Savitri Era of those who adore, Om Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Historicism operates more as a pragmatic check on wild theorizing

Countermemory Posted by Mike Johnduff Wednesday, May 28, 2008

If I have been unduly harsh on historicism in several posts below, it is because there is something more depressing about its failure as a movement within literary criticism than the failure of deconstruction. While the latter seems as if it were supposed to fail, as if it were supposed to remain merely a pipe dream, as if it were supposed to stay true to its starry-eyed idealism (despite its paradoxical claims to empiricity) and float along disinterestedly even before its moment has passed, the former always strove to be more pragmatic, to work towards the idealistic but always fall back upon the real, the actual--thus it is a bit more painful to see its downfall, for we lose with it a bit of our groundness in actuality itself, and completely against our will.

Or at least this is what I conclude from the remarks of Frederic Jameson in Postmodernism, or the Logic of Late Capitalism. "Failure" and "downfall," of course, need to be immediately qualified, as Jameson does: nothing simply fails within the study of literature, and certainly not historicism. We apply the term when assessing these movements precisely for this reason. To be clearer: until now (and perhaps beyond now--in America that is), the study of literature cannot really be distinguished from the application of an interpretive method, from a hermeneutic enterprise. Historicism and deconstruction, then, were both events in history (movements) and theoretical assumptions (methods).

The movement passes by--not only for reasons of fashion, but also for professional necessities, world events, all sorts of historical reasons--and the method changes with it. The only way to really show how both are tied together is to talk about the movement as if it were then an expression of the method: that that interpretive was a reflection of some aspect of the interpretive theory. We thus say it failed, but this is precisely because the theory will always have a complex relation to the historical movement -- in short, that it can't be said to fail simply. It is our way of trying to find the problems within the necessary aspects of the historical event itself.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The stomachs of the hungry must also compete with fuel tanks

The Rich Get Hungrier By AMARTYA SEN
Op-Ed Contributor NYT: May 28, 2008 Cambridge, Mass.

It is a tale of two peoples. In one version of the story, a country with a lot of poor people suddenly experiences fast economic expansion, but only half of the people share in the new prosperity. The favored ones spend a lot of their new income on food, and unless supply expands very quickly, prices shoot up. The rest of the poor now face higher food prices but no greater income, and begin to starve. Tragedies like this happen repeatedly in the world.
A stark example is the Bengal famine of 1943, during the last days of the British rule in India. The poor who lived in cities experienced rapidly rising incomes, especially in Calcutta, where huge expenditures for the war against Japan caused a boom that quadrupled food prices. The rural poor faced these skyrocketing prices with little increase in income.
Misdirected government policy worsened the division. The British rulers were determined to prevent urban discontent during the war, so the government bought food in the villages and sold it, heavily subsidized, in the cities, a move that increased rural food prices even further. Low earners in the villages starved. Two million to three million people died in that famine and its aftermath.

Much discussion is rightly devoted to the division between haves and have-nots in the global economy, but the world’s poor are themselves divided between those who are experiencing high growth and those who are not. The rapid economic expansion in countries like China, India and Vietnam tends to sharply increase the demand for food. This is, of course, an excellent thing in itself, and if these countries could manage to reduce their unequal internal sharing of growth, even those left behind there would eat much better.

But the same growth also puts pressure on global food markets — sometimes through increased imports, but also through restrictions or bans on exports to moderate the rise in food prices at home, as has happened recently in countries like India, China, Vietnam and Argentina. Those hit particularly hard have been the poor, especially in Africa.
There is also a high-tech version of the tale of two peoples. Agricultural crops like corn and soybeans can be used for making ethanol for motor fuel. So the stomachs of the hungry must also compete with fuel tanks.
Misdirected government policy plays a part here, too. In 2005, the United States Congress began to require widespread use of ethanol in motor fuels. This law combined with a subsidy for this use has created a flourishing corn market in the United States, but has also diverted agricultural resources from food to fuel. This makes it even harder for the hungry stomachs to compete.
Ethanol use does little to prevent global warming and environmental deterioration, and clear-headed policy reforms could be urgently carried out, if American politics would permit it. Ethanol use could be curtailed, rather than being subsidized and enforced.

