Archive for July, 2009

We Cannot Get Off This Subject

July 30, 2009

We Cannot Get Off This Subject Because Language Is A Product Of Logos, Of The Subject We Want To Change

Future Time

“You’re possessed,” said MV

“What?”

“That thing you call freedom;” replied MV, “with you its blinders and dark sunglasses. It doesn’t matter what you see-its all the same. You could be looking out from prison bars, and you’d still see freedom. You’re possessed!”

“A devilish voice in my head says I’m possessed. Hubba, hubba, what am I to think? What can I say? I’m speechless!”

“Good,” responded MV, “at least I won’t have to listen to your obsession anymore, listen to that shit you pass off as divine structuralism. Why didn’t your Professor stop you before you wasted so much time? Hell, you could have been out partying, or knowing you, at least reading a good book, but no, I guess you just like wasting time. How many ways can you dress up an obsession anyway? Well, I’ve had it. I hate déjà vu. It’s time to pack it in, you’re coming with me and not too soon I might add!”

“Hold on,” I said, “how many guises do you entertain in order to get your way? Do you whisper in every ear, I’m the devil, follow me? I think not. Your reputation for guile and cunning precedes you. Tell me I’m wrong!”

“Hmmm, this is not getting us anywhere,” replied MV, “why don’t you just shut up and come with me. It’s going to happen anyway. Why put it off?

“Unfinished business,” I said, “You know as well as I do that ‘truth’ travels in mixed company. Sometimes it’s up front, sometimes it’s hidden, but, if it’s there, it will eventually surface. And I guess you could say the same for evil too, right!”

“Don’t get me started,” MV responded, “you’re just trying to change the subject, and this subject is not going to change. Listening to you rattle on about freedom is the last thing I want to do. Comprende!”

“But you’re contradicting yourself. Surely the devil is a better communicator than that,” I replied, “or has my admiration for you –what little admiration I have for you, — been off the mark.”

“What do you mean, contradiction, I’m not contradicting myself,” said MV, “your crazy.”

“Well how can the subject change, or not change for that matter, when the subject is freedom and you are on record as saying you won’t listen to that subject anymore. I believe that’s a contradiction, and, when you get right down to it, no matter what’s talked about, it’s still freedom talking—it’s a structural thing.”

“Stop putting words in my mouth,” sneered MV. “You know damn well what I’m saying, but you twisted it to make it sound like a contradiction.”

“That’s not exactly true,” I said, “remember, if reality is, ultimately, Logos, and if Logos is freedom, then anything that we say or can say is about freedom. We cannot get off this subject because language is a product of Logos, of the subject you want to change. I repeat, because this subject is the condition of the possibility to communicate anything whatsoever, we cannot change this subject.”

“Oh, please! I can’t take it anymore, you’re worse than the devil,” said MV, “and that’s unthinkable.”

“Wait, it’s not that bad,” I responded, “especially if you let me finish. Actually, I think the Professors on my committee, felt the same way you do about this, but they left me alone and everybody was better off for it. You are right, though, there are many ways to express what you call ‘my obsession.’ When it came to writing my thesis, in the beginning, it wasn’t clear how I could hook up my topic, prejudice, with my freedom ideas, but after an extensive literature survey, it all came together for me. First I wrote a short paper about my thesis-the prospectus, which helped my committee members better understand my intent, and then, in my thesis, I not only fleshed out my subject matter, prejudice, I was also able to show how the ‘innate structuring capacity of all structures’ and prejudice are related, but, in doing so, I changed the language from “innate structuring capacity of all structures’ to ‘the implicative affirmative of the not-me-self,’ and I titled my thesis –Prejudice: Empirical Data Beckoning Toward A Theory Of Self, Ambivalence, And Tolerance.”P1010231

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Needed Is A Radical Transformation Of Values

July 24, 2009

Exchange Theory, Critical Theory, And Radical Sociology

If Human Freedom Is To Flourish, What Is Needed Is A Radical Transformation Of Values

Exchange theory is a nearsighted theory and a wrong theory. It is near sighted because its focus is one of “as if people acted according to self interest alone,” and it is a wrong theory because it attempts to reduce the “principles of behavior” to purely deterministic cause and effect relationships. The act of exchange is consistent with the idea of synchronic freedom, but the “motives” behind exchange (liberation) are as varied as are the circumstances that define “the individual in his/her environment.”

