Reading Questions

I am currently reading The Road to Serfdom by F.A. Hayek, one of the more important political/economic treatises since World War II I think.  (It is certainly up there if not that high.)  In the book, Mr. Hayek is arguing against socialism of the era in the form of an entirely or mostly planned economy which he saw coming to power in England and already holding power in Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Communist Russia.

Essentially, planned economies take away individual liberty according to his argument.  I am not here to analyze that part though. Instead, what if we are going towards a planned economy regardless of our politics through something that Hayek may not have foreseen?  The new thing is technology and this advent of big data and wearable technology etc.  We are slowly gaining the ability to get data on practically every moment of our days.  I do not think that Hayek foresaw such an occurrence while writing and I wonder what he would have to say.

In short: are we building ourselves into a planned society without even intending it?

Regardless of what we do economically/politically, technology is becoming wearable, mobile and ubiquitous.  Ubiquitous technology generally tends towards ubiquitous data as can be seen with our “Big Data” issue coming up and as the smart city movement gains momentum towards measuring everything.

The problem with all of this is it is data from measurable things only, technology cannot make value judgments it can only take in what it is told to take in and focus on that information in whatever measurable way it is told.  There are severe limitations in that.  This ability to change values was one of the strengths of money, an individual could use their money in ways that aligned with their individual values (thanks, Hayek!),  instead of being limited to what was deemed “worthy” money could be used in multiple different ways by different individuals because the money earned did not already have a value judgment built into it and was not limited in measuring like data is when it is being gathered. Technology and data, instead can only focus on view things and generally that information is used to increase “efficiency.”  So, the information gathered, especially in reference to time, can generally be used to increase productivity but it becomes harder to use it in other ways.

So, in essence, technology measures productivity and nothing else.

The problem is, as humans, sometimes the lack of productivity is the most productive thing to do.  Meditation as a contemporary example, the day of rest as a biblical one, sleep as a fact of life one. Also, productivity, as we all know is NOT necessarily quality.  Producing millions of cheap plastic chairs may be producing “more” in a measurable way but it is not the same as a craftsman finding wood, carving it and putting it together into a rocking chair on their own.  Money helps us show that difference through the different price tags I believe.  But, our data, as compared to time, would still probably find it more “efficient” to produce the plastic chairs instead and that would lead to a higher profit margin.  I would argue that, as technology becomes more ubiquitous, these sorts of value judgments are going to end up happening without us necessarily realizing it.  Meaning we could end up with a planned society based on efficiency without ever actually intending it.  Especially as we slowly let our human ability to decide value languish thanks to those decisions being made outside of ourselves.

I simply wonder, what does Hayek have to say in response to this?

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Short Theory of History

I was thinking about dignity and honor and pride one day and started considering history and the creation of the world we live in today.  I was also thinking about aristocrats and how they are considered as having honor and pride.  Taking aristocracy to be “rule of the best qualified” and considering best qualified to be people who are the ideal type of Greek virtuous person, or something along those lines, I began to wonder if our current world was not created by merchants who wanted to have more pride in themselves but do not understand what they are actually looking for and thought that honor came from the status, not the person.

Yes, I know not all European aristocrats were particularly good people, I am not disregarding the actual history, it is a general theory, one I think worth considering and at least somewhat interesting.  It also provides another critique of materialism and our modern world, which is one of my favorite dead horses to beat.

So, below is the thought process of this theory of history and the economy.

Merchants are considered higher because they bought royal, or aristocratic, status from the aristocracy who found selling and working below their dignity.  As such, they did not focus on making money allowing the merchants, who did not mind working, to be able to buy the aristocrats out.  The merchants though, bought the aristocratic status for various reasons, one of which was to gain dignity, honor or a different sense of pride.

