Posts Tagged ‘mentalities’

Power and incompetence

May 19, 2017

People in power are often structurally incompetent. Not only because they get promoted above their ability to handle the situations they are supposedly in charge of (as explained in the Peter Principle), but because they suffer from the power/ignorance nexus (David Graeber). That is, because all the information they receive tends to be tailored towards what those beneath them, think that they want to hear or see. The more the people in power have access to violence, or can threaten those beneath them, the more this is the case. ‘Superiors’ don’t have to understand people or events that they can hit, or order to be hit. Managers can also be cut off from reality by their immediate underlings who try to control them by feeding them ‘useful’ information – this is the evil advisor motif. Similarly, those in power rarely explain truthfully what is going on to those beneath them, as this would render them more vulnerable to criticism and challenge. Thus those beneath them have to guess what is meant to happen, or what is happening, and this opens the organization to complete fantasy where people know that everything they are told is untrue, but don’t know what the lies are covering. This further confuses the information that the ‘superiors’ receive.

The less competent the people in power become, the less they are likely to realise that they do not understand what is going on or recognize competence (Kruger Dunning effect) – they see everything as all someone else’s fault, or the result of a vast conspiracy against them. Given that power is always exercised in a complex process with active ‘counter power’, were events are non-predictable, then incompetent people are not only likely to generate unintended results all the time, but they are likely to blame those beneath them for that incompetence, punish them, or not learn from mistakes, and thus reinforce the power/ignorance nexus.

Problems with incompetents in power tend to get worse, because they like to appoint other incompetents, or people who engage in flattery to positions of power beneath them, or of giving advice to them. Knowledgeable people scare them. Knowledgeable people, who don’t lie to please them, will tend to get sacked as incompetents will not take advice from people who might be less incompetent; they will not recognise the possibility of accuracy which goes against their biases, and so on.

Given this, incompetent people tend to set up (or reinforce) organisational structures based upon, and generative of, incompetence and ignorance. If they can, then they will destroy ‘checks and balances’ which have evolved to give social stability and responsiveness, as these seem to be part of the conspiracy which supposedly opposes them; these checks and balances are merely obstacles.

It is, therefore, not unreasonable to assume that incompetent politicians and corporate commanders will generate a dysfunctional educational system, which then reinforces the power of those politicians, by corrupting knowledge and thinking and giving people a truly false sense of reality. Having an education system which taught people to recognise the problems that the politicians and the corporate bosses generate, would appear counterproductive to their power and simply seem untrue.

Incompetence and ignorance can be further magnified when, as with capitalism, the economic system only recognises the virtue of profit and wealth – all other competence, benefits and virtue are to be dismissed. Organizations based on profit and incompetence, may tend to select for certain types of psychopathology, which further distorts the processes and feedback perception, rendering the superiors even more incompetent, and focused on profit alone. If you want to get ahead in this system you have to be able to lie, misdirect and deceive others. You have to be able to dismiss others without regret. You have to be able to assume that money is the only thing in life, and that it should be distributed only to the few, of which you are one.

In such an environment, everyone becomes nervous of everyone else, and most people end up communicating strategically rather than truthfully. Hence not only the collapse of education and collapse of virtue, but the collapse of our ecology and the likely collapse of society..

A Defence of PoMo in Politics

April 19, 2017

I’ve seen a few articles recently in which people seem to be blaming Postmodernism for ‘fake news’ and Donald Trump, and for a departure from Enlightenment principles into ‘darkness’. This seems rather a stretch to me.

One of the problems with this position, is that it sees both the enlightenment and post-modernism, as single movements, when they are quite pluralistic: Derrida, Baudrillard and Foucault for example, do not have a common project, other than in the sense that people writing at the same time in a similar tradition have commonalities.

I would further suggest that many apparent tenets of post-modernism actually share similarities with people in the enlightenment, and come out of other recognisable modernist sources such as anthropology, linguistics, physics and so on. Cynically, post-modernism as a whole has little interest in the British Enlightenment, because it makes it seem less original as a movement.

