Everybody Wants a Revolution

Hi Folks, I drafted this piece partly prompted by Jeff’s post and Ronnie’s response on the topic of climate change scientists calling for political revolution. I was prompted to publish it this morning after seeing Rob Webb’s response to Russell Brand’s call for “revolution” in British politics.

http://www.psybertron.org/?p=6474

Hope you find it a useful contribution.
(Read the link to Rob Webb’s piece, even if you don’t read all of mine.)
Ian

Would it be helpful to engage Mensa International in Bringing Wisdom to Life?

Mensa International is the largest and oldest high IQ society in the world. Part of their stated mission is to foster human intelligence for the benefit of humanity. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mensa_International#Mission

Would it be wise to engage their organization or interested members more directly in Bringing Wisdom to Life? Perhaps we could begin a dialogue on the common interests of a our two groups, the distinction between “smart” and “wise”, and identify what more they can do to increase and apply wisdom.

They have about 110,000 members world wide. If we could mobilize them in making wise decisions and taking wise action it could be an important force for doing good. See: http://www.mensa.org/

Do any of the Global Circle members have direct experience with Mensa? What ideas do we have for approaching them on this topic?

theory + practice = solutions

Dear Global Circle,

What *exactly* can . . .

a) an undergraduate student
b) a student applying for postgraduate qualification
c) a student in the middle of postgraduate qualification
d) a faculty member
e) a fully-fledged Professor

. . . do to make step-by-step progress today?

Yours,

Allan McKenna

P.s. feel free to change and improve this question set in any way. It is just a beginning.

(Copied here as a blog post with permission of the original author.)

CFP: Can Collective Wisdom Save Civilization? [Abstracts deadline: April 1, 2014]

Dear All,

I’ve just stumbled upon a CFP that may be of interest Circle-wise. The core topic of this year’s conference of the International Society for the Comparative Study of Civilizations is the question “Can Collective Wisdom Save Civilization?,” which is essentially a question of a global philosophy in its truest sense, that is, loving and embracing wisdom on a global scale.

You can read the call below. The closing date for abstracts submission is April 1, 2014 so we still have reasonable time to think things over.

Best,

Ádám

P.S. I was somewhat unsure how to categorize this post, so sorry in advance if I’ve made any mess with it.

———————————————————————

Call for Papers

Theme: Can Collective Wisdom Save Civilization?
Type: 44th Annual Conference
Institution: International Society for the Comparative Study of Civilizations, Monmouth University
Location: West Long Branch, NJ (USA)
Date: 11.–15.6.2014
Deadline: 1.4.2014

The Theme for 2014 is “Can Collective Wisdom Save Civilization?”. The conference will be held at Monmouth University on the New Jersey shore, a lively, scenic location with the Atlantic Ocean and boardwalk nearby. An excursion is being planned for interested delegates, and there will also be reduced registration fees for
graduate students.

What exactly is “wisdom” and how can wisdom be promoted on a global level to deal with a number of serious crises now facing the future of civilization? What have been some different definitions of wisdom? This is an ancient topic, but how can it be specifically applied today? What, if anything, can be done to solve these problems
collectively?

Some applications may be (but are not limited to) the following questions:

  • What exactly is human nature and how is this relevant to civilizational futures?
  • What are some possible solutions to overpopulation and the related problems of over-industrialization, resource-depletion and environmental degradation?
  • What are some possible solutions to the problem of inequality, economic and otherwise?
  • Why do a few have so much while so many have so little? Do rich nations have any responsibilities to the poor ones?
  • Is Capitalism really working today? What did the “occupy” movements signify? Why are many western economies currently floundering? How have technological advances (especially increasing automation) contributed to the current jobs crisis?
  • Does material accumulation really bring happiness? Why/why not?
  • Is humankind naturally prone to conflict or cooperation? How are organizations like the United Nations faring with regard to international responses to regional problems?
  • What is a Utopia? Dystopia? How are these terms relevant today? What roles do utopias and dystopias play for the future of society? Have our leaders run out of inspiration? Is fear now the main rhetoric?
  • In the 20th century, humanity saw the rise of several grand ideologies: Communism, Fascism, Liberalism, etc. We also saw the dismantling of many of the institutions built on these grand visions. Have today’s leaders given up on grand visions? Is narrow self-interest and small scaled-down retraction now the trend? If so, what are the implications of this? Is this ‘realpolitik’ or just the politics of disillusionment?