It is impossible to buy what these merchants were looking for though and some of the true aristocrats understood this while the merchant class did not.  So, as the aristocrats faded away or lost their status to money the merchants came to power.  These merchants though simply cannot understand how to get the dignity that they want, they do not understand what it means to actually be an aristocrat.  They always hope that it is the next paycheck or thing or status symbol that will turn the merchants into a proper aristocrat.

This leads to the development of an economic system that needs constant growth and wealth (how else to buy those status symbols to become an aristocrat?).  The constant growth does work for some, insofar as they have more money and can buy more things and raise their status, but money cannot turn an individual into an actual aristocrat.

Can Democracy Work With Borders?

I don’t think so. I think that a democracy as envisioned in the Enlightenment cannot actually function with set borders.  In other words, in order to have a proper democracy as places like the U.S. like to pretend we have, we cannot have strong borders like we do currently.  This is because borders entail exclusion and the ideal of democracies like the U.S. is that no one is excluded and borders make it possible for people to be born into the country, which, if democracies are to actually work off of “social contract” theories that they tend to lean on now, every individual has to come to sign onto the contract on their own.

The first part is relatively simple, a border defines an area that is yours and an area that is mine.  That is the point of borders, if you do not agree try to create a border that does to rely on this fundamental separation.  Borders are exclusion.  Democracies in our world constantly want to promote “multi-culturalism,” “openness,” “diversity,” and all those other pretty sounding words that get thrown around a lot.  Barring the internal issues that exist in these countries (that’s a can of worms that I will not open, so just stay in International Relations please), borders fundamentally deny these pretty words that like to get thrown around in democracies.  Basically, having a border, means that there is a part of the Earth that is “mine” (the citizen’s) and part that is “yours” (the non-citizen of any sort).  Operating off of that assumption means that a person has to work to become a citizen, (citizenship tests) which causes problems since the basic assumption made when say, the U.S. Constitution was written, was that of social contract theory.  This theory is essentially that the individual signs onto the contract of a government, which is just fine and dandy, if the person can read the contract and understand it, go ahead and sign on all you want, requiring a person to take a test of random facts of the history of the country is not really useful in this way.

As a history note, us Euro-Americans are quite good at letting people sign contracts when they do not necessarily understand the contract and what it entails.  Why do we suddenly care about a person understanding the contract when they want to be a citizen? Anyway, just a reminder, the U.S. is far from perfect like some people seem to want to say.

The discussion above has gotten dangerously close to my second point so I will just go ahead into it here.  So we have this social contract theory and with well and strongly defined and defended borders makes this contract inherently exclusionary which is exactly against the ideals that people like to claim in the current world.  The next problem is that this sense of there being borders means that a person can be born into a contract, which is not necessarily a bad idea in theory I guess, but this being born into a situation leads to two problems.

1) laziness, being born into something means you probably do not feel the same impetus to work for it or care.  This does not apply to all people in all situations, it does seem that it applies for voting though, since an individual is just born into a democracy they do not really feel the need to participate to have citizenship in a democracy which weakens a democracy by their lack of participation.  So, if everyone, in order to actually gain citizenship had to participate (i.e. vote) those that actually want to be members (i.e. sign the contract and join-in) would go ahead and vote and choose to become a part of that society.

2) it allows a sense of “us” and “them” to form.  Being born in a certain place and gaining citizenship automatically allows one to have a sense of that area being theirs and that people who move in are outsiders and frankly, in North America, that is entirely false.  Essentially, when being born in a place equates to citizenship nation-states are created which have all sorts of problems of exclusionary practices.

This is admittedly, poorly argued at this point, but my point is that a democracy cannot function with borders because borders allow the creation of nation-states which means exclusionary practices and lax-ness on the part of the citizens that are born into the nation-state.  So, in order to get a democracy that truly works, the concept of a border has to be taken apart.  Luckily, these are just musings that I never have to worry about coming to fruition!

Change of Topic

For a bit of a change of speed, I will just be sharing some questions for today and they focus on food.

