zenpundit.com » virtues

Archive for the ‘virtues’ Category

On humility: Clinton, Bush — and Trump

Sunday, July 16th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — another “life imitates art” and a Trumpian ouroboros ]
.

In my view, humility shaves ckoser than Occam’s Razor — Occam tends not to shave our assumptions, while humility invites us to consider even our thoughts, even our certainties, as uncertain, as open to question.

Did I mention I’m the proud owner of the domain name, Church of the Open Question?

**

Life imitates art:

Upper panel: George W Bush and Bill Clinton on humility:

Lower panel: from Madam Secretary, season 3..

Trumpian Ouroboros:

That’s actually brilliant, IMO. And Trump relishes and repeats it:

Hey, Pope Francis is a close second..

And then there’s this — delicious — from a WaPo piece titled Donald Trump’s Secret Service code name is less humble, more mogul:

During a lightning round of a debate, Republican frontrunner Donald Trump picked a potential Secret Service code name that was truly coded: HUMBLE. When the braggadocious billionaire starts to receive actual Secret Service protection Wednesday morning, agents plan to call him something a bit more fitting: MOGUL.

Okay. Mebbe that’s a bit more modest.

Hm. MOGUL as in magnate, tycoon? Or MOGUL as in speed-bump on the ski slopes?

Footnoted readings 02 – Acts of corporal mercy

Sunday, April 2nd, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — a note at the intersection of material with spiritual ]
.

left to right: Emmanuel Levinas, Gershom Gorenberg, Elliott Horowitz

**

Gershom Gorenberg in March 28th’s Washington Post tells three stories from his own life of what I believe Catholicism would call “acts of corporal mercy” — feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, visiting prisoners, visiting the sick, harboring strangers, and burying the dead (Matthew 25. 34-40). He concludes, honoring his mentor, Israeli historian Elliott Horowitz:

He said, without pride or embarrassment, that he acted out of religious conviction. In Israel, the political stereotype of Orthodox Jews is of people concerned exclusively with settling the occupied territories. In the world, commitment to the most traditional forms of faith — Jewish, Christian, Muslim or other — is often confused with building walls between people.

Elliott believed that faith demanded breaking down barriers between human beings created in God’s image. I believed that, too, but he pushed me to act.

**

It’s a story by and about a friend, and about human goodness. Apart from those two sterling but not uncommon facts, why should I care?

I care because the story illustrates the Jewish proverb of which Emmanuel Levinas reminds us:

the other’s material needs are my spiritual needs

It’s not easy to bridge the gap between subjective experience and objective, physical reality, which is why the hard problem in consciousness is called the hard problem in consciousness — but this quote bridges the gap effortlessly, and in a manner that instructs us.

The “refugee” koan

Wednesday, November 18th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — considering both sides, while tilting one way or the other ]
.

I call it a koan because you can flip it — there are two sides to it, and very possibly a serrated edge that it can balance on, foiling your best efforts to come up with a yes-no answer:

On the one side, Tsarnaev:

Not a Christian, BTW..

**

Okay, before the second shoe drops…

Consider this, from Benjamin Wittes, In Defense of Refugees today on Lawfare:

It is worth reflecting at least briefly on the security risks of turning our backs on hundreds of thousands of helpless people fleeing some combination of ISIS and Assad. Imagine teeming refugee camps in which everyone knows that America has abandoned them. Imagine the conspiracy theories that will be rife in those camps. Imagine the terrorist groups that will recruit from them and the righteous case they will make about how, for all its talk, the United States left Syria to burn and Syrians to live in squalor in wretched camps in neighboring countries. I don’t know if this situation is more dangerous, less dangerous, or about as dangerous as the situation in which we admit a goodly number of refugees, help resettle others, and run some risk—which we endeavor to mitigate — that we might admit some bad guys. But this is not a situation in which all of the risk is stacked on the side of doing good, while turning away is the safe option. There is risk whatever we do or don’t do.

Most profoundly, there is risk associated with saying loudly and unapologetically that we don’t care what happens to hundreds of thousands of innocent people — or that we care if they’re Christian but not if they’re Muslim, or that we care but we’ll keep them out anyway if there’s even a fraction of a percent chance they are not what they claim to be. They hear us when we say these things. And they will see what we do. And those things too have security consequences.

And, from a very different area of the political spectrum, this:

There’s a reason that hospitality is actually a religious virtue and not just a thing that nice people do: it is sacrificial. Real hospitality involves risk, an opening of the door to the unknown other. There is a reason it is so important in the Biblical narratives, which were an ancient people’s attempt to work out what they thought God required of them in order to be the people of God. Hospitality isn’t just vacuuming and putting out appetizers and a smile — it’s about saying, “Oh holy Lord, I hope these people don’t kill me or rape my daughters, but our human society relies on these acts of feeding and sheltering each other, so I must be brave and unlock the door.” Scary stuff. Big stuff. Ancient and timeless stuff. “You shall welcome the stranger.”

Now: is that wisdom, or foolishness?

**

Aha, the second shoe..

Besides Tsarnaev, who else do we know who came here as a refugee?

albert einstein non christian refugee

Einstein, no less.

And Einstein was not a Christian either, FWIW.

