Category: Theory (Page 1 of 9)

Nationalism and Anti-Nationalism: A Matter of Perception

By: Glen Paul Hammond

The culture of a nation is a multi-layered thing; it is like a many-sided diamond, or a delicate ecosystem with many working parts. Each and every culture has its own particular laws, customs, and social norms. These are parts of what make them distinct from one another and the basis of what is celebrated in their diversity. Nationalism too is a part of this equation, one of the facets of that many-sided diamond; it is, as Andrew Coyne puts it, a means through which individuals can identify themselves as “all members of the same nation.” Nationalism is a unifier that makes democratic self-government possible. At its worst, nationalism is an agent of division, yet, at its best, it is the necessary ingredient that allows for an espousal of diversity in the multicultural projects of liberal democracy.

One of the problems with the term nationalism, however, is that it means different things to different people. This highlights the need to preface any conversation on the topic with a working definition: A quick look at any dictionary will outline its essential features as “loyalty and devotion to a nation….a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups.” For many, this is distinguished from the strong feelings associated with patriotism, by an implication of an attitude of superiority. It is, perhaps, in this final implication that the current debate between nationalism and globalism is rooted.

The push for globalism with its post-modern sensibilities rebukes any national viewpoint which allows one culture to view itself as being superior to another. Yet, the globalist viewpoint, itself, can be viewed as a manifestation of what the Hungarian prime-minister, Viktor Orban, calls a new kind of imperialism, one that ironically asserts that a conglomeration of post-nation states, held together by a centralized appointed body, is superior to a partnership made up of diverse and sovereign nations. The globalist, Angela Merkel admitted to as much in reference to such issues as the United Nations agreement on migration, when she said, “In this day, nation states must today—should today, I say—be ready to give up sovereignty” (Nellist). The fact that these sovereign nations are led by governments answerable to the people does not figure into the globalist equation of democracy and is instead discounted as a form of nationalism they dub as populist in nature. Much like nationalism, populism, is also a term that demands definition: One modern dictionary states that a populist is 1. “A member of a political party claiming to represent the common people” and 2. “A believer in the rights, wisdom, or virtues of the common people.”

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China’s ‘social credit system’: What would Lao Tzu say?

By: Brannon Gerling

Can China’s new ‘social credit system’ ethically enlighten its citizens? How would Lao Tzu (6th c. B.C.E.), the central figure in Taoism—that cherished self-exiled sage sapped by the stultifying monotony of the Zhao dynasty—treat all this ado?

Unlike Confucius’s style of virtue-based ethics which rest heavily on the sharpening of moral character, Lao Tzu’s less earthly Taoist ethics individually and transcendentally induce ethical development and hence resist the groupthink requisite for social engineering. The Chinese people’s best means to contest the regime’s new method of domestic persecution lies in their nexus to Tao. They must, as Tzu says in the Tao teh Ching, “hold fast to the original path in order to control the realm of the present.”

The Basics

Many Westerners referring to China’s new social credit system relate it to the dark-humored Black Mirror episode “Nosedive,” and the characters’ angst caused by the manic ritual of social rating isn’t unrealistic. Some of the penalties for an inadequate score will bear similar resemblance to the show: travel restrictions, throttling of Internet speeds, banning (citizens or their children) from choice schools, employment obstruction, difficulty securing loans, and, of course, public shaming.

Who might comply with the story’s credit system or cathartically screw it like the main character does in a mortifying maid-of-honor speech at her pseudo best friend’s wedding? Who really cares?

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) cares and is designing the system with ideal timing: deep learning is wielding big data to digitize everything from genome editing to reconstructions of human thinking. Perhaps the meek or stalwart will be able to ignore the credit system by living inconspicuous or prudent lives, but they will still be scrutinized. A growing network of 200 million CCTV cameras across the public and private domain will use facial recognition, body scanning, geo-tracking and other surveillance tech to track the massive swathe of addicted gamers and screen timers ushered into the largest digitally organised personality heist in history.

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Orienting Towards Dr. Mike Posner

Journey2Psychology, A Project by: Dr. MIchael Gordon 
Mike Gordon is travelling across the world to converse with influential Psychologists and discover the stories behind their work.
This journey will form the basis of a book from political animal press 
follow Dr. Gordon’s travels in full at Journey2Psychology

Over a career of more than 50 years Dr. Mike Posner of the University of Oregon has been a defining figure in Psychology — most notably for his efforts shepherding in the age of neuroscience for Psychology. In studies on attention, visual orienting, and a host of related cognitive processes, Dr. Posner and his colleagues have illustrated where and how neural circuits operate in the brain.

