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A Look at Fate, Chance and Providence… From a Humble i3

angel by MC via Flickr

In the early 1990s while thinking about converting to Catholicism I met with a Monsignor in the Church.

Monsignor is an honorary title with no real power, basically for smart guys aware of ecclesiastical problems but not actively involved in the development of doctrine.

Gifted and diplomatic, Monsignors for the most part toe the line and work their tails off ensuring all the wheels spin right within the ancient, all-male hierarchy that is the worldly side of Catholicism.

I liked this particular Monsignor. He was on the ball. Instead of regurgitating stale, varnished and philosophically weak arguments during the homily, he extemporized and used current metaphors like “Black Holes.” He also encouraged applying the intellect, a gift God gave us, to unpack and interpret scripture.

Myself, I was home from a two-year sojourn in India where I had been studying Comparative Religion. Reverse culture-shocked, adjusting to a new city and unfamiliar graduate environment, I was plunged into a whole new realm that made my India experience seem like junior school, spiritually speaking.

So meeting with the Monsignor, I told him I believed in fate, which is more of an Asian (karma), Arabic (kismet) and Greek (moira) idea than a Catholic one.

“You mean providence,” he pointedly replied.

Back then I didn’t consciously know the difference between fate and providence, but something sparked.

Saint Wolfgang and the Devil, by Michael Pacher via Wikipedia

Providence is a theological term referring to the belief that God maintains and sustains all of creation and the plan for our eternal redemption.

The idea is found in both the Old and New Testaments. Not surprisingly, providence is partly framed by the notion of linear time, partly by a belief in eternity. We march along the walk of creation and, although we choose our lives, an eternal God is actively helping us make the right choices.

Providence also means that God freely chooses how things go by guiding us – not forcing us – through a kind of “divine government.”¹

When things go well, we cooperate with divine guidance. But we also make mistakes through original sin. God permits these mistakes, at least to a degree. God would never permit enough mistakes to, say, allow all of creation to be utterly destroyed.

That’s how some see it. Others say we are totally free so, in theory, could destroy our planet and all life on it.

For many thinkers, the idea of providence is directly opposed to fate, which points to a fixed, unalterable sequence of events. It also differs from the concept of chance, which implies a random, unregulated universe.²

The distinction between free will (through providence) and determinism (through fate) is an important one. But most writers gloss over it, probably because it’s a tricky question that nobody really understands nor has a definite answer for.

Image – Wikipedia

One sort of slippery theological solution to the problem of free will vs. determinism maintains that we are free to choose but God knows in advance how we will choose.

When you think about it, this explanation isn’t too satisfying. For me, the question and answer are just too big for the human mind to comprehend. It’s like a Pentium i3 trying to figure out all the mysteries of the universe and beyond. After a few moments the processor just chokes… our limited human brain, that is.

The other night I was surprised to see the topic of providence/free will vs. fate/destiny arise in an episode of Vikings, a TV show that dramatically recreates the story of Ragnar Lothbrok, Lagertha the Shield Maiden, their offspring, friends, victims and enemies.

Two of Ragnar’s sons, Ivar the Boneless and Hvitserk discuss providence vs. fate with the slightly demented, bellicose Christian bishop Heahmund. The discussion, although brief, is far better than what you’d find in most Catholic homilies or graduate seminars, for that matter (starts at time 1:26).

Opponents to the idea of providence are found in the ancient world. St. Thomas Aquinas notes in his Summa Theologica:

Certain persons totally denied the existence of providence, as Democritus and the Epicureans, maintaining that the world was made by chance.³

Other ancients add an interesting twist to the debate by claiming that natural events are ruled by God, but particular human events are not. To this St. Thomas replies with the standard Catholic teaching:

All things are subject to divine providence, not only in general, but even in their own individual being.4

Image – Wikipedia

Related to providence is the problem of theodicy.

Theodicy is an attempt to maintain God’s goodness given the reality of evil. If God is all powerful and in total control, why does S/He permit evil in the first place?

This shifts the debate from cosmology and metaphysics to ethics.

At some point I think these categories must merge if we are to find better answers. But most philosophers and theologians still prefer to slice up the onion of reality, trying not to cry.

