An interview with Professor Rick Mehta, who teaches psychology at Acadia University, Nova Scotia, Canada. Recently, calls for silencing him have been issued because of his advocacy not only for freedom of speech, but for diversity of opinions, views and ideas on the university campus. Please support him.
The Memory Palace Of Jorge Luis Borges
Jorge Luis Borges in “Funes the Memorious” describes Funes as “not very capable of thought.” This observation certainly serves to undermine Socrates notion that knowledge is recollection of an innate wisdom. In the same paragraph, Borges continues: “To think is to forget a difference, to generalize, to abstract.”
These three categories are precisely constituents of knowledge and the process of recollection that Socrates explores, and they are precisely the processes that are missing in Funes.
Funes is a compiler of information. Bu having a perfect memory he has the capability of storing vast amounts of knowledge. However, he cannot abstract or generalize these facts. He cannot see the pattern that these facts fall into, or create.
When Socrates states that wisdom is intimately linked to recollection, he is clearly giving us a cause for consciousness. Funes, by merely recording perfectly, does is not aware as to what constitutes consciousness.
Funes is like a computer that can store vast amounts of information, yet it cannot think. Information in and of itself is not wisdom.
Wisdom comes from recollection, because when we recollect we construct patterns of thought, we seek similarities, we seek meaning that will congeal facts into a process of consciousness, allowing us to understand what it is that makes us aware.
As well, by stressing the importance of recollection in the process of acquiring wisdom, Socrates is also valorizing imagination.
Thus to possess consciousness is to possess imagination. This is precisely the difference between pure storage of information, and the imaginative use of that information.
As well, when we recollect something, we immediately re-construct that fact into a symbol or metaphor that becomes a cue to our own understanding of reality.
Because Funes has a perfect memory, and most of us do not, he cannot give the past a distinct identity, which independent from the external world that we ourselves inhabit. Socrates allows for the construction of precisely this world.
Through the imaginative process, which is also the act of recollection, we remember something imperfectly, and then proceed to construct thoughts that qualify this recollection, thereby arriving at imaginative thought.
And this precisely what Funes does not possess. He is a vast archive of information, a library, where information is certainly stored, but where imagination must be brought into play in order to transform, and therefore construct, facts into wisdom. Here we can ask, does a library have a memory? Or memory brought into the library by consciousness.
As well, it is important to realize that by stating that Funes if not capable of thought, Borges is also setting Funes as an opposite to the Socratic principle of wisdom.
Where Socrates describes consciousness as linked to memory in that recollection is an active re-construction of reality, and is therefore imagination – Funes is not part of consciousness; he is merely a “storage facility.”
Funes memory is merely an exact copy of external reality. It is perfect. Socrates’ process of recollection on the other hand is completely different from Funes’ memory. Socrates is speaking about consciousness, which is imperfect and inherently selective. Imperfect memory actively seeks out imagination and creativity – which is very the definition of thought.
In effect, Funes’ incapability of thought is in direct opposition to Socrates who links memory with recollection, and thereby consciousness and creative thought.
The photo shows, “Wedding on the Roof Garden,” by Dodo (Dörte Clara Wolff), painted in 1929.
Franz Kafka’s Modernity
Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis eerily captures the effects of various dehumanizing influences on the modern European family brought about in the name of economic surviva.
Gregor’s “metamorphosis” into an insect represents in vivid terms how a human being can imagine himself separated from the world in which he belongs, his very selfhood placed in jeopardy by his own family.
One of the most important aspects of the novella comes about at Gregor’s death, namely the role of the family. Gregor’s relationship with his parents is troubling. There is resentment between Gregor and his father.
When Gregor joins his family in the parlor, his father throws apples at him; one of them becomes embedded in his back and leaves him crippled, and eventually kills him. Instead of taking pity on his son, as one might expect, his father grows abusive.
Gregor’s mother faints at the very sight of him in his altered state. Her rejection of him is demoralizing. Grete continues to feed her brother.
Even in his present condition, Gregor still plans for Grete’s future, hoping to be able to send her to a music conservatory where she can continue to study violin. Having abandoned hopes of pursuing his own future, this giant insect absurdly puts all of his energies into getting his sister into a music conservatory.
Ironically, Gregor’s family becomes more self-sufficient as a result of his plight. His father has gone back to work. He no longer appears as an angry, disabled old man, but rather has undergone a metamorphosis of sorts into a bank messenger “holding himself very erect.”
Gregor’s mother sews piecework, and his sister has become a salesgirl. As they become more immersed in their new roles, the family members become increasingly indifferent to Gregor.
Grete begins to spend less time cleaning Gregor’s now filthy room, and is less attentive to his needs for food. The family has even begun to use his room for storage, making navigation extremely difficult for Gregor.
Gregor’s family is continuing to grow more resentful of him as they each grow to become more self–reliant and confident. Aware of their resentment, Gregor lies in his room and thinks “back on his family with deep emotion and love” until his death one night.”
After his death, the family members act as if they’ve been freed. “Well,” said Mr. Samsa, “now we can thank God.”
His parents and sister take off from work, which Gregor would never had done while he was supporting them, and take a streetcar out to the country to plan for a new future—another change.
Kafka weaves absurdity throughout his tale in obvious and subtle ways. Despite the fact that Gregor has been cast aside, so to speak, by his family, he still thinks of them lovingly. It can even be assumed that he died of a broken heart.
An interesting undercurrent of the story involves the changes that “flip-flop” between Gregor and his father. Gregor was strong as a result of his father’s failure. He crippled his father’s self-esteem and took over the father’s position in the family.
After the catastrophe, the same sequence took place in reverse. Gregor became weak and dependent, and his father maimed and ultimately killed him. As well, Grete became strong and beautiful. The family is happier after they are freed of Gregor’s stifling love.
