Good-bye, Roger Scruton

Good-bye, Roger Scruton

Joaquina Pires-O’Brien

It was with great sadness that I learned of the death of Roger Scruton on 12 January 2020, aged 75.

Scruton was shunned in his own country for exposing the follies and fallacies of the demi-Gods of the Left, such as Foucault, Derrrida, Althusser and Gramisci. In spite of all the hardships that he had to face, he succeeded in attaining the ‘good life’, which is the mark of all true philosophers.  May his life serve as a warning to all societies, of how easily it is to misjudge people, giving unwarranted praises to some and shunning the truly merited. The curse of postmodernism  exacerbated considerably this error of judgement.

I had the honour of meeting Scruton in 2012, in London, during the book signing section that followed the debate between him and the literary theorist and critic Terry Eagleton, promoted by Intelligence Squared. Having introduced myself briefly, I told him that I had created a magazine called PortVitoria, hoping to disseminate the ideas of classical liberalism to a Portuguese and Spanish audience. I mentioned that I would like to translate some of his essays to publish in PortVitoria, and that I had already published there a review of his book Green Philosophy: How to think seriously about the planet. When I explained that PortVitoria was a start-up and still unknown, he put me at ease by telling me that he too had edited a magazine that had only some twelve hundred subscribers. He was referring to The Salisbury Review, a ‘quarterly magazine of conservative thought’ founded in 1982, which he served as chief-editor for 18 years. Although The Salisbury Review has a digital edition, its original paper edition survives to this day. I was very happy when he told me that I could translate his essay ‘The Green and the Blue’ into Portuguese and Spanish, to publish PortVitoria. I will always treasure my signed copy of his book The Face of God (2012), where he wrote “To Jo, with best wishes”.  Good-bye, great philosopher.

And a postmodern New Year to you too

And a postmodern New Year to you too

Stuart Parker (Guest writer)

OK. So, in this post-truth world, your New Year’s resolution is to become a postmodernist but you’re not sure how to go about it? I’m here to help.

Now you may be tempted to overload with Derrida or overdose on Wittgenstein, but just sit down. All of that is fun, but it’s hard work, and you don’t want to break that resolution, do you? No need to worry though. Here are some tips to ease yourself into your new postmodern threads.

First step: Start to think in terms of metaphors.

In their book, Metaphors We Live By, Lakoff and Johnson describe how metaphors shape the way we see the world. We tend, for example, to see “up” as positive, “down” as negative. Same with “forward” versus “backward”, “straight” versus “twisted”. “Argument” is readily described through the language of war. Look at our House of Commons and think how different parliament would be if argument was seen as dance, or a relationship or love.

We postmodernists just take the extra step of getting rid of the literal altogether. Everything is metaphor. Some metaphors are more stable than others for particular purposes. There’s your literal.

Next: Listen to more music.

Music is the most clearly metaphorical of the arts. Thinking of the “meaning” in music will help you to weaken the hold of the literal on your world-view. Think about how the meaning of a song’s lyrics depends on their setting within a context of melody and harmony. How many great lyrics are simply bad poetry when ripped away from their song?

Try the famous game from “I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue,” by singing the lyrics of one song to the tune of another. The result is often ridiculous and certainly involves a shift in the meaning. That thing that “Land of Hope and Glory” does for you. That’s not literal. But not only does it play with your feelings, your imagination and your sense of identity, it does so in a way that is common to many other people.

All of this is relative of course. Non-Brits may get something completely different from it. No problem. That’s another thing you’ll get used to embracing as a postmodernist. Relativism. Big-time!

At this point we need to get something straight. Postmodernists do not value style over substance. Or rather, we do, but only because we see substance as a consequence of style. This may seem a bit awkward at first. I’ve been castigated by realist philosophers from the analytic tradition for saying that what is really bad about the Nazis is that they offend our literary taste; our sense of narrative style.

That’s fine. Leave the analytic guys to struggle with absolute notions of evil, essence and ethics, underwritten by some external reality (Spoiler alert: they can’t). We’re relativists, right? If something offends our literary taste then that’s enough (and we can then justify our offence with lyrics using words like evil, cruel immoral to which our style will give meaning).

Look how a different hairstyle, different clothes or make-up helps to make a difference to how you feel, how you’re viewed, to your personality and to your identity. Hey! You’ve got to lose that sense of a core, essential self. There’s nothing there to be discovered. You’re a postmodernist now and everything is style. Get over it!

