Taking Appearance Seriously

The Dynamic Way of Seeing in Goethe and European Thought

by Henri Bortoft

taking appearance seriouslyThis challenging book explains where Western thinking went wrong, and points the way towards the revolution in thinking that is needed to get back on track.

I read it on Kindle some time ago, probably not wise for such an erudite work, but it did make it easy to recall a lot of key points by downloading my highlights.

Almost by definition, this is difficult reading, because it does not ‘come from’ the place where Western thinking habitually does these days.

Henri Bortoft has a good shot at making this understandable to such as myself, with an interest in philosophy but no great training or professional expertise. It is of course inspired by the thinking of Goethe, one of the giants of our intellectual history.

I’ve included my edited notes in the following, which may help to give an appreciation of the staggering scope of this book and of Goethe’s thinking. But there is no escape from the effort of reading the book itself if you want to understand its quite revolutionary message.Read More »

A Berlin Wall Moment?

It seems that the more progressive UK media, including the BBC, have finally taken on board that global warming/climate change, pollution, species extinction, population are major issues of our time that need to be urgently addressed. Many of the issues aired at our New Renaissance Lectures in 1993 onward are becoming mainstream, covered in ‘the news’ almost every day. But they’re not yet ingrained. There are still many news media, corporates and governments in denial, actively blocking change because of their perceived self-interest.

Yet can they resist the surging tide of realism? It feels like a ‘Berlin Wall’ type of time in history. The ice floes are melting. Humanity is turning to face reality, startled at where it has come to, as it followed the materialist dream and for half a century largely ignored the problems being created. The spectre of floods, fires, wars, epidemics, on a scale hitherto unknown, haunts us all, especially the young.

But there is an aspect of those lectures that is less mentioned, less easy to popularise – that of inner spiritual renewal. The outer is a reflection of the inner. Until our compassion for others and for the natural world rises to meet the occasion, and our conscience is heard and acted upon, we may alleviate but not resolve the problems we have created.

Featured image: The Fall of the Berlin Wall, 1989 (at the Brandenberg Gate).
By Lear 21 via Wikimedia Commons.

The Flip

It has long been apparent to me that the pervasive materialistic perspective of human societies, driven by the great success of capitalism and science/technology, is slowly undermining the very ecosystem on which it depends. Human beings have become the scourge of the earth and the oceans, to the extent that those who are more aware desperately struggle to retain aspects of our natural world.

the flipA different way of looking at things, a different perspective on life the universe and everything, is needed. Jeffery Kripal’s book The Flip suggests that there could come a tipping point after which a new world view will have come into being and be generally accepted. Kripal holds a Chair in Philosophy and Religious Thought at Rice University, Houston.

What is the flip, and could it happen quickly? This quote from an Amazon reviewer gives an idea:

“This book is a brief plea for the importance of bringing consciousness back into the humanities and then the humanities back into science (moving beyond materialism)”.

Kripal’s book is basically concerned with the underlying paradigm of science, presenting material that will be partly familiar to those interested in the boundaries of science and spirituality. He gives many examples where scientists previously embedded in the materialistic paradigm have become converted to a wider view through their own experiences of so-called paranormal experiences, which science should be open to, but many scientists tend to discount because of their materialistic lenses.

The relationship between quantum theory and consciousness is particularly explored. Many of the pioneers of quantum theory were convinced of the limitations of materialism and had a more mystical perspective on life. Kripal explores these in a very readable manner, considering alternative metaphysical views that I’ve already summarised in an earlier post on The One Reality.

Then Kripal moves on to a stimulating consideration of the use of symbols that ‘point between’ the concrete aspects of reality, and the related concept of synchronicity. Dreams and mysticism are ways of approaching such symbols, which take us back to earlier levels of human experience.

In a concluding chapter Kripal moves on to summarise. It really does matter how we think of consciousness and the cosmos. From seeing ourselves as separate beings we come to see ourselves as aspects of an interrelated whole. But will that make us better human beings? Kripal makes us think, but there is no definitive answer!

