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Multiculturalism in play?

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — multiculturalism in play — or, what’s the name of the game? ]
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It is getting to be quite a theme: When games collide.

SPEC DQ MacIntyre xkcd

I’ve used the MacIntyre quote before [1, 2, 3], but the wonderful xkcd visual presentation is new to me — many thanks to Tanner Greer for turning me onto it.

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What’s the name of the game?

Nomic?

Not everything that counts can be counted

Monday, July 20th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — not Einstein but a fellow Cameron gave me my title ]
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I’ll admit I was uneasy when I read about the “effective altruism” movement in Peter Singer‘s Boston Review piece, The Logic of Effective Altruism, but I didn’t quite see how to phrase my unease. Here’s Singer’s explanation of the concept:

Effective altruism is based on a very simple idea: we should do the most good we can. Obeying the usual rules about not stealing, cheating, hurting, and killing is not enough, or at least not enough for those of us who have the good fortune to live in material comfort, who can feed, house, and clothe ourselves and our families and still have money or time to spare. Living a minimally acceptable ethical life involves using a substantial part of our spare resources to make the world a better place. Living a fully ethical life involves doing the most good we can.

That’s the gist, but there’s a lot of what I can only term “moral cost-effectiveness” in there, as though goodness were a problem in engineering.

Today I read Michael J. Lewis‘s Commentary piece, How Art Became Irrelevant, and think I found the “why” of my unease, in the writer’s description of the German idea (“ideal”) of an architectural Existenzminimum:

This was the notion that in the design of housing, one must first precisely calculate the absolute minimum of necessary space (the acceptable clearance between sink and stove, between bed and dresser, etc.), derive a floor plan from those calculations, and then build as many units as possible. One could not add a single inch of grace room, for once that inch was multiplied through a thousand apartments, a family would be deprived of a decent dwelling. So went the moral logic.

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  • Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.
  • The heart has reasons Reason knows not of.
  • Actions speak louder than.. ahem, narratives

    Monday, July 20th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — pondering the use of narratives to “counter violent extremism” ]
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    I’m pondering the use of narratives to “counter violent extremism”, and have been thinking about letting this post consist of its title and the government-sponsored words:

    This Page Intentionally Left Blank

    I’m hoping this post will find its place in the comments section, in other words. If the opposing party — whether that means, effectively, IS, salafist-jihadis, the Ikhwan, or Islamists in general — pushes a narrative about US actions towards the Islamic world, can a narrative alone succeed at pushing back? What actions can we show that refute the simple form of that narrative? What actions might we take in future that would appear to affirm it? To refute it?

    Are we so busy thinking about counter-narratives that we allow our actions to undercut our words?

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    Come to that, is the appeal of IS really its apocalyptic theology (which is what I mostly address), its success as a military force (which may be down to the presence of ex-Baathist military in high positions of command), its critique of US policy in respect of the Islamic world (dictatorships included), the prospect of adventure (and perhaps concubines?) in foreign lands, or, as Prof Andrew Silke would have it, altruism?

    The key message is that you have got to see the terrorists as they see themselves if you genuinely want to understand why people are getting involved. If you talk to terrorist themselves, they portray themselves as altruists – they see themselves as fighting on behalf of others, whether it’s the IRA fighting on behalf of the Catholic community in Northern Ireland, or if it’s Islamic State fighting on behalf of the Muslim ummah.

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    I suspect there’s a lot to be said here, and the floor is open. I’m eager to hear your voices..

    Sunday surprise – Dylan and the Bauls

    Sunday, July 19th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — how Buddha came by his Middle Way, among other things & songs ]
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    John Wesley Harding Bauls

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    In a fascinating article titled Dylan tunes like you’ve never heard them – in Hindi and Bengali a few months back, Nate Rabe made the assertion — I only saw it today —

    Bob Dylan, unlike many of his contemporaries, seems to never have been drawn to India. There were no pilgrimages to Rishikesh, no gurus, no lost years by the Ganga and, to date, I’ve not detected any Hindustani musical influence in his music.

    Okay — how about his album covers?

    On the cover of John Wesley Harding (above), Dylan is flanked by “Luxman and Purna Das, two Bengali Bauls” — “South Asian musicians brought to Woodstock by Dylan’s manager, Albert Grossman” according to Wikipedia.

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    The Bauls — with their one-stringed instrument, the ektara, and their ecstatic songs of devotion — have been an interest of mine at least since the time that album came out in 1967. It was shortly thereafter that I also ran across the album The Bauls of Bengal issued by Elektra in 1966.

    A writer in the rec.music.dylan newsgroup notes:

    Through their songs, dances, gestures, through silences, through postures and looks, the Bauls tell stories of the earth, of the body, of lovers uniting – subtly revealing the mystery of life and laws of nature. Submission to the divine is their tightrope to wisdom. Most Bauls are wandering mendicants, living on what they are offered by villagers in return for their songs. They sing from the heart on their never ending tours and consecrate their lives to a fusion of music, song and dance as the privileged vehicle for attaining ecstasy.

    Edward C Dimock Jr, author of The Place of the Hidden Moon: Erotic Mysticism in the Vaisnava-Sahajiya Cult of Bengal and co-author with poet Denise Levertov of the “slim volume of poetry”, In Praise of Krishna: Songs from the Bengali, wrote on the liner notes of the Bauls’ album:

    Some people have said that it is possible to characterize the Bauls by a distinctive doctrine. I have never found it possible to do so, for it seems to me that they are first and foremost individuals, and that the term Baul encompasses a wide range of religious opinion, traceable to several Hindu schools of thought, to Sufi Islam, and much that is traceable only to a man’s own view of how he relates to God. All Baul’s hold only this in common: that God is hidden in the heart of man, and neither priest nor prophet, nor the ritual of any organized religion, will help man to find him there.”

    Dimock, as you have guessed, is another long-time favorite author of mine, and I once had the privilege of meeting Denise Levertov, whose poem A Tree Telling of Orpheus I hold to be one of the great poems of the 20th century.

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    There is an album out titled From Another World: A Tribute to Bob Dylan, which includes a rendering of Mr Tambourine Man by one Purna Das Baul

    and Nate Rabe’s piece introduces us, among others, to Susheela Raman, covering Like a Rolling Stone:

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    It was a wandering musician playing an ektara, so I have heard, whom the ultra-ascetic known as Siddhartha Gauama overheard saying or singing:

    If you tighten the string too much it will snap and if you leave it too slack, it won’t play.

    That hint was enough. Siddhartha grasped from those words the essence of the teaching he was to make famous as the Middle Way, set aside his austerities as he had earlier set aside his princely status, and in short order attained enlightenment — becoming Gautama Buddha, one of the great masters of our age.

    h/t 3 Quarks Daily

    A symmetry of hatreds

    Saturday, July 18th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — in which a couple hundred people mimic our society at large ]
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    There were reports of some people shouting “white power!” while others were shouting “black power!” at rival protests outside the South Carolina State House today — but that just means that opposing views were expressed. The report that really caught my attention was this one, from The Hill:

    The media outlet’s coverage documented protesters from both rallies shouting obscenities, racial slurs and slogans at one another.

    It’s not so much the simple symmetry of opposing slogans that troubles me, it’s the symmetry of obscenities and racial slurs that’s so depressing.


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