Modernity: Its Cause and Cure
A Series of Articles by Howard Richards
...with commentary from listserv members...
:: Part 1 :: Part 2:: Part 3:: Part 4:: Part 5 :: Part 6 :: Part 7:: Part 8:: Part 9:: Part 10 :: Part 11 :: Part 12:: Part 13:: Part 14:: Part 15:: Part 16 :: Part 17:: Part 18:: Part 19:: Part 20 :: Part 21 :: Part 22:: Part 23:: Part 24:: Part 25:: Part 26 :: Part 27:: Part 28:: Part 29:: Part 30 :: Part 31 :: Part 32:: Part 33:: Part 34:: Part 35:: Part 36 ::
Subject: Modernity, Its Cause and Cure, Part 1 ********************************************* Wednesday June 4, 2003 by Howard Richards To end the suspense: The cause of modernity is markets. The cure is ethics. To restate part of my thesis slightly less telegraphically, borrowing the words of E.F. "Fritz" Schumacher in Small is Beautiful: a market is institutionalized irresponsibility. Being responsible --following not just a minimalist liberal ethic of respecting others' rights and not injuring them, but also what is called a care ethic or a love ethic or an ethics of perfection--
the key to changing humanity's present crisis -- which is a crisis of the foundations of modernity-- from a downward spiral of violence and economic injustice into an opportunity for social reconstruction.
Next a word to certain of my critics. The critics I have in mind say my writing is too short and too long. They complain, e.g. that I omit to mention the good aspects of modernity (and markets) which make modernization sometimes a cure, not something that needs to be cured. Then, in the next breath, they say --even though they admit that probably somewhere I probably do write about the good aspects of modernity, and somewhere I probably define my terms, and I probably even define definition, and justify using an out of favor word like "foundations," and somewhere I probably discuss how words relate to world and what to do with words and what to do with world; and somewhere I probably come down out of the clouds and offer solutions to concrete social problems, and concrete practical steps that you and I can take here and now -- nevertheless, they say that my books are too long and boring and they do not have time or motivation to read them. With critics like mine I could easily fall victim to low self-esteem. I might stop writing, in despair because I believed myself incapable of writing anything clear enough to be understood while short enough to be read. But I have not stopped yet. God willing, in successive e mails I will succinctly clarify my views on the cause and cure of modernity by discussing briefly and clearly certain views of Martin Heidegger, Anthony Giddens, Michel Foucault, and Walter Wink, while mentioning many others in passing. for peace, Howard R. **************************************************************************************************** From: Christian Schnyder Date: Fri. Jun 6, 2003 3:12 pm Subject: Modernity, Its Cause and Cure Part 1 I know, it's semantics, but can we say "ethics are a possible cure"?
From: Olivier Urbain
Date: Fri. June 6, 2003 9:39 am
Subject: Modernity, Its Cause and Cure Part 1
Dear Howard and T:APpers:
> The cure is ethics.
I couldn't agree more. TRANSCEND suggests creativity, nonviolence and empathy. Most religions propose the Golden Rule, Buddhism adds compassion. The Earth Charter offers concrete guidelines.
If we agree that ethics is the cure, do we need to define what kind of ethics? There are hundreds of organizations working on this. Do we need one coherent program, or is the awareness that [ethics is the cure] sufficient in itself? Personally I like programs and recipes, but I know many T:APpers who dislike them.
> But I have not stopped yet. God willing, in successive e mails I will succinctly clarify my views on the cause and cure of modernity by discussing briefly and clearly certain views of Martin Heidegger, Anthony > Giddens, Michel Foucault, and Walter Wink, while mentioning manyothers in passing.
Never give up! God willing and T:AP listening.
I really have a problem with the absolutes. What culture is providing the
standard of ethics that will give us the cure? I don't think that we can
come up with one set of ethics.
Maybe I am just a bit too sensitive, because the word is so often partnered with the word morals... The world need ethics and morals... scary! ***************************************************** From: George Lottermoser Date: Sat. Jun 7, 2003 12:09 am Subject: Modernity, Its Cause and Cure Part 1 I agree with Christian that we must watch our language closely. Language can sound very bright while laying mines in the intellectual fields (Every few months Išll remind us all to consider ePrime in ou discourse). And so to soften the statement even more, [ethics may provide a part of a cure.] And then call for a description of the the ethical principles which we alledgedly invoke as we search for this [cure.] *********************************************** From: HOWARDRI@aol.com Date: Sat. Jun 7, 2003 6:19 am Subject: Modernity, Its Cause and Cure, Part 2
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I know it sounds unreasonable to say that something called "ethics" is "the" cure, as distinct from saying it is "a" cure or "part of the cure." It sounds unreasonable since one should not make a generalization like "all swans are white" which might be falsified by the discovery of black swans. "All swans are white" was in fact falsified when black swans were discovered. Nevertheless, the point of my thesis, i.e. that the cause of modernity is markets and its cure ethics, as I hope to explain and develop it over several weeks, is that ethics is indeed "the" cure. "Ethics" is the name of a general category. It is a helpful way of naming the class of things that need to be done to solve today's social problems. To say "ethics is the cure" is not so much to state a possibly false empirical generalization like "all swans are white" as to propose a way of looking at the problem. People are familiar with statements that are always true, like "2 + 2 = 4" or "a bachelor is an unmarried male," and we generally say that they are true by definition. "4" really is the answer to "2 + 2", not just part of the answer, although one could point out that it is only the answer under certain circumstances and under certain conventions (e.g. two cups of water and two of alcohol do not make 4 cups of the mixture.) One thing we all learn in school is "never generalize." But there are important roles that generalizations play in speech and in life. We can't get along without them, so we need to learn to use them well. As I develop my thoughts I hope to show that (1) that my thesis is true by definition, or at least true enough that it is more helpful to state it generally than to state it surrounded by its exceptions, and (2) that the definitions (or "ways of using words") which make it true are not arbitrary or fanciful or useless, but rather well-grounded in history. I propose this way of talking as a way to use the terms that is of pragmatic value as proposing a useful conceptual framework for approaching humanity's problems. Herewith the second of my Modernity, Its Cause and Cure series. Howard R. **************************************************** Posted: Jun 7 2003, 07:00 AM From: Howard Richards. Saturday June 7, 7:00 a.m. UTC RE: Modernity, Its Cause and Cure, ******************************************* What I Feel: I feel tempted to enjoy the excitement of vicarious violence. On a day when the newspapers do not report any bombings, I am tempted to feel cheated, as though I had been unfairly deprived of my daily fix. I feel tempted by righteous indignation. When I receive an e mail message that unmasks yet another monstrous official prevarication, yet another shameless concealment of cruelty and self-interest under a still flimsier mask of legitimate purpose and democratic idealism, then I am tempted to rush to share the message with a friend who sees the world as I do, so that we can rant and rave and vent together. I like to complain. I feel that I should resist these temptations. I feel that I should do something constructive. What I Think: I think the events of current history are determined, more than by anything else, and to the extent that they are determined at all, by the constitutive rules of modernity. In other words: by the normative framework (fundamentally but not only the legal framework) of the global economy. In still other words: by the rules of the game of commerce. The burden of the argument of my book, Understanding the Global Economy, is that the economic forces that move history are not economic and are not forces. They (e.g. the "comparative advantage" of mainstream economics, the "accumulation" of Marxist theory) are consequences of the constitutive rules of modernity. To be sure, not all causes of social phenomena are economic (i.e. not of the kind that appear on the surface to be economic). Moral, psychological, and religious norms are causes (cf. the "secondary languages" of Bellah et al in Habits of the Heart). Brute force is a cause. One could name others, or name the same ones differently. But today even the non-economic causes tend to be pressed into the service of commerce. For example: Frederic Jameson observes that today the psychological depths of the unconscious mind have become a last frontier exploited for profit through television and other forms of high tech marketing. For example: The world's leading practitioner of brute force, the United States military establishment, defines its mission in terms of guaranteeing stability. It is currently redeploying its forces to cover areas it considers unstable. Read: unstable for commerce. From a scientific point of view, I regret to say, my theories about how the world works are passing Karl Popper's falsifiability test. In a conversation in Spain in early February, two other peace studies professors and I, one from U. of Granada and one from U. of Stockholm, agreed on predictions of what would probably happen in the coming months. As of today, June 6, everything has happened as we expected (and as many others I know expected too). I regret that our predictions are confirmed, because their basis (or at least my basis for them) implies that (unless modernity is better understood and effectively transformed) the future will bring less freedom, less prosperity, less economic security, and more danger to most people. What I Want to Believe: I want to believe that humanity has reached a teachable moment. I want to believe that now many people, at least the substantial minority of humanity known as cultural creatives, are ready to learn, or already know, that modernity is not destiny. Economics is not physics. The way things are is not the way things have to be. Modernity has a cause and a cure. On June 7 Lisa Iris wrote: > Modernity: I'm surrounded by people trying to escape > it! Civil War buffs & re-enactors, Victorian Tea Party > hostesses, Creative Anachronists, > Renaissance/SciFi/Fantasy/Festival folks, friends > living "off the grid", generating their own > electricity, people without TVs in order to escape > "programming" and to make better use of their time - > all trying to find a way of life outside the > "normative framework" of their identity, likes and > dislikes being determined by the marketplace. > > Perhaps this is irrelevant to Mr. Richards thoughts on > ethics, global economics and markets, but maybe > there's hope in that many seek to recapture some > perspective, dignity and poetry in their lives even if > it's in the realm of personal myth. > > The future of humanity is individuals making choices, > choosing for themselves what defines quality of life. > What do I really need? Is this a symbol or substitute > for something I can only mine like a treasure from > within? I think/hope more people are asking these > questions. The "care ethic" reminds one of the ideals > of the Arts and Crafts movement, a reaction to the > woes of another economic era. This could be a > beautiful time if humanity was restored to our > business transactions, and wealth was redefined as the > presence of the natural > world and our creativity. > > __________________________________ On June 8 Howard Richards wrote: > What I want to think is that the people who are trying to recapture some > dignity and sense of beauty in the midst of the ruins of industrial > civilization are cultural creatives who are forging ways to live in harmony with > the earth through cooperation and sharing. They are falsifying the laws of > economics in > practice, by not behaving as the sort of rational economic actors that > economic theory postulates, but instead marching to the beat of a different > drummer, taking the road less travelled. > > How realistic is what I want to think ? It depends, it seems to me, on > dialogue and education. The personal search for a human life in a soulless > world can lead people into right wing fundamentalist militias or into nonviolent > progressive communities of solidarity and resistance. Ideas matter. > Modernity, Its Cause and Cure, Part 3