If I can wax poetically for a moment, one might recollect the parable of the blind men and elephant. Each one of the blind men reached out to touch the elephant and to describe their experience and each felt something different across the features of this large animal. One patted a solid mid-section, rough skinned body and declared the object to be a wall,  one felt a whip-like tail with a frayed end and shouted that the object was a broom, one grasped the thick, long trunk and exclaimed that it was a snake, and still another touched the fan-like ears and informed his peers that it was a peacock, I mean a fan. That last blind man seemed to often confuse fans and peacocks, much to the chagrin of his wife  and the bewilderment of the other blindmen. In any case, each found something important and exclaimed his excitement about this find to his colleagues! They debated and argued over their experiences. They accused each other of falsehoods and of misinterpretations — how could it be a snake when it was a broom? How could it be a broom when it was a wall? Eventually, slowly, and with much hand-wringing, they put their experiences together to construct an animal larger than any had originally thought and with more complexity than any had directly experienced.

The process of science is often thought of in this way: with each person exploring one small element of the field and declaring our amazing findings  to our peers. We debate where and how each fraction we find might fit with other findings; whether those findings are valid or questionable; and when the scientific process is successful, we eventually endeavor to support a wider understanding of the whole by integrating each of these fractional bits. Only together do they seem to produce something that we hope will approximate the whole. That is most of us working in science: working very, very hard on a little piece of the world and all its phenomena and trying to add to the collective understanding as a result. And then there is Mike Posner. He got a hold of one end of that  elephant of science and wouldn’t let go. He clawed his way across systems and through a diverse array of elements and neural processes. While there is much more we seek to understand and a tremendous amount of questions still ahead to be addressed, Dr. Posner didn’t settle for one small part. Over the last several decades he has constructed a lasting model of the divergent pieces and behaviors of the brain.   He has tested systems of processes and structure-function relationships that underlie thought, itself.

Because of the research of Dr. Posner and his colleagues, we know that a single idea will likely activate a whole subset of different parts and places in the brain. The mental/psychological experience of looking at something (let’s  say an elephant) is unified. We can orient and address our thoughts to seeing and experiencing that elephant. Posner and colleagues have explicated the neural circuitry which makes all that happen: orienting towards the elephant, processing the ears, nose,  trunk and redirecting attention towards each of those parts. Among many jaw-dropping ideas to come from this research was the diversity and location of the neural structures involved. The simple idea that many philosophers and early physiologists intuitively shared for about 1000 years is that there is a spot in the brain for one activity and a different spot in the brain for something else. Many hypothesized that neurons that work together will be sitting neatly together in a little group (or maybe even just one neuron, king of the other neurons) directing a specific behavior. That idea was kind of the basis of phrenology and other debunked early theories of how the brain is formed. Clever ideas that are totally wrong. Most neural activities draw on activity in different parts of the brain, and occurring in overlapping intervals. The activity in the brain is, to a casual observer, somewhat chaotic and divergent. It took the decades of  research from Dr. Posner and colleagues, to demonstrate where and how these neural circuits are formed, and how they relate to the seemingly effortless ability we possess to pay attention to one thing and then to transfer that attention elsewhere. Most scientists find one part of the big elephant and work on that. Dr. Posner found one part and kept on tracking, piece by piece, filling in a larger chunk of the animal than most of us knew existed.

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Psychologist on a Journey (or, Why I hit the road)

Journey2Psychology, A Project by: Dr. MIchael Gordon 
Mike Gordon is travelling across the world to converse with influential Psychologists and discover the stories behind their work.
This journey will form the basis of a book from political animal press 
follow Dr. Gordon’s travels in full at Journey2Psychology

My favorite part of Psychology has always been the stories.

My first project in grad school was to study human echolocation. I read these wonderful papers from Karl Dallenbach and colleagues from the 1940’s and 50’s wherein they expressed not just what they did but how it all happened. There was always a bit of a wry nod to others in the field. A little extra something so that their colleagues in the field might share in the fun of how that whole experiment went down.

As Psychology advanced to more recent days those little winks and nods began to disappear from our writings and, were replaced with greater rigor, more detailed analyses, and more advanced theoretical evaluation. Data, replicability, and theoretical significance are, appropriately, the prominent center of how we communicate with each other in Psychology at this time. To learn the stories of the research one needs to speak to the researchers, meet with them at conferences, and have a few laughs over a beer.

And, when I tell my students about these great studies and the fantastic advances of our time, they are often unmoved. They want to know WHO these people are. Why did those men and women bother? When I can, I tell them the stories. Stories about Tolman and his grad student noticing the mice escape the T-maze and run straight to the food; of Watson conditioning fear in an infant all while falling in love with his mentee and co-author Rosalie Rayner; of Mary Calkins who paired ideas to form memories, and initially refused to be granted the PhD she earned until Harvard relented on its policy to bestow this degree to women.

