Saturday, March 26, 2011

2011.03.25 — Hegemony or Survival: And its Economics per Chomsky

I've been making my way through Noam Chomsky's Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for World Dominance. As always, it seems, Chomsky is interesting, and his arguments are lucid and backed up with reasonable references (which I've included below for the extended citation.) It strikes me that for the first time in the Chomsky I've read, that he has lost his sense of cautious optimism. His frequent sarcasm has, at times, the added edge of one who knows that the hoped for change will not be happening. I am nearing the end of the book, but flagged the following as worth putting into my economics course, and here, in my blog. It is a bit long, but the argument and analysis is worth sharing and thinking about.

Noam Chomsky. Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for World Dominance. New York: Metropolitan Books — Henry Holt and Company, 2003. ISBN:0805074007. (Begun 2010.12.05).

From Chapter 5

The Script: Domestic
The Reagan years saw a continuation of the relatively poor economic performance of the 1970s. Growth overwhelmingly benefited the very rich, unlike the "golden age" of the fifties and sixties, when it was evenly spread across the population. During the Reagan-Bush years real wages stagnated or declined along with benefits; working hours increased; and employers were given free rein to ignore protection for labor organizing. The policies were, naturally, unpopular. As the Bush I administration reached its final days, Reagan was ranked alongside Nixon as the least popular living ex-president.12

It is not easy, under such conditions, to maintain political power. Only one good method is known: inspire fear. That tactic was employed throughout the Reagan-Bush years, as the leadership conjured up one devil after another to frighten the populace into obedience.

The threats to Americans during the first war on terror were immense. By November 1981, Libyan hit men were roaming the streets of Washington to assassinate the president, who courageously faced down the scoundrel Qaddafi. From the first moment, the administration recognized Libya to be a defenseless punching bag, and therefore set up confrontations in which many Libyans could be killed, hoping for a Libyan response that could be exploited to induce fear.

Before Americans could breathe a sigh of relief over the president's lucky escape from the Libyan hit men, Qaddafi was on the march again, this time invading Sudan across 600 miles of desert, with the air forces of the US and its allies standing by helplessly. Qadaffi also allegedly concocted a plot to overthrow the government of Sudan so subtle that Sudanese and Egyptian intelligence knew nothing about it, as discovered by the few US reporters who took the trouble to investigate. The subsequent US show of force enabled Secretary of State Shultz to announce that Qaddafi "is back in his box where he belongs" because Reagan acted "quickly and decisively," demonstrating "the strength of the cowboy" that so entranced worshipful intellectuals (Paul Johnson, in this case). The episode was quickly relegated to oblivion once its purposes had been served.13

Just as the early Libyan threats subsided, another even more dangerous one appeared: an air base in Grenada that the Russians could use to bomb us. Fortunately, our leader came to the rescue in the nick of time. After turning down offers for peaceful settlement on US terms, Washington landed 6,000 elite forces, who were able to overcome the resistance of a few dozen lightly armed, middle-aged Cuban construction workers, and we were at last "standing tall," the gallant cowboy in the White House proclaimed.

But the threats were not over. Soon Nicaraguans were looming on the horizon, only two days' driving time from Harlingen, Texas, waving their copies of Mein Kampf. Fortunately, the commander in chief, recalling Churchill's stand against the Nazis, refused to surrender and was able to fend off the threatening hordes, even though they were being supplied by Qaddafi in his campaign to "expel America from the world."

As the White House sought to mobilize congressional support for an intensified attack on Nicaragua in 1986, the Libyan threat was conjured up again with deadly US provocations in the Gulf of Sidra, followed by the bombing of Libya on prime-time TV, killing dozens, on no credible pretext. The official stance was that Article 51 of the UN Charter accords us the right to use violence "in self-defense against future attack." That was perhaps the first explicit formulation of the doctrine of "preventive war," and the end of any hopes of a world of order and law, if taken at all seriously. And it was. New York Times legal analyst Anthony Lewis praised the Reagan administration for relying "on a legal argument that violence against the perpetrators of repeated violence is justified as an act of selfdefense. " Imagine the consequences if others were powerful enough to adopt the Reagan-Lewis doctrine.

So matters continued through the decade. The European tourist industry went into periodic decline, as Americans were too frightened to travel to European cities because they might be attacked by crazed Arabs or other demons. Grave threats were concocted at home as well. Crime in the US is not very different from other industrial countries. Fear of crime, however, is much higher. The same is true of drugs: a problem in other societies, an imminent danger to our very existence in the US. It is easy for political leaders to use the media to whip up fear of these and other menaces. Campaigns are mounted periodically, when required by domestic political needs. Bush I's racist Willie Horton escapade in the 1988 election campaign is a famous example.

