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Chapter IX

Ideaology vs. Reciprocity

The New York Times,  Opinion

A New Center is Being Born

The market and the welfare state go together

by David Brooks, Opinion Columnist

Dec. 20, 2018

The following is a quote from this column about The Niskanen Center.

"The Niskanen Center began operations in 2015, started by a group of libertarians who broke off from the Cato Institute. Over the next few years many of the leaders of Niskanen began to lose faith in the libertarian ideology. The founder, Jerry Taylor, wrote a brilliant essay in October explaining the process."

Quoting from Jerry Taylor's essay:

"The problems I’ve identified in my old world are universal across the ideological spectrum. Ideology corrupts caring, idealistic, educated, and intelligent people … and turns some of them into monsters. Ideologies breed dogmatic thinking and lazy, decoder-ring policy analysis. They encourage motivated cognition. They give birth to excessive certainty, crowding out healthy intellectual skepticism. They moralize political conflict in an unhealthy fashion, yielding incivility, extremism, and social discord. They ignore the complexities of the modern world. They threaten the pluralism that a (small-l) liberal society is obligated to respect and defend."

Mr. Taylor's answer to doing away with ideology is "moderation," and he digresses on the implication for politics. However, I am going to challenge him, that despite agreeing with every word of the above paragraph, that moderation is no more an answer than any ideology and the bottom line is that it is another ideology.

Any thinking scheme, to be beneficial to humanity, must incorporate some goal that is tied to a philosophy of human life. "Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," although I think there is something better, does just this. However, for it to work, it is necessary to define happiness.

A government "of the people, by the people, and for the people" leaves the question open as to the nature of the people but it leaves it for the people to decide that. This is very good. However, it may still not go far enough. It may also be that the English language does not go far enough with a single word which is why there is literature and poetry. However, if I were to choose a single word, as David Brooks has done in his new book, the word would be joy.

Joy happens naturally and is devoid of thought. It is usually a surpise when circumstances conspire reach a part of our humanity we are blessed to have, call it the soul or what have you.

We do not understand why we exist and how our natures were determined. But if we devote our lives to learning about the nature of life, most often we will make discoveries that lead to joy.

However, it is also in our nature to expect, unless taught otherwise, easy gratification. A gin and tonic may do it. Driving a car very fast may also do it. Besting another person in some triviality also.

However, joy is different. It may come naturally as in giving birth and watching a child grow. Or it may require some work.

I have played classical piano (not especially well) since the age of eight and have pretty much listened to nothing but classical music my whole life (rock and roll just slipped by). I even listened to classical music that I did not especially enjoy because I had a sense it was good or even great music. This listening was like learning a new language and then reading the best works of that language. I have been rewarded so many times over with the joy of the music and of playing the music. I have discovered, even in my middle years, new symphonies but only after hearing them several times.

However, there is one particular experience that over the last 3 or 4 years is the most vivid, and it begins with a single note. It took place at an artist's club in Boston with an string quartet of extraordinary musicians. In an intimate setting I sat close and closed my eyes as they played a Mozart quartet. It began with a single sustained note from the four instruments: two violins, a viola and a cello. The instant it begin the thought saturated my brain that I had gone to heaven. Rich, full and beautiful beyond beautiful do not do it justice.

There are a number of lessons about joy in this musical performance. I was listening to the life's work of perhaps dozen or more people. The four musicians, their teachers, the composer and his teachers, the instrument makers and their teachers and, importantly my own life of listening to and playing classical. (And perhaps an associated passion for pianos. It took me 15 years to find mine.)

There are an infinite number experiences of this kind that sentience and the nature of the universe give to us, as well as the nature of our planet and all the living things that contribute to our joys including the wood for the violins and for my piano.

Why it is like this I cannot answer and I find "god" only a name of an answer.

This leaves me with the enormous puzzle of life and of caring for the earth and looking to evolutionary psychology for an answer. I was CEO of a tiny company that made fine art prints of extraordinary quality for photographers. It was created by a Californian named Bill Nordstrum and funded by angel investors and during a meeting with the board of directors the chairman, Dick Carter, volunteered that we had to remember that in the end the only thing that matter was "shareholder value."

Dr. Bose I think would have been horrified. What mattered to him, and why he retained ownership in Bose Corporation, was the qulity of the product. After that all would fall into place. I was the fifth employee and once we launched the first loudspeaker product the company grew at about 40% per year for decades. And because my was one of the first investors, everything I own today came from that investment.

The philosophy that motivated Dr. Bose and the company was reciprocity. We worked with devotionss and many moments of joy, and our customers received, I believe, joy for the dollars they gave us. And that leaves unanswered the question of my the billionaires of our economy will, in some cases, do anything for more billions. The Walmart family ownes dollars equal to the bottom 40% of the population of the United States. One of their strategies was to deny benefits by hiring "contractors," at minimum wage and without benefits which left taxpayers contributing about one million dollars per store per year in food stamps and other benefits.

But worst of all are the leaders of energy companies who, with full knowledge of what they are doing to the earth, still work to sell as much carbon as they can.

The only idea that has ever crossed my mind as to the reason would come from our heritage as hunter-gatherers that having enough of everything was always a problem and that, as is true with all characteristics of humanity, there is an extremeist group whose need for more than enough turned them into hoarders and they cannot stop doing it. And want to kill health-care and pay as little tax as possible.

There is a chance that if the earth and our civilization survive, the study of morality becomes a full part of our curricula at all levels, that we will find a way to reform our evolved psychologies.

