1968 in a nutshell

1968 in a nutshell

The year 1968 was supposed to herald a revolution against the establishment. Like all revolutions, 1968 had a noble objective, which was to instil a freer and fairer society. With hindsight, 1968 has been downgraded from a revolution to a series of revolts against patriarchy, social repression, capitalism and ordinary ways of life labelled ‘bourgeois’, as well as against imperialism and the Vietnam War. However, it left devastating consequences to society, as if it had been a revolution.

Ideological threads and mind-set

1968 was the pinnacle of the revolts of the 1960s. Its ideology had various intertwined threads that included Romanticism, Existentialism, Marxism, Old Left, New Left and Postmodernism, as well as a specific mind-set against wars and a fixation with the authentic life.

Romanticism or Romantic Movement was a 19th century revolt against the classical restraint in the arts and the rigours of science, with origins in the 17th and the 18th centuries, especially in religion. The quintessential 19th century romantic was Johan Gottfried Herder (1744-1803), the disseminator of the idea of the Volksgeist or ‘the people’s spirit’, a compelling notion that every nation has a natural culture which results from the inner necessity for meaning.

Existentialism or the philosophy of existence, is also a product of he 19th century, and revolves around the anxiety of being and the search for the essence of being. Its main founder was Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), who dwelled on the historical process of the self. Other articulators of Existentialism are: Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-1881), Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), Edmund Husserl (1859-1938), José Ortega y Gasset (1883-1955), Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) and Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980).

Marxism refers to the socialist theory of Karl Marx (1818-1883), which was built over the tripartite dialectics of the philosophy of history of the German philosopher Georg W. F. Hegel (1770-1831): thesis, antithesis and synthesis. In Marx’s socialist theory, the thesis is bourgeois society, which originated out of the disintegrating feudal regime; the antithesis is the proletariat, which originated through the development of modern industry, was cast off from modern society through specialization and debasement, and who must eventually turn against it; and the synthesis is the communist society which will result from the conflict between the working class and the owning and employing classes, namely the harmonization of all the interests of mankind after the working class takes over the industrial plants.

The Old Left and the New Left are both based on the socialist doctrine of Karl Marx (1818-1883), although the New Left incorporated the contributions of other socialists such as the Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937).

The Old Left’s main objective was to support the workers’ revolution which Marx had prophesised; its adepts consisted mainly of pro-soviet communists, revisionist socialists, Trotskyists, Maoists, anarchists, etc. The New Left was a new take on the Marxist thought, where Marx’s revolutionary paradigm is replaced by a passive resistance of the establishment, which included accepting the bureaucratic routines as a means to the occupation of institutions. The movement of greatest significance to the New Left was the Frankfurt School[1], which in 1933 was transferred to Columbia University in New York. This link of Columbia with the Frankfurt School is significant, for Columbia became the American epicentre of 1968.

Postmodernism, whose main fathers are Michael Foucault (1926-1984), Jean-François Lyotard (1924-1998), Jacques Derrida (1930-2004), and Richard Rorty (1931-2007), consists basically of a general distrust of grand theories and ideologies, as well as a reaction against modernity and the denial of progress. According with the postmodern doctrine, there is no such thing as ‘objective knowledge’ or ‘scientific knowledge’, or even a ‘best morality’, for everything is opinion, and each type of opinion is as good as another.

The intellectuals who inspired 1968

Like other all uprisings in history, 1968 had its intellectual stirrers. The most prominent intellectuals of 1968 came from France and Germany, the two most prominent ones being Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) and Herbert Marcuse (1898-1979). What singled out Sartre and Marcuse was their connection with the university students and with the public at large who were anxious with the uncertainties of the Cold War. One could also argue that the reason of the strong connection was that the writings of both Sartre and Marcuse resonated well with the dominant mind-set of the time. Sartre popularised his own version of Existentialism, which included the notion that communism represented the people’s wish and offered an authentic way of life, as opposed to the inauthentic way of life found in capitalism. Marcuse popularised a kind of socialism that did not require wars, and which could be achieved by encroaching and occupying the established institutions. He also inculcated in the population the notion of free love.

Sartre

Sartre disseminated a kind of Existentialism in which meaning and authenticity could be bound in communism. In 1960 he did a tour of Latin America, accompanied by his partner, the philosopher Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986), who was also a towering figure among the French intellectuals. The couple visited Cuba, where they were received by Fidel Castro and Ché Guevara, then his Finance Minister. In Brazil, where he was received by the writer Jorge Amado (a former militant of the Brazilian Communist Party; 1912-2001), Sartre spoke at various universities, and one of his interpreters was the young Fernando Henrique Cardoso (born in 1931), a future president of Brazil. In 1964, Sartre was awarded the Nobel prize for literature, which he turned down on the grounds that it was a Western institution and that his acceptance of it could be perceived as taking a side in the present East and West conflict.

Sartre’s take on Existentialism was focused on the notion of shame, or the way others saw him, to which he had no control; it is from this reflection that he came up with the phrase “hell is other people”. Sartre’s understanding of liberty was particularly unique, and to him the path to liberty was more important than liberty itself. Thus, when the French protesters took to the streets and the French police responded with force, Sartre preached a counter-violence to the violence of the police. Although Sartre’s books were highly regarded by the generation associated with 1968, he was mistaken regarding communism and the Soviet regime. His personal life was not exemplary, as revealed in his biographies.