Namely the question is, has anyone ever done a study on food coming from the same place/environment?
J

ust search for the health benefits or detriments of basically any food and you can find at least one page talking about it and who knows how many recipes. You can also sometimes find some combinations that go well, “eat fats with this veggie because vitamins in the vegetable are fat-soluble,” “eat yogurt in the sunlight because vitamin D and calcium go together. Not to mention when to eat what type of macro-nutrient, pre-work out, post-workout, morning, evening, down to the minutes essentially. This is all okay in its own way I am sure but no one ever seems to have asked the question, do these foods coming from the same place in the world work together?

Say, for example, the “three sisters” grown by Native Americans, squash, beans and maize.  Luckily the wikipedia page does mention how beans and maize come together for proteins needed in the diet.  But the squash is entirely dropped at this point, is there nothing that the squash would have to add to this combination besides just growing well with the other two foods? I have no idea and it would be nice if there was something done to find out for my curiosity. Is this, two foods coming together well for human consumption the only time that this has ever happened though? I highly, highly doubt it.

Let’s look at another example from North America: tomatoes and avocados.  They are both native to Mexico and Central America.  Do those two foods maybe come together for health well and not just in taste like in guacamole?

Maybe I just have not come across these studies or commentaries yet, but it is a question that comes up every once in a while.  This is also saying that there cannot be other combinations, but couldn’t there be some truth or benefits to knowledge and practices that came about before science performed the right tests to “prove” them?

 

21st Century Religion

This is a paper that I wrote, sadly I had to trash it because it was way too long, but I am quite proud of it and I feel like sharing the entirety of it because it makes an interesting statement to me.  I also, do not think it is plagiarism since the citations also come attached to this and it is my own original work…

This was originally supposed to be a post on a discussion board, so that is why the reference to other discussion posts.

All of the students who have posted seem to have hit upon important points of discussion and explanations of why people kill in the name of religion.  I feel that they have missed some points though and will attempt to expand this discussion a bit further than has heretofore gone.  I am going to do this through arguing that religion creates a sense of community and identity which can then be infringed upon or dishonored helping to cause a justification for killing.  Afterwards I will try to briefly argue that religions attempt to go to war with each other to prove which tribe and religion is more powerful (sort of a Hobbesian sense of state of nature).  Finally, in an interesting thought experiment, I will attempt to argue that our society is intensely religious with what I will call a cult of rationality and that this religion has been in one of the most large-scale wars for domination over other religions.

In the slides online and in the book the idea of communitas from Victor Turner is mentioned (Jourdan 2014, Slide 11 and Miller 2010, 335).  This communitas, according to Turner, is a sense unity with a group of people (Miller 2010, 335).  Religions are one place where this sense of unity can be created through all of the different rituals and having similar beliefs.  I think that this is an important factor in religions which can help to cause a justification for killing.  If one feels like they are part of a tight-knit community one that is so closely tied that the phrase “if you hurt one of us, you hurt all of us” stands and then one of their own people is hurt the others will feel justified in getting revenge.  Take this into religions where there is also the idea of spirits, Gods, gods and other divine or supernatural powers which can also be offended.  Now there is a group of people who have a group of individuals and a belief system to protect from outrages and that can lead to very easy justification for fighting and killing.

Take the story of the Trojan War as a more secular example.  A Greek King’s wife was taken by a Trojan Prince.  The Greek Kings, all being part of a loose identity of “Greek” went to war with the other Greek Kings to get this wife back.  The Greeks have a sense of community with each other and one member had been offended so they went to war to fix the offense.  Even if the story is mythological the basic idea still holds I think.  A more religious example can be seen in the 30 year’s war which had a lot to do with the reformation (Morrison, 6).  The entirety of Catholic Christianity had to deal with this new sect of Protestants within itself and multiple tactics were used on either side.

