Thursday, August 29, 2013

If Syria has used chemical weapons, we should intervene

I think that although peace is a good thing, one of the fundamental principles that has been established since World War II is that there are some actions that warrant international intervention to stop them, no matter if the countries intervening are not directly involved. What's happening in Syria is vastly different than what happened in Iraq, where the Weapons of Mass Destruction were a fraud, something cooked up just to justify an invasion. Syria's civil war has been playing itself out with remarkably little outside intervention, while everyone was obeying the rules. Now that this looks to not be the case, something has to change. What happens next is open for discussion: if we're still playing the neutral party, not favoring Assad or the rebels, it would be good to intervene in a way that doesn't bring about a particular "regime change". I don't think that the chemical weapons should be an excuse for the U.S. to completely remake Syria in its own image, or to intervene completely on the part of the rebels, even though I personally believe that they're right.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Creationists in the U.S., competition, science

Looking at the embarrassment that is U.S. Creationism, as well as the related things that are present, that don't in any way jibe with commonly held scientific facts, I have to say that the only reason these views exist in any numbers is because the U.S. profits from cheap labor in Asia. The fact that you can pay someone under a dollar a day to do work that in the U.S. would cost $15 an hour and up means that there are profits coming to the U.S. that in a truly competitive environment would not exist. We get more money, and a cheaper standard of living, than we otherwise would, and this surplus allows folks whose views would otherwise put them at the short end of the stick if they had to compete with the rest of the world to pursue their delusions. Bill Nye was right in saying that not teaching people science puts the country at a disadvantage as a whole.

Now, I've been pretty down on the scientific worldview in the past several posts, but in reality it's not science itself that I see as the problem. Rather, it's the misapplication of philosophical ideas gotten from an impression of what science is about to human life. The scientific-materialist worldview possessed by some people that reduces human beings to clockwork machines is different than the facts of science itself.

Stephen Jay Gould's "The Mismeasure of Man" is an excellent study of this, outlining how ideas which are really pseudo-scientific, in a true sense, have been misapplied to human life. It points out how the seal of approval and authority granted to people who speak in the name of science on human life sometimes leads to terrible things being done, some of which are only recognized as such later on, when it's too late to correct the damage.

For me, the "New Atheism" is the epitome of the reductionist tendency, but, on the other hand, in rejecting their application of a worldview that originated in the 18th century, and that hasn't changed much except for a little bit of Darwin added here and there, I don't think it's necessary to reject the actual facts of science itself. The humanistic, or at least the world centered on human life, and the scientistic, can co-exist, if human life and culture is recognized as being much more complex than the "New Atheists" and other reductionists view it, and the burden of proof of explaining human life is put on science itself, as opposed to human beings defending themselves from those who think that humans an billiard balls on a table have something in common.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Lady Gaga, Marina Abramovic, and the crisis of liberal materialism

Recently, Lady Gaga put together a video of herself doing some of the exercises in the Abramovic Method, partly I think to raise money for the new center that is being crowd sourced, with the pull of lots of nudity. What I find fascinating about the Abramovic Method, based on Abramovic's experience in performance art, is that in her video explaining it she uses explicitly spiritual terms, deriving them from Orthodox Christianity and other traditions, and the practice in Gaga's video involves large crystals and such.

Surely, as rational beings, such things are to be scoffed at, beneath our consideration, right? To me, the fact that this exists, and is being given a big push by one of the biggest stars out there, points to an awareness by some of the dead end that the rational, liberal, materialist mindset has lead us to. Not the values of liberalism per se, although those are not inviolate, or the spirit of those values, but the scientific worldview that was born of Enlightenment skepticism. Quite frankly, we can talk about skepticism till we're blue in the face, creating a culture of criticism that shoots down any idea that doesn't fit into the dominant paradigm, but in the end we're left with two things: first, a kind of blank nihilism that leaves us with the universe as a very limited place, and secondly, the lived experience of things that do not fit into that mold, that go beyond it implicitly. Which is not to say spirituality in the classical sense, necessarily, but also the idea that there are dimensions to emotional and experiential reality that are not reducible to neurotransmitters, hormones, and evolutionary psychology, a dubious field at best that infers behavior from unobservable hypothetical events that supposedly happened in the distant past.

