G'day and welcome
Polarity can be used to understand all natural phenomena; from the origins of the material universe and life, through the nature of consciousness and on into social forms. I hope that you will join me on this journey........
Monday, July 12, 2010
I've been looking into starting an organization dedicated to trying to build consensus around the kind of structural changes that we would like to see within our global society in order for us to move toward a more democratic and ecologically sustainable future.
The 'inaugural meeting' is tomorrow. Three people are expected and while this does sound modest, I have big hopes for the organization.
Remembering polarity, (especially the third fundamental polarity as I call it between separateness and connectedness), the policies that I advocate look for a balance between polar extremes. Balance between the cohesiveness of the state and the freedom of individuals. Balance between the competitive and cooperative aspects of the economy.
Specifically therefore, what I advocate in favour of is a decentralized global society, (with relatively high levels of local self-reliance and political autonomy), with a directly democratic political system tiered upward from the small neighbourhood to the global scale. The economic system that I envisage encourages cooperative enterprises within the tiered social structure as well as the pursuit of locally focussed, competitive private businesses.
For a fairly detailed overview of all this, you can check out this thing that I have prepared a month or two ago (currently my work and in draft form though ideally it can become a document that is owned and contributed to by many) called 'The Balanced Pardigm - Charter' I'll pop a copy of it here for you.
The Balanced Paradigm
A new paradigm is coming to maturity within our modern society. This document attempts to define a shared political vision for this new paradigm, this new way of thinking, and in that way to help us rise to the challenge of creating a highly democratic, ecologically sustainable global human society.
Central to the new paradigm is the concept of balance. As members of the new paradigm, we consider ourselves to be reasonable and moderate. We are advocates of a balanced, middle way.
Looking for balance between the cohesiveness of the society and the freedom of the individual, we advocate in favour of both the democratic governance of society in the broad scale, including at the global level, and high levels of local political autonomy down to the level of the small community. We also advocate for a balance between the cooperative and competitive aspects of the economy, whereby people are encouraged to pursue their own private interests more locally, while at the same time a broader, more cooperative structure for the society is maintained.
We are passing through a unique period in the unfolding of human history. As our world has become smaller through improvements in communication and transport technology, we are becoming capable for the first time in our history of organizing ourselves on a global scale. Also, as our technological capabilities have increased, and our population has expanded, we have become capable for the first time of damaging the ecological integrity of the Earth, the very cradle from which we have grown, on a global scale.
What we are faced with then, is the challenge of learning to live with one another, and within the bounds of a healthy ecology, on the global scale: In effect, we must recreate ourselves as a globally unified, ecologically sustainable human society.
Fortunately for us, we have realized that those same forms of social organization that will allow us to most effectively live within the boundaries of a healthy global ecology will also allow us to live the most harmoniously with one another, and to attain the highest levels of democracy. We commit ourselves, therefore, to the effort of transforming our global society, through means that are vigorous yet peaceful, in the direction of those more ideal forms of social organization.
There is a new paradigm emerging within our current society. Made up of new ways of understanding nature, ourselves and our society, this new paradigm can be called the balanced paradigm. This balanced paradigm represents a middle road between the extremes of 'separatism' and 'collectivism'.
Separatism tells us that each of us, as separate individuals, is consistently motivated to control our surrounds in our own self-interest. This leads to an on-going competition between us. Collectivism, on the other hand, tells us that we are ultimately connected with one another, and through concern for the whole, we are motivated to commune with one another. This leads to cooperation.
These opposing ideologies tend to war with one another, both within our minds as belief systems and in the form of our social institutions, in an us-or-them struggle. The tendency of these two to fight one another, and therefore negatively polarize our society, can be seen most clearly evidenced in recent history in the struggle between capitalism and communism.
Whilst however, the two extremes and the battle between them have managed to steal the headlines, the last century will perhaps best be remembered for the rise of the middle, balanced paradigm. Instead of either/or, the balanced paradigm operates with a both/and framework. The balanced paradigm tells us that we are both separate and connected; that we are motivated to both control our surrounds in our own self-interest and to benevolently commune with our surrounds; that interactions between us occur within a framework that has both competitive and cooperative aspects, etc.
While it lies between the extremes of separatism and collectivism, the balanced paradigm finds its philosophical roots in much more than just our collective rejection of these extremes and our desire to find a compromise between contradictory opposites.
Influenced by the Eastern concept of yin/yang polarity, which recognizes polarity and paradox as fundamental to nature, the German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel (1770 – 1831) was perhaps the first to describe for a Western audience the three paradigms flowing through human history, and to advocate in favour of the balanced, middle way. The influential sociologist, Pitirim Sorokin (1889-1968) used a similar, three pronged analysis in his interpretation of the unfolding of human history, with the balanced, middle position being the most ideal.