To replace moderation I suggest "intelligence, levened by reciprocity, and augmented with fundamental life values to provide goals and guidlines to the process."

This may seem like a mouthfull in comparison to the one word ideology labels: liberal, conservative, libertatian, fundamentalist, socialist, etc., but it is a natural result of acknowledging the limitations of the one word "comfort-generating-one-word-simplfier."

In my years as an evangelical I experienced a stunning range of one word simplifications, each of which took on-going sermons to get across and keep in place. My observation is that a human foible, given the terrifying nature of life, is to find a simplfied answer that attracts a crowd of like-minded individuals that you can become a part of, an insider, a person with a place and friends and companionship in exchange for agreement. If you walk into a room full of conservative climate-deniers frightened about what you hear about the climate and ask someones opinion you will get something like "its a bunch of balony, we've had brilliant scientists come here and tell us what it is really about. Hang around and you'll learn too."

And climate change, being an extraordinarily complex subject can be exttaorinarily simplified by picking and choosing your numbers and your quotations and your "scientists."

Then what are the characteristcs of non-ideology. The first, in my experience is fear. You know longer know where, who or what you are, what is going to happen to you in the after-life, and a sudden awareness that "god" is the name of a cause that we know nothing about. God is not the cause.

So you realize there is a great deal of work to do. Make sense of existence; learn for a least a while to live with your fears, and find people to talk to who want to talk about what you want to talk about. It is, at present, a lonely existence because, like life or climate, it does not lend itself to one word simplifications (although we may find or even coin a word; but it will need to be an outlier).

THE FIRST STEP, AND IT IS A MOST CRITIFAL ONE is to realize that the universe, life, the mind are extraordinarily complex and that we are, despite protestations to the opposite, a young civilization. This is an very great problem because our civilization has created technology that has outrun nature and our experiences (the various religions and constructs of government) are still a jumble. The middle east is chaos, the European Union is making a valent effort, but struggles too, and the United States is not nearly what we percieve it to be. WHATEVER YOUR PHILOSOPHY hat ever your philosophy it should permit you to adapt to any situation (and there are many, climate change being one of them-see the home page of this site) in which moderation would be a disaster. Secondly, whatever the philosophy it needs to embody Life (note the capital L), embodying here meaning we need to define what criteria we will use to judge whatever we choose to do, whether ideological or not.

This could make life difficult, because we have to deal with the issue of why we exist, something that essentially never turns up in any writing I run into that is not religious and in religious writings, saying that existence is the will of god, is simply giving a name to the cause and not defining the cause.

I have considerable training and a life long interest in science so that is the backdrop and at least a partial underpinning to my thinking.

Steven Hawking in A Brief History of Time mentions nothing about the experience of life: emotions, joy, sadness and so forth.

Economists and politicions and pundits in presenting the theory of the free market, say nothing about justice and fairness. Engineers and scientists do not do either.

After considerable contemplation of the birth of the universe, cosmology, quantum physics, psychology (I have had at least 8 therapists) I decided to turn the problem around.

What, I said, after all this evolution have we ended up with. What is the top of the mountain, explainable or not. To avoid an even longer digression, the following are what I find at the top of the mountain

1. Sentience and consciousness are functions the brain performs. Consciousness is mostly obviousness but shares with other important brain functions no path to an explanation.

2. Sentience is the experience resulting from the functions of seeing and hearing and touch and smell. I will focus on seeing now. Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, your visual experience of the world originates as two small, upside down images (say 1/2" x 1/2") on your retinas. From these images your brain almost instantly synthesizes your experience of the world, where everything is, its color, distance, probably function, etc. and etc. Adding sound and you have the first third of being alive. 3. Next is memory and intelligence: associations, goals, etc, everthing that is happening and your opinions of it colored by your genome and your life experiences. 4. What do you get out of this? Ultimately, joy, pleassure, satisfaction, contenment, and all the other emotions: anger, fury, determination, etc. 5. What you do with all this. 6. Well you can adopt an ideology or you can begin a process of a fundamental part of living, which is reciprocity. Relationships are a foundation for all the good things above, but relationships cover a very broad range: your best friend, a homeless person on the street, people of other races and heritages. What do you bring to the reality of how you deal with them. Whoever they are, you must know them and that was the initial motivation of this web site: inanothersshoes.com. (It got side-tracked by climate change.)

I have gotten to know many kinds of people in my life, but I never met anyone like Rex Tillerson, an oil executive with full knowledge of what is carbon dioxide was doing, yet moving full speed ahead to help destroy the earth.

Rex Tillerson almost certinly has an ideology that justifies his life, but it is in comprehensible to me.

Now we have come to a place of dealing with moderation. What does it tell us to do. There is virtually no time left (read the two Yale papers for a good overview) and only drastic, rapid measures will work.

All I can come up with is to do something intelligent. Based on knowing everything I can about the situsation (which certainly rules out the conventional ideologies) I need to learn all I can as rapidly as possible and do something intelligent.

Given my age, background, health, and life circumstances, the best that I could come up with is this website, and it does make a better place, from my perspective, to share my views with you. It is not nearly the end, but one year watching the human race fall on its face is all I can take. Yale did me a favor with their two articles and the rest I will poke at from time to time. With all best wishes, John Wawrzonek, MIT '63, '65, '67.

john@lightsongfineart.com or carbon@theearthistoast.com.


2. Consciousness link text
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