It is Grete who succinctly sums up Gregor’s oppressive affection: “You just have to get rid of the idea that it’s Gregor. Believing it for so long, that is our real misfortune. But how can it be Gregor? If it were Gregor, he would have realized long ago that it isn’t possible for human beings to live with such a creature….But as it is, this animal prosecutes us…”
On the primary level, the “metamorphosis” involves Gregor, and his becoming an insect. However, as we read the story more closely, we discover a broader and deeper level of transformation – for ultimately, this story is profoundly embedded in the myth of death and resurrection.
Thus, it is with Gregor’s death that we see a resurrection on various levels, for it is this resurrection that is the metamorphosis of the story.
First of all, we realize that Gregor frees himself from the enslavement of his world. Thus, his death is not merely a meaningless fall of an insect; it is an act of liberation.
In fact, Gregor dies a very peaceful death, for he is utterly reconciled with himself, his death, ad his world: “He thought back on his family with deep emotion and love. His conviction that he would have to disappear was, if possible, even firmer than his sister’s. He remained in this state of empty and peaceful reflection until the tower clock struck three in the morning. He still saw that outside the window everything was beginning to grow light. Then, without his consent, his head sank down to the floor, and from his nostrils streamed his last weak breath.”
It is important to note that Gregor’s death takes place just as a new day is dawning; and it also takes place at the end of the March, just as the sterility of winter is giving way to new life in April.
The second level of the transformation takes place in Gregor’s parents. They have become self-sufficient, strong, and vibrant. While Gregor was alive, they were cacooned as if in a chrysalis.
In fact, Gregor’s father actively destroys his influence when he hurls the apples at him, one of which lodges in his back, perhaps leading to his death.
With Gregor’s death, they are freed of Gregor’s prison and they walk out of the house into the liberating light of spring and the promise of new life: “The car, in which they were the only passengers, was completely filled with warm sunshine. Leaning back comfortably in their seats, they discussed their prospects for the time to come, and it seemed on closer examination that these weren’t bad at all, for all three positions…were exceedingly advantageous and especially promising for the future.”
Lastly, it is Grete who is metamorphosed. No longer is she under Gregor’s wing; she has become a beautiful, young, vibrant woman. Like her father, she too actively sought the destruction of Gregor, as she realized that Gregor had to go; that was “the only answer.”
In the train ride together, her parents instantly realize the change that has come over their daughter. No longer is she pale and weak, but she has “blossomed into a good-looking shapely girl;” and her parents will soon “find her a good husband.”
All three have awakened from a nightmare into a dream: “And it was a confirmation of their new dreams and good intentions when at the end of the ride their daughter got up first and stretched her young body.”
If we extend the analogy of the insect world (suggested by Gregor’s transformation), we see that each member of the Samsa household has emerged from a larval stage into maturity, and hence freedom.
Gregor emerged from his larval stage and became an insect, through which he could free himself from the prison of his days. Mr. and Mrs. Samsa emerge and become independent and strong, and are freed from Gregor’s stifling love and worrisome care. And finally, Grete emerges as a beautiful, young woman, who brings with her the full promise of rebirth in the spring.
The photo shows, “The Matchseller,” by Otto Dix, painted in 1920.
A Defense of Free Speech
Into blind darkness enter they that worship ignorance; into darkness greater than that, as it were, they that delight in knowledge (Isa Upanishad).
On March 20th, 2018, Faith Goldy was going to give a presentation at Wilfrid Laurier Universities’ Paul Martin Center.
LSOI (Laurier’s Society for Open Inquiry), the group hosting the event, claims that they invited five professors to challenge her views, but that none of them accepted. Thus, the debate was turned into a presentation.
Yet, before Goldy could give her controversial presentation the fire alarm was pulled. With the sound of alarms, Goldy left the campus and adjourned to the adjacent Veteran’s Green Park with her audience.
LSOI promised that they would invite Goldy back for a second appearance.
This promise underscores the need to make a definitive judgement as to whether the WLU should allow Faith Goldy, and others like her, to be able to speak on campus.
I argue that it is in the interest of the school to rule in favor of allowing the speaker to return and give her presentation uninterrupted.
The university should allow the presentation because otherwise they may fall prey to dogmatism, the regulation of speech may lead to inequities, and free speech is in the interest of the marginalized groups they seek to protect.
Before diving into the ethics, I wish to discuss Faith Goldy’s position. She describes Euro-Canadians as the “native people” of Canada. She proposes a solution to stop the “ethnocide of the White race” and save European Canadian Identity.
One of her claims is that “High IQ Chinese are taking over the class rooms,” and that universities should do the opposite of affirmative action to Asian applicants, i.e. select against them in the admission process.
Commonly accused of being a “white supremacist” she counters that the reason for her measures are the opposite of white supremacy. She does not think that White people are the smarter superior race, on the contrary, it is because Asians, Jews and Indians are smarter “races” she takes her discriminatory stance.
This discriminatory stance is to “save” White people from becoming subservient to new “masters.” Also, she adopts what many would call an anti-Semitic stance.
Goldy says, “the first time we got an immigrant over-class was in 1881 with the great wave of Ashkenazi Jews” (who are “literally the smartest race on the planet”) came to Canada.
But wait, there’s more.
I want to make it clear that these are Faith Goldy’s views and not my own. It would be deceitful and unjust to omit these views to reader when discussing this controversy, especially when I seek to defend her presence here at WLU. For my own part, I abhor this line reasoning.
But, this article is not about what I think of Faith Goldy, it is about the effects that come with regulation of free speech.
The first reason why the university should allow freedom of speech is because it negates a slippery slope into dogmatism.
