Posts Tagged ‘Judgment’

Meditation For The 21st Century

December 12, 2009

While I was deciding where I wanted to go with my Footprint story I stumbled across this meditation and decided very quickly that it was a good summary of my Footprint story. Except for posting on the web, this meditation represents the only other time I attempted to “tell my story” to others. I presented this meditation to the philosophy club at the university where I work. The student President of the club felt I should be compensated, so he passed me off as a visiting lecturer and I walked away with $100. I guess that makes me (or made me) a one time professional!God’s Civilizing Attribute

I have found that many of the paradoxes associated with thoughtdissolve when I consider the point of view that existence, in general, and identity, in particular, ensues from the expressive aspects of God not being God’s own non-being. The idea that God is free to not be God is unusual but not unique. In the journal, Deconstruction and Theology (1982, p. 89-90), Robert P. Scharlemann, in the article The Being of God When God is Not Being God, adds some commentary to this idea:

“The thesis I should like to propound here is that, in the theological tradition, the otherness of God has remained unthought and conceptually forgotten in exactly the same manner as has the question of the meaning of being. …What cannot be thought, in the tradition of this picture (the concept of finite being as ens creatum) is that the world is itself a moment in the being of God; what cannot be thought is that the world is the being of God when God is not being deity, or the being of God in the time of not being.”

I realize that many people find elitist the notion of a privileged-human-nature, but I disagree. When considered from the point of view of this meditation it is not that human beings are superior, rather, it is that human beings are born into a much larger and richer reservoir of potential freedom, and, I might add, that in this privileged space (if indeed privilege is the right word) advantage and responsibility are joined. Ian Barbour, in his book, Issues in Science and Religion (1966, p.29.) puts it this way:

“In the capacity for abstract thought and symbolic languagethere is a radical distinction between man and animal. Self-conscious awareness, critical self-reflection, and creative imagination are found nowhere else in nature. In memory of the past, anticipation of the future, and envisagement of ideal potentialities, he transcends his immediate environment. He is unique in his search for truth, concern for moral values, and acknowledgement of universal obligation –and above all, in his relationship to God.”

In a supportive environment, life propagates and grows more complex. The same holds true in a knowledge environment –the self-conscious environment of the human being.

When non-being occurs in being (~bb), the self-consciousness of being becomes, by implication, conscious of itself. When the negative condition of continuity gets experienced in the higher dimension of a factual event (b~b~bb), knowledge, in its propositional and signifier sense, gets liberated. Analytically speaking, this condition identifies the source of the principle of logical contradiction and thus denotes the original precondition for the evolutionary development of language and mathematics. Rene Descartes, was, as far as I can tell, the first person to isolate and consciously describe the experience of discontinuity occurring in continuity (~bb). Descartes’ methodological doubting brought him to recognize, in his “Cogito ergo sum”, the fundamental bottom line of human experience: I experience non-being therefore I am. But, Descartes’ cogito occurs in its own physical event environment (b~b), and here we discover the less than articulate evolutionary development of this cogito.

With every new dimension of non-being (~~b, ~bb, b~b~bb) comes a new beginning for the resurgence of complexity. In the human dimension (b~b~bb), this movement from simple to complex continues to take place, only now history and civilization evolve right along side biology and adaptation. In the initial stages of human history, Descartes’ cogito was hidden behind the participatory moments of human consciousness. Here the thread of human history–cultural evolution (to paraphrase Cassirer) — may be traced back to that point in time where man/woman ceased to passively accept their negative condition (physical environment), and, in setting themselves in opposition to it, began to create and form it. This act, the transformation of mere impressions into pure expression, began the human psyche’s progress, via the development of myth, ritual, art, language, music and science, toward the liberation of its own non-being.

At this point in the meditation, I would like to point out that there are many comprehensive philosophies that directly illuminate the human spirit’s capacity for liberation. Spinoza, Heidegger, and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin are just a few names that spring to mind, but the person who I feel best represents my own position is Ernst Cassirer. In his three volume work, The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, (1957), Cassirer’s thesis suggests that as man interacts with his environment through his desires, emotions and work he acquires the capacity, via symbolic representation, to objectify nature – the nature of his inner and outer reality. Objectification here is not meant as a thing to be apprehended but rather as a movement toward constancy, endurance and certainty. Accordingly, the self that we take to the library, the store, a music recital, or sometimes to the bar, must be understood as the ongoing product of human history, which, in turn, must be further understood, according to this meditation, as the being-of-what-is-not-while-not-being-what-is in its pursuit to free itself from its own limiting conditions.

