April 26, 2007

False Generosity

I love how one things always seems to connect to another. This weekend I was talking to a friend about what happens when an essentially problematic system tries to incorporate progressive ideas into the existing system without fundamentally altering the system itself. This reminded me of an article I posted some time ago by Slavoj Zizek, "Nobody Has to Be Vile," in which he compares liberal capitalists like Bill Gates and George Soros to chocolate flavored laxatives:

"There is a chocolate-flavoured laxative available on the shelves of US stores which is publicised with the paradoxical injunction: Do you have constipation? Eat more of this chocolate! – i.e. eat more of something that itself causes constipation. The structure of the chocolate laxative can be discerned throughout today’s ideological landscape; it is what makes a figure like Soros so objectionable. He stands for ruthless financial exploitation combined with its counter-agent, humanitarian worry about the catastrophic social consequences of the unbridled market economy.
Then I come across this passage in Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed:
"Any attempt to "soften" the power of the oppressor in deference to the weakness of the oppressed almost always manifests itself in the form of false generosity; indeed, the attempt never goes beyond this. In order to have the continued opportunity to express their "generosity," the oppressors must perpetuate injustice as well. An unjust social order is the permanent fount of this "generosity," which is nourished by death, despair, and poverty. That is why the dispensers of false generosity become desperate at the slightest threat to its source."

"True generosity consists precisely in fighting to destroy the causes which nourish false charity. False charity constrains the fearful and subdued, the "rejects" of life," to extend their trembling hands. True generosity lies in striving so that these hands - whether of individuals or entire peoples - need be extended less and less in supplication, so that more and more they become human hands which work and, working, transform the world."

This is the greatest threat I see facing the world today. Society seems to have given up on the idea of an alternative to the dominant system and has settled on trying to give it a more human face. Rather than working towards the ellimination of oppression, we seek to give everyone the opportunity to become an oppressor themselves and to ease the suffering of the oppressed just enough to keep the system from complete collapse and to unburden those who gain from the suffering of others of the guilt they might otherwise be forced to feel. Until we realize this on an individual and a collective level, we will not have any real positive change.

March 23, 2007

Krishnamurti on Freedom and Education

So much for not exposing my influences and taking the shortcut of referencing others. Sometimes I just can't help myself. Sorry for the length of the post.


"[F]reedom is not possible if there is any form of outward or inward compulsion. Compulsion comes into being when there is the urge to conform to the pattern of society, or to the pattern which you have created for yourself, as being good or not good. The pattern is created by thought which is the outcome of the past, of your tradition, of your education, of your whole experience based on the past. So, as long as there is any form of compulsion - governmental, religious or your own pattern which you have created for yourself through your desire to fulfil, to become great - there will be no true freedom. It is not an easy thing to do, nor an easy thing to understand what we mean by true freedom. But we can see that as long as there is fear in any form we cannot know what true freedom is. Individually or collectively, if there is fear, compulsion, there can be no freedom. We may speculate about true freedom, but the actual freedom is different from the speculative ideas about freedom.

So, as long as the mind is seeking any form of security - and that is what most of us want - as long as the mind is seeking permanency in any form, there can be no freedom. As long as individually or collectively we seek security, there must be war, which is an obvious fact; and that is what is happening in the world today. So there can be true freedom only when the mind understands this whole process of the desire for security, for permanency. After all, that is what you want in your Gods, in your gurus. In your social relationships, your governments, you want security; so you invest your God with the ultimate security, which is above you; you clothe that image with the idea that you as an entity are such a transient being, and that there at least you have permanency. So you begin with the desire to be religiously permanent; and all your political, religious and social activities, whatever they are, are based on that desire for permanency - to be certain, to perpetuate yourselves through the family or through the nation or through an idea, through your son. How can such a mind which is seeking constantly, consciously or unconsciously, permanency, security, how can such a mind ever have freedom?

We really do not seek true freedom. We seek something different from freedom, we seek better conditions, a better state. We do not want freedom; we want better, superior, nobler conditions; and that we call education. Can this education produce peace in the world? Certainly, no. On the contrary, it is going to produce greater wars and misery. As long as you are a Hindu, Muslim, or God knows what else, you are going to create strife, for yourself, for your neighbour and nation."

"Freedom is something entirely different. Freedom comes into being; it cannot be sought after. It comes into being when there is no fear, when there is love in your heart. You cannot have love and think in terms of a Hindu, a Christian, a Muslim, a Parsi, or God knows what else. Freedom comes into being only when the mind is no longer seeking security for itself, either in tradition or in knowledge. A mind that is crippled with knowledge or burdened with knowledge is not a free mind. The mind is only free when it is capable of meeting life at every moment, meeting the Reality which every incident, which every thought, which every experience reveals; and that revelation is not possible when the mind is crippled by the past.

