Monday, July 30, 2012

Anatomy of a half of an hour

Think of a half of an hour. 

What bearing does a single half of an hour have on us when there are so many hours, day, weeks, and years in our lifetime? Thirty minutes, eighteen hundred seconds, one forty-eighth of a day, one sixteen-thousand-five-hundred-twentieth of a year. Time is something that is both misused and misunderstood simultaneously. That is not to say that time is unimportant or unfair. There are many of us who have a slanted perception of how time ultimately affects us. There are many things that can and cannot be accomplished in a half hour. You definitely aren’t going to enact social policy, but you could enjoy nature for a moment; admire the forests and streams that may soon be gone. You might not be able to watch the great plays, but you could finish a chapter in a novel.

So why the lack of time?

As if some were given more time than others?

The answer is simple.

Perception is the key to life.

Some see only what they cannot have and others see what they already do have. That perception leads us to see that responsibility of our own choices is what frames our lives. Let us think of our elders. This modicum of people has experienced and can reflect back on their years of worry and realize that there was more around them than they believed. They once saw life as a race in which you could never beat the clock. They experience life anew, returning to places and participating in things long forgotten. As we move through this life, we are often faced with the overwhelming certainty that we will not finish what we have started. We barrel through life as if each precious second was wasted if we stopped for a moment. But it is this life that we race through that we are truly missing. The elderly see life as it was: the simplicities that make it great and the complexities that often leave those still seeking purpose confused and bewildered. It is in the two extremes of life that we see beings understand the world for what it is, our elders and our children. Children are beset with such wonder for the world that they are fundamentally unburdened with a need to categorize time. They are free of this because they wander about experiencing the world around them. Even things that are already known can be experienced anew. Their choices and their consequences are simple to them because they are seeing them for the first time. They will not slant them and pervert them as purpose-finding beings often do. A child will not be heard saying that they don’t have enough time to finish playing in the woods. They understand the simplicities that we often take for granted.

So what can be done to make use of your time?

Different people at different points in their lives perceive time differently. Most waste time, but there are those who find a focus for their lives: a purpose. You, and the choices that you have made, have created the foundation for whatever walls stand in your way. Time is not the culprit of your ills, but human action, or inaction for that matter. Habit and repetition can help you to make good use of your time because once it passes you by, it is gone. All you can do is make the best of the time you have left. Focus on what you want and stop complaining because everyone else is too preoccupied to listen.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Recession or Robbery?

In the May issue of Empirical, Michael Coyle, in his article entitled "Democracy, The Rule of Law, and Other Utopias," wrote,"If, as in the recent economic rescue package, the biggest corporations receive billions in governmentwelfare, or "rescue," dollars to pay managers millions in outrageous salaries and bonuses, is it a recession we are in, or is it a robbery?"

Friday, July 27, 2012

"Iran: And What to Do About It" by Mustafah Dhada

Why is Iran so anti-Western? How does it see itself as a power in the region? These questions should ideally prove easier to tackle in two historical contexts: its distant past as a former Shiite empire, and its near recent neo-colonial past that severely undermined its sovereignty.

Kaluts Desert, Iran. PHOTO: yeowatzup

Iran began the 20th century as a secular state under the Pahlavi rule, a rule that saw unrest as its politicians, civil society leaders, and intellectuals grappled with shape-shifting searches for a post-neocolonial identity. In the process, a plethora of political activists and parties proliferated, leading savvy visionary leaders to seek coalitions, and form alliances to address Iranian self-determination. For Iranian politicians and political activists steeped in social reforms and social consciousness-raising it really did not matter who adhered to what ideology. As long they were united to tackle the task ahead, to liberate themselves from intrusive tyranny, that is all that mattered.

Note that Iran had had at least two long imperial reigns. The first period was brought to its knees by the Macedonians, under Alexander. The second more in the recent past had enabled Iran to re-craft its destiny and leadership in the region as an alternative force to three forms of Islam: Saudi Arabian Sunni Islam under the pre and then post-Wahhabist period, Sufi-based contemplative Sunni Islam from the Ottomans, and a broader swath of Sunni congregationalists elsewhere. That Shiite leadership role ended with Russian and British dominance in the region, crippling Iranian economy after the First World War. By 1940s Iran had been economically re-engineered to fuel Western needs (mostly British) for oil.

To the Russians, Iranian nationalist coalition with Iranian communist party and activists served its interests well during the forties and early fifties. They could through such an alliance expand their influence into the rest of Iran using Azerbaijan as a communist stronghold, and eventually reach the Persian Gulf – a warm port. To the British, the prospect of Russians perilously close to its oil wells, and infrastructure proved alarming, posing a real threat to its flow of revenues, gushing almost literally, from Iranian soil.

The nationalists inside Iran, saw the external powers as singularly insensitive, exploitative, and uncompromisingly inflexible in the face of their own desires for meaningful self-determination. It was in this context that Mossadeq rose to power! As we know, his government took unilateral action on oil and related issues – leaving the British with little choice but one. They gerrymandered sanctions on Iran using its powerful seat as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. In addition, Britain was nearly poor at the end of the World War II. Yes, it had won the war. Hitler was defeated – but in large part that was accomplished with American money, American power, and American political will. Britain has borrowed heavily form colonial and other imperial coffers to finance its warring enterprise in Europe.

To the Americans, the alliance with communists, and the alignment between nationalists and their cohorts in Azerbaijan and elsewhere in Tehran was yet another manifestation of Soviet empire building – and a good reason to nip it in the bud. Politically then, British and American interests coincided here. In terms of energy needs however, they did not.

In the meantime, America was on its second catapulting stage of consolidated rise as a global power, and its fuel needs were on the rise. Britain was economically weak. It could hardly dictate its own terms to resolve the nationalization crisis in Iran. America could. Its intervention there could once and for all, stem the tide of Russian march to the south, and enable Britain to extricate from Iran and save face in return for a forty percent share in the oil revenue. Further, it would introduce the United States into the Middle East directly as a major player. The pawn in all of this was – Iran.

Its democratically elected government had to go. It was replaced with a US – backed regime that would guarantee US tenure in Tehran for some time to come. To ensure the latter was accomplished, the US tied some of the Iran’s revenue to imports of military hardware; and ensured that the new regime publicly stated its neutrality over Israeli conflicts with its neighbors, and over Palestine which was about to be a hotly contested terrain. Little wonder then that today Iran views the United States as it does – a malevolent power with little to offer Iran and its people as a sovereign nation state!

Secondly, Iran as an Islamic Shiite republic has roots that stemmed from its immediate pro-American past and went deeper still to both its Islamic and pre-Islamic history. Mention was made earlier of the Iranian pre-Islamic imperial past. That past gave us the first ever bill of human rights recorded on baked clay adorning a cylinder, shaped like a djembe. The artifact sat on display in the British Museum ever since it was brought from Iran where it was originally found among ruins from the reign of Cyrus. That past hid several other gems – Zoroastrian monotheism, abolition of slavery, 1700 miles of freeways, a highly developed regional governorship, poetry as discourse, oral historiography, and architecture. This text of the imperial past is kept alive even today, by specially trained oral historians, by authors in historically inspired poetic narratives, by puppet masters, and by travelling cultural emissaries.