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************************* Howard Richards, June 10 2003 Curing modernity is not trashing it. It is making modernity work. It is not arguing that some previous age was better. It is working to solve today's intractable problems while acknowledging that what makes them intractable is modernity's backbone, its mainspring, its moral and legal first premises. It is not arguing that some previous age solved its problems better. It is working to solve our present problems, given the system we presently have, and seeking a realistic appraisal of its possibilities for transformation. Dividing the syllables of "transformation" in order to spell out its meaning, we get "trans" and "formation" -- i.e. change of a formation. The social formation to be changed is the set of interrelated principal institutions of modernity: the rule of law, science, markets .... My thesis is that it is markets that provide the key to understanding what modernity is and how it came to be; and that ethics provides the key to constructive change. To articulate my thesis I will turn for help to four among hundreds of scholars who have thought "outside the box." (Heidegger, Giddens, Foucault, and Wink) By thinking "outside the box" I mean not taking modern ideas and institutions for granted, but instead understanding them in terms of their historical evolution, as but one of many sets of ideas and institutions humans have invented. For example, one of my four, Anthony Giddens, finds that there are three major traditions in sociology, a science that might be defined as the study of modernity (in contrast to anthropology, which studies non-modern societies, except for renegades like Louis Dumont who apply methods developed by anthropologists to study modernity). Giddens' three major academic traditions are: Marxist, Weberian, and Durkheimian. Each tradition has its characteristic way of conceptualizing modern society, identifying its problems, and orienting the search for ways to solve them. What fundamentally differentiates the three is how they account for the origins of modernity. This example from Giddens suggests a wider principle: how we think about the "cause" affects how we think about the "cure." It is a risky endeavor to try to think outside the box in order to gain insight into the origins and nature of the very same modern social formation that forms our own modern selves and our own modern minds. To the extent that this risky endeavor succeeds it helps us to see possibilities for transformation --and therefore possibilities for escaping the cycle of violence and the cycle of poverty-- that are invisible from inside the box. Subject: Modernity, Its Cause and Cure, Part 4 Howard Richards (June 12, 2003) Back to Top
For Martin Heidegger, as for many of his generation and milieu, there was no doubt that modernity was about technology and science. "What has happened to us in the roots of our being," he asked, "now that science has become
our passion?" Self-described as a "thinker in a time of need," Heidegger sought to cure modernity of its aimlessness through curing it of its scientism. A principal focus of his critique was a philosophy often considered the first modern philosophy, that of Rene Descartes.
Descartes committed two fatal errors.
First, as the inventor of analytic geometry, as the father who gave his name to the Cartesian plane, and as a famous exponent of clear and distinct ideas, he found that the clearest and most distinct ideas were numbers
measuring location and extension in space --the prototype of what later came to be known as data. The modern passion for conceiving one science after another as the representation of data with numbers is a Cartesian passion.
Second (and related to the first, as technology is related to science), Descartes helped launch modernity into a certain kind of subjectivity. "I think therefore I am" was intended by Descartes not just as a proof of his existence, but also as a proof that something can be known. The flip side is that knowledge, truth itself, becomes something a subject knows. Heidegger faulted Descartes and modernity for connecting too closely what it means to be a knowing subject with what it means to be true.
Heidegger praised ancient words like *alethia* --Greek for truth understood as not-hiddenness, letting itself be seen, appearing (all qualities of objects). Moderns, he thought, made truths out of representations (ideas, images, data points), and sometimes they took so seriously some of the "isms" made out of the representations they organized in their minds that they went to war over them.
But there was nothing new in the modern ideas launched by Descartes. The seeds of the technological attitude, the subjective self-importance of vicious automata of self-will, had long been germinating in medieval and
ancient philosophy. Heidegger claimed to hear the future explosions of atomic bombs implicit in the poem about being of the pre-socratic philosopher Parmenides.
For Heidegger technology was more fundamental to modernity (and to the predecessors from which it sprang) than science. Science came from technology, not the other way about. And technology had a bad attitude.How "crazy" modernity was perceived in art movements?
Let me share some of the credos of Italian futurism.
Futurism was an international art movement founded in Italy in 1909. It was (and is) a refreshing contrast to the weepy sentimentalism of Romanticism. The Futurists loved speed, noise, machines, pollution, and cities; they embraced the exciting new world that was then upon them rather than hypocritically enjoying the modern world's comforts while loudly denouncing the forces that made them possible. Fearing and attacking technology has become almost second nature to many people today; the Futurist manifestos show us an alternative philosophy.
Too bad they were all Fascists.
Here is one of their manifestos:
by F. T. Marinetti
("The Foundation of Futurism" ["Manifesto of Futurism," 1909], translated from the French by Eugen Weber, reprinted by permission of Dodd, Mead and Company from Paths to the Present by Eugen Weber. Copyright 1960 by Dodd, Mead and Company, Inc.)
We have been up all night, my friends and I, beneath mosque lamps whose copper domes, as open-worked as our souls, yet had electric hearts. And while we trod our native sloth into opulent Persian carpets, we carried our discussion to the farthest limits of logic and covered sheets of paper with insane scrawls.
A vast pride swelled in our breasts, to feel ourselves standing alone, like lighthouses or advanced guards, facing the army of enemy stars that camp in heavenly bivouacs. Alone with the greasers in the infernal engine-rooms of great ships, alone with the dark phantoms that rummage in the red bellies of bewitched locomotives, alone with the drunks fluttering, battering their wings against the walls!
And unexpectedly, like festive villages that the Po in flood suddenly unsettles and uproots to sweep them off, over the falls and eddies of a deluge, to the sea, we were disturbed by the rumbling of enormous double-decker trams, passing in fits and starts, streaked with lights.
Then the silence got worse. As we listened to the exhausted prayer of the old canal and heard the grating bones of palaces moribund in their greenery whiskers, all of a sudden hungry cars roared beneath our windows.