Universities are meant to be the anvil of new ideas, paradigm shifts, and revolutionary ways of thinking. When institutions regulate the speech of their constituencies, they tend to build their own echo chamber.
The fallout of this policy is that it creates a continuous cycle of reinforcing the status quo. As John Stuart Mill points out, dogmatism presupposes one’s own righteous stance on an issue.
Historically, it is hard for intellectuals to claim any level of infallibility in regard to evaluating “Nazi” points of view. In fact, people forget that the original Nazis were part the university intellectuals of their day.
The Einsatzgruppen were swarmed with highly educated members. Dr. Ohlendorf, one of the leaders of the Einsatzgruppen even had two PHD’s.
Intellectuals may be wise, but they’re not infallible. As long as that is the case they can never justify dogmatic policies for what are often grey areas.
Even if they are correct about Faith Goldy, who is to say they will continue to give correct evaluations of the speakers after her? Dogmatism is avoided completely when one ceases to regulate speech.
The second reason why universities should allow controversial speakers to discuss is because they may have a few good points to make, even if they are racist bigots.
There is always the possibility of a “diamond in the rough” when it comes to notorious orators regardless as to whether they are racists.
For example, many of the pro-slavery arguments that came from South of the United States were despicable. But even these Southerners made some good points that the US Northerners were afraid to confront.
The pro-Slavers contrasted the well-being of their slaves with the wretched lives of black factory workers in of the North.
Pro-Slavers might have been dead wrong about everything else, but they made great point when they showed that the horrors of industrial capitalism for blacks were not that far off from the conditions of a Southern slave.
If the North seriously confronted that statement, they might not have waited till the 1960’s (over 100 years later) to initiate social programs against poverty.
Even a broken clock is right twice a day. That saying might be true for Goldy and other controversial speakers after her.
The third reason why controversial speakers like Goldy should be allowed to speak is because the violation of rights such as free speech endanger the public good in the long run.
Politics can be unpredictable.
You might have a party in power who “justly” silences the “unjust.” But what happens when power changes hands?
After initial censorship, that the silencing of others has been normalized, so now who is going to stop the misusing of that power?
The forth reason why free speech should be allowed is because it dissolves hate speech in the long run.
Dialogue is the crucible of changing thought. The best way to destroy hate speech is by argument, reason, and public discourse.
John Stuart Mill points out how if we do not fearlessly discuss truth then it loses its lively quality and becomes a dead dogma.
Speech is more then just fact and fiction, communication is the fabric that holds our societal consensus together. If we cease to be engaged in grappling with what we believe in as a society, then we might forget why we believe in the values we profess.
As time passes and truths become unquestioned, we forget over the generations why we believe them.
Members of our community begin to stray ideologically from the truths we have established in the past. Free speech is how we recover those members who have been lead astray.
For example, take Harvey Milk’s famous Hope Speech in 1977. Harvey Milk was the first openly gay congressman in the USA. He was a civil rights leader for the gay community.
After years of toil, abuse, and violence the gay community questioned the continued protest as opposed to going back in the closet.
In his Hope Speech, Harvey encouraged them to hang on to hope. Here, he extended his sympathy to the hardships of the gay community.
But at the same time, he utilized the power of free speech when he told them “unless you have dialogue, unless you open the walls of dialogue, you can never reach to change people’s opinion.”
Far from telling the LGTBQ+ community to remain silent, he told them to speak out.
He advised them all to come out of the closet, so that they could show the world that they were not pedophiles or a sexual menace, but that they were people like anybody else.
Free speech may seem like it is against the wishes of the marginalized, but, it is their most powerful weapon. Can we really afford to take that away because some members of the population feel offended and unsafe?
The whole point of a PRIDE parade was to offend the sensitive conservative onlooker. The flamboyant display was meant to be an act of provocation to the members of society who preferred that gays remain behind closed doors.
The idea was to be proud instead of being ashamed.
Once upon a time, it was the LGBTQ+ community who were seen as the dangerous misfits who made the world unsafe for society.
John Stuart Mill and Milk were right. They knew that free speech led to ideological cohesion, not fragmented hate. Truth brings people together more than it drives them apart.
Free speech allows for the hateful to be confronted.
When it is illegal to express ones hate in public then one keeps it a secret. When this happens, hate is preserved behind closed doors and whispered behind the backs of future victims.
The hateful do not change their minds just because we make it illegal for them to hold a hateful stance. Instead they simply go on unopposed.
For example, if I was a racist and the school made it illegal for me to express my racist views, then I would never bring it up in public.
My hateful opinion would go unchallenged and I would simply become a secret racist who went around committing quiet acts of racism.
If I am allowed to express myself, then I increase the chance that others will confront my views. This increases the possibility of swaying hatful people through dialogue to reasonable positions.
The worse thing we could do is let hate to speak out unchallenged. When society failed to mobilize an ideological counter to Faith Goldy, we missed our chance to shed light on the darkness of her thoughts.
I’m not saying we would change her mind, but we might have changed the minds of audience members grappling with these demons.
I concede that there are times when one should break the law to do what’s right. I sympathize with the person who pulled the fire alarm on that day. But was this person really doing what was best for society by pulling the fire alarm?
I do not think so.
I argue that allowing free speech was the right thing to do, not shutting down dialogue. Because a true conscientious objector breaks the law for the good of society, and this person did more harm than good, thus I deny labeling them as a true conscientious objector.
I would not be surprised if they thought that they were doing the right thing, but they were misled.
These are the reasons why I think Wilfrid Laurier University should allow Faith Goldy to speak again upon her return.
It’s not because I agree with her views. On the contrary, I think they are horrible. But if we regulate free speech we fall into the greater darkness of dogmatism. Intellectuals are smart, but they are far from infallible.
