Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Right-wing Republican Extremism as Rooted in a Medievalist Epistemology

The attitude toward knowledge exhibited by the extremist supporters of right-wing Republicans seems to be a reversion to the kind of thought that pervaded medieval Europe. It's an anti-modernism. The modernist attitude toward knowledge, which developed in the Enlightenment of the 15th to 17th centuries, with the growth of technology and the emergence of science, relies on reason and empirical evidence developed and tested by a community of independently thinking individuals. The medieval attitude toward knowledge, which had been locked in place for at least a millennium and a half, was that knowledge was only created by the Deity and only revealed in the Bible; thus, no new knowledge could ever be created or found outside the official interpretations of the Bible. Medievalist knowledge is strictly authoritarian and a priori, while modernist knowledge is anti-authoritarian and empirical.

Authoritarian knowledge tends to be extremely prejudiced, rigidly unchanging, and rooted in stereotypes, while modernist knowledge tends toward flexibility, openness to new information, and critical thinking.

{There is an authoritarian psychopathology at work here, based on a family structure that tends toward the gratification of pathological parental needs, in contrast with a family structure that tends toward meeting the developmental needs of children. Several books by George Lakoff discuss this. The website,, does so as well. Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson's The Whole-Brain Child focuses on how to raise a child to realize hir full mental and emotional potential.}

I draw the medievalist-modernist epistemologies distinction from a fascinating book in the Oklahoma Project for Discourse and Theory series, Walden Browne's  SahagĂșn and the Transition to Modernity, University of Oklahoma Press, 2000. Browne, in turn, bases that distinction on Michel Foucault's discussion of Kant in Les Mots et Les Choses.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

There is an unacknowledged diversity of sexual reproduction in nature: "Welcome to the world of shelled sea-butterfly sex, in which the all-male population mate, store sperm, then change into females that fertilize themselves."

Bipolar Disorderby Gretel Erhlich
a review of Lost Antarctica: Adventures in a Disappearing Land, 
James McClintock, Palgrave Macmillan.
onearth, winter 2013

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Profit-&-Cost vs. Values (Comment to a student in my Sociology of Popular Culture course)

Mature capitalist industrialism has become so intensely commercial, so driven by the profit motive, that its influence intrudes into every corner of our lives. And it's difficult even for us to question whether this is a good thing. (For many of us, at least.) It's "just accepted." To some extent, they bribe us into accepting it, but to some extent, they don't even have to bribe us, we're so inured to the practice. We're deluded --not just by advertising, but by a whole complex of factors-- into thinking that "cost" and "profit" are the most important principles of decision-making. (Not just business decision-making, but political, public-policy, even personal decision-making.) We get distracted from what we really want and what we really need, like health and kindness and creativity and clean air. Money is too easy to count, so its more and more widespread use degrades our ability to reason in a more complex fashion than money allows. Some values just can't, really, be put into money terms. So, mental laziness makes us ignore those values, such as health and kindness and creativity and clean air and compassion.

Jean-François Lyotard attributes to this a differend and explains it in terms of the hegemony of the economic genre over (all?) other discourse genres: "The accelerating rhythm and, in general, the saturated scheduling of time in communities result from the extension of the economic genre to phrases not under the rule of exchange." (245)

This has also been called "the commercialization of everything."

Saturday, November 03, 2012

What is Occupy today?

The Occupy movement receded because the crisis receded. The Occupy movement is a reactive social movement; such movements gather in participants when the public space becomes sufficiently chaotic, when distress increases enough to knock people off their normal apathy-balance point and makes them willing to join together in ways which the apathy of normality does not allow. Furthermore, the organizational kernel of Occupy is not the classic rational-hierarchical model typical in the West. This makes it difficult for the bureaucratic-rational mind to understand. Rather, it is the emergent co-operative/distributive model that has only recently been evolving from the Western counter-cultural reaction against the dominative individualism pervasive in Western culture.

Occupy is not dead. It has not failed "to grasp the moment." It is in an "in-breathing phase" of creating connections between activists, establishing a workable culture of consensus/participation/co-operation (rather than a standard goals-focused hierarchical organizational structure) that will be capable of functioning effectively when the next shoe drops, when the currently-held-in-abeyance crisis explodes again.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Contra Libertarianism

Here's a core of my critique of Libertarianism. At least of some flavors of it, since, had that label not already been appropriated by the free-market crazies, I could accept it as descriptive of my own political theory/stance. At least of part of my stance. Cooperative Libertarianism, perhaps.

To speak of “the peninsular individual” is to offer a contrast with “the insular individual.” The latter is separated from others; the former is connected with them via the common substrate of the group. The latter is conceived as independent of others, the former as interdependent, connected, receiving-&-providing from/to others.

Human beings are a social animal, unlike bears, for example. More like wolves, we run in packs. Unlike a foal, which can stand on its own four feet as soon as it is born, an infant human is totally dependent upon its mother for years after birth. And the mother can hardly care for the child, can hardly survive herself, without the aid and comfort of her own immediate social group, the family and its community. (“It takes a neighborhood to raise a child.”)

Furthermore, the child's human self --a symbolic construction, crafted by a team composed of itself, its mother and father and siblings and aunts and uncles and grandparents and neighbors and neighbors' children, and more-- is composed not only of its biological needs, but of internalized images of the others who relate to it as it slowly matures. The self-concept --the soul-- of a human child is made up of the aspirations and boundaries, the possibilities and impossibilities, it obtains from the behavior of those other humans who care for it in its long years of utter dependency. (Cf., D. Siegel, Mead, Cooley, . . .)

Furthermore, the adult human being retains this habit of dependency (but more than a habit) upon his group, his society, throughout his entire life. No one lives alone; no one is a self-made man. All human economies are group constructions.

In a very real sense, the living of every man is given to him by his society. While he must typically labor to obtain it, he can never wrest it from the earth, from the field or the forest or the ocean, unaided by his fellows. Without the cooperation of our fellow man, each of us is dead.  In earlier societies, capital punishment is excommunication; to be cut off from all communication, from all commerce, with one’s fellows is to be sentenced to death.

No individual can, without the support, the physical and social and cultural infrastructure, of his society, produce anything.

All wealth is social wealth, community wealth.

The autonomous individual is a fiction. A fiction characteristic of this particular culture.
Melanie Klein:
The assumption was relinquished of an atomistic, only recently socially modeled individual, who is faced with a closed world, in favour of a mental picture in which the subject and his reality are gradually differentiated and mutually developed.
Rosemarie Kennel, Bion’s Psychoanalysis and Edelman’s Neuroscience
John Donne
No man is an Iland, intire of itselfe; every man is a peece of the continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
Devotions upon Emergent Occasions (1624), No. XVII