Islam once introduced in Iran tapped into this institutional and instructional richness, capitalizing on these to promulgate the new faith. The experiment proved a resounding success, so much so that the Iranian aristocracy, politicians, patricians, bureaucrats, and diplomats at one point dominated the Abbasid caliphate before the Mongols destroyed Baghdad in the 13th century. The American-backed regime under Reza Shah negated Iran’s Islamic past while attempting to craft its legitimacy to a Zoroastrian-based past under a new militarized modernity, a la Ataturk!

What the Shah regime failed to understand was that his opponents and the clergy saw him as an American backed usurper to the Pahlavi throne; and that the old pre-Islamic priestly class had not disappeared. In fact, the latter had proved to be a resilient historical force, highly adaptive to tumultuous and sudden changes in Iranian history. In this case, it had re-invented itself some centuries earlier to embrace the new faith, an equally monotheistic faith!

Under the Shah, they sat languishing at the margins, simmering under pressing economic conditions. The Shah’s reforms had failed to bring a deeper structural transformation of society in Iran. In fact, it had strengthened corruption and cronyism. It had forced the religious leaders back behind the portals of mosques and madrassas. Eventually, the two margins of society, the disfranchised and the clergy found a common cause behind which to rally. The Shah in the meantime had exiled clerics and other leaders overseas. There they sought to craft and re-craft a vision of a new Islamic republic under Shiite leadership. It was only a matter of time for a Mossadeq-like revolt to ignite Iran.

When the mid-1970s unrest flared, the clergy this time stood uncompromisingly firm. The Shah and all influences that had enabled him to govern over Iran had to go – and that meant the US in and around Tehran. By the time Khomeini returned in 1978/79 to lead the country spiritually, he had already refined his blue print to guide Iranian politicians and the political process towards an Islamic Republic.

The new republic therefore, saw itself as a new hope for the Muslim world. It was to right a past, a past that even the Abbasids had failed to maintain beyond the Muttawakil era. It was going to finally supplant the Ottomans and their heirs who ruled an empire but failed to provide a firm and clearly defined theologically inspired, as opposed to Sufi-inspired, leadership to the Ummah. Finally, the new Iran was going to show the way for others to combat hegemony.

As such they challenged an US backed Saudi Arabian Wahabism riddled with contradictions and corruption. They vowed to reverse the Shah’s neutrality towards what they saw as an US “province”, namely Israel. They declared their support of anti-Israeli and anti-American influences in the region through a variety of measures, from financing Hezbollah activists directly and through the Hawala system, to achieving nuclear weaponry to be at pares inter pares at it were with America. At least that was the original vision!

Today, we stand at loggerheads with Iran. We sabre rattle with threats of preemptive strike directly, or via a proxy. Israel stands button-poised to do it for us! In the end neither measure will work. All it will do is to remind Iran that for them the politics of the Cold War is not over yet. They were once invaded, taken over, and ruled for quarter of a century by an American-backed Satrap disguised as a Shah. If they are not careful this time over compliance on nuclear technology, they could witness another long debacle with foreign-baked rule.

It is time to bring Iran in from the cold. As it is, with the removal of Saddam under false pretenses, we created a leadership vacuum below Baghdad. Under Saddam, the southern region kissing the fringes of the western marshland had kept in check the Shiites and its leadership. The war with Iran had further cemented this Ba’athist’s highly secular view of a nationalist Iraq. Under him, it had little room for religious sectarians to play a role in his politics. The Iranians knew this. The Shiite in southern Iraq knew it too. They could push the envelop of political religiosity to a point – and no more. As long as they confined to sentimental and occasionally intense expression of Shiite martyrdom and annual pilgrimage to holy sites in the south, they were largely left alone, with periodic and violent reminders to eschew anti-Saddam politics.

With Saddam’s removal all hell or prospects of Shiite heaven broke lose! The vacuum was rapidly filled with Tehran-backed Iraqi Shiite leaders vying for prominence in the new US backed Iraq. In effect, what we see is a trifurcated Iraq. The Sunnis marginally hold on to the Iraqi midriff. The area above the midriff is squelched by the self-governing Kurds. The Shiite south is now on an osmotic rise to political power, making a national unity government in Iraq a dollar-backed American fiction. In fact, “the mission accomplished” results are in: Iraq has reverted to a de facto Ottoman province at the cusp of the First World War. There is no going back.

Let us recognize this. I wonder if we should not invite Iran to the table and in the process recognize it as a prospective power in the region. Should we in the West consider facilitating a post- CENTO regional security force with Iranian, Kurdish, Turkish, Egyptian and Saudi Arabian contingents? Syrians too could be invited, once the dust settles down north of Damascus. Their task would be to take over when the US and the NATO leave the region and then draft a regional security agenda. I wonder if a measure akin to this will not blunt the edges of Iranian antagonism while restoring power to those who live, love, and die in the region and call it their own? Here I am reminded of what Salahuddin, the Kurdish-born Muslim commander, and chevalier said to his Crusader opponents over occupied Jerusalem. Something to the effect that, “please know that you are from overseas. You will leave eventually. We will be here.”

Announcing the 2012 Summer Anthologies

The Paperback and Kindle versions of the Short Fiction and Poetry Anthologies are now available:

A Torn Page: 2012 Summer Short Fiction Anthology

Latitude on 2nd: 2012 Summer Poetry Anthology

We would like to thank all the entrants in this year's contest and look forward to future entries in the 2013 Summer Contest. Support these great poets and writers by picking up a copy and sharing it with your friends and family. 

Education: Fighting the "Boss"

I am mainly a coordinator of learning in the digital classroom, every once in a while gently steering the conversation to a truer north, but students are mostly on their own to find their path. I lay out the tools along the way that will help them on their quest. It's up to them whether or not to pick them up and wield them to their advantage.

In my experience, they rarely pick up those tools that can help them. As if in a Zelda video game, these students often randomly wander place to place, trying to figure out which swatch of grass will release treasure, or which person to talk to. But unlike when playing a video game, my students are often much less engaged, and instead of exploring, they go straight to the rooms with treasure that will score them points. In this manner, they miss some vivid experiences and hidden gems along the way.

When it comes to tackling the Boss--a big paper, a portfolio, an exit Capstone--these students who don't create their own experience through their education or utilize the tools given to them don't have the know-how to conquer the big Boss, and die.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Paul Craig Roberts on the Economic Crisis

"[A debt-based economy requiring perpetual growth] is a problem, but one among many. We have also, for example, the offshoring of US middle class jobs which has dismantled the ladders of upward mobility in “the opportunity society,” sent US incomes and GDP to China, and caused Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan to substitute an expansion in consumer debt for the missing growth in consumer income in order to keep the economy growing. Indeed, without the offshoring of US jobs by US corporations and the offsetting growth in mortgage and consumer debt, there would have been no financial crisis as the Fed would not have created the credit and real estate bubble that led to the mortgage-backed derivatives." - Paul Craig Roberts (left), former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury under Ronald Reagan, from The Matterhorn Interview.

In the 1990s, we were told that elimination of trade regulations would raise everyone's standard of living. Ross Perot disputed this and said that he heard a "giant sucking sound" as American jobs and prosperity would whoosh out of this nation and into others. I personally questioned the wisdom of these actions at the time, but as a young man, I trusted to what I thought was the superior wisdom of the two major parties that both supported free trade. In retrospect, however, didn't Ross Perot have it right? In the quote above, one of the developers of Reaganomics, Paul Craig Roberts, suggests that the offshoring of jobs has only made the wealthy wealthier. There was a Perotian "giant sucking sound" of American wealth out of our country and into China. And since the US economy was in a rut, the Fed, under Greenspan, creating artificial growth in the economy by maintaining very low interest rates that encouraged debt. Ultimately, the housing bubble was created by opportunities that the financial sector identified as a means of capitalizing on even more debt. Hence, they became richer still, but at the expense of everyone else.  Where is the debate about free trade and the offshoring of jobs? The two major political parties don't appear to want to have this discussion. The mainstream media don't want to have this discussion. And as long as Wall Street can keep getting wealthier from artificially low interest rates and speculation on our failure, they sure won't encourage this discussion.