Our immediate experience of this process is temporality. In addition to establishing our “I”, — the awareness of being aware of our own non-being (implicative affirmative of the not-me-self), this liberation process also implies (as a consequence of the physical event b~b~bb) an environment of factual events. Here we not only experience ourselves as a degree of permanence in the midst of constant flux, we also experience the forward movement of an implied knowledge of our environment.

Knowledge expands as a consequence of time. We are born into a world of knowledge and knowing, but the throttle of this knowing process–the actualization of what is unique in human freedom, lies in our capacity to actualize our own non-being. Simply put, every time we ask a question we actualize in the question our own non-being. Whether we like it or not our knowledge expands, but when we ask questions we accelerate that expansion by detaching ourselves from being in our capacity as non-being in order to more fully appropriate the world around us. Our passive experience of time does not produce a great deal of knowledge, but because we bring the logical relationships implicit in God’s freedom to bear on an event, we are free to create judgments (and the values which arise from those judgments) concerning the significance and probable cause of an event. These judgments, concerning the nature of an event, are determined valid across a continuum that ranges from sensation divorced from theory, at one end, to sensation reinforced by the most advanced and respected scientific theory available.

There are no guarantees that the answers we propose in response to our questions will match up with corresponding events, yet scientists have a pretty good track record when it comes to the discovery and confirmation of these answers. In experience that is not accountable to scientific confirmation, however, we determine, via our judgments and emotions, appropriate behavior. It is at this level of preferred behavior, this level of “willed consciousness participation” (as it is called by Owen Barfield), that we encounter our potential for the highest order of expressed freedom.

When God’s freedom becomes aware of itself, something very remarkable happens. From our point of view, we see our past, present, and future possibilities, thus, we become free to actualize those possibilities. But, from the divine point of view, it’s simply an “awareness of presence.” For me, this is an emotionally charged consequence since it brings home the notion that God is, in a very real sense, all-knowing and all-present. But even more astonishing is that, via our intentions and concerns, we are responsible for the content of God’s “presence.” Here I am reminded of the words of Walt Whitman, where in his poem “Song To Myself,” he wrote: “Whoever degrades another degrades me. And whatever is done or said returns at last to me.” It follows that if just one person recognizes an act of injustice and becomes outraged, God becomes outraged. Suffice it to say, that if humanity would recognize its own conscience, then perhaps conditions would arise where a sensitive human being might be able to look out upon the social milieu without a shudder.

We begin our conduct with the recognition of desirable behavior, but putting this awareness into action takes on special significance. Just as the validity of a scientific hypothesis is authenticated when it is confirmed against experimental results, so, too, is behavior authenticated when it is made to conform to behavior that has previously been judged appropriate by the individual. In Goethe’s play “Faust,” which records Goethe’s own life-long spiritual development, Faust rebuffs Mephistopheles temptations with the words: “So realm and rule to me will fall—The glory’s naught, the deed is all.” Faust is acting on his supreme vision of a free land and a free people, and, in so doing, his authenticity—better know as character, honor and integrity—arises.

The question that needs to be answered here is, “How is the appropriateness of behavior determined?” Almost always, answers to this question suggest contrary examples, but in this case there is only one answer—that the behavior, which is determined appropriate, is the behavior that is judged appropriate by the individual. Simply put, behavior is a measure and a product of freedom. Herein we may appreciate the significance of those teachers and teachings that encourage students to think for themselves while stressing heightened awareness and social responsibility; and, since freedom is actualized at different levels by different people, it follows that, whenever possible, a responsible person will posture herself or himself as a student or a teacher whenever the opportunity arises. Recognizing the appropriate occasion to accommodate these postures comes with experience.

