human beings, polite consideration that reflects prosocial intentions, and acknowledgement that the rule of law is necessary on public roads to prevent utter chaos and death; the immature person thinks the rules don’t apply to them, that other people’s safety doesn’t really matter, and that their own self-gratification and arbitrary impulses should guide their driving habits. In such a situation, the moral adult has little fear of police presence on a highway, whereas the moral child tends to be a bit more angry and fearful in the midst of their egocentric rebellion. So we might say that, for the moral toddler at least, a right may not exist if their is no one to defend it.
Thanks for the question.
Thanks for the question Deiter. Please prepare yourself for a self-indulgent rant on my part.
A lot of folks who allude to Surowiecki’s “wisdom of the crowds” do not realize this refers to a disorganized, non-self-aware, diffused, uncoordinated and essentially arbitrary intersection of public intuitions and insights. Anything more organized and self-aware, on the other hand, rapidly develops one or more weaknesses related to conformative groupthink. We hear regular complaints about bureaucracy, inefficiency, turf wars and serfdoms, quid pro quo dealings, corruption, the lemming effect, gridlock, complacency, and a host of other issues that plague organizations larger than a few individuals. Essentially, humans suck at “big,” as it too often tends towards unskillful, inept, or just plain stupid.
Now I won’t go into why this seems to be a recurring problem — it could be something as simple as the combination of the Dunbar limit, the inherent paralyzing effect of rigid hierarchies, a genetically programmed propensity toward tribalism, and an institutional version of the Dunning-Kruger effect. Again…not the focus of this answer. What I do want to elaborate on is the necessity of outliers in any such institutional ecosystems. Without outliers, the quicksand of organizational inertia will always destroy that organization from the inside out. Not in any exciting sort of implosion, but through a slow, insidious rot. Outliers provide the necessary injection of challenging the hierarchy, outsider insights, and “creative destruction” that allows revisions and evolutions to occur in an otherwise frozen soup of conformance.
A lot of folks have intuited aspects of this principle and its importance in society. Colin Wilson, Dostoyevsky, Sartre, Gebser and many others have explored the significance of outsider experience, thought, art and contributions to society. And this is not a new idea…perhaps you will recall Jesus saying “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown.” So the idea that the outlier, outsider, or outcast in this same sense must bear the burden of isolation and rejection in order to rejuvenate society — and indeed human civilization — from the outside has persisted throughout millennia.
As another take, in-groups like to scapegoat outcasts, so outcasts perform an important function there as well — diffusing tension, exciting group unity, voicing taboo sentiments, diluting hierarchical control and power, etc. Consider the “class clown” or the King’s Fool. There is, I believe, something inherently necessary about the outcast — something essential to the thriving of society itself. Certainly to the arts. Reframing common experiences and the status quo as absurd parodies of themselves is perhaps what comedians, social critics and theatre have provided since the beginning of history.
So society has outcasts to preserve itself. Without them, it would disintegrate.
My 2 cents.
Thanks for the question Zahin. On the whole, I agree with Ross on nearly everything, so it would be difficult to criticize him in any substantive way. One area in which I think he could have explored and elaborated a broader foundation was in the prioritization of duties (with the aim of resolving conflicting obligations). I do think there are clear avenues of achieving this — and indeed for any situation — via meta-ethical principles (in the form of consistent values hierarchies) and synthesis (how fulfillment impulses for primary drives interact, etc.). That said, the reliance on a developed moral sense (what I refer to in my own writing as “moral maturity”), inclusive of moral intuitions and self-evident responsibilities, is ultimately a sophisticated and nuanced arbiter of such conflicts, and this is precisely what Ross seems to promote. So…I can’t really be all that critical. IMO, Ross pretty much nails it, it’s just that his exploration is incomplete.
My 2 cents.
Current excitement about a "Blue Wave" of Democratic wins in November is, I believe, woefully misplaced...for the simple reason that the wealthiest Trump supporters (inclusive of Vladamir Putin) will use every underhanded tool at their disposal to prevent or reverse any Democratic victories they can. What these powers-that-be care most about is winning by any means possible
- they will lie, cheat, steal, harass, sue, bully, intimidate and hoodwink in order to hold on to their political influence. How do we know this? Because we've seen it in many recent local and national elections:
1. Outrageous gerrymandering of congressional districts to favor Republicans.
2. Relentless disenfranchisement of Democrat voters, the poor, people of color, etc. and/or preventing them to vote on election day.
3. Aggressive attempts to hack into all levels of the election process, and the DNC, in order to disrupt free and fair elections.
4. Lockstep passage of legislation - coordinated by A.L.E.C., the State Policy Network, etc. - at the national and State levels to disrupt anything progressive: environmental protections, worker protections, unions, consumer health and safety, voting rights, etc...
5. Highly targeted deceptive manipulations on social media to persuade voters of ridiculous claims.
6. Threats, intimidation, fear-mongering and punitive policies from the White House itself to further disrupt and divide the Democratic base.
7. Relentless, carefully orchestrated smear campaigns.
8. Invented or manufactured crises that are then shamelessly blamed on Democrats.
So why should anything be different in 2018...and what other tactics can we look forward to? Court challenges for any election outcomes or lower court rulings that don't favor Republicans? Sure, with a new far-Right Supreme Court Justice on the bench, this will almost certainly be a tactic.
In the past, the only thing that has consistently countered such nefarious "win-at-all-costs" Right-wing strategies on a large scale has been a broad upwelling of authentic populist grassroots excitement for a given candidate or agenda.
This is what propelled Obama to his initial victory, what energized Bernie's rise to prominence, and what promises to undermine the centrist DNC status quo as it did with New York's election of Ocasio-Cortez.
But we should always keep in mind that whatever has worked previously to elevate the will of the people into our representative democracy will always be countered by new deceptions, new backroom dark money dealings, new astroturfing campaigns, and new methods of hoodwinking by those on the Right who want to destroy our civic institutions. Nothing on the Left can compare - in scope or the amount of money spent - to how the Koch brothers coopted the Tea Party, how the Mercer family funded Breitbart and manipulated social media through Cambridge Analytica, what Rupert Murdoch accomplished with FOX News, or how the Scaife and Bradley foundations fund fake science to weaken or reverse government regulations. Billions have been spent to deceive Americans and create "alternative narratives" that spin any and all public debate toward conservative corporate agendas. And when the Supreme Court upheld the "free speech" of corporate Super PACs funded with dark money in its Citizens United
ruling, that just opened the floodgates for more of the same masterful deception.
So don't count on a Blue Wave to save us from a truly deranged Infant-in-Chief and his highly toxic agenda. Civil society - and the checks and balances of power for the U.S. Republic itself - will very likely continue to be methodically demolished and undermined by neoliberal plutocrats. I wish this was mere pessimistic speculation…but I really don't believe it is. As just one example of the effectiveness of these sneaky destroyers of democracy, consider how well-organized, well-funded, and effective the "science skepticism" of the past few decades has been. Take a few minutes to absorb the graphic illustration below, and then ask yourself:
1. Do we have caps on carbon emissions, and the necessary investment in green energy technology to replace fossil fuels, to avoid further escalation of climate change?
2. Have neonicotinoid insecticides been banned so essential bee populations can be saved?
3. Has the marketing of nicotine vaping products to teenagers been stopped to prevent them from lifelong addiction and health hazards?
4. Has the proliferation of GMOs been seriously slowed until we can better understand its long-term impacts?
5. Do a majority of Americans even believe any of these issues are even an urgent concern…?
Along the same lines, how good are working conditions at the largest U.S. companies? How high are those worker's wages? Will Social Security be able to pay 100% of benefits after 2034? Are wildly speculative investments on Wall Street being well-regulated? Are U.S. healthcare costs coming down? Are CEOs being held accountable for corporate malfeasance…and if so, how many have actually gone to jail?
