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The powerpoint presentation that I have is also both out of date and off topic, being about my broader metaphysical philosophy rather than my more specific subject matter, which is the application of that philosophy to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