People have a choice: either a very sophisticated critique of virtually everything that leads absolutely nowhere, or the very present lived life, which although sometimes conceptualized in crude ways, at least frees us from the prison of ever present criticism with no productive answers.

Friday, August 02, 2013

One of the reasons people in the U.S. have trouble understanding Marx --Hegel

Namely, they don't have the Idealist background that Marx and the folks who were with him were working from. Although he called himself a materialist, Marx on many occasions set himself apart from the vulgar materialists of the rationalist school of his day, instead seeing his materialism as finding the material truth within the idealist conceptions of society and history that were present. Actually, "Organicist" would be a more accurate term of what Marx was operating within. Putting the issue of the Ideal within Idealism aside, the social ground that Marx was covering was heavily influenced by the idea that society and human life was structured in a way that resembled organic, biological, life, in many respects.

Now the key word here is "resembled". Many people took what was a different way of understanding truth in general, the holistic view as we'd call it today, as being literally true, with disastrous consequences.  What the more thoughtful people who followed the Idealist movement were trying to put out there was that beyond the normal, analytic, rationalistic, idea of people as separate points, there was also the notion that the relationships between people themselves were important, and that added up these many different social relationships constituted a different whole of society that added a different total truth to that of the individuals that made it up.

August Comte made a distinction between the truth of bare facts and the truth of the relationships between those facts, saying that to get to the full truth of what a fact was about you had to not only consider it in its relationship with other facts but to consider that totality of their relationships with each other, and that together both the individual facts and the content of the relationships described the whole truth.

What was noted by many people was that this perspective of wholes and the relationships between the parts that made up wholes resembled in certain ways the functioning of organic systems, whether these constituted the body or something else. This whole/part functioning was also generalized to the functioning of the parts of nature itself with itself, making up an ecosystem that could be looked on as a self regulating whole, something that we still use today.

The problem came when these ideas were directly applied to human society as it exists in relation to nature itself, and to human societies in relation to each other. The defining feature of human society is that although we're part of the natural world, we're not integrated into it like animals are but have the freedom to pursue life from a more relaxed standpoint. The development of the economy as a whole frees us successively from the dictates of pure nature. We exist in symbiosis with the natural world, sometimes healthily, sometimes very unhealthily. Because we're not directly integrated into the natural world like animals are, it's not possible to use metaphors and ways of thinking about things that would put human beings as just one more animal species in an accurate way.

Instead, Marx and other thinkers who focussed on the lived reality of human life instead of on abstractions took the organic whole/part relationship and applied it to society in a way that was stripped of many of its biological features. Many of those features introduced confused philosophical notions into things, such as teleology, that is looking to the ultimate purpose both of the parts of society and to society as a whole, as well as those that come from trying to apply human biology to a complex social system made up of a group of people interacting with both nature and each other over time.

While the literal biological metaphor might not stand, the whole-part arrangement and the idea of organic relationships that form a part of it have faired much better, and it's these that are really necessary for a good understanding of Marx, and are what we're lacking in the U.S.  People just don't have a concept of social relationships in their totality as forming a whole that supplements--but does not supersede, the individual. The reasons for this are largely historical in that the intellectual evolution that Europe took in the 19th century was not followed here, and every time that a more organic notion of society was attempted to be introduced it was defeated.

But the totality of individuals within a community, taken in relationship with each other, do in my opinion form a kind of whole, but not one that negates the individuals that make that up. Both the organic and the analytic features of people and a community are both true, it's just that if you want to understand a community, or a society, simply interviewing everyone about themselves and adding that up is going to miss an essential part....which comes from looking not only at the individual but in his or her interrelationships with other individuals, and then trying to sum up what those interrelationships on the whole add up to.

The whole could then be seen as the sum of the inter-relationships, or the social structure that is produced by multiple individuals interacting with each other over time.