The answer to these and countless similar questions informs us about the direction the U.S. is taking, and how nothing that interferes with corporate profits or the astounding wealth of their owner-shareholders will be allowed to flourish as long as conservative Republican (and possibly even centrist Democrats) hold power. In short, elected officials friendly to corporatocracy need to keep getting elected to keep this gravy train in motion. And so there is no cost too great to expend in order for them to win,
and the highest concentrations of wealth in the history of the world have brought all of their resources to bear to perpetuate those wins. This is why a Blue Wave alone cannot triumph in November. Perhaps, if every single Left-leaning voter - together with every single Independent-minded voter - comes out to make their voices heard at the ballot box, it just might make enough difference. And I do mean every single one. But a Blue Wave alone will probably not be enough. In effect, what America requires for a return to sanity and safety is what we might call a Blue-Orange Tsunami - perhaps even one with a tinge of Purple, where Independents, Democrats and the few sane Republicans remaining unite their voices and votes against a highly unstable fascistic threat.
Short of this, there is just too much money in play, carefully bending mass media, social media, news media, scientific research, legislators, election systems, judges, government agencies, public opinion and the President himself to its will.
Thanks for the question Michelle. I must first admit that I’m not a good candidate for videos, as I find the format painfully slow in its conveyances of themes and perspectives. Instead, I read the following writing of Benjamin Cain (hoping to find similar points there) in order to answer the OP’s question:
Scientism and the Artistic Side of Knowledge
Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Scientism and the Scapegoating of Philosophy
Here is my take so far:
Cain is spot on regarding scientism
— its sentiments are not a careful integration of the scientific method into our approach to knowledge, but rather an arrogant attitude
about the superiority of scientific pursuits over all other human aptitudes and interests — and of the dominion of human reasoning and worldviews over everything else in Nature (i.e. the anthropocentrism theme). In reality, of course, science is just one more facet of the human exploration (i.e. Cain’s pluralism), and humans are just one outcome of Nature’s vast experiments.
I’ve taken similar issues on myself in essays like this one: Sex at Dawn: The Fallacies of Simulated Science
— in which I attempt to differentiate between popular notions of science, and actual scientific thinking. Another attempt to broaden critical reflection and process beyond various patterns of exclusionary bias (including scientism) can be found here: Sector Theory 1.0 — Todd’s Take on Epistemology.
Some caveats: When Cain’s criticisms of Tyson (in second linked essay) begin framing him within neoliberalism, I think that goes a tad too far. In reality, Tyson’s attitudes and methods may indeed lend themselves to perpetuating a neoliberal agenda (by supporting capitalism’s growth-dependent innovations)…but I don’t believe they are deliberately propagating the same. In the same vein, Cain tends to overgeneralize about “scientists” in ways that don’t help his arguments. Though Cain’s observations are appropriate for the culture of science and scientific institutions (and broader cultural attitudes towards science), they simply do not apply to “all scientists.” In other words, he would do better off using his term “scientismist” instead during any such rants. That said, the first linked essay, “Scientism and the Artistic Side of Knowledge,” is much more carefully constructed and worded.
All-in-All, I think Cain has some interesting things to say, and should be seriously considered as a contributive perspective. He does not promote, as Joe Velikovsky asserts in his post, “anti-science nonsense;” Cain’s perpective is neither anti-science nor nonsensical. He is simply asserting that, in a cultural, psychological and epistemic sense, “science is not the only story worth telling.” That is, science does not yet offer a complete picture of all aspects of existence and experience…so why are so many folks so emotionally (and irrationally) committed to insisting that it does?
Further, Cain argues that scientific knowledge itself is fraught with the same intuitive, prejudging shortcomings (or advantages, depending on your perspective) as all other human methodologies. Cain’s is a well-reasoned criticism — and I think it takes particular aim at the non-scientific use of scientific knowledge (i.e. scientism as a sort of religion). One would think rational folks would appreciate that distinction….
My 2 cents.
Agorism is Konkin’s Rothbardian wet dream, with some later infusions of counter-establishment activism. It is utterly confused and self-contradictory form of right-libertarianism — and to invest in Agorism (or even entertain Konkin’s ideas as well-reasoned) is to bend one’s own thinking into such pretzels as to potentially break important cognitive capacities. In part I think this is due to Konkin’s ignorance: for example, he misuses terms (like “Left-Libertarian”) without any understanding of their history or context. In part, however, this is just due to crooked logic; Konkin is kin to Ayn Rand in this regard.
Voluntaryism (not to be confused with voluntarism!) is a much broader container, built around mutual consent. As a tool to evaluate (and avoid) Statist impositions, it seems to be a useful concept. As a sort of moral standard, it is not as helpful. When married to capitalism (or defending property ownership, etc.), voluntaryism begins to twist its proponent’s thinking into rather nasty knots…like wage slavery being okay as long as it’s contractual (i.e. there is no recognition of coercive power structures).
I hope this was helpful.
Rand’s sins are legion, but here are the most egregious from my perspective:
1) Her misunderstanding and frequent misapplication of Aristotle.
2) Her promoting cigarettes as a “Promethean muse” that had no health risks.
3) Her unprincipled hypocrisy (in the same breath that she didn’t take responsibility for her cigarette-induced lung disease, she became dependent on the socialized safety nets she railed against).
4) Her bizarre assertions about human psychology, which really have no basis in anything scientific or even careful observations, but are purely Rand’s own inventions.
5) Her misunderstanding of causality regarding personal success, power and wealth accumulation (i.e. these do not materialize magically out of thin air as a consequence of individual effort or entrepreneurial spirit, but are wholly dependent on a supportive framework of civil society, generations of education and cooperation, the interdependence of human relationships, and — in Rand’s conceptions in particular — the availability of capital).
6) Her perpetual conflation of rhetoric and emotional reasoning
with logic and objectivity.
In other words, Rand would espouse various claims as if they were the consequence of logical argument, when they were really just layers of one fallacy upon another — with their fundamental justification being the sheer force of Rand’s personal will and imagination.
7) Her corrosive and destructive views about femininity, male-female dynamics, sexuality, romantic love, and even sexual intercourse itself.
Her astounding arrogance that, despite a great deal of evidence in support of everything listed above, Rand believed she was making a meaningful contribution to philosophical discourse…and that more people should follow her prescriptions.
My 2 cents.
To support a new framing of this longstanding issue, my latest essays covers many different facets and details that impact the polarization of Left/Right discourse. However, its main focus centers around the concept of personal and collective agency
. That is, how such agency has been effectively sabotaged in U.S. culture and politics for both the Left and the Right
, and how we might go about assessing and remedying that problem using various tools such as a proposed "agency matrix." The essay then examines a number of scenarios in which personal-social agency plays out, to illustrate the challenge and benefits of finding a constructive solution - one that includes multiple ideological and cultural perspectives.
Essay link in PDF: The Underlying Causes of Left vs. Right Dysfunction in U.S. Politics
Also available in an online-viewable format at this academia.edu link
As always, feedback is welcome via emailing [email protected]
I’m fairly certain that Rousseau, Wittgenstein, Aquinas, Sartre, Marcus Aurelius, Hegel and many other great thinkers would heartily agree with this question's sentiment. It takes real courage to remain vigilant about our own epistemic assumptions — and the conclusions we reach while relying upon them. Add to this our natural fallibility, ego attachments, fear of what we do not comprehend, and tendency to cling to the comfort of what is familiar…and, well…our ship of inquiry will always crash upon the rocks of self-reference eventually. But that doesn’t mean we can’t build a new ship, hoist our sales and seek a new course of insight. We need only be cognizant the breath that animates that quest, the buoyancy of mind that keeps us afloat, and the awareness that steers our course. And yes…we can still “love the truth” as an unknown objective, as a glint of light luring us from just beyond the horizon; to intuit its presence or catch the briefest glimpse with some fragment of our faculties does not negate devotion. Indeed it can inspire it, despite our apprehension about probing the unknowable. Perhaps it is easier to fall in love with mystery — or what mystery evokes in our imagination — rather than with our own settled beliefs. Or at least the love feels more genuine, and less contrived and pretentious.
I think what often steers us back to the perceived safety of that rocky shoreline is our fear that we will drift without a compass, or sight of land, or lose the motivating pneuma that makes our sails swell so pregnantly with purpose. But the intrinsic passion for truth will call from the open ocean, even when we are rudderless and adrift in the doldrums of our gravest stupidities. Even into the last instant, when the parched intellect is sure of its extinguishment, there can be truth…and love of truth…if we are open to it. Which is why the comforts of the settled shore, the habitual status quo, the camaraderie of cracking fires and shared soup, the coddling sleep upon still rocks — even if all of these are equally mere inventions of the mind — will always still the seeker within more readily than death. And so the morning after is itself a revelation, a revision of each old truth with something new, if we are willing to venture once more out to sea. All the greatest thinkers experienced this, which is why their thinking evolved over time, and why they often abandoned initial modes and premises and foundations for a better design or broader vision…or dismissed their previous assertions as faulty precursors for a more precipitous leap into the vast unknown.
