7 Aug 2010

Right states of mind

Ethics and morality are always a difficult subject, as is the question about the real meaning of life. It is therefore interesting to see what creative people thought about these issues. The famous British Bloomsbury Group and the Cambridge Apostles were guided in terms of their ontology / morality by a lesser known philosopher (lesser known perhaps because he died at a rather young age) called E.G. Moore. Moore argued that nothing else is important in life other than "right states of mind and beautiful objects". Long term social goals and ideolofies are false, since the individual can do very little to attain them in reality, and they are mostly about self-importance rather than real social virtue.
Now that is an interesting proposition. Right states of mind. It resonates well with Buddhism and Eastern ideas that everything seems to be in our minds. It can be pleasant ideas, conversation, art, love, happiness, etc. It is also the avoidance of wrong states of mind, such as sad thoughts, worries, depression, fear, hate, etc.
What caused some debate amongst these British intellectuals was of course the issue of responsibility. Does the 'right state of mind' idea mean that one should not be engaged in any form of social activity. Some of them argues yes, and this of course led to the rather elitist and eccentrist life that they lived (particularly the artists amongst the Bloomsbury Group). They were the last generation who believed they had the class based rather than a meritocratic right to lead British morality and estethic taste. Others, however, argued that social responsibility comes into the picture through the idea that we are one with the world (once again, quite Eastern). Rather than separating ourselves off from the rest of the society and the world as individuals, we must understand that we are one with the world. This brings in an element of empathy. In order to experience right states of mind, we must make sure that others can be able to do so as much as possible, and the physical world around us is not destroyed.

14 Feb 2009

The mutual trap of intersubjective nets

Individuals in badly functioning societies might come to realisations about why these societies do not work. They might then go on to share these observations with others. These truths might spread, and be shared by many people. Yet these ideas will fail to change the way society at large works, and the minority who are in the know will go back to acting like everyone else. There is simply too much pressure from the intersubjective common knowledge of how things usually are. This might be through corruption, male dominance, the power of the clan, clientalism, religion etc. These deeply embedded cultural traits have incredible resilience and might last over several generations.
Those who see the shortcomings of the given society are left only two options from the traditional trinity of voice, exit and loyalty. Voice comes to be seen as pointless. Repeated attempts only wear down the energies of the individual. Loyalty is aa plausible option. The individual can always explain their confirmity. "Here is where I was born...". "One needs to make a living..." The other realistic option left is exit.

22 Oct 2008

The role of faith

In our modern life we tend to assume that everything happens according to certainty. We base our mundane world on certainty, and we only tend to do things which are based on some previous knowledge, scientific evidence, or experienced objective certainty. Yet there is more to life than this. Everything else is considered risky, foolish and belonging to the world of faith, that is, senseless myths.
In fact it is hard to imagine a life that is lived completely based certainty. Life is in fact full of moments when we take leaps of faith. We enter school not knowing if it will land us a job. We enter relationships not knowing how long they will last or if and when they will turn sour. Life is full of leaps of faith, and once we recognise this, the question is only whether we are able make use of this knowledge and be able to carefully choose between decisions we make based on certainty, and leaps of faith we take because we deem it to be the best strategy at that point.
The more we master the skill of relying on faith, the more we will be served well by it in moments when we have nothing else to rely on but faith.

Remembering the bad moments

In everyone's lives there are horrible moments. Everyone's. It might be extreme fear, aggression from others, a terrible accident, war, the loss of a loved one... The horrible moment can take many shapes and forms. Our western culture teaches us to hide and suppress these moments. It councels us to try and not think about them and concentrate on the beautiful and on the future instead.
This is a dangerous mistake.

On loyalty

The most important thing in a relationship is to know where your loyalties lie. Loyalty is a strange word to use, but not a bad one. It refers to the fact that you have chosen to invest your loyalty in a single person, your partner, above and before everyone else. Literally everyone else. Before your friends, before your boss, before those of the opposite sex that might want you, before those that you would want, even before your parents and your siblings.
It means that you have to be reassuring, reliable, available, secure, trustworthy, and true to the one you love. This is very difficult to achieve.After a while your relationship is not so thrilling any more. It inevitably becomes somewhat routine like, even if you continue to preserve its special chracteristics. You meet new and interesting people, sexy ones, intelligent ones, interesting ones, people who thrill you, people who have power and money, charisma.
The reason you must maintain your loyalty is quite simple. A very small loss of loyalty can shake and damage a relationship considerably. You do not even have to be unfaithful in a physical, emotional or intellectual sense. Just put your loved one behind someone else just once, and the air is already poisoned. People in a relationship rely on each other for emotional support to a mucn larger degree than on other people. Single people have a lot of friends to rely on. Couples tend to close in, since they cannot tell everything to their friends...this would also be a betrayal of loyalty. Hence the imperative to maintain loyalty before everything else. There is only so much atmosphere of trust to ruin. Not all that much at all. And then you are off, having to look for the next relationship. And the next one.