The roots of the current emergence of the balanced paradigm can be traced back several centuries. We can look, for example, at the increasing democratization of our systems of government over recent centuries, which has sought to balance the freedom of individuals with the cohesiveness of the state, as running parallel with the growth of the balanced paradigm. The revolution is physics in the early 1900's has also helped to shake us from our sleep, informing us that the stuff of the universe is paradoxically composed of both separate particles and interconnected patterns of energy at the same time.
We can also look at the emergence of feminism, which aims for equality between the more overt, competitive masculine and the more subtle, cooperative feminine. More recently, the awakening of environmental consciousness, which seeks to balance the needs of the human society within the bounds of a healthy global ecology, is also a good example of the increasing relevance of the balanced paradigm.
Especially over the last century, therefor, the balanced paradigm has grown until now it has become, or at least is quickly becoming, the dominant mindset of the modern world. While both our numbers and our influence are increasing, however, we are as yet relatively weak in our ability to steer the direction of our society.
With the decline of socialism, we have been left with a world dominated, in a political and material sense, by the ideology of 'separatism'. With this dominance, we have witnessed the dissolution of our communities at the neighbourhood and village scales. We have also seen the prevalence of the 'free market', which sets each against all others in a competition that sees the wealthy and powerful as the winners, and democracy, the global ecology, and those who are already impoverished as the losers. Under the weight of its own momentum, this destructive machine rolls on.
As the balanced paradigm continues its rise, however, and we increasingly coalesce around a shared vision for the future, our political power increases. Guided by concepts such as the need to rebuild small communities and to move toward local self-reliance, the importance of 'fair trade', and the need to work within the bounds of a healthy ecology, a broad-scale political agenda behind which we can unite is taking shape. This document is an attempt to define that broad-scale political agenda.
As members of the third paradigm, we support what is balanced, moderate and reasonable. Our strength is in our numbers. With a clear vision to guide us, that is both broad enough to be inclusive and defined enough to be powerful, our goal is to reach out and gently grab the reins of political power, and so steer our global society toward a more democratic and sustainable future.
The search for the ideal democracy is the search for balance. On the one hand we are looking for the society to be effectively governed in the broad scale, with central government that is able to protect against divisive elements, and facilitate the various parts of the society to work together for a common purpose. On the other hand, we want to allow individuals as well as distinct, smaller communities within the broader social structure the freedom to control what is happening within their own lives.
In one context, these two concepts can be understood to be mutually exclusive; the more group cohesiveness we have, the less personal freedom we have and vice-versa. This is not necessarily the case, however. When they are mixed together in the right balance, the two concepts actually support and nourish one another. In the same way therefore, that it is possible for us as individuals to be both very strong and very gentle, it is possible for our society to have both very high levels of organization on the broader scales and very high levels of freedom more locally.
Searching for this ideal balance, this ideal democracy, we advocate in favour of a layered social organization, tiered with a series of levels from the small neighbourhood to the global scale. We also advocate for this society to have an appropriate degree of 'decentralization', so that each level of organization, while remaining an integral part of a cohesive, larger grouping, (neighbourhoods within villages, villages within cities, cities within states, states within nations etc), would have a relatively high degree of local self-reliance and local political autonomy.
With this focus on local self-reliance down to the neighbourhood scale, we aim to create and maintain vibrant, rich communities that encourage people to undertake a large part of their economic and social activity close to their homes. Moving us away from fossil fuels and nuclear technology, encouraging efficiency in resource use, moving us back toward organic and diverse agricultural practices etc, we believe that these vibrant, human scale communities form the cornerstone of an ecologically sustainable human society. As well as this, we believe that these small, interactive communities also provide the foundation for a highly democratic system of government, not only locally but also within the broader levels of our global society.
We are advocates of 'direct democracy'. Within a directly democratic system, a community's representatives within the government of broader regions is under the direct control of the community that they represent. Representatives are allowed to vote, and otherwise express the opinions of the community that they represent, only as they are instructed by that community. Representatives are also recallable at any stage. In this way, within a directly democratic system, members of government are employed to perform a role that is clearly defined for them, rather than as policy makers or power brokers.
Considering briefly the basic structure of a how a directly democratic system could work; each 'neighbourhood' could have one representative in the executive (the day to day decision making body) of the 'village' and one representative in the legislature (the body that provides the legal framework within which the executive operates) of the next tier out, the 'city'. Expanding this system outward, each village would have one representative in the executive of the city and one in the legislature of the 'state', each city would have one representative in the executive of the state and one in the legislature of the nation, etc.