Free speech may take a while to prove its worth, but in the long run it becomes the safe guard of the marginalized. It is the arguably the most powerful tool for keeping society engaged and on the same page.
Furthermore, it is our obligation as citizens to take on these speakers. We should not support these horrible views, rather we owe it to the marginalized to stand up on their behalf by debating these orators.
More importantly, we owe it to members of the community who are struggling with these ideas and those who have been blinded by them. Since Socrates, our task has been to take people out of the cave of illusory shadows and show them the light (even if they make us drink hemlock for doing so).
The photo shows, “What Freedom!” by Ilya Repin, painted in 1903.
How Should We Think?
The enduring emphasis of skill in the educational system emphasizes two kinds of thinking, while neglecting a third kind.
Skill is closely related to know-how, or technical knowledge, and to analytical, or scientific, knowledge. The former is repetitive and performative, in that a skill is repeated in order to produce the same result.
Scientific knowledge seeks to explain or predict; it can do no more. For example, many children are prodigies with mathematics or music, in that they have acquired the skill to repeat notes or numerical patterns.
Their expertise, or skill, is marvelous to witness – but no one turns to them for guidance on issues of freedom, individuality, or responsible government. Why? Because we know that skills are not higher-level thinking.
In the same way, a physicist understands fully how to establish models that can test natural laws and predict what nature may or may not do – but we do not consult this person about matters pertaining to the good society, or love. Why? Because physics is analytical and cannot be used to understand goodness or love.
Despite these obvious handicaps in scientific and technical knowledge, we still demand that higher education worry only about training workers. While everyone is functioning smoothly in industry – who is looking after the functioning of society?
Perhaps the reason for voter apathy, for example, and low voter turn-out may directly be related to this question.
There is a third kind of knowledge, which may be labeled practical wisdom. It is not technical, explanatory, or predictive. It is concerned with ideals, with formulating judgments and making decisions, and it directly relates to the way we encounter the world around us and the way we participate in society.
In other words, there is a specific kind of thinking which directly relates to the good society. Practical wisdom is about ideals. Life is always greater than tangible, material things.
Indeed, what is more important to human beings – happiness or skill? To worry about skills is to desire to become a robot. To worry about happiness is to understand our humanity – because to be happy each of us must reflect upon what truth is and what goodness is, and each of us must create meaning in our lives.
Skills can do neither of these things. To be happy, to have meaning and value, we need to think critically, in the true sense of the term.
The photo shows, “Maud Cook,” by Thomas Eakins, painted in 1895.
Fair Trade Coffee?
Fair-trade coffee as a product which is being produced and consumed within a complex of values such as ethics, economic disparity, geographical boundaries, political realities, and environmental considerations.
And this complex involves the largest consumers of coffee who live in the richer northern hemisphere of this planet, and the various growers of coffee who inevitably live in the poorer, and often impoverished southern hemisphere, such as, Mexico.
But is appears that fair-trade coffee has forced the consumer to make ethical choices about personal consumption, since eating can no longer be a neutral act – it involves a whole array of forces that must be negotiated before coffee can be poured into a cup.
In the area of food production, globalization has meant that an industrial model has replaced the traditional family farm. Food is no longer produced by a farmer, but by large conglomerates whose aim is to produce food on an immense scale in order to minimize cost and increase profit.
This means that the bulk of the food we eat is produced not by farmers but labourers or workers who simply tend crops on land owned by conglomerates. Even when small farmers do grow product, such as coffee, they usually must sell it middlemen who are part of the conglomerate structure, since they have no other method to sell what they have grown.
And in this industrial structure, the profit is at the top-end; the worker in the field simply gets a wage. In effect, the very role of the family farm has been eradicated by this industrial model of food production, since the individual cannot access the marketing structures of the conglomerate food growing operation.
Moreover, by selling to the conglomerates, the individual farmer does not control the fluctuation of commodity prices that is the reality of trade when carried out in vast quantities. All too often, individual farmers tend to one-crop operations. For example, in North America, most farmers grow corn to be used as feed for the massive beef and dairy industries. Most farmers do not grow food that can be sold directly to consumers.
Food, as a result, is now produced in a highly centralized fashion, and distributed to the consumer by equally large grocery store chains, which also share the same corporate structure as that practised by the producers of food – namely, bulk production to lower production cost and increase profit.
Such vast structures in food production and distribution has led to dissent – those that see such structures as inherently unethical, in that the production of food has been taken away from the individual farmer and placed into the hands of food factories, for lack of a better term.
One such form of dissent is the “fair-trade” movement, which seeks to restructure the production and distribution of food (as well as other items) so that the family-farm can again be made important in the job of feeding people. Briefly, the fair-trade movement suggests that the “conglomeratization” of food production is inherently an ethical issue – that it is unfair that the money is made at the top-end of the food production chain, while those that actually get their hands dirty, literally, and cultivate the crops, see very little of that profit, other than their wages.
As well, this often meant that the imbalance further distanced the have and have-not nations of the world, with the haves being in the northern hemisphere and the have-nots being in the southern hemisphere. It was in Europe that this dissent first acquired a formal organization under the term, “alternative trade organizations,” or ATOs.
The purpose of these ATOs would be to purchase goods from family-farms or farming cooperatives, more of than not in the southern hemisphere, and then establish a system of distribution of these goods in the northern hemisphere.
These ATOs would also do two things. First, they would get rid of the various middle-men who profited from food production by simply facilitating the movement of goods from source to consumer (such middle-men are part of the food conglomerates); and second, they would instil in the consumer the sense that eating, or consumption, is not a neutral act – it can either be ethical or unethical.