And of course, papers concerning all questions relevant to civilizational studies are also welcome! These could include:

  • Studies of great civilizationalists, e.g., Spengler, Toynbee, Sorokin. Quigley, etc.
  • Analyses of particular civilizations and/or comparative studies of civilizations.
  • Decline and progress of civilizations.

Please send abstracts via email by April 1, 2014 (@ 300 words) to:

Prof. David J. Rosner
Metropolitan College of New York
ISCSC President and 2014 Program Chair
Email: drosner@mcny.edu

 

The Ten Most Consequential New Ideas?

The Ten Most Consequential New Ideas?    

Please note:  I’ve shifted the order of two posts, and I’ve renamed this one to ‘The Ten Most Consequential New Ideas?’ from ‘Intricate Nuanced Demure Ideas’.  But never-mind the administrative details.  Here we go …

This post involves a request to readers, one that will hopefully get us thinking and help each of us consider the present state of affairs in concrete terms.

The request is this:  Please identify one or more of what you believe to be the ten most consequential new findings or ideas to come out of—that is, result from—academic philosophy in the last fifty years.

The point here is not to attempt to rank-order them or to attempt any sort of consensus, both of which aims would likely be impossible and perhaps meaningless anyhow.  Instead, the point is merely to prompt each of us to think about the matter, to identify to each other some of the most consequential findings and ideas in our various opinions, to allow us all to reflect on the results, and to see what discussion might ensue, and what we might learn.

To begin the process, and as an example, I’ll suggest the so-called veil of ignorance, from John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice (1971).  Although I’m not an historian of ideas, it’s my understanding that the essence of this idea was not entirely new, but nevertheless Rawls propelled it to center stage and, I expect, elaborated and improved upon it.  Too, I can’t personally point to a major concrete instance in which a recent application of the idea “changed the world”;  goodness knows that, in theory anyhow, there are many applications of it that could substantially improve the world, if someone could figure out a way to actually motivate society at large to embrace such good ideas.  However, at least in my case, I do find myself occasionally using the idea to try to explain to someone how we should try to address certain problems in society by using it.  (To my knowledge, nobody has ever taken me up on the proposal, unless it somehow served their own immediate interests to do so, given the place in society they already knowingly occupied.)  That said, it seems to me that this idea is, or at least is potentially, a highly consequential idea, and worth listing.

In any case, in the interest of fairly assessing the state of philosophy today, at least in one important sense, will others please continue the list?  Thanks in advance for your participation!

The Ten Most Consequential New Findings or Ideas to

Result From Academic Philosophy in the Last Fifty Years

1.

2.

3.

etc.

Be Well,

Jeff

 

Some Housekeeping Suggestions

Now that we have some traction with getting valuable content and interaction on The Global Circle Blog, I want to remind us of a number of other tasks which will add and maintain value. Remember we still have a very crude template (or “theme”) which limits functionality seen, and I’m keen to add more in.

The basic posting / titling / tagging of posts / pages / statuses is clearly a little confusing – in what you can do on the public page and what you can do via the dashboard – we shouldn’t need to worry about such techy options. I can fix that with a change of theme.

Secondly the style of contributions – we have several distinct styles, worth getting into some habits how we use them. We have
(a) This link is interesting – full stop.
(b) This link is interesting – and here is how and why I think it related to some specific part of our agenda.
(c) Here is a longer essay / piece of writing I’ve created, with or without links.
(d) Emails to the JISC Mailing List, which really are candidates for blog posts. I’d like to encourage all who still post to the mail list to post to the blog – everyone on the mail list gets a notification copy anyway.
In all cases these are valuable resources.

The actual essays / longer pieces we should capture as separate documents / pages rather than just leave in a date sequenced set of posts. Much easier to add additional links and suggestions later. (If anyone needs help publishing any new writing in on-line formats, just ask.)