The people who struggled, fought, and sowed the field of Psychology have great stories to tell. Their stories give context to the work they’ve done and illustrate why that work is so critical. Importantly, they are also so much fun — engaging and moving experiences as these brilliant thinkers overcame the challenges in their lives and the intellectual puzzles of the paradigms.

So, that’s what I’m doing. I’m spending a year on the road to travel across the United States, to Australia, New Zealand, England, Ireland, Scotland, and maybe a few other places, to speak with the most influential Psychologists I can. It is a bit of an adventure that ultimately will provide a library of interviews and many wonderful stories from their lives!

I can’t wait to share all of this with you!

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Hannah Arendt’s Political Thought

By: David Antonini from 1000-Word Philosophy

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975), born in Hanover, Germany, was a public intellectual, refugee, and observer of European and American politics. She is especially known for her interpretation of the events that led to the rise of totalitarianism in the twentieth century.

Arendt studied under German philosophers Martin Heidegger and Karl Jaspers and set out to pursue a path as an academic, writing a dissertation on St. Augustine. However, Hitler, the Nazi regime’s rise to power, and the bloody Holocaust forever changed her life. Being Jewish, Arendt was forced to flee the country, seeking refuge in France and eventually the United States. After living through the outbreak of WWII, Arendt devoted the rest of her life to writing about politics, although less in a traditional philosophical sense and more in the vein of a political observer, interpreting events of the twentieth century.

This essay explains some central insights of her political thought and how she developed these concepts to overcome the loss of politics as public debate in Nazi Germany.

1. Totalitarianism and the Loss of Public Debate

 Arendt understands “politics” as public debate by a community about meaningful aspects of their shared life together. She witnessed the collapse of politics, in this sense, under Nazi totalitarianism. This form of rule seeks to diminish public debate by making it a criminal act to criticize the regime. Arendt sought to understand the rise of this unprecedented form of government, and to defend public debate against threats to its existence.

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Lady Gaga and Moral Reasoning

By: Hendrik van der Breggen

Lady Gaga’s popular song “Born This Way” (sometimes described as a “gay anthem”) affirms and celebrates various diversities as good, including sexual diversity—homosexuality, bisexuality, and transgender sexuality. Why? Because, according to Gaga and many of her fans, this is how one is formed at birth, and, according to Gaga, “God makes no mistakes.”

Is this good moral reasoning? I think not. I have two arguments to support my view: one philosophical, one theological.

A philosophical argument

Here is some philosophical reasoning—which applies whether one believes in God or not.

Lady Gaga rightly encourages us to respect and accept all people, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. After all, each person has great intrinsic moral worth (Christians would say that this is so because each person is made in the image of God, but one needn’t be a Christian to recognize this worth). So far, so good.

But at this juncture Lady Gaga’s thinking become problematic.

Respecting and accepting all people doesn’t automatically also mean that we should accept and affirm all the behaviours of all people. Nor does it also mean that we should accept and affirm all their (our) dispositions and urges to behave in various ways.

Why not? Because not all urges and behaviours are good—some urges and behaviours are harmful to one’s self and/or others.

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A Sound Ecological Policy Cannot Be Achieved Within a Capitalist Framework

Christian Stache interviews Victor Wallis about resistance in the German Hambach Forest, class politics, technology, progress and an ecological-economic conversion.
This interview by Christian Stache of Victor Wallis was Translated with permission from the October 6 2018 issue of the Berlin-based daily newspaper junge Welt (young World), which bears no responsibility for the English-language text.

Christian Stache: Recently, a huge socio-ecological conflict escalated in the Hambach Forest in Germany. Have you heard about it in the US?

Victor Wallis: It was not widely covered in the corporate media, but there was very good coverage on the independent Democracy Now! program, whose host, Amy Goodman, spent a week in and around Bonn during the recent international conference, and visited some of the occupiers in their tree-houses. Singer/songwriter David Rovics has just now posted a tribute, in narrative and song, to the forest-protectors and to the journalist Steffen Meyn who died tragically while attempting to cover their story.

CS: How do you characterize the struggle? Are there decisive similarities with, for example, the battles against oil pipelines in North America?

VW: It is a classic case of confrontation between a big corporation and people trying to save a priceless ecosystem. There is a definite parallel with the clashes in North America, including especially the more recent battle over the Dakota Access Pipeline, in which government forces intervened decisively on the side of the corporation.

CS: You recently published Red-Green Revolution (Political Animal Press 2018) which has a special focus on ecosocialist politics. Can you explain what makes politics ecosocialist? How does it differ from the ecological politics, for example, of the Green Parties, the United Nations or the big environmental NGOs like Greenpeace?