The global food problem is not being caused by a falling trend in world production, or for that matter in food output per person (this is often asserted without much evidence). It is the result of accelerating demand. However, a demand-induced problem also calls for rapid expansion in food production, which can be done through more global cooperation.
While population growth accounts for only a modest part of the growing demand for food, it can contribute to global warming, and long-term climate change can threaten agriculture. Happily, population growth is already slowing and there is overwhelming evidence that women’s empowerment (including expansion of schooling for girls) can rapidly reduce it even further.
What is most challenging is to find effective policies to deal with the consequences of extremely asymmetric expansion of the global economy. Domestic economic reforms are badly needed in many slow-growth countries, but there is also a big need for more global cooperation and assistance. The first task is to understand the nature of the problem.

Amartya Sen, who teaches economics and philosophy at Harvard, received the Nobel Prize in economics in 1998 and is the author, most recently, of “Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny.”

If History is judging us, who's not judging us? You guessed it - God

Minds Like Knives Sunday, May 25, 2008
Contemplating the Rhetorical Uses of "History" as a judge.

The use of “history” as an abstract replacement for God or moral law is pretty noticeable these days - as in George Bush's “History will judge our actions.” I saw an episode of Battlestar Galactica the other day that used the same phraseology, and maybe since the show usually puts me in a thoughtful mood, it jumped out at me.

  • What's the warrant underlying such a statement?
  • What, really, are the moral groundings and the ensuing moral consequences of a stance that leaves some sort of ultimate judgment to History?
  • What exactly is the nature of that judgment?
  • What, ultimately, are the consequences of making an abstracted History the compass for our actions, or the justification of them?
  • In what ways does History have the capacity to serve as a stand-in for these monumental constructions of ethics – or even for the more recent administrative ethic of efficiency and good management?
  • What are the consequences of History’s judgment?
  • Are they parallel with those of Heaven, Hell, Evil or Waste?

If the sort of judgment implied in these statements is a moral one, then the stakes are in part the memories held of us by future human beings. The punishment of such a proclamation ostensibly would be that our grandchildren would, if they decide to, remember us as fools, criminals, sinners.

There's a bit of a conundrum here – if History is our judge, then we are claiming that it takes the role of an ethic. But we must imagine that those figures that we imagine in the future (and who are in turn remembering us in the past) have some different ethic, some absolute ethic, some way to judge the rightness of a decision using capacities that we have not yet developed.

In this sense, the invocation of history as a judge of our actions has much in common with the logic of cryogenics - we don't have the power of judgment now that would be required to judge these actions, but in the future, our more advanced successors will have that power. Of course, much of this speculation would be irrelevant if we interpret the statement in a second possible way.

When we say “History will be our judge,” maybe we are not referring to the people who will judge us on new and better ethical grounds, but to some objective set of outcomes that will be clearly decipherable as vindicating our action. In the Bush case, once you do a little reading, it's clear that this second goal is what's in effect, since it's still believed by at least a few that the democratization of Iraq will have long-term positive consequences in the region, such as destabilizing state sponsors of terrorism.

But really, this is only a further deferral of the problem already presented, as it nonetheless assumes that our descendants will have the ability to experience their own surroundings in some sense in relation to an imagined alternative outcome. It also presents a curious problem of regression - if we are deferring the judgment of our actions to some hypothetical future point at which their consequences will become clear, must we not in turn defer the judgment of those consequences until their consequences become clear? This is the problem of all logic that tries to justify current suffering in the name of future outcomes.

Another implication of these sorts of claims is that WE DON'T KNOW what the outcome will be. In what way does this statement position us relative to our ignorance of our actions’ consequences? I have a colleague who, as far as I can tell following on Derrida, makes quite strong claims about the ultimate undecidability of the consequences of actions. But he often seems to me to be making the mistake of taking this as supporting an ethical undermining of all supposedly 'progressive action, making of it nothing more than self-delusion. I, on the other hand, feel that confronting and overcoming this vacuum of knowledge of the future - acting despite our ignorance - is fundamental to being human, or for that matter alive.

