Saturday, 29 June 2013

Eudaemonia

There is a very interesting article in a Scientific American MIND magazine (May/June 2013 issue) written by Tori Rodriguez called, Taking the Bad with the Good (p. 26) where I came across the Greek term, Eudaemonia, which Wikipedia defines as:

Eudaimonia or eudaemonia (Greek: εὐδαιμονία [eu̯dai̯monía]), sometimes anglicized as eudemonia /juːdɨˈmoʊniə/, is a Greek word commonly translated as happiness or welfare; however, "human flourishing" has been proposed as a more accurate translation. Etymologically, it consists of the words "eu" ("good") and "daimōn" ("spirit").

Eudaemonia is a concept that is embedded in the American constitution (believe or not) and, in fact, form the basis of it all. It is captured in the word "happiness"—as in "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

-The term, as it occurs in this context, is less about the human emotion than it is about a state of being. It is not an instinctual state but acquired and developed deliberately through culture and engaged learning (ie, it is a maturational process of the human psyche).

Peter Pericles Trifonas writes in his book, Umberto Eco and Football: "To yoke ethics with representational concerns is only natural for critical readers of culture." (Trifonas, Umberto Eco and Football, 2001, p. 5) I myself—as a student of linguistics, a fan of semiotics, someone interested in philosophy and classicism—have always been struck by the over-arching notion of "eudaemonia" that drives the imperative of these seemingly disparate discourses though I didn't really have the language for it. As a person who wants to reclaim his Christian roots after being lost in the spiritual wilderness, it is less religious dogma that interest me but the eudaemonic exploration that is also (the only thing as far as I'm concerned) the purpose of Christ's visitation on Earth, of His message: Love the Lord thy God...and love thy neighbour as thyself.

Though the Greek concept of eudaemonia encompasses a different but similar complex of human concerns than Christianity:

It is a central concept in Aristotelian ethics and political philosophy, along with the terms "aretē", most often translated as "virtue" or "excellence", and "phronesis", often translated as "practical or ethical wisdom" (continuing from the Wikipedia entry on "Eudaemonia")

the Christian notion of it is closest to Socrates':

Good Sir, you are an Athenian, a citizen of the greatest city with the greatest reputation for both wisdom and power; are you not ashamed of your eagerness to possess as much wealth, reputation, and honors as possible, while you do not care for nor give thought to wisdom or truth or the best possible state of your soul. (Socrates, Apology)

The Christian take on eudaemonia are the importance of such things as grace, mercy, forgiveness, humility, charity, etc. (I would also include the notion of "deliberation/rationality" in applying these principles but mainly from the perspective of the believer if only to not necessitate them upon the beneficiary in the practice of them—we do them because we believe that human beings are formed in the image of God).

Deliberation is also important here because, as I said earlier, eudaemonia is a learned, developmental process. And because, in the language of Socrates, an unexamined life is not worth living. Trifonas, in talking about the nature of raw, unprocessed signs, says:

The sign is all surface, all projection, all image: complete in itself and for itself. Thus, it has a directive force of its own that defies the reciprocity of a two-way model of communication. It sends the logic of itself and attempts to make plain its raison d'être for all to see—or perhaps to miss. It re-presents information and dissimulates reality through its power to initiate and sustain a form of symbolic violence upon those who engage in, create and apprehend the values of the sign as a model of reality. (Trifonas, p. 6-7)

In this context, the "sign" has taken on a more clinical hue yet its sinister and cruel indifference remains open for all to see and be in awe of. The sensual/sense perception is something spiritual wisdom has always been leery and suspicious of, and for good reasons: it requires only uncritical regard to become dogma affecting not only religion but even unto the "politically-correct" movement, and making fools and demons of the unwary.

I've been almost obsessively self-monitoring since I've made the decision to try and regain my spiritualism, and I tell you truthfully: my instinctual nature is dangerous and fearful/fearsome if left unchecked and unobserved. It is a dark part of me that, honestly, has made me re-interpret the imperative of self-abasement in the saints of the Christian faith: I'm a wretch and miserable sinner in constant need of God's grace. I don't say this to be sadomasochistic; it is a truth necessary for a sense of balance. And I take it in the spirit of the article that prompted me to write this entry:

In fact, anger and sadness are an important part of life, and new research shows that experiencing and accepting such emotions are vital to our mental health. Attempting to suppress thoughts can backfire and even diminish our sense of contentment..."Taking the good and bad together may detoxify the bad experiences, allowing you to make meaning out of them in a way that supports psychological well-being," the researchers have found. (Scientific American, MIND, pp. 26-27)

Jay

Saturday, 15 June 2013

The senate scandal

There is an Anishnaabe saying about two wolves in our natures we must feed and that we become like the one we feed.

The Canadian senate scandal is reflective of the state of politics at the federal level. I've seen and heard and read both sides (Harper's and the oppositions') and it certainly leaves a lot to be desired. Pundits like Rex Murphy and other right-wing trolls (is there a difference, really?) have been wanting to throw out the baby with the bathwater while the Liberals can't seem to see the forest for the trees themselves caught up in it with senator Harb.