This is both scary and liberating. Remember, you are a character in other people’s narratives. Identity is no private thing (How could you have a private style when style is all about differing?) You are not the final arbiter of your self. But you are a player. So get to work on controlling the narratives you’re embedded in.

I’ve mentioned narratives haven’t I? We could call them texts. Derrida does. And he says there is nothing outside the text. All we have recourse to is our narratives — “language games”, Wittgenstein called them — and there’s no text-independent world to arbitrate between rival texts. How could there be? We got rid of the literal a few paragraphs back.

Some texts combine quite readily. Jane Austen’s novels could all happily co-exist. Jane Austen and William Borroughs? Well… Bit of a clash, but it’s really up to us to create an enabling style; a meta-narrative (except that the overarching, meta-role is itself text-relative…) The point is, texts are man-made (a bit of Derridean phallocentrism there). They’re a human enterprise and it is up to us whether or not a style is constructed in which grating, clashing narratives can be smoothly mixed. Or, at least, co-exist. Possibly only within particular contexts.

So, at Christmas we can embrace the truth of the nativity and the truth of Santa Claus. We postmodernists embrace contradictions and have no problem accepting the reality of each. You just have to recognise that they are both man-made and their reality is relative to contexts in which they are useful. Yes, as a postmodernist you’ll quickly get used to being a pragmatist as well.

Any lessons for politics? Well I reckon the Conservatives have stumbled into a postmodern-ish approach with their slogans, their re-writing of history and their various clumsy-yet-effective patriot-narratives. It helps if you own a narrative-machine like, e.g., most of the press.

And the lies? Postmodernism doesn’t enable lies. Lies, like truth, are text-relative. I’m not sure what sort of surreal, comedic narrative would make Boris Johnson honest but, well, you get the point.

As for Labour, all I’d say is: get postmodern before it’s too late. You’ve been asking to have a hackneyed, 70’s prehistoric narrative imposed on you. Corbyn as style? How passé. Take back control of your textuality. Get yourselves some stylistic agility. Persuade us with the force of your creativity. Remember, it’s all about forward with flair, not backward to flares! Unless they’re back in.

As for you dear reader. You’ll soon be ready for Derrida. And deconstruction. Happy New Year.

Article published in The Article, Saturday, December 28, 2019. Stuart Parker is a former lecturer in philosophy and education. Author of Reflective Teaching in the Postmodern World.

O Pós-modernismo, incluindo os seus efeitos deletérios no Brasil, é o tema da última edição de PortVitoria, revista da cultura ibérica no mundo, para falantes de português, espanhol e inglês.  Leia e repasse o link.

Meet Maurice Strong: Globalist, Oiligarch, ‘Environmentalist’

Meet Maurice Strong: Globalist, Oiligarch, ‘Environmentalist’

James Corbett

Disgraced kleptocrat Maurice Strong died late last year at the age of 86. He was shunned from polite society and forced into a life of exile in Beijing after his decades of business intrigues, crimes against humanity, and environmental destruction unraveled. His savagery culminated with an attempt to profit off of the death of starving Iraqi children. His funeral was a quiet affair, attended only by those few family members who could not find it in their heart to shun him completely. Former friends and business associates like Paul Martin, James Wolfensohn, Kofi Annan, Conrad Black, and Al Gore all avoided calls for comments on their disgraced friend’s passing.

…is how Maurice Strong’s legacy would have been remembered in any reasonable world. Instead we get this:

On Wednesday, hundreds will gather across from Parliament Hill for an extraordinary commemoration. The Governor General, the Prime Minister, the Minister of the Environment, the former president of the World Bank – among other dignitaries, in and out of office – will pay homage to one of the great Canadians of his generation. They will celebrate the life of Maurice Frederick Strong, who died on November 27. His passing brought the obligatory obituaries and personal tributes. But in a country that often hides its light under a barn, Maurice Strong – and the feverish, consequential life he led at home and abroad – should not go uncelebrated.

And the accolades just keep pouring in.

From Canadian PM Justin Trudeau: “Maurice Strong was a pioneer of sustainable development who left our country and our world a better place.”

From the co-founder of the World Economic Forum at Davos: “He was a great visionary, always ahead of our times in his thinking.”

From author and philosopher John Ralston Saul: “He changed the world.”