The linked articles of interest, comments on these and the original writings are all resources. Resources we should organise, and we should probably do this using Lee’s Wikiversity pages – since that’s exactly what they were intended for. Myself (and I’m sure Lee) are happy to do the legwork organizing, moving, linking, publishing – but we need the group to give us pointers as to the topics the resources should be organised and linked under. What I’m asking is that people start to use the tagging for all posts, be creative, invent tags as you go, if the existing ones don’t take your fancy. I / we can use these to create actual categories and structure so that the resource grows in long term value, rather than fleeting interest.

(Don’t panic if my changes of theme and configuration change what you see on the blog, all content is safe, and will re-appear somewhere.)

Economic Faults

People prefer to breathe clean fresh air rather than filthy polluted air. Clean air is obviously more valuable than polluted air. Yet this basic difference in value is not captured by our financial accounting systems and the economic systems based on them.  As a result anyone is able to pollute the air—diminishing its value to all who breathe—without incurring any financial cost. Public value is converted into private profit. This is one of many examples where economic theory, and the economies we base on such theory, fail to provide a rational result. This misallocation of resources is actually encouraged by today’s financial accounting systems.

The noble goal of economics is to allocate scarce resources to where they can best be put to use. Unfortunately several basic errors in our financial accounting systems and economic theories often cause the immense power of economics and the free market to work against the greater well-being. This essay explores these errors, their consequences, and proposes remedies.

Sharing the Commons

The air we breathe, ocean waters, ocean fisheries, public beaches, wild rivers, aquifers, forests, wilderness areas, animal habitat, and mountain vistas, are all examples of common-pool resources or simply commons—beneficial areas that are shared without cost. Because the benefits of these areas can be obtained without cost, it can lead to overuse of these areas. This is called the tragedy of the commons— the depletion of a shared resource by individuals, acting independently and rationally according to each one’s self-interest, despite their understanding that depleting the common resource is contrary to the group’s long-term best interests.  Air pollution, water pollution, waste disposal, overfishing, strip mining, mountain top removal, destruction of the rain forests, clear cutting, wildlife habitat destruction, depletion of aquifers, fossil fuel consumption, mineral consumption, and even traffic jams are all examples of the tragedy of the commons in our daily lives.

Several approaches to avoiding tragedies of the commons are known. These include:

  • Individual constraint motivated by enlightened self-interest and cooperative behavior,
  • Agreements among the users to allocate or limit use,
  • Government regulation controlling access to the commons or limiting use by any single party. Permit systems for activities such as mining, fishing, hunting, raising livestock and extracting timber are examples of this approach.
  • Usage fees, or
  • Privatization of the resource.

Free access to the benefits of the commons by organizations driven by economic gain leads to overuse of the commons and failure to allocate resources efficiently. This is a basic economic fault that is important to recognize, and to analyze in terms of fair allocation of the common resource. Advocates of free market solutions and opponents of regulation are obligated to offer some fair solution to allocating use of the various commons they seek to exploit.

Adoption of the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer solved a tragedy of the commons that emerged during the 1980s. Free and unregulated release of halocarbon refrigerants, such as Freon, into the atmosphere caused significant depletion of the atmospheric ozone layer. The ozone layer is important because it prevents most harmful wavelengths of ultraviolet light from passing through the Earth’s atmosphere. It is suspected that a variety of biological consequences such as increases in skin cancer, cataracts, damage to plants, and reduction of plankton populations in the ocean’s photic zone may result from the increased UV exposure due to ozone depletion. Observed and projected decreases in ozone caused worldwide concern. This concern led to adoption of the Montreal Protocol that bans the production of CFCs, halons, and other ozone-depleting chemicals

Greenhouse gasses are a form of air pollution that contributes to global warming. This is an important example of overuse of the commons—the atmosphere in this case—for economic gain—the free disposal of waste products resulting from burning fossil fuels. Those who sell and consume fossil fuels are free to release greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, while many people, including those in future generations, suffer the costs of global warming as a result. Economic principles and the free market fail to allocate resources efficiently in this case because a valuable assist is provided free of charge.

Valuing Ecosystem Services

We all benefit from a multitude of resources and processes that are supplied by natural ecosystems. Collectively, these benefits are known as ecosystem services and include essential products like clean drinking water and processes such as the decomposition of wastes. Although these services are essential, we rarely account for their value in our economic models. For example, pollination of crops by bees is required for 15-30% of U.S. food production. If sufficient numbers of wild bees are available this can be accomplished “for free” – that is, outside of traditional financial accounting.