Of the Omnipotence of the Americans and Russians

Saturday, December 20th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron — or it may be time treat the newfangled term “omnimpotence” as a valid theological descriptor for the hubris manifested by “great powers” ]
.

Management of Savagery cover 427

**

Abu Bakr Naji makes an interesting point about hubris in his jihadist dissertation, The Management of Savagery (cover image above), which I was thumbing through today:

Therefore, the two superpowers must resort to using a deceptive media halo which portrays these powers as non-coercive and world-encompassing, able to reach into every earth and heaven as if they possess the power of the Creator of creation.

But the interesting thing that happened is that these two superpowers believed, for a time, their media deception: that they are actually a power capable of completely controlling any place in the entire world, and that (this power) bears the characteristics of the power of the Creator.

**

You know Parkinson’s Law, that “work expands to fill the time available for its completion”. It’s one specific instance of the more general saying “Nature abhors a vacuum” — and as always, if there’s one instance of a more general rule, there are liabke to be others.

I’d like to suggest that Abu Bakr Naji may be onto something: that when the idea of an omnipotent deity vanishes (“appears vacuous” or is no longer taken with any depth of seriousness), whatever power is sufficiently well-placed for that purpose is liable to fill the vacuum with its own sense of, well, omnipotence.

This omnipotence of a superpower (or powers — Naji refers to two “poles” in his treatise, the US and Russia) may not be clothed in such a religious term as “omnipotence” — but it can still carry with it the idea of a quasi-divine aegis, as in the concept of American exceptionalism, the “shining light on a hill” able to illuminate the rest of the world.

Thinking America is the sole remaining superpower, Russia having lost its claim to that status at the end of the Cold War, clearly has enough support in practical reality to make it very easy for us to blur the distinction between “omnipotence” and “superpower” — with much of the theological resonance of the former term remaining as a halo, to use Naji’s term, about the latter.

From a psychiatric point of view, this is the very nature of hubris — an overweening or excessive confidence or pride — of the sort that Carl Jung, interestingly enough, would term “inflation” — a sense of power that puffs itself up beyond its realistic limits to fill the vacuum made available by the absence of a recognition of God as an authentically omnipotent higher power.

And we know what happens to over-extended balloons, bubbles, and the like…

**

It is only too easy for us to be so “rational” that we overlook the “irrational” or frankly “magical” aspects of our thinking — but the gap between supposed “realism” and reality may be a crucial one, and one which Naji sees from a distance more clearly than do we who are within it.

Creating a web-based format for debate and deliberation: discuss?

Friday, December 12th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron — Talmud, hypertext, spider webs, Indra’s net, noosphere, rosaries, renga, the bead game, Xanadu, hooks-and-eyes, onward! ]
.

Let me firmly anchor this post and its comments, which will no doubt shift and turn as the wind wishes, in discussion of the possibility of improving on current affordances for online deliberation.

Let’s begin here:

**

There are a variety of precursor streams to this discussion: I have listed a few that appeal to me in the sub-head of this post and believe we will reach each and all of them in some form and forum if this discussion takes off. And I would like to offer the immediate hospitality of this Zenpundit post and comment section to make a beginning.

Greg’s tweet shows us a page of the Talmud, which is interesting to me for two reasons:

  • it presents many voices debating a central topic
  • it does so using an intricate graphical format
  • The script of a play or movie also records multiple voices in discourse, as does an orchestral score — but the format of the Talmudic score is more intricate, allowing the notation of counterpoint that extends across centuries, and provoking in turn centuries of further commentary and debate.

    What can we devise by way of a format, given the constraints of screen space and the affordances of software and interface design, that maximizes the possibility of debate with respect, on the highly charged topics of the day.

    We know from the Talmud that such an arrangement is possible in retrospect (when emotion can be recollected in tranquility): I am asking how we can come closest to it in real time. The topics are typically hotly contested, patience and tolerance may not always be in sufficient supply, and moderation by humans with powers of summary and editing should probably not be ruled out of our consdierations. But how do we create a platform that is truly polyphonic, that sustains the voices of all participants without one shouting down or crowding out another, that indeed may embody a practic of listening..?

    Carl Rogers has shown us that the ability to express one’s interlocutor’s ideas clearly enough that they acknowledge one has understood them is a significant skill in navigating conversational rapids.

    The Talmud should be an inspiration but not a constraint for us. The question is not how to build a Talmud, but how to build a format that can host civil discussion which refines itself as it grows — so that, to use a gardening metaphor, it is neither overgrown nor too harshly manicured, but manages a carefully curated profusion of insights and —

    actual interactions between the emotions and ideas in participating or observing individuals’ minds and hearts

    **

    Because polyphony is not many voices talking past one another, but together — sometimes discordant, but attempting to resolve those discords as they arrive, and with a figured bass of our common humanity underwriting the lot of them.

    And I have said it before: here JS Bach is the master. What he manages with a multitude of musical voices in counterpoint is, in my opinion, what we need in terms of verbal voices in debate.

    I am particularly hoping to hear from some of those who participated in tweeted comments arising from my previous post here titled Some thoughts for Marc Andreessen & Adam Elkus, including also Greg Loyd, Callum Flack, Belinda Barnet, Ken (chumulu) — Jon Lebkowsky if he’s around — and friends, and friends of friends.

    What say you?


    Switch to our mobile site