In fact, a whole gaggle of globalists showed up to pay tribute to the memory of Strong earlier this week in Ottawa, from former World Bank president James Wolfensohn to under-secretary general of the UN Achim Steiner to Martin Lees, the former secretary-general of the Club of Rome. Written condolences poured in from other prominent globalists including Mikhail Gorbachev, Gro Harlem Bruntland and Kofi Annan.

So why exactly was Maurice Strong so beloved by the globalist jet set?

Oh, that’s right:

INTERVIEWER: “Maurice Strong doesn’t have any ambition for the United Nations to become the world’s government?”

STRONG: “No, and it’s not necessary, it’s not feasible, and certainly we are a long way from any such thing. But we do need–if we are going to have a more peaceful world, a more secure world–we need a more effective system of cooperation, which is what I call ‘system of governance.’ And the United Nations, with all its difficulties, is the best game in town.” (Interview)

President of Power Corp. President of the Canadian International Development Agency. Chair of Petro Canada. Chair of Ontario Hydro. Head of the United Nations Environmental Program. Founding member of the World Economic Forum at Davos. Father of the IPCC. Committed globalist.

No, it is not difficult to see why globalists love arch-globalist Maurice Strong. But how did this man, a dirt poor high school dropout from Oak Lake, Manitoba, rise to become an international wheeler-dealer who is responsible for shaping our modern day globalist institutions? The story is as unlikely as it is instructive, and it leads us from the heart of the oil patch to the formation of the IPCC.

Given Strong’s remarkable ascent through the ranks of political power to become a globalist kingpin, it won’t be surprising to hear that he had political connections in his family. But it may be surprising to hear where those connections were placed. His aunt, Anna Louise Strong, was a committed communist who befriended Lenin and Trotsky (who asked her to teach him English) before she ultimately settled in China, where she was on familiar terms with Mao Zedong. She became close with Zhou Enlai, who wept openly when she was buried with full honors in Beijing’s Babaoshan Revolutionary Cemetery.

Unfortunately for humanity, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree with young Maurice. Born in rural Manitoba in 1929 and suffering through the worst of the Great Depression, Maurice Strong drops out of school at age 14 to look for work. He works his way around as a deck hand on ships and then, at age 16, as a fur buyer for the Hudson’s Bay Company in Canada’s North. There he meets “Wild” Bill Richardson, whose wife, Mary McColl, hails from the family behind McColl-Frontenac, one of Canada’s largest petroleum companies.

Through Richardson, Strong makes contacts that propel him into his unlikely career. As Wikipedia cryptically explains:

“Strong first met with a leading UN official in 1947 who arranged for him to have a temporary low-level appointment, to serve as a junior security officer at the UN headquarters in Lake Success, New York. He soon returned to Canada, and with the support of Lester B. Pearson, directed the founding of the Canadian International Development Agency in 1968”.

As far as massive narrative gaps and cryptic cover-ups of detail go, that paragraph is a masterpiece. The truth is even weirder. That “UN official” referred to by Wiki? That was none other than the Treasurer of the UN himself, Noah Monod. In fact, Monod doesn’t just get him a job, he gives him a place to live; the two room together during Strong’s time in the Big Apple. But most importantly, Monod gives him an introduction to the man who more than any other will be behind his meteoric rise to international superstardom: David Rockefeller.

Maurice Strong liked to relate the story that he had been confrontational with Rockefeller at the start. According to Strong, some of his first words to David were “I’m deeply prejudiced against you and all your family stands for.” Oddly, David doesn’t remember the meeting that way, saying instead that the two had “a strong working relationship.”

Either way, from that moment on Strong was a made man. And from that moment on, wherever Strong went Rockefeller and his associates were there somewhere in the background.

Alberta-OilIt was a Standard Oil veteran, Jack Gallagher, who gave Strong his big break in the Alberta oil patch when he quit his UN security job to return to Canada. Gallagher had been hired to create a new oil and gas exploration company by Henrie Brunie, a close friend of Rockefeller associate John J. McCloy. Strong signed on as Gallagher’s assistant.

When Maurice Strong suddenly decided to quit his job, sell his house, and travel to Africa, he found a job with Rockefeller’s CalTex in Nairobi.

When he quit that job in 1954 and started his own company back in Canada, he hired Brunie to manage it and appointed two Standard Oil of New Jersey reps to its board. By this point he was in his late 20s and already a multi-millionaire.