As in Plato’s allegory of the cave, many individuals already have flipped, and are seen as strange and unrealistic by the majority. But the zeitgeist does flip – a look at history shows us, and the evident climate breakdown and chaos in contemporary Western politics suggests that something really is ‘in the air’.

It seems to me that, to effectively address climate breakdown and ecological collapse, humanity really does need to ‘flip’.

 

 

 

Light in Dark Times

It is all too easy to get bogged down into negative perspectives based on current politics and its manifest failings. In its recent newsletter, World Goodwill shows that there is actually much to celebrate and be positive about that is happening across the world today. It highlights the work of ten organisations that are wresting with necessary changes to the global mindset:

It is possible that a transformation of the global zeitgeist is indeed in progress. These organisations represent rays of the light showing the way forward through the dark, materialistic and egotistic times many fellow citizens are currently living through.

You can read the summaries in the above newsletter,
or follow the link to any individual website to find out more.
Apologies for any misrepresentation in my briefest of overviews.

Featured image is from the World Goodwill Newsletter.

The One Reality

If you’re following the plot of my philosophically inclined posts you will see my dismissal of materialists as modern flat earthers. So what basic philosophical stance do I regard as more appropriate? In his book The Flip, Jeffrey Krittal suggest five possible perspectives, as follows.

  • Panpsychism. Everything has mind/ has some level of consciousness/ is alive.
  • Dual-Aspect Monism. Mind and matter are aspects of a single underlying reality.
  • Quantum Mind. Quantum mechanics applies at a level of real world objects; mind is an expression of the quantum wave function. (Alexander Wendt)
  • Cosmopsychism/ panentheism. All conscious subjects are partial aspects of the more fundamental whole.
  • Idealism. Mind is fundamental and matter is a manifestation thereof.

This is all very interesting as theory, and no doubt enthusiasts of the various viewpoints could spend many an hour debating their differences. But in essence, if you don’t mind my saying so, it doesn’t matter!

The essential point of all of these perspectives is that matter/mind are indivisible aspects of reality, the one reality. Everything has inner and outer, indivisible. We are each aspects of the whole, interconnected with all others.

So much flows from that.

  • Materialism is a misleading diversion.
  • Science/technology has a limited domain if it restricts itself to outers.
  • At best, religions provide paths towards realisation of this underlying (spiritual) reality.
  • Politics must recognise that all humans and other living systems are co-sharers of our world. Having reached the earth’s limits we have become responsible for the future of the whole earth’s ecosystem.

The Modern Flat Earthers

Modernity likes to decry those following an outdated paradigm as ‘flat earthers’. Ancient cultures believed that the earth was flat, and this is said to have been superseded by a spherical model around 6th century BC by the ancient Greek philosophers, and more recently in other parts of the ‘globe’. The old model had lost utility and become an impediment to progress.

I would suggest that the modern scientific, technological and managerial culture now operates to a similarly outdated and now-dysfunctional paradigm. And many people will protest loudly if this is pointed out.

What do I have in mind? Well it could be any of a number of things, but I believe that at the heart of many of these is the fundamental ‘modern flat-earthism’ of ‘materialism’. Why so?

Materialism and its bedfellow reductionism basically sees a dead world of ‘outer’ appearance without being able or willing to come to grips with the ‘inner’ of life and consciousness. These are seen as ‘hard problems’ that of course science will eventually come to understand… some day. In the meantime, the natural world is exploited to the maximum by an ever-expanding humanity by the related gods of capitalism, self- or state- glorification and minimal regulation. The result: the climate breakdown, species extinctions and massive pollution that we see today, and a paradoxical strong attachment to ‘more of the same’.

What if we had a paradigm that accepted that reality consists of not just the outer material world, but the parallel inner world of life/consciousness. And that inner world is fully interconnected. We are an integral part of the whole and through our inner empathy/love we know and feel responsible for it all. Our hearts are breaking at what we are doing to the natural world – as seen in the public response to David Attenborough’s programmes.

The job for the New Renaissance is to achieve just such a change of paradigm and move beyond the modern flat earth theory of materialism. One day a critical mass of people will share this insight, and all will change.