A New Condition

The world is in crisis.

We have been lied to.

Each of us deceived by those who we thought would protect us. Conditioning has placed us where we are. Conditioning is what will free us once more. There is much about the world around us that we cannot understand for what it is; interconnected parts working for each other against the best interests of humanity. Like lambs to the slaughter, we were shown our roles. We did not fight for what we believed, nor did we conform to what they wished.

We succumbed to the will of perceived inevitability.

I think that we are avoiding the most obvious point of it all. It is not whether it is happening because we started it. The thing that we must remember is that we can do something about it. What we know and believe is little more than what we were told to believe; the wealth of our knowledge is little more than what has been told to us. The nations of this world are divided by walls and barriers that are not physical, but instead ideological and financial. We are not creatures of evil or apathy, but instead we are taught throughout our lives to behave this way, adhering and following the antediluvian archetypes of centuries and empires past.

What can be offered is not a panacea.

What can be offered is to help find the value in living, and the love in what is all around you. These times that face us are powerful and sorrowful, for each day defines the next. A change does not appear before our eyes, but is instead the earnest, incremental struggle of ideals and beliefs that will change the world.

It has been said that one human being cannot change the world. This creates a false dichotomy insofar that we have been made to believe that either our actions can change the world, or they cannot. This is not the way of things. We may change, for good or bad, upon the shoulders and backs of our brothers and sisters. 

The world is sick.

Humanity is ailing.

We have hunger, famine, disease, and widespread violence the world over. Consuming the resources of this one planet, we do so at such a rate that we will collapse beneath the weight of our own refuse before our time. If we are to survive, then we must fight to stay. We must believe that this world is worth having, and prove that we deserve to occupy this planet.

Some have deferred responsibility, saying that the world will do what it must and technology will catch up. But how can technology match our consumption and destruction pace for pace, if all of our monetary resources are being funneled into that consumption and destruction? All of us are responsible for what we do, how we behave, and the lives we live.

Granted, some of us are dealt sadder and tougher hands than others. I find it prudent to say that those nations and societies that have the least – at least in terms of what the West has designated as categories for determining status – have the strongest cohesion amongst the members of their societies because they must become interdependent. They see crisis and they join together, whether they understand it or not, and survive.

We as a species face such a need for survival. No longer can we look at the plights of the world through rose-colored glasses, or from atop our distant steeples. We must accept responsibility for the actions of the nations in which we live. Though we did not deprive a village of their resources, our constant demand for new things has driven industry to knock on the doors of nations the world over for resources.

It is time to stand up and say no more.

Caring about other people needs to be trendy.

Not because it is popular amongst the rich and the famous, but because it can and will save the world. None of us are perfect. Nothing is expected of us in this life except what we are willing to give. But we must not be afraid to give.

We are a community whether we wish to believe it or otherwise. Even if you strand yourself in the farthest reaches of the world, your existence is dependent upon the creation and distribution of consumer goods that you will need in order to survive. We are an interconnected world. We have this one world and we have to prove that we belong here. I have heard – from loved ones and mentors alike – that we cannot be responsible for what is happening to his world; that we are too insignificant to make an impact.

This feels like an excuse.

We want to be responsible when it is in our best interest. People wish to judge the actions of others, but not be judged themselves. They wish to say whatever comes to their minds, critiquing and attacking others, but not to be held responsible for the insufferable, illogical discourse that marks their opinions and doubts. 
The constructs of what we have been fooled into believing is the result of our own ignorance, and the arrogance of those who skirt across the tops of the economies and industries of the world. Some blame money for our ills: corporations. Others say that greater laws that enforce the practices of the corporations are the answer.

But, in the end, the existence of corporations is for profit. Private ownership and multinational corporations are two entirely different entities. The concept of personal freedom and the necessity for broad mass marketing of goods couldn’t be further from each other. We don’t need all of the things that we have.
I’m not saying that consumerism is the root of evil, but it is certainly a negative impression on the record of humanity. Our ever-growing hunger for consumption and subsequent squandering of resources might as well replace baseball as our national pastime. There are numerous documentaries already that can aptly explain to you the vicious cycles of production and consumption, and the eventual and monumental process of disposal. 

It is often hard to realize that the reality we have found ourselves in is a conditioned one. We were not born with ideas of capitalism or communism, libertarianism or determinism. These sorts of thinking (I hesitate to use that word) are generated from socialization and the ways in which we are instructed and conditioned to think. David Hume was a firm believer that society was not born of a social contract agreed upon by a meeting of the minds, but instead that we were born into an invisible caste bondage that holds us for our lives, if we allow it.

I find that I agree with such a position.

The inner-workings of class structure, as well as the distribution of wealth, tell us much about the realities of how we are programmed to think and conduct ourselves. Though there is something to be said for free action and thought, this seems a luxury that is talked about more than it is exercised.
The vicious cycle of consumerism is a product of this conditioning.

When the holiday seasons approach, as they inevitably do, it would do us good to look at the consequences of our behavior. It is the season of giving, but I challenge that prospect. Is giving for all to see truly giving? Is buying materials and transmitting them to another human being who is expecting that gift truly the giving spirit? Are we not simply doing what is expected of us when we ravage national chain stores, hording goods that have been discounted to move product that will only end up in a dumpster a few months later and contribute to an ever-expanding vortex of garbage that threatens to consume us?

Is this too negative?

Am I a scrooge?


Giving is not about physical substance, but about enriching the lives of others. If you truly wish to give something during this self-proclaimed giving season, then I would challenge you to give something that will truly help someone else. Give a child attention and enrich relationships with family. Donate time to help those less fortunate. Impossible, you say? My relatives would never go for something like that, some will say. I can hear the objections, but tradition has long been poor criteria for what is right and moral in this world.

But what is giving?

Is it simply time?

Or is it something more?

Kantian philosophy would have us believe that it is deeds done because they must be done, and not because of how they make us feel; to some extent this is what I am talking about. Giving because it is expected, or because you enjoy the outcome, the cheery faces and the thanks, seems empty compared to goodwill that is done without regard for personal satisfaction. This selflessness seems an impossibility given the nature of consumerism, but I feel as if there is a well of hope in humanity that is waiting for a moment to be great. When the giving season becomes a time during which personal tragedies and depression rank as trademarks of the holidays, we have to question what we have become. 

As our need grows, it expands beyond the boundaries of what the forest and bounty of our own land can yield. As skillful consumers, we take the lands of those people who we perceive to be in less need of their resources. Because, after all, we are the greatest nation in the world and our needs come before naked villagers in a far-off country whose name we cannot pronounce or spell.

It would appear that empathy is a forgotten emotion.