The problem with the appeal to history, just as with my friend's deconstructionist ethics, is the inevitable ethical abdication – the refusal to stake a claim on any element of one’s judgment. If we can only appeal to history as an ethical standard, rather than to some piece of our own understanding, expectations, even hopes, we are distanced from the consequences of our own actions. We take less responsibility for them insofar as we defer judgment.

The core aspect of these statements is exactly that deferral of judgment. Strip away some strong layers of implication, and you'll notice that there is often no overt claim that History will find us to be right - only that history will judge us. In other words, this is a slightly fancier way of throwing up our hands and saying "Meh."

One final series of questions - what are the cultural circumstances that allow history to take on this moral role? For something so frequently used by Bush, and evangelical Christian, it's striking how much that statement smacks of Enlightenment.

If History is judging us, who's not judging us? You guessed it - God. And whether you are more convinced by my reading of the History here being invoked as "future enlightened ethicists" or "objective administrative outcomes," the progressivism, humanism, and technologism here are obvious. So, does "history" have good or bad implications for decision making? I would say both - positive, by my lights, exactly to the degree that it implies a pragmatic, outcome-oriented decision-making process.

But the far more powerful implication also seems to be far more ethically dangerous - the idea that the wisdom of our present decisions will be truly unknowable until some uncertain time in the future. This may be the true ontological nature of human experience - of, in fact, all existence - but it does not have an ethical consequence. The truly ethical act is to traverse the terror of that ultimate, cosmic uncertainty, and act with the best knowledge you have, and stake one's own ethical status on that what is possible within our narrow human capabilities. Posted by sleepnotwork at 8:57 PM 0 comments Blogroll 20 Jazz-Funk Greats Badminton Stamps Boing Boing Byron Crawford Cocaine Blunts Daily Kos Different Kitchen Directrix Joanna Garfinkel FluxBlog Houston So Real Hype Machine Mission Freak Shawn Reed of Racoo-oo-oon So Many Shrimp Zentronix (Jeff Chang)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The power of the heart can change the course of history in just a moment of authentic self-sacrifice

Integral Economics: A Manifesto
Posted by MetroPunk on April 22, 2008 at 9:42am in Open Forum
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New Post at Integral Praxis:
Integral Economics: A Manifesto By Christian Arnsperger “Engineering an intersection between economics and the Integral approach—i.e., gradually fleshing out and promoting a truly Integral economics—may well be one of the most urgent tasks in social science today. At least, I myself (as a standardly trained economist who turned heretical at some point) believe it is, and that is why I have written this paper which, for all its defects, might stand as a “manifesto” of sorts for those of us who think it’s about time economics was pulled out of its current, arch-positivistic quagmire.”
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Permalink Reply by ned on April 23, 2008 at 6:23pm
Interesting article . . . I'm studying neuroeconomics these days though I'm not very familiar with economics itself . . . however, here are two papers that might be somewhat relevant as far as the inclusion of subjectivity in economics as a discipline goes:The Case for Mindless Economics

Quote: "Neuroscience evidence cannot refute economic models because the latter make no assumptions and draw no conclusions about the physiology of the brain."

I burst out laughing when I read the above quote, by the way. Have fun deconstructing this paper; it's not too hard. The authors also seem to be equating neuroeconomics with communism at some points -- quite funny.The Case for Mindful Economics This is the rebuttal to the neo-classical take defended in the previous paper.Well, personally I'm an esotericist through and through, so I find both neo-classical economics and the newly-emerging cognitivist behavioral economics absurdly limited (you could say that in the Aurobindoan vein I'm a spiritual/voluntary anarcho-socialist). However, it's fun to read the academic debates and try to see where both are right and both are wrong.
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Permalink Reply by ned on April 23, 2008 at 6:32pm
And as I've mentioned voluntary anarcho-socialism here, I should use this opportunity to plug what I think is a very important and useful website:

The site allows you to lend microcredit loans to people in developing countries, which they then use to set up businesses. I lent out six loans via Kiva over the last month -- to two women's groups in Uganda, and to four women's groups in Pakistan. Kiva has partners on ground who disperse lenders' loans to the parties that need them (the entire amount you contribute is loaned; you can make optional donations to Kiva also but Kiva will not take any of the money you are loaning). Within a few weeks all six groups I had given loans to had raised their target amount, which was then given to them on ground. The loans were used to help these groups set up various businesses or improve existing businesses. They're now in the process of paying the loans back to the lenders. The return rate on Kiva is nearly 100%. You can even loan as little as $25.I'm quite impressed with this site. It's gotten some pretty good reviews too. Even college students can be sitting in their dormrooms or apartments and be contributing to change. Plus it's so gratifying because you can track what's happening to your money. A lot of the partners also keep journals, so there's a nice personal touch to it -- you get updates via the journals about what the people who've borrowed the money have done with it. Microcredit lending is a really great paradigm for developing countries. And doing it over the Internet is a neat way to allow for a more equitable distribution of wealth globally.
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Permalink Reply by Zakariyya on April 26, 2008 at 5:19pm
Economics, Definition: A western invention that is the science of keeping the rich richer, and the poor poorer.And unlike many of the post modern sciences, THIS ONE REALLY WORKS!THAT’S ABOUT IT FOLKS.
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Permalink Reply by MetroPunk on April 28, 2008 at 3:25pm
not that simple Zit is a system of practicesand a orientation will great consequencesand much ado about powerwhere an 'integral' infusion / transfusionwould help bring about much changelets think practical here...
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Permalink Reply by Zakariyya on April 28, 2008 at 5:22pm
I firmly believe in being practical. Here is my practical yardstick.Naked capitalism, that which rules the economic milieu that encompasses the LR quadrant, has led primarily to intense injustices, and suffering.All while millions claim to believe in lofty ideas of religion, and Liberal and neo-liberal humanitarian principles.Yet the rich still get richer and the poor get poorer, and they claim that this is the natural order of things, based on hard work by the rich and sloth by the poor. [AND WE REFUSE TO TACKLE THE BASICS, BY JUST WATCHING THE POOR STARVE TO DEATH, WHILE WE WATCH IT ON CNN. BUT YET WE CAN SPEND TRILLIONS ON A WAR THAT HAS DESTROYED IRAQ]Excluding the 5 centuries of plunder of Africa and Asia thorough slavery, and colonialism.They wonder why the third world countries are behind, and particularly Africa.Well I fought the Wiberians for months on Integral Naked, and told them that A TRUE INTEGRAL UNDERSTANING OF THE POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC REALITIES IN THE WORLD HAVE TO TAKE IN TO CONSIDERATION THESE HISTORICAL ANOMOLIES.They rejected that and continued following the neo-liberal neo-con principles of Ken Wilber, save a few of them.Those who did understand this where labeled mean greens[WILBERS STRANGE NEO-CON POLITICS!]That with all their eloquent graphs and idealistic extrapolations continues to justify the status quo.Generally speaking:If the human race did the basic things humans should do FIRST, economics would work for everyone, not just the few.This economics that the world revolves around stands by and watches millions starve and suffer economically, as if those people who hog all the resources earned them by hard work.What could Integral economics be worth anything but relieve suffering, or get in line and just do things the usual way, save doing them with bigger words.That leaves the rich richer and the poor poorerSo my friend in terms of what is practical, I think economics should feed people first. ALL PEOPLE! Then it could call itself INTEGRAL.
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Permalink Reply by ned on April 28, 2008 at 7:39pm
Zak, I agree with you. Basically, it boils down to the simplest question: are we seriously interested in self-giving or not? If the former, then yeah, we need to let go of our childish attachment to money and material possessions. I thought websites like are at least a start in this direction -- now we have no excuse, we actually have the ability, just sitting in our homes, to empower others around the world to set up their own businesses and become independent.And from an Aurobindoan and Vedantic perspective, socialist ideas are vastly superior to individualistic capitalism and neo-liberal economics -- it's just that enforcing these ideas mechanically through a governmental or state mechanism would end up being a disaster. (Hence I call myself a voluntary anarcho-socialist.)Now: does the "Integral" movement measure up to truly spiritual and progressive ideals? Is it really willing to participate in genuine self-giving or not? Here's just one telling example for me.