"Come," I said, "my friends! Let us go! At last Mythology and the mystic Ideal have been surpassed. We shall witness the birth of the Centaur and, soon, we'll see the first Angels fly! We must shake the gates of life to test the hinges and the locks! ... Let us go! This is truly the first sun that dawns above the earth! Nothing equals the splendor of our red sword battling for the first time in the millennial gloom."
We approached the three snuffling machines to stroke their breasts. I stretched out on mine like a corpse in my coffin, but suddenly awoke beneath the steering wheel -- blade of a guillotine -- that threatened my stomach.
The great broom of folly tore us from ourselves and swept us through the streets, precipitous and profound like dry torrent beds. Here and there, unhappy lamps in windows taught us to despise our mathematical eyes. "The scent," I cried, "the scent suffices for wild beasts!"
And we pursued, alike to young lions, Death of the dark fur spotted with pale crosses that slipped ahead of us in the vast mauve sky, palpable and alive.
And yet we had no ideal Mistress high as the clouds, no cruel Queen to whom to offer our corpses twisted into Byzantine rings! Nothing to die for besides the desire to rid ourselves of our too weighty courage!
We went on, crushing the watchdogs on the thresholds of houses, leaving them flattened under our tires like a collar under the iron. Cajoling Death preceded me on every curve, offering her pretty paw and, by turns, lying flat with a jarring clamp of jaws to throw me velvety looks from the depths of puddles.
"Let us abandon Wisdom like a hideous vein-stone and enter like pride-spiced fruit into the vast maw of the wind! Let us give ourselves to the Unknown to eat, not for despair, but simply to enrich the unplumbable wells of Absurdity!"
As I spoke these words, I veered suddenly upon myself with the drunken folly of poodles chasing their own tail and there, at once, were two disapproving cyclists, reeling before me like two persuasive and yet contradictory arguments. Their inane undulations scanned over my ground.... What a bore! Phooey!... I cup off sharply and, in disgust, I pitched -- bang! -- into a ditch....
Ah! motherly ditch, half full of muddy water! Factory ditch! I tasted by mouthfuls your bracing slime that recalls the saintly black breast of my Sudanese nurse!
As I rose, a shiny, stinking gadabout, I felt the red-hot iron of joy deliciously pierce my heart.
A crowd of fishermen and gouty naturalists had gathered in terror around the prodigy. Patient and meddlesome, they raised high above great iron casting nets to fish out my car that lay like a great mired shark. It emerged slowly, leaving behind in the ditch like scales, its heavy body of common sense, and its padding of comfort.
They thought my good shark dead, but I awoke it with a single caress on its all-powerful rump and there it was, revived, running full speech ahead upon its fins.
Then, face hidden by the good factory slime, covered by metal dross, by useless sweat and heavenly soot, carrying out crushed arms in a sling, amid the plaints of prudent fishermen and distressed naturalists, we dictated our first wills to all the living men on earth:
1. We want to sing the love of danger, the habit of danger and of temerity.
2. The essential elements of our poetry will be courage, daring, and revolt.
3. Literature having up to now magnified thoughtful immobility, ecstasy, and sleep, we want to exalt the aggressive gesture, the feverish insomnia, the athletic step, the perilous leap, the box on the ear, and the fisticuff.
4. We declare that the world's wonder has been enriched by a fresh beauty: the beauty of speed. A racing car with its trunk adorned by great exhaust pipes like snakes with an explosive breath ... a roaring car that seems to be driving under shrapnel, is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace.
5. We want to sing the man who holds the steering wheel, whose ideal stem pierces the Earth, itself launched on the circuit of its orbit.
6. The poet must expend himself with warmth, refulgence, and prodigality, to increase the enthusiastic fervor of the primordial elements.
7. There is no more beauty except in struggle. No masterpiece without an aggressive character. Poetry must be a violent attack against the unknown forces, summoning them to lie down before man.
8. We stand on the far promontory of centuries!... What is the use of looking behind us, since our task is to smash the mysterious portals of the impossible? Time and Space died yesterday. We live already in the absolute, since we have already created the eternal omnipresent speed.
9. We want to glorify war -- the only hygiene of the world --
militarism, patriotism, the anarchist's destructive gesture, the fine Ideas that kill, and the scorn of woman.
10. We want to demolish museums, libraries, fight against moralism, feminism, and all opportunistic and utilitarian cowardices.
11. We shall sing the great crowds tossed about by work, by pleasure, or revolt; the many-colored and polyphonic surf of revolutions in modern capitals; the nocturnal vibration of the arsenals and the yards under their violent electrical moons; the gluttonous railway stations swallowing smoky serpents; the factories hung from the clouds by the ribbons of their smoke; the bridges leaping like athletes hurled over the diabolical cutlery of sunny rivers; the adventurous steamers that sniff the horizon; the broad-chested locomotives, prancing on the rails like great steel horses curbed by long pipes, and the gliding flight of airplanes whose propellers snap like a flag in the wind, like the applause of an enthusiastic crowd.
It is in Italy that we launch this manifesto of tumbling and incendiary violence, this manifesto through which today we set up Futurism, because we want to deliver Italy from its gangrene of professors, of archaeologists, of guides, and of antiquarians.
Italy has been too long a great secondhand brokers' market. We want to rid it of the innumerable museums that cover it with innumerable cemeteries.
Museums, cemeteries!... Truly identical in the sinister jostling of bodies that do not know each other. Great public dormitories where one sleeps forever side by side with beings hated or unknown. Reciprocal ferocity of painters and of sculptors killing each other with line and color in the same gallery.