In our air-conditioned homes in the summertime, and heavily-heated homes in the winter, we are perfectly insulated from the plights of those people who are without homes or resources. Or are we? The ever-growing number of poor and homeless in the United States is an epidemic. Children still break open fire hydrants to cool off on hot summer days. Families still turn on ovens to heat their homes because they cannot pay energy bills, and that is if they are lucky enough to have a stove. The unequal distribution of wealth in this country is astounding. The gap between the rich and the poor grows each day.

Creating a system in which the blame falls on the individual despite the nature of the system has become the standard. We think that every person is capable of overcoming circumstances; that advantages are not awarded by birth and affluence. Pop culture has told us that if we think positively about something, if we dare to dream, then we can influence our future.

But this strikes me as logically incongruent.

And it should sound problematic to the world.

This type of belief blames those who do not rise above their circumstances. There is a passive nature to this time of admonition, hidden behind a beautiful possibility. I ask: is this truly the nature of the world? If you believe something, then doors will open for you? I think the outliers and exceptions have become the norm. We expect that if we try hard, then we will be rewarded.

What of those afflicted with famine and victims of genocide forced into refugee camps the world over? What of rape victims? What of children abused? Did these people not wish hard enough? Did they not direct their thoughts in the proper direction to find hope? I have certainly outlined only the horrors of the world, but we cannot turn a blind eye upon these sores on the back of humanity.

We have to stand up for those who have no voice.

Have we become a nation that hears, but does not listen? Have we become a nation that speaks, but says nothing? Some of my peers, as well as those a generation older, fear assisting those less fortunate; that by giving to them, the will to achieve will be broken. That somehow helping those that cannot help themselves will erode the fabric of who we are.

Is this true?

I am not suggesting that we bankrupt ourselves to help others, but as Peter Singer has suggested, we should give enough so that the least well-off can rise to a level that could be considered basic. When there are children starving in countries where what we pay for a gallon of gas could feed them for a day, I have to question whether sacrificing some comfort and affluence so others may simply live should not be considered.

We have been tricked into believing something that is not true.

They told us that there is a right way and a wrong way. They said there are republicans and democrats, conservatives and liberals. All around us the constructs of our society dictate endless false dichotomies that force us to choose one over the other without examining the rationality, or possibility, of something that we cannot perceive.

I sometimes try to think of a world that is so unlike this one. The mantra that there is no better place to live, or that we are number one, simply makes me sad. Who wants to be number one in a world where there is so much suffering and sadness? In America, there is immunity to the horrors and travesties of the world. We are insulated from the world that surrounds us.

We rally behind demagogues, partisan rhetoricians, who care more about the game of being elected than demanding excellence and change of policy. They have become so assimilated into the culture of domination and conditioning that their campaign rhetoric is little more than a clever game of chess with words. They dance and shuffle with issues that should matter, but know that the hot button issues (the ones we have been conditioned to care about) should have well-articulated and formulated opinions. 

I ask you, the reader, if an elected official changes your life.

We all see the numbers.

Unemployment goes up or down. Astronomical numbers of national debt are trickled down through the media. Wars are raged and lives lost, but to what end and purpose? Is there a greater good that is being accomplished by this careful illusion of smoke and mirrors? Or have we simply been deceived?

What is most interesting is that the people who rally the hardest for party politics are the ones most deceived by those in power. The struggling middle class and the poor unite behind a talking point. People have forgotten that they control everything. The concentrated wealth of the rich is such that they no longer fear.
The world does not change because power is assumed. One man can direct the world in a positive direction, but the capacity for change is in each of us. The ability to radically alter our circumstances is in the belief that we are equal, that we can help each other. Leaving those deemed as unworthy to fend in a world that rewards selfishness and shuns those less fortunate prepares us for failure.

I fear that when the times do not regulate themselves quickly enough, that change does not happen with the turn of a phrase or the passing of a single day, some will be quick to demonize. One man can lead. One man can inspire. But it takes a nation to change. It takes a world to see.

There are times in history we look back upon and shudder at the humanitarian violations of a government and the apathy of the people at its base. We wonder to ourselves how a nation loses its moral compass.



Comfort and Conformity.

I would like you to ponder the information presented. Take it in and really think about it. Talk about it with your friends and family and encourage intellectual discourse. Find your own answers. Seek out information. Do not be satisfied with the status quo or the regurgitated material that you see on every news channel. Fight against the propaganda and lip service of news that is created for you. Remember that you have the power to change your mind.

People may tell you what to think, but you decide whether or not you will believe what is being feed to you is truth, or if you will search for something that might be difficult. Some may try to convince you that questioning the good life is wrong, or that what you have read is wrong.

There is nothing wrong with disbelief, it encourages discovery.

Do not be afraid to be proven wrong, or to prove something wrong. These are the issues I grapple with every day. These are issues that I think autonomous beings of the free world must talk about. It would be intellectually dishonest of us as thinking beings to not analyze the impact of who we are on the world.

A new condition must prevail.
Carter Eskew wrote this morning about a Romney adviser who told an English audience:
"We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage, and he [meaning Romney] feels the special relationship (with Britain) is special," the adviser said. "The White House didn’t fully appreciate the shared history we have." My oh my. Like a photograph in developing solution, Romney is slowly revealing himself. He is white bread made with bleached flour. Once again — this time through his adviser's statement — he has shown himself ignorant of the changed ethnicity and politics of America. I don't have the census figures handy, but millions and millions of Americans ain't Anglo or Saxon.

Personally, much of my heritage is Anglo-Saxon, and I understand the primitive tribal impulses that drive this sort of thing. Every group has its element of tribalism that includes an in-group protecting itself from an out-group. But the America I love is about overcoming such tribal impulses, and uniting one people in a mutual cause. It's not clear that this is a view the Romney campaign shares. This is the same candidate that just marched into the NAACP and told his listeners that if they wanted more free stuff, they'd better vote for the other guy. Has the Romney campaign chosen to explicitly pit "white" America against the feared "other?" If so, it's a sad and misguided strategy.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Radically Empirical Neo-Romantic Vision

"The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity... and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself."-William Blake

I saw this meme of "Hippie Peace Freaks" posted on Facebook today. I think it's very much in the spirit of what the Empirical community is all about. It speaks of the romantic vision of finding ourselves in unity with nature, discovering the divine there, and calling for a science that embraces the radically empirical vision where quality is as important as quantity.

Did you see the great article in our May issue by the brilliant writer Randy Larsen about John Muir, by chance? If not, you ought to check it out. It was our inaugural issue. And we have copies left. You should get one either in print or digitally. It's not too late. For John Muir, nature was his temple.

Democrats Pass Tax-Break Extension for all but the Rich

The Democrat-controlled Senate has passed a bill (51-48) today that would allow tax breaks for the middle class to continue, while ending them for the very wealthy. This bill is expected to go nowhere in the Republican-controlled House, because Republicans argue that no one should pay higher taxes. It does not take much to read between the lines here. Republicans would rather let all the tax cuts expire than to allow only the very rich to be taxed higher. If this happens, they will argue that the Democrats made taxes increase on everyone. Democrats would rather let everyone pay higher taxes, and have the means to begin paying down the deficit, than to let those who can best afford to help the country get off the hook. If the tax cuts expire, the Democrats will argue that the Republicans created a tax-increase for everyone in order to protect their richest supporters. The tax cuts will most likely expire for everyone because of this partisan split in viewpoints. This will be one of the major decisions that voters will have before them in the 2012 election. Is the economy best served by providing the government additional means of serving the public (through taxing the rich at slightly higher rates), or by starving the government of the means to act on many important issues by having no one's rate of taxation return to the pre-Bush-tax-cut rates?