Marcuse

Marcuse taught at the Frankfurt Institute of Social Research, which was re-established in Columbia University, New York, after its closure by the Nazis in 1933. At that time, he fled to Geneva and from there to the United States, along with his colleagues Max Horkheimer (1895-1973) and Theodor Adorno (1903-1969). During World War II he served as an intelligence officer and in the 1950s, when the Frankfurt Institute moved back to Europe, Marcuse chose to stay in the United States and to naturalize as an American citizen. In 1955 he published Eros and Civilisation, where he combined Freud and Marx to create a doctrine of sexual and political liberation at the same time, where he introduced the slogan “Make Love, Not War” at the centre of the 1960s revolts. Marcuse became a celebrity at age 66, with his 1962 book One-Dimensional Man, where the word ‘unidimensional’ in the title refers to the flattening of discourse, imagination, culture and politics in society. In it, Marcuse suggested a break away from the current system in order to make way for an alternative ‘two-dimensional existence’. Both Eros and Civilisation and One-Dimensional Man helped to promote the New Left with the student population. took Marcuse’s thoughts regarding creating an emancipated society without a socialist revolution are summarized in An Essay on Liberation, published in 1969, considered a snapshot of the revolutionary utopianism in the 1960s.

The type of socialism that Marcuse preached was a complete negation of the existing society and a rupture with previous history that would provide an alternative mode of free and happy existence with less work, more play, and the reduction of social repression. He used Marxist terminology to critique existing capitalist societies and insisted that socialist revolution was the most viable way to create an emancipated society. Marcuse was called an irresponsible hedonist by Erich Fromm (1900-1980)[2], the American social philosopher and psychoanalyst who was also a German refugee. Marcuse`s ingratitude to the country that received him as a refugee comes through in his writing, where he described the United States as ‘preponderantly evil’.

The early critics of the 1960s revolts: Aron and Habermas

Among the first critics of the 1960s revolts ,the two most significant figures were Raymond Aron (1905-1983) and Jürgen Habermas (1929). Both Aron and Habermas had been socialists when young and both studied socialism and Karl Marx in depth. Both continued to describe themselves as members of the Left even after they became its main critics, saw the masses as a means to totalitarianism, and believed that an extensive university reform could be the solution to the student’s unrest. Last by not least, they were both hated by the students.

In 1969 Aron published La Revolution Introuvable, translated in the following year as The Elusive Revolution, in which he referred to the events of May 1968, as a “psychodrama” in which “everyone involved imitated their great ancestors and unearthed revolutionary models enshrined in the collective unconscious” – a reference to the French Revolution of 1789 and the Reign of Terror that it created. The book received negative criticism in France and in the United States[3].

Habermas, who has published dozens of books and essays, is Germany’s most important living philosopher. Although he studied at the Frankfurt Institute, he moved away from its Marxist influence and created his own school of thought. His criticism of the students’ revolts of the 1960s is shown in some of his essays such as ‘The Movement in Germany’. In his 1962 book Strukturwandel der Öffenlicheit, which appeared in English only in 1989, as The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, he criticised many of the theories at the centre of the students’ revolts. Habermas pointed out the special role of universities as platforms of the public sphere debate, and that the most radical students were taking away the possibility of discussion. He also recognised the new environmental movements that stemmed from the 1960s revolts.

The ‘us and them’ of 1968: A strategy of identity

The talking heads of 1968 created an ‘us and them’ social division, in which the ‘us’, or ‘the partakers of 1968’ were the good guys who intended to create a better world, while the ‘them’ were the bad guys, labelled ‘counter-revolutionaries’ or ‘reactionaries’. In fact, the ‘them’ reactionaries were a minority, and a better description of them is ‘the silent majority’, ordinary people who were too busy living their ordinary lives.

The underlying reason for the ‘us and them’ split between the engaged and the disengaged was to create a group identity that could serve the political objective of gaining power through the occupation of institutions. The 1968 mind-set gave group identity to the once rebel students, and from such group identity they gained power, at least inside academia. The greatest evidence for this is the Cultural Wars of the 1980s and 1990s in the United States. Although there are indications of similar academic conflicts in Europe and in many Latin American countries, there are no significant critical studies available on the subject.

When the British philosopher Roger Scruton wrote Thinkers of the New Left in 1985 he was ostracised by the academic establishment in Great Britain, who put pressure on Longman House, his publisher, to withdraw the books out of the bookstores. Realising that he would not get another academic job in Britain, Scruton decided to get a new training as a barrister, and continued his academic career outside Britain. During this time, Scruton reworked the original manuscript and added sections to it, coming up with Fools, Frauds and Firebrands, which was published in 2015. Only then Scruton was taken seriously. Finally, at the age when most people retire, Scruton became a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Buckingham, and in 2016  was knighted by the Prince of Wales at an investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace, for services to Philosophy, Teaching and Public Education.

Social consequences of 1968

1968 is also referred to as ‘the long year’ because its spirit continued on. The revolts of 1968 intended to create a better society. However, in spite of its good intentions, 1968 had several unintended social consequences from stifling the debate in the public sphere and the increase in political populism, to the social fragmentation that resulted from multiculturalism minus interculturalism.