Many of the movers of the British enlightenment, which is the Enlightenment I am most familiar with, after a lot of arguing came to what I would claim is the entirely justifiable conclusion that ‘Reason’ was not enough, and that reason without reference to the real world could lead to complete fantasy. If your axioms/assumptions and obvious statements where wrong your conclusions would be wrong. Hence ‘natural philosophy’ and ‘alchemy’ moved into what we call science, in which, as far as possible, statements had to be checked against reality in front of trustworthy, knowledgeable and critical witnesses.

It’s position is we cannot assume things to be true in advance. That will mislead us.

Now, let’s move to a patch of Foucault arguing with Chomsky:

“… you can’t prevent me from believing that these notions of human nature, of justice, of the realization of the essence of human beings, are all notions and concepts which have been formed within our civilization, within our type of knowledge and our form of philosophy, and that as a result form part of our class system; and that one can’t, however regrettable it may be, put forward these notions to describe or justify a fight which should — and shall in principle – overthrow the very fundaments of our society. This is an extrapolation for which I can’t find the historical justification. ”

Foucault’s remark is entirely within keeping with these mainstream British Enlightenment Principles – where are these ‘rights’ that people keep talking about? Are they not enshrined in, and derived from, particular political structures – which as Adam Smith, no less, pointed out are there to defend the propertied and the powerful? It may be that the discourse is not entirely consistent, and can be turned against itself. But that does not mean ‘rights’ exist. You would need to show Foucault a historical example of this in action before he might agree to the process working. We are all familiar with the remark attributed to Einstein “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it” – this is more concise and more general than Foucault, but the meaning is similar. We need to change our reason to solve problems.

Likewise Foucault insists that knowledge is intertwined with power. Who is going to argue that Religion has not been intertwined with power and challenges to power and the same seems true of science and economics? We know that commercial science is not always as accurate as independent science. That is why some of us fight for academic funding to be determined by academics rather than corporations, and why others want funding and work conditions to be determined by corporations or corporate principles. To deny this relationship between power and knowledge, seems to be to deny a basic political truth, of which Voltaire and Diderot were not unaware.

I’d also argue that power is intertwined with ignorance, but that is another argument, but it should lead us to caution. Burke’s ‘conservative’ defense of British Tradition against revolution and ‘free markets’ is based upon a distrust in reason, and a trust in the empirical complexity of reality. We may not perceive everything which is going on, or how it all interacts and hence the system needs tending carefully not disrupting ‘reasonably’ according to our fancies. The same kind of proposition is found in functionalist anthropology acting as a defense of ‘native’ societies against colonial disorganization – it foreshadows systems theory, which is vital for understanding ecologies and social interactions with ecologies.

Now as it happens, both Hume and Berkeley disrupted this empiricist stand by showing from empiricist principles that we have no direct access to reality, only to our imagining and habits, or to the imagining done by God in Berkeley’s case. Of course there was the ‘common sense’ reaction to these positions, but it was always within this wider framework as discussed. Reason is not supreme. And a belief in the supremacy of reason leads you to serious misunderstanding of human social functioning.

Derrida further illustrates how this failure of reason and understanding can occur through language. One of his main claims to fame is the infamous argument that there is nothing outside the text. For me, this seems to be saying that humans give things meaning immediately – we treat things as ‘texts’. I don’t know why people get upset with this proposition. To some extent, science is about trying to remove the meanings we give things immediately and giving them meanings which are more in accord with their nature. But we are always prone to bend them to our inner psycho-cultural meanings. And the more obscure, or threatening, the science the more this bending will occur.

Derrida also takes the ‘context dependence’ of meaning seriously. Meaning is delimited by context. That is a fairly standard linguistic understanding. Context is unstable. Different people bring different contexts to the same ‘texts’, consequently meaning is unstable. Add difficulties of cross cultural understanding, historical shifts in the meanings of words and so on, then this becomes even more of an issue. We may be reasoning from assumptions which are mistaken interpretations of some previous work. This is fairly obvious to literary critics. Any relatively complex text will have an almost infinite number of interpretations; although it may not have every possible interpretation – as I commonly say the number of people who seriously argue that Hamlet is about the mating habits of African elephants is remarkably small. However, no valuable text is exhausted of meaning by any particular reading. I also don’t know why this proposition often seems to be considered a terrible thing, as it seems necessary to any kind of understanding.