¹ Van A Harvey. A Handbook of Theological Terms 1992, pp. 198-200. This is one of my favorite single reference works for theology. Concise, detailed, and not preachy. The Maryknoll Catholic Dictionary (1965) says that God “ordains all things to an intended end so that His purpose of creation may be accomplished.” Just what ordains means is a bit unclear to me. And this kind of wording ignores questions about the relativity of space-time, how we all live in different space-times, and how that complicates the Biblical notion of linear time.

² Just thinking about a universe guided only by chance leaves me cold, so I won’t discuss it further. For me, those upholding a doctrine of chance are unwise and locked into a manmade, conceptually biased map of the universe.

³ Summa Theologica, “The providence of God,” Prima Pars, Q. 22

4 Ibid.

Related » Determinism, Epicureanism, Fatalism, Free will, Social Darwinism, Soteriology, Teleology

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Proclus – A good example of how all spiritual beliefs are not the same

Lycia-46

Lycia-46 by Phoebe Luckyn-Malone via Flickr

Proclus (410-85 CE) was an influential Greek Neoplatonist philosopher. Born in Lycia, he moved to Athens for the remainder of his life.

A lawyer by trade, Proclus came to realize that he preferred philosophy so made a study of the classics and beliefs of his time. Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics, mathematics and the ancient mystery cults were all under his purview.

Modern writers often call him the last of the classical Greek philosophers.

Proclus’ works include extensive commentaries on Plato’s dialogues and on Euclid’s Elements of Geometry. He also wrote several major treatises, to include Platonic Theology, Elements of Theology, and Elements of Physics.

Like his better known predecessor, Plotinus, Proclus attempts to combine the Platonic notion of the ideal Forms with Aristotle’s concept of a prime, unmoved Mover (the first cause of all creation).

Proclus’ synthesis of Platonic and Aristotelian systems culminates in his theory that an overall, divine action coordinates all cosmic elements as the soul returns back to the One from which it originally emanated. This One is unlike the monotheistic God of Jewish, Muslim and Christian faiths, mainly because it is not a being but rather some kind of creative principle.

The first principle in Neoplatonism is the One (Greek: to Hen). Being proceeds from the One. The One cannot itself be a being. If it were a being, it would have a particular nature, and so could not be universally productive.¹

Woman teaching geometry, from Euclid's Elements.

Woman teaching geometry, from Euclid’s Elements via Wikipedia

Due to the non-Christian aspects of his teaching, the emperor Justinian closed the reknowned school of Athens after its (more or less) nine century run.

But the ecclesiastical powers couldn’t suppress Proclus’ ideas indefinitely.

Considerable interest in his work reappeared during the medieval and renaissance periods, as scholars and monks gained access to a considerable array of classical literary, religious, mythological, biographical, historical and scientific sources.

¹ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proclus

Realated » Platonism

 Aristotle’s timeless advice on what real friendship is and why it matters (businessinsider.com)

 The Twilight of Humanity & the Rise of Home Deus (vladimirsays.com)


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Pythagoras – A lot more than a triangle

Angels

Angels – “In this theater of man’s life, it is reserved only for God and angels to be lookers-on” – Pythagoras by Riccardo Cuppini via Flickr

We’ve probably all heard of Pythagoras. In junior high the Pythagorean theorem is a mainstay of math class.

For a right-angled triangle, the square of the length of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the remaining two sides.

Some might not know, however, that Pythagoras is one of those characters where it really is difficult to separate the myth from the man.

He existed, no doubt. That’s not the issue. But it is uncertain just how much he really knew; what the man actually said and did.

Part of the difficulty in sorting through all the legends is that his followers did, in fact, create a story – actually stories – about him. And those stories, replete with potential errors, fibs and embellishments, were passed on through the centuries, mistakes probably magnified at every turn.

Pythagoras in Thomas Stanley History of Philosophy via Wikipedia

One could say the same about Jesus Christ or Buddha.¹ Or any aspect of the Bible and most religious scripture. That doesn’t necessary detract from the overall message but it does make us think.

Hopefully…

Having said this, most see Pythagoras as a Greek philosopher and scientist born on the island of Samos around 570–495 BCE.

He is credited with discovering how musical intervals relate to mathematical proportions, the Pythagorean theorem and a complex system of portraying the universe through numbers.