Featured image shows the revived flat earth map produced in 1893 by Orlando Ferguson in South Dakota. From Wikimedia Commons.

Time of Crisis

Crisis is the mechanism used by evolution to evolve an organism to a higher level. If there is no crisis, nothing changes.

So maybe we should not be too pessimistic about the many crises that currently beset us, already listed in many other posts. They represent the opportunity for growth and change.

“The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis.’ One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger — but recognize the opportunity.”

John F. Kennedy

Kennedy was apparently wrong linguistically, but his theme has been accepted by many as representing a fundamental insight about life.

So what are the opportunities presented, through which the crises can be successfully surpassed? As a species we must rise above the causes that lie behind our many crises. To my mind it is not difficult to see what some of these are:

  • the personal, religious and national egos that want to have it all, for themselves, regardless of the effect on other persons/religions/nations, that do not recognise the need to look after the old, the weak, the poor, the other…
  • the perception that the outer, material world is all that there is, with a consequent relative lack of self understanding and/or cultivation of the inner psyche/spiritual life.
  • the related denial that we humans are part of nature, need to be in empathy with it, and are now responsible for maintaining its wondrous diversity.
  • the related worship of power, money, jobs and technology, at the expense of nature, the achievement of potential, and the pursuit of the good, the beautiful and the true.

“When faced with a radical crisis, when the old way of being in the world, of interacting with each other and with the realm of nature doesn’t work anymore, when survival is threatened by seemingly insurmountable problems, an individual life-form — or a species — will either die or become extinct or rise above the limitations of its condition through an evolutionary leap.”

Eckhart Tolle

It’s not that difficult to see what’s wrong. It’s clear that the evolutionary leap is required at all levels – personal, society/culture, political. We just need to all get with the programme,  make a start, and persevere. It’s just possible that, if enough of us change, the ‘hundredth monkey’ effect will come into play, and everything will have changed.

Featured image adapted from one by Vector conversion by Mononomic, via Wikimedia Commons

Utopia for Realists

It’s surely obvious that the current economic system is not working, what with increasing inequality, increasingly low wages at the bottom, squeezed public finances,  financial crashes, resulting populism, ever-increasing automation, ineffectively-addressed global warming and so on. And it seems equally clear that the global elite haven’t a clue what to do about it and plan to just let it run while they continue their comfortable lives.

utopia for realistsRutger Bregman’s book Utopia for Realists: And How We Can Get There brings up the heretical suggestion that we can do something about it, all we need are the visionary ideas and the determination to follow them through.

There is no reason why we cannot end poverty, give free money to everyone (basic income), move towards a shorter working week, pay important workers like nurses and bin men a commensurate salary, and open borders once the imperative to move anywhere but home is removed.

That sounds like a Utopia, you say. Yes it is. But we need a stretching vision of where we want to get to and then maybe we’ll start moving there.

Bregman cites the fascinating story of how neoliberal free market ideas moved from being the interest of just a few economists in the years after WW2, when Keynes dominated economic thought, to becoming the dominant force behind world economics from the 1970s to the present. These ideas have now run their course and are actually the cause of the predicaments we increasingly find ourselves in.

We desperately need these new Utopian ideas to gain momentum. So go read Utopia for Realists.

What human energies could be freed up for a New Renaissance!

 

 

Removing poverty

Contrary to what some politicians might like you to believe, it is easy to remove most poverty. Simply give poor people, indeed everybody, enough money to subsist. It’s called basic income.

How to pay for it? There are two ways.

1. Pay out of current government moneys

There are many benefits to the economy:

  • more economic activity, so more taxes
  • less need for benefits, so less government costs
  • reduced minimum wage, so more employment, so again more taxes
  • less crimes of desperation
  • more intelligent behaviour from the poor (yes)
  • disincentive to immigration, as would apply to citizens only; there is also less incentive for people to move from other countries with a similar policy
  • reduced inequality means reduced discontent with governments
  • of course, you would net off against current tax and benefit schedules so that most people were not directly affected and continued to be paid the same as previously
  • etc.

So it wouldn’t cost as much as you might think.