Indeed one of the problems with understanding Trump and the Trump movement, is that the contexts brought to bear on understanding it’s statements are extremely different; they are so different that people in the same cultural group cannot understand each other. Refusal to accept context dependence, means that much commentary is framed in terms of the stupidity of others, and such statements help to further the separation and lack of understanding and communication.

These positions seem, to me, to be fundamental starting places for political analysis, along with understanding how economic and political ‘truths’ get propagated through organs of power, and they are not hindered by post-modern thought.

Science and uncertainty….

March 3, 2017

Most forms of human knowledge are fallible.

Despite this, it may need to be recalled, that everything we know about the global despoliation of nature comes from scientific work.

It is scientific work that shows us that ‘nature’ is a vast set of interactive systems, essentially powered by the sun and, occasionally, by global thermal energy.

It is science which shows us that we are dependent upon other people, that we share as part of our nature, and that we compete as part of our nature. The individual only exists because of the group. We are shaped by, and shape cultures (collective ideas, feelings and habits). We emerge from the collective interaction.

It is science that shows we are related to many other Terran life forms, and depend on the interactions of other life forms. It is science that shows us our bodies and minds are fractious colonies.

Science shows us that natural systems are inherently complex and unpredictable in detail. Natural systems are unstable and subject to contingency and accident. They eventually escape human ordering, although we can disrupt them.

Science shows us that eventually, at particular times, there are natural limits. It is capitalism and developmentalism which insist these limits can always be overcome, and hence are prone to lead to lead to disaster

Spirituality in the Anthropocene

February 26, 2017

I keep reading and hearing people saying, or implying, that what we need is a spiritual approach to fix the problems we face. I hear this a lot in the Depth Psychology community in particular.

I think this is fundamentally wrong. Spirituality is not automatically a solution, and ‘rationality’ is not always a problem. Human knowing is very often fallible, irrespective of its source, and this should be remembered, otherwise both spirituality and reason become props for the ego, its limitations and defence, rather than ways of accessing knowledge or relatedness.

The potential problems with spirituality seem as important to me, in terms of our ecological problems, as is the use of science or technology to ‘control’ nature.

For example, in Western and many other traditions, spirituality has been used to deny the reality of nature, or used as a means to get out of nature or to diminish nature. Christianity and Islam have both taught that our true life is elsewhere. It is not in nature. Nature is a snare, at best a distraction to be mastered. Reality is found after death.

Intensely spiritual people can believe and intuit strongly that everything is in the hands of God, and that humans can do nothing to hurt the cosmos. They can be both calm and beautiful as they destroy the world. They could for example, think it is their duty to cut down forests and destroy fertile fields to bring forth their temples, unaware of what they are doing, or even condemning those who protest as heretics or unspiritual. They can be passionately devoted to killing people or animals as sacrifices to the Gods.

Perhaps one of the most harmful ideas ever proposed, is the spiritual idea/experience usually associated with Plato, that the real is perfect and unchanging and not of this world. This may completely alienate people from any engagement with life and the natural world as it is, as that is constantly in flux, birth, death and decay. The acceptance of such an idea, and the spiritual practices around it, may mark our initial separation from Nature, and our attempts to control it rather than live with it.

There is nothing inherent in spirituality which leads to a beneficial interrelationship with natural processes. Spirituality can impose a hostile order on the world as much as any reason.

Similarly, while we may want to forget, war can be intensely a matter of spirituality. Not just for zen samurai, Vikings, Nazis, shaolin monks, warring Tibetan temples, jihading Muslims, Crusading Christians, and Aztec warriors gathering sacrificial prisoners, but to ordinary people who may frequently tell you that they felt more alive, more connected and more meaningful when the war was on. Not all people feel this way, of course, some live in terror and die in agony. However, this aspect of spirit should not be forgotten.

People can see the position put forward here as an attack on valuable experiences. However, I want to suggest that ‘peak experiences’ or ‘spiritual experiences’ have little to do with ‘spirituality’. They are, in some ways, frequently ‘mundane’, they seem to happen irrespective of whether a person is particularly spiritual or not. They might imply connection, or simply the sheer strange presence of something different from yourself. Spirituality has little to do with this, and is more like a theory of everything or an approach to the world.