Pythagoras’ moral teachings include asceticism and a belief in the transmigration of souls–that is, reincarnation. He founded a religious school in Crotona but was forced to move to Metapontum due to prolonged persecution.

S. G. F. Brandon says this persecution probably arose because of Pythagoreanism’s similarity to Orphism

Italiano: Busto di Pitagora. Copia romana di o...

Bust of Pythagoras. Roman copy of the original Greek. Capitoline Museums, Rome – via Wikipedia

On this point social psychologists and sociologists propose an “in-group/out-group” theory of conflict. According to this view, persecution arises when a minority group shares too many qualities with the powerful, orthodox group it threatens or challenges.

Nobody cares if the two groups are entirely different. But when they share some key concepts and practices, that’s when the dust flies.

And as history reveals, the two groups’ respective clout need not be dramatically skewed for this dynamic to take place: Jews and Muslims; Christians and Jews; Christians and Muslims; Liberals and Conservatives; Democrats and Rebublicans; Communists and Capitalists.

The list goes on.

Not just a dry philosophy, Pythagoreanism was a practical guide to living a valuable life. Pythagoras is also credited with providing a threefold theory of the soul. One that combines mysticism and practicality.³

Pythagoras maintained that the soul has three vehicles: (1) the ethereal, which is luminous and celestial, in which the soul resides in a state of bliss in the stars; (2) the luminous, which suffers the punishment of sin after death; and (3) the terrestrial, which is the vehicle it occupies on this earth.4

Illustration of the Pythagorean theorem. The s...

Illustration of the Pythagorean theorem. The sum of two squares whose sides are the two legs (blue and red) is equal to the area of the square whose side is the hypotenuse (purple) – Wikipedia

Muslims believed that Pythagoras was initiated into the sacred mysteries by Hermes (Egyptian Thoth). His thinking, and that of his followers, also had a profound influence on the work of the mystically inclined Plato.

Some maintain that Plato’s Republic, which outlines the ideal community, is based on a Pythagorean community established in Croton.

Pythagorean ideas resurfaced in Rome and Alexandria from the 1st century BCE onward. Many have written about Pythagoras.5 But again, this only confuses the story. Are we hearing about the man or the myth?

¹ Christians are often criticized for this; Buddhists, rarely. Christianity, after all, is the most persecuted religion in the world today.

² S. G. F. Brandon (ed.) Dictionary of Comparative Religion, New York: Scribner’s, 1970, p. 520.

³ Most mystics would dispute this distinction, arguing that mysticism is supremely practical, given the eternal or everlasting nature of existence and the prospect of a favorable or unfavorable afterlife.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pythagoras

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pythagoras#Timeline_of_sources

Related » David Bowie, Music of The Spheres, Numerology

For more see my highlights at LINER


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Postmodernism – Not necessarily absurd or without wings

Inside My Secret Cloning Chamber

Inside My Secret Cloning Chamber: Stuck in Customs / Trey Ratcliff

The term postmodernism became popular in the 1970s and 80s but has roots reaching back through the centuries.

Social theorists usually try to define concepts through a key set of ideas and parameters. Postmodernism challenges conventional perceptions of “the definition” and few seem to clearly agree on its meaning. This is partly because postmoderns questions the very act of defining, labeling and signifying.

If postmodernism has a core idea, it might be that it paradoxically has no core idea upon which to stand. Some say that makes postmodernism absurd. But that stance seems intellectually childish.  Questioning something doesn’t render the process meaningless, as amorphous as outcomes may be. Truth isn’t always black and white and only conceptual control freaks reject uncertainty.

In one sense, postmodernism is a reaction against the kind of scientific certainty associated with the enlightenment and (some definitions of) modernism. It is also a reaction against the proclaimed truths and teachings of religion.

Garry Knight – Post-Modern Architecture – An example of the post-modern style of building seen increasingly along the Thames riverside via Flickr

With regard to scientific truth claims, postmoderns challenge the idea of natural laws that accurately predict future events. They also dispute the assumption that these laws don’t change over space and time. These challenges are especially prevalent in the social sciences but also crop up in physics.