Failing to place an economic value on ecosystem services causes another form of economic failure. Destruction of the wild bee population, for example by Colony Collapse Disorder, can take place without any financial cost to those responsible for destruction of this valuable ecosystem service. Yet if wild bee populations are displaced or destroyed, then crops relying on bee pollination will be lost, or some costly substitute to wild bee pollination will have to be found. In either case the economic costs, as traditionally recognized by financial accounting systems, would be substantial.

Placing a fair economic value on each of the ecosystem services we rely on but do not now pay for can allow economic systems to preserve and allocate use of these valuable resources. Alternatively, regulations that protect these resources could be put into place.

Another related accounting error is also very important. Under many accounting systems, natural resources represent income that increases as they are extracted rather than capital which depreciates as it is depleted. As a result, minerals have little value until they are extracted, and their cost represents only the extraction costs, not the value of the original resource. This accounting error encourages immediate mineral extraction and does not account for the value of the original, non-renewable, resource. Even though a non-renewable resource cannot be replaced, it is assigned little value under present accounting schemes.

Paying for Externalities

In economics, an externality is a cost or benefit that results from an activity or transaction that involuntarily affects an otherwise uninvolved party. Examples include air pollution, water pollution, overfishing, coal mining, and hydraulic fracturing, often called fracking.

The owners of coal mines increase their profits by carefully distancing themselves from financial responsibility for several important externalities. These externalities include the many dangers to miners, such as equipment accidents, suffocation, gas poisoning, roof collapse, gas explosions, and chronic lung diseases such as pneumoconiosis (black lung). These dangers are born by the minors themselves, rather than the mine operations.

Other externalities reaching far beyond the mining community are the many environmental impacts of coal. These include land use, waste management, and water and air pollution caused by the coal mining, processing and the use of its products. In addition to atmospheric pollution, coal burning produces hundreds of millions of tons of solid waste products annually, including fly ash, bottom ash, and flue-gas desulfurization sludge that contain mercury, uranium, arsenic, and other heavy metals.

There are severe health effects caused by burning coal. According to the reports issued by the World Health Organization in 2008 and by environmental groups in 2004, coal particulates pollution are estimated to shorten approximately 1,000,000 lives annually worldwide, including nearly 24,000 lives a year in the United States. Coal mining generates significant additional independent adverse environmental health impacts, among them the polluted water flowing from mountaintop removal mining.

The combustion of coal is the largest contributor to the human-made increase of CO2 in the atmosphere. Electric generation from burning coal produces approximately twice the greenhouse gasses per kilowatt compared to generation using natural gas.

A major European Union study estimates that including the cost of externalities would double the cost of producing electricity from coal.

Let’s leave coal in the dust and begin to talk about natural gas production.

Typical debates on the role of fracking often polarize into arguments for more jobs and energy independence on one hand and against the environmental impacts of fracking on the other hand. Consideration of externalities can help us shift toward a more reasoned discussion of how best to pay the full costs of the externalities that will occur if the fracking proposals proceed.

The environmental impacts of fracking include potential contamination of ground water, risks to air quality, water consumption, noise pollution, the potential migration of gases and hydraulic fracturing chemicals to the surface, the potential mishandling of waste, and the various health risks due to environmental contamination of fracking fluids.

An accurate assessment of the economic potential of fracking would include payment for the full costs of avoiding or compensating for each of these environmental impacts.

Economic arguments for or against proceeding with some activity are only accurate and honest when all the externalities are internalized and are fully included in the cost analysis. Avoiding payment for externalities requires others to incur the costs for activities you are profiting from. Failing to fully account for the full cost of externalities is closer to trespassing than it is to freedom.

Acknowledging Limits to Growth

When people talk about economic growth or the strength of the economy, they are often talking about the rate of growth of the gross domestic product (GDP). The GDP is a primary measure of a country’s overall economic output. It is the market value of all final goods and services made within the borders of a country in a year. For example, the GDP includes:

  • The costs associated with growing, harvesting, transporting, storing, and processing tobacco.
  • The costs of manufacturing, distributing, advertising, and retailing cigarettes and cigars.
  • The costs of doctor’s visits, medications, hospitalizations, and chronic care treatment for smoker’s cough, emphysema, and lung cancer.
  • The costs of FDA tobacco regulations and tobacco-related law enforcement costs.
  • Tobacco-related litigation costs,
  • The costs of advertising health warnings.
  • The costs of anti-smoking campaigns and stop smoking programs and products.