They can be visited once a year as the dead are visited once a year.... We can accept that much! We can even conceive that flowers may once a year be left for la Gioconda! . . . But we cannot admit that our sorrows, our fragile courage, our anxiety may be taken through there every day!... Do you want to be poisoned? Do you want to rot?
What can one find in an old painting beside the embarrassing contortions of the artist trying to break the barriers that are impassable to his desire to wholly express his dream?
To admire an old painting is to pour our sensitiveness into a funeral urn, instead of throwing it forward by violent casts of creation and action. Do you mean thus to waste the best of you in a useless admiration of the past that must necessarily leave you exhausted, lessened, trampled?
As a matter of fact the daily frequentation of museums, of libraries and of academies (those cemeteries of wasted efforts, those calvaries of crucified dreams, those catalogues of broken impulses!...) is for the artist what the prolonged tutelage of parents is for intelligent young men, drunk with their talent and their ambitious will.
For the dying, the invalid, the prisoner, it will do. Since the future is forbidden them, there may be a salve for their wounds in the wonderful past.... But we want nothing of it -- we the young, the strong, the living Futurists!
Let the good incendiaries come with their carbonized fingers!... Here they are! Here they are!... Set the library stacks on fire! Turn the canals in their course to flood the museum vaults!... There go the glorious canvases, floating adrift! Take up the picks and the hammers! Undermine the foundations of the venerable cities!
The oldest among us are not yet thirty; this means that we have at least ten years to carry out our task. When we are forty, let those younger and more valiant than we kindly throw us into the waste basket like useless manuscripts!... They will come after us from afar, from everywhere, prancing on the light rhythm of their first poems, clawing the air with their crooked fingers, sniffing at academy gates the good scent of our rotting intellects already intended for the catacombs of libraries.
But we shall not be there. They will find us at last, on some winter night, out in the country, under a sad hangar on which the monotonous rain strums, crouching by our trembling planes, warming our hands over the miserable fire of our books of today gaily blazing under the scintillating flight of their images.
They will gather in a mob around us, panting with anguish and spite, and all exasperated by our untiring courage will bound forward to kill us with the more hatred for the love and admiration in their hearts. And Injustice, strong and wholesome, will glitter radiantly in their eyes. For art can be nothing but violence, cruelty and injustice.
The oldest among us are not yet thirty and yet we have already squandered great treasures, treasures of energy, of love, of courage and eager will, hastily, deliriously, countlessly, breathlessly, with both hands.
Look at us! We are not out of breath.... Our heart is not in the least tired! For it feeds on fire, on hatred, on speed!... You find it surprising? That is because you do not even remember having lived! -- Up on the crest of the world, once more we hurl our challenge to the stars!
Your objections? Enough! Enough! I know them! Fair enough! We know well enough what our fine, false intelligence asserts. -- We are only, it says, the summary and the extension of our forebears. -- Perhaps! Let it be so!... What does it matter?... But we don't want to listen! Beware of repeating these infamous words! Rather, look up!
Up on the crest of the world, once more we hurl our challenge to the stars!
More on Futurism:
GuidoSubject: Modernity, Its Cause and Cure, Part 5 (Posted 20 June, 2003) Back to Top
Howard Richards ******************* I am trying to make a case for saying that the keys to solving the main intractable problems of the modern world are located in a realm commonly named as "ethics." The word "ethics" comes from Greek terms referring to what we call habits, customs, and norms for judging conduct. The most famous norm for judging conduct is "justice," which Aristotle said was in one sense the whole of virtue, and in another sense the part of virtue concerned with the right distribution of property and honors. I find ideas of ethical improvement to be implicit in Antonio Gramsci's "moral and intellectual reform;" in Paulo Freire's "cultural action;" in the Marxist idea of "de-alienation;" in the Christian and Jewish ideas of "conversion," "stewardship," and "community-building;" in the muslim idea of "submission," in Buddhist and Hindu ideas like "enlightenment;" in some feminist ideas of "consciousness-raising;" and in the psychological idea of "moral development." It may be helpful to think of ethical improvement at two levels: (1) Living up to the accepted norms of some given culture or group (including living up to those norms, perhaps better called anti-norms, which resist being thought of as rules, such as freedom, diversity, empowerment, being led by the Spirit, forgiveness, authenticity....); and (2) Improving the norms. Heidegger challenges my viewpoint insofar as he is interpreted as having deconstructed ethics. He thought that the errors of modernity began long ago, before Plato. He carried out a "destruction of the history of metaphysics." He is sometimes said to have destroyed, along with metaphysics, ethical ideals derived from religion; non-religious ethical ideals derived from philosophy; and, most importantly, to have destroyed the self, the person, to whom modern liberal ethics (as in Kant) pays such great respect. My interpretation of Heidegger is much less bleak. I read him as trying to be on the side of the angels, the good guys, the nice people. He was, to be sure, as Theodore Adorno said of him, "fascist to his very cells," but that was not because he was not trying to be nice. It was because the principled fascisms of his times (i.e. fascism minus insane personalities like Hitler, i.e. corporatism) were themselves misguided attempts to be nice. Heidegger did not destroy ethical idealism; in his own way he saved it. What he destroyed was eternity, which always was a conjuring trick produced by attributing to social norms qualities of mathematical constants. Insofar as they require identification with ideas outside of time to sustain them, then, yes, Heidegger did implicitly deconstruct, truth, beauty, wisdom, temperance, courage, justice, faith, hope, charity, and the inherent dignity of the human person. But Heidegger offers his own account of time, which features his concept of story-ness, Geschichtlichkeit. His account of human existence as always already taken up by and participating in the telling of stories is compatible with a realist ethics. Culture can be thought of as the ecological niche of the human species. Cultures function ethically in story-ness, or, as Joseph