Anchor for this item posted by Bernard Tremblay at Wednesday, March 27, 2002; Wednesday, March 27, 2002

Having added my bit to a thread at rabble.ca (babble: $36000 per month ... How Sweet It Is!), I came away oddly thunderstruck by one fellow's reply that made $500K/year seem so entirely reasonable. One person, earning half a million dollars a year? I've often thought it a lot of money, but it's never seemed so completely ludicrous before. How can one person's self-image sustain the rationalization? Even applied to an entire family ... that's very nearly twenty times the national average ... how can a person be so disconnected as to think that amount of yearly income fair, except in the most legalistic way? Nearing 3000 years after Thrasymachus told Socrates that might makes right, we haven't budged an inch in that regard ... the power to command justifies ownership of excess; the fact of acquisition serves as the fundamental argument to the right to accumulate and consume. The behaviour of no "mere animal" has any such basis, and machines need to be programmed in order to follow such a rule. But human beings, in their pathological sophistication, press this case and find high aims by which to make this seem not only right and fair but even just and good. Madness of an ancient sort, despite the modern toys and post-modern excuses.
I went back to my old plan to update Uttal's "Psychobiology of Mind" (it will be 25 years old next year) and was reminded how much I like his approach. (I wonder if there's funding for a VRML confocal project?) His presentation of the mind/body "pseudo-problem" got me thinking again how, if it weren't for the fact of joy and suffering, nothing would matter very much at all. And that thought flipped me into Bateson's "Steps to an Ecology of Mind", which means I've gone well out of the realm of today's politics. Or have I?
I can understand why someone would want to be able to argue that their personal fortune is somehow justified in the face of increased human misery, but ... to think ... that they cook the books, stack the deck, manipulate politicians, and otherwise poison the public domain in order to do so ... we really are dealing with something hideously like evil.
Flipping through Fritjof Capra's "Web of Life", I realized that my grade 4 reading of laser theory has finally worked some good: it's the light wave itself that organizes the dynamic ... so, perhaps, might the function of mind ramify through brain. I wonder if it could be thus and still epiphenomenal?! But more to the point, I wonder ifa wave of clear thinking could wash through a community and somewhat the same way and, by so doing, have the same effect? heh ... how does one go about measuring the propagation speed of a meme and then, with that, derive the resonant frequency of community?
(Perhaps it's by its aspect of compassionate intention that happiness transforms pleasure?)
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Anchor for this item posted by Bernard Tremblay at Tuesday, March 26, 2002; Tuesday, March 26, 2002

Funny how something new can develop from a small change in habitual patterns. Tonight I saw a good long movie on the ''tree-sit'' movement on the West Coast ... Julia Butterfly, kneeling to press her face to the earth after, what 20 months up in her tree ... police forcing tear gas under the eye-lids of young non-violent demonstrators ... creeks clogged with fine silt ... Gypsy, days before he was killed when a lumberjack felled a tree directly onto him and a group of friends ... landlslide after landslide after landslide starting from some lumber road and running down through vaste patches of clear cut ... and the workers, saying how fish can grow again, how there are lots of other streams, how this patch of forest is just an insignificant patch of dirt ... and always the bright faces of youth, active in the name of beauty and dignity and plenty. As Julia put it, "loving respect is the answer". And it is, of course. But we need to complicate it, in order to make room for our justifications and rationalizations and story lines. Our blasted planet really is an image of our psyches ... stripped of all but the last shred of the pristine. (I just read that only 2% of Brasil's Atlantic rainforest remains ... inconceivable!)
Anyhow, that brought me across a new thread, new pages, new material, and that means new links. The March 6 page from Progressive Review carries an essay by Sam Smith called "Nobody Left But Us that begins with this paragraph:
If you're waiting for someone in power to do something useful about this mess, forget it. The axis of violence - Bin Laden, Sharon, and Bush - has turned this into a war of alternative terrors, the only certainty being that, by their bidding, somewhere, somehow, more innocent people will be killed or maimed. In this country, those of influence who should rebel against the madness are too cowardly, incompetent, or complicit to raise their voices.
It was the Buddhist Peace Fellowship site that got me to the Progressive Review site. I went there haunted by the image of the policemen torturing those kidz ... and the lumberjacks (you could almost hear the "click" when their brains clicked into "ideology" mode. I cut trees for a living ... selective cutting ... I know how easy it is for working men to understand sustainability, and how easy it is to throw the switch, abnegate responsibility, and spool the internalized propaganda when althernatives aren't practical). Not only did going there bring me that site and that essay, but it also brought me some news: the trend I've been noticing at BPF is coalescing around the new anti-war movement, and BPF has announced that it has signed on to the United We March program for April 20th action in Washington, DC. I'm considering trying some personal fund raising (i.e. begging). 30 years of activism have left me with not enough for a bus ticket across town (not true ... a friend lent me $12 tonight), so I can't actually say I have an experience of sufficiency, but it would be a good project to try ... it would be good to spend time with people who are fundamentally like-minded.