Populism refers to actions deliberately planned to attract the majority of people. Since the people are recognised as being sovereign in any democracy, populism appears to be a good thing. However, there is no single political will attributable to the people, and what a populist does is to trick people to believe otherwise. Populist political leaders are well trained in the art of persuasion. One example that occurs frequently is that of a candidate who persuades the people that he deserves to be trusted because he is one of them, when ‘being one of them’ simply means that he does not have the right skills of statesmanship. In campaigns for office, the populist candidate is the one who uses dishonest means to earn the voter’s sympathy, who lumps individual voters into lots of convenience and tailors his discourse to each. Another sign of the populist candidate is the use of emotional language to manipulate feelings.

Multiculturalism refers to the doctrine of regarding every individual, and every culture in which individuals participate, as being equally valuable. Although apparently this is a good thing, the acceptance of certain cultural practices could infringe on the human rights of individuals, as exemplified by female genital mutilation (FGM) and the marriage of children.

Social fragmentation is also a growing phenomenon in Western democracies. In his book The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics, Mark Lilla (born 1956) illustrates the problem in the United States, which can be inferred from the growing of identity politics, which refers to activisms based on a single unifying descriptor such as being a woman, black or LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender), created to solve the problem of social or political exclusion. To Lilla, by keeping minorities separated from the mainstream society, identity politics does not help the minorities to gain political power through gaining more seats in local government. Although Lilla’s book concerns itself with the situation in the United States, identity politics is also common in Latin America.

The students revolution of 1968 was a mass movement, and, like all mass movements, it consisted of instigating leaders and malts of followeres (the hoi polloi). Although many of  the leaders of 1968 eventually understood the problems associated with idealizations of society, the malts of followers carried on dreaming about the ideal society and seeking social interventions of one kind of another. Examples of the latter are the armed groups of hard left-wingers in the African and Latin American bushes.

It has taken almost fifty years for 1968 to be properly understood. Sadly, too late to avoid its unintended social consequences.

References

Aron, Raymond. Thinking Politically: A Liberal in the Age of Ideology, New Brunswick, NJ, Transaction Publishers, 1997.

Habermas, Jürgen (1989). The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. Cambridge, Polity Press, 1992. Reprint of 2011.

Lilla, Mark. Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics. New York, Harpers, 2017.

Marcuse, Herbert. An Essay on Liberation. Boston, Beacon Press, 1969.

Scruton, Roger (1985). Fools, Frauds and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left. London, Bloomsbury, 2015.

[1] The Frankfurt School , a sociology movement inspired on Marxism also known as ‘Critical Theory’. The movement itself sprout from the Institute for Social Research (Institut für Sozialforschung), which was attached to the Goethe University in Frankfurt, after it was founded in 1923 by Felix Weil. Other names associated with the Frankfurt School are Friedrich Pollock, Max Horkheimer, Erich Fromm, Wilhelm Reich, Leo Lowenthal, Theodor Adorno and Walter Benjamin. After 1933, the Nazis forced its closure, and the Institute was moved to the United States where it found hospitality at Columbia University in New York City. After the War the Institute was re-established, and the most notorious member of this new generation was Jürgen Habermas, although he later abandoned both Marxism as well as Hegelianism.

[2] Here is a quote by Erich Fromm on the sexual liberation of the 1960s: “The fact that millions of people share the same vices does not make these vices virtues, the fact that they share so many errors does not make the errors to be truths, and the fact that millions of people share the same form of mental pathology does not make these people sane.”

[3] Aron found recognition late in his life, especially after the publication of his memoirs, one month before his death, on 17 October 1983.

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True education and democracy. Brazil ‘s 2018 elections

True education and democracy. Brazil ‘s 2018 elections

Joaquina Pires-O’Brien

The recognition of greatness results from true education, according with the British thinker John Ruskin (1819-1900), who often used the expression ‘true king’ to denote the ‘truly noble man’, the individual who possesses all the traits necessary for good leadership.  According to him,

“The entire object of true education is to make people not merely do the right things, but enjoy the right things — not merely industrious, but to love industry — not merely learned, but to love knowledge — not merely pure, but to love purity — not merely just, but to hunger and thirst after justice.”

Good democracies need great leaders and voters who recognize greatness. These two conditions seem to be lacking in the present set of electoral candidates in Brazil. In Brazil, individuals who are known for their courage, culture and integrity  are not normally selected by political parties. If they were, what would be the chances that voters would recognize their good qualities?

Uneducated or under-educated voters tend not to appreciate a candidate with the right qualifications to be a statesman, preferring instead  the piddling candidate who identifies himself as a ‘man of the people’.  On the other hand, the truly educated voters don’t feel diminished by voting for someone whom they perceives as better than themselves.

In Brazil, the current apprehension regarding the outcome of the 2018 presidential election has one lesson for the political parties and another for the voters.  The lesson for the Brazilian political parties is that due to the current state of the political landscape, individuals who have the right qualities for political office tend to shy away from politics, and for that reason, they should be actively recruited. The lesson for the voters is that they should learn which are the desirable qualities in a statesman, so that they can make informed choices.