In psychology, postmodernism questions the notion of a stable, unchanging and eternal aspect of the self, such as a soul. Perhaps the ironically enduring truth of many (but not all) postmoderns is the conviction that truth claims are relative to a given culture or subculture.

Michel Foucault, for instance, says power is the creative agency that generates social truth. For Foucault, power not only represses individuals and certain types of belief, knowledge and practice. Power also has the ability to create discourses of truth. These created truths bear tangible effects on persons and their bodies.

Because power constructs truth, postmoderns are concerned to “deconstruct” taken for granted truth claims that have consciously or unconsciously slipped into public use and practice.

By way of example, a few popular areas of deconstruction are notions of the natural, the sane, and social progress. What do we really mean by using these terms? Are we implying a social truth instead of an absolute truth? Who benefits from this dynamic? And who gets the short end of the stick?

In the arts, postmoderns combine different elements from various styles and genres. And the notion of the ‘fragment’ is accepted in postmodern art, literature and philosophy. A good example of valorizing the fragment is found in rap, hiphop and club music where digital tech easily reproduces and mixes past musical and non-musical samples within a new artistic production.

versionz – postmodernism via Flickr

The postmodern scene has become somewhat holistic, even spiritual, particularly with figures like Jacques Derrida who talks about a ‘metaphysical space’ between links in endless chains of connotation. Likewise, Stuart Hall‘s cross-cultural perspective points to new avenues of inquiry once closed off by critical theory.

Historia painting by Nikolaos Gyzis (1892)

Additionally, the contemporary discipline of postmodern theology shifts the meaning once again as to what it means to be postmodern.

Daniel J. Adams’ “Toward a Theological Understanding of Postmodernism” (Cross Currents, Winter 1997-98, Vol. 47 Issue 4 ) might be taking postmodernism in the opposite direction from which it came. Adams says postmodernism is restoring the sacred in an age turned off by religious dogma and yet ironically blinded by the new dogmas of scientific materialism.

These latest postmodern trends suggest that a responsible view of the individual in society integrates biological, psychological, social and spiritual factors. So postmodern thinkers may try to separate the spiritual from the cultural in any belief system, be it religious or nationalistic.

Funnily enough, I found from direct experience that even a basic Catholic RCIA course, geared toward the general public, deconstructed the cultural from the spiritual within the Bible. So to say that postmodernism kills spirituality or leads to absurdity simply shows the ignorance of those upholding that belief.

Postmodern theology combines the best of Pontius Pilate – “What is Truth?” – and Christ – “I am…the Truth” – as portrayed in the New Testament.¹ And because we live in an imperfect world with lots of spin, this just makes sense.

¹ John 18:38, John 14:6

Related » Discourse, Language, Karl Marx, Poststructuralism, Susan Sontag, The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology (PDF)

Postmodernism – Wikipedia

Oct 10 2017  Highlights with LINER

_____

Postmodernism describes a broad movement that developed in the mid- to late 20th century across philosophy, the arts, architecture and criticism which marked a departure from modernism.

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The term postmodern was first used around the 1880s.

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In 1921 and 1925, postmodernism had been used to describe new forms of art and music.

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In 1949 the term was used to describe a dissatisfaction with modern architecture

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In 1971, in a lecture delivered at the Institute of Contemporary Art, London, Mel Bochner described “post-modernism” in art as having started with Jasper Johns

_____

Post-structuralism resulted similarly to postmodernism by following a time of structuralism.

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Martin Heidegger rejected the philosophical basis of the concepts of “subjectivity” and “objectivity” and asserted that similar grounding oppositions in logic ultimately refer to one another. Instead of resisting the admission of this paradox in the search for understanding, Heidegger requires that we embrace it through an active process of elucidation he called the “hermeneutic circle”.

_____

Jacques Derrida re-examined the fundamentals of writing and its consequences on philosophy

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Michel Foucault introduced concepts such as ‘discursive regime’

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Jean-François Lyotard identified in The Postmodern Condition a crisis in the “discourses of the human sciences” latent in modernism but catapulted to the fore by the advent of the “computerized” or “telematic” era (see information revolution).

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Richard Rorty argues in Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature that contemporary analytic philosophy mistakenly imitates scientific methods.