Each of these activities actually helps to grow the economy and create jobs even as they contribute to the misery of the unfortunate tobacco addict. Wouldn’t a leisurely hike with friends through the woods ending with a spectacular view of a beautiful sunset be a better way to spend time? But enjoying the splendor of sunsets does not help to grow our economy while dying a painful death from lung cancer does.

War, car accidents, chronic illness, cancer, and many other tragedies all contribute to economic growth and increasing the GDP. It is time to choose a wiser measure of progress. Despite the ubiquitous and unequivocal praise for growth among economist and politicians, there are always limits to growth. Assumptions of unlimited growth are false and dangerous.

An emphasis on more, including increasing the GDP, growing the economy, and a relentless focus on increasing stock prices has brought us: the subprime mortgage crisis, housing foreclosures, Enron and other accounting scandals, wars, hydrogen bombs and other nuclear weapons, the Holocaust and other acts of genocide, slavery, traffic jams, urban sprawl, the bridge to nowhere, wide-spread cheating, Vioxx and other dangerous prescription drugs, Twinkies, obesity, stress, anxiety, class struggles, pollution, paparazzi, deforestation, strip mining, overfishing, drought, failed states, global warming, and other waste, violence, destruction, and misery. We have become consumed.

Adam Smith never imagined how greedy the invisible hand would become. It is time to change our focus from economic growth to growth in human well-being.

We live in a world with ever-increasing levels of financial debt—public and private. We are also depleting the earth’s natural resources, including fresh water, fertile soil, forests, marine ecosystems, biodiversity, fossil fuels, minerals, waste dumps, and pollution sinks. Since debt represents a promise of future repayment of labor and resources it is inevitable that the aggregate promises to repay will eventually exceed the available resources for repayment. In fact, that may have already have happened.

However, in the economies of affluent nations, competition stimulates technology improvements that increase labor productivity to reduce costs. As labor becomes more productive, fewer people are required to produce the same goods. This would lead to unemployment unless demand grows at the same rate as labor becomes more productive. If growth stops, unemployment increases, household income drops, demand drops and the system collapses toward recession.

This presents the dilemma of growth:

  • Growth in its present form is unsustainable — unbounded resource consumption is exceeding environmental capacity, and
  • De-growth under present conditions is unstable — reduced consumer demand leads to increased unemployment and the spiral of recession.

A solution to this dilemma is essential for future prosperity.

We can begin to see a solution in the “Green new deal”. People need jobs and the world needs to manage a transition to sustainable energy. These two goals can be met simultaneously by directing investments away from opulent consumer goods and toward low-carbon systems that reduce climate change and increase energy security. In addition investments in natural infrastructure including sustainable agriculture and ecosystem protection provide long-term benefits. The engine of growth becomes creation and operation of non-polluting energy sources and selling non-material services. In addition, delivering the benefits of labor productivity to the workers would allow them more leisure and less stress as they enjoy a shorter work week.

Humans are Complex Actors

A key assumption in economic theory is that humans are rational actors. In most economic theory humans are modeled as homo economicus, or the rational economic human. This simplistic assumption is easily criticized and very often false. Economic anthropologists have demonstrated that in traditional societies, choices people make regarding production and exchange of goods follow patterns of reciprocity which differ sharply from the homo economicus model. Real humans face uncertainty and risk with only bounded rationality. Studies have shown that investors appeared as very risk-averse for small losses but indifferent for a small chance of a very large loss. Simplistic homo economicus models place excessive emphasis on extrinsic motivation as opposed to intrinsic motivation and ignore the inner conflicts that real-world individuals suffer, as between short-term and long-term goals or between individual goals and societal values.

A truly rational actor would be unlikely to choose to use tobacco products, yet the tobacco industry continues to profit from the sale of one of the most widely used addictive substances in the world.

