an obession with first principles

A Catholic Interaction

Posted: Wednesday Aug 15th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Dialogue, Politics | View Comments

I actually support the ad in question. It paints the picture of the world that Romney has created in the past, and would create as President — a world where the middle and low class has no access to healthcare. And then of course there is the feigned “impartiality” that he would also call out Romney for their lies. His campaign (not even Super PAC ads like the one in question) have created ads that are blatant lies that people have called them out on. Not a budge.

It is also telling that he doesn’t think Romney has abandoned his signature Massachusetts legislation. I’ve seen interviews where he does exactly that, he runs away from it. As a person who is personally benefitting from the legislation I can only imagine how many other small businesses (like the one I work for) could be created if people knew they could have affordable access to healthcare even when they’ve left the company they work for.


Voting, a Response to Dave Winer

Posted: Sunday Jun 17th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Dialogue, Politics | View Comments

This is largely for Dave Winer since he said write a blog post and I’ll read it.The only reason I am actually writing this blog post is because I know Dave is a well reasoned person and a good thinker willing to hear what people are saying (Hi Dave). I hope that this post clears up my take on voting for others as well.

I happen to think that Winer is dead right in his depiction and opinion of the current state, and future, of journalism and the media. I want to use that as the starting point to understand his tweet. And there are two ways to take Winer’s tweet:

People respect power expressed in votes. If #OWS could turn out voters, people would listen.

First, that people respect votes because voting is intrinsically good. That is to say, voting amplifies a dignity and spirit which speaks of our common humanity. It enlightens us and stands on its own. I disagree with this on its face. Voting is the expression of a choice. But choice is not the bedrock of freedom. False choices exist, and it is my position that we are being, and have been for some time, faced with a false choice.

Second, that people respect the ability to bring together large groups of people in a single action of voting. That is to say, voting is an extrinsic good which has the ability, under the right circumstances, to make an actual difference. I believe voting is an extrinsic good and can change things for the better. Today, however, doesn’t match these circumstances. I can understand that some might think “Wow, this movement can get people to vote together on an issue.” And, to some, that might be a wonderful thing. But, I believe this is a waste of energy.

Winer suggests that you ignore political news. Why? Because its all recycled garbage in the form of “DYHWTAS == Did you hear what that asshole said!”. I take his assertion one step further. Not only political news — but politics itself is now DYHWTAS. Winer doesn’t (as I don’t) support Obama, and neither of us are going to vote for Romney. The differences between Romney and Obama are small and irrelevant when compared to the massive amount of change we actually need in our culture, country, and economy.

Both candidates support the capitalistic system of Wall St. where money makes more money at the expense of people actually attempting to care for their material necessities. This can be seen in the US housing industry, in corporate pension plans, in municipal bonds that are bankrupting cities, in European austerity programs, in Commodities and Futures markets that defuse any developing country from having a self-sustaining agriculture, in corporations along with IMF backing first polluting and then taking and selling people’s water supplies. It can be seen in all the United State’s military endeavors where corporate employees outnumber troops three to one, where native peoples are being employed by US corporations taking them away from potential activities of rebuilding their own nations — because the corporations benefit from weak states. I cannot vote against the interests of Goldman Sachs. I cannot vote for a people’s bailout. I can only vote for bailing out financiers who created our mess, or austerity (which is no difference at all, bailing out the financiers gives them more money to continue and create opportunity for greater austerity in the future.) I cannot vote against the defense contractors which are building drones and missles that are killing innocent people all over the globe (which are labelled as military combatants now). And now these drones are crashing on US soil and are in the hands of police departments across the country, while we have over 60 US Air Force bases with drones stationed. I cannot vote to build the middle class and protect jobs. Neither party is willing to protect unions, while the GOP is willing to go after them openly. The unions are willing to donate to the Democratic party, but to what end? They are being systematically rooted out (starting in Wisconsin) and soon the Democratic party will have no basis for fundraising. And, as Dylan Ratigan often points out, the person who spends more money in a campaign wins 94% of the time. Winer understands what Roberto Unger says about Obama’s failure in office. I am, much less eloquently, saying the same thing Obama’s former professor is saying.

In summary — how is America going to have a third party when it doesn’t even have a second party? (Thank you @ChenguGold)

If I go over the two ways to take his reaction to questioning voting I am left dumbstruck. Voting is not an intrinsic good like dissent (not cynicism) is an intrinsic good. Dissent and the willful expression of true freedom — in the face of the illusion of freedom of choice between non-choices — by rejecting the options the status quo offers are the goal of Occupy. Occupy is not (sorry Bill Maher) the Tea Party of the Left.