 Before deciding, one should ask themselves why the economy is in the on-going stagnation that we are now experiencing. Is it because the rich don't have enough money, or is it because the middle class and poor do not have the jobs and buying power to keep the economy going? Over the last thirty years, the rich have continued to get richer while the poor get poorer and the middle class is disappearing. Is giving the rich more money to spend working for the national interests? The record of the last thirty years does not seem to suggest that. Would giving the poor and middle class more opportunity and purchasing power stimulate the economy? Maybe it's worth giving that a try.

Granted, taking tax dollars from the rich will not cause the wealthiest of us to then stimulate the economy. But when the richest few are unwilling or unable, for whatever reason, to stimulate the economy, then government is the only source of stimulation left in the game. And unless we want to see deficits continue to grow ever higher, someone has to pay back in the system. Why should it not be those who have profited from the system over the last several decades at the expense of everyone else's labor?

A Writing Perspective from the Other Side of the Fence

Life as a writer can be hard sometimes.

Success is elusive; fans shift as often as a summer wind.

Yet, we persevere, writing into the late hours of the night and waking in the early hours of the morning to log the hours and enter, for a time, the worlds we create. When I first started writing, more than a decade ago, it was because I loved the idea of immersing myself in a place where I could construct the narrative; walk through dense forests and to the tops of mountains. Over time the process became more about writing as a tool to move through emotions and languishing memories that required catharsis.

Writing takes on many forms, for many different writers, over the course of our lives.

For me, the process is the reward.

I love to write.

When I ask myself that silly question of what I would do if I had all the money in the world, the answer is always quite simple: write. Now more than a decade later, I have a renewed sense of purpose and have become quite adept at balancing the spinning plates of responsibility.
Recently, between being a full-time graduate student and writer, I joined Empirical magazine as an editor – among other responsibilities. A national magazine similar in spirit to Harper’s or The Atlantic, the magazine is firmly rooted in a West Coast sensibility. There is a little something for everyone, and honestly, the hope is that everyone will take a look. Contributors to the magazine come from around the globe and cover everything from politics to fiction.

Working at a magazine, especially at this point in its maturation, is a wonderful experience. There are so many moving parts that enliven your day. Sometimes I spend the day sorting through fiction and poetry submissions, searching for that piece of prose, or perhaps a stanza, that ensnares my imagination. Other days I am editing, constantly referring to the Chicago Manual of Style to ascertain the correct usage of an archaic sentence structure. As a writer, the prospect of editing and rummaging through the work of others might not sound exciting, but there are some wonderful consequences:

1.       You learn to become a better editor of your own work
2.       You begin to recognize redundant sentence structures and overused phrases
3.       Your grasp of language grows exponentially

However, the most important component for me is:

4.       You get to help others bring their work into a public forum

For many writers, and certainly for me early in my writing career, the notion of being picked up by a magazine or a small press was foremost in my mind. It was that distant promise of publication and everything that goes with it that pushed me forward. When I got rejection letters, most of which lacked a personal touch, I would get down on my writing, denigrate my ability.

The years passed, during which thousands of rejection letters amassed, and I realized that the pursuit of writing for a purely extrinsic reward was dooming myself to Vegas-style odds. I became clear to me that I needed to write because I loved it, and then find a way to share it with others – even if it was not through traditional routes. I found that I was more comfortable with my writing when I did it for the pure joy of it.

Now that I am on the other side of the fence, so to speak, I have noticed a few myths about submitting to paying publications that otherwise mystified and frustrated me prior to becoming an editor and being responsible for interacting with first-time and established authors.

I have decided to provide a humorous, but serious, collection of things you should do and things you shouldn’t do when submitting and entering into a discourse with a publication – sprinkled, of course, with some anecdotes. And without further ado (or perhaps slight ado if you count this sentence here):

Things You Should Do

1.       Read the publication you are submitting to before sending an email. This one sounds obvious, I know. However, it happens so often that it warrants mentioning. If you have written a brilliant piece of prose that is about zombies, it is quite likely that Popular Mechanics will not be that interested in it. Pick up an issue of the magazine you are interested in submitting to and familiarize yourself with the kinds of stories they publish. The next part is the hardest part: be honest. Does your piece fit with what they publish?
2.       Read and follow the submission instructions. Again, a no-brainer. If you are thinking that you don’t know where to find the submission instructions and you just have an email address, be prepared for disappointment. Your email might go to submission purgatory with a one-liner response about having received your correspondence – if you’re lucky.
3.       Address your submission to the appropriate person. If you are thinking that I am giving you the obvious pointers, then you are quite right. With that in mind, imagine that I still receive hundreds of emails a month that manage to ignore these simple suggestions. If you are writing a stunning expose on corporate greed, the poetry editor is probably not the best destination for your work.
4.       Edit your work. I tell this to students a lot, so I will mention it here as well: spell check in Microsoft Word is not sufficient. I am not saying that you need to be a copyeditor to submit to a magazine, but do yourself a favor and read it out loud. If it something sounds funny when you read it, you can only imagine how it will sound to an editor who is choosing among thousands of articles and stories to determine what goes to print.
5.       Be cognizant of turnarounds. By this I mean, the amount of time between when you sent in the work until you hear back from an editor about the status of your submission. Nothing will send your work to the bottom of a slush pile than to send a follow-up email the day after you submitted, wondering whether or not you are going to be in the magazine. Most publications will post how long it takes to hear back from them about the status of a submission, and an amount of time after which you should contact them if you haven’t heard from them.

Things You Shouldn’t Do

1.       Send an email telling an editor that they would be stupid not to publish your work. It always surprises me when I get an email telling me that I need to publish a story, poem, or piece of nonfiction because it is the next best thing. Top this off with letting me know that I would be a fool not to accept it, almost guarantees a trip to the trash can.
2.       Send a photocopy of your story by registered mail.  If you want to have your story in a magazine, start by giving it to editors in a format that they can actually use. By sending a faded and blurry photocopy of your forty-word poem and declaring that it is a soul-searching masterpiece does not inspire as much confidence as you would think.
3.       Contact an editor on a frequent basis about the status of your submission. I have to sort through hundreds of emails a day, edit for the current issue, and work on editing an anthology; not to mention a thousand other intangibles. We posted a time table about getting back to you for a reason: read it.
4.       Be discouraged by a form rejection letter. This is a bitter pill to swallow for many writers. They think the form rejection letter means that the editor didn’t read their work, or simply had things already planned and was stringing writers along. The reality is on any given month I send out hundreds upon hundreds of rejection letters. There is simply not enough time in the day to offer feedback to every single person. This not to say that I do not offer feedback, or that editors do not offer feedback in general, but instead the process is streamlined so writers can be responded to in a reasonable amount of time.
5.       Call the magazine to find out about your submission. This is subsumed by not contacting an editor about the status of your submission before enough time has passed, but I thought it warranted a special mention considering it is really going the extra mile in terms of being an irritation. If we haven’t gotten back to you yet, calling us is not going to suddenly make us more accessible.
6.       Send another email with corrections. Read twice, send once. If you don’t think what you sent is ready for publication, then please don’t send it. You get one chance at a first impression, and nothing speaks to being underprepared and unprofessional than sending a draft and immediately following up with another draft. If your piece needs work, note that in your submission, but don’t send a series of emails chronicling the different stages of the edits for that story. The exception, of course, is if you have already been accepted and you have been asked to make edits.
7.       Contact the magazine to air your frustrations about not being selected. I say this with all seriousness. It is very likely that you got rejected because the piece was not a good fit and not that the magazine has decided to order a hit on your writing career. Please don’t treat it that way. Lashing out at a publication for sending a form rejection letter, or passing on a piece you have written, reeks of a lack of professionalism and could impact your ability to publish elsewhere. Many editors are friends, especially in the digital age, and word spreads fast.
8.       Contact the magazine to ask if you think a story you are working on would be a good fit elsewhere. I can appreciate the sentiment. A lot of editors are writers themselves, and they love talking about the process and the product. I find myself building friendships with writers, those we publish and those we do not, and often I will give them suggestions about their work. However, if you don’t know me personally and have never been published or solicited in any way to use me as a sounding board, then do not contact me and ask if a poem or story would be a good fit at another magazine. If you think it is ready for publication, then submit it here. An obvious exception would be if the writer knew the story would not be a good fit and asked because they were uncertain in venturing into new territory.