Campbell put it, cultures live by myths which are waking collective dreams (as opposed to dreams which are sleeping private myths). Cultures have ethical norms, as individuals have habits. Heidegger is a phenomenologist, not a realist, but in his own way he preserves for ethics everything that is practically and functionally needed. Moreover, much of Heidegger's writing consists of transposing theology into philosophy. Whole sections of his early work, Being and Time, are lifted from the works of the Danish theologian Soren Kierkegaard and recast as secular philosophy, while in his later writings Heidegger recasts religious themes of varied provenance. Theologians like Karl Rahner have reciprocated by using Heidegger's philosophy as a resource for doing theology. Heidegger shows how emotional energies that have fueled faith (e.g. fear of death, guilt, loneliness, a sense of the overwhelming mystery of everything .... ) can become available for the secular reconstruction of culture; conversely, Rahner shows how new theologies, with pro-social ethical consequences, can be developed in dialogue with contemporary post-Heideggerian philosophy. Subject: Modernity, Its Cause and Cure, Part 6 Back to Top
Howard Richards ******************** On recent Tuesday mornings five picketers from the Los Angeles Catholic Worker house have stood on the sidewalk of Alameda Street, at the place where that street begins to cross over the Interstate 10 Freeway. They bear black and white signs saying, "U.S. Out of the Middle East." On the Freeway, and on Alameda Street, thousands of automobiles fly past them, piloted by commuters bent on demonstrating, for all the world to see, the utter unsustainability of their way of life; their high-speed alienation from each other; their complete dependence, even for such a basic necessity as getting to work, on petroleum. They are reported to have, on average, twenty thousand dollars each in credit card debt, and to be, in their majority, renters only a few paychecks away from homelessness. The five picketers, vastly outnumbered by the commuters, do not deny, as they stand on the sidewalk, that there is a certain logical connection between the vehicles flying past them and the United States military presence in the Middle East, which it is their purpose to protest; nor do they stand all day where Alameda Street begins to cross over Interstate 10, for they have made competing commitments to be in other places, where they feed the hungry, and comfort the afflicted. Being obliged to make decisions about priorities, like the choices made every day by the Los Angeles Catholic Worker volunteers, is enough to drive a peacemaker to desire to discern some principal cause of why things are the way they are. If, in the modern world, everything causes everything else, and nothing stands out as a stronger cause than anything else, then there is no way to choose peace, because there is no way to choose a course of action which will, any more than any other course of action, lead to peace. But if one knew, in some substantial way, why things are the way they are, then one might know how to make peace. A valid outside-the-box theory would do what inside-the-box theories (like mainstream economics) fail to do (because they are inside-the-box). It would discern the common root --if there is a common root-- of multiple intractable problems, and it would identify real solutions that would really work, as opposed to what David Harvey calls "temporary fixes." If we seek to find, in the pages written by Martin Heidegger, early or late, a useful theory, which would identify the real connections between the injustices of the global economy and the worries that pass through the brains of commuters in Los Angeles on Tuesday mornings, and if we (mistakenly) interpret Heidegger as an iconoclast who concluded by praising individualists whose supreme purpose in life was to be authentic, then we are likely to find in Heidegger resources that are valuable for people who want to romanticize their indifference to peace and justice, but not for peacemakers. Such interpretations make Heidegger a non-starter. If, however, we interpret Heidegger as I have been recommending, as an anti-modernist who delved deep into the history of philosophy to find the ancient roots of misinterpretations of being which, he believed, led to today's alienated technology and to today's lonely control freaks, then, like the Christian philosopher Gabriel Marcel, we are likely to find in Heidegger criteria for social reform, which Marcel named "being," the positive criterion, and "having," the negative criterion. Like Marcel, we could name our goal as a civilization of "being" to replace the existing civilization of "having." We would probably emphasize inner spiritual work, perhaps meditation, in planning our daily schedules. We would probably decrease the number of our possessions, and increase if not the number of our friendships at least their quality. We would probably be attracted by philosophies of deep ecology, which, like Heidegger's philosophy, denounce the reduction of nature to the status of raw material. Heidegger avoids words like "cause and effect," since his method is hermeneutic and phenomenological, not explanatory. Nevertheless, speaking in his own terms, he provides an account of the cause of modernity that implies practical consequences. My opinion is that his account of the history of philosophy and of the origins of modernity is mistaken. Its practical consequences (even when his work is sympathetically interpreted) make only a small contribution to the building of a just and peaceful world. Heidegger asked the wrong question. Instead of, "What has happened to us in the roots of our being, now that science has become our passion?" a better question would have been, "What has happened to our social ethics, now that we have come to depend on the exchange of commodities for the necessities of life?" Peace and justice cannot be achieved by re-interpreting *Sein* (being). They can be achieved by transforming customary and legal *Verhaltnisse* (relationships). Howard Richards: Subject: Modernity, Its Cause and Cure, Part 7 Back to Top