In the world of experience our thoughts and feelings are experienced as separate from the universe as a whole. That is as it should be for it follows from the nature of God’s freedom. It is precisely because of this limitation that we are able to seek and hopefully satisfy our needs and desires. In the world of non-being, where suffering, injustice, and cruelty occur, we sometimes feel compelled to look upon satisfaction and fulfillment as somebody’s idea of a joke, like some carrot, always out of reach, dangling in front of our noses; and further, we find ourselves, in one stage or another, of the ultimate indignity -our mortality. Without question, the price of freedom is high, but it follows from the nature of God’s freedom that in our suffering, God suffers. We share the price of freedom with God, but more importantly, in our rejoicing, God rejoices, and it is in this light that we, as active agents of transformation, may come to understand our responsibility to work toward a happier, healthier humanity. Ultimately, religion, science, law, art …all of civilization, must be understood as the expression of the freedom of God that works toward this transformation.

Certain aspects of the world cannot be changed, however. Our mortality, for instance, is a condition of God’s freedom and therefore must be experienced and endured. Yet it is in our mortality that we may come to discover an incredible comfort and release. Many of our desires are automatically fulfilled in the realization that we are one with God’s presence in the here and now. With this understanding we arrive at the heart of the experience that is poetically described by mystics and other spiritually evolved individuals. In the immediately grasped indeterminate, all-embracing oneness of God’s freedom lies the source of the knower and consequently the knower’s freedom. All intuitive sensitivity and religiously felt compassion flows from this all embracing oneness common to man’s nature and nature’s creatures, up through the many levels and dimensions of freedom until it finally becomes manifest in the human dimension 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 and the same (paraphrased from the teachings of Meister Eckhart).

For more information concerning how the above ideas were discovered see my last seven posts starting with the We Voice of Humanity post


Fleeing An Identity Crisis

November 5, 2009

I guess I forgot to post last week  so this is a two for one blog–this one and the one below.

Here is a small list of ways people flee an identity crisis. Tension-arousing circumstances are uncomfortable, sometimes so uncomfortable that they force a person to question their own identity and values. However, a person can be flexible and consistent when forced to choose between alternative, and, at times, conflicting value systems.

When A Crises Of Identity Causes Ambivalence-Induced Distress, A Person Flees

Giving Up Faculties Of Critical Judgment In Exchange For The Convictions Supplied By An Authority Whose Rules Cover Most Aspects Of Life, Is A Reasonable Alternative For Some People

In reflexive self-awareness, when a person becomes aware of the simultaneous presence of positive and negative affects, these incongruities or inconsistencies, according to Rosenberg and Abelson (1960), “are ‘tension-arousing’ – ‘they set in motion processes directed toward their removal’, because ‘if the ambivalences are not removed, they continue to be unpleasant, even painful, to the subject so long as he continues to think about the concepts at issue’” (Billig, 1987: 147). When a crises of identity causes ambivalence-induced distress, this distress is temporary because a person tends to flee ambivalence.

There is more than one way to remove ambivalence. Ambivalences, for the most part, according to Freud, are consciously or unconsciously repressed. When ambivalence arises as a result of the parent/child relationship, according to Adorno, the child may flee ambivalence by identifying with closed-minded authority figures. In a like manner, a person may escape the burden that comes with “the freedom to choose” by identifying with a person in authority. “[Giving] up faculties of critical judgment in exchange for the convictions supplied by an authority whose rules and provision cover most aspects of life,” is, according to Giddens (1991: 196), a reasonable alternative for some people. Also, we have all had the experience (I presume) of turning to consumption (for at least as long as it takes before our “practical consciousness” returns) in order to lesson the severity of an ambivalence-generating emotional crisis.

For some individuals, in particular, individuals who have invested a great deal of time analyzing questions of the existential variety, –questions like, “What is, Being, non-being, self-purpose, freedom, etc.?” — the question of identity has been pushed aside and, accordingly, so has the possibility of an identity crisis.

[Footnote. Existential questions concern the defining boundaries of human life, and are answered by the way we “go on” in the contexts of social activity. They presume, according to Giddens (1991: 55), the following ontological and epistemological elements:

Existence and being : the nature of existence, the identity of objects and events.

Finitude and human life: the existential contradiction by means of which human beings are of nature yet set apart from it as sentient and reflexive creatures.

The experience of others: how individuals interpret the traits and action of other individuals.

The continuity of self-identity: the persistence of feelings of personhood in a continuous self and body.]