My 2 cents.
Basically Aquinas argues from the position that — logically, intuitively, observationally, analogically — there can't be an infinite regress of causes, and he does this along several lines of reasoning. In essence, in order for God to be God, that prime mover can’t have a preceding cause. It would negate the primacy (and thus the divinity) of that mover. To appreciate both the context and the details of his arguments, it would be helpful to read the entirely of his discussion on the existence of God at the beginning of Summa Theologiae
. You can read that online here: The existence of God (Prima Pars, Q. 2)
Hi Carl — thanks for the question. I suspect our fundamental attitudes about valuation are not that far apart, as we have both come to similar conclusions about that which is “life sustaining” having authentic “value.” I attempt to address this in my consideration of “holistic value,” but that formula also includes human-perceived-utitilty as part of the calculus. Anything that contradicts or undermines holistic value (but nevertheless commands high exchange value) is categorized as having “perverse utility.” There is a brief overview of the concept here: L7 Holistic Value
, and here is how I summarize and expand on it a bit in my essay “Reframing Profit
“In Level 7, for-profit and non-profit designations can be addressed to some degree via the collectively designated holistic value for a given product or service, as this valuation process will inherently expand or contract potential profitability. How do we arrive at holistic value? In brief we can apply the following formula, which expands slightly upon previous conceptions described in Political Economy and the Unitive Principle:
As part of this process, we can even target the "fulcrum's plane" of ideal nourishment to refine holistic value with objective metrics – metrics which can then be made available to all via the Public Information Clearinghouse.”
Now this essay (as well as what I cover in the Unitive Principle
book) is really discussing a transitional state of affairs.
It is a compromise that attempts to reconcile human machinations and culture with Nature’s underlying order (as embodied in Integral Lifework’s “multidimensional nourishment” and the unitive principle itself
). To appreciate what I’m aiming for here, I recommend reading the entire overview of L7 Property Position
. I believe you will intuit what I’m headed with these ideas…
Looking forward to your thoughts Carl.
My 2 cents.
Comment from Carl Leitz: "Brilliant and deep insights here - it's discouraging to realize how much more we need to know just to be able to scratch the surface of what there is to know."
The challenge, I think, is that we are still in the relative dark ages with respect to developing an ethical and egalitarian political economy. Not just in conception, but in the groundwork necessary for implementation. So a lot of fundamentals have to be revisited — and in some cases reinvented. And we can’t always rely on all of the tools or concepts (or language) already in use, because they are…well…essentially toxic. But they are also complex, and well-established. So it’s a bit like saying to the modern economist: “Hey, so we need to stop using leeches. Yes, I know we have been using them for a while, but they don’t really work….” And the reaction is often, I would suppose, not unlike how the “doctors” of the middle ages would have reacted: incredulity and reflexive rejection of the truth. (sigh) So we have a long way to go….
Politicians? I wasn’t aware they cared about democracy at all. They certainly don’t in my country (U.S.A.). Thanks to the dogged efforts of neoliberal owner-shareholders, U.S. democracy has become little more than crony, clientist state capitalism. “Representative” democracy mainly represents a relatively small number of wealthy owner-shareholders, not the broader electorate who has been hoodwinked into voting against their own interests.
As for intellectuals, I think the promotion of direct democracy and consensus democracy are often discussed in a future-looking way by academics because these approaches hold a lot of promise, and have been fairly successful wherever they’ve been tried.
Yes, I do believe intellectual capacity is decreasing in the developed world, even as it increases in developing countries. However, it doesn’t require a brilliant intellect to envision or practice new forms of direct or consensus democracy. It just requires a bit of education, a level moral maturity that recognizes the importance of civic responsibility and participation, and an attenuation of “I/Me/Mine” economic materialism.
My 2 cents.
Well that’s probably a very accurate description for just about every codependent action. The person acting as enabler (or “unskillful helper”) is certain they are acting out of compassion, caring and a strong desire to help…and therefore they think they have the “moral high ground” in taking a given action. The problem is that they are really just facilitating a destructive, abusive, compulsive, often hopelessly enmeshed downward spiraling relationship — that is, they are wrong in both their belief about where there motivations are coming from, and what their actions will achieve.
1) The parent who keeps giving their child sugar whenever the child throws a tantrum about wanting more. This isn’t loving at all…it’s indulgent and destructive. But the parent often is thinking something like “My child is suffering and needs my love! I must give them sugar to prove that I love them!”
2) The physically and emotionally abused partner who keeps returning to the relationship because they believe something like “My partner is wounded and hurting, and my abandoning them will make things worse! They don’t mean to be so abusive…they are just in so much pain they can’t help themselves….”
3) The friend of an alcoholic who “doesn’t want them to drink alone,” because that could lead to some very bad decisions…and so procures “good quality booze” to bring over to their friend, so they can get drunk together. You know…safely.
And so forth. In each case, the enabler/supporter rationalizes their actions based on what they believe is the “morally right” thing to do for the person they care about. They feel justified, and will even aggressively defend their decision. But they are really just perpetuating harm — in part out of ignorance and lack of skillfulness, but also in part because they are trying to heal something broken and wounded within themselves via that other wounded person.
My 2 cents.
Well…hmm…Thiel appears to exhibit some fairly psychopathic ideation, along with a paucity of emotional intelligence — a combination that is routinely rewarded by modern capitalism. Among the many things he simply doesn’t understand or appreciate is human motivation itself: why do people do what they do? In his universe, the will to power/wealth/superiority is really the only viable, universal prime cause. There is nothing else. This fundamental failure (of both imagination and cogent observation of the human condition) could have been influenced by Thiel’s exposure to folks like Rothbard, Rand, Friedman, Mises and the like; but I think the starting point in this case is just an inner brokenness and lack of cognitive-emotive facility. Thiel is stuck.
And it is that stuckness — that profound limitation — which leads Thiel to his conclusions about democracy. It’s a bit like a child insisting that a dog ate his homework. Blaming welfarism, feminism, progressivism, socialism…or any other “social justice” agenda for the failures of capitalism is…well, it’s just stupid. Really stupid. Capitalism is its own worst enemy, and, with a brief and unique exception of laissez faire in Sweden during the late 1800s, has otherwise universally ended up eating its own tail without socialistic and democratic reforms. Why? Because of natural monopolies, resource depletion, market saturation, the spread of price-inelastic demand across most commodities, lack of profit incentive for public goods, increasing concentrations of wealth and exponentially expanding wealth disparities, negative externalities, inevitable wage stagnation, and a host of other factors. Democracy has absolutely nothing to do with any of these. In fact, it is usually democracy and socialized approaches that contain capitalism’s drive to self-immolate; they are the only reason capitalism’s inevitable death has been delayed.
So, just like the Presidential candidate Thiel supported, and the counterproductive US economic agenda playing itself out now around the globe, Thiel’s ideas in this area are woefully misinformed and, ultimately, really destructive.
My 2 cents.
Get our collective act together. This would include:
1. Ending militarism and WMD.
2. Moving away from highly toxic and destructive crony capitalism to a more egalitarian political economy.
3. Thinking more collectively about solving problems that affect all of us — rather than individualistically about what “works best for ME.”
4. Being more understanding and inclusive about “difference” (If our societies are intolerant of LGBTQ, women, or people with different skin tones, how could we ever learn to get along with aliens?).
5. Exercising the “precautionary principle” regarding new technologies and innovations, instead of rushing to adopt them.
6. Getting more of a handle on our own well-being, in a truly holistic and harmonious sense. If we aren’t truly “well” — mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually — then we shouldn’t be spreading our illnesses around the galaxy (remember Smallpox and Native Americans…?).
7. And, as a general principle that influences all of the above, becoming much better at understanding and addressing our own limitations and shortcomings — individually and collectively.
In other words, we need to grow up a bit as a species. For some time I have theorized that other spacefaring intelligences are likely patiently waiting for us to mature enough to meet them. I would speculate that, right now, they are very disappointed in human beings, who seem to be moving backwards rather than forwards in terms of societal stability and individual development.