There is not an extrinsic good valuable enough (to me, at least) to spend energy changing how people are going to vote. I, as one of many, refuse to present voting as a valid method of participation in changing the world. I refuse to give voting today a “blessing” of actual and true freedom. I refuse to imagine that focusing on getting people to vote is the magic solution. Conventional politics is definitively (thanks to Citizens United) an enterprise of the ridiculously wealthy and I refuse to construct the illusion that through voting we have the same power that the financiers who choose our politicians do.

Slavery in this country wasn’t ended through voting. Citizen voting perpetuated slavery was in economic and legal terms in the south after emancipation. The right of women to vote wasn’t enacted through citizens voting. The Civil Rights Act wasn’t enacted through citizens voting. The rights of unions weren’t enacted through citizen voting, nor were the rights that unions got for all workers over the years.

I fully support Lessig’s, Roemer’s, Ratigan’s (et. al.) hard work in getting Citizens United and reforming funding of elections in one fell swoop through a constitutional amendment. But getting such an amendment will never happen through voting. It is not in the financial interests of politicians (at least any politician on the national scene) to endorse and back this idea. Lessig is, of course, fully aware of this point. He thinks with enough pressure by the states, the federal legislature will be forced to move on this process. Now we’re seeing a massive increase of corporate money on the state level, and sometimes even local level, as well. The only thing powerful enough to accomplish this goal is shame. The shame of the people of the United States. It is evident today that politicians are capable of handling much higher levels of shame than they have in the past. This shame will not be accomplished by voting a few people out of office. I am fully convinced that this shame must be demonstrated in the streets.

As Unger proclaimed: “Obama must be defeated in this election.” He thinks that a loss by the Democratic party will redefine it. I, bluntly, don’t think it will. As Christopher Hedges points out in “Death of the Liberal Class”, the Democratic party was designed as a pressure valve between a Left party and a Right party. Ever since the destruction of a true American Left in the last decades of the 19th century through the first half of the 20th (thank you McCarthy) the pressure only runs in one direction — to the right. Which is why all policy over the last three decades has gone right, why the Supreme Court has gone right, and why the Democratic party has failed to have any news ideas that weren’t Republican ideas a decade earlier. What we have begun to believe, for lack of any other option, is that the Democratic party IS a leftist party. It was not, is not, and never will be.

Due to the lack of any leftist party why does voting make any difference? I contend it doesn’t. If we want to talk about “doing your civic duty” voting isn’t going to cut it. Doing your civic duty now means rejecting the false choices, rejecting the options the status quo gives you, and standing up for a free-er America that doesn’t terrorize the rest of the world while refusing the rights of its own citizens and acting against them in order to overflow the coffers of the unimaginably wealthy. This isn’t “take back our country.” This is “This is not my country.”

I am not naive. There are several good things that could happen if Obama wins. First, hopefully more liberal judges are appointed to the Supreme Court. But good luck getting that through Congress. Hopefully Roe v Wade doesn’t get overturned. Hopefully the rights for all the Other(s) in our society are broadened. But these rights will only allow people to exist long enough to be cogs in the machine of modern day capitalism. Are drones still going to kill innocents? Yes. Will we perpetuate terrorism at home and abroad? Yes. Will the middle class continue to be passively ignored, or actively given austerity such that they wither away? Yes. Will the financiers get richer? Yes. Should should I spend energy getting people to vote for this? I am glad people vote. But don’t hold it up as some holy and enshrined activity by which all progress it made. It isn’t.

Update

One of the tabs I had open when writing this was an interview of Sartre years after the ’68 revolution. One of his responses perfectly captures the feelings I have on the subject (again, I fail utterly at expressing myself):

“I have been convinced of the following fact for several years: those who want to do something within the system only end up by preserving it. He who wants to overturn the system by his vote is profoundly in error, since voting opposes the legality of a movement to its legitimacy, e.g., an insurrectional movement. All those who obtain power legally are exactly the same.” Sartre

I want to overturn the system. We all see something terribly wrong, and the conversation that needs to happen is between those who see it and don’t want to overturn the system, and those who see it and do.


Someone Please Explain

Posted: Friday Dec 9th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Dialogue | View Comments

Why no one else seems to think this is valid?