I could probably keep listing things you shouldn’t do, but I will wrap it up there. I encourage you to keep trying and keep writing. Things only get better with time, and time is all we really have. I love to hear from other writers and potential readers, so please stop by and say hello. 

Anaheim Protests

Last night, I was tweeting about this new blog, and I kept seeing tweets about the four-day-long protest happening in Anaheim.
According to KTLA, there have been 6 incidents of police shooting at civilians this year, with five shootings being fatal, two of them being this week. Saturday, an unarmed man, Manuel Diaz, was shot in the back and then in the head. He was allegedly a gang member, but that does not excuse murder by police.

From my perspective as an outsider, it seemed like the police were firing indiscriminately into the crowd and at reporters. CNN and other sources report that the protesters were becoming violent. Six people were injured. See CNN's newscast here:

This video from KTLA shows officers in full riot gear advancing on the protesters and firing.

Tim Pool (@Timcast) and Amber Lyon (@AmberLyon) were fired on despite showing press passes. Pool was broadcasting live, and his recorded streams can be seen here:

It's impossible for outsiders to know the facts, but as citizens, we should demand them. Indeed, that's what Anaheim's mayor is calling for, too.

Monday, Mayor Tom Tait said, "I am asking the state Attorney General's Office and the federal U.S. Attorney’s Office for assistance with a full and independent investigation of the entire situation," yet the distrust between citizens and ”police remains.

Follow @Empirical_Mag for more updates on the southern California situation.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Experience of Being Alive

One of our big influences at Empirical magazine is Joseph Campbell and his work on mythology. In the meme I've created to the right, Campbell is talking about "the experience of being alive." This is part of what we're trying to promote through our work at Empirical. At first glance, it might seem that we're all alive, so what's the big deal? But Campbell is pointing to the difference between mere existence and the experience of being fully alive. One can exist in the human body and not experience the joy, or what Campbell would call the "bliss," of being alive. How do we move from a place of mere existence to a place of this "rapture" of being fully alive? There is a clue in this quote to the right, when Campbell talks about the purpose of life not being the discovery of the meaning of life. The human brain is a powerful tool. It serves many purposes for us. Conscious thought allows us to differentiate, to compare, and to solve problems. It is so powerful that we are tempted to put it in charge of our lives. In the study of logic, we learn that the purpose of reasoning is to problem-solve. I could get through much of my life without reasoning were I not to experience problems that cause me to reflect on how these problems came to be, and how to solve them. Consciously, we reflect on the body of our experiences, try to understand the causal relationships involved, and problem-solve. As self-reflective creatures, what bigger "problem" can there be than not knowing how we got here in the first place, where we're going, or the purpose of our existence? But Campbell's suggestion that this is not what we're really seeking is a result of his having learned that such reflection is does not, in itself, solve the problem of being fully alive. The paradox of this particular group of questions about the meaning of life is that there is no abstract answer to the question. The answer is in the doing. We can make up answers, but no made-up answer is satisfying. We have to go for the experience of being fully alive, living in the present moment, the NOW that Eckhart Tolle talks about, and that the Buddha had talked about. The meaningful life does not consist in navel-gazing about the meaning of life. The meaningful life is a dialectic between the experience of life from the source of our being and the act of putting that energy into practice in healthy and creative ways in our lives. It is a dialectic, one might say ultimately, between the experience of bliss and the active expression of creative love. There are barriers to this creative love, and overcoming those barriers often requires reflection. But the point of the reflection is not, in the end, to gaze at an abstract conceptual solution. In the end, all concepts must give way to life and love.

"Putting the Radical into Empirical" by Olav Bryant Smith

This letter from the editor appeared in the July 2012 issue of Empirical magazine. You can preview and buy the digital version here or subscribe to the hard copy of the magazine here.

Much of the emphasis in the introductions to our previous issues has been on what we mean by the term “empirical.” We love science at Empirical, but we don’t believe that narrowly defined science, as in the advice to not believe something unless you see it, tells the whole story. Science at its best is informed by the humanities, including art, literature, poetry, philosophy, history, religion, and even that sacred literature known as “mythology.”

That is what William James was after when he coined the phrase “radical empiricism.” His belief was that all of the evidence of our experience, much of it reported by the humanities, has to be taken into consideration as we attempt to arrive at the truth about the nature of ourselves and the world we live in.

Truth, of course, is often called a “relative” term, and the implication to many people today is that there is no Truth to be found. Radical empiricists, along with many scientists, of course, hunger after the Truth. This hunger is what drives us to weed out the untrue from what we find to be true. And we do this by gathering evidence and discussing it in light of other experience and other evidence.

The problem that arises in the pursuit of the Truth, and what makes our individual truths “relative,” is the fact that each Truthseeker is limited in terms of experience, and limited in terms of our ability to process the information of that limited experience. Most of what we know, we know through a process of induction. We observe patterns in Nature as we collect the data of experience. But we can never be sure that what we’ve seen in the past is an accurate representation of the limits of Nature. We can never be sure that there isn’t relevant information that we’ve left out. We do our best. But as William James told us, it only takes one white crow to prove that they’re not all black.

But we’re creatures of habit, and fortunately, the Universe seems to be made up of other creatures of habit. We see patterns, we accustom ourselves to those patterns, and we make due as best we can in most cases. And it works out most of the time. The last thing we want as we’re trying to finish a job is to see someone rocking the boat by saying that things aren’t quite the way we think they are.

About 2500 years ago, the Greek philosopher Plato told a story about some prisoners chained up in a cave. We’re not supposed to take this story literally. It’s an allegory. But like other forms of symbolic fiction, including our sacred myths, it lifts up truths that we’d find it hard to understand any other way. That’s why Jesus told parables. It makes it easy to understand the deeper truths.

So we suspend our disbelief for the time being when Plato tells us that these prisoners can’t see themselves or their neighbors. All they can see is some shadows on the walls that are created by some guys behind them carrying shapes in front of a fire. The prisoners’ fate depends on how well they can interpret the shadows, so some of them get quite good at it.

One day, we’re told, a prisoner is freed, but as he turns toward the fire, his eyes have a hard time adjusting. He is pulled up a hill toward the mouth of the cave, but he resists. He is afraid of the unknown, and he is disoriented. But making the best of what seems like a bad situation, the liberated prisoner adapts. Just when he thinks the worst is over, however, he is taken into the direct light of the sun, and then it is really hard to see. The prisoner had lived his entire life in a world of darkness and shadow with only the smallest hints of light breaking into that darkness.

