Thursday, March 22, 2007

Word Matters | Economy Matters

So the other day I was in Richard Dawkins' forum - after-words of being in Amazon to check out the reviews for his latest book, The God Delusion.

Personally, I suffer through enough delusions to buy into another authoritarian construct which only keeps me chained to more illusions; but, nevertheless, I thought it might be fun to investigate what all the fuss was about (currently the #13 NY Times best seller).

Not long ago I'd finished reading The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power, by Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad, which recalled some of Dave Lakhani's experiences growing up as a member of a cult known as the Bible Believers - or the Branhamites.

In The Guru Papers I found some compelling words to describe the experiences of its authors... forever seeking fulfillment... or following the teachings of one New Age guru or Eastern thought leader after another.

As has been noted previously in this web log, authoritarianism speaks to any and all kinds of mind control and manipulation, and contemporary versions of it persist in our society in all sorts of disguises and permutations - much of the time when you don't even realize it.

A construct (think of it like a social construction) is anything which you yourself didn't invent - and if you did invent it - or build it - more than likely you borrowed heavily from others.

And a utility can be described as a useful article or device, or something useful. It forms the root for another ism known as utilitarianism, which postulates an ethical theory that says all moral, political or social actions should be be directed toward achieving the greatest good for the greatest number of people - something I grew up believing was also supposed to be true in a democracy nowadays... in conflict, as it often is, with capitalism too.

utility = the necessary criterion of action

useful = that which is good, or worthwhile

Whether they be delusions or illusions... all beliefs... we hold to be true... can be examined under the bright light... of an illuminated mind... for accuracy.

And the stuff of our examinations is often just a compendium of silly old words!

So... while in Richard Dawkins' forum I noticed a recommended article by A.C. Grayling called Pursue pleasure: it's the natural way to do good in the world, and, naturally, since I definitely want to believe this to be true, I decided I would comment.

But then my comment got too wordy - much too writerly and not readerly enough - and I didn't want to step beyond the bounds of good taste, or of etiquette, since this was a forum of philosophers, for Chrissakes; nor did I want to be identified as a troll either.

So I decided, rather than throw it out, I'd duplicate it here and change it into an imaginary conversation between Mark and me.

And I say imaginary, not only because Mark and his family are on Spring Break down in Galveston, because, if you don't know Mark yet, he'd simply just refuse to join me in such far out talk in the first place!

So here it is - strictly for your amusement, of course!


Read the article, beforehand, here

Between Mark and Lark, Who Leaves Whom... Dumbstruck?

I will try to stay on topic within this worthy discussion but I’ve got some problems I need you to help me address, okay Mark?

“You’re kidding me... but... well okay, sure. Go for it!”

You see a box full of people and gadgetry (one of my banks) has allowed me to live in my very own toybox (a home).

Other boxes full of people and gadgetry (utility and media providers) have me connected to more toyboxes (whiz-bang devices and appliances) inside.

And still another toybox, this one on wheels (my car), tethers me to suburbia (a whole slew of toyboxes), where I’m surrounded by an embarrassment of still more riches.

My goodness, but I’m surrounded by lots of pleasure – and all manner of stuff.

It could be said I’ve got toys and stuff running out both ears!

Same with you, right Mark?

“Hey, man, everything’s cool here!” he tosses off, as he checks in with a chat room client.

But herewith are my rhetorical questions – as I need a few answers to my problems.

Why can’t we reconcile...

... The good life...
... With living a life of goodness...
... And a life of principle too...

... If we support the view of Aristotle who “praised friendship, the quest for knowledge, and the appreciation of beauty...”

... And the Renaissance thinkers, who “argued that man is a part of nature, and that it is natural to please the five senses – colours and tastes, scents and sensations, music, and the lover’s touch...”

... Or in the view of A.C. Grayling (author of “Against All Gods” and “What is Good?”), “why there is nothing wrong with the pleasures and possessions of the good life; they are what people naturally seek and even need (provided they are not enjoyed at the expense of someone else, and so long as the business of acquiring them does not become an obsessive end in itself)?"

“I could use a bite to eat,” reports Mark, unaware I’ve just posed a question.

Principle does not need to be attached to religion - or even morals, does it? If it be a part of an authoritarian construct, then yes, it can be very harmful, but neither does principle have to be so rigidly burdensome to remain pleasurable.

And ethical considerations should never be so easily dismissed in our story – for it 's the story of all of us.

All this stuff we pleasure ourselves with has a price, which seen strictly from an ethical viewpoint, by all rights, should be called into question too.