My 2 cents.
Thanks for the question Douglas.
This question (or some version of it) has actually been widely debated in the arts, philosophy and even religion for many decades. A fairly pervasive view is that yes, many of the creative, philosophical and spiritual subjects and expressions (across all mediums, really) just after the industrial revolution began were a reaction to that industrialization and the alienation of human beings from natural environments, from their historical social relationships, and indeed from their spiritual nature. This observed pattern/reaction was a fairly dominant feature of discourse at that time, and has persisted across multiple fields of study. Here is just one example of that view (from Romanticism and the Industrial Revolution
“Romanticism was also closely tied to the Industrial Revolution in Europe. From the latter decades of the 18th century to the middle of the 19th century, most of Europe and particularly what is now the United Kingdom saw a massive migration of rural workers into large metropolitan areas. These workers were making the jump in order to work in the large factories that were springing up all over metropolitan areas as manufacturing capacity, aided by steam engines and copious supplies of coal, exploded all across Europe. Romanticism also played upon this drastic societal change, as many in Europe witnessed the large-scale pollution of coal-burning industry and the problems it caused, including water pollution and incredibly poor air quality for many major cities, as well as the many health problems that sprang up in its wake. Romanticism emphasized nature over industry, a point where again we can see the dominant force of the age (the Industrial Revolution) itself helping to create an art movement that began as a foil to that dominant force and then grew.”
Along with the Romanticism of the visual arts, literature and even music, there was also an equivalent romanticism in philosophy and a parallel transcendentalism in spirituality. Here alienation from Nature itself was a chief concern — as was the Enlightenment’s seeming overdependence on empiricism, rationalism and reductionism (a la Descartes, etc.). From 19th Century Romantic Aesthetics
“We have fallen out with nature, and what was once (as we believe) One is now in conflict with itself, and mastery and servitude alternate on both sides. It often seems to us as if the world were everything and we nothing, but often too as if we were everything and the world nothing. (Hölderlin, Preface to Hyperion, HSA 3: 326).”
And from Romanticism
“Philosophical Romanticism holds that the universe is a single unified and interconnected whole, and full of values, tendencies and life, not merely objective lifeless matter. The Romantic view is that reason, objectivity and analysis radically falsify reality by breaking it up into disconnected lifeless entities, and the best way of perceiving reality is through some subjective feeling or intuition, through which we participate in the subject of our knowledge, instead of viewing it from the outside. Nature is an experience, and not an object for manipulation and study, and, once experienced, the individual becomes in tune with his feelings and this is what helps him to create moral values.”
One of the more influential thinkers and writers of this era was Henry David Thoreau, and I would encourage you to read any-and-all of his writings here: Thoreau’s Writings.
It’s actually pretty entertaining reading, and IMO still holds relevance and potency.
As you know, Marx himself expounded extensively about a similar flavor of alienation, unnatural rearrangement of social relations, and destruction of the creative capacities and nature of human beings. His take, however, was that the heart of the problem was less empiricism or rationalism, but rather capitalism in concert with industrialization — and in fact he sought to examine the underlying socio-economic dynamics using the tools of the Enlightenment (math, science, rational discourse, etc).
Since the time of those initial reactions and expressions, advanced human societies have largely adapted to urban, industrialized life, along with its cultural diversity and affluence, individualistic isolation, increased pollution and violence, wide array of interests and discourse, etc. — that is, its many pluses and minuses. There are still movements that seek to reconnect people with each other and with Nature, as well as intermittent cultural convulsions when modernity’s negative externalities become too dangerous or extreme (the 1960s in the U.S. was, I think, a fairly pronounced example of this). But for the most part, like proverbial frogs in a pot of water that is slowly coming to a boil, human beings have largely become numb to the deleterious impacts of industrialized, urbanized life. In fact, some folks will fiercely defend its “advantages.” But, as increasing breakdowns and challenges seem to attest — and here I am referring to everything from increases in mental illness and autism, to increases in cancer and diabetes, to the steady decline in human IQ, to the increasing depression and anxiety of each generation, to the increasing homogenization and nutritional emptiness of our food supply, etc. — the “frog” of humanity is slowly being destroyed by everything the Romantics were railing against.
My 2 cents.
Ignorance of our own ignorance, coupled with our willful tendencies to conceal and deny how ignorant we are whenever confronted with the fact.
If I could drop this act
Of eating clouds and stars and dreams
And sculpting meaning
From my own excrement
I might wield my sword of chance
With greater purpose.
But in forgetting what I never knew
I pound my chest
And bark my truth
Offering in willful confidence
A beacon to the rudderless.
Now aimless on a pond
The scent of steaming light
Creeps through hearty reeds
Lifting mind and spirit
Toward spacious absence.
I cannot rest
I cannot rest
For these long histories
Some pageantry is due.
My 2 cents.
Thanks for the question. That may be a good place to start, but it really doesn’t get you very far down the road to a complete — comprehensive — ethical framework. For example:
1) Inaction can cause harm — because we aren’t actively stopping harm from occurring — and so counteracting or preventing harm entails more than just “avoiding” actively harming someone.
2) Sometimes choosing to harm people or property is necessary to prevent even greater harm. If I know a truck full of explosives is being driven toward an elementary school full of children with destructive intent, I would have no moral qualms about shooting the driver and causing an accident or explosion that destroys that truck and a bunch of empty vehicles parked in the school parking lot.
3) Even a simple definition of “harm nothing and no one” requires wisdom and discernment to be effective — to know how to avoid or prevent harm requires perceptiveness, insight, experience, careful reflection, compassion, etc. And developing such wisdom and discernment requires self-awareness, personal discipline…and often conscious alignment with a greater context.
4) As for “a greater context,” let’s say you decide that the greater context is “doing the greatest good, for the greatest number, for the greatest duration.” That entails a lot more work, focus and learning than just avoiding or preventing harm in your personal interactions. So developing that context is just as important as having a personal ethical standard of “do no harm.” Again, though, this requires quite a bit of additional effort…and time.
These are the sorts of things that moderate both the “anything you do” part of the OP’s question, and the “do no harm” part as well. Having a worthwhile intent is not the same as developing “predictive efficacy;” and without being skilled and insightful about how our choices will impact others, we actually have little more chance at “harming nothing and no one” than someone rolling a die to decide what to do. If we are sincere about the kindness of our intent, we can’t just stick our heads in the ground and hope for the best…we have to engage the world around us, learn a lot about it, learn how to think both critically and intuitively, and work with others, so that we can navigate the astounding complexities that lie between our intent and a genuinely positive outcome.
My 2 cents.
Thanks for the question. Of that which seems difficult to question:
1) Mind is.
From which follows:
1) Mind discerns and isolates through differentiation — operationally and imaginatively — and thereby boundarizes the ‘real’ as it interacts with lived experience.
2) Mind generates consensus reality in communication with other minds, within shared experiences and boundaries.
3) Mind seeks to extend its emergence beyond the limitations of perception-cognition, with speculative results that soften and, ultimately, reunite initial differentiations.
4) In the course of conceiving of its own extinguishment and error, mind challenges everything it has come to ‘know.’
That’s about as far as I would go regarding fundamentals.
My 2 cents.
Thanks for the question. There are several different types of creative thinking, and each has its own combination of supportive conditions and factors that serve it — often varying from one person to the next. Here is an initial take on how I would map those out….
1) Creative problem solving under pressure.
2) Serendipitous inspired insight that leads to innovation.
3) Creative self-expression in an organized form.
4) Creative communication.
5) Outlier thinking (thinking “outside the box”).
6) Discernment and wisdom.
7) Moral creativity.
Now each of these has its own specific definition, context, application and supportive conditions, and generalizing about them all is probably going to miss the mark. But — again as a very loose generalization — there are a number of common factors engaged to varying degrees, including:
1) Letting go of analytical rigor and rapid-cycling “head time” — along with its associated high-pressure intentional focus — to allow alternate input streams (emotional, somatic, spiritual, relational, etc.) to percolate through our awareness.
2) Holding everything involved in a given situation very lightly…what I call “the art of suspension…” so that no particular input or concern dominates.