The point being that by consuming goods distributed by the conglomerates, one was enriching the rich, and therefore being unethical, while on the other by purchasing fair-trade goods one consumed ethically, by ensuring that labour was properly paid for, and profit shared in direct opposition to the tradition industrial mode – the bulk of it going to the bottom-end, that is, at the level of the individual consumer.
The largest fair-trade commodity, and the first to be handled using the ATO model, is coffee, which is a product that clearly highlights the level of economic disparity between the coffee consumer (almost always in the rich northern hemisphere), and the coffee grower (always located in the impoverished southern hemisphere).
This means that coffee has become an important cultural product, in which social values, economics, and politics have blended. Since the issues of economics and politics lie well beyond the scope of this paper (although they cannot fully be treated as bearing no influence on the topic at hand), the focus will primarily be on the social values that are set into motion each time a cup of free-trade coffee is drunk. And these social values are clearly demonstrated at the level of consumption.
Ethics is the most important value that comes to the fore. When a consumer sees the label “fair-trade coffee” in the context of other, non-fair-trade coffee, there is a subtle manipulation at play.
The consumer is being told that free-trade coffee is not a product of the conglomerate, the immense “coffee factory.” Rather, by purchasing fair-trade coffee, the consumer is being asked to support a structure that markedly works against the conglomerate. In other words, the consumer is being made aware of an important fact – that spending money is not only a form of personal acquisition – it is also an ethical act – that money must be spent in such a way that it gives equal value to all.
There is a big difference between the terms “value” and “profit.” On an immediate level, “profit” lies at the heart of the industrial model and is intimately linked to another important term, “growth.” Industry needs to continually grow in order to maintain its profitability.
This is why there is always a stress on growth, so that the one year must show greater gains than the previous year. Not showing such gain means stagnation – that one year is as same the as previous. “Value,” on the other hand, means involves an altogether different emphasis. Instead of “growth,” the stress is on “sustainability” – the notion that production should be maintained at a certain level.
Sustaining the livelihood of an individual farmer carries an entirely different set of assumptions than growth and profitability in industry. Therefore, the consumer is asked to contribute, by purchasing fair-trade coffee, towards sustainability – and at the same to walk away from the industrial model.
However, this choice becomes a complex one when retailers who are conglomerates themselves become involved. For example, what does fair-trade coffee become when being sold at Starbucks? And is sustainability possible if large retailers demand more and more fair-trade coffee? Or the danger that the profit model will be re-manipulated?
Perhaps in response to this involvement of large retailers, there has been a further refinement of fair-trade coffee – namely, “shade coffee,” which is coffee grown beneath the canopy of forests, since the coffee plant is shade-loving. Shade coffee has brought the issue of the environment in the choice that the consumer must make. And sustainability means not only sustaining the individual farmer, but sustaining the environment.
The opposite of shade coffee is sun coffee which is a plant that has been genetically altered to yield a higher crop. But, sun coffee requires cleared land that then needs to be heavily fertilized.
Sun coffee is having a devastating effect on the environment – it is contributing to the disappearance of various species of birds. Shade coffee, on the other hand, uses traditional approaches to growing coffee beneath trees and is therefore environmentally friendly, as it encourages biodiversity, and is often grown on family farms.
Since shade coffee needs the canopy of trees to grow, the participation of large retailers in marketing and selling shade coffee will mean greater environmental sustainability, since trees will not have to cut down.
But will this mean the small coffee farmer can also be sustained? It would appear that slapping ethical labels on food is part and parcel of our continuing moral decline – we want to be good, but we no longer know how to be good – and this opens us up to all kinds of economic exploitation.
The photo shops, “Automat,” by Edward Hopper, painted in 1927.
Émile Durkheim And Progress
Emile Durkheim’s sociological views depend upon the concept of progress, in that society evolves, or moves through, various phases; and this he readily sees when he begins to examine the idea of labor within society.
Thus, he finds that traditional division of labor evolved into a simple division of labor, and then into a more complex division of labor. This organic view of society implies that the various components that comprise any given society not only structure this society, but also have well defined functions.
Therefore, society is not merely a composite of individuals; it is in fact an entity unto itself which influences and determines individuals by way of social currents and social norms.
Although these influences are the result of human endeavor, nevertheless they are not linked with individual will. This, in short, is Durkheim’s sociological project.
Given this co-dependent, but not co-determined, relationship between society and the individual, Durkheim seeks to locate a sociological explanation for social structures as well as individual endeavor.
One of the structures that he seeks to explain is the economic life of a society. Within it, he locates the role and purpose of labor, which determines the specific functions of economic life. Thus, for him, the crucial point can be found in the division of labor, which he tells us determines new paradigms of social cohesion and correlations.
One of these correlations is structure of the regulation of contracts. He tells us “the contract is not sufficient by itself, but is only possible because of the regulation of contracts, which is of social origins.”
This is an important statement in that it houses Durkheim’s notion of what is actually meant by “regulation” of contracts. In order to understand this, we need to first examine Durkheim’s notion of the contract, and then its regulation.
Since society determines and is determined by the individual, Durkheim recognizes that it is equality that binds individuals to their functions within society, and consequently cohere these functions into a greater whole.
Thus, contracts are a necessary development of the division of labor, since they precisely articulate a consensus, or collective thought. And therefore, the division between rich and poor is the result of unjust contracts. However, as labor is divided, social doctrine weakens, and the gap between rich and poor becomes insupportable, and individuals begin to crate contracts that will make
relationships evenhanded. Certainly, there is a need for contracts in society, since they structure social life, and if no contracts existed, individuals would take abuse and misuse each other. Consequently, what Durkheim means by “regulation” of contracts is the implementation of liberty and equality within society.
Therefore, regulation is the establishment of social order, wherein economic and legal contracts become amenable and practical. In effect, regulation is the agreement between individuals within the context of society.