As can be seen from the above example, a directly democratic system of government can be tiered outward indefinitely, with each level of government directly controlling their representatives within the broader levels. It is easy to see, however, how without the existence of small communities, intimately scaled so as to allow every individual a voice in the management of that community, direct democracy can never work.
Looking at our society in the broad scale, we are advocates of effective geo-regional (for example South East Asia, South America or Western Europe) as well as global governance. Government on these broad scales has the capacity to bring together vast resources, which can be used for large, complex projects that would otherwise be much more difficult to achieve. As an example of this, we can consider the space programs of the geo-regionally scaled USA and the former Soviet Union. Imagine what we could achieve with a unified world!
Broad scale governance also plays an important role in maintaining peace and stability; helping to facilitate positive interactions within its jurisdiction, preventing war and the wide scale abuses of human rights and the natural environment, etc. For this reason, much as Queensland as part of Australia, or Andalusia as part of the Spain, does not currently need an independent military, effective governance of our society at the global and geo-regional scales would have the potential to make redundant the independent militaries of the nations of the world.
Just as the the search for democracy can be understood as the search for balance, so can the search for the ideal economic system.
Within our global economic system, the balanced paradigm seeks to balance the cooperative aspect of the economy, whereby people and communities at every scale are encouraged to work together for mutual benefit, with the competitive aspect of the economy, whereby individuals and communities are enabled to pursue their own private interests.
The tiered system of social organization described earlier, with a series of layers from the small neighbourhood to the global scale, provides the ideal framework within which a well balanced, cooperative/competitive economy can operate. With the economy well balanced within this framework, cooperatively speaking, communities at every level, employing community members for the purpose, will each run various enterprises aimed at supplying the needs and wants of that community. At the same time, competitively speaking, individuals and communities will also be engaged in selling products/services to, as well as buying them from, the surrounding society.
Central to our vision of society is the idea of creating and maintaining diverse, interdependent, relatively self-reliant communities down to the level of the small neighbourhood. With this in mind, and looking to maintain balance between the cooperative and the competitive, between the cohesiveness of the broader society and the freedom of individuals and distinct, smaller communities within that broader society, we believe that a middle road must be found be found, whereby on the one hand people are encouraged to source their requirements locally, and on the other hand, trade between different regions is enabled.
This could be achieved through a system of trade tariffs, widely applied across all levels of the tiered society from the neighbourhood to the broadest level, which would have the effect of making products and services increasingly expensive the further away from home they are sourced. Looking for balance, it will be important that these tariffs are set high enough that they have the effect of stimulating diverse, vibrant local economies, yet low enough that they do not encourage the continuing viability of consistently inefficient industries within a region.
A 'locality tax' of this kind will encourage the establishment of small, locally focussed private businesses. As businesses become more successful, however, and therefore more important in providing for the requirements of the broader society, the incentive will be for the business owner to work toward establishing partnerships with the community government structure, and in that way introduce the business into the more cooperative aspect of the economy.
Applied to investments, a system of trade tariffs such as this, along with other restrictions and inducements, will encourage people to invest their capital locally, in small, private businesses and businesses primarily owned by the neighbourhoods, villages etc within which the investor lives. In this way, a community of any scale, along with the members of that community, will tend to control the large majority of the productive assets within it's bounds.
Turning our attention briefly to currencies, we advocate for a single global currency value. This, along with the setting of minimum wage levels, environmental standards etc, would mean that similar products will tend to be produced for a similar cost in different areas. This will prevent areas with cheap wages and/or lower standards from being able to sell cheaply into an area where costs are higher, undercutting local businesses and in that way undermining the economic integrity of that area.
Along with this single global currency value, we also support the idea of local cash currencies, distributed at perhaps the large village or small city scale and exempt from the locality tax mentioned earlier. These local currencies will expedite trade close to people's homes, encouraging them to move around within their local areas (walking, riding their skateboards or bicycles) buying and selling from one another. This will be friendly to the establishment of small, private businesses, and encourage interdependence and self-reliance on the local scale.
With the above policies and others, we aim to establish an appropriate balance within the society between the rights of individuals and distinct communities to accrue private wealth, and the maintenance of a relatively egalitarian society, whereby a large gap between the rich and poor is prevented from developing. Beyond certain limits therefore, as an individual or distinct community becomes increasingly wealthy relative to the surrounding society, we support the idea of it becoming increasingly difficult for them to increase further or to maintain that wealth.