It is the responsibility of the educator to create a new human being to bring about a different human being, fearless, self-reliant, who will create his own society - a society totally unlike ours; because ours is based on fear, envy, ambition, corruption. True freedom can only come when intelligence comes into being - that is, the understanding of the whole total process of existence.
"

- J.D. Krishnamurti, Third Public Talk Poona 1953

March 19, 2007

StumbleUpon

I recommend that you DO NOT download the StumbleUpon toolbar unless you can afford to waste the time that you are sure to waste once you do. This is extremely addictive and the StumbleUpon video browser is even worse. It's like channel surfing the Web geared to your own interests and it gets better over time. I've discovered too much neat stuff to share here and still have time for work, life in general, and other important things. I did stumble upon one thing today though that I have to share. This image has to be seen to be believed.

March 10, 2007

Towards an Expression of My Personal Philosophy, part 1

I hate labels. I don’t want to be labelled by anyone else and I am not about to label myself. Labels are immediately limiting and depend too much on each individual’s understanding of what those labels mean.

If I wished to label myself an anarchist, for instance, everyone reading this would have a different idea of what that means. Many would think that I was a crazy, violent, nihilist believing in nothing but chaos and disorder. Others might believe I was a utopian idealist: a harmless, but misguided individual who naively believes that mankind is capable of self-governance. Or perhaps they would see me as a black-mask-wearing, angry teenager throwing rocks and shouting “Fuck the State.” I have a very different idea of what the term means, but even if I took the time to explain my view, it would have little effect until you, the reader, has come to understand my view by travelling a similar path.

So let’s forget labels and try to get to the essence of my personal philosophy without mentioning my influences or terms which carry too much cultural baggage. I would like to be able to explain myself in my own words without taking the shorthand of referencing others.

I guess I’ll begin with the big picture: life, the universe, and all that. I believe that everything is connected. You cannot affect one thing without affecting everything: including yourself. There is more to the world than what we can experience with our senses. Energy follows thought and everything is energy. I don’t know if there is a universal consciousness or not, but I do believe in the possibility of other higher forms of consciousnesses than that of the average human being. Each of us has the power, through our thoughts and actions, to alter the world around us. While I do not believe in moral absolutes of good and evil, I do believe that some patterns are healthier and more balanced than others. By directing our thoughts and actions in certain ways we can help these healthy, balanced patterns to emerge.

The society we are living in now is very unhealthy and unbalanced. It is based on dominance and submission; on the exploitation of the many for the advantage of the few. This system causes physical and mental sickness in both the powerful and the weak. It pollutes and destroys the environment necessary for all of our survival. Most importantly, in its attempt to maintain itself, it impedes our ability to evolve as a species and will eventually lead to our self-destruction.

Fortunately, complex systems want to change and resist attempts to bind them. Eventually, they will either destroy themselves or continue to change and evolve. If it is not already too late, there are a number of things we can do to promote change.

We need to begin with ourselves. We need time for being quiet, sitting still, and cutting off the internal chatter. We need to take care of our bodies through exercise and a healthy diet. We need to create a personal environment which makes these things possible. We need to self-examine, not self-criticize. Finally, we need to carefully examine how our actions affect others and the world around us.

Being quiet and sitting still is a necessary step in ridding ourselves of cultural bias and unconscious, learned behaviour. If we cannot clear our heads and halt the flow of thoughts which come unbidden into our minds, then we can never have free will. This also aids us in letting go of fear, anger, and worry. The more we are able to do this, the clearer our thinking will become and the more freedom we will gain from our emotions and the will of others past and present.

Exercise and a healthy diet are necessary because we cannot properly focus on either clearing our minds or the process of self-examination if our minds and bodies are made sluggish through neglect and abuse. A healthy diet is one which not only makes us physically healthy, but one which does not have an unhealthy effect on others and the world around us.

Self-examination is necessary if we are ever to be able to act freely. We need to examine ourselves carefully to try to understand why we do the things we do. Are our actions conscious or unconscious? Are we acting out of a sense of obligation or an attempt to conform to society’s norms? Are we acting out of self interest? Are we reacting to the deeds of others? Are we reacting to physical pain, discomfort, hunger, or desire? I believe we should examine ourselves uncritically, with the desire to understand our actions, not to condemn ourselves or sing our own praises. If we begin to see how our actions are controlled by external forces we may begin to gain some level of freedom from those forces.

Finally, we need to think carefully about how our actions affect everything and everyone else. If you walk into a room in a foul mood, how does your mood affect everyone else? If you speak sharply to a child out of tiredness and frustration, how does it alter your relationship? Does the food you eat or the clothes you wear have an effect on the rest of the world? Again, it is important to understand, not to condemn or praise. Condemnation leads to guilt and remorse. Praise leads to pride and arrogance. Both lead to inaction and the end of active examination.