The idea of regulation stems, for Durkheim, from his notion of social systems, which are exemplified by mechanical solidarity and organic solidarity. Durkheim tells us: “This gives rise to a solidarity sui generis which, deriving from resemblances, binds the individual directly to society. … It does not consist merely in a general, indeterminate attachment of the individual to the group, but is also one that concerts their detailed action….They produce everywhere the same effects. Consequently, whenever they are brought into play all wills spontaneously move as one in the same direction.”
Thus, mechanical solidarity incorporates the collective consciousness, wherein collective ends are pursued, especially common responses to flaunting of regulations. Here, the individual is dependent on collective or common consciousness. The purpose of this solidarity, which comprises efforts that encompass common values, common beliefs, and those experiences that permit individuals to cooperate and function successfully.
While mechanical solidarity heavily regulates activities and social relationships within society, there is also the development of a great flexibility that guarantees individual freedom, development, change, and the growth of personality.
Durkheim observes: “Whereas other solidarity implies that individuals resemble one another, the latter assumes that they are different from one another. The former type is only possible in so far as the individual personality is absorbed into the collective personality; the latter is only possible if each one has a sphere of action that is peculiarly our own; and consequently a personality….Indeed, on the one hand, each one of us depends more intimately upon society the more the labor is divided up, and on the other, the activity of each one of us is correspondingly more specialized, the more personal it is….Society becomes more effective in moving in concert, at the same time as each of its elements has more movements that are peculiarly its own. This solidarity resembles that observed in the higher animals. In fact each organ has its own special characteristics and autonomy, yet the greater the unity of the organism, the more marked the individualization of the parts is more marked. Using this analogy, we propose to call ‘organic’ the solidarity that is due to the division of labor.”
Now, it is organic solidarity that shared principles and expectations are embodied, such as the law and the market.
The importance of regulation of contracts can be seen in various ways.
First, they restore the situation to where it was before the offense occurred, that it, to its original state.
Second, this process guarantees that society is present in the form of the law, and the legal system derives its authority from society. Thus, society intervenes and ensures that the dispute rises beyond the individual.
Third, rules and laws are set forth in a general manner, which are then regulated. Fourth, and most importantly, the individual is “condemned to submit” to the law, and is not punished as such.
Progress, then, determines the individual’s regulation in society. It s here that modern liberalism finds much of its impetus.
The photo shows, “The Assembly of the Six Counties,” by Charles Alexander Smith, painted in 1891.
God And Science: Three Responses
In our secular world, belief in God is popularly linked with either delusion or dangerous political agendas.
In the West, it’s normal and “rational’ to say that there is no God since no scientific proof for Him exists.
How is a Christian to respond to such a foregone conclusion? Here are three to consider.
FIRST RESPONSE: FAULTY REASONING
To ask for proof for all things that are essential to life in order to affirm truth or gain certainty is extremely fuzzy logic. Human beings have always understood and dealt with the world in two ways.
Through science which seeks to explain how the world works, and what kind of patterns exist in nature. And through religion which seeks to explain the meaning and significance of reality.
In other words, the minute we start looking for meaning, we have already entered the realm of religion, or the realm of God, that is, we are always in search of significance and meaning.
There are two types of knowledge in the world: naturalist (or scientific) and idealist (or meaningful).
We cannot use the logic of the one to deal with the other.
For example, science can show, prove and study life on the planet. But it cannot answer this question, which each human beings needs to answer for himself – what is the moral purpose of life?
Naturalistic logic fails immediately, and we must turn to idealist logic which alone can explain meaning.
The logic of idealism deals with things not seen, such as, love, empathy, charity, friendship, hope, and goodness.
Man does not live my bread alone.
SECOND RESPONSE: THE MATTER OF TYRANNY
If God continually showed Himself so people would have proof – could we really look to Him for moral guidance? No, we could not. Why? The idea of morality depends upon another essential idea – free will.
If God continually showed up on earth and stopped both moral and natural evil as a demonstration of His power, what kind of creatures would we be? Would we not be slaves only motivated by fear of being found out? Certainly, such fear lies at the heart much human belief. But fear is not part of the equation in Christianity. This is why neither Hell nor Heaven are clearly defined. Here is true wisdom.
But if God is love, then He must be invisible so that we may have the ability to express our free will without hindrance. If God keeps interfering with our expression of freedom by becoming a looming, controlling presence, He becomes a tyrant, and He cannot love us, and we are not really free.
Perfect love and perfect freedom can only exist when individual will has the opportunity to be expressed unhindered. Therefore, God is silent and seemingly absent, so that we come to understand what a moral life is to be lived, not only through teaching but through practice.
THIRD RESPONSE: THE STRUCTURE OF GOD
God may choose to be invisible and absent, and yet He is immediately knowable through His structure. What does this mean?
Here we can borrow the logic of science and use it to understand a crucial point. All reality is constructed in a specific way; it has a structure.
There is a grand system, or guidebook to the all life and to the cosmos – something that science is becoming mature enough to understand.
Yes, for the many centuries, science has been childish, and therefore wilful and petulant, happy to rebel and deny God as a delusion.
But things have changed – the complexity of reality, of creation, has forced science to grow up and acknowledge what it has denied – that chaos cannot create order.
There is a grand design to everything. Nothing is random, even if it may at first appear to be so.
From the atom to the largest planets and stars; they all have a structure which gives them not only form and organization but also purpose.
For example, in medical science, the structure of disease must first be mapped; only then can a cure be formulated. And what is a cure? It is a competing structure that unhinges the harmful structure of the disease.
Therefore, nothing that exists is without structure. In other words, being is structure. But notice structure has two aspects: shape and function or purpose.