2. Just create the money

The central bank simply creates the necessary cash, outside of government accounts. You could regard this as pump priming the economy. (Compare QE, but this time for the needy.)

If just one government does this, this will inevitably cause its currency to slowly decline against others, but we are talking small percentages, so slow, here.

If a majority of world governments do it, there is no cost. It is free money.

Basic Income is a no-brainer. Why doesn’t it happen?

There is this obsession among the empathy-bypassed richer classes that the poor are feckless and not trying hard enough, so they should be forced into desperation so that they will do any job at any price for all hours of the day and night. I suspect this came from the early days of industrialisation, when cannon fodder was need for the emerging industries. It went away after WW2 (did you know that Richard Nixon tried to introduce basic income in the US in the 1970s?) But this prejudice has been reinforced since the 1970s by right wing parties in UK, US and elsewhere.

It is nonsense. Basic income has been tried many times, and the evidence suggests that if you treat people like paid-up members of the human race they will behave like it. Give people a decent start and they will make their way.

In a world of increasing automation and concern about where the future jobs will come from, basic income seems even more needed.

It’s about political will

In the end, in a world of plenty as we have in the West, poverty is about political will and little else.

Eradication of poverty is also surely an essential precondition for a New Renaissance.

The inspiration for this post came from ‘Utopia for Realists’ by Rutger Bregman. Beware reading it, it might haunt you with the sanity of its ideas!

Featured image is Caricature of poor people at a workhouse having dinner; by Phiz (?), via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

Metanoia

When reading an interesting text and coming across a word you are not familiar with, there is a terrible temptation to march on and hope that the meaning becomes clear from the context. For me, such a word was metanoia. Recently reading Alister McGrath’s book Enriching our Vision of Reality, I was brought to a better understanding by the author’s clear definition, related to ways of seeing reality.

Wikipedia throws further light, giving two meanings – one spiritually oriented and the other psychologically oriented. Metanoia is about a fundamental change in the way we see and act in the world, maybe a bit more fundamental than the similar concept of paradigm shift. Such was perhaps what happened in Europe as a whole around the time of the enlightenment, when a religious and naturalistic perspective on the world was gradually supplanted by a scientific and materialistic perspective.

The world we see today reflects both the benefits and the fundamental problems that have emerged as a result of this perspective, which has ignored the natural ecosystem as the essential support for human existence (giving global warming, pollution, species extinction etc etc.) and has lost touch at a political level with the morality and values necessary to give a good and equitable life to all humans (leading to incredible inequalities and a clear lack of moral leadership from the titular heads of countries and other supposed leaders).

There is now little doubt that metanoia is what is needed at a global level to avoid a nightmarish future for humanity. Of course, I have in this blog frequently referred to the concept of a New Renaissance, which is another way of putting it. Personal psychological and spiritual transformation is a big part of the answer, and everyone needs it.

In particular, there are enormous egos in politics and in business, to whom circumstances happen to have given great wealth and power. Their, and our, need is that they transcend those egos and work for the common good.

Note that one dimension of this is by paying good wages and paying due taxes, which is a way of sharing out that good fortune to all. Opting instead for the apparent current fashion of an ego-expanding philanthropy that remains within the ego’s control is a diversion, possibly beneficial to the general good, but certainly not a metanoia.

Henryk Skolimowski

skolimowski
Henryk Skolimowski, 1990s

I was sorry to hear that Polish philosopher Henryk Skolimowski (1930-2018) died in April this year, but happy with the memories of his fruitful life. I first came across Henryk via his books, including Living Philosophy, in the early 1990s, and made the effort to attend one of his seminars in London around 1994. At that time we were running The Knutsford Lectures on the theme of Visions of a New Renaissance, and Henryk’s visionary work seemed be moving in a similar direction. I plucked up courage to invite him to give one of our lectures. Henryk accepted with alacrity. After some correspondence with him in Warsaw we eventually agreed a date. It turned out that Henryk gave the very last Knutsford Lecture, in Knutsford’s oldest building, the Unitarian Church, in May 1996.