I'm sorry, but the senate scandal is not a partisan issue. It is no less a national ethical crisis and the end result of years and years of patronage plum.

I must say it is a disappointing state of affairs when our political "leaders" scramble like headless chickens trying to convert this ugly state of affairs into a political "win". How utterly pathetic when unabashed glee is apparently found in pointing out that the kettle was just as black as the pot all along. Have we reached such a point as to now think that pieces of legislation cannot get passed without the guarantee of plum appointees? Have the politicians lost the art of politics - is now cajoling and negotiation and compromise outdated?

There was a time (pre-Vietnam) when corporations were creatures of the governments, when governments were sovereign, when gained territories (figuratively and literally) were used as leverage to exact a semblance of re-balancing geo-political normative peace. Since then there has been one bright light in Kissinger (yechy and odious a man by some estimates). But upon closer inspection, Kissinger is seen in a better light when the influence of Grotius rather than Machiavelli is called to memory.

To wit: the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy says of Grotius the man:

Hugo Grotius (1583–1645) [Hugo, Huigh or Hugeianus de Groot] was a towering figure in philosophy, political theory, law and associated fields during the seventeenth century and for hundreds of years afterwards. His work ranged over a wide array of topics, though he is best known to philosophers today for his contributions to the natural law theories of normativity [emphasis mine] which emerged in the later medieval and early modern periods. (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/grotius/)

The notion of "normative peace" is a very important concept in (especially) geo-political discourse but (in my mind) we should also remember its utter importance in domestic politics. It is the very difference between Iraq/Afghanistan wars and that which produced East-West-Germanies/North-South-Koreas. Indeed, it is the difference between pre- and post-Harper Canada. "Normative" is defined as:

Establishing, relating to, or deriving from a standard or norm, esp. of behavior: "negative sanctions to enforce normative behavior". (Google, "normative definition")

Grotius also said that though we decide one is an "enemy" we should never forget that our enemy is yet human like us (to quote Stanford Encyclopedia again):

...Grotius' method concerns his refusal to divide ethics, politics and law into separate subjects. These days, compartmentalization is the norm; ordinarily, we study one of these subjects while paying scant attention to the others. Now, it is true that Grotius does often identify ways in which legal norms differ from moral or political ones...At the same time, he does not think that law, politics and ethics are entirely distinct domains. If one reads Grotius with the expectation that he will keep them apart, one will likely be befuddled by the way he ignores distinctions which are important to us. It may help to know that he does this because he is interested in picking out the fundamental principles which lie at the basis of all normativity, not just a portion thereof. He cannot talk just about ethics, say, because his views on ethics are informed by his views on politics and the law. A fundamental tenet of his thought is that moral, political and legal norms are all based on laws derived from or supplied by nature.(ibid)

Harper's hyper-partisanship and, indeed, the rise of the "military-industrial complex" completely ignore the alternative to normativity, seeing and interpreting as they do only the negativity (ie, the bathwater in which the baby now resides).

We can only hope that the opposition leaders have the realistic expectations and wisdom to see the alternative to normative measures of the Canadian constitution, laws and the confederate arrangements that make Canada possible. The closest we gotten to Grotius is Lester B Pearson, the last true Canadian visionary who saw nothing wrong with "dirtying his hands" without getting dirty and ugly as the dictators and tyrants he knew we had to deal with to strike a better world.

Jay

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Grammatical tense

There was a question recently in an email distribution list at work regarding the grammatical tense. Specifically, someone asked what we'd call "past", "present" and "future" in Inuktitut. Though it seems rather mundane at the surface of it, it is actually a very profound question on the nature of the human experience.

Grammatical tense (ie, past, present and future) is actually more than the three most obvious ones. Actually, the notion of "tense" belongs to a rather amorphous grammatical category of the verb that encompasses not only tense, but also aspect and mood/modality:

In many language descriptions, particularly those of traditional European linguistics, the term tense is erroneously used to refer to categories that do not have time reference as their prototypical use, but rather are grammaticalisations of mood/modality (e.g. uncertainty, possibility, evidentiality) or aspect (e.g. frequency, completion, duration). (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grammatical_tense*)

*the Wikipedia entry on "grammatical tense" is rather poorly done and should be taken with a grain of salt, though it's serviceable enough to give one an idea of it...

I wouldn't go so far as to say that the notion of tense has been used "erroneously" but rather "amorphously", and naturally so: "tense", "aspect" and "mood/modality" are subcategories of verb quality - whether denoted grammatically, morphologically, syntactically, all human languages have this functional (and refinable) notion and, at least, a cursory reading of Kant's philosophy suggests that we cannot transcend this need to frame our linguistic references in describing act/fact/propositional.

Besides, "past", "present" and "future" there is "perfective" and "imperfective" (again, quoting Wikipedia):

Tense differs from aspect in showing the time reference, while aspect shows how the action/state is "envisaged" or "seen" as happening/occurring [ie, linguistically described]. The most common aspectual distinction in languages of the world is that between perfective (complete, permanent, simple, etc.) and imperfective (incomplete, temporary, continuous, etc.). (ibid)

perfective = [-sima-]; [-janga/jara/jait]*;
imperfective = [-sima+nngit]; [-vallia-]; [-galak-]; [-a-] (as in tusaajuq "he is hearing"); etc.