After considerable networking with Canada’s political elite, Strong was appointed head of Power Corporation, the baby of the powerful “Canadian Rockefellers,” the Desmarais family. Power Corp is a political kingmaker in Canadian politics and under Strong’s stewardship it continued to function in that role. One of his appointees: a fresh-faced Harvard MBA named James Wolfensohn, future president of the World Bank. Another hand pick: Paul Martin, future CEO of Canada Steamship Lines and Prime Minister of Canada.

Strong left Power Corp to head up Canada’s External Aid program. He oversaw the creation of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC). As journalist Elaine Dewar, who interviewed Strong for her ground breaking book Cloak of Green, explains:

“IDRC had a clause in its enabling legislation allowing it to give money directly to individuals as well as to governments and private organizations. It was set up as a corporation, reporting to Parliament through the minister of external affairs. Its board of governors was designed to include private and even foreign persons.[…]Since IDRC was not created as an agent of the Crown (as CIDA is) , it was able to receive charitable donations from corporations and individuals as well as government funds”.

Those “corporations and individuals” generously “donating” their money to IDRC naturally included Rockefeller’s Chase Manhattan Bank and the Rockefeller Foundation itself. Strong admitted to Dewar that the IDRC was able to peddle political influence in the third world under its quasi-governmental guise.

His quasi-business/quasi-governmental/quasi-“philanthropic” career reached a new level in 1969, however. That’s when the Swedish ambassador to the UN called Strong up to see if he wanted to head the forthcoming United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, due to take place in 1972. He got the call not out of any supposed love for the environment, but because even by that time Strong was renowned as a human Rolodex of political, business and financial connections across the developed and developing world.

Naturally, he was duly appointed a Trustee of the Rockefeller Foundation, which then funded his office for the Stockholm summit and supplied Carnegie Fellow Barbara Ward and Rockefeller ecologist Rene Dubos for his team. Strong commissioned them to write Only One Earth, a foundational text in the sustainable development arena that is heavily touted by globalists as a key for promoting the global management of resources.

The 1972 Stockholm summit is still hailed as a landmark moment in the history of the modern environmental movement, leading not only to the first governmentally-administered environmental action plans in Europe but the creation of an entirely new UN bureaucracy: the United Nations Environment Program. UNEP’s founding director: Maurice Strong. As Dewar explains:

“Like so many of the organizations Strong has made, this one too had multiple uses. In 1974, UNEP rose out of the undeveloped soil of Nairobi, Kenya, Strong’s old stomping ground. Placing UNEP in Africa was explained as a sop to the developing countries, who had been suspicious of Western intentions. But it was also useful for the big powers to have another international organization in Nairobi. After the Yom Kippur War in 1973, Nairobi became the key spy capital of Africa”.

The Yom Kippur War and resulting OPEC oil embargo (magically foretold by the Bilderberg Conference in Sweden earlier that year and arranged by David Rockefeller’s agent, Henry Kissinger) had another spin-off effect that ended up benefiting Strong. The embargo hit eastern Canada hard, prompting Prime Minister Trudeau to create a publicly-run national oil company. The result: Petro-Canada was born in 1975 and Trudeau naturally appointed Strong, by now the single most powerful member of the global(ist) environmental movement, as its first president.

David Rockefeller was there with Strong in Colorado in 1987 for the ‘Fourth World Wilderness Congress,’ a meeting of world-historical importance that almost no one had even heard of. Attended by the likes of Rockefeller, Strong, James Baker and Edmund de Rothschild himself, the conference ultimately revolved around the question of financing for the burgeoning environmental movement that Strong had shaped from the ground up through his work at the United Nations Environment Program.

It was at that conference (recordings of which are available online thanks to whistleblower George Hunt) that Rothschild called for a World Conservation Bank, which he envisioned as the funding mechanism for a ‘second Marshall Plan’ that would be used for third world ‘debt relief’ and that favourite globalist dog whistle ‘sustainable development.’

Rothschild’s dream came true when Strong presided over another high-level UN environment summit: the 1992 Rio “Earth Summit.” Although perhaps best known as the conference that birthed Agenda 21, much less well known is that it was the Earth Summit that allowed the World Conservation Bank to become a reality.