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Jean Baudrillard, in Simulacra and Simulation, introduced the concept that reality or the principle of “The Real” is short-circuited by the interchangeability of signs in an era whose communicative and semantic acts are dominated by electronic media and digital technologies.

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One of the most well-known postmodernist concerns is “deconstruction,” a theory for philosophy, literary criticism, and textual analysis developed by Jacques Derrida. The notion of a “deconstructive” approach implies an analysis that questions the already evident understanding of a text in terms of presuppositions, ideological underpinnings, hierarchical values, and frames of reference.

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Structuralism was a philosophical movement developed by French academics in the 1950s, partly in response to French Existentialism. It has been seen variously as an expression of Modernism, High modernism, or postmodernism[by whom?]. “Post-structuralists” were thinkers who moved away from the strict interpretations and applications of structuralist ideas.

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The idea of Postmodernism in architecture began as a response to the perceived blandness and failed Utopianism of the Modern movement.

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Postmodernism is a rejection of ‘totality’, of the notion that planning could be ‘comprehensive’, widely applied regardless of context, and rational. In this sense, Postmodernism is a rejection of its predecessor: Modernism.

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Literary postmodernism was officially inaugurated in the United States with the first issue of boundary 2, subtitled “Journal of Postmodern Literature and Culture”, which appeared in 1972.

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Jorge Luis Borges’ (1939) short story Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote, is often considered as predicting postmodernism

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Samuel Beckett is sometimes seen as an important precursor and influence.

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The postmodern impulse in classical music arose in the 1960s with the advent of musical minimalism.

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Criticisms of postmodernism are intellectually diverse, including the assertions that postmodernism is meaningless and promotes obscurantism.


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Phenomenology – Mystical or mystifying?

Day 302. Phenomenology. David Mulder via Flickr

Phenomenology is one of those words that crops up in undergrad sociology and philosophy courses. Whenever I heard it I felt sort of dumb, like when you hear a big word and don’t know what it means. And I think some people just used it to appear smart.

Academe games…

Edmund Husserl 1910s via Wikipedia

So early on I made a quick fix. Phenomenology is about personal experience. How a person sees it, I told myself, burning that simple definition into memory so I wouldn’t be caught off guard in seminars and the like. (Sometimes those seminars were really nasty).

When I need to force myself to remember something with a little trick, it usually means the concept doesn’t resonate with me.

I know pretty much all of Freud and especially Jung’s concepts by heart because they seem to have more relevance and richness than the simple, slightly mystifying word phenomenology.

But that’s just me. I’m sure many philosophy majors would love that word, which opens many doors for them.

Turns out the term is a bit more complicated and varied than my youthful quick fix would suggest (the top image is only one of many meanings). But that fix did get me through school okay. I never pursued the term much further because, as I say, it just didn’t personally connect.

Philosophers tend to get tangled up in their own concepts. Many seem to lack genuine insight and miss their own blind spots.

That’s how I see it. A huge generalization, it’s true. But overall, I much preferred the depth psychologists and mystics (I say preferred past tense because I’m always moving into new areas).

Edmund Husserl is usually mentioned when the word phenomenology comes up. Husserl wanted to study ‘structures’ of consciousness (whatever that means) and also phenomena that come into consciousness. At least, that’s how I understand it.

The history of the word is fairly interesting. I’ve used Highly highlighter to outline part of a Wikipedia summary. I could have rewritten this, but as I say, it’s not really my direct interest:

So looking at the above it seems that Kant believes there is a unknowable aspect to reality, whereas Hegel believes we can gradually come to know spiritual truth.

The problem with this Wikipedia comparison, as I see it, is that knowing (or not knowing) the “thing-in-itself” aspect of an object (noumena) is not the same as learning about spiritual presences (numinous).¹ The above quote doesn’t recognize the difference. But elsewhere Wikipedia does recognize it:

Numinous is an English adjective, derived in the 17th century from the Latin numen, that is (especially in ancient Roman religion) a “deity or spirit presiding over a thing or space”. Meaning “denoting or relating to a numen”, it describes the power or presence or realisation of a divinity. It is etymologically unrelated to Immanuel Kant’s noumenon, a Greek term referring to an unknowable reality underlying all things [emphasis added].²

Bottom line?