Whatever it is, spirituality is often assumed to be good, and in opposition to whatever is bad – many people seem very confident of that. Indeed, contemporary spirituality is often defined by opposition. It is opposed to logos, it is not science, it is not reason, it is not materialism. People also seem to assume that logos, reason and so forth have the dominant position in the world, and are therefore responsible for the destruction we observe. However, even a brief look at our politics should lead to that particular theory being cast aside. Reason, whatever its failings, is not even vaguely dominant. If it was then we would be seeing some attempts to deal with climate change. Science is largely captive to State and commercial interests.

Given the oppositions people set up, it becomes too easy for spiritually aligned people to say science is the problem, and spirituality is the solution, when they may well be both parts of the problem and solution. The Sacred and the Profane are perhaps not separate… Personally I was relieved to discover that anthropologists decided this distinction was not present in many societies.

Historically, spirituality has grown up alongside (and with) logos, science, materialism, reason; and similarly they grow out of it. As mutually dependent, both ‘sides’ are as responsible for our problems as anything else.

Jungians might be expected to sit with these opposites, rather than to declare one side responsible for harm and the other good. We might find that both are necessary, to correct the other, or we might find that we discover something new.

Diminishing difference

February 25, 2017

There is a rather weird form of argument I often find used by Americans.

It goes like this: ” ‘A’ is bad and ‘B’ is hugely bad. This means that you should not have a preference between the two as they are both bad.”

This is like saying if I have a choice between a cold and meningitis, I should not chose the cold. If I have a choice between Stalin and Pence, I should not protest about the possibility of Stalin.

So it goes: Clinton was probably going to continue the Bush wars in the ‘Middle East’ – ok that’s bad.
Trump has threatened to use nukes in the Middle East, supports Russian tactics in the area, and wants to exterminate members of ISIS and their families, and of course continue the wars with massive increases in military spending. Trump also threatens US allies, to make it more likely the US will have to do this by itself. Hugely bad.
The argument is that you can’t possibly object to Trump as they are both equally bad.

Clinton supports Wall Street. bad
Trump supports Wall street and wants total deregulation to allow companies to rip people off without the remotest fear of being held responsible. Hugely bad.
But there is really no difference.

Clinton is said to be sympathetic to fossil fuel companies (despite Republicans previously arguing that she wasn’t) – ok bad.
Trump will support fossil fuel companies, force constructions of pipelines, allow fossil fuel companies to write his policies (not just on energy but apparently on foreign affairs), remove controls over pollution and environmental damage and so on. Hugely bad.
No difference, so can’t object to Trump.

Clinton supports a State.
Trump supports the State and massive police action, removal of important data from websites, large scale, deportations and threatens any independent comment and the judiciary. Appoints more people with vested interests to his Cabinet than anyone in living memory.
This is obviously the same thing.

Even if my facts are wrong, and I hope they are not, these strange argument patterns are what I experience almost daily.

Western Mind II

February 5, 2017

I’m still cautious about characterising groups of people as having a particular mind, as in statements about Western Rational minds or whatever. As I’ve said previously this rationality does not seem much in evidence, amongst more than a very small segment of the population.

However, my main point is that Western Rationalism is historically, and still, a religious/spiritual position.

If we want to date its arrival (which is a highly suspect process), it probably comes with Thomas Aquinas, who was initially suspected of heresy.

Aquinas’ position, in so far as it can be simplified by me, is that the human mind is an image of God’s mind, and therefore functions similarly to God’s mind and can understand that mind within limits.

Aquinas also argued that God, being perfect mind, was not arbitrary but coherent, and that logical thought could show truth about God and creation.  In this he was influenced by Aristotle and the Islamic recovery of Aristotle. The accuracy of our logically worked out claims about God and the universe was a product of the accuracy of our premises, and some of those premises came from faith or revelation, and some premises were obvious to all. God did not hide deliberately from creation. God could be reached by logic and human endeavour.

Scientia was the working out of logical consequences from our premises, as best we could. It was secure knowledge, or knowledge that was as secure as we could gain. If our premises were true, then so would be our conclusions.

This position has become known as scholasticism. It often embraced an earlier idea, that explanation should be simple, and should rely on the minimum number of premises. Ultimately an aesthetic choice lies at one of the hearts of rationalism.