Ruskin’s concept of true education is still a distant dream for a country like Brazil. However, if the Brazilian voters do the right thing, and think hard before choosing their candidate, that will be a step in the right direction.

Jordan Peterson and the two camps of articulators (left and right). Why it is important to take a stand against Postmodernism

Jordan Peterson and the two camps of articulators (left and right). Why it is important to take a stand against Postmodernism

According with Jordan Peterson, a Canadian clinical psychologist, professor and author of 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote for Chaos, if we want more security and less tyranny in our society we should ask ourselves the question of what is our moral duty to secure that. Unless otherwise stated, all the ideas of this posting belong to Professor Peterson, being taken from one of his YouTube lectures.

As shown by Peterson, human society has its own set of values, but each of which are valid in determined circumstances. Human society also has opposing camps of articulators arguing for predetermined subsets of values, and because of this, it is necessary that there is a dialogue between them. Society’s target is always moving because time does not stand still. This means that the target is always moving. In other words, the problems keep changing, which is also another reason why the dialogue between the opposing camps of articulators, is essential.

The two camps of articulators that exist today are usually labelled the left and the right. To Peterson, the problem that stands on the way of communication between opposing camps of articulators – or the left and the right – is that people perceive things differently due to proclivity and home and education circumstances. The left believes that in the idea that you have a moral imperative to be a radical activist. The right believes in the idea of a moral imperative to be useful.  They are two different things.

If you are a drop out, you are probably a looser. The probability is that you are useless, lazy, arrogant and resentful. There are losers who think they are saints and saints who think they are losers. If you are a looser who think you are a saint, then you will cause an awful lot of trouble to society. Many people from the 60s generation like to imagine themselves as the admirable rebel. However, lurking under the revolutionary façade is an inability to face responsibility. Baseline predictions and actuarial tables show this. The fact is that the admirable rebels of the 60s generation have been a pernicious influence on the university, especially the humanities, whose influence have been deteriorating since then.

A functional society has more security and less tyranny. Human societies have dominance hierarchies and many types of animals also have dominance hierarchies, which are behaviours selected for adding survival. Dominance hierarchies in human societies have been under attack accused of being tyrannies. However, there is a difference between the dominance hierarchies in human and other animals in the fact that the dominance hierarchies in humans are based on competence. Dominance hierarchies based on competence are not the same as hierarchies based on arbitrary power, such as the kind of power based purely on economic terms, which is actually a tyranny.  The more functional the society, the more its power hierarchy is based on competence in relation to what society deems as actually valuable. It is difficult to meet those criteria perfectly but it needs to be a process in that direction. The number one predictor of success in a society is intelligence. Shouldn’t it be right that smart people occupy more positions of complexity in a society?  Good hierarchies provide security but a degenerated hierarchy is a tyranny.  If we want more security and less tyranny, the question we all should ask is what is our moral duty?

Whether this is good or bad depends on the way the individual is. If you self-discipline yourself, aim high and achieve the high standards, then it is likely that you will feel comfortable with such high standards. If you have something that stand on the way of your progress, you will perceive a tyrannical element in high standards, and see them as unfair. People who think that way tend to have the ‘adversarial personality’.

The existence of two or more camps of articulators is not the biggest problem of society. The biggest problem of society is the radical elements that exist in them. An example is the ideologues of egalitarianism and equity on the left and the right, who are incapable of realizing that there are differences in rank between people and that this is not such a terrible thing.

Non ideologues also have a problem, when they stay away from the debates that take place in the public sphere, especially when things go well for them and there is no discomfort in their professional lives. The discomfort of Jordan Peterson started in 2017 when he took a stand against Bill C-16 in Canada, which, if passed (and it has passed) will put people under the threat of legal punishment if they refuse to use certain words, namely new pronouns created to accommodate LGBTs. became the scourge of the radical left for two things. Peterson himself stated that he was not against using a gender-neutral pronoun if he believes that a request to do so has merit, but that he was against a law compelling people to do so, for it would trample the more important right of fee speech.

Although Peterson became the scourge of the radical left by his opposition to  Bill C-16 in Canada, he also became endeared by the students of moderate political views in Canada, United States and all the English speaking countries. He began to be invited to give talks at various universities in Canada and elsewhere.

In many occasions, Jordan presence on campus attracted protests from students who chanted abused at him. On Friday 16 March 2018 Jordan went to McMaster University, in Hamilton, Ontario (Canada), invited buy a group of students, where he was going to participate in a debate of free speech and political correctness alongside with three professors from the same university. However, the three participants backed out of the arrangement due to the students’ opposition. Peterson attended  to the hall anyway and started to talk, but no one could hear him because of the noise the protesters were making, chanting, clanging cowbells and blowing air horns. Eventually, Peterson retreated outside the hall, where he continued speaking while standing on a bench, and the event gained space in the national and international media.

According to Jordan, in 2017 his own job at the University of Toronto was threatened, causing great anxiety to him and his family. Last July, he announced his plans to launch a website that would help students and parents identify and avoid ‘corrupt’ courses with ‘postmodern content’. Within five years, he hoped, this would starve ‘postmodern neo-Marxist cult classes’ into oblivion. Jordan’s lectures and debates with other people are produced without special lighting and makeup. The estimative is that some 40 million people have listened to them.