Don’t read anything uncritically. Even the venerable Wikipedia can be misleading if you don’t do a little digging.

PortalPhilosophers

PortalPhilosophers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

¹ A similar distinction can be made, I think, between matter/energy on the one hand, and spirit, on the other hand. Some New Age writers confuse these two ideas, which to me says they don’t know what they’re talking about. Or to put it more nicely, they’re sort of like newborns who have yet to learn how to differentiate among different types of spiritual experience.

² https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Numinous

Related » David Hume, Science


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Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie – Eccentric, Genius, Innovator

Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie (1853-1942) was a groundbreaking archaeologist. He was the first to precisely measure the Egyptian pyramids.

Pink Tutu by Chris Millett via Flickr

Historians love telling the fact that he wore a pink ballerina’s tutu while surveying the Great Pyramid. Some say he donned the tutu to avoid being stoned by “local religious fanatics.”¹

Appearing insane might have put the hostiles off guard. Others think he might have been a little bit touched.

There is no record of Petrie being gay so it seems dubious that he was trying to come out.²

In the Holy Land Petrie recognized the significance of earthen mounds which, due to his work, are now known as tells.

Unlike his plodding contemporaries, Petrie saw the mounds as records of successive settlements because each layer contained a distinctive style of ceramics.

Other conventional archaeologists had assumed the tells were natural phenomena.

From his keen observations Petrie developed a method of historical dating called sequence dating. The method is to dig down into layers of earth, thus reconstructing ancient chronology not from fable and abstracted history but from hands-on evidence.

This new dating technique earned him the title ‘Father’ of Palestinian archaeology.

Petrie’s unusual story doesn’t end with his wearing a pink tutu at the job site. He clearly had a very positive self-image. He arranged to have his head removed at death, hoping that his brain and all that it contained would be inherited by posterity.

Apparently the head was preserved in a jar and stored in a basement at the Royal College of Surgeons of London. The jar’s label fell off during WW-II, making it anonymous for a while. Later the head was identified and is currently stored but not on display at the Royal College.³

English: Flinders Petrie and Hilda Petrie in 1...

Flinders Petrie and Hilda Petrie in 1903 via Wikipedia

While his preserved brain might not be his most important legacy, Petrie trained a whole generation of “new style” archaeologists, to include Howard Carter. And his son went on to become a remarkable mathematician, discovering the Petrie Polygon.

Bottom line?

Sometimes genius and eccentricity go hand in hand.

¹ 1.1. Introduction to Anthropology, University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), 2007.

² Also: https://www.google.ca/search?q=petrie+pink+tutu&oq=petrie+pink+tutu&aqs=chrome..69i57.2660j0j4&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

³ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flinders_Petrie

 Egypt archaeologists unearth 3,500-year-old tomb in Luxor(telegraph.co.uk)

 Well-Aged: Oldest Traces of Italian Wine Discovered(livescience.com)

 A student found an ancient Canadian village that’s 10,000 years older than the Pyramids(businessinsider.com)

 Henry VIII’s lost palace found (foxnews.com)

 Egypt announces discovery of 3,500-years old tomb in Luxor (stripes.com)

 Turkey bones may help trace fate of ancient cliff dwellers (bostonherald.com)

 Finally, a tantalising YA book (for adults too) that uses archaeology to recount Indian history (scroll.in)

 Italians Have Been Getting Blitzed on Wine for a Very Long Time (gizmodo.co.uk)

 Egyptologists go high tech to unlock ancient mysteries (rappler.com)

 Stone Age Cannibals Decorated Human Bones While Butchering Them (ibtimes.com)


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Politics, Political and Politically Correct

Politics

According to the Oxford English Dictionary the first English use of the word politics can be traced back to 1450:

Aristotle..componede..the book of Etiques and of Polettiques.

A distinction is often made between small-p and large-p politics.

Small-p politics is about competitive human interactions in the workplace, organization or home.

Large-p politics refers to dynamics within a government system—municipal, provincial, state, federal, hemispherical (NATO, NORAD) or global (UN).

Also, large-p politics usually influence small-p politics. In turn, small-p politics cooperates, develops or resists large-p politics.

Another distinction could be made concerning the ethics of politics. We have honorable and dishonorable politics, fair and unfair play, human decency and indecency.