27 Aug 2008

The importance of everyday culture

The achievement of countries these days does not depend primarily on the extent of the land surface or the amount of natural resources the country controls. There are tiny states that have incredible radiation to the outside world (Monaco, Luxembourg, Singapore, Slovenia), and there are huge, natural resource rich countries that are struggling (most notably Nigeria, but also Venezuela).
Nothing is as important for the success of a country as the everday culture of society.
Noble prize winners and olympic gold medals are noteworthy. However, they are worth precious little if the general educational system is poor and if ordinary people live an unhealthy life. The success of a country does not depend on outstanding individual achievements. On the contrary, they are often a sign that something is wrong with the general culture. This is especially true if these personal achievements take place outside of one's home culture (as in the case of Africans who have moved to the West).
What is everday culture? First of all, it is not high culture. It is not the number of Verdi operas you can name, or the historical battles you can remember. As Dénes Kemény, trainer of the Hungarian water polo team that has won the olympic gold medal three times in a row, has put it, he will prefer weaker players who are team oriented to players with superior skills who are too individualistic for teamplay.
Everyday culture is rather an amazing number of latent understandings, compromises, abstractions, systems that people share in a given society. It begins with understanding and keeping to formalised systems such as the legal system or the the traffic code. It then extends to semi formal systems such as an understanding of how a democracy works in practice, or to to interethnic and interconfessionak tolerance. At a very extreme it reaches into domains that are completely informal: street politeness; how to interact with strangers and acquaintences; how to have effective discussions and agree on issues; how to keep your word; knowledgee of foreign languages. At the end of the day it is these latent, imponderable, unseen elements of common culture that define the economic potential of a society. Physical elements of a culture such as flashy cars, expensive cloths and new buildings are easier to see. Common culture is more difficult to identify, to discuss and to improve. However, you might come across people dressed in the finest cloths, driving the most expensive cars, and still unrefined in their everyday culture on the inside.
If these latent systems, these abstractions are there in people's minds, and they manage to keep to them, society will function smoothly. If people are unaware of these rules that govern everday lives, if they do not understand them well, or if they have lost their faith in them because society around them does not keep to them, there will be malfunctions. Members of society will cause each other harm, losses and delays. There will be snags and hitches, inefficiences. Society as a whole will lose, in addition to individuals. The operation of a society is as good as the knowledge and belief of individuals members of it.
Faith is incredible important in this respect. The driver that does not allow you into his lane knows that he will not gain much by doings so. He willget home two or three seconds earlier. The reason why he does it is because he has the experience that he gains nothing by investinging in society. He will never get back the favour from the same person. He will get it back from another member of society - society being an abstraction, but a functioning abstraction. If the majority are willing to make this abstract investment into society, the favour will be returned. If they are not, society will not function, further strenghtening individual experiences that a socially oriented strategy does not work, thus one has to fend for themselves. Therefore there are vicious and virtous circles that lead to societal failiure or success.
Robinson Crusoe, when stuck on a deserted island, continued to uphold the daily routine of a civilised environment. He kept a diary of months and dates, and punished the birds when they ate his food. He was a man who understood the importance of social norms and rules even though he was living all by himself. Some of us live in mass societies and yet fail to keep the same rules in mind.

26 Aug 2008

Modesty is a much overrated virtue

The American economist John Kenneth Galbraith says in his memoirs that he had thought that the most likely inscription on his gravestone would be: modesty is a much overrated virtue.
An interesting observation. In many of our cultures it is taken for granted that modesty is a positive virtue, whereas the opposite is bad, be it what it may be. But is modesty really so important? Isn't pride, or self-confidence just as important? Especially in today's world? Shouldn't we place at least as much emphasis on teaching kids to be self confindent and proud of themselves as we do on being modest? Americans are good at this. Europeans, especially continental Europeans in the Germanic and Slavic regions are not so successful.
Of course the opposite of modesty should never be too bragging. But why the emphasis on modesty, and why not on pride?