Critical theory in sociology critiques the nature of 1) the concentration of power relationships in society and the influence these power relationships have in limiting the freedom of the individual, and 2) it highlights the inevitable servitude that awaits those people who refuse to take responsibility for their own freedom. Herbert Marcuse believed that given the above two conditions it would take more than a transformation of social structure to liberate the individual from his/her repressive conditions. He called for a whole new way of thinking that would teach people how to stop being a plaything in the hands of politicians, managers and generals.

Marcuse also held to the opinion that it was not enough for the repressed, culturally dwarfed, citizens of bourgeois society to recognize the possibility of a liberating freedom. They had to somehow become transformed in such a way as to “need” the liberating force of freedom. According to Marcuse:

“For the world of human freedom cannot be built by the established societies, no matter how much they may streamline and rationalize their dominion. Their class structure, and the perfected controls required to sustain it, generate needs, satisfactions, and values which reproduce the servitude of the human existence. This “voluntary” servitude (voluntary inasmuch as it is introjected into the individuals), which justifies the benevolent masters, can be broken only through a political practice which reaches the roots of containment and contentment in the infrastructure of man, a political practice of methodical disengagement from and refusal of the Establishment, aiming at a radical transvaluation of values. Such a practice involves a break with the familiar, the routine ways of seeing, hearing, feeling, understanding things so that the organism may become receptive to the potential forms of a nonaggressive, nonexploitative world.” [Herbert Marcuse, An Essay on Liberation, 1969, p. 6]

Radical Sociology takes a more Marxist approach to analysis than does Critical Theory. But, even here, there is a movement away from the more orthodox Marxist principles, — dialectics of knowledge and change, materialist historical analysis, capitalistic system analysis, and the transitional states of class conflict and consciousness. C. Wright Mills shifted the emphasis away from Marx’s economic determinate toward an analysis of the power elites as he proposed a more “structurally relevant” model of society. Mills approach to society was to demarcate the juncture of biography and history in society.

As I have suggested in this paper, I believe Marx’s thought proceeded according to a misguided understanding of the “way things actually are.” It is not that I believe a change in social structure and means of production would not benefit society; they would benefit society, especially if these changes encourage people to take advantage of their “inner strength,” as they provide realistic opportunities for the purpose of allowing a person to more fully develop the person he or she has a chance to choose to be. In the end, I believe a combination of Critical Theory and Radical Sociology is what’s needed if positive change is to be secured, positive change that, in principle, follows from the nature of synchronic freedom. In other words, in so far all people have a common source and a common end, they come together to form government, — not a government based in institutional power, or in the power to secure private property, or even in the name of national self interest, — but rather, men and women come together to form a more perfect union in which personal liberties are weighed against social harms; in which the individual’s right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, is weighted against freedom’s consistent expression—a freedom that is all-inclusive of living things and the nurturing environment that permits living things to exist. Yes, that would be a positive change, a positive change in government, a positive change in life, and a positive change in spirit!Orangutan cub

The “I” and the “Me”

July 17, 2009

Symbolic Interactionism

Mountain gorillas cubs

The symbolic interactionists have pretty much turned the synchronic axis of freedom into a fully articulated sociology, and it all begins with Mead’s self. Mead, like William James before him, understood the self to be divided into two mutually exclusive components. (Martindale, l981, p.333) The “me” may be thought of as the historical self, that is, that part of yourself that could be identified by others as a historical fact. Work, status and roles, (employee, chairman of board, father etc.) are aspects of the “me” self. Meltzer describes the “me” in this way, “The “Me” represents the incorporated other within the individual. Thus, it comprises the organized set of attitudes and definitions, understandings and expectations — or simply meanings –common to the group. In any given situation, the “Me” comprises the generalized other and, often, some particular other.” (Meltzer, l959, p.17)

Mead’s “I,” on the other hand, is that active aspect of the self that gives spontaneity, impulsiveness and creativity to the self. The “I” is what moves the “me” of the self in different directions. The “I” gives to the self its novelty and innovation while the “me” directs this novelty and innovation toward goals and away from resistance i.e. toward conformity. It is the nature of the opposing components of the self that provides the basis for understanding how the self is woven into the social fabric.

Mead’s “me” and “I” aspects of the self are an accurate description of the self. But, in order to give logical consistency to the “me” and “I” aspects of self,– in order to understand the interdependent link between the “I” and the “me”– the “I” must be implied by the “me”. And, in order for the “me” to imply the “I”, the concept of negation must be included in the description of the self. Instead of conceiving of the self as the “I” component opposed to the “me” component, it becomes more precise, logically, to conceive of the self as discontinuity (negation) occurring in continuity (”me”). In so far as continuity (”me”) experiences its own negation, it experiences, by implication, its “I”. Another way to think about this idea is to recognize that the existence of any negation whatsoever implies the existence of that which is negated. What I am describing here is the nature of Descartes argument, “I think therefore I am.” The fact that Descartes found himself in the posture of negating (doubting) his very existence implied that there was something there to negate in the first place. From the certainty of this one proposition, Descartes, went on to write his Discourse on Method and other philosophical works.