February 25, 2007

Revisiting the Past

I've been taking a look at some of my old blog posts and I found this link to an article by Uri Avnery in March of 2003, "Bitter Rice." Here are a few of the more interesting things he had to say:

"Beware of the Shiites.

The troubles of the occupation will start after the fighting is over."

"The Shiites, 60% of the Iraqi population, have been until now down-trodden and powerless. When they will realize that the Americans intend to stay, they will start a deadly guerilla. Bush does not intend to leave Iraq, as Sharon did not intend to leave Lebanon.

Then what? America will argue that Iran, the great Shiite neighbor, is behind the Shiite guerilla. In Iran there is a lot of oil. That’s the next target."


February 24, 2007

I Am a Strange Loop

Douglas Hofstadter, author of Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, has a new book out, I Am a Strange Loop. Apparently it builds on GEB, while at the same time explaining many of the concepts in a more condensed and straightforward manner. I love GEB, but got bogged down about half way through and years later I have still not made it back. Still, what I have read has stayed with me and has influenced my thinking over the years. This review of his new book by George Johnson (author of Fire in the Mind, one of my favourite books) has stimulated me to take another stab at it before I pick up the new one.


"You make decisions, take actions, affect the world, receive feedback from the world, incorporate it into yourself, then the updated 'you' makes more decisions, and so forth, round and round," Hofstadter writes. What blossoms from the Gödelian vortex--this symbol system with the power to represent itself--is the "anatomically invisible, terribly murky thing called I." A self, or, to use the name he favors, a soul.

It need know nothing of neurons. Sealed off from the biological substrate, the actors in the internal drama are not things like "serotonin" or "synapse" or even "cerebrum," "hippocampus" or "cerebellum" but abstractions with names like "love," "jealousy," "hope" and "regret."

And that is what leads to the grand illusion. "In the soft, ethereal, neurology-free world of these players," the author writes, "the typical human brain perceives its very own 'I' as a pusher and a mover, never entertaining for a moment the idea that its star player might merely be a useful shorthand standing for a myriad infinitesimal entities and the invisible chemical transactions taking place among them."

http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?chanID=sa006&articleID=C7265AEC-E7F2-99DF-3B3A60DE6200D457&pageNumber=1&catID=2



February 23, 2007

Right on!

I'm very excited. I decided to check the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine to see if my old blog was there and it is! I thought all that stuff was lost forever. A lot of the formatting is gone on some of the pages, but the links and content are there. For anyone who is interested, you can take a look here and here.

The Unknown Citizen

Thanks to wood s lot for reminding me of this great poem by W. H. Auden:

The Unknown Citizen
(To JS/07 M 378
This Marble Monument
Is Erected by the State)


He was found by the Bureau of Statistics to be

One against whom there was no official complaint,

And all the reports on his conduct agree

That, in the modern sense of an old-fashioned word, he was a

saint,

For in everything he did he served the Greater Community.

Except for the War till the day he retired

He worked in a factory and never got fired,

But satisfied his employers, Fudge Motors Inc.

Yet he wasn't a scab or odd in his views,

For his Union reports that he paid his dues,

(Our report on his Union shows it was sound)

And our Social Psychology workers found

That he was popular with his mates and liked a drink.

The Press are convinced that he bought a paper every day

And that his reactions to advertisements were normal in every way.

Policies taken out in his name prove that he was fully insured,

And his Health-card shows he was once in a hospital but left it cured.

Both Producers Research and High-Grade Living declare

He was fully sensible to the advantages of the Instalment Plan

And had everything necessary to the Modern Man,

A phonograph, a radio, a car and a frigidaire.

Our researchers into Public Opinion are content

That he held the proper opinions for the time of year;

When there was peace, he was for peace: when there was war, he went.

He was married and added five children to the population,

Which our Eugenist says was the right number for a parent of his

generation.

And our teachers report that he never interfered with their

education.

Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd:

Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.

http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15549

Quick poll. War with Iran before the end of the Bush presidency?

I think the chances are very good. There are many within the Bush administration who have been pushing for regime change in Iran since before 9/11 and all the signs are there that the administration is moving in that direction. And then there is this very interesting tidbit from DEBKAfile, which always seems to have a very good handle on US and Israeli military and intelligence analysis:

"Under the new presidential directive, the downing of a helicopter carrying a large number of US troops could trigger a bombing campaign against Iran such as, for example, the dispatch of long-range B2 stealth bombers with bunker-busting bombs for dropping on the 25m deep Natanz site, where centrifuges are positioned for enriching uranium.

Attacks mount [sic] also be mounted against Iran’s military infrastructure."

http://www.debka.com/headline.php?hid=3860


Any thoughts?

Where does the time go?

Well. I'm 34 years old today. My daughter is almost 9 months old. I have a partner of more than 11 years. I have a career. I'm deeply in debt.

I guess I'm an adult now.

Very strange.