VW: Ecosocialist politics is based on recognizing that a sound ecological policy cannot be achieved within a capitalist framework. In order to restore (to the extent possible) the health of the ecosphere, it is necessary that economic decisions be no longer based on the capitalist goals of maximizing profit and accumulating wealth. They should instead be based on the common interest of humanity, which is bound up with the health of the natural environment.

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One Year Later: Reflections on #MeToo

By: Jared Marcel Pollen

Social movements, like revolutions, tend to follow a similar cycle in the process of rewiring certain beliefs and norms of behavior. This was perhaps best diagramed by Crane Brinton in his book The Anatomy of Revolution (1938), a study of the English, American, French and Russian revolutions, respectively––and how all of these revolutions (with the American being the perennial outlier) echoed one another in their stages of development. The same pattern can be mapped onto intellectual life during any period of cultural change; for moments of cultural upheaval are themselves soft revolutions, in a way, smaller in the order of magnitude than revolutions that demand a renovation of state power. This cycle goes as follows: right-to-centre, centre-to-left, left-to-far left, back to centre, back to right. Or, put differently: exposure of tyranny, modest demands, modest demands not good enough, rise of the radical left, reign of terror, reaction to the terror. What happens after that can vary.

We’ll come back to that in a bit though. At the moment, the #MeToo movement has reached its first anniversary: the Harvey Weinstein exposé turned one-year-old this past weekend, Bill Cosby has been through a court of law and will see the inside of a jail cell in this life, and the Preminger-esque drama that was the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh has come to a close (we’ll return to that soon as well). Even as we are living in this, the second year of his highness, Donald J. Trump the first, the #MeToo phenomenon has been arguably the most journalistically exhausted subject in the Anglosphere, with scarcely a side of its episodic saga gone unexamined. (I say this because at the moment I am living in central Europe, and talk of it here has been, so far as I can tell, peripheral.) Thus, one’s proverbial two cents feel even less asked for than usual, but a few things are still discoverable, and need to be pointed out.

In relation to the cycle sketched above, the #MeToo movement continues to tarry (one hopes for not much longer) in the Terror phase. If you think that sounds hyperbolic, or unduly harsh, try to come up with another word that describes a) the vigilance with which accusers are rooted out and brought forward, b) the limpid motivation to destroy careers and eliminate transgressors from public life, and c) the fear (however unfounded) that men may have about their pasts and their behavior in the future. This is not to say there can’t be legitimate and just censure of sexual assault and misconduct during the Terror phase. The Kavanaugh case is certainly one of them. One more disclaimer (just in case): I support the #MeToo movement and believe it is long overdue. The reason I add this disclaimer is precisely that a feature of the Terror is the way in which even a modicum of criticism is perceived as opposition or treachery––the discourse at this point having all the nuance of a cudgel.

If #MeToo has followed the revolutionary cycle, then the first two phases (exposure of tyranny and modest demands) were short-lived. Signs of unthinking started to appear as early as December 2017, when Matt Damon reasonably suggested there is, “a difference between patting someone on the butt and rape or child molestation,” and that both, while reproachable, should not be conflated. The response to this was what you would expect: You don’t respect women’s pain. What gives you, a man, the right to say that? You simply can’t understand what it’s like to be a woman. Really? Seriously? Seriously?
Yes, seriously.

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Much Is Lost

By: Hendrik van der Breggen

At the beginning of the film Lord of the Rings, as forces of darkness gather strength, Lady Galadriel whispers sadly: “The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the Earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was is lost, for none now live who remember it.”

I think our society no longer remembers some important truths. Here are some examples.

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Wholesale Crimes

by Victor Wallis

In their 1979 book The Washington Connection and Third World Fascism, Noam Chomsky and the late Edward S. Herman drew a distinction between retail and wholesale acts of terrorism. Retail acts were those carried out by individuals or small groups; wholesale, those committed by vast national military forces.

Tom Engelhardt, in a recent column explaining the deeply criminal thrust of the Trump legacy, recalls to our attention a term coined in 2013 by journalist Nick Turse: terracide, meaning the total destruction of the earth-system — next to which the common crimes committed by isolated individuals pale in magnitude.

The distinction here is one of scale and not of principle, as in the classic juxtaposition of robbing a bank (“retail”) versus owning one and fleecing the entire public (“wholesale”). This point is easy enough for anyone to see, but, sadly, it has not become a matter of common awareness.

Why is it so difficult for people in the United States to perceive the criminality of the dominant priorities? This is where the political culture – aka the politics of mass deception – comes into play.

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