All the hatred towards Jordan have caused a growth in the respect for his intellectual prowess.  The hate and the love for him have helped to put his 2018 book 12 Rules for Life in the bestseller list.  The economist Tyler Cowen, of George Mason University, who placed Jordan among the top five public intellectuals of the Western world (Tyler Cowen January 23, 2018 at 12:45 am in Current Affairs Education Philosophy). His opinion was echoed by David Brooks, of The New York Times, who referred to Peterson as  “the most influential public intellectual in the Western world right now.” The American essayist and critic Camille Paglia anointed him “the most important and influential Canadian thinker since Marshall McLuhan”. The British journalist Melanie Phillips wrote that Jordan is “a kind of secular prophet … in an era of lobotomised conformism”.

As Peterson has articulated many times in his lectures, Postmodernism has a pernicious influence in society. In my view, Postmodernism has been allowed to encroach the universities of the West because the academics who enjoy the comfort of secure academic posts do not feel compelled to take a stand against it. I also believe that things are even worse in the fringes of the West, such as in my native Brazil. In my book of essays called O homem razoável (The Reasonable Man; 2016) one of the essays deals specifically with Postmodernism. This book is available on paper on Amazon.com (USA) and as a Kindle edition in other Amazon sites.  On my next post I will publish a transcription I made of Peterson’s talk on Postmodernism

 

How to find meaning

How to find meaning

Joaquina Pires-O’Brien

Review of the book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, by Jordan B. Peterson. Allen Lane, UK, 2018. 409 pp. ISBN 978-0-241-45163-5.

I only learned about Jordan B. Peterson, the  Canadian psychologist whose appearances in YouTube are watched by thousands around the world,  at the beginning of June this year,  when a friend mentioned a debate on political correctness in which Jordan participated with Stephen Fry, the British writer and comedian. I learnt much from watching this debate on YouTube, including why Peterson is described by journalists as the kind of person that people either love or hate.  Although from the start I placed myself among the former, I was still reluctant to buy his book 12 Rules for Life simply because the title reminded me of those books with the expression ‘for dummies’ in the title. After watching a discussion about postmodernism that he had with the American author and discerning social critic, Camille Paglia published in October last year, I changed my mind.

This is Jordan’s 2nd book, the result of an epiphany he had during a brain storming meeting with a friend and business associate at the end of 2016, when he imagined that the LED-equipped pen torch his friend gave him as a ‘pen of light’ with which he would be able “to write illuminated words in the darkness”.

Considering that 12 Rules for Life, a book of 409 pages was published in the first part of 2018, this is a remarkable short time, even for a genius. The  explanation is in Jordan’s first book, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief, published  in 1999, “a very dense book” in Peterson’s own words, which took him 10 years to write, and whose ideas were further expounded in 12 Rules. The 12 rules of life are:

Rule 1. Stand up straight with your shoulders back.

Rule 2. Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping.

Rule 3. Make friends with the people who want the best for you.

Rule 4. Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today.

Rule 5. Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them.

Rule 6. Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world.

Rule 7. Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient).

Rule 8. Tell the truth – or, at least, don’t lie.

Rule 9. Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t.

Rule 10. Be precise in your speech.

Rule 11. Don’t bother children when they are skateboarding.

Rule 12. Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street.

In explaining Rule 1, “Stand up straight with your shoulders back”, the author shows that this is a trait that evolved, associated with status and social position not only in man but in other animals such as lobsters. The whole chapter is a biology lesson about the intraspecific hierarchies of the animal kingdom, which result from the competition for limited resources. There are specific body chemicals associated with the pecking order of chickens and the way songbirds establish dominance. Although the biological evidence points to their existence of hierarchies in humans, to admit this has become politically incorrect. Perhaps the notion of human hierarchy has become a ‘monster’ for individuals with a determined personality, which is probably why Peterson likes to repeat that monsters do exist, after all. But it makes sense that people stand straight when they are well, and became curved when they are not, but the message is that one can pick oneself up and stand straight again. “Stand up straight with your shoulders back” is a metaphor for accepting life’s many responsibilities, even the most terrible and difficult. The acceptance of responsibility is tantamount to an intent of finding meaning in life and to respect oneself.  The brutal distribution of resources in today’s word, where one percent of the population have as much as the bottom 50 percent, is what makes it difficult to accept responsibility:

The majority of scientific papers are published by a very small group of scientists. A tiny proportion of musicians produces almost all the recorded commercial music. Just a handful of authors sell all the books. A million and a half separately titled books (!) sell each year in the US, However, only five hundred of these sell more than a hundred thousand copies. Similarly, just four classical composers (Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and Tchaikovsky) wrote almost all the music played by modern orchestras. Bach, for his part, composed so prolifically that it would take decades of work merely to hand-copy his scores, yet only a small fraction of this prodigious output is commonly performed. The same thing applies to the output of the other three members of this group of hyper-dominant composers: only a small fraction of their work is still widely played. Thus, a small fraction of the music composed by a small fraction of  all the classical composers who have ever composed makes up almost all the classical music that the world knows and loves.