Scholasticism appeared to became a dominant paradigm, although the Church still admitted the Augustinian tradition that God was not constrained and could constantly intervene and change things if He so chose. God was ultimately beyond human comprehension. Mysteries were present and inevitable.

The Church also accepted the ideas that God was love and available to all who were focused on Him, as exemplified by St Teresa and St Francis – however it was always suspicious of these people; they tended to be unpredictable. Franciscans were ordered to work for the inquisition to keep them in line.

The mystical tradition is, in many ways, anti-nature. Resolution of earthly sorrow comes with death and/or the journey to heaven. The earth is to be left behind. Many western mystics joyfully died relatively young. This leaving earth, is despite Jesus healing bodies, which might imply bodies had some significance, and despite the promise of the resurrection of the flesh on Earth at the day of judgement. Strangely scholasticism can be more pro nature, seeing God as symbolized in nature, or nature supported by emanations from God, or as present in the mind of God (Mathew Fox’s dialogue with Aquinas Sheer Joy, is good on this.)

Politically these ideas had consequences. The rational and the mystical spiritual traditions are democratic, possibly a little anarchic. If you can persuade others of the rationality of your truth, then you can do so. Any previous truth is vulnerable to a better argument or demonstration. Truth was no respecter of persons. The mystical says God speaks to everyone, and everyone is equal in this respect (we are all sinners) although has to agree to be vetted, as Teresa’s writings were vetted and sometimes suspected of heresy.

However the faith tradition is always a matter of interpretation, you have to have the right faith and this is decided, usually by a group of old men, who then enforce this on everyone, as it is vital for everyone’s spirits/souls. Only a few vetted people can participate in these discussions. This spiritual route tends to be authoritarian. It is the force that vets the other traditions.

In the background we have alchemy. Alchemical practice tends to be based on experience in the spirit, imagination and material. It is not so much logical as empirical. Logic breaks down in alchemy as you can see in some texts. Alchemy is not authoritarian, there are no groups of alchemists enforcing orthodoxy; it is largely a matter of individuals and small groups working with texts that are incredibly hard to understand and yielding to nature.

Empiricism is often opposed to rationalism, as it does not claim you can work things out in advance – its stronghold was in chemistry and medicine, where practitioners don’t know if stuff will work or not, until it is tried. Empiricism is taught by nature, or by an oscillation between nature and psyche, not by logic.

Protestants tended to break with rationality. They were faith dependent, and in the early days heavily authoritarian (apart from the mystical free spirit types). They heavily attacked scholasticism which they saw as justifying catholic authority not their own, and of course of misunderstanding the importance of faith. The post crusades Islamic position also tends to be faith based rather than ‘rationally’ based. The tendency of this tradition is to fossilization (we try to replicate the past and its rules according to authority) or widespread splintering in which faith becomes a matter of experience and mystical aspiration arising from a text (more like sufism, but the protestant splintering is much more public).

One consequence of this breakdown was trying to find certainties to base faith upon to try and heal the social breaks. What became science probably grew out of this endeavour. It tried to avoid theological conflicts by leaving the soul and mystical experience to religion. The soul of the scientist was to be level headed and ‘sober’. It was not supposed to be ecstatic. It took over the idea of the logicality of creation from the scholastics and merged it with the empiricism of the alchemists. Empirical events confirmed the correctness of scientific logic and the glory of God. Science was supposed to be determined by nature and humble before nature. Nature was the arbiter, although there is another stream which speaks of mastery of nature, which appealed to Empire builders, although the language usually used of dominion and mastery comes from Christianity.

Lots of people began to observe nature with an intensity that was possibly new to this part of society, gathering insects, counting worms, drawing birds and plants and so on. Science leads to romanticism, both as continuation and as reaction.

What science achieved was an anti-rationalism. The cosmos was revealed to be larger, smaller and more multifarious than anyone had suspected. The universe was for all practical purposes infinite; vast beyond human conception. The micro-verse was full of small creatures to an extent also beyond human conception. Even the ordinary level revealed the multitude of different species of insects. If God created the cosmos for humans then this God was a God of massive excess. For some people this massiveness meant they could no longer see the universe as home. It was not rational to see humans as special. This excess was revealed by empiricism, humble observation and letting the universe speak.