These individuals, rather than identify with a self, have reduced the “self” to the existential proposition that takes the human condition to be in a state (at its most fundamental level) of dread (Angst). According to Flew (1979: 14):

“…[dread is] occasioned by man’s realization that his existence is open towards an undetermined future, the emptiness of which must be filled by his freely chosen actions. Anxiety characterizes the human state, which entails constant confrontation with possibility and the need for decision, with the concomitant burden of responsibility.”

For those of us who are less likely to philosophize about the human condition (or, perhaps, entertain a more worldly philosophy) an identity crisis usually ends up with a reassessment of personal values. Fortunately, a crisis of personal identity is not a necessary condition before a reassessment of values can take place.

In The Struggle For Synthesis A Person’s Self/Non-Self Boundaries Shift Continually

It Is Through Evaluative Juxtaposing Of Collective Voices Of Generalized Others That Allows James To Maintain A Stabilized Set Of Values; That Is, Stabilized Only For As Long As It Takes Before He Finds Himself Listening To A More Powerful And Persuasive Collective Voice

Values tend to get reassessed in the critical juggling of collective voices of generalized others when they are reflexively juxtaposed one to another. According to Hermans and Kempen (1993: 120):

“In the course of development, however, the growing child and adult learns not only to incorporate an increasing variety of opposing and conflicting positions in the self, but is also challenged to synthesize them in such a way that he or she learns, more or less, to live with a complex mixture of positive and negative self-valuations. In this development, the developing person finds himself or herself somewhere between splitting and synthesis and, therefore, the struggle of synthesis is always associated with a continuous shifting of the self/non-self boundaries.”

The mental juxtaposition of collective voices of generalized others, in addition to teaching a person how to live with a complex mixture of positive and negative self-valuations, also makes possible the development of the kind of autonomy that permits a person to stay the course in the midst of the push and pull of many collective voices.

The self (biography and negation) exerts its autonomy by selecting (differentiating) the collective voices that are to be juxtaposed one to another. Collective voices, though they are products of society, are still accountable, as Billig pointed out (1987: 5), “to the inner deliberations [or] silent arguments conducted within a single self.” It is through the distinguishing and opposing of collective voices that the autonomy of the self gets expressed. For instance, if we return to the example of James’ reference to opposing me-self voices (1890: 295): “As a man I pity you, but as an official I must show you no mercy; as a politician I regard him as an ally, but as a moralist I loathe him,” it can be assumed that preceding these value judgments, James, had to have a pretty good idea of what it meant to be a man, a judge, a politician, and a moralist. In order to come up with an answer to the question: “What is a man?,” it is reasonable to assume that James, in posing the question to himself, had to chew on the meaningful content of the answer for a considerable length of time. Mead, of course, told us that a person encounters meaning by taking the roles of others, but, by actively pursuing the meaning of roles in terms of the collective voices of generalized others (reflexively in the form of interrogation and reply), we find that role meanings must be considered from a level of meaning which includes the concept of consistency.

When a person juxtaposes collective voices one to another a loci arises wherein the discovery of consistency becomes possible. In this respect, me-self autonomy is expressed in the consistent fixing of collective voices to their respective social roles (as opposed to fixing a desired object to a convenient collective voice). For example, James fixes the opposition of the collective voice espousing the imperfect character of human beings to the collective voice of the responsibility of a judge to uphold the law. In this case, James is fitting the collective voice of law and order to the case specific situation of the violation of law and order. If a judge on odd days were to act true to the maxim “to error is human, to forgive is divine” and release lawbreakers, while on even days imprison lawbreakers, it would not take long before the disapproval of society would pressure the judge into reassessing her/his sense of justice. If the judge, on the other hand, by fixing the collective voice of “law abiding citizen” to the social role of “good citizen” and then, based on this linkage, chose to consistently sentence defendants, then community pressure would cease and the judge would not feel the need to reevaluate her/his sense of justice. It is this type of evaluative juxtaposing of collective voices of generalized others that allows James to maintain his sense of values in the midst of conflicting collective voices, and it is this type of evaluative juxtaposing of collective voices that allows the rest of us to maintain a stabilized set of values, stabilized that is, for only as long as it takes before we find ourselves listening to a more powerful and persuasive collective voice.