The situation above is described by an L-shaped graph known as Price’s law, where the vertical axis depicts the number of people and the horizontal axis depicts productivity or resources. It is also known as the Matthew Principle, due to a New Testament quotation (Matthew 25:29), where Christ said “to those who have everything, more will be given; to those who have nothing; everything will be taken.”  This quotation comes from the Parable of the Talents, where Christ recognises that people are not equal in terms of initiative and diligence. The main point that Jordan is trying to make is that hierarchies are a part of life. Hierarchies evolved over long periods of time in the animal kingdom, not just in man.  From a Darwinian perspective, what matters is permanence. Social hierarchy is not a new concept; it has been around for some half a billion years, and it is real and permanent. Nature is what ‘selects’, and the longer something has been selected the more permanent it is. Nature is not as harmonious, balanced and perfect as imagined by the romantic minds. There is a lot more to this chapter, such as that every individual has within him- or herself an idea of  his or her position in society. Low and high status are real. There is anxiety in both realities. Undoubtedly this is unpalatable to many, but is the reality. To act responsibly in the world today requires accepting reality and working with it. Finally, there are self-defeating ways and intelligent ways to live responsibly: “Look for your inspiration to the victorious lobster, with its 350 million years of practical wisdom. Stand up straight, with your shoulders back.”

I was particularly drawn to Rule 9: “Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t”. In this rule Peterson explains the science of human interactions, emphasising attention and conversation. Many of the ideas that Peterson presents regarding this rule come from his practice as a clinical psychologist, which has given him a large sample of modern day isolation and its secondary side effects. He writes:

The people I listen to need to talk, because that’s how people think. People need to think. Otherwise they wander blindly into pits When people think, they simulate the world, and plan how to act in it. If they do a good job of simulating, they can figure out what stupid things  they shouldn’t do. Then they can not do them. Then they don’t have to suffer the consequences. That’s the purpose of thinking. But we can’t do it alone. We simulate the world, and plan our actions in it. Only human beings do this. That’s how brilliant we are. We make little avatars of ourselves. We place those avatars in fictional worlds. Then we watch what happens. If our avatar thrives, then we act like he does, in the real world. Then we thrive (we hope). If our avatar fails, we don’t go there, if we have any sense. We let him die in the fictional world, so that we don’t have to really die in the present.

Conversation is a key thing in human life and yet we don’t know how to do it properly; it is often hindered by not listening properly or by not being completely truthful. Peterson calls ‘jockeying for position’ the situation in a conversation where people think more on the reply they want to make than in what is being said. Good conversation, of the kind people exchange views with one another, is becoming rare.  The alternative to the standard conversation involving two or more interlocutors is thinking. We can create a conversation in our minds by reflecting deeply and enacting our viewpoint and that of another person. Self-criticism often passes for this type of thinking, but is not a reflection with an internal dialogue. As Peterson shows, conversation is a great opportunity to organize thoughts effectively and to clean up our minds. Putting it in another way, conversation is the key to good mental health.

Simplicity is one characteristic of all 12 rules for life prescribed by Peterson. This simplicity comes from the vision of the tip of an iceberg of meaning. However, a lot of effort is required to grasp in full the iceberg of meaning. There is a lot of meaning behind each of these 12 rules of life. All 12 rules rest either on scientific findings or on the wisdom of ancient narratives and their archetypes, or on both things.  Meaning, according to Jordan, is the most important thing anyone could wish for in life for it allows us to find equilibrium between order and chaos. A necessary condition for meaning is truth. Many people are incapable of accepting  the world as it is, and prefer instead to hang on to their idea of how the world should be. These are the kind of people who hate Jordan and try to defame his character.

The book 12 Rules for Life by Jordan B. Peterson is at the top of the league of self-help books and the reason for that is the clarity with which the author depicts life’s problems and the ways people deal with them, which, in turn, is due to the fact that Jordan is a public intellectual and a world class research psychologist, as well as an individual who has experienced a fair share of problems in his own life. Peterson’s book offers the intelligent ways to deal with the problems of modern life, from  social isolation and alcohol or substance abuse, to nihilism and the inability to  accept the truth about the world; we can include in this list a range of mind disorders from anxiety to depression. Meaning, not happiness, is the objective of these 12 rules. Happiness is a term that derives from ‘happy’ but  ‘happy’ is  not synonymous with ‘good’. Good includes a range of things like self-respect and the Golden Rule regarding treating others; that which allow us to live our lives with integrity and with hope for further improvement is ‘good’ while the opposite of that is ‘hell’.  Only through meaning we can evade hell and have the necessary courage to face the tragedies of life.

                                                                                                                                               

Joaquina Pires-O’Brien is a Brazilian translator, essayist and former research  botanist, living in England. Her book of essays O homem razoável (The Reasonable Man) was published simultaneously in Portuguese and Spanish in 2016, and is available from Amazon in Kindle and paperback editions. In 2010 she founded PortVitoria, a digital magazine for Iberians worldwide, in English, Portuguese and Spanish.