With so many news articles cropping up about corruption, it’s hard to overlook this possibility in any kind of politics.

Political

When we say something is “political,” what are we really saying?

The dictionary says that political is an adjective meaning anything related to politics, but that doesn’t tell us much.

Theorists like Michael Parenti argue that the word political has become a euphemism. It obscures human choices that influence or determine outcomes in struggles for control, command or jurisdiction.

For Parenti, the term political often hides human indecencies appearing in competitive organizational behavior.

Similar power theorists say that political choices are rationalized as “unavoidable” in light of existing policies and the pursuit of the greater good.

However, policy is not always in the public interest. Policies may be created to ‘legitimize’ systems of exploitation, fear and totalitarian control. Adolf Hitler used this strategy when writing laws to ‘justify’ the cruel and barbaric actions of the Nazis during WW-II. And while politicians and their underlings may believe they act in accord with policy and for the greater good, sometimes policies are seen as dead wrong. Accordingly, their chief authors may be peacefully removed or violently deposed.

In our aggressive, competitive world, with so much to gain and to lose, using the word ‘political’ in everyday speech is a political act in itself. ‘Politics’ and ‘political’ can be euphemisms for all sorts of crimes and terrors that might go unnoticed by the public.

Corruption and bribery are relatively soft terms. Harder, organized crime stories do appear in the news but are often minimized – sometimes almost humorously – by countries wishing to appear squeaky clean. In Canadian news it’s always bikers like Hells Angels who profit from organized crime, not the ‘decent,’ white collar folks living in middle to upper-middle class neighborhoods.

To my mind this might be a form of scapegoating and an extension of the age-old class war.

Image via Vimeo

Image via Vimeo

Plain and simple, the upper classes – law abiding or not – tend to demonize, blame and punish the lower classes to a greater degree than those in their own social position. Thus it is hardly surprising that the lower classes tend to resent the upper classes.

Such a dysfunctional dynamic hardly makes for a better society or religious organization, no matter what the politicians or pastors preach.

So saying that a social environment is political can be a way of implying something quite different from mere politics. It might be a way of talking about the underbelly of 21st century society without really going there. In fact, it’s hard to know what people are really saying when they use the word ‘political.’ And that’s probably why it is so popular. Ambiguity is safe. After all, parents have kids to feed, mortgages to pay, dream vacations to pursue.

Browsing through visitor comments on major US and Canadian news sites shows that some pessimists hate politics because they believe it is hopelessly inefficient and corrupt.

Sometimes I feel that. Good examples in Canada would be the CBC News app or our Canada Revenue web site. One gets the impression that coders not good enough for genuine market competition get hired by government. Even when these online services work, they are mediocre at best. By way of contrast, the Best Buy (US tech company based in Minnesota) web site updates several times a week and is always fully functional. Capitalism either works or it doesn’t. No taxpayer supported gravy train to ride in business.

So that’s the pessimistic view. But one could also argue that politicians are just people, doing their best to make positive changes in a wildly imperfect world. I recall a former Toronto police chief once saying that he had to answer to the entire spectrum of humanity. In other words, one must be political if one wants to get anything done. This is an interesting perspective. Certainly not one for idealists.

Political Correctness is...

Political Correctness is… by Dave Kleinschmidt

Politically Correct

Using the phrase politically correct is one way of being political.

An idea or action is politically correct if believed to be true or acceptable because the majority – or a highly visible group – in a given society see it that way.

Political correctness can be a good thing. PC can protect the vulnerable, the marginalized and those who are simply different.

However, some might merely pretend to believe in PC ideas for fear of repercussions. What would happen if dissenters were to voice their politically incorrect beliefs?

Some dissenters do voice their opinions, of course—especially in the US which has always championed free speech. This can lead to thorny debates and violent clashes about free speech vs. political correctness.

The U of T academic Jordan Peterson, whom some applaud and others see as a rigid, old-school dinosaur, is catalyzing this discussion on a global scale. If he were a minor academic, chances are he would have lost his job a long time ago. But because he’s fairly well-read and articulate, Peterson hangs on, saying that he’s prepared to be fired at any moment.

Related » Corruption, The SystemPolitically Correct, Nineteen Eighty-Four