3) Relinquishing personal ego-attachments to outcomes (i.e. expectations of praise, monetary rewards, career success, etc.).
4) Preparation and self-discipline — personal education, training and skill development in the form of creativity being practiced.
5) Looking inward rather than outward (i.e. relying on the still voice and spaciousness within to evoke and distill creativity, rather than on external stimuli or conditions).
6) Isolation from a deluge of cultural memes — that is, insulating oneself from a constant barrage of media, cultural inputs and expectation, etc.
I would also say that, beyond “creative thinking” itself, these conditions and practices also encourage excellence in creative thinking, choices, expression and follow-through.
My 2 cents.
As a simplified summary, wisdom is knowledge applied with compassion.
As a more formalized and detailed procedure:
data/observation → education/information/contextualization → insight/knowledge → compassionate/inclusive intentionality (i.e. “for the good of All”) → application/testing/efficacy → experiential feedback → ongoing practice + fine-tuning → additional multidimensional input streams (emotional + somatic + spiritual + analytical intelligence) → discernment → consistent operationalization + values alignment→ wisdom.
My 2 cents.
Property ownership is an entirely contrived and arbitrary social construct. The only thing “natural” about it is the selfish desire to keep things we want to ourselves, or “marking our territory” to attract a mate or feel less threatened. But such primitive instincts are not, in themselves, justified or “right” until society agrees that they are. And there are a LOT of primitive instincts (for example: to kill others, to have sex all the time with different people, to keep eating even whey we’re full, to destroy stuff for fun, to steal things we want, etc.) that are NOT sanctioned by society. So why do we sanction the concept of private property? Why does that have a special, elevated position among all of our animalistic impulses…? Getting down to exactly why this is the case can take some digging into our own tacit assumptions about “why things are.” Most of the time, we operate on an immense framework of culturally programmed reflexes, and have very little awareness why we do the things we do — or believe the things we believe. It takes real effort to challenge that programming, and even more effort to undo it.
My 2 cents.
They are inseparably linked — and as yet very few societies have been able to champion both at the same time. To have sufficient agency to claim to be “free,” there must of necessity be both egalitarian economic mobility and opportunity, and the broadest consensus of democratic will in self-governance. Sure, civic institutions and competitive markets are helpful first steps…but until you also ensure equity of economic and political influence for every individual, then concentrations of economic power will always coincide with concentrations of political power — it is inevitable and unstoppable. That is why it is so important to extend and support democratic mechanisms across all aspects of society — including economic systems, institutions and processes. This has been the primary failing of modern democratic societies, and why they are increasingly being “captured” by plutocrats and crony capitalism. To reverse this trend, we must move toward a political economy that champions equity rather than arbitrary privilege, and consensus and direct/semi-direct democratic mechanisms rather than insulated party bureaucracies.
My 2 cents.
The stumbling block here is that different realms of conception are being mixed together — like oil and water. In mathematics, integers range from negative infinity…through zero…to infinity. In philosophy and spirituality, nothingness or void can be included in definitions of an Absolute that encompasses all existence. However, there is also the concept of non-existence which is outside of existence, and by definition outside of conceptions of the Absolute as well. Other terms — such as “emptiness” or “unmanifest” — can refer to the potential for existence that is noncontingent, and thus imply a certain something that is neither nothingness nor non-existence. In physics, informal reference to “nothingness” is actually the majority of what exists as empty space — what is between all matter — but which is quite busy at the quantum level. And all of these are semantic distinctions which do not equate each other. Infinity is not equal to the Absolute, and nothingness and void are not equal to non-existence, nor is “empty space” the same as “unmanifest,” and so on. The error of the OP’s proposition is in ignoring these semantic differences.
My 2 cents.
Thank you for the question Roberto.
So getting to the heart of any answer to the question posed (“How did Spinoza [reconcile] his faith in Christ with his philosophy of God?” ) IMO will require reading through at least a few portions of his Tractatus Theologico-Politicus. This work is much more accessible than his Ethics, and clearly spells out his views on both the nature and role of faith, the place that Jesus Christ holds with respect to knowledge of God, and indeed the “flexibility” of what remains — namely the specifics of revealed knowledge. This last part, which speaks to Spinoza’s philosophy of God, is the most critical to appreciate IMO — with respect to Spinoza’s thought, and to answering the OP’s question. Spinoza’s overarching message in Theologico-Politicus is that the details of any individual philosophy about the nature of the Divine are completely and overwhelmingly overrun by what scripture instructs us to do: namely, to be obedient to God in our love for others, regardless of our personal justification for doing so. This is Spinoza’s chief contribution to discussions of spiritual relationship with the Divine, and IMO deserves our full attention. His point is really just a variation on what Christ taught: that all the rules and justifications and dogma of religious orthodoxy are just chaff to be burned up in the fires of agape. To be kind and charitable and fiercely outspoken — often in self-sacrificial ways — for the good of others is the expression of God’s essence that embodies genuine obedience — that is, as opposed to following a rigid set of rules. At the same time, how a believer chooses to understand, evaluate and execute this mandate is really entirely up to them — according to the culture within which they live, their native intelligence and abilities, and (and here I am extending Spinoza’s logic rather than summarizing his POV) their level of spiritual and psychosocial development. That is how Spinoza explains the different individual expressions of faith and different collective religious dogmas, and why he dismisses their importance in anything but a facilitative sense. Again, though, all he is really doing here is reiterating and extending Christ’s central message.
In conclusion, then, there is nothing to reconcile: Spinoza’s view of Christ as the preeminent communicator of God’s essence — that is, the perfect expression of the Mind of God in word and deed — does not at all contradict, undermine or interfere with Spinoza’s view of God. They are, in fact, in complete harmony with each other — both regarding Spinoza’s view of God’s expression of essence or nature in Christ, and in the variability of philosophical viewpoints that serve that expression. Human philosophy is, for Spinoza, only superficially divergent from revealed knowledge — because both are bounded my human imagination and interpretation, and both are a superficial layering over the core tenets of salvation: to reify compassionate affection and joy in relationship with others as evidence of God/Christ/holy spirit-in-us. And so, when Spinoza elaborates in Ethics on God as “a substance consisting of infinite attributes,” and that human thought and intuition are an extension of the Mind of God as modes of one such attribute (thought), he is really just elaborating on all things in existence being a continuum of Divine essence. In this sense, all the previous discussion here (about Christ, revelation, faith, salvation, etc.) can be framed within the context of the myriad extensions and attributes (or expressions of essence, if you will) of the Divine interacting with each other according to their Divine nature. Human consciousness then becomes a veneer layered on top of this dynamic interplay, a partial component seeking to understand the whole. And, once that whole is understood according to the capacities available to us — once the veneer is removed to expose the essential unity of a Creation that is the cause of itself — this produces boundless joy for us. And the logos of Christ? It is a powerful nudge in that very direction.
So there is no contradiction or even tension the nature of Christ and the philosophy of God for Spinoza, there is only imperfect understanding that gradually gives way to an inherent harmony. Again, though, I would spend some quality time with Tractatus Theologico-Politicus to further appreciate Spinoza’s perspectives around theology in this regard.
My 2 cents.
Thanks for the question Dida. Here’s the current state of my thinking on this….
1) From the perspective of ignorance — the result of a lack of personal experience, or an absence of careful introspection, or an incomplete education in the history of sociology, philosophy, art, science, religion, etc. — all positions, assertions, insights and so forth may appear
to be relative. In reality, they are not, and appearances can be deceiving…much like the shadows on the wall in Plato’s cave.
2) After a requisite amount of experience, introspection, education and integration, it becomes apparent that there are indeed many different positions along a given continuum of ever-increasing efficacy and certainty. At one end of that continuum are unskillful, uninformed, impulsive and conditioned/reflexive responses and actions that lack efficacy and certainty…despite feeling “relatively” true to the person acting them out — we might call this the “conditional” end of that continuum. At the other end of the continuum is highly refined, skillful, informed, carefully considered responses and actions that have a much higher level of predictive efficacy…even though the person acting them out may still have doubts; this is the more “absolute” end of the continuum. And all along that continuum are incremental shifts that lean in one directly or the other. I think research into the Dunning–Kruger effect
sheds some light on this process across many different areas.
