an obession with first principles

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


Crux

Posted: Wednesday Nov 9th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Anthropology, Philosophising | View Comments

The crux of the matter is not correct reasoning but an existential act of appropriation, rejection, or transformation. Such an act does not have the universal validity of a ration statement. Only their existential repercussions endow such experiences with meaning.
Karl Jaspers, Anslem and Nicholas of Cusa, p.86


One Thing I Wish Occupy Would Think About

Posted: Monday Oct 31st | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Epistemology, Philosophising | View Comments

Is a positive understanding of suffering

We are all aware of the negative aspects of suffering. But we would be remiss to never contemplate the positive aspects. Both of self-induced suffering, and of externally-produced suffering. When I say self-induced, I do not mean that we revile our own selves. Rather, that we forcibly, violently, push ourselves beyond our current abilities. Both physically, and mentally.

This, of course, is not to blame the victim, or validate the suffering inflicted upon groups or individuals. I know for a fact that in Theology the Black Church has had a huge amount to say on this topic. I regret that I have not been able to be read in it yet. Just as Cone argued for God’s own identification in blackness, the cross argues for God’s identification in suffering. What can we say about our this cruciform image of suffering?

I recognize that if Occupy is anything – the last thing it is is theological. So I don’t expect them to co-opt a theologian’s understanding of cruciformity or of suffering. Yet, I do hope (and at some point expect) a broader treatment of suffering in relation to the long history of its thought in this country, and in philosophy.


Dissonance

Posted: Sunday Oct 30th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Philosophising | View Comments

It has always seemed strange to me… the things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling, are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest, are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second.” John Steinbeck


The Church is historically and intrinsically an artistic operation – Brueggemann

Posted: Sunday Oct 30th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: Anthropology, Epistemology, Philosophising | View Comments


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.


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.


Literalism Fails the Question of Intent

Posted: Sunday Feb 13th | Author: JohnO | Filed under: In the News, Philosophising, Power | View Comments

But nowhere in the original Constitution does it say that the federal courts have the power of judicial review. Alexander Hamilton in the Federalist Papers suggests that the federal court has this power, but it wasn’t until 1803 that the Supreme Court actually ruled that this power existed. Hence, a contradiction: Hamilton, a constitutional framer and author of the beloved Federalist Papers, asserts that a power that is not explicitly written in the Constitution exists and a court rules in his favor — and then, all these years later, Tea Party constitutionalists use that power to invalidate a federal healthcare law on the basis that it violates the Constitution!
Salon

Literalism, in any form religious or political, adopts the text as it stands for the purposes and intents of its interpreters. It forgoes any original intent of the author(s). If it did just this without asserting that the literalist interpretation is The One and Only True Interpretation – I would be fine with it. But the blatant disregard for the original setting and other writings than the one in question, combined with their rhetoric just sicken me.

On top of that, if the ideal the Tea Party espouses ever was realized, it would just mean the states would have more authority to suppress rights.