Consider this: Pir Zia's Sufi Order just charges about $1200 for a ONE-YEAR course, which includes food (three meals a day) and room and board, at the Abode of the Message in upstate NY. But Don Beck and Co. charge almost $2000 -- $2000, people!! -- for TWO WEEKENDS in a five-star hotel to talk about Spiral Dynamics. Is everyone mad? What sort of a moron would shell out that kind of money for two weekends to learn things that they could figure out on their own without a buck anyway? Is this where the priorities of the Integral movement are -- five-star hotels, when people are going hungry all over the world? At the end of the day it is a waste of time trying to figure out which "system" is best. All systems are relative to the soul's direct knowing; all systems are instruments of the soul; all systems are exceeded by the soul. Rather than wasting time on this mental masturbation w.r.t. which "system" is better, we ought to just be developing the soul and getting on with the task of giving selflessly -- the rest will fall in line!

Democracy in Europe is the rule of the Cabinet minister, the corrupt deputy or the self-seeking capitalist masqued by the occasional sovereignty of a wavering populace; Socialism in Europe is likely to be the rule of the official and policeman masqued by the theoretic sovereignty of an abstract State. It is chimerical to enquire which is the better system; it would be difficult to decide which is the worse. -- Sri Aurobindo
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Permalink Reply by Zakariyya on April 28, 2008 at 8:19pm
Hi Ned, btw, thanks for the link to Anti-matter, it looks like a hip journal. And also the Kiva thing. I may look into doing that. Regarding your post, I too am a voluntary anarcho-socialist, I love the name! First though, Bottom line:Western “civilization” [as Gandhi said “it would be a good idea” I fear is heading for a huge knuckle sandwich because of the bad Karma it accumulated in the 5 centuries of negative energy it earned since Columbus “ discovered” America.Not to mention having all that power and doing nothing but helping to get guys like Cheney bigger golf courses to play on, while destroying millions in Iraq, and the lives of the young dupes who joined the US Military.But we have to forget all of this, and just get a tasty bag of popcorn and watch. Meanwhile give to Kiva, and other proletarian charities [that I hope are legit] My thing is Children International--22 a month for a poor Indian Girl is all I can afford. Hopefully, my book [ (unlikely) that’s coming out in a month] will be a best seller, and then I could sponsor three more poor kids in the earth.You are right, to force economic sanity through tyranny won’t work; therefore we are in a catch 22, because I don’t think naked Oligarchic capitalism will work either.My idea about this is simpleJust relieve as much suffering as we can, with the technology available to us. But no, they won’t do that. The thing to concentrate on is to raise the consciousness of people on an individual/collective basis. That way we can create a true paradigm of compassion [ maybe] which can lead to uncommon common sense, and do the basic things humans should be doing, but have never done.Integral philosophy hijacked by neo-con Wilberism is falling short. I doubt it can lead this consciousness shift.Regarding the big money spiritual/ Integral Guru circuit, well it is a sign of the times, and frankly spirituality and middle class philosophy like Wilber / Beck Integral has always been for the well off.The hungry rarely want to think of God, Plato, or Ibn Arabi while worrying about feeding the family.
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Permalink Reply by ned on April 28, 2008 at 8:35pm
The key is detachment. It's not about living a life of poverty. You can make money if that's your thing or if it's your gift to earn money, but the key is to remain totally detached from it and never see it as your own possession -- to be willing to give it up at a moment's notice for a worthy cause or if inspired by something from within and to stop wasting money on more unnecessary self-indulgences like "Integral studies" conferences at expensive hotels. But sadly I think most people do not have the self-discipline for this. And I agree with your compassion-based approach. People can go on writing equations and modeling and what-have-you in academic economics, but none of those equations can even begin to approximate the power of the heart, which can change the course of history in just a moment of authentic self-sacrifice.
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