3) From a subjective point of view — or even across an entire homogenous culture — it can be difficult to appreciate why a given aesthetic, or value, or ethical standard, or cultural expectation seems so contradictory to those of someone else, or those of another culture. But again, this seeming
begins to erode via emotional, intellectual, relational and indeed spiritual development that incorporates intersubjective and intercultural perspectives and experiences. The more absolute
truths emerge not from an homogenous, sheltered and self-absorbed or protective existence, but from an open, engaging, porous synthesis through intimate interactions with others, empathic immersion in their experiences, and a fair amount of courage.
4) Thus mature wisdom tends to become more and more integral and integralizing — more able to suspend certainty in favor of holding all apparent contradictions lightly and compassionately until their fundamental ground (in shared, essential characteristics) becomes clear. Ultimately, this unitive process results in an enduring perception of the common underpinnings of seemingly
divergent perspectives. But it is quite difficult to return to the cave and explain this illumination — and it takes time to free oneself from old emotional habits and modes of thinking that persist from earlier stages of development.
My 2 cents.
Sure. I’ve personally known people committed to rewilding themselves, and have studied a number of individual examples. I myself have experimented (both purposefully and by unintended accident) with various degrees of both exiting a highly destructive capitalist society, and returning to Nature. It’s not easy, and requires a lot of planning, preparation, education and training. It also requires adequate and compatible natural environs within which to survive. There is a broad spectrum of exit strategies and perspectives, and learning about as many as possible will be helpful. In my own case, each experience taught me a lot about my own limitations, how Nature is often uncooperative regarding human intentions and survival, and how such efforts are indeed liberating in unexpected ways. It also taught me just how much courage is required to self-liberate (be prepared to confront various levels of existential terror on a routine basis). If you are willing to carefully prepare, learn from others who have taken this journey, and be open to having your expectations radically rearranged, then this may be a worthwhile objective for you. Regardless of where you end up in the process, you may find some creative ways to “not participate” in the destruction of planet Earth — and to help others understand the benefits of doing so.
My 2 cents.
Plato’s elevation of “contemplative leisure” should not be equated with modern concepts of affluence and “recreational time” IMO. A shepherd herding sheep all day has plenty of “contemplative leisure,” for example, as long as no crisis arises. As does a professional bricklayer who can lay bricks all day without really thinking about it. In this sense, the critical component in developing wisdom is time to think — time to integrate and evaluate and self-reflect. In many ways I suspect this is why so many people in modern developed countries are becoming increasingly unwise: they do not cultivate this spaciousness for their interiority, but instead are constantly seeking stimulation, titillation, comfort and escape. Indeed they seem to have too much leisure in this regard. So I would say that a conscious and active cultivation of contemplation — in any and all situations — is really at the heart of Plato’s concern…and it should still be for us today. And, lastly, there is also the cofactor of quality input streams — information that contributes to wisdom, rather than simply distracting or entertaining us, is also essential to contemplative insights. In other words, what we think about is just as important as how we think about it.
My 2 cents.
Thanks for the question Joel. Well it certainly often feels
— subjectively and collectively — like we are living in various prisons. For example:
1) The prison of our economic system, and our status within it
(conspicuous consumption, wage and debt slavery, striving for affluence, “greed is good” acquisitiveness, etc.)
2) The prison of cultural expectations
(getting married, procreating, achieving self-sufficiency, going to college, etc.)
3) The prison of conceptual dualism and its inevitable reductionism
(left/right, moral/immoral, good/bad, ingroup/outgroup, etc.)
4) The prison of our investment in a particular worldview
(i.e. ideological purity, exclusionary bias, a tendency toward tribalism, etc.)
5) The prison of our unconscious or unmanageable habitual behaviors
(conditioned, impulsive, addictive, etc.)
6) The prison of our perception-cognition
(i.e. the structural and conditioned limitations of our mind)
7) The prison of comfort
(avoiding difficulty or confrontation, self-soothing behaviors, pleasure seeking, distraction, safe routines, etc.)
The prison of our choices
(i.e. the often unintended consequences of individual and collective investment)
There are more…many more…but we can feel trapped in a very real-seeming cage with regard to any of these methinks.
Often the best option people believe to be available is to learn how to acquiesce and integrate — to submit to these apparent cages and discover “freedom” in how they are navigated. Adolescents instinctively attempt to free themselves from these seeming impositions, but most often revert to a mimesis of their parent culture and the examples of their family of origin — they return to the river. It is a very rare exception that steps outside of the prison current, and most often these brave souls — the outliers by nature or choice — are ostracized, ignored, dismissed or neglected. And that is can be very painful existence for social critters like humans. An even rarer exception is the handful of outliers who demonstrate paths to some form of freedom — conscious interior will, cultural nonconformance, somatic reconditioning, psychosocial reprogramming, a new way of thinking, spiritual liberty — that inspires others to untether themselves.
My 2 cents.
A fun challenge, thanks for the question. Here’s my 10-word offering:
“You aren’t what you feel/think, but what you do.”
My 2 cents.
Thanks for the question. In my opinion, it is not the primary aim of religions to teach moral values. Often, religious institutions will, over time, elevate moral correctness or dogma to an excessive level — seemingly just so that adherents can be more easily controlled, or to create a standard of conformance that qualifies as the appearance of being religious. But when we read the scriptures of the world’s spiritual traditions, it rapidly becomes clear that there is much, much more being discussed there than “100 things we must do,” and “100 things we must not do” in order to be a moral person. Instead, the focus is often on a much more subtle development of character, or a specific quality of faith, or a transformative change in attitude, or ways to develop discernment and wisdom, or a clearly defined avenue to “all spiritual truths” — moral and otherwise. So morality, as such, really becomes a secondary property of spirituality; advanced moral values are a natural outgrowth of spiritual maturity — evidence of our progress, if you will — rather than a central aim.
My 2 cents.
Thank you for the question. For our overarching goal, I think we should aim to embody skillful compassion at all levels of human organization — as a species, as cultures and nations, as communities, as individuals. In other words, to have compassion for ourselves, for one another, for the Earth and all its wonderful forms of life, and in our interactions with species and places beyond the Earth’s sphere…and to exercise that compassion with increasing predictive efficacy. This latter aspect of the imperative — the skillfulness and effectiveness part — is what knowledge, technology, artistic expression, wisdom, discernment and so on can aid us with. But the primary imperative itself — to love — can only be achieved through individual and collective emotional commitment to nourishing and amplifying our existing prosocial traits; this must become the focus of human beings that subjugates all others. And right now, mainly because of our dominant forms of political economy and the prevailing cultural zeitgeist, we are failing at this imperative. We are not quieting our most corrosive and repulsive antisocial traits, but instead glorifying them. This choice — which is essentially a moral one — has been with us from the beginning of recorded history and likely (considering what modern primate research has revealed) long before. I suspect it will persist until the human species is extinct — which is likely to occur much sooner if we don’t change our course.
My 2 cents.
“Truth” is a virtual point located between many different possibilities that are all equally true. This is the concept of multidialecticalism or constructive integralism. The moment we begin to constrain the conditions, context and containers for a given truth (for example, as objective, subjective, intersubjective, interobjective, universal, particular, etc.) is the moment we begin to lose our grip on the multiplicity of what is, and relegate it to black-and-white thinking. Extensions of Cartesian isolation of interdependent truths into “distinct substances” has led to temporarily convenient but ultimately unhelpful dualisms, divisions and specializations. It’s a mode of thought that has fueled the ascension of STEM, but is unsuitable to navigating infinite facets of nuance and complexity. Instead, our future demands we awaken to a more open holism of thought. This realization has had a profound impact on my life, my consciousness and my approaches to problem-solving, my understanding and integration of different fields, approaches to well-being, and conceptions of individual and collective transformation and growth.
My 2 cents.
Of course nearly everything is based on assumptions, which IMO is only a trap if:
a) We aren’t aware we are making those assumptions.
b) We don’t test them against our experience, observation, intuition and logic.
c) We don’t suspend or revise them when confronted with contrary evidence.
d) We aren’t vigilant and skeptical regarding our own certainties (i.e. we don’t hold our assumptions lightly)
All efforts at knowing are predicated upon certain assumptions — even if the assumption is that using a particular method, or symbolic language, or type of data, or quality of consciousness will ensure a high degree of validity. It may be that those assumptions are consistently proven — over and over again — by careful testing, and that they reliably enhance our predictive efficacy. But most proposed absolutes are either extremely difficult to prove, unknowable, or ineffable — because human perception-cognition is fallible. So really, asserting that “everything is based on human assumptions” is just a form of humility.