****** Among the arguments used by people who see the expansion of markets as the cause of modernity, to refute the arguments of people who see technology as its leading cause, is an argument about the steam engine. Among the things I learned in high school, as a result of of which it is a wonder I can think at all, were that modernity began in the 1750s, when the Industrial Revolution began in England; and that its cause was the harnessing of steam first for coal mining and then for manufactures. Immanuel Wallerstein (with whom I agree) argues that the industrial revolution theory must be mistaken because (among other reasons) the steam engine had been invented long before; it was known to the ancient Chinese and to the Egyptians. What happened in the 1750s in England was that people found it commercially profitable to use steam engines on a large scale. Making profits from steam caught on and took off, as making profits by building railroads (W.W. Rostow's "leading sector" for "take off") caught on and took off later. Commerce drove technology. Karl Polanyi (with whom I agree) has shown that the great transformation which produced modernity happened several centuries prior to what has come to be known as the Industrial Revolution, and several centuries prior to what has come to be known as the Enlightenment, through a process he called "disembedding." In "disembedding" markets take on a life of their own, breaking free of the dense local networks of social relationships that characterize pre-modern societies. Adam Smith (with whom I agree) argued that the enormous increases in efficiency available through the specialization of labor were possible because of well-developed markets, and were responsible for the comparative prosperity in his times of Scotland and England, which he compared favorably to the backwardness of regions of the world which did not then have well-developed markets. Fernand Braudel (with whom I agree) argues that it was not the small local fairs, where there were local exchanges of agricultural and handicraft products (which were part of what Braudel calls the material life of the middle ages), which led to capitalism. It was elite-led large scale transactions over long distances. In the end, expanded markets led to more advanced production techniques, and to a transformed Europe, and to a transformed world. What I am trying to say is that as peace and justice activists seeking to transform modern institutions, we should give a high priority to changing for the better their principal source and cause. Cornel West (with whom I agree) has pointed out that the path to peace and justice runs by way of the enhancement of non-market relationships and the ethical reform of market relationships. Modernity, Its Cause and Cure, Part 8
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*******Subject: Modernity, Its Cause and Cure, Part 10 Back to Top
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is a (partial) cure of modernity, (partly) making modernity work. CSA is not remarkable because it does organic farming with novel techniques and technologies. It doesn't. CSA is remarkable because it finds novel ways to support organic farming. Novel support empowers CSA to survive in, and (partly) to transform, the markets of the modern world.
Whether CSA will flourish and represent a significant percentage of world food production depends on enhancing non-market relationships (volunteering, donations, people who work in CSA not only for wages or for profits but because they believe in what they are doing). CSA's success also depends on the ethical reform of market relationships (people paying higher prices for food, for the sake of health, for the sake of the soil, for the sake of future generations). (This ethical advance is actually more compatible than straight commercial agriculture with the ancient ethic of giving free food to the poor.)
Speaking more generally, R. Buckminster Fuller was right when he thought that the institutionalization of peace could not be expected to function effectively until there is a world that works for 100% of humanity without ecological damage. Bucky was also right to say that a world that works would employ technologies much different from the dysfunctional technologies (like the present day automobile) that dominate today. But Bucky was wrong to see the key to change in a design revolution. Choice of technology, like much else in the modern world, is driven mainly by commerce. The key to change is the reform of commerce.
The environmentalists, the permaculturists, the Green Parties, the Earth Charter movement, the Rio summit people, and all who choose physical reality as the fulcrum with which to get leverage to change the world, are mistaken.
They are not, however, mistaken in terms of public relations. They know how to get a hearing. Green messages blend in so much with dominant ideologies that people's minds are prepared to hear them. The dominant ideology treats capitalism as social biology, a social system dictated by a species nature supposed to be always and everywhere the same. For the dominant ideology, ethics is a constant, which therefore explains nothing. Technology is variable; it explains almost everything. Dominant ideology explains in technical terms the difference between happiness and misery: The happy nations of the world are the developed nations, which are called developed because they have advanced technologies. The miserable nations are the developing nations, which do not have advanced technology yet.
But the real key to change is not in physical reality at all. It is in economic reality. A good illustration is provided by the fate of the Green Party of Germany. Green philosophers like Fritjof Capra had predicted that Greens in office would do politics in a new way, because they had a new paradigm. But when Greens came into office, it turned out that they were hamstrung by economic reality. The same economic dilemmas that constrained social democracy constrained green democracy.
The German Greens did not really have a new paradigm because they misconstrued the old paradigm. The paradigm that actually governs the world is not so much Newtonian as it is commercial. The effective old paradigm, the pouvoir en place, is the framework of private law and liberal ethics that defines the rules of the game of the global economy.
When Community Supported Agriculture, or Habitat for Humanity, orHealth Care for All, modify and supplement the norms of market behavior, in order to make the world work better for more people, they are doing what Antonio Gramsci called "adjusting culture to physical function." They are doing what Charles Wilber and Kenneth Jameson called in An Inquiry into the Poverty of Economics "re-embedding" markets in a dense network of social relationships.
They are following what Carol Gilligan called a "care ethic," thus correcting what E.F. Schumacher called the "irresponsibility" of markets, by inventing better ways to respond to needs. (It should also be noted that not infrequently the ethical reform of markets improves markets so that they function more efficiently to do the things that markets do well, instead of replacing them or supplementing them with non-market methods for making choices and motivating pro-social behavior.)
Heidegger and hundreds of prominent thinkers who tread paths opened pose a problem for the ethical realism of Gramsci, Wilber, Jameson, Gilligan, Schumacher, and for all who seek to improve food production, housing, health care, or anything else. A thoroughly interpretive philosophy like Heidegger's leaves culture without a physical function to adjust to. It deprives dense networks of social relationships of their ecological context, as it deprives needs of the bodies that they are the needs of.