The theme of his lecture was The Participatory Mind, corresponding to the title of his book published in 1994. I don’t now recall much of the lecture itself, save that the content was somewhat intellectually challenging. The back cover of the book of that title gives an idea of its scope:

“In a Grand Theory of participatory mind that builds on the insights of such thinkers as Teilhard de Chardin and Bergson as well as contemporaries Dobzhansky and Bateson, Skolimowski points to a new order, one brought about by a Western mind returning to, then reintegrating, the spiritual…”

I do very much recall the essence of this charming, gentle, wise and spiritual gentleman, who we were delighted to host overnight. As we discussed our Lectures venture he wisely pointed out that I had established them in order to educate myself, as well as others.

Henryk was kind enough to sign a copy of his book EcoYoga: Practice and meditations for walking in beauty on the Earth, with the following beautiful inscription:

skolimowski inscription

 

In Touch

51cz8w0hvrl-_sy346_In Touch: How to Tune In to the Inner Guidance of Your Body and Trust Yourself
by John J. Prendergast

One of my recurrent themes on this blog is that we have lost contact with our connection with others, and with the natural world. But worse, have we lost contact with our own body and inner self? This is precisely the subject of In Touch, by psychotherapist John Prendergast.

The premise is in the book’s publicity material:

“Your body has a natural sense of truth. We can feel authenticity in ourselves and in others. However, this innate wisdom is obscured by our conditioning—the core limiting beliefs, reactive feelings, and somatic contractions that fuel our sense of struggle and veil who we really are.

In Touch is a groundbreaking, experiential guide to the felt-sense of our inner knowing—the deep intelligence available through our bodies. Each chapter presents moving stories, helpful insights from spirituality, psychology, and science, and simple yet potent experiments for integrating the gifts of inner knowing into every aspect of daily life.”

So the book takes this forward and explores this inner felt sense, which is found through connection with our own body. It aims to ‘help you recognize your own natural sense of inner knowing by showing you how to listen to your body for guidance.’ We are not just a mind that happens to sit in a relatively independent body; we are one integrated organism, and forget that at our peril. It very much reminded me of the book Bodymind, written by Ken Dychtwald in the 1970s and still gracing my shelves.

I read this book on Kindle, for convenience when travelling. I don’t recommend this, but it did give me easy access to quotes from the book highlighted in the following. Far better to read the real book.Read More »

Presence or represent

In his book Taking Appearance Seriously: The Dynamic Way of Seeing in Goethe and European Thought, Henri Bortoft gives an interesting insight into the two modes of being present in the world, which he relates to the left and right hemispheres of the brain as outlined by Iain McGilchrist in The Master and his Emissary, which he quotes:

“the right hemisphere delivers what is new as it ‘presences‘ – before the left hemisphere gets to represent it.”

Bortoft goes on to say:

“Where the right hemisphere mediates the lived experience of wholeness, the left hemisphere mediates its representation – it replaces experience with a model of experience, which then gets confused with and mistaken for the experience itself.”

This is surely a crucial confusion that lies at the heart of the modern project. Rather than living within the world and nature as an integral part of it (right hemisphere), we live in the world at second hand in the abstracted meaning (left hemisphere) that occurs to us following the experience. Having lost that direct connection with nature as it presences, we treat it as an external object to be exploited and dominated. Look around you – the evidence is before your eyes.

It happened in Europe from about the time following the Renaissance. And it was arguably a necessary development of humanity. Now however, it is becoming imperative to readjust the relationship, so that direct experience of nature has equal status with our abstractions, such as science, technology, economics, capitalism, materialism… Dominance by abstractions is leading us into a nightmare world.

The New Renaissance must involve reconnection with our essential nature, a balance between left and right hemispheres.

My post on Presence gives another perspective on that word.
Featured image by Allan Ajifo, via Wikimedia Commons.

Universe alive or dead?

Is the universe alive or dead?

For millennia humans who emerged from living immersion in the life on earth knew they lived in and were part of a living universe. This is reflected in the essential heart of most widespread religions, and was the essential knowledge of indigenous peoples. All was alive and interconnected.