LOL. Thanks for the question. So the answer is relatively simple IMO: There is a high likelihood that both conditions could be true at the same time. Nothingness — or non-existence — could only be a concept, and/or nothingness could hint at conditions that are one step further removed from non-existence as a concept. In other words, there is (1) our concept of nothingness, (2) our speculations about a non-existence that is once step further removed from our conceptions of nothingness, and (3) what actually is (or is not, as the case may be). If we are dualistic in our thinking, we will tend to force ourselves to choose one of these options. However, if we have experienced nondual windows of consciousness, we might be more willing to accept that either a) all three conditions may be true at the same time, b) all three conditions may be true at different times, c) only one or two of the three options may be true, or d) there are conditions that allow any of these options to be true at any given time.
Can you see what happens here? We can end up abstracting ourselves (causally and conceptually) so far from the initial ground of experiential knowing that — depending on how we integrate our new understanding — conceptualization itself loses meaning. And that points to another variable in the mix: the mode of perception-cognition that we are relying upon at any given moment to navigate any such waters. What about intuition? What about spiritual gnosis? What about mathematical proofs? What about logic? What about collective delusion? What about empirical observation? What about predictive efficacy? What about “common sense?” There are many ways of knowing, and all of them moderate the truth in ways that make what is actually true a virtual point suspended between limitless possibilities. Which IMO really leads us to a more pragmatic question of: how does nothingness — or your conception of nothingness — impact your choices in this moment…?
My 2 cents.
Thanks for the question. One take on the difference(s) between epistemology and metaphysics:
Epistemology is the predetermining and larger semantic container of the two, in that it explores and defines how we know what we know, and why we believe what we believe.
Metaphysics, in turn, influences epistemic proposals in its preliminary assumptions about the nature of being, which in turn shape the categories and processes of knowing — but it is still subordinate to epistemology (or, more precisely, nested within it), because all metaphysical discussion presupposes a given set of epistemic methods and assumptions.
That said, the two areas of consideration have often been intimately related, so that some might consider a “chicken-and-egg” dynamic in play. I would lean away from this being the case — it seems clear that epistemology ultimately provides the conceptual framework within which any metaphysical proposals will be constructed. Epistemology — in its formulations of language, hermeneutics, logic, etc. — offers us the foundation for all metaphysical inquiry.
Of course, in my own approach to epistemology (see Sector Theory 1.0
...) the gap between knowing and being seems to be narrowing, so that the differentiation I’ve just made is no longer as clear or assertive. Yes, I’m in danger of contradicting what I just said. Alas, I think this is the nature of the wily beast we call consciousness, so that we must always remain vigilant and open to revising our assumptions.
My 2 cents.
Thanks for the question Kate. Some disciplines I believe have led to what little wisdom I have accumulated over the past five decades:
1) Meditation and introspection that leads to self-knowledge and intuitive insights.
2) Resisting exclusive reliance on external authorities to guide my choices.
3) Accepting that there are many sources of wisdom — many dimensions — within that can contribute: analytical intelligence, emotional intelligence, spiritual intelligence, social intelligence, somatic intelligence, etc.
4) Personal failures and bad choices (and its necessary companions: stick-to-it-iveness and patience)
5) The ongoing adventure of human relationships.
6) Aiming to be a loving, creative presence in the world.
7) Mimesis: practicing/emulating something I didn’t understand (and often didn’t want to do) until it bore fruit in my life.
My 2 cents.
Yes, morality has been a tool used to manipulate people — within all levels of society, not just the ruling class. And yes, we need to be moral people. The key is simply to be moral “for the right reasons.”
To elaborate, I have a number of habits, goals and choices that I believe to be moral. The question is, how did I arrive at these, and why am I committed to them. For example:
- Am I just blindly following what I have been taught, or what familial or cultural expectations demand of me?
- Am I motivated mainly be fear, guilt, attachment to comfort, or avoidance of personal pain?
- Do I even understand why I believe in certain values? Do I have any justification for them at all?
How skillful am I? What is my level of predictive efficacy in executing my chosen course? Do outcomes from my decisions and actions align with my intentions?
My contention would be that if I am not being motivated by love and compassion — for myself, for others, and indeed for all of planet Earth and the very essence of life itself — then my “moral” framework is counterfeit. It is not really grounded in my own moral convictions and perceptions. And if I then am unable to reify compassionate outcomes in my own life, or be helpful in doing the same in the lives of those around me — and do so via means that likewise conform to these orientations — then my level of skillfulness and discernment is insufficient for me to justify my own level of morality; I am not “being a moral person” in my own eyes. These are the fundamentals of my own ethical framework.
However, these fundamentals are not dependent on what anyone else believes, or what society expects, or what the ruling elite (or anyone else in a position of power) uses to manipulate others. They issue from my own inner contemplation, intuition and insights, and it is my own rigor in holding myself accountable that matters most to me…not how I am perceived by others. In this sense, “needing to be a moral person” becomes a quality of character that itself is grounded in loving kindness.
As a final note, I just want to point out that the current “ruling elite” in the United States have a demonstrated knack for moral hypocrisy, and for an “any means justifies our ends” lack of integrity. There appears to be no basis for their moralizing than a lust for power and wealth. This is often true of anyone who holds a position of power and influence for too long, and becomes corrupted by it.
My 2 cents.
Not at all. Existentialist thinkers have tended to resist what we might call deference to the “oughts” of normative ethics — or any idea that there is a moral ordering to which humanity is obligated to submit or conform — but at the same time they also tend to elevate certain virtues regarding how a person lives: virtues like authenticity, engagement, follow-through, avoiding self-contradiction and so on. So we could describe the central tenet of existentialist “ethics” as actively choosing a consistent ethical framework with which to engage the world, and then sticking to it. Again, however, this is not done out of social obligation or reflexive conformance, but because an existentialist chooses to do this as a reliable expression of who they are. As a subtler distinction, if an existentialist is committed to being “free,” and resists being subjugated to the impositions of culture, they must nevertheless operate within cultural boundaries towards their chosen outcome, but again will do so by their own choice, and according to their own reasons. So in this sense, an existentialist, a humanist and a Jesuit could conceivably all appear (from the outside) to be operating according to the same moral convictions…but really have quite different interior pathways for arriving at a given decision.
My 2 cents.
Here would be my top six root causes of immorality, in no particular order:
1. Ignorance (often of the damage being done and/or a better way to accomplish the same ends).
2. Lack of empathy or concern for others (and consequently putting one’s own ego, whims and desires first).
3. Willfullness — knowing what the constructive or kind thing to do is, and simply not doing it out of spite, immaturity, uncontrolled destructive impulses, anger, nihilism, despair, woundedness, etc.
4. Feeding the wrong wolf within: constantly reinforcing antisocial and injurious habits.
5. Systemic perversion of the good — environments that encourage self-destructive, antisocial and morally corrosive behaviors (by amplifying fear, perverse rewards, dysfunctional relationships, etc.) and perpetuate systemic oppression and coercion.
6. Drowning out our inner Light, and thereby losing our moral compass. That is, not listening to the quiet, still voice within that is grounded in love, and instead being blown hither-and-thither by the desires of others and demands of a materialistic world.
My 2 cents.
Here’s my take: I agree that there seem to be different philosophical and/or religious systems that attempt to encompass “human nature, history lessons and reality,” and yet seem to come to different conclusions
. Why hasn’t any one of them won out over the others? Well, mainly I think it is because of some recurring barriers that are cultural, systemic and “structural” in terms of human propensities. Some of these barriers include:
1. A strong psychosocial impulse for people to conform to the tribe they were raised in, or in which they have found a sense of belonging or emotional resonance.
2. Lots of cultural institutions that formalize, systematize and dogmatize barrier #1 — and profit from it in terms of wealth, influence and power — so that conformity and membership are perpetuated, and doubts, questions and internal evolution are discouraged.