Interpretive philosophies are admirably suited for destabilizing dominant ideologies. Jean Baudrillard, for example, has written fascinating critiques of the Iraq wars as hyper-real television spectacles. Baudrillard's interpretations cannot fail to convince even the sleepiest pig that the status quo is absurd. But they are performed on the stage of a post-Heideggerian intellectual tradition, dominated by texts and signifiers, from which physical reality departed long ago. Generally, interpretive philosophies are weak as guides for building realistic constructive alternatives.
From the beginnings of Heidegger's attempt to rescue modernity from its desolation, he found it important to insist on the legitimacy of sunsets.
He quite rightly asserted that whatever scientists may learn about planetary motion, or about the electromagnetic spectrum, the sun still sets in the West, and the sky still turns red. Moving on from a notion of being-in-the-world in which the sunset was a primordial given, Heidegger pioneered the thought that a scientific and technological attitude is no more or less valid than a sunset. "All simple seeing is seeing as," he wrote --i.e. the sense data of the positivists who thought of themselves as scientific philosophers were actually always already interpretations. Heidegger deconstructed modernity as he conceived it, i.e. he deconstructed science. He did it largely by tracing modernity's origins in the history of philosophy. He construed the history of philosophy as a series of interpretive choices, starting with some fateful eclipses
of being chosen by pre-Socratic philosophers. When the history of
philosophy is construed as Heidegger construed it, it seems only reasonable to expect that philosophers today will continue doing what philosophers have always done. Like Baudrillard, like Jacques Derrida, they will interpret.
To anchor realistic, but still critical and postmodern social activism, I have construed the history of philosophy differently in Letters from Quebec. Analyzing mainly the same philosophers whose work Heidegger analyzes, I construe philosophy as what Paulo Freire called cultural action, and as what Antonio Gramsci called moral and intellectual reform. Adjusting culture to physical function is what philosphers have always done. It is not that I think Derrida and and others who draw on Heidegger are technically incorrect when they point out that words stand in for things rather than standing for things; that language is about absence more than it is about presence; that meanings come only in systems of differences; and so on. What I think is that the whole business of language-using; culture altogether; speech acts in particular; social norms as mainly patterns of speech acts; and the history of philosophy as a part of the history of social norms; are all about more or less functional, more or less dysfunctional, living on earth.
Howard Richards ****** Modernity makes our daily bread, and acquiring all the necessities of life, dependent on commodity exchange in markets. Since markets function to produce and sell bread only if bread-sellers expect profits, assuring sellers that they will reap profits has become an overriding imperative. Modernity tends to make ethical questions irrelevant. Regardless of what conclusions ethical deliberation may arrive at, society must obey the overriding imperative to assure investors who decide what and whether to produce that bringing commodities to market will be profitable. Following are some examples of the myriad questions to which ethical deliberation may give one answer, while the overriding imperative to keep up profits may give another: Should the United States army be in Iraq ? Should public utilities be privatized ? Should medical care be made available to everyone regardless of income ? Should logging and ranching be permitted in wilderness areas ? Should passenger rail transportation be maintained even when it requires public subsidies to maintain it ? Should factories close and relocate where wages, taxes, and environmental standards are lower ? Who should own petroleum and other subsoil resources ? Should taxes be used to reduce inequalities of wealth ? These are just a few of the diverse questions using the evaluative word "should." They are questions about what ought to be, and what ought to be done. The idea of an overriding profit imperative leads to a meta-question about these questions, and suggests an answer to the meta-question. The meta question is: Why do the answers produced by conscientious deliberation and careful study of the facts so often turn out to be ineffective in practice ? This meta-question has a conventional meta-answer: "power." Conventional wisdom holds that while what should happen depends on conscience and reason, what really happens depends on who has power. In addition to the ubiquitous hydra-headed idea of "power" there are at least five other very influential ideas often used to explain the ineffectiveness of ethics: (1) The idea that scientific reason has advanced, while moral reason has lagged behind; (2) The idea that ethical talk is about arbitrary personal opinions --mere hot air which dissipates meaninglessly into outer space without causing any tangible effect on anything; (3) The idea that modern ideology has made ethics irrelevant, since while the ancient sages East and West considered ethics and politics to be inseparable, modern thinkers from Machiavelli forward have sharply distinguished ethics from politics; (4) The idea that except for a few enlightened individuals, humanity as a whole is bad and always will be; (5) The idea that modernity is governed by instrumental rationality (what Max Weber called Zweckrationalitat) and not by customary ethical norms (Weber's Wertrationalitat). The overriding imperative to create conditions favorable for the accumulation of profit provides an explanation of the ineffectiveness of ethics arguably better than any of the six above, namely: Necessity. Necessity is the overwhelming need to keep society going, where the mainspring that keeps society going is the accumulation of profit. It is not only the powerful few or the bad many who depend for their daily bread on assuring investors and sellers that it will be profitable to bring commodities to market. It is everybody. This better explanation of why ethics is ineffective leads to a better concept of how to make ethics effective, and how thus to transform the downward spiral of current events into an upward spiral, namely: Reform society so that assuring investors of their profits is no longer a prerequisite to assuring ordinary people of their daily bread. Strengthen non-market institutions. Moralize market institutions. Mobilize resources to meet needs through NGOs, through non-profits of all kinds, through cooperatives, through the public sector, by skimming the cream off the rents derived from natural resources, by self-reliance, families, communities, municipalities ....through whatever works .... through whatever any given cultural tradition supports. Diminishing the force of an imperative that overrides ethics will give rational, democratic, and conscientious deliberation greater influence over what really happens.
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