Looking also at the control of land within the society, we advocate that instead of being privately owned, all land be leased (with individuals tending to lease from their neighbourhood, neighbourhoods from their village etc, and all land ultimately held in trust by a global government). Such a scenario would help ensure that basic access to land can be guaranteed for all people. It would also mean that the control of land would not in itself be seen as an investment. Instead, if an individual or community wished to control a large area of valuable land, rather than being allowed to buy and sell for a profit, the control of that land would present an ongoing financial burden.
With our focus on ecological sustainability, we also advocate in favour of a tax on resource use and other ecologically damaging activities. The application of this tax to the use of fossil fuels especially, (along with other, government imposed restrictions on their use), will actually stimulate a move toward the much more localized society envisioned by the balanced paradigm.
Described above is the basic framework of the kind of society that we would like to live in. In relation to specific issues, we advocate policies that move society in the general direction outlined above. In other words, we support the idea that all aspects of the life of the society, including governance, law making and enforcement, the provision of welfare, economic production etc, be facilitated as locally as possible. At the same time, we support the idea that recourse be available to the broader organization of the society where it is appropriate.
We support the democratic and cohesive organization of our global society on the broad and broadest levels. Along with this, and central to what we are working to create is a system that encourages diverse, vibrant, interdependent, democratic and ecologically sustainable communities at the more local levels of society.
With our focus on both the large and small, on the one hand we support the concept of a common identity for all of humanity, with the necessary tools in place for people to communicate and engage constructively together across all boundaries. On the other hand, encouraging people to interact within their local communities will help to facilitate cultural diversity, with the various art forms, languages and spiritual beliefs etc being allowed to develop independently in different areas. In this way, we hope to create over time a society composed of a rich mosaic of unique cultural identities.
As the balanced paradigm, let us continue in our efforts then to rebuild the infrastructure of our neighbourhoods and to draw the institutions of our global society back from their current focus on separateness and competition; back from the extreme of 'free trade' with its concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, its destruction of nature, and its development model that says that each region should specialize heavily and trade for everything else; back from a society made up of isolated individuals each hopping in their cars to drive to work or the supermarket.
The balanced paradigm is a moderate voice, advocating what is fair, reasonable and balanced. While we are strong in our resolve, working for change both within our own local communities and within the broader patterns of society, we support processes of change that are gentle and peaceful.
This document has been prepared by:
Friday, July 2, 2010
Hi all, I wrote the below letter yesterday as an intro for myself. I applied to speak at the Woodford folk festival coming up over the new year and they asked me for some more details. Here is what I wrote......
(As you can see, my current focus has been on the political applications of polarity.)
I spoke to you on the phone a little while back concerning my application to speak at the Woodford festival.
What with having to work for a living and having been working on the book, I have been keeping my head pretty low for the last couple of years. I haven't got a lot in the way of short articles or youtube videos that I can send you therefore.
The powerpoint presentation that I have is also both out of date and off topic, being about my broader metaphysical philosophy rather than my more specific subject matter, which is the application of that philosophy to understanding human society.......so hopefully you can get a clear enough picture of where I am coming from from this letter.
Yes, so my background as a philosopher is actually more with metaphysics than with socio-economics, and my special focus is on the concept of polarity. Specifically I look at three 'fundamental polarities' that together define all phenomena within nature. These are yin/yang which are the underlying polarity. Being/non-being which relate to the structure of the material universe and separateness/connectedness which relates to interactions.
Trying to understand society, the concept of separateness/connectedness polarity is especially important.
As separate individuals, each of us is motivated by our own self-interest to control our surrounds. This leads to an on-going competition between us. At the same time, we are also connected and this motivates us to commune with our surrounds leading to cooperation.
Both competition and cooperation are 'good' so long as they are in balance with one another. We can for example be both intensely strong and intensely gentle. If we are one without the other however, we will be either dominating or push-over weak.
Likewise within our society, we need to look for a balance between the apparently paradoxical concepts of separateness and connectedness. Looking for the ideal democracy, for example, can be understood as looking for the ideal balance between the connected cohesiveness of the broader society and the separate freedoms of individuals and smaller communities within the broader structure.
Within economics also, we will look for a balance between the competitive aspects, which results from people running around doing whatever they want, and the cooperative aspects, where people work together collectively for the good of the whole.
So that is the starting point for my analysis of society.
When I began my research for the book, I discovered a concept called the dialectic. This concept was developed for a Western audience by G.W.F. Hegel after meditating on yin/yang polarity. It was subsequently made famous by Karl Marx, although in my opinion Marx seriously bastardized the idea.