Revisitando 1968

Editorial. Revisitando 1968

Joaquina Pires-O’Brien

Este año marca el 50 aniversario de la revolución estudiantil de 1968, lo que ofrece una oportunidad de reflexionar sobre el evento en sí y la percepción del público desde entonces. En 1969, apenas un año después del evento, Raymond Aron (1905-1983) publicó el libro La Revolution Introuvable: Réflexions sur les événements de mai, o The Elusive Revolution: Anatomy of a Student Revolt, en la traducción al inglés. Considerado el testigo más equilibrado de los acontecimientos en París, Aron describió a 1968 como un ‘psicodrama’, más para una comedia revolucionaria que para una verdadera revolución. Aron era el tipo de intelectual que siempre escogió la verdad, cualquiera que fuera el costo. Ser un feroz crítico del marxismo, en una época en que casi todo el mundo estaba envuelto con la izquierda, significó no sólo renunciar a la oportunidad de hacerse popular, sino también exponerse al menosprecio de otros pensadores. Pero, a pesar de todos los intentos de denigrar su imagen, Aron mantuvo su propio suelo. Aron finalmente alcanzó el reconocimiento merecido al final de su vida, especialmente después de la publicación de sus memorias, un mes antes de su muerte, el 17 de octubre de 1983.

Esta edición de PortVitoria reexamina las ideas en torno a las revueltas de los estudiantes de 1968. El principal artículo es ‘París, mayo de 1968: la revolución que nunca existió’, de Peter Steinfels, publicado por primera vez en The International Herald Tribune el 11 de de mayo de 2008, con motivo de los 40 años de 1968, y publicado aquí en español y portugués. Es seguido por el ensayo de Fernando Genovés ‘Raymond Aron y Jean-Paul Sartre: hombres de letras versus intelectuales’, que destaca los paralelos en las vidas de Aron y Sartre, incluido el evento en París, en el 26 de junio de 1979, cuando estas dos figuras imponentes se encontraron de nuevo por última vez. Un obituario de André Glucksmann, uno de los líderes de las revueltas estudiantiles de 1968 en París y que más tarde surgió como uno de los Nuevos Filósofos de Francia es nuestro tercer artículo. Lo mismo fue publicado en la revista semanal estadounidense The New Yorker, el 11 de noviembre de 2015, y es reproducido aquí en portugués. El cuarto artículo es mi proprio ensayo ‘1968 en un casquillo de nuez’, un breve relato de las revueltas de los estudiantes y sus consecuencias.

Un doble revisión de The Once and Future Liberal y The Shipwrecked Mind (La mente naufragada) de Mark Lilla, por James Meek, publicado por primera vez en 2017 en el London Review of Books, se ofrece aquí en español y portugués. Los libros fueron reseñados en varias revistas y periódicos españoles y brasileños, pero la reseña de Meek captura con aprumo sustancia e intención, permitiendo un vislumbre clara de la mente de ese escritor penetrante.

Mucha agua ha pasado bajo el puente desde 1968 y la narración de los acontecimientos que lo rodean también ha cambiado. Cincuenta años después, un número creciente de críticos parece concordar que fue un utopismo socialista que alcanzó el status de un culto. Aún más relevante que la etiqueta que debía aplicarse a 1968, es el hecho de que inculcó muchas ideas inconclusas en las mentes jóvenes y en la población. Esto tuvo muchas consecuencias imprevistas, tales como la sofocación del debate en la esfera pública, el populismo político, el multiculturalismo, el tribalismo y el desaliento de la enseñanza superior. América Latina tuvo todo eso más la fragmentación social causada por la diseminación del marxismo e ideologías semejantes.

Julio de 2018

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Request from Jo Pires-O’Brien, editor of PortVitoria

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PortVitoria offers informed opinion on topics of interest to the Luso-Hispanic world. Its content appears in Portuguese, Spanish &/or English.

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Jaron Lanier and the Bummer machine of making heads

Jaron Lanier and the Bummer machine of making heads

An American information technologist named Jaron Lanier is also the author of several books of critique of the Digital Age, such as You are not a Gadget: The Manifesto (2010), Who Owns the Future? (2013), Dawn of the New Everything: A Journey Through Virtual Reality (2017). Lanier has just published his fourth book entitled Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now (2018), in which he denounces Silicon Valley in general, and FaceBook , in particular, as real head-turning machines.

Lanier called the ‘Bummer’ head-turning machine, an acronym in the phrase “Behavior of Others, Modified and Transformed into a Empire for Rent” (Behavior of Others, Modified, and Made into an Empire for Rent).

The following is excerpted from the article by Danny Fortson published in The Sunday Times Magazine, 19.05.2018, about Lanier Ten’s new book Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now:

At the heart of his concern is the coupling of the smartphone, an always-on supercomputer, and tracking device, and advertising, which has been utterly transformed from a periodic annoyance that would materialise in defined places – during your favourite television show, on a billboard, in a magazine – to something else entirely. “Everyone who is in social media is getting individualised, continuously adjusted stimuli, without a break, so long as they use their smartphones,” he writes. “What might once have been called advertising must now be understood as continuous behaviour modification on a titanic scale.”

Even more alarming: The Bummer machine is getting stronger every day because what algorithms need more than anything is data to crunch and behaviours to analyse. … The more raw material the algorithms have to work with, the more effective they become. Hence Lanier’s call for mass deletion: “The arc of history has reversed with the arrival of the Bummer machine,” he says. “Quitting is the only way, for now, to learn what can replace our grand mistake.”

The argument goes like this: algorithms are optimised to create engagement and they work extremely well. The average millenial checks his phone 150 times a day. It is typically the first thing they do when they get up and the last thing before they go to sleep. More than 2 bn people are in FaceBook, roughly the same number of followers of Christianity.