Then along came materialism, creeping in on the heels of the emerging scientific approach after the Renaissance. Materialism, with pet theories such as the ‘clockwork universe’, suggested that the material world is a dead world of cause and effect. Economic systems followed, based on the value of material things and discounting inner experience and the value of the natural world. With the rapid expansion of European ideas through colonial domination these ideas became dominant throughout the world.

Today these materialist systems are in crisis, having lost touch with nature. The wonderful diversity of nature enjoyed by earlier generations is being reduced, and the materialist emphasis is leading to increasing threat of wars caused by resource conflict and population movement when there are few remaining virgin lands. Global warming is bringing this all to a head.

In a way, the solution is obvious. To reclaim our heritage as a co-creating part of the living earth. Not to revert to the earlier unaware immersion in the stream of nature, but to move beyond our ignorant materialism to become a new co-operative part of nature.

living universeObviously this is not easy. I recommend Duane Elgin’s book The Living Universe for a good analysis and exploration of how this might come about.

James Robertson

james-robertsonI was sorry to learn that James Robertson is to no longer produce his regular newsletter or maintain his website, This is a great shame, but one can well understand it at the age of 89.

I first came across James at Schumacher Lectures in Bristol, maybe in the 1980s, and was inspired by his ideas on economics and the money system, which originated in a career at times closely associated with UK governance. This inspiration has continued over the years since then, in his articles, books, talks, seminars and then his regular newsletters – Turning Point 2000 up to the turn of the millennium, and his regular email newsletter since then.

James’s ideas deserve to be more widely known. I won’t try to summarise; the following from the front page of his website gives a good idea. This truly does indicate a necessary component of a New Renaissance, as indeed James said in his Knutsford Lecture in the 1990s.Read More »

Vision

“Without Vision the People Perish…”

Proverbs 29:18 King James Version

The above quote was one of the inspirations behind our original lectures on Visions of a New Renaissance, and it remains just as important today.

It strikes a particular chord with me having just watched the gripping film Darkest Hour, which portrays Winston Churchill working his way towards the vision that he ultimately expressed to parliament and the British people, inspiring them to resist the Nazi tyranny.

Cassandra Vieten of IONS has published an excellent post Creating an Inspiring Vision for Our Future, which indicates the importance of a vision that will inspire people on the way forward to a better world. She refers to the example of Dr Martin Luther King, whose inspiration continues to motivate people today. Vieten says

In his book “Stride Toward Freedom,” King noted that the outcome of nonviolent resistance was the Beloved Community – not an idealistic utopia free from conflict, but a community ruled by agape which he described as “understanding, redeeming goodwill for all,” or an “overflowing love which is purely spontaneous, unmotivated, groundless and creative.” He said

“It is this type of spirit, and this type of love that can transform opponents into friends. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.”

In these divided Brexit / Trump times, how the UK and US need to transform the current deep gloom of the divisive old age into the ‘exuberant gladness of a new age’. How could it be other than a vision based on agape?

How the Renaissance Began?

the swerve coverHow did the Renaissance begin? If we knew that, it would surely be useful in understanding what is needed for a New Renaissance. Well here’s a book that claims to give an answer: The Swerve: How the Renaissance Began by Stephen Greenblatt.

In a way, it does, although I suspect this is a gross over-simplification. Roughly, the story is that a very clever man Poggio Bracciolini, one time right hand man of a disgraced pope, discovered and had copied key texts that had been preserved over the centuries by monks regularly copying manuscripts.

The key text, De Rerum Natura (On The Nature of Things), by Roman philosopher/poet Lucretius contained explosive ideas that, once they began to circulate, overcame the stranglehold of the church on European ideas and led to the explosion of creativity that was the Renaissance.

In particular they directly influenced men such as Marsilio Ficino, Botticelli, Raphael, Giordano Bruno, Galileo, Thomas More, Machiavelli, Montaigne, Shakespeare, Francis Bacon, Dryden,  Isaac Newton, Darwin, Thomas Jefferson, and on and on…Read More »

No, not this way

homo deusWith my interest in ideas of a New Renaissance, I could not resist reading Yuval Harari’s Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, a book that is clearly widely read judging by its prominence in the local Waterstones.