The growing field of behavioral economics studies the effects of social, cognitive, and emotional factors on the economic decisions of individuals and institutions and the consequences for market prices, returns, and the resource allocation. This work directly contradicts a simplistic rational human model.

Money is Power

Money is a source of great power, especially to those who benefit from the status quo. Money exerts its immense influence in politics as lobbying efforts, campaign contributions, policy institutes, and political action committees all use money to distort the people’s voice in democracy.

Money influences research topics, research grants, publications, and curricula in academic institutions.

Big oil, large pharmaceutical companies, agribusiness,  mass media, the fashion industry, cosmetics industry, music industry, and financial services industries, automobile companies, airlines, and other large corporations use their dominant market positions and huge economic impacts to influence what we see, what we like, our buying habits, public opinion, and government policies.

Yet so much of this influence and power is based on economic faults.

An Inaccurate Model

Economics is an ideology with a simplistic yet incorrect premise that needs to be refined and updated.

It is essential to distinguish between economies—the exchange of valuable goods and services—and economics—a money-based model of an economy. Fractional reserve banking, debt-based currencies, and all of the faults in economic models described here allow the two to diverge significantly. As a result, our financial accounting systems are giving us false signals.

Economies are real, economics is a conceptual artifice. The two have diverged. The gap is getting wider. The gap must be closed.

Taking Action

Arguments defending the status quo or advocating expanding operations are often based on a promise of economic benefits and growth. Statements such as “drill baby drill” are often simplistic attempts to distract us from considering a more complete and accurate analysis of the externalities, benefits, risks, losses, costs, and other options.  Learn to identify the faults in these arguments and move the discussion toward identifying and preserving the commons, valuing ecosystem services, identifying and paying fully for externalities, acknowledging limits to growth, dispelling myths about humans as rational actors, and counteracting the power of money.

Compel advocates of economic systems, economic solutions, and free market mechanisms to identify and correct each of the errors in their arguments, presentations, plans, and actions.

What if more of us had the wisdom to shift our focus to what is truly most meaningful in life? What if we decided we had enough of the old thinking and decided to value: peace of mind, integrity, tranquility, clean air, clean water, the beauty of nature, a healthy environment to enjoy now and sustain for the future, awe, family, friendships, community, safety, stability, trust, leisure time, joyful play, meaningful work, authentic experiences, reciprocity, respect, good health, reduced stress, ongoing education and learning, deeper understanding and appreciation, fun, enjoyment of the arts, transcendence, and making significant contributions that help others. We can enjoy what is already available to us.

Focus on what matters. Choose the greater well-being over mindless growth. A first step is to examine our definitions of prosperity. A shift away from prosperity pursued as opulence — constantly acquiring new material satisfactions — and toward prosperity enjoyed as flourishing — deep and enduring satisfaction and well-being —  allows us to consume less while we enjoy life more. Learn to cope with abundance. Create wiser alternatives that improve the greater well-being.

We all must work to bring wisdom to life.

Edge

“Your goodness must have some edge to it—else it is none.”

  • Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance

 

This is the sixth post in my series on Vital Philosophy, although as noted, the label is unimportant.  The first five posts in the series are:  Vital Philosophy and Global Philosophy;  Vital Philosophy—a timely series;  Life-Aims and Aimlessness;  Alien Observations;  and What Good Am I?   Interested readers will find it helpful to read, and hopefully consider, the series in this order.

Also, for those interested, I’ve left an important part of the series to the end, for a reason.  I’ll call that post ‘The ground we stand on’.  I’ll explain why I’m leaving it to the end in the post itself.

For now, however, allow me to proceed in the context of the previous posts.

Doctors—let’s think of them as people who love health and who are committed to making people healthy—have a mission that includes, centrally, cleansing and correcting human bodies of the things that diminish health.  Their mission is to do away with “errors and flaws in human health” and to do no harm in the process.  They want to rid bodies of ills.  They like it when a person’s vital signs are good, and when she is in a state of well-being.  They also understand the wisdom and efficiency of exercise, healthy nourishment, and preventative care, rather than waiting until disease takes control or until the patient is on the verge of death before playing any positive role.  Among other things, they also want to prevent viruses and other unhealthy things from spreading through entire populations and taking societal tolls.