Another aspect of this killing is to show which religion is more powerful.  The myth of emperor Constantine receiving a sign that he should have his soldiers put the Christian Cross on their shields to win a battle I think is an example of this.  By winning a huge battle under the name of one religion it is a sort of symbol of the ability of that religion’s God(s) to protect its believers, thus showing it is more powerful and more right or true.  This certainly makes the crusades a bit awkward for Catholic Europe at the time since they ended up losing.  So religious communities are groups of people who are closely knit, can be offended and want to establish themselves as the most powerful and most truthful group in religious conflicts.  I am not attempting to say that this is the only justification for religious killing but it certainly seems like this could be an important aspect.  Now this last justification for killing is the one that the cult of rationality has used for the most part.

The first thing I have to do is define this cult of rationality.  This cult believes in the absolute power of reason/logic.  A definition of religion we are given in the slides is:

A religion is 1) a system of symbols which acts to establish powerful, pervasive and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by 2) formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and 3) clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that 4) the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic (Jourdan 2014, slide 2).

The system of symbols that this cult uses seems to stem from geometry and math in general.  Statistics being one of the main sources of these symbols, this system of symbols is used in scientific journal articles to prove certain things such as whether or not a medicine works.  Or calculus, another system of these symbols is used to argue for gravity and these things establish the motivations of whether or not to take a medicine for a cure or how to explain the world and why things fall as they do.  Gravity then also does step two, by helping along with the rest of physics, to explain how the universe works.  The aura of factuality can be seen by the fact that we call these facts and these explanations and motivations for things are assumed to be real.  I also think one can argue that this cult of rationality is a religion from another list we are given in the slides.

This second list is the four reasons why people would need and have religions.  They are (1) an explanation (2) validation (3) security and (4) defining the world (Jourdan 2014, Slide 2).  This cult of rationality explains how the world came to be (the big bang theory), validates and comforts by arguing that the apparent chaos in the world is controlled by rationality and logically explainable ideas and an idea of gravity certainly validates that we see things fall.  Finally these logical rules also explain the world as it really is.  Now to explain how this religion has been at war with others.

I think this war with other religions can be seen in European ethnocentrism also.  First Nations people in North America being forced off of their own lands, enslaved, destroyed and forced to change their habits and beliefs to fit into the world system of a combination of Christianity and rationality.  Colonialism is another historical example of this war, Europeans thought that they had the better religion rationality and Christianity and went exploring, to get trade yes, but also they went proselytizing and enslaving.  The cult of rationality in having these mathematical symbols for an economy led the way to expansion and then used these symbols to improve weaponry and navigation so that the colonializing rationalists could attack with fancier and more damaging weapons (gun powder instead of bows), move more people and goods around with navigation and higher quality ships among other technological advances that rationality made.  In due time, this cult of rationality has managed to spread across the globe so that the entire world is part of the economy, statistics of the world are taken and everything is put to the rationalist explanations and tests.

This is a somewhat crazy interpretation of the modern world and I am not saying that this is the right way to interpret the world.  I do think that it is important to be aware of how religions can be viewed, interpreted, understood and explained though and performing a thought experiment such as this can show that and help to prevent the ethnocentrism that asilvestri mentioned in an earlier post.  It can also help to show how there can be multiple reasons for religious killing.

Works Cited:

Jourdan, Christine. 2014. “Introduction to Culture (ANTH 202).” eConcordia. http://www.econcordia.com/courses/introduction_culture/lesson5/

Miller, Barbara, Penny Van Esterik and John Van Esterik. Cultural Anthropology. 4th ed. Toronto: Pearson Education Canada, 2010.

Schiller, Friedrich. The History of the Thirty Year’s War. Translated by Rev. A. J. Morrison, M.A. University of Pennsylvania. http://www2.hn.psu.edu/faculty/jmanis/schiller/30yrswar.pdf

Stumbling Blocks

Having some serious philosophical issues, basically due to having come to conclusions that make it unreasonable for me to hold onto other conclusions I have come to. The general conclusion comes from tracing history and wondering about the idea from Burke, that a huge break from history causes more chaos than good and it is better for society to go through evolution and have fewer revolutions.  Which also happens to coincide nicely with the Enlightenment Period, which is very quickly coming to the fore as the main point of focus of my future research and reaction.