Harari is an entertaining and informative writer, and I enjoyed reading his description of the emergence of the anthropocene era, and particularly his story following Western culture from the Renaissance, and the subsequent emergence of three interrelated themes of humanism, liberalism and democracy, along with modern science/technology and capitalism.

Harari suggests that liberalism is running into the buffers, pointing at some of the current symptoms that suggest that all is not well with the world. Well we could all make our own lists of those – like increasing inequality, global warming, species extinction, pollution,… The current paradigm or ‘web of meaning’ is no longer effective in addressing the situation we’re in. I cannot but agree with him this far.

But then his analysis suddenly seems to go awry. He suggests that contemporary science contradicts free will and the possible existence of a soul or inner self, that the mind is essentially algorithmic and subject to external control. “… biologists concluded that organisms are algorithms.” Of course, if you set out with a ‘clockwork universe’ materialistic mentality, this is the sort of world view you might come up with.

Then we get to the suggestion that organisations are just algorithms, and you could eventually replace the whole structure of an organisation with algorithms, no jobs for humans. Of course, were all this the case it undermines humanism, liberalism and the whole human project. But, come on…

And then there is the suggestion that in the era of ‘big data’ being gathered by such a Facebook and Google, these algorithms will get to know us ‘better than we know ourselves’. The dangers of ‘big data’ are clear enough, in that they may have played a role in the Brexit and Trump phenomena, but what on earth can it mean to know us better than we know ourselves?

Inequality is a big phantom in this context, as an increasingly a rich elite will have no interest in providing for the mass of humanity, as they the elite will no longer be dependent on the labours of so many others – leading eventually to a new caste system. The elite become like gods (hence homo deus), and the rest, and liberal ideals, go hang.

And if you don’t like that scenario, Harari offers an even more disturbing possibility: the religion of Dataism. “The universe consists of data flows, and the value of any phenomenon or entity is determined by its contribution to data processing.” This is a world where computers have taken over and the ‘world’ is run totally by algorithms. Insane.

So basically Harari is giving a couple of horror scenarios, nightmares outlining where we don’t want to go. The thing about human beings is that we have the capability to change direction, change the paradigm, change the ‘web of meaning’, change what is considered acceptable and what not.

What he doesn’t offer is any clue to a New Renaissance.

 

 

 

To Have or To Be

to have or to beI read Erich Fromm’s book To Have or To Be (1978) many years ago, and remember being impressed by the ideas put forward. So I recently sought out the copy with yellowing pages from the shelf of books that have survived regular culls over the years. I discovered that Fromm’s ideas are just as relevant today, and the problems he identified have arguably got worse.

His basic idea is simple. Having and being are two fundamental modes of experience, the relative strengths of which are key determinants of character. Modern capitalist society emphasises having things, property,  money, goods and so on – so these are major determinants of character, and the society is essentially competitive. Other more co-operative societies have been more concerned with being in the world and how we relate to it.Read More »

Healing the Heart of Democracy

I was very struck by a recent communication from the Charter for Compassion, which summarised five critical ‘habits of the heart’ to sustaining a democratic society. As I read through them they seemed intuitively right. See what you think:

  1. An understanding that we are all in this together.
  2. An appreciation of the value of “otherness.”
  3. An ability to hold tension in life-giving ways.
  4. A sense of personal voice and agency.
  5. A capacity to create community.

I consider this in the context of some of the related current symptoms of what needs to change in the West today (same numbering):

  1. Gross inequality. Many live like kings while large numbers struggle to survive.
  2. A fear or rejection of other races, nations or groups of people.
  3. The immediate setting of hard boundaries when there is tension, eg Catalonia today.
  4. The attempt by so-called leaders to suppress people expressing dissent, numerous examples.
  5. The polarised divisions in many leading countries eg USA.

The five habits are detailed more at the website of the Centre for Courage and Renewal, and originate from Parker J. Palmer’s book, Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit (2011)

Note that these are habits ‘of the heart’ – it is after all a change of heart that is needed in the majority, starting with me and you. Where else?