By stuff, I mean to say, resources – whether it's knowledge-based or material-based - what is derived from human capital, especially as it pertains to the emergence of our knowledge-based economy; or what is derived from material taken from the environment, what can be called our natural capital.

The Knowledge Economy

Natural Capitalism

All this junk is just stuff!

If we subscribe to just a few utilitarian examples, it would seem all this stuff must be harmful to someone – or something – somewhere along the supply line...

... Wouldn’t you admit – at least, guess – this is true?

“I’m sorry, did you need a real answer – or just my opinion?” replies the Markster, as he continues to surf the net.

And does this accumulation of pleasure and other worldly stuff finally conflict with what is of the greatest value in our basic economy?

“I’m ready for a beer. Need one?” And he cheerfully heads over to the fridge...

... While Lark keeps prattling on.

By this I mean an economy which is the “careful and thrifty management of our households”, to include the management of our less-than-exhaustible resources, “as of income, materials or labor.”

If we choose to stay the course with purely principled scientific analyzes of these questions we must admit all other questions must derive from merely unprincipled – or unscientific – thoughts... then actions... as these things can only be principled if they are also scientifically deduced.

When what can be deemed scientific is kept apart from what is not scientific... only then can we begin to know what is meant by real principle... alongside universal law... and a new kind of more enlightened thinking – which guides our changed behavior – can emerge.

Science does not pretend to show strict proof; nor does principle aspire to be law which is necessarily authoritarian, even though it can be said to be universal. But as they both relate to the collection of empirical evidence based on the experiences of many it’s safe to say we are capable to decide if our conclusions will serve a universal utilitarian purpose supported by scientific methodology.

If this non-authoritarian construct serves the greater utilitarian good of us – and of our collective resources – it can be measured by how best it suits our overall economy.

And laws written for us should reflect on all these things – otherwise they will do more harm than good in their enactment and application. Then should a law be written as the authoritarian instrument it becomes... so it can have the principled effect of being good.

I submit that only by doing all these things can we finally differentiate between what is good and what is bad.

By taking introspective note of my emotional responses to each of my individual thoughts – and before my actions will lead me where I need not to be going – I can learn to disregard, or discard, what makes me feel bad – and replace these things with only what makes me feel good.

Maybe we can call this a gut check! You might just call it simply, and naturally, “pleasure is good.”

Wouldn't you?

“Uh... say what? Oh yea... I’m down with this stuff, go ahead on!”

But is our perception and value of this pleasure all that good if it upsets the balance of nature, is less-than-utilitarian, inconsiderate of our economy, or randomly applied – ill-suited for our best harmonious purposes?

“Do you mean to say we shouldn’t drink another beer?”

No one can stop Lark when he gets on a roll... and he doesn’t realize he’s wasting his breath.

To my way of thinking this is inconsistent with what is pleasurable or good!

So I’ll take my leave from you now... and leave you with even more rhetorical questions.

What about this stuff of my dreams – which never seems to jibe with the economic reality of all this damn stuff I see when I’m awake?

“Dude, you’ve got to get your mind out of the gutter!”

So much STUFF is always in my head – to ignore it or to meditate it away does not make it really go away – and, if I choose to manage it well enough to suit my own pleasurable purposes, I fear I’m just not being altogether good anymore.

And I’m afraid if I didn’t think I loved it so, it should make me go stark raving mad!

“Love what – madness?”

Why do I feel sometimes boxed in by pent-up emotions – in an intolerant or ignore-ant world – outside my toybox?

“Well, you know, you might need to go party in the sandbox with the kids – and step outside your own skin sometimes, Lark.”

And Lark does step out of himself, answering with another question. “Mark, have you followed a single word I’ve been saying?”

“Hey, Lark, I need to take a piss. Be right back.” He'd already walked away.

Why am I such a bad person – after all I’ve accomplished – trying to be so good? I feel this every time I eat most food, for instance, or even when I walk past a panhandler. And I feel it even when playing with my toys.

“You’re not so bad. A little weird, but not bad. Would you go with funny?”

Surely this exercise cannot be said to be considerate of your own utilitarian principles, in defiance of some of my own authoritarian constructs, or even in the best interests of all our economies!


Man... I’m such an insufferable fool... and so out of touch with the time!

Why should anyone care about my problems... about...?

... Oh, I am sorry... forgive me for my afflictions, and now your word fatigue, okay?

“Sure – no prob! But I’m okay with 'em... or whatever it is you're worn out about... aren't you?"

Of course, I...

"Lark, let’s go score some tacos, alright? And pick us up some more beer! Ya comin'?"