Loving respect is the answer.
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* Re-reading this old piece,Hurting and Confused, I though back through the forest of motives and am moved to believe that confounding pleasure and happiness is the epistemological error. What has escaped me all these years is hidden behind the Protestant Work Ethic's dogmatic requirement that gratification must be put off, delayed indefinitely, if it is considered at all. The opposite of this has taken us like an epidemic and serves still as the focus of our deliberations: instant gratification. At best gratification is slightly delayed in order to be amplified, where an immediate pleasure is passed by in favour of one that is greater. And yet the distinctions are only between varieties of pleasure, large and small, immediate and at one remove, but never does happiness come into the picture except as a false wrapping for what is in the end only yet another variant of pleasure.
Pleasure's relation to happiness is paradoxical in the same way that the impulse to enlightenment relates to the practices; striving too compulsively for the goal forecloses the processes by which the goal is reached. There is necessarily a pleasurable component to happiness, in that happiness is a desire to be fulfilled, and yet happiness surpasses pleasure in that it is more than the simple fulfillment of desire. Focussed on what is merely fulfillment of the will, we are most likely to engage in activities that preclude the entirely realistic foundation that gives happiness its robust stability. The opportunistic nature of pleasure seeking results in a dissipation that undermines whatever might serve as a base for happiness. Whether addicted to the thrill of the video gambling machine, the euphoria of a drugged state, or the titillation of aclaim, the momentary only barely balances the short-term cost while the longer lived consequences remain to fuel the initial desire in a never lessening frenzy. There are those who are frantically in search of their fix, and those who are complacent in their momentary enjoyment of their most recent. In neither case is there the confident stability that allows the individual to survey the breadth and depth of their situation.
In the land of such pleasure-centered people, isn't the sane human being necessarily out of step? Is our present modern situation really other than that cosmology that describes the human as born on a plane between that of animals and of warring gods? This one is morose and abject in his pessimism, that one is bridling with menacing pride and paranoid greed, and neither wants of hear of anything but gratification in the short term. So there, then, is the challenge: how to formulate justice, compassion, solidarity, and happiness so that it is sensible and meaningful and moving for those who are desperately on watch for relief in the moment?
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Anchor for this item posted by Bernard Tremblay at Monday, March 25, 2002; Monday, March 25, 2002

* With someone for whom the word "karma" has a resonance, the idea that how something is done affects the results is not outrageous, or even strange, and so consideration of process and means is only sensible. This isn't always the case. For the materialist who has not truly realized the implication of dialectics (Marx supposedly said that he would rather an intelligent idealist than a stupid materialist, and it is that sort of thick individual I'm referring to here), considerations of means and processes are tedious necessities, required by either technical concerns or, perhaps even more often, concerns of appearance. For these individuals even the notion that other individuals should not be seen as means to an end is not at all obvious. I think I've come to a formulation that might convey the importance here.
What if we consider the situation in which we find ourselves at the end of a process, the situation that includes the product. For a stranger whose experience of the situation includes the product only as a dead object, the ways and means by which it came about will be invisible. But for those whose experience includes the actuality of production as living memory, the object is more complex. Won't the product have only the value and meaning that is appropriate to the full situation, which includes how it was brought into being? And so it is; this indeed is the karmic relationship that exhausts and surpasses mere material causality: the means, methods, processes, and relations that enter into production condition the product's ultimate meaning and value. Given a method that is shadey, a set of relations that are inauthentic, and a process that is manipulative, isn't it obvious that we will end up with a product that differs very really from one that might be identical except produced in authentic collaboration and communicative cooperation? So, whether the product is as concrete as a meal or as abstract as group assent, the ways that are engaged enter into the actuality that is produced, the end results embody the means.
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Reading David Loy's West against the Rest? Buddhist Response to "The Clash of Civilizations" and recalling the essays where he showed how our conceptualization of civil society affected the ways we acted on our values, as well as those values themselves, I tried once more to arrive at a statement of how I see the "emancipation project" of Marxism bound up the "enlightenment project" of Buddhism. Drawing upon an emergent situation to flesh it out, I decided to try and sketch things out.