Things Unseen

Posted: Tuesday Nov 29th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Dialogue, Philosophising | View Comments

I think it would be useful if the concept of the umwelt were embedded in the public lexicon. It neatly captures the idea of limited knowledge, of unobtainable information, and of unimagined possibilities. Consider the criticisms of policy, the assertions of dogma, the declarations of fact that you hear every day — and just imagine if all of these could be infused with the proper intellectual humility that comes from appreciating the amount unseen. Edge.org – David Eagleman


Using the Church in Political Discourse

Posted: Sunday Oct 30th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Dialogue, In the News, Philosophising | View Comments

A couple of times I’ve run into the Church being used polemically when discussing politics. A perfect example is 2012 Presidential Candidate Ron Paul – please go watch. I wish the creator would let me embed it here, but they disabled that ability

As an aside, Senator Paul is incorrect about the cause of the prices in healthcare. The commentator in the video hits the nail on the head when he wonders what the difference between the Church saving him, and the Government saving him. The only real difference is that everyone pays taxes, and only some people voluntarily give to Churches. The commentator, again, rightly remarks about the steady decline in the influence of Churches over the years. Pragmatically – a social safety net like this is getting smaller. But pragmatism is not the issue here. An issue that I find relevant is that Ron Paul failed to be that supporting community when one of his staffers (who does not get health insurance by Ron Paul, his employer) died because he could not pay for the treatment. Ron Paul did not help this man financially.

The issue I find is that the Church is being co-opted into a discourse within which it has no expectation to be. I do not mean here, “the separation of church and state”. I do expect and hope that the Church will be more active than it has been (and all the churches I have been a part of remain active in helping people financially navigate their lives). But, the Church has a right to make their own decisions. To be ‘free’ as Ron Paul would say, to act of their own responsibility. Political arguments cannot assume, presume, or coerce the Church into a position she has taken of her own volition.

A government is responsible for its people. It is responsible to further the people in their collective goals, and individual goals. Certainly every individual must act responsibly. But, frankly, shit happens. Families who are barely feeding and housing themselves should not have to worry about finding a way to stay healthy. Even for myself, a resident of Massachusetts who pays every month for the public healthcare option, carries a risk. There is no responsible investment I can make that will absolve me of all health risks. If I get hit by a car and have permanent injuries (which happen to 2 million Americans every year) insurance will not cover most of it, and I will have to pay out of pocket for the rest of my life. Unlucky, yes, but at 2 million per year, how much progress and human flourishing are we losing? Is it worth losing? Those Americans who want universal health care, and especially a single-payer system, say it is not worth losing our humanity because of money.


Occupy and the Protestant Work Ethic

Posted: Tuesday Oct 25th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Dialogue, In the News, Philosophising | View Comments

One of the strangest, at least to me, is the institutionalized form of a protestant work ethic within a free market economic system. The phrase “protestant work ethic” was coined by Max Weber. To summarize the protestant work ethic as it is known today:

He who does not work shall not eat.

God helps those who help themselves

How it is known today is nothing like what Weber advanced. The latter is terribly wrong, for God send rain on the just and the unjust alike. The former is a caricature of 2 Thess 3:10. The verse says “will not work”, not “does not”. There is a big difference between the two, not only of language, but also the early Christian situation. In taking Christ as Lord many were thrown from their communities (some, e.g. those in Jerusalem, weren’t). Finding random jobs would be incredibly hard if people knew who they were.

Now to Weber and the Reformation. The Reformation actually had a lot to say about work because they had a specific historic event to deal with: the rise of a merchant class. For time immemorial there were those who owned and ran estates, fought in wars, and made political decisions. There was no illusion that this did not constitute work, yet it had its vast rewards. And everyone else worked with herds, land, or mills (unless you were a priest – but their activities were also seen as strenuous work). When the Reformation occurred there was the rise of a merchant class who seemed to do no work, and make profits. They traded goods or money, made loans, and connected people together. There was no category within which to place them as truly “working”. Any attempt in the late 19th or early 20th century by Weber to equate the writings of Luther, et. al. with what he witnessed culturally are entirely misguided, an attempt to read that history far far too literally. There are valuable things to say about the value of virtuous work, but what we’ve done with it is horrific.

We have codified that the market is God. The market decides who is righteous and who is a sinner. Those who succeed and make money are righteous. Those who are unable to make money are sinners. The market has thus judged. This is a shocking development once this idea takes its root. For then the ends justify the means. If you can make money through illegal actions the market will vindicate you. If you can cheat, lie, and steal, but your balance sheet is positive – you are righteous.