Eventually, Plato tells us, this prisoner’s eyes adjust, first seeing a reflection in a pond, and then being able to see things as they really are. The prisoner realizes, in what we might think of as an epiphany, that being able to see the Truth about things is dependent on the light of the sun breaking into an otherwise dark world.

It is one of our great sources of hope and inspiration in literature that the prisoner does not rest self-contentedly with this new knowledge. The prisoner remembers his neighbors and friends and returns to the darkness of the cave to let them know that they are living in a world of shadow and illusion.

One is reminded here of the Buddha being told by Mara, “the evil one” of Buddhist scripture, that he should take what he has found, i.e., enlightenment, and leave this earthly realm. The Buddha is told that no one would understand what he had to say about Nirvana anyway. But the Buddha responded “Some will understand.”

Our liberated prisoner in Plato’s story evidently felt the same way. So he returned. But upon his return, his friends and family noticed there was something different about him. Something peculiar. He saw things in a different way than he had before. They might even tell him, “You used to be good at interpreting these shadows. Now you’re not even interested in it. What’s wrong with you?”

The liberated prisoner has become a “radical” in the story. He’s rocking the boat. It makes it uncomfortable for the other prisoners in the cave. They’re just trying to make do with a bad situation. They’re not sure there is a Truth, and they’re not sure they want to hear it even if there is one. Plato tells us that if the liberated prisoner keeps it up, he’s even likely to be killed. People don’t like “radicals” coming around with even the best of intentions.

Plato had Socrates in mind as the liberated prisoner. When Greek-educated converts to Christianity compared the story of Jesus of Nazareth with this allegory, they imagined Jesus in the role. As I’ve indicated, the Buddha fits the role as well. The fact is that all of these wonderful Truth-seeking and Truth-bearing radicals through history have found themselves in just this situation. The word radical itself comes from the word for “root.” These radicals get at the roots of the problems we face, and when they do that, it often means pulling up some weeds that we’ve grown quite accustomed to in our daily lives.

In this issue of Empirical magazine, we celebrate the radicals: people like George Washington, who rebelled against the British Empire in pursuit of justice and freedom; the Great Soul “Mahatma” Gandhi, who taught us the power of non-violent resistance to evil by leading his people to independence from the British; Martin Luther King, Jr., who built on this non-violent model to awaken the conscience of Americans who had slumbered through an American apartheid that we called “segregation”; Rosa Parks, who refused to accept that her “place” was in the back of the bus; Robert F. Kennedy, whose conscience would not allow him to sit idly by and ignore the injustices of that American apartheid; Susan B. Anthony, who had the “nerve” in the 19th-century to insist that women should be given the right to vote; and Caesar Chavez, who helped us to see and understand the plight of immigrant and migrant farm workers in America. The list is long, fortunately, of these spiritual heroes–more than I can name here.

Yes, there are many injustices that we are just too busy to notice. And there are many injustices that will require some uncomfortable change in order to find remedies. But thank God for the radicals who, upon empirically gathering the evidence of their experience, shine their reflected light on our otherwise dark worlds.

Read John B. Cobb's article, "The Importance of Being Radical" here.

Monday, July 23, 2012

"The Importance of Being Radical" by John B. Cobb Jr

by John B. Cobb Jr

Is it bad to be “radical?” Often one hears the statement that so-and-so is a “radical” as a reason not to pay attention to what he or she says. To label people as “radicals” may be a way of warning others that they are dangerous. It has much the same effect as calling them “communists” or “terrorists.” This fear of radicals is not without reason. They do propose new ideas that undercut some of those to which most people are attached. They question the need for institutions and practices that others consider essential and beneficial. From the point of view of those who are benefited by the status quo and those who think that things are going well, radicals are dangerous.  

Rosa Parks, PHOTO: USIA

When the modern period began in Europe, Christian institutions and beliefs were very well established. A few brave modern people raised radical questions that undercut the authority of Christian institutions and the credibility of supernaturalist Christian teachings. Some of these radicals paid dearly for their efforts. Christian institutions and beliefs did not disappear, but they changed drastically. The change in their role in Western societies has been even greater. The work of radicals has led to the replacement of Christian societies by secular ones.  Modern scientists were often in the lead in advancing radicalism of this sort.

What is less noticed is that radicals are just as threatening in other aspects of society. Political organizations, governments, professions, academic disciplines, and educational institutions resist and oppose their work just as religious communities often did. Sadly, this is true also of modern sciences that profess to be fully open to evidence. In all these contexts, radicals engage in just the questioning that is not wanted. While modern culture celebrates the work of the radicals of earlier times, it is no more hospitable to contemporary radicals than were the established leaders of those earlier periods.

Many of us, at one time or another, have been irritated by people raising questions of a theoretical nature in a group whose job it is to deal practically with a problem. The zeal of radicals to go deeper simply slows us down in getting our work done. Not all radicals have good judgment about when and where to raise their questions, and for many people the answer to the question of when and where radicals should seek attention is: never and nowhere. It is easy to understand and even sympathize with those who abhor radicals.

But modern society has needed radicals as much as earlier. A century ago a few voices were pointing out that American society was rooted in racism and sexism. The vast majority of Americans dismissed such talk as “radical” and therefore irrelevant. They were right that it was radical. But these radical voices finally forced themselves into the public consciousness. More and more people recognized that the call for radical change had truth and righteousness on its side. There is still a lot of racism and sexism in American society, but they are no longer supported by law and official thinking. The work of radicals has changed society radically. Even many who were once irritated and even angered by them are now grateful for their work. Today the most glaring problems in American society are economic. Accordingly, this is the area most in need of radical investigation. We need radicals to go to the roots of these problems. This could lead us in a variety of directions. The financial sector now dominates the economy; so we could focus on how this has gained so much power. The increase in inequality in the distribution of income and wealth has grown very rapidly. Radicals ask for the deepest reasons for this development.

Some of the reasons that radicals will find are grounded in political power and personal acquisitiveness. But there are strictly theoretical contributions to these evils. There is a good deal of synchronicity between economic teaching and governmental and global practice. Accordingly, one place to apply radical analysis is the dominant economic theory.

Let’s take a simple example. The discipline of economics is founded on the assumption that bigger is better. It is supposed that the more economic activity takes place, the better off people are. Economists take their role to be showing how to make the economy grow. From time to time radicals have asked whether growth is the right goal for the economy, but within the academic departments of philosophy, the question has not been seriously discussed. Those who have tried to do so have not been well treated.       

Asking that question is threatening to the discipline of economics as it has long been constituted. On the other hand, failing to ask it out of respect for the current authorities has the same kind of effect as failing to ask about racism or sexism out of respect for the existing authorities of an earlier day. The global growth of economic activity on a finite planet is responsible for such serious problems as global warming.  If the economics guild continues to silence those of its members who raise this question because it is “radical,” the danger to human life is increased.

The crucial question is simple, but radical. Is growth a final good in itself? Or is it good only insofar as it improves the human condition? If the latter, should we not investigate how the increase of economic activity, guided by the principles of standard economics, is actually affecting the human condition? That is a “radical” thing to do. It is also empirical.