All things have a shape – and a purpose; they fulfill a role. This twin characteristic of reality is a reflection of God. He has a shape (the structure in which all reality exists – the sum of all life), and He has a purpose (the reason why there is something in the universe when there could be nothing).
The very fact that there is life means that there is God, since life has both shape and function, or purpose.
In these three ways, we see that when people say that there is no “proof” of God, and therefore He is simply a figment of the imagination, they are simply reaching for an easy answer in order to affirm their own moral choices, and these choice are often just emotions. In fact, most atheists are angry at God for some perceived let-down.
The question has nothing to do with God – it has everything to do with what people choose to do with their lives. But such is God’s love that He has generosity of purpose, and room enough in His structure, to permit disbelief and denial.
The photo shows, “The Adoration of the Golden Calf,” by Andrea di Leone, painted ca. 1526-1627.
Stalin Wasn’t Alone
Do dictators ever stand alone? A dictator is defined as a one who has total power over country, but is that even possible? Can one man ever have total control of a nation, even if he wields, say, Stalin’s iron fist?
When we think of Stalin’s USSR, we tend to imagine a totalitarian world that resembles Orwell’s 1984. At the head of the state is Stalin. Directly below him is a hierarchy of mindless henchmen. And of course, below them is the constantly terrorized multitude which is under constant watch by the regime. This narrative is a myth of history.
This narrative completely deprives anybody any agency besides Stalin. Like many myths of history, it is an oversimplification which meets a political agenda. The truth is far more complicated.
I am not doubting the brutality of the Stalinist Regime. The historiography on the Stalinist era is riddled with horrors (often down-played by contemporary leftists). There was the mass famine created during collectivization in the Ukraine that killed at least 3.3 million people.
Mass paranoia and accusations swept across the land in the Great Purges of the 1930s. After show trials in kangaroo courts, the accused would be evicted from their homes and exiled to Siberian Gulags, if lucky – and immediately shot, if not.
None of these horrors are in doubt. There is a lot of bloodshed and violence to be accounted for, but was it all done at the behest of one man alone?
There is a lot of bloodshed and violence to be accounted for, but was it all done at the behest of one man alone?
Stalinism went beyond Stalin. The historiography shows that large portion of the population was more than willing to participate in Stalinism. There is a lesson to be learned here, if we wish to fight the dictatorships of the present.
Collectivization was big task. Such economic reform was the push to get citizens of the USSR to nationalize their possessions, farmland, and estates into a single collective. Many Ukrainians refused to yield to be part of collective farms.
In fact, “activists” and others aided the state in the forced collectivization of the countryside.
Hundreds of devoted communists came down from the cities to terrorize the peasantry.
These “progressives” were aided by peasants who believed in the creation of the collective farms for political and personal gain. Those under Stalin acted on their own initiative in this very anarchic part of Ukrainian history.
Collectivization couldn’t have happened without the mass support of communists on the ground.
Where did these communist supporters, the communards, come from? Before Stalin even took power, there was a massive push by students to form collectives and inspire workers and peasants to do the same. The seeds of communism were grassroots before they blossomed into atrocities.
The Great Purge is another example of a Soviet catastrophe that transcends Stalin’s “total” power, fueled by an active engagement of the population.
Starting with Stalin eliminating right-wingers in his inner circle, the purge spirals off into a nationwide frenzy.
Colleague purged colleague, co-worker purged co-worker, and neighbour purged neighbour in a chaotic slew of accusations.
People on the ground had much to gain from participating in the witch-hunt, including wealth, power, and fame. Worst of all, many believed that purging those around them was an act of patriotism.
The blood of these victims is shared by the citizens of the USSR.
If we say that Stalin had all the power, then we deprive the accusers and activists of any agency. And if the accusers had no agency over their actions, then how can they share in the guilt of these heinous deeds?
If Stalin was a totalitarian (meaning that he wielded total power), then we deprive the citizenry of the Soviet Union any agency. The fact is, the Soviet citizenry hosted Stalinism, or at least participated in it.
How could they be guilt-free from the atrocities of the Stalinist regime? To believe so would be an injustice to victims of famine who died in collectivization, and the victims silenced and exiled by the purge.
Well then what is Stalin’s dictatorship? If it’s not total power, then what is it? Stalinism was the true enemy of the people, not Stalin himself. Dictatorship is the control of information. It is the
manipulation of minds though coercion and deceit. Dictatorship is a belief, not a person. Insomuch as people use force, they are believers in dictatorship. Insomuch as people pollute the air with their own dishonesty, they are believers in dictatorship. It’s not Stalin you have to worry about, it’s the Stalinists.
The historiography reveals a great sense of belief in Stalinism amongst the people. Diaries reveal how a great deal of their authors were “progressives” who were repulsed by “backwards” conservatives.
Sons of kulaks (nebulous term for farmers who were deemed unprogressive) would join the State in the witch-hunt against their own kinsmen, so that they could fit in to the new social order by doing away with the old.
The citizenry constantly engaged with the state to settle personal problems, from marriage advice to bad blood between friends (these were all former functions of the Russian Orthodox Church). Stalinism was, in fact, a secular theocracy, full of ardent believers.
There are some lessons to be learned from understanding the nature of dictatorship. When you hear about a dictator on the news, don’t assume that his people are all plotting against him. Shockingly, the opposite is more likely to be true. Also, most professors and students at universities aren’t against the dictatorship of their nation either, they’re just rebels without a clue.
Most importantly, when your neighbours start charging each other with meaningless accusations, know that a purge is knocking at the door. And if you survive the witch-hunts, console yourself with the knowledge that the madness can’t last forever, not if we take a stand.
We must continually counter tyranny, with the greater assertion of our freedom.
The photo shows, “The Glorification of Stalin,” or “Stalin Among the Workers,” by Yuri Kugach, painted ca. 1950.