The basic idea is that; as nature progresses it tends to swing between archetypal (polar) extremes as well as to sometimes find a balance between these extremes. For example I might be angry then peaceful, angry then peaceful before eventually finding a balance as both strong and gentle.
While it can be applied to understanding all progression within nature, the dialectic has to date mostly been used in helping us understand the progression of human history. Looking at the 'fundamental polarities' that I mentioned earlier (and with yin/yang as the background polarity), I look specifically at two dialectic progressions. From the being/non-being polarity, we can witness the society becoming either more materialistic, more spiritual, or as I suggest is happening now, more well balanced between the two.
The second dialectic progression that I look at within our historical development, and which is more important for my analysis, relates to the separateness/connectedness polarity. On the one hand we have the 'separatist' world view, which tells us that we are ultimately self-interested, and that interactions between us are ultimately competitive. This separatist world view has risen to dominance with the 'enlightenment' through thinkers such as Rene Descartes, Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, and the Sigmund Freud, and economic thinkers such as Adam Smith and David Ricardo. While many of us believe that the dominance of this mind-set is coming to an end, this 'separatist' paradigm continues to dominate much of our thinking as well as our social and economic institutions.
This separatist world view has of course not been without it's opponents. The 'collectivist' paradigm
tells us that we are ultimately connected with one another and therefor ultimately loving and benevolent by nature. Interactions between us are essentially cooperative. This collectivist perspective has been espoused by thinkers such as Spinoza, Kropotkin (who challenged Darwin by asserting that 'mutual aid' is the principle driving force behind natural selection) and most especially Karl Marx and friends.
The battle between the separatist and collectivist paradigms has of course played itself out most clearly in the fight between capitalism and communism. While the fight between these two opposing ideologies has stolen the headlines, however, we can also recognize the rise of a third, balanced paradigm. This balanced paradigm takes something good from each of the opposing camps and blends them together. Looking at how this balanced paradigm has grown over the last few hundred years, we can look at the influence of yin/yang philosophy on the analytical Western tradition, there was Hegel, Rousseau, Jung, Albert Einstien and friends (who told us that the material universe is paradoxically both separate physical particles and interconnected patterns of energy at the same time). More recently, we can look at the rise of feminism and environmental consciousness within the framework of this emerging paradigm.
This, therefore is what I talk about in relation to the 'emerging paradigm'.
As part of my book, I also look critically at various systems of governance and economics and advocate in favour of what I believe would be more democratic, egalitarian and ecologically sustainable.
There are two key features to the kind of society that I promote:
A social structure tiered from the small neighbourhood to the global scale, with a decentralized, and directly democratic system of governance that can provide both democratic governance for the broader society and high levels of political autonomy for distinct communities down to the neighbourhood scale.
An economic system that, while facilitating complex and some large scale production on the broader scale, encourages relatively high levels of local self reliance for communities down to the neighbourhood scale; with incentives in place to encourage people to both establish privately owned, and locally focussed small businesses and to engage with their communities in cooperative enterprizes.
As you can see then, I cover a fairly broad range of topics. I would really love the opportunity to present some of my ideas at the festival.
Going from the more abstract to the more detailed;
I could look at the metaphysical framework for my analysis, looking at the polar framework that I use with its application across a range of natural phenomena.
I could look at my interpretation of the dialectic within human society, with the separatist, collectivist and the emerging balanced paradigms.
I could offer a critique of modern society, focussing on free market economics ('Ridiculing Ricardo, Shoveling Smith') and/or the institutions of government.
I could paint a picture of my idealized version of society, arguing in favour of ecological sustainability, direct democracy and a more local focus for society.
I could also offer an overview of all of these ideas, such as contained in this letter.
Depending on how you could fit me into the program, I am excited at the thought of running either one or more presentations. I'd also be very happy to be included in any panel discussions.
As I mentioned, the book that I am working on will unfortunately not be completed by the time of the festival. (This problem has been compounded by my having to stop writing over the last few months in order to earn an income - I am a carpenter.) It may be at a stage, however, where it is close to finished, so I might for example be able to collect a list of interested people.
Over the last few months, while I have not been able to put much time into writing, myself and some colleagues have been looking into starting an organization who's focus is to work with other organizations (FOE, the Greens, the transition crowd etc) in trying to develop and advocate for policies in relation to structural issues of governance and economics. We will for example be looking to take something to the FOE organizing committee and set up a policy group within the Qld Greens over the next few months. The Woodford festival could be an excellent platform to promote our efforts in this regard.
Thanks very much