In any case, the majority of people followed their local traditions as always, generating endless fractioning.

In this situation, scientists could not avoid normal human usages of imagination or mysticism, but by the 20th Century they generally did not talk about it, although it is worth noting that our interest in dreams was born in what Freud and Jung insisted was empirical science.

Similarly, our knowledge of climate change comes through science, through comparison of data, and imaginative application of theory. It does not come through intuition or the spirit. People of the spirit have generally been slow to acknowledge the problems and have been major opponents of recognition, especially those with authority over faith.

All of the approaches described here, which constitute a massive simplification in themselves, are spiritual in the sense they imply a transforming relationship to a wider sphere/field, and are not confined to the individual. They are also rational and irrational, empirical and non empirical to varying extents

One way to characterise the Western Mind, to the extent that it exists, is as mess; as mixtures of all kinds of incompatible ideas, attitudes and processes. It is never coherent – and that is probably a good thing. It varies with groups and with individuals.

Even if one tradition becomes temporarily dominant and likes to pretend it is ‘master’, the others just get on with life and make challenges for their own dominance.

Sometimes one tradition is announced to be ‘master’ simply so it can be blamed for everything that went wrong, in an attempt to force people to choose its main competitor.

Saying there is a Western mind, or whatever, deletes this multiplicity, including the part that is critical of whatever is singled out!

Western Mind? I

February 5, 2017

Maybe its just me, but I keep hearing people blame the scientific mind or science itself for our problems.

But is the “Western Mind” ‘scientific’? Do we have such a Mind? Is it *one*? Can it be called ‘scientific’? People may confuse a technologically dense society with one in which people think ‘scientifically’.

I suspect only a relatively small proportion of the population have a scientific mind. This is partly because it takes a lot of training, and partly because America has just voted for a person who is hardly rational, seems fairly emotional and unobjective (unable to separate his desires from reality – ie he can only loose if someone cheats), does not seem to believe that the world is stable (given he can contradict himself in a matter of minutes, with no sense of a problem), and believes that endless pollution is a cause for celebration.

It seems unlikely he would have been voted for by people with ‘scientific minds’, so we can assume a fair proportion of the population does not have such a mind.
If so, then the scientific mind may not be that important for us socially, or for our personal understandings of the world, even if science gives us lots of tech.

Let us assume that we have other types of mind as well – these may well be brought forth in different circumstances – that is, we may all share more than one of them. So, not trying to be exhaustive – and these are caricatures, just like the ‘scientific mind’ is…

There might be the ‘capitalist mind’. In this profit and wealth are the only virtues. Accounting and market value are used to measure morality. Economic activity can and must expand forever as any curtailment of profit increase would be evil. Pollution is a problem which has nothing to do with emitters; it is your problem if it distresses you. Everything in live is competitive. You either win and are good, or loose and are a failure. Wealth marks winning.

There seem to be at least two types of religious mind active in the US.

In one God is a bad tempered, vengeful old guy who punishes people harshly for even minor infractions. Often the punishment lasts forever. The cosmos is basically hostile and tricky until you are dead. Sex is definitely out unless it involves marriage and even then its dubious. Some practitioners believe that when you are *saved* by declaring your faith you are saved, you can embrace the capitalist mindset and be ok. ‘Science’ is an enemy. Most people are enemies. The mindset sees itself as under attack, but with God behind us, our enemies will be made to suffer. The only purpose in talking to enemies is to convert them – you can learn nothing from them.

In the other religious mind, the universe will always give you what you want if you think properly. There is no reality other than what you think. You don’t need to do anything for anyone, other than think nice thoughts at them to be virtuous. All your desires are spiritual and it is ok to enter the capitalist mind set, as long as you are spiritual about it. Everyone who thinks something is wrong is simply delusional and thinking badly; keep away from them. I have to think well. I must think spiritually, or else it will all fall apart.

If these descriptions of three extra ‘Western Minds’ are vaguely accurate and in ourselves, then perhaps we need to carry out some multi-logue with all these mindsets to find out what parts of them are parts of us? so that we don’t think that the earth is endlessly consumable, or that there is no reality but our thought, or that God won’t let bad things happen to us if we don’t have sex.