Started on the eve of the Rio Earth Summit as a $1 billion World Bank pilot program, the bank, now known as the “Global Environment Facility” (GEF) is the largest public funder of global environmental projects, having made over $14.5 billion in grants and cofinanced a further $75.4 billion. The bank is the financial mechanism for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the organizing convention directing the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

With Agenda 21 under his belt, Rothschild’s GEF dream bank in the can and the IPCC already twinkling in his eye, Strong’s remarkable career showed no signs of stopping. After wrapping up the Rio Summit he took on a series of appointments so bewildering it almost defies credulity. From his official website comes the following list:

“After the Earth Summit, Strong continued to take a leading role in implementing the results of Rio through establishment of the Earth Council, the Earth Charter movement, his Chairmanship of the World Resources Institute, Membership on the Board of the International Institute for Sustainable Development, the Stockholm Environment Institute, the African-American Institute, the Institute of Ecology in Indonesia, the Beijer Institute of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, and others. Strong was a long-time Foundation Director of the World Economic Forum, a Senior Advisor to the President of the World Bank, a Member of the International Advisory of Toyota Motor Corporation, the Advisory Council for the Center for International Development of Harvard University, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, the World Conservation Union (IUCN), the World Wildlife Fund, Resources for the Future, and the Eisenhower Fellowships”.

There is no doubt that Strong led a charmed life. And given the persistent presence of Rockefeller interests in that life from his earliest years, there is no doubt why doors seemed to open for him wherever in the world he went.

But still, one has to ask how and why a high school dropout who made it big in the oil patch thanks to his big oil connections would go on to become the single most important figure in the international environmental movement. Was he genuinely interested in protecting the environment?

Consider Strong’s acquisition of the Arizona Colorado Land & Cattle Company from Saudi arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi in 1978. As part of that acquisition, Strong gained control over a ranch in the San Luis Valley in Colorado called the Baca Grande. As Henry Lamb explains in a 1997 article:

“The ranch, called Baca Grande, sat on the continent’s largest fresh water aquifer. Strong intended to pipe the water to the desert Southwest, but environmental organizations protested and the plan was abandoned. Strong ended up with a $1.2 million settlement from the water company, an annual grant of $100,000 from Laurance Rockefeller, and still retained the rights to the water”.

No, Strong’s interest in the site had nothing to do with preserving the pristine environment of the San Luis Valley. His interest was altogether stranger. As Quadrant Online notes:

“Maurice Strong had been told by a mystic that:

The Baca would become the centre for a new planetary order which would evolve from the economic collapse and environmental catastrophes that would sweep the globe in the years to come.

As a result of these revelations Strong created the Manitou Foundation, a New Age[1] institution located at the Baca ranch — above the sacred waters that Strong had been denied permission to pump out. This hocus-pocus continued with the foundation of The Conservation Fund (with financial help of Laurance Rockefeller) to study the mystical properties of the Manitou Mountain. At the Baca ranch there is a circular temple devoted to the world’s mystical and religious movements”.

Indeed, Strong’s missionary zeal for spreading his environmental message of doom and destruction for so many decades can be more easily explained as a quasi-religious zeal for preparing the way for the “New World Order” that this environmental doom supposedly foretells.

Further insight into Strong’s own mystic, New Age beliefs are found in what he considered to be his most important achievement: the creation of the Earth Charter. The Earth Charter was an outgrowth of Strong’s Earth Council Institute which he founded in 1992 with the help of Mikhail Gorbachev, David Rockefeller (of course), Al Gore, Shimon Peres, and a bevvy of Strong’s globalist friends.

Strong’s own website has described the Earth Charter as “a widely recognized, global consensus statement on ethics and values for a sustainable future,” but Strong himself has framed the document in religious terms, saying he hopes it will be treated like a new Ten Commandments.

So what does the Earth Charter say? Other than the predictable mealy-mouthed platitudes one would expect about “social and economic justice” and other political buzzwords, the document ends up as a love letter to world government:

“In order to build a sustainable global community, the nations of the world must renew their commitment to the United Nations, fulfil their obligations under existing international agreements, and support the implementation of Earth Charter principles with an international legally binding instrument on environment and development”.

The Earth Charter itself rests in the “Ark of Hope,” a literal ark that was constructed specifically to house the original document in an obvious reference to the ark of the covenant. The ark was unveiled on September 9, 2001, and then carried 350 miles to the United Nations in the wake of 9/11. The Earth Charter Commission member who presided over the unveiling just happened to be none other than Steven C. Rockefeller.