The result is that society has “darkened a few shades”, Lanier argues. “If you don’t see the dark ads, the ambient whispers, the cold-hearted memes that someone else sees, that person will seem crazy to you. And that is our new Bummer world . We seem crazy to each other because Baummer is robbing us of our theories of one another’s minds.”

Our solution is to be like a cat, that is, be impervious to instruction or control.

Here are Lanier’s 10 reasons why people should delete their social media accounts:

  1. You are loosing your free will;
  2. Quitting social media is the most finely targetted way to resist the insanity of our times;
  3. Social media is turning you into an asshole;
  4. Social media is undermining truth;
  5. Social media is making what you say meaningless;
  6. Social media is desroying your capacity for empathy;
  7. Social media is making you unhappy;
  8. Social media doesn’t wabt you to have economic dignity;
  9. Social media is making politics impossible;
  10. Social media hates your soul;

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The above was taken from Danny Fortson’s interview of Jaron Lanier published in The Sunday Times Magazine, 19.05.2018, about Lanier’s latest book Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now

 

What is Humanism?

“A rationalistic system of thought attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters.” (Oxford English Dictionary)
“The rejection of religion in favour of the advancement of humanity by its own efforts.” (Collins Concise Dictionary)
“…a non-religious philosophy, based on liberal human values.” (Little Oxford Dictionary)
“…seeking, without religion, the best in, and for human beings.” (Chambers Pocket Dictionary)
“…an appeal to reason in contrast to revelation or religious authority as a means of finding out about the natural world and destiny of man, and also giving a grounding for morality… Humanist ethics is also distinguished by placing the end of moral action in the welfare of humanity rather than in fulfilling the will of God.” (Oxford Companion to Philosophy)

 

Unlike religionists, Humanists have no faith. Having “faith” means having a strong belief in something without proof. Humanists are essentially sceptics. Where religious people might offer supernatural answers to some of the fundamental questions about life, the universe, and everything, we prefer to leave a question mark. Humanists are atheist (meaning “without god”), or agnostic (a term coined by the 19th century biologist, Thomas Henry Huxley, to mean “without knowledge”, since Huxley said one cannot prove or disprove the existence of God).
Humanists reject the notion of an afterlife; we think that this life is the only one we have, and we must make the most of it.
Humanists don’t have the equivalent of the Bible or the Qu’ran, or a book of rules to guide us through life, though we may refer to great works of history, philosophy and literature. You don’t actually need to have read the history of Humanist ideas to be a Humanist, but most, being inquisitive, thoughtful people, will investigate the ideas that interest us.
We can trace Humanist influences over 2,500 years to the Chinese sage Confucius and to the philosophers, scientists and poets of antiquity. One was the Greek philosopher Epicurus, who, starting from Aristotle’s principle that human happiness depends on good conduct, defined the good life as one of pleasure and friendship, absence of pain and peace of mind. His disciples included women and slaves, which was almost unheard of at that time. Epicurus said, “Of all the means by which wisdom ensures happiness throughout life, by far the most important is the possession of friendship.”
For centuries, it was unsafe to openly express unorthodox views about religion, but with the dawn of the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th centuries, it gradually became possible to do so, with caution. Some described themselves as “rationalists”, “secularists” or “freethinkers”, terms that are still used by Humanists today.
Charles Darwin, whose theory of evolution made a huge impact on our understanding of where we come from, has been a strong influence on Humanism. The scientist Marie Curie, the 18th century feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, the authors Thomas Hardy and George Eliot, the first Prime Minister of Independent India, Jawaharlal Nehru, and the American creator of the Star Trek TV series, Gene Roddenberry, are just a few of the influential people who’ve lived by Humanist principles.
Professor Richard Dawkins, a tireless advocate of secularism, said, “I arrived at my beliefs, as everybody should, by examining evidence.” Many Humanists have worked out their own beliefs and are delighted to find that others have reached similar conclusions. Because we are independent thinkers, Humanists differ about many things, but most of us agree about some basic principles. We believe that we should accept responsibility for our own behaviour and how it affects other people and the world we live in. Because we think that this is the only life we have, we believe it’s important to try to live full and happy lives, and to help others to do the same.
Humanists were involved with the establishment of the United Nations; we value human rights, freedom of communication, freedom from fear, want and suffering, and education free from bias and the influence of powerful religious or political organisations.
In his book Humanism, an introduction, Jim Herrick wrote, “Humanism is the most human philosophy of life. Its emphasis is on the human, the here-and-now, the humane. It is not a religion and has no formal creed, though humanists have beliefs. Humanists are atheists or agnostics and do not expect an afterlife. It is essential to humanism that it brings values and meaning into life.”
In 1996, the International Humanist & Ethical Union General Assembly adopted the following resolution. Any organisation wishing to become a member of IHEU is now obliged to signify its acceptance of this statement:
Humanism is a democratic and ethical life stance, which affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives. It stands for the building of a more humane society through an ethic based on human and other natural values in the spirit of reason and free inquiry through human capabilities. It is not theistic, and it does not accept supernatural views of reality

Note: From: http://suffolkhands.org.uk/humanism/, 27.09.2017