3. The inability of most people to be rational or evidence-based in their beliefs, so that emotions and social relations end up playing a dominant role in how those beliefs are formed and maintained. For example, Ayn Rand’s “objectivism” isn’t objective or rational at all — and in fact isn’t based in any proven evidence. It’s just Ayn Rand’s fantasy of “how things ought to be.” But folks who have embraced what is really quite a silly worldview will claim that it is “rational” and “objective” and grounded in “human nature, history lessons and reality,” when in fact it isn’t at all. In the same way, the cultural mainstream (in the U.S. and many other places) will alternately embrace scientific consensus or reject scientific consensus…and this rejection or acceptance is very willy-nilly, and not grounded in careful consideration of evolving evidence.
4. Our dominant political economy (i.e. highly commercialized crony capitalism) externalizes and commoditizes all wisdom and knowledge — while infantilizing people’s self-concept and social habits at the same time — so that people become dependent on external answers and authorities, and do not learn to think critically or be thoughtfully introspective. They do not know how to seek truth, and are discouraged from doing so by well-funded propaganda. Combined with the increasing complexity and rapid change of modern times, this has lead to an epidemic of reflexive self-stupefaction and rejection of nuanced or complex explanations…usually in favor of knee-jerk ideological adherence.
5. An unfortunate intersection of the Dunning–Kruger effect (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning–Kruger_effect), the standard bell curve distribution of intelligence, and the types of intelligences our modern culture reinforces as desirable or superior. This is a lengthy topic to explore, but basically we have built a society in which people of relatively limited or mono-dimensional intelligence are able to succeed in popular culture or in our economic materialism, so that natural propensities to become arrogant and overconfident (when one is actually ignorant, misinformed or just not that bright) are made much, much worse. I can think of no better illustration of this than our current POTUS.
These are just the tip of the iceberg, IMO…but I think they provide some explanations about why there is no overarching and cohesive philosophical system that appeals to everyone — or indeed adequately integrates all of our current understanding of “human nature, history lessons and reality.” However, there have been efforts to unify the many different fields of knowledge under an “integral” umbrella (i.e. the work of Ken Wilber, Jean Gebser, Sri Aurobindo, Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, etc.), and develop a unitive, overarching framework for philosophy. Not all of these efforts have been entirely successful, but I think they point us in a helpful direction, and offer perspectives and tools that can inform our own attempts to navigate “big” questions.
In my own work, I’ve begun a project called Sector Theory 1.0
, which attempts to sketch out an epistemology for how to navigate and integrate as much data, information, knowledge and wisdom as possible into our ongoing philosophical synthesis. It’s an ongoing and evolving effort, but perhaps it will be of interest to you.
My 2 cents.
One reason that many anarchist cooperatives have not survived all that long throughout history has been because their emphasis — for the most part — was on peaceful cooperation, rather than aggressive military build-up. Until the rest of the globe catches up in terms of moral maturity, anarchist experiments are going to be subject to external aggression — especially if they have control over desirable resources, or are a perceived threat to established hegemony. So I think civic conditions have to evolve a bit all around the world for anarchism to work well. That said, it is conceivable that technological advances will provide superagency to smaller and smaller groups, so that a relatively tiny anarchist cooperative could say “Hey, if you invade us, we’ll unleash X technology to decimate your troops…” or some such, providing the leverage needed to achieve detente. Really, any military spending in the context of a “mentally healthy” world will come to be viewed as silliness, and when self-governance through direct democracy along with relaxation of the profit motive (and transition of private ownership back to the commons) remove the incentives and pathways for despots, tyrants, megalomaniacs and psychopaths to rise to power as they do today, there likely won’t be as much need to arm up. That, at least, would be my hope.
My 2 cents.
I think they are inseparable on a fundamental level, but represent divergent processes and emphases in their methodology. In the Western tradition before Aristotle, mysticism and philosophy felt synonymous. Aristotle is probably the first to tease the two apart — or at least isolate different processes and categories of exploration. But within Aristotle’s differentiations we see the seeds of what later became empiricism, rationalism, and the full-throated speculations of metaphysics. In other words, we see a drifting apart of that which is observable, that which is logically reasoned out, and that which is understood at a deeper level of experiential insight. Later, we would see Thomas Aquinas wrestle with this very same drifting apart, but he would try to honor all trajectories…while also integrating them. It is this tension — along with its attempted resolution — that we can observe repeated in the Western tradition as a fairly contiguous thread through Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Kant, Hegel, Tielhard de Chardin, William James and many others. At the same time, we find thinkers like Bacon, Nietzsche, Russel, Husserl and Wittgenstein steering away from such integration or reconciliation— or even deferent consideration of the intuitive or speculative at all — in favor of the concrete, observable and analytical. Still, I suppose we could say that in the Western canon carries a drumbeat of mysticism forward well into 20th Century philosophy, before postmodernism began to more systematically snuff it out. Since then, however, we have seen a resurgence of the integration among the integralizing crowd (Gebser, Wilber, Rosenstock-Huessy) — and one that for me appears very promising. In fact, this is where I live philosophically, and how I arrived at my own multidialectical synthesis and Sector Theory.
In the Eastern traditions, this process of divergence didn’t occur in the same way — in fact, to my eye the Cartesian divisions never really happened at all, and mysticism and philosophy remained intertwined in a much more persistent and harmonious way up into modern times. There were still sages who focused more on the pragmatic than the esoteric (such as Confucius), but like Plato they apparently didn’t feel the need to distance themselves from mystical perceptions and conceptions. In this light, it is somewhat ironic that it is popular in the West to approach Buddhism or Yoga as a “philosophy of life,” or view meditation as a way to simply recondition the mind into healthier cognitive habits, while ignoring or minimizing the spiritual/mystical/metaphysical elements of these practices and traditions. This is just what we do in Western culture…whereas many Eastern cultures do not appear to have the same (IMO unhealthy) compulsion.
In any case, I feel like I have meandered a bit, but hopefully touched on why mystical and philosophical processes are really aiming toward the same end: understanding self and mind, understanding the world, understanding the nature of reality and truth, developing both knowledge and wisdom about what is. Depending on the school of thought — or mystical practice — these are all just different input streams to fortify human understanding, and deserving of our careful consideration.
My 2 cents.
Well, first off hate is generally either counterproductive or destructive — it very rarely helps alter an undesirable situation. In fact I would say that hate reliably makes everything worse for everyone involved. Also, hate most often issues from fear, ignorance and deep personal wounding…rather than, say, a place of clear-headed righteous indignation or concern for the well-being of others. When we watch children lash out at someone and scream “I hate you!” we instinctively know, as adults, that they are just hurting and irrational little toddlers. Hate therefore requires us to examine our own situation — our own hearts, reflexive prejudices, uninformed reactions, etc. — to see what needs healing. It doesn’t indicate anything about the object of our hate…anything at all, really, except that the object reminds us of our own immaturity, lack of compassion, and lack of skillfulness.
As for religion having some special class in terms of the judgments, prejudices or condemnations that may inspire fear and discomfort, I think the problem arises when we lump a bunch of folks into one big bucket. When we say “all white people are X,” or “all Americans are y,” or “all Muslims are z,” we are applying a generalization that is usually a) not very accurate or insightful, or b) has lots of individual exceptions. In other words, a particular “white American Muslim” won’t actually conform to any of the projected stereotypes — in fact, a LOT of them won’t. So what is the point of such generalizations? Generally, it is to create an “Us vs. Them” mentality, or an “ingroup vs. outgroup” orientation, that helps us feel better about ourselves, and perhaps a little more powerful. It assuages our insecurities and props up a weak and vulnerable sense of self. Unfortunately, this is precisely what leaders of hate groups and hate movements are counting on to gain more followers. And why do they want more followers? To empower themselves, because they are feeling the same vulnerability and insecurity.
So how can we address our own sense of fear, vulnerability, discomfort, confusion, insecurity and weak sense of self that leads us to hate a particular religion? That is a much larger conversation, but I would say it begins with educating ourselves about different cultures and peoples, traveling abroad, making friends with a different worldview and breaking bread with them in their homes, taking a long hard look at our own reflexive beliefs and attitudes, and beginning to heal some of our own emotional brokenness and loneliness. In my personal discipline, called Integral Lifework, the objective is to nourish every dimension of our being so that we won’t feel insecure, disempowered and hurting…and this process of self-care can go a long way toward healing the need to hate anyone or anything.
My 2 cents.