The biggest problem though is questioning: what constitutes a huge break from history anymore? Then, depending on the definition, the rest of my philosophical project may have to come down since it could fall into an attempt to break from history too harshly.  Too bad it seems that everyone has already sorted all of this stuff out and I’m just too far behind for anyone to be willing to take the time to explain it all to me.

Big Conclusions

The Truth, Good, Just, God, to be enlightened, to be awakened, Quality, Right, the Way this list could continue.  The point is, all of those heavy words or phrases which are used to define something that is inherently undefinable.  Yet somehow, when we hear these words we know what they mean until one tries to sit down and get a solid definition on paper.  Try, what is Truth? Or Good? Or Just? A lot of time has been spent by other philosophers to sort out what these words mean, entire sections of thought are devoted to these questions, political and legal theorizing for Justice, Ethical theorizing for the Good, religions for any and all of the words.  There is still seemingly no absolutely solid definition, Merriam Webster when you look up “truth” uses the word “true” in the definition.  So, go to that word and you still end up with true in part of the definition and the rest of it does not seem to fully cover what “truth” really is.  Try this experiment with “good” you end up with the word quality, so go on to that definition you get, “a peculiar and essential nature” for a definition, that is not too helpful if you are attempting to establish really hard facts.

The next experiment though, you can point to something or someone and say that it is good or bad.  That it has a quality, that it is good quality, low quality.  You can say that this is just but that is not that this is right and that is not.  You can claim that God is separate from everything and in everything and created everything.  All of these terms defy a really good, solid definition like the word “dog” does.  (Although dog can be hard to define too even.) You do know what it means though, you know what it means to you which is enough and we all operate off of this, luckily our definitions can be in enough agreement that our society can function on some level.

In short, there are terms that exist which a person can recognize when they see it in the world but cannot rationally define with any sort of quality.  This seems to be a fundamental problem, especially as a scientist or trying to be super logical like some philosophers.  This fundamental split seems to be the focal point of differences between philosophers and people in general.  Some go with the “front-end” gut definition and work with it and others attempt a “back-end” rationalization.

This difference also appears to be on a pendulum, swinging back and forth through history.  Although often history is not as peaceful as this idea of the pendulum is.  This argument over priority to front-end or back-end almost appears to be a constant war in western thought.  A war which western thought has brought to all corners of the world (if it wasn’t already happening before, I’m not well-read enough to know).  One side being those who fully support rationality and the “church of reason” as some might say.  The other side being less rational, considered a counter-culture in recent years.  Of course each side has its variances with more and less extreme people through the spectrum of reason to romantics.

I like to imagine this spectrum as one side of an equilateral triangle and at each end of this side is either reason or the other, the final vertex is this thing that is called Truth or Good or God or etc. etc. etc.  On this discussion of a triangle remember that a triangle is considered the most stable shape in mathematics (or so I was told anyway).  Which I think is an unusually convenient path into claiming that having an equal spectrum of rationalism and this other end leads to being a solid equilateral triangle and thus every human being has a life that they would consider good.  The problem though is that war I mentioned earlier.

The two extreme ends do not like to share and would prefer that everyone end up closer to one end of the spectrum or the other which leads to weird bulges towards one vertex or the other, de-stabilizing the triangle.  This triangle recently has been incredibly unstable, a heavy lean towards the rational end of this spectrum.  My beginning research into this idea has pointed to the Enlightenment being when this destabilization took its full effect and western society has been dealing with that ever since.  Luckily enough though, it seems that I am at a point in history where the pendulum has begun its downward sweep back towards the other end of the spectrum.  This is all I have for the moment, once I can get some more historical research I hope to come back to this.