Soft Power – The Best Weapon
For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.
Sun Tzu, Art of War
Let’s be real – in a world threatened by nukes and guerilla warfare – we don’t need guys with guns in the military. We should fire them, send them to school, and then rehire them as either intelligence officers, medics, R&D workers, or anything else that’s actually useful.
The world is divided into two groups: countries with nukes, and countries without nukes. When we pick a fight with another nation (for God knows what reason), we are either going to be fighting a nation with nukes, or without nukes.
Lord help us if we fight a country with nukes. Nuclear war is not fought with soldiers. More importantly, nobody wins. After a nuclear winter, radiated food supplies, mutated children, and the destruction of every major city owned by the combatants – there won’t really be much to fight over afterwards.
Think about it…are the guys with the guns going to stop this from happening? Do you think they will protect you after a nuclear strike? Think again.
Well, if we can’t pick on people our own size, then what about invading the little guys who don’t have any nukes? You know, countries like Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, and then maybe Afghanistan again. Invading countries – knowing beforehand that you’re going to withdraw your military afterwards – makes no sense.
How many times has America (and its allies) fallen into this cycle?
Step One: We find a country that isn’t doing what we want. It could be that it’s adopting an undesirable ideology. Maybe it’s just not giving us access to its resources and markets. It doesn’t matter. The cycle has already been started.
Step Two: We unleash the wrath of God on that nation. We invade them with the greatest military power that the world has ever known. Rape, murder, and theft spread like wild fire as anarchy ignites in the aftermath of the destabilizing invasion.
Step Three: A band of guerrillas arises. Maybe they are united by some anti-American ideology. Maybe it’s one faction fighting another.
Step Four: To combat the sabotage, insurgency, and other guerilla activities, we use our guns to snuff them out. Guys with guns, or big planes with bombs to destroy the most elusive and indestructible enemy in all of history i.e. an idea.
Step Five: It turns out that guys with guns and planes with bombs are expensive commodities. Unlike the guerillas, we don’t have time on our side. Bullets start to make a poor excuse for the words that are needed to sway the natives. We start to realize that statecraft is a long term and expensive investment that we don’t want to make.
Step Six: We leave. The guerrillas come out of the woodwork and take over the nation. Bullets didn’t win any hearts and minds. So, then why do we have the bullets again? If we came for business, the common man never sees a penny of what we sacked from the nation we invaded, and the guerrillas take whatever was left behind.
It’s time to use brains over brawn. We should fire soldiers, send them to school, and then rehire them as either intelligence officers, medics, R&D workers.
There are plenty of reasons to invest in our intelligence services. International intelligence organizations specialize in understanding political climate of enemy nations. They focus on directing the internal forces within other nations, seeking to organically shape favourable ideologies, policies, and governments within that nation. Furthermore, they shed light on information kept secret by foreign nations. These are some, but not all, of the tasks intelligence services perform, and they perform them more efficiently than the troops on the ground could ever hope to.
It is intelligence that specializes in manipulating the internal forces of foreign nations, not the infantry. When the government wants to create or support grassroots movements in enemy nations, they employ intelligence officers.
When the government wants to find insurgents hiding in caves, forests, or jungles, they employ intelligence officers.
When the government wants to shut down nuclear programs in enemy nations, they employ intelligence officers.
When the government wants to counter or launch a cyber attack, start a coup, stop guerillas from getting funding, or launch a propaganda campaign in another nation, they – you guessed it – employ intelligence officers.
These guys are our best hope in changing the ideologies of other nations, especially when they work tactfully with politicians and diplomats.
If we are to truly defend our democracy, then we need to invest in intelligence. This way we can win hearts and minds, while protecting our own domestic hearts and minds.
Medics would be another critical tool in the military of this new soft power state. Medics are key in giving foreign aid. They can be mobilized to stimulate research through investment in the latest medical technology, and medics can be mobilized to counter spreading epidemics caused naturally or by bio-terrorism.
It turns out the there are a lot of sick people in the world. It also just so happens that governments of foreign nations can’t always handle the sick of their nations. Part of foreign aid, which is a very powerful diplomatic tool, is medical aid. Investments in medics would strengthen foreign aid.
When we invest in medical technology, we invest in our own health also. Investments in medical technology stimulate medical research outside of the government.
For example, the epi-pen was designed by the military to quickly administer medicine to soldiers on the battlefield. Now civilians use it to quickly administer medicine in medical emergencies. Investing in military medicine in an investment in our own health.
Lastly, military medics are our best way to counter foreign diseases across the world. When an epidemic breaks out in Africa, South America, or Southeast Asia, do you think the government mobilizes civilian doctors to counter it? Of course not. They send the Army.
So, when the next plague hits, don’t you want to be ready for it? In fact, the next Black Plague may well be started artificially.
The final major investment we need to make is in research and development, good old R&D. This is the way we can keep ahead of the curb. R&D is responsible for new ideas and the best technology. It stimulates the economy when innovations are shared, while allowing our military to be one step ahead.
Something almost universally agreed upon by the “Left” and the “Right” (if those terms are still even valid in the twenty-first century) is that R&D stimulates economic growth.
Remember, it was the space program – which was funded by the military – that is responsible for kick-starting everything from the microchip to the memory foam mattress. Even the internet was funded by public tax dollars as part of R&D and then released to the public. These technological advancements not only stimulated the economy but led to a new age!
In reality, contemporary armies just don’t cut it anymore. We need to use mind over matter and that means investing in intelligence officers, medics, and R&D to a name a few of the better alternatives. We’re like the ancient Greeks at Troy. We know we can’t just muscle our way though, so then why not think our way through – and come up with ways of taking apart our enemies from within? That way lies sanity in our age of conflict.