While this quasi-religious quest for global government is always wrapped in feel-good language about strengthening communities and preserving the planet, the underlying reality is about a much more Machiavellian agenda. As Dewar notes of the Rio Summit in “Cloak of Green”:

“Advertised as the World’s Greatest Summit, Rio was publicly described as a global negotiation to reconcile the need for environmental protection with the need for economic growth. The cognoscenti understood that there were other, deeper goals. These involved the shift of national regulatory powers to vast regional authorities; the opening of all remaining closed national economies to multinational interests; the strengthening of decision-making structures far above and far below the grasp of newly minted national democracies; and, above all, the integration of the Soviet and Chinese empires into the global market system. There was no name for this very grand agenda that I had heard anyone use, so later I named it myself–the Global Governance Agenda”.

Strong himself gave some insight into what this agenda actually entailed for the average man or woman in a 1972 BBC interview prior to the start of the Stockholm summit. Discussing the “overpopulation problem” then en vogue as the environmental cause du jour, Strong admitted to his musings on the potential for reproductive licenses:

“Licenses to have babies incidentally is something that I got in trouble for some years ago for suggesting even in Canada that this might be necessary at some point, at least some restriction on the right to have a child. I’m not proposing this, I was simply predicting this as one of the possible courses that society would have to seriously consider should we get ourselves into this kind of situation”.

That Strong was so successful in promoting his ‘global governance’ agenda for so many decades is a testament not to his own visionary leadership, as so many globalists profess, but to the incredible resources of the Rockefellers and Rothschilds and others who are funding this agenda into existence and pushing it along at every step.

It is some measure of good fortune, then, that Strong’s decades of deceit finally came to an end (more or less) in 2005, when, as Quadrant Online notes, he was finally caught ‘with his hand in the till’:

“Investigations into the UN’s Oil-for-Food-Program found that Strong had endorsed a cheque for $988,885 made out to M. Strong — issued by a Jordanian bank. The man who gave the cheque, South Korean business man Tongsun Park was convicted in 2006 in a US Federal court of conspiring to bribe UN officials. Strong resigned and fled to Canada and thence to China where he has been living ever since”.

Although still making appearances at various events around the world, Strong led a much more low key existence for the past decade, likely slowed by the ravages of advancing age. But now that he has finally passed away, we are left to be subjected to yet more nauseatingly lavish praise for this man and the many globalist institutions that comprise his legacy.

No, it is not difficult to understand why Maurice Strong was so beloved of the globalist jet set. Just don’t expect any of the members of that jet set to tell you this story in any detail.

Illustrations of the original post:

  1. Photo of Maurice Strong over a background of a parched landscape and a seal of the UN.
  2. Photo of Anna Louise Strong, aunt of  Maurice Strong, next to Mao Zedong and other Chinese dignitaries. Anna Strong was a committed communist who befriended Lenin and Trotsky.
  3. Picture of the Alberta oil patch, where Maurice Strong worked after he heft his job with the United Nations.
  4. Photo of young Maurice Stong in front of the Chairman desk in a UN conference.
  5. Photo of George Bush, the President of the United States, addressing the UN Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.
  6. Picture of the outdoor plaque of the Baca Grande ranch in the San Luis Valley in Colorado, that Maurice Strong acquired, which became the site of the Manitou Foundation, a New Age institution. He also created The Conservation Fund, with financial help from the philantropist Laurance Rockefeller, to study the mystical properties of the Manitou Mountain.
  7. Photo of Maurice Strong speaking during a conference where he announced the creation of the Earth Charter.
  8. Photo of a cheque for $988,885 made out to M. Strong, issued by a Jordanian bank, endorsed with Maurice Srong’s signature.

Published originally in TheInternationalForecaster.com, on 31 January 2016


[1] New Age is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary online as “a way of life and thinking that developed in the late 1980s, based on ideas that existed before modern scientific and economic theories.” This definition puts the movement within the postmodernist doctrine.

Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka and her friendship with Pope John Paul II

Joaquina Pires-O’Brien

Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka (1923- 2014), the woman who gained posthumous fame for having had a friendship with Pope John Paul II (Karol Wojtyla) for more than thirty years, was a Polish American phenomenologist philosopher. In this essay I try  to show that although it was Tymieniecka’s  friendship with Pope John Paul II that has caught the interest of the greater media, she was an accomplished individual in her own right.

Continue to read in PortVitoria, magazine of the Iberian culture worldwide.

Why it is important to understand our cognitive bias

Joaquina (Jo) Pires-O’Brien

Man has a number of defining traits that are present in every human society, irrespective of their level of advancement. These defining traits, which are referred to as ‘universals’, is what define or characterize human nature. Perhaps the two most important universals of man are the ability to think rationally and the proclivity to form societies.