OccupyWallStreet recognizes this codification. It says the ends do not justify the means. The market is rigged. Occupy does not reject the virtue of work. It rejects the state of affairs that the market declares the righteous and the sinner. Occupy sees itself as the people who have followed the rules, all the recommendations everyone has made for them. Go to college. Save money. Buy a house so you have equity. And those with crushing student debt can’t get a job. Those with houses can’t refinance or have lost them to mortgage. They’ve worked virtuously and have been declared a sinner by the market. And the financial establishment has cheated and changed the rules constantly, their risk now being covered by the promise of the government. Greed is one of the seven mortal sins, and their greedy behavior is being rewarded by the market as the righteous.

The market is not God.


Occupy as Re-imagining the World

Posted: Sunday Oct 23rd | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Dialogue, In the News, Philosophising | View Comments

For the last month I’ve watched the Occupy movement. I’ve steadily been more involved with the OccupyBoston movement. I’ve attended GAs, watched 129 people get arrested at 2am. I’ve been ravenously consuming all of the news I can about economics and political maneuverings from Dr. Lessig, William Black, various documentaries, and the experiences of individuals. After Noam Chomsky’s talk last night I’ve finally started reflecting on everything.

Out of all the reporting which tries to elucidate what Occupy is all about, I want to focus on one aspect: the movement, as such, being a demand, or “what they want” as everyone seems to be asking. The first goal of Occupy was to take over public space and refuse to leave. That’s been done in NYC, Boston, DC, LA, and many other places. Chicago, SF, and Cincinnati are still trying to fulfill this first goal. The second goal has been to air the grievances of the 99%. That’s been done very well, even if the main-stream-media (MSM) doesn’t have the brains to pick up on it. One of these grievances is the method by which progress is (or is not) made. The movement itself cries out for a movement. For the placated, passive, comforted, and “entertained”, to get up and do something. Each Occupy movement has created for itself an alternative reality which stands over and against the current reality.

This alternate reality is, in very many ways, similar to how the Church itself has been spoken of throughout history. Whether in Catholic/Orthodox terms (our collective life hidden in Christ) or Protestant/Evangelical terms (the in-breaking of the Kingdom). The Church has always been a different reality which we enter in order to see differently. That we may speak about the world and what we see there, from a different perspective.

I think the popularity of such TV shows like Battlestar Galactica, or even Lost (which I did not watch) is that it also creates this alternate reality. Science Fiction has always been praised in the world of literature and film as having the innate ability to give us another world by which to analyze our own. The inherent premise postulates another world, within which the plot and characters are often showing us how to think and discuss our own world. There is no surprise, then, that the millions of people who love and watch these shows are trying to think about our own world and re-imagine it.

The communities of Occupy are precisely this re-imagining manifesting in this broken reality. Everyone can come and participate. And everyone needs to participate if this new reality is to have a force. While this participation is cathartic it cannot be the only success of the movement. We watched in Battlestar the President, Admiral, military, and civilian fleet fight vigorously about how to construct their new world after catastrophe. Truth, promises, and lies fought for belief in the heart of each person. Occupy is this fight. We are still fighting about how to reconstruct our own alternate reality. And we are fighting about how to construct the broken reality the world shares. This is just the beginning if we have the will and discipline to see it through.


Colbert the Modern Cervantes

Posted: Sunday Sep 25th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Anthropology, Dialogue, History | View Comments

As Cervantes realized in the context of the newly born mass culture of the Catholic, imperial, Spanish state, irony expertly wielded is the best defense against the manipulation of truth by the media. Its effect was and still is to remind its audience that we are all active participants in the creation and support of a fictional world that is always in danger of being sold to us as reality.
‘Quixote,’ Colbert and the Reality of Fiction

Never forget to pay attention to which reality you are being sold


West Wing Hermeneutics

Posted: Tuesday Jul 12th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Dialogue, Epistemology | View Comments


Healthcare – Wow

Posted: Friday Mar 18th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Dialogue, In the News, Philosophising, Politics | View Comments

Providing health care is like building a house. The task requires experts, expensive equipment and materials, and a huge amount of coördination. Imagine that, instead of paying a contractor to pull a team together and keep them on track, you paid an electrician for every outlet he recommends, a plumber for every faucet, and a carpenter for every cabinet. Would you be surprised if you got a house with a thousand outlets, faucets, and cabinets, at three times the cost you expected, and the whole thing fell apart a couple of years later? Getting the country’s best electrician on the job (he trained at Harvard, somebody tells you) isn’t going to solve this problem. Nor will changing the person who writes him the check.
Atul Gawande, The New Yorker

This entire piece is incredibly well done. I encourage you to read all 8 pages of it. This is also how editorials will continue to make money: by writing this well.