Once you see that the “I” of self is a consequence of the negation of the “me” of self, you encounter that aspect of self which uniquely defines the human condition. This implied “I”, in addition to characterizing everything that Mead says it does, also represents the universality of identity proper and it is this universality of identity which becomes the source of all language (in the propositional sense), number, artistic expression, religion and self-determined behavior. In so far as we are able to identify a particular state of affairs as occurring or not occurring we are, via the implicative nature of negation, able to identify the prohibitive aspect of  this same state of affairs occurring and not occurring at the same time. This principle (self-contradiction) is applied frequently in analytical thought, but we also use it to determine consistent behavior from inconsistent behavior.

After first identifying our priorities in life, we use this principle  to determine if our beliefs and behavior are consistent. For instance, if I were to quit my job in order to experience more time for myself, I would, in a very brief time, come to realize that employment is an essential prerequisite for the experience of satisfying free time, hence quitting my job would be inconsistent with my desired goal. Even though a fairly straight forward conclusion can be drawn from my thinking here, in real life things become muddy. If there is one lesson which we have to learn again and again, it is that when a person’s priorities, either by choice or by a deficiency in the basic necessities of life, are solely determined by a desire for immediate sense gratification, that in almost every case, these people become the victims and prisoners of their own fear, prejudice, greed and violence.

Freedom’s Synchronic Shadow Cuts Across Contemporary Social Theory

July 10, 2009

mountain goat

Postscript To My Paper On Structuralism

In 1922, Werner Heisenberg, as a student, asked his professor and friend-to-be, Niels Bohr, “If the inner structure of the atom is as closed to descriptive accounts as you say, if we really lack a language for dealing with it, how can we ever hope to understand atoms?”

Bohr hesitated for a moment and then said, “I think we may yet be able to do so. But in the process we may have to learn what the word ‘understanding’ really means.”

If the synchronic axis of freedom is, as I suggest it is, as close as the taste of a cold beer and as far away as the reach of the universe, then it should come as no surprise to find its shadow cutting across the contemporary theories of sociology that we have studied this semester in class. Since the axis of synchronic freedom may be interpreted as the ground for the empirical sciences, we would expect that this idea has something specific to say concerning the positivistic or naturalistic point of view. And, indeed, it does.

The synchronic axis is a dualism. The reciprocal nature of this dualism has one pole firmly planted in the “empirical world.” Within this duality corresponding physical events will co-dependently occur along with the differentiating movement (the time of discontinuity) that characterizes the other pole of this duality. What becomes differentiated at one pole effects what becomes differentiated at the other, but the fact remains, something exists out there to become differentiated. Piaget tells us that we come to know this something because functional activity is all about differentiating. Be that as it may, the “real world” is definitely an object for the investigation of the physical sciences. To the extent that the subject matter studied by the physical sciences is non living, this subject matter has very little freedom while living organisms and humans have more freedom respectively. But, the fact remains; freedom is limited and therefore remains open to quantitative evaluation.

When understood in this way, William Calton in his book From Anamistic to Naturalistic Sociology, accurately describes the “empirical pole” of synchronic freedom when he says, “mental events and motivation can only be inferred from observable behavior.” [William Calton, From Anamistic to Naturalistic Sociology, p. 52] But, since we are dealing with both the “empirical pole,” and, the “differentiating pole” on freedom’s synchronic axis, the physical sciences will never be able to completely describe behavior. When “humanistic sociologists” say that people, as goal seekers, create values and impute meanings, they, also, are accurately describing the synchronic nature of freedom.

As Piaget has pointed out, the assimilation-accommodation dyad works to produce new levels of the assimilation-accommodation dyad. Structure’s double movement means that freedom is not totally free, and determinism is not totally determined. Freedom and causality do not exist independently from one another. Just as Saussure described the meaning of the sign to be context dependent within the system of language, so too is the center of functional activity context dependent within the empirical world. From the synchronic point of view, getting a fix on causality, as it relates to human behavior, will always remain just beyond the grasp of physical science. Scientists will continue to perfect their methods and make valuable discoveries as their approximations draw ever closer to the “ideal,” but, in so far as the creative expression of negation (discontinuity occurring in continuity) occurs in individual consciousness, the individual will always remain just outside the grasp of naturalistic sociology.