If Philosophy involves the love of wisdom, philosophers should aim to help rid people and societies of damaging errors and flaws in thinking, and rid minds of ills of thought, especially those errors and flaws and ills that are most harmful, self-defeating, or self-destructive.  Philosophers should actively aim to help people and societies become wise, not remain foolish.  And, given that this is no easy task—and that the clock is ticking—at least many philosophers will need to practice their love of wisdom with some real edge, directly engaging and cutting away at those errors and flaws and ills that do the most harm, and that spread foolishness and not wisdom.

Philosophy and philosophers should not rest easily, figuratively speaking, or at least should not be satisfied, until the most damaging, unhealthy, and self-defeating errors and flaws in thinking—the harmful-thought viruses, the false-paradigm viruses, the bad-assumption viruses—are shown for what they are and are voluntarily and happily rejected by increasingly wise people and increasingly wise societies.  Out with the bad, in with the good, so to speak.

(I hope my point is interpreted charitably and isn’t misunderstood here.  It’s not that there is one right way or a narrow scope of ways that should be found and followed, of course.  Instead, it’s that there are some deeply flawed assumptions and related paradigms in our so-called modern society—indeed driving it—that are harmful, dangerous, and ultimately destructive and that should be corrected if we humans are going to “get through alive”, so to speak, and without wiping out nearly every other thing in our paths.)

The academy—universities and colleges, ideally and appropriately beginning with their philosophy departments (“Where might wisdom be found?”)—will have to directly engage and actively cut away at those false, harmful, damaging assumptions and paradigms if we humans are to avoid creating Hell on Earth, and if we’re to get ourselves out of the situation illustrated in my earlier post, ‘Alien Observations’.

(Granted, this might seem like a bold statement and a tall task.  But anyone who has been paying attention to the foolish escapades of the present U.S. government, to the melting Arctic, to the scientists telling us about species loss, to ever-widening income disparities, and to other global human-caused problems will find it hard to disagree, I should think.)

I began this series with two quotes, repeated here for convenience:

“Perfection of means and confusion of goals seem, in my opinion, to characterize our age.”

  • Albert Einstein

“They were like the ant, which can see small objects but not large ones.”

  • George Orwell, 1984

 

These are statements of philosophical problems in the fullest sense—not in the “merely philosophical” or “primarily theoretical” senses, but in the whole theoretical-and-practical-and-real-and-concrete-and-consequential sense; real problems that any species that claims to have any wisdom should recognize, face, and try very hard to address.  And, addressing them will require some edge.  Is there any doubt about that?

Granted, academic philosophers often practice their craft with edge among themselves, that is, in debates with each other in a quest for Truth or at least truth.  Like football players in a football game, opposing sides are often strategic and clever, frequently crisp and brutal.  Hits are hard.  Often, intellectually speaking, no prisoners are taken.  The aim—or at least a chief one—is to win.  But also as in the case of football, the concussions and repercussions of the game don’t reach beyond the football field, beyond the field of philosophy.  Or at least, they very rarely do.  (We’ll examine this, very concretely, in my next post.)   While all of the debates, some of them practiced with edge, are had on the football field of academic philosophy, the real world outside seems largely untouched, unimpressed, unmoved.  Perhaps academic philosophy and philosophers should turn more of their “edges” away from where they seem to be presently aimed, and more (as a matter of emphasis and priority) towards addressing, and cutting away at, the major false assumptions and self-destructive paradigms upon which much of our modern society is based.

Some crucial parts of the problem and challenge can be appreciated, without the need for abstractions or debates over abstractions, by considering these three recent pieces together:

‘The Sustainability Dance’, a blog post by Graham H. Pyke of the University of Technology Sydney, on the Millennium Alliance for Humanity & the Biosphere (MAHB) blog, here: http://mahb.stanford.edu/whats-happening/the-sustainability-dance/

An earlier post in this series, ‘Alien Observations’

The book review ‘Sold Out’, by Stefan Collini, London Review of Books, 24 October 2013, here: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v35/n20/stefan-collini/sold-out   (Thanks to David Morey for suggesting this article in a recent Global Circle post.)

Clearly, it will require some real edge to address these issues.

As always, thanks for your consideration.

Be Well,

Jeff