Certain universals are conducive to populism and are easily manipulated by populists. An example of that is cognitive bias, a systematic error that often results from our brain’s attempt to simplify the way we process information. As I stressed in a previous post (Why populism is die-hard), populism is a two-sided coin, with the head of a demagogue in one side and the wreath of direct democracy on the other. Direct democracy is a totalistic and repressive regime, for it lacks the system of checks and balances that is necessary for a fair system of governance. The antidote to populism must me sought in education, especially in the knowledge of history and human nature.

Man’s ability to think rationally, and to remember and learn new things, comes from some 100 billion neurons located mainly on the cerebral cortex of the brain, which together with the spinal cord makes our ‘central nervous system’. Man`s large cerebral cortex evolved in parallel with the more ancient nervous system that all animal have, which is referred to as ‘peripheral nervous system’. While the cerebral cortex is responsible for man’s cognitive functions, the peripheral nervous system, which consists of 12 pairs of cranial nerves and 31 pairs of spinal nerves,  is responsible for our motor control as well as for our senses such as smell, taste, vision and hearing.

The fact that man’s actions are guided either by the central or the peripheral nervous system caught the attention of two eminent Israeli psychologists, Daniel Kahneman (1934 -) and Amos Tversky (1937-1996) at the last quarter of the 20th century. They demonstrated that the peripheral nervous system is responsible for man’s fast thinking, while the central nervous system is responsible for man’s slow thinking, referring to these two systems as System 1 and System 2. They also slowed that System 1 is often unconscious, and that System 2 is always conscious. Kahneman and Tversky spent many decades studying the System 1 and System 2 of thinking, even after Tversky left the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where they both taught, and moved to Stanford University in 1978. Kahneman was able to spend many sabbaticals as a visiting professor in various universities in the United States. After Tversky’s death in 1996, at age 59, Kahneman carried on with their research, and in 2002 he received the Nobel Prize in economics (shared with Vernon L. Smith), for his contribution to the field of behavioural economics. Kahneman’s  2011 book Thinking, Fast and Slow, which became a best seller, explains to the general public the research that he and Tversky carried out. Here is how Kahneman explains man’s two systems of thinking:

System 1 “operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control” (20).

System 2 ”allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex computations. The operations of System 2 are often associated with the subjective experience of agency, choice, and concentrations” (21).

As Kahneman stresses in Thinking, Fast and Slow, it is unwise to accept without question the reasons that people give for their actions and beliefs, as well as our own reasons for our actions and beliefs, for our brain is prone to cognitive bias, the tendency to favour information that conforms to one’s existing beliefs and to discount evidence that does not conform.

The research of Kahneman and Tversky is also relevant to political science, where it can explains why voters do not always chose the best candidate. Populists know that people are normally thrilled in hearing something that confirms what they believe. Cognitive bias is a universal trait in man. It is an important reason why populists get away with their dishonest tactics. The intelligent way to fight populism is by educating voters not only about history but also about human nature, especially the pitfalls of cognitive bias.

PostScript. As psychologists have shown, our cognitive biases are pitfalls of error and bad judgement. Here are some of the most important types of cognitive biases:

  • Confirmation Bias: This is favouring information that conforms to your existing beliefs and discounting evidence that does not conform.
  • Availability Heuristic: This is placing greater value on information that comes to your mind quickly. You give greater credence to this information and tend to overestimate the probability and likelihood of similar things happening in the future.
  • Halo Effect: Your overall impression of a person influences how you feel and think about his or her character. This especially applies to physical attractiveness influencing how you rate their other qualities.
  • Self-Serving Bias: This is the tendency to blame external forces when bad things happen and give yourself credit when good things happen. When you win a poker hand it is due to your skill at reading the other players and knowing the odds, while when you lose it is due to getting dealt a poor hand.
  • Attentional Bias: This is the tendency to pay attention to some things while simultaneously ignoring others. When making a decision on which car to buy, you may pay attention to the look and feel of the exterior and interior, but ignore the safety record and gas mileage.
  • Actor-Observer Bias: This is the tendency to attribute your own actions to external causes while attributing other people’s behaviours to internal causes. You attribute your high cholesterol level to genetics while you consider others to have a high level due to poor diet and lack of exercise.
  • Functional Fixedness: This is the tendency to see objects as only working in a particular way. If you don’t have a hammer, you never consider that a big wrench can also be used to drive a nail into the wall. You may think you don’t need thumbtacks because you have no corkboard on which to tack things, but not consider their other uses. This could extend to people’s functions, such as not realizing a personal assistant has skills to be in a leadership role.
  • Anchoring Bias: This is the tendency to rely too heavily on the very first piece of information you learn. If you learn the average price for a car is a certain value, you will think any amount below that is a good deal, perhaps not searching for better deals. You can use this bias to set the expectations of others by putting the first information on the table for consideration.
  • Misinformation Effect: This is the tendency for post-event information to interfere with the memory of the original event. It is easy to have your memory influenced by what you hear about the event from others. Knowledge of this effect has led to a mistrust of eyewitness information.
  • False Consensus Effect: This is the tendency to overestimate how much other people agree with you.
  • Optimism Bias: This bias leads you to believe that you are less likely to suffer from misfortune and more likely to attain success than your peers.