Before moving on to G. H. Mead, I would like to take exception to Calton when he says, “if there are mental, cultural, moral phenomena, naturalism says these must be included as part of nature, and sociology must be included as part of natural science. All areas of human experience are asserted to be amenable to scientific study.” (Ibid. p. 51] You can approximate the causes that manifest physical events, but the decision to act morally, responsibly, is a “willed choice” of free expression. In this freely determined act, as Sartre has pointed out, the individual must take responsibility for his/her behavior. Freedom, in principle, remains both in and out of the natural world and in so doing becomes the condition of the possibility for any “knowing” whatsoever.

In The Eye Of You And Me We See The Eye Of God

July 3, 2009

creation-of-adam pic

What We Have Here Is A Spinoza Monism With A Mobius Twist- God Existing Inside Out

In the process of writing this paper I have deliberately refrained from using spiritual connotations to describe freedom’s synchronic axis. And, indeed, I suppose one of the beauties of this idea is that one is not forced into making the “leap” to a more spiritual interpretation of freedom (the humanism of James or Dewey will do just fine here). But, the fact remains that my description of freedom is based in two logical primitives, one being found in the logic that something has to first “be” before it can be negated i.e., the principle behind Descartes Cogito, and the other, the affirmation that follows from the negation of a negation. In self-consciousness (discontinuity occurring in continuity) we see the affect of the first logical primitive and in not, not being we see the logic of an affirmed wholeness, affirmed God. It is also in self-consciousness where Piaget’s functional center emerges, where the constructive process begins, and where identities are created/discovered, and all of this is based upon the structural transformations of not, not being as it evolves into human consciousness or self-consciousness–(the answer to the questions–“Who participates?” and “What is participated in?”).

This implied wholeness in – not, not being, – is outside of experience, but it takes a very small “leap of faith” to conclude that God exists in this affirmed indeterminate wholeness, exists in this “ground of being,” exists in the “affirmative ideal” that is at the center of structuralism and logic, which, in turn, permits the freedom to ask the question: Does God Exit? God and freedom, from this point of view, are the same thing, however, operationally speaking, also from this point of view, God is all-knowing, all-powerful and all-present. What we have here, ultimately, is a Spinoza monism with a Mobius twist, a God simultaneously existing inside out.

In what follows I will not evade the spiritual content that the synchronic axis of freedom generates. In this Mobius twist we find the final answer to the questions, “Who participates?” and “What is participated in?”

In the immediately grasped indeterminate, all-embracing oneness of God’s freedom lies the source of the knower and consequently the knower’s freedom. F. S. Northrop tells us how wondrously close we are to God when he says:

“Now it is precisely this ineffable, emotional, moving quale that constitutes what is meant by spirit and the spiritual. Thus in order to do justice to the spiritual nature of human beings and of all things it is not necessary to have recourse to idle speculations, by means of which one tries to pierce through the glass beyond which we now see darkly, to supposedly unaesthetic material substances behind, or into some unreachable and unknowable realm where mental substances are supposed to be. On the contrary, the spiritual, the ineffable, the emotionally moving, the aesthetically vivid — the stuff that dreams and sunsets and the fragrance of flowers are made of — is the immediate, purely factual portion of human nature and the nature of all things. This is the portion of human knowledge that can be known without recourse to inference and speculative hypotheses and deductive logic, and epistemic correlations and rigorously controlled experiments. This we have and are in ourselves and in all things, prior to all theory, before all speculation, with immediacy and hence with absolute certainty.” [F.S.. C. Northrop, The Meeting of East and West, 1946, p.462]

All intuitive sensitivity and religiously felt compassion flows from the all embracing oneness common to man’s nature and nature’s creatures, up through the many levels and transformations of freedom until it finally becomes manifest in the self-realized aspect of human freedom as love, caring, happiness and reverence. The telling factor behind this whole process comes with the knowledge that the “I” of God and the “I” of you and me are one in the same. Here I am reminded of the penetrating words of the Christian mystic, Meister Eckhart who is reported to have said, “The eye in which I see God and the eye in which God sees me are one and the same.”

In other words, the liberation of God’s non-being becomes God’s immanence while, at the same time, there exists an implied transcendent God (the ground of everything, the source of all becoming), however, divine immanence is particularly important to human beings because it is what we call “reality.”