The question I would like to pose the group this evening concerns process. Are we actually committed to the processes that we adopt and profess? or are these merely ways of describing our group functions in a way that distinguish them from those of groups we would declare exploitative and corrupt? If the former, then it would be reasonable to expect a visceral and energetic reaction when processes slip into more expeditious ways of meeting needs where individuals are either used and manipulated as means or are disregarded. That we slip occasionally shouldn't be surprising, since we've been deeply conditioned to that way of doing and being. And it shouldn't be shocking, because that would give rise to a scandalized denial. And yet it's just that sort of defensiveness that I experience in actuality, which makes me wonder if the real benefits and advantages of concensus-based collaboration have been understood, since there's so little drive to realize them (in the good old sense of "to make real").
Last weekend the working group met and two of us were to collaborate on a callout. I forwarded a few documents to my collaborator, with the idea of priming the pump. There was no reply until he sent me a slightly-modified version of the callout another city had drafted, with no acknowledgement of what I had sent. This was the only communication from him in the three days from the WG meeting til the day of our general meeting, and so the version of the document that was presented was necessarily my reworking of what he had forwarded.
The draft was circulated at a committee meeting before the general meeting, with only few and only very slight comments. The document met the same reception at the general meeting and so I proposed that it be sent to the group's general mailing list, with the idea that it be released Friday, early enough to go with people to that weekend's workshops in two different cities, unless it was blocked.
Over the course of the week I received a single comment which pointed out two rather obvious errors of grammar, errors I saw coming from my style of cut and paste composition, and the sort of errors I was likely to miss in my own writing. Given that solitary comment, and the degree of the errors, I responded to the list by saying how I saw that as showing how the document had not really been read closely. (This would concern me even if participatory production were not such a priority for me.) My collaborator responded with a peculiar bit of logic, suggesting that I couldn't base that conclusion on a single comment. I call this peculiar because it was precisely that fact of ther being a single comment that made my point; the point would have been baseless if there had been a greater number of comments.
But the peculiarities accumulated quickly and at the last minute he wrote saying that "some people" had made "some suggestions" and he no longer thought the document should be released.
Hours later he sent out a revised document. The document might be judged as better than the original, even with the process having introduced new errors, but I have to wonder about the way it came into being (and here I draw nearer my point). An individual who did very little to create the initial draft, who found little problem with the draft when it was presented to the whole group, on involving a number of people outside the group reverses himself and blocks the draft that the group had okayed, and then revises that document in keeping with the second group's suggestions.
My point concerning Marx is simply this: only by unalienated engagement with production does the work represent one's labour in a way that facilitates and energizes conclusions concerning methods, aims, and uses ... the intangibles of social relations need to be grounded in individual's experiences. And regarding Buddhism, there is this: only when I am clearly aware of how my momentary preferences and dislikes are conditioned by events from the past, can I assess how my decisions in the moment are actually determined by the present situation and how they are loaded with aspects that relate to other situations and other transactions.
In a society organized around the clique and the pecking order, it's sensible enough to see others as being those who are striving to dominate or those who are to be dominated. Absent an understanding of collaborative development, we naturally adopt relations of "lead, follow, or get out of the way".
While professing beliefs in democratic processes that involve the group as a whole, in matters large and small the membership is likely to accept ways of doing things that entirely reverse group decisions, depending on the identity of those involved. Maquerading as agents of autonomy, individuals can reap the benefits of conventional authoritarian hierarchical production that relieve them of their responsibilities and their duties. Sensitive to the promise of compliments and inclusion as well as the threat of argument and marginalization, entities that exist in order to undercut conventional power relations actually perpetuate them in the most insidious way.
A "good enough" document produced by the group was blocked at the very last minute by one individual who had been positioned to contribute from the very beginning, in favour of another version that was only slightly better, produced by that one individual in concert with a second group. Wouldn't some sort of questioning be appropriate here?
How can the group grow and develop without experiencing the consequences of its internal processes? It will never be productive. Nor will it be conscious. And thus as we betrayed, in the mundane, by those whose actual agendas contradict the principles agreed upon in theory. In denying, minimizing, or otherwise dismissing those contradictions, the group itself plants the seed of corruption, dishonesty, and manipulation. Although the consensus process has been intentionally chosen and explicitly supported, and although one of that's process's major benefits is in its use to explore and dissolve conflict, all this has here been subordinated, apparently to the need for avoiding the possibility of conflict. The possibility of real consensus (requiring the social processes and groupd dynamics that have comprise part of the group's goals) has been traded for the mock security of mere compliance (complete in itself).
It's about authenticity, and integrity, and the wholesome sort of sanity that grounds an impartial appreciation of what's what.