(Taken from a psychology site)

Jo Pires-O`Brien is the editor of PortVitoria, a magazine for the Iberian culture.

1968 in a nutshell

Jo Pires-O`Brien

The year 1968 was supposed to herald a revolution against the establishment. Like all revolutions, 1968 had a noble objective, which was to instill 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 labeled ‘bourgeois’, as well as against imperialism and the Vietnam War. However, it left devastating consequences of 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 rigors of science, with origins in the 17th and the 18th centuries, especially in religion. The quintessential 19th century romantic was Johann 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 dwelt 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 epicenter 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 ‘ the 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 popularized 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 popularized 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 Civilization, 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 center 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 Civilization 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, labeled ‘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 ostracized by the academic establishment in Great Britain, who put pressure on Longman House, his publisher, to withdraw the books out of the bookstores. Realizing 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 of 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 recognized 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 and 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.

Jo Pires-O`Brien is the editor of PortVitoria, a magazine for the Iberian culture.

True education and democracy. Brazil ‘s 2018 elections

Joaquina (Jo) 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.


Jo Pires-O`Brien is the editor of PortVitoria, a magazine for the Iberian culture.

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 learned a lot from 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 recognizes 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, emphasizing 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 that publishes articles in English, Portuguese and Spanish. Jo is also the founder-editor of PortVitoria, a magazine for the Iberian culture.

What is humanism?

Joaquina (Jo) Pires-O’Brien

“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: Taken from: http://suffolkhands.org.uk/humanism/, 27.09.2017

What defines a liberal mind?

Joaquina (Jo) Pires-O’Brien

I am proud to announce that PortVitoria is now entering its 8th year.
The main feature of this edition is an essay by the Spanish thinker Fernando R. Genovés explaining what defines the liberal mind. Genovés starts with the definition provided by Lord Acton (John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton; 1834-1902), who wrote that the liberal mind is the mind of the individual to whom the idea of liberty means something sacred, such as life and property. He then covers the meaning of liberty, which boils down to ‘not to be subjected to the domain of others’, and shows that the sacredness of life and property points to the necessity of individuals to learn how to control themselves and their lives. Liberty is thus the main object of the liberal mind, that is, the mind of persons who make their own decisions and accept responsibility for them. This is even more relevant in a time of post-truths, characterised by false news and by the tricks of constructionism. According with Genovés, liberals are neither conservatives nor radicals, and much less extremists, and, that they tend to not get cosy in political parties.
The other essays of this edition are ‘Decálogo do livre pensador’ (The ten commandments of the free-thinker) by Miguel Ángel Fresdenal, and ‘El passaporte’(The passport), which was taken from my new e-book El hombre rasonable y otros ensayos (The reasonable man and other essays; 2016). Fresdenal’s article touches precisely the problem of how to deal intelligently with the daily bombardment of ideas. My article provides a summary of the history of the passport and also shows how governments sometimes use the passport to further their illiberal agendas.

My e-book El hombre rasonable y otros ensayos (7 November 2016, KDP, Amazon) was reviewed by Norman Berdichevsky, an American writer with a special interest in the Hispanic and Portuguese cultures. This review is presented in both Portuguese and Spanish.
Another review offered in this edition is of Milan Kundera’s Slowness, which was published in French in 1995. The book was launched in Portuguese, in a pocket edition, in 2011, by Companhia das Letras.
During 2016 I managed to complete the migration of PortVitoria from an old-fashioned format to a more modern and flexible one based in WordPress. The new format is much more user-friendly for it adjusts to all sorts of computer screens and hand held devices. Now you can bookmark PortVitoria in the home screen of your tablet or smartphone.

January 2017