To be empirical is to pay close attention to the facts. That is, itself, a “radical” thing to do. In some cases, the facts will not support the patterns of thought of many people, perhaps not those of any of us. Science at its best calls on us to accept the facts even when we wish they were otherwise. For example, many people prefer to think we are fundamentally disconnected from all other living things and, for a long time, science supported that idea. But the evidence for evolution became overwhelming. However unsettling the truth may be, it remains the truth, and many of us hold to the radical idea that we should affirm the truth and adjust our way of thinking to it.

"Galapagos Islands" PHOTO: Michael R. Perry

I have spoken of “science at its best.” Sadly, science is not always at its best. Modern scientists like to point to one particularly dramatic example of failure at this point: the case of Galileo. It is often presented as an instance of science vs. religion, but it was in fact a matter of a new development in science that opposed the scientific consensus of its day. The church supported this consensus. 

The best science of the medieval period was based on Aristotle. The church shared the scientists’ respect for Aristotle. Aristotle thought that heavenly bodies were fundamentally different from the Earth. The scientists who followed him were persuaded by his arguments. Galileo used a new technology to introduce evidence that did not fit into this understanding of the universe. The scientists who represented the scientific consensus of that day refused even to look through the telescope. They wanted to silence Galileo’s radical challenge to established science. Modern scientists have liked to condemn the resistance of late medieval Aristotelian scientists to the evidence provided by Galileo. They often imply that this was a failing of medieval scientists that modern science overcame. Sad to say, modern scientists engage in the same kind of practice even today. They strongly resist attending to evidence that does not fit into their worldview. To point this out is to be a “radical.”

For example, most modern scientists are committed to a worldview in which events in the physical world can be affected only by other events in the physical world. There is an enormous amount of evidence that physical events are in fact affected by what happens in human subjective experience. That my hands type one set of words rather than another certainly seems to be affected by my thinking. That mental activity plays a role in bodily behavior is not only common sense but also has an immense amount of evidence in its favor. But the metaphysics with which modern science is closely associated says that it is impossible. Accordingly, such affirmations are rejected by most scientific guilds as impossible. Most scientists refuse to look at the evidence. This exclusion of a great amount of evidence is not science at its best.

Asking science to open itself to evidence that does not fit into its worldview is a radical act. It is as difficult for modern scientists to do this as for Aristotelian scientists to accept the evidence provided by Galileo. One reason for this difficulty is the commitment of scientists to what they call “empiricism.” This empiricism was shaped by philosophers and scientists in the early modern period. It affirmed the view that the only access to the world external to the individual thinker is through the sense organs. For practical purposes, scientists and philosophers limited themselves to what could be seen or touched. We can call the resulting idea about how we know anything about the world “sensory empiricism.” Scientists found that it was possible to agree on a great many things when they limited themselves in this way. They celebrated the “objectivity” of science. They often identify “science” as such with the body of theory that developed out of sensory empiricism.

This magazine is certainly committed to “empiricism,” in the broad meaning of this term. We must begin all our reflections in experience. In order to explain our experience, we may have to posit some things we do not experience. Indeed science does this in spades. These days scientists tell us that most matter and most energy can never be experienced at all. They call them “dark.” But these theories, and all our theories, should be tested again and again in experience.

There is no question of the crucial importance of experience. However, we need to ask more radically about it. When we do so, we find that it includes much more than the deliverances of the sense organs. In fact scientists have to assume a great deal that they cannot derive from sense experience.

I limit myself to one example. Much of science is engaged in explaining how things come to be through time. Causality is usually understood as the impact of the past upon the present. But vision and touch give us only the present. Of course, we assume that we see things following one upon another. But that assumption requires something other than the immediate delivery of visual or tactile experience. We have to remember the previous visual experience in order to see that there is a change or motion.

If this point is not immediately clear, take a little time to think about it. Focus on what you are seeing in a single moment. It will be a complex pattern of colors. Now you are very likely to think that you see changes taking place. But if you limit yourself entirely to what is given you through your eyes this is not quite true. In the new moment you are seeing a slightly different pattern of color, but you are no longer seeing the previous one. Without memory, you cannot compare them. You do not see the change.  We do not see or touch memory.

Puzzles of this kind have long been formulated by philosophers but they have rarely been taken seriously by scientists. If one does take them seriously, one is pushed to a more “radical” empiricism, one that examines experience as a whole with greater care and sees the interrelationships of its ingredients. William James contributed this term: “radical empiricism.” Our actual experience is one of constant change. It is not wrong for science to talk about changes in the world based on experience. What is wrong is to claim to limit itself to the objective world as known only through sight and touch. Science does not do this. It cannot do this. Unfortunately, it does not attend to the contribution of other aspects of experience, and it gives support to a very truncated view of reality.

Those who build their understanding of reality on what contemporary science offers tend to devalue value. The reality of our experience is that it is profoundly value-laden. We have hope and fear, satisfaction and dissatisfaction, enjoyment and misery, and so much more. We are constantly involved in questions of better and worse. Scientists may acknowledge that such feelings occur, but modern scientific orthodoxy insists that they have no effect upon the world. The world is value free, and science is supposed to be value free. Now research universities are supposed to be value free as well – which means that their only value is money.

Radical empiricism is another matter. For it, feelings, beliefs, sensory experiences, memories, anticipations, bodily experience, and intellectual activity are all equally real and very much bound up together. We can, of course, abstract certain sensory experiences from this whole and concentrate upon them. Much can be learned in this way. But when this limited aspect of knowledge is given special privilege and all the rest is disparaged, we are in serious trouble.

The real world, the world of the radical empiricist, is much richer. It calls forth concern and commitment as the purely “objective” world does not. It opens us to fresh approaches in economics and in physics, and in everything else as well.

Earlier I mentioned the overwhelming evidence that evolution has taken place and that the human species emerged through evolutionary processes. But radical empiricism opens us to an understanding of evolution quite different from the one to which sensory empiricism, with its purely objective world, has led us. One example is the explanation of the emergence of new species. Standard academic teaching that fits the narrowly scientific worldview is that all the variations in plants and animals among which natural selection operates are caused by random mutation of genes. Lynn Margulis disagreed, saying that at least some of them occurred by symbiogenesis, that is, by diverse organisms combining. She gave as her most important example the emergence of the nucleated cell. She said this did not come about by random mutation of genes but by one bacterium swallowing another and not digesting it. Her idea was long rejected, even ridiculed, because it did not fit the standard model. But the evidence finally forced its acceptance. Sadly, despite this important realization, and even though Margulis provided evidence of the role of symbiogenesis elsewhere as well, the standard account of evolution has not been modified to make a place for it. Radical empiricists, in contrast, are completely open to the evidence.

More broadly there is a great deal of evidence that purposive actions on the part of animals, especially human beings, play a large role in evolution. But mainstream evolutionary theory ignores the effects of the action of animals on evolution because this would give an opening to acknowledging a role for some sort of purpose in evolution.

The exclusion of purpose from evolutionary theory is one of its sacred principles. We find evolutionary biologists vigorously denying that purpose plays any role in the world for the purpose of maintaining ideas that do not have empirical support.  Radical empiricists do not see why we should ignore the evidence for the role of the purposes of the evolving animals, especially human beings.

Late Medieval science allied itself with Aristotelian philosophy and gave much too large a role to purpose. Modern philosophy allied itself with materialism and denied purpose altogether. Wouldn’t it be better for science to pay attention to the evidence, all the evidence, instead of being enthralled by its companion philosophy? Let’s join radical empiricists and this magazine in the truly open-ended quest for truth.
PHOTO: Harley Pebley