*the pronominal endings in Inuit Languages may be classified as "unmarked/simple" perfective aspects (in some linguistic analyses this is known as "aorist" tense)...another important implicit proviso here as well is that verb quality may and do take on both tense and aspect (ie, present pronominal endings in Inuktitut have both tense (default "present" when not specified otherwise) and aspect (the selfsame default "perfective" when not specified otherwise) at the same time and in the same morpheme).

I remember once in a conference someone saying in disbelief that a non-English language may have a future-perfective, and I pointed out "will have had", so even trained linguists have a hard time grasping the full richness of this grammatical verb quality. Kant's notion of space-time itself is often read as only having to do with philosophical speculation (and I suspect even Kant didn't really appreciate the primitive linguistic reality of his profound insight and emphasized the cognitive aspects of it ad nauseam).

The Inuit Languages are rich in this "grammatical tense" function (no matter how they're analysed they only begin to make better sense when one recognizes them as such). This field is largely a virgin territory in terms of linguistic analysis, which is surprising in a way because - as shown in any conscious search of philosophical discourse - it has a deep and varied history in philosophy/scientific thought (ie, Kant wasn't the first and neither is he the last by any stretch of the imagination).

Jay

Saturday, 1 June 2013

A thousand times more fair?

Kenji Yoshino, says the book jacket, is a "Celebrated legal scholar..." but I would also add that he's a top-notch Shakespearean scholar. He wrote a book called, A Thousand Times More Fair: what Shakespeare's plays teach us about justice.

In chapter 7, which he titles, The Intellectual: Hamlet, he writes:

Intellectuals may rejoice that the most canonical text of Western imaginative literature figures one of our tribe as its protagonist. Prince Hamlet is undeniably an intellectual, a student at the University of Wittenberg whose "inky cloak" (1.2.77) swaddles him not just in melancholy but in "[w]ords, words, words" (2.3.189). At the same time, we may be justifiably concerned that many believe Hamlet's intellectualism hobbles him from doing justice.

The central question of Hamlet is why the prince takes so long to avenge his father's murder. (p. 185)

I will concede that being an "intellectual" can be an apparent shackle and that we may justifiably be accused of being "not action-oriented" ("words, words, words," people have said of us in exasperation). But it's not always just "melancholic" navel-gazing - for that is just utter selfishness and unchecked self-indulgence/self-pity -  rather, this apparent darkness often stems from a realization that things are rarely as simple as they appear.

I've not always been successful but I try and turn away from melancholy concluding that such temperament is beneath me. Neither have I always been successful in avoiding self-justification/rationalization when I'm eventually forced to act. But what I think causes a pause is a compulsion to self-monitor as one imagines scenarios - I tell you there are some dark thoughts that occur and rise up naturally in the depth of pondering, some too dark to own up to, especially in light of having to think about things where the preservation of self-image and "dignity for all" figure large. And I think that this is what causes Hamlet's character to hesitate.

As a person wanting some spiritual meaning in my life, I've been doing a lot of self-monitoring: am I really capable of living up to my espoused principles; "lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil"; "thy will be done"...truth to tell: I really do wonder sometimes if patience and wisdom will carry me.

I try and tell myself that the periodic ebb and flow of the tolerability of life (its joys and miseries) is natural, that, even in this age of always expecting instant gratification, it is unnatural to try and force things; the Taoist concept of non-interference is something I deeply believe in though some of its consequences are intolerable (ie, sometimes very hard to accept). And, I've tried to resist mightily and consciously policies and actions that would short-change my own prospects and those of others most of my adult life.

Having grown-up a nominal Christian (in a sense that I was baptized as an infant and tried to be a good Christian for a significant part of my life and am now trying to regain that Christianity) with the uncanny, undeniable aspects of Taoist beliefs of Inuit culture I can't help but be an admixture and I clearly do not see contradictions at least in the important aspects of these belief systems ("thy will be done" is a extremely difficult meditation in any case simply because the outcomes are not guaranteed to fall in one's favour).

In one meditation of this ebb and flow, a Charles Spurgeon writes:

What, then, my soul, is it best for thee to do? Learn first to be content with this divine order, and be willing, with Job, to receive evil from the hand of the Lord as well as good. (http://www.biblegateway.com/devotionals/morning-and-evening/)

Is this really "navel-gazing"? I think not. And the issue has to do with the fact that much of this meditation has to do with, at the bottom of it, distinguishing the difference between "bravery" and "courage". Being "brave" it is said often enough is fool-hardy at its worse, whereas having "courage" is the willingness to persevere even in the face of fear and uncertainty.

Whether I will succeed in this perseverance is another question. I stumble often in the face of fear and in my heart cowardice and evil thoughts are constant companions necessitating the need to pray for courage.

Jay