The September 1989 redeclaration of the "drug war" was another striking illustration. In the face of substantial evidence to the contrary, the administration dramatically proclaimed that Hispanic narcotraffickers were a menace to our society. Officials could be confident that the tactic would succeed, as explained by journalist and editor Hodding Carter, former assistant secretary of state in the Carter administration. It's a "lead-pipe cinch," he wrote, that "the mass media in America have an overwhelming tendency to jump up and down and bark in concert whenever the White House—any White House—snaps its fingers."

The campaign was a grand success—apart from affecting drug use. Fear of drugs instantly shot to the lead of public concerns. The stage was set for escalating the campaign to remove superfluous people from city streets to the new prisons that were rapidly being built; and to go on to Operation Just Cause, the glorious invasion of Panama on grounds of Noriega's involvement with drug trafficking, among other reasons. At the same time, the Bush administration was threatening Thailand with severe sanctions if it placed barriers on import of a far more lethal US-produced substance, tobacco. But all this passed in silence.

In the case of Panama, too, there was a knockdown legal argument for invasion. UN ambassador Thomas Pickering instructed the Security Council that Article 51 of the UN Charter "provides for the use of armed force to defend a country, to defend our interests and our people," and to prevent "its territory from being used to smuggle drugs into the US"—in this case, by reinstating the white elite of bankers and businessmen, many of whom were themselves suspected of narcotrafficking and money laundering and who soon lived up to their reputation, US government agencies reported.

Throughout, the legal arguments keep to a principle enunciated by the distinguished Israeli statesman Abba Eban: in "determining the legal basis" for some intended action, "one might work backward from the action one wished to take to find a legal justification."

The script has been followed fairly closely as much the same elements gained a hold on political power in the 2000 election. In 1981 they had combined a vast increase in military spending with tax cuts, calculating "that growing hysteria over the ensuing deficit would create powerful pressures to cut federal [social] spending, and thus, perhaps, enable the Administration to accomplish its goal of rolling back the New Deal." Bush II followed the pattern with tax cuts overwhelmingly benefiting the very rich, and "the biggest surge in federal spending in twenty years,"19 largely military, hence indirectly high-tech industry.

Government deficits require "fiscal discipline," which translates into cutbacks for services for the general population. The administration's own economists estimate the bills that the government will be unable to pay at $44 trillion. Their study was to be included in the annual budget report published in February 2003 but was removed, perhaps because it forecast that closing the gap would require a huge tax increase and Bush was trying to ram through another tax reduction, again benefiting mainly the rich. "President Bush is working overtime to deepen our fiscal trap," economists Laurence Kotlikoff and Jeffrey Sachs observe, reporting the enormous anticipated fiscal gap. Among the results, they contend, will be "massive cuts in future Social Security and Medicare benefits." White House spokesperson Ari Fleischer agreed with the $44 trillion estimate and implicitly conceded the accuracy of the analysis as well: "There is no question that Social Security and Medicare are going to present [future] generations with a crushing debt burden unless policymakers work seriously to reform those programs"—which does not mean funding them by progressive taxation. The problem is deepened by the serious financial crisis of states and cities.
The editors of the staid Financial Times are only "stating the obvious," economist Paul Krugman comments, when they write that the "more extreme Republicans" with their hands on the controls seem to want a fiscal train wreck that "offers the tantalizing prospect of forcing [cuts on social programs] through the back door." Slated for demolition, Krugman contends, are Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security, but the same may be true for the whole range of programs of the past century that were developed to protect the population from the ravages of private power.

Eliminating social programs has goals that go well beyond concentration of wealth and power. Social Security, public schools, and other such deviations from the "right way" that US military power is to impose on the world, as frankly declared, are based on evil doctrines, among them the pernicious belief that we should care, as a community, whether the disabled widow on the other side of town can make it through the day, or the child next door should have a chance for a decent future. These evil doctrines derive from the principle of sympathy that was taken to be the core of human nature by Adam Smith and David Hume, a principle that must be driven from the mind. Privatization has other benefits. If working people depend on the stock market for their pensions, health care, and other means of survival, they have a stake in undermining their own interests: opposing wage increases, health and safety regulations, and other measures that might cut into profits that flow to the benefactors on whom they must rely, in a manner reminiscent of feudalism.

After a surge of presidential popularity following 9-11, polls revealed increasing discontent with the social and economic policies of the administration. If there was to be any hope of maintaining political power, the Bush forces were virtually compelled to adopt what Anatol Lieven calls "the classic modern strategy of an endangered right-wing oligarchy, which is to divert mass discontent into nationalism,"2222 a strategy which is second nature to them in any event, having worked so well during their first twelve years in office.

The strategy was outlined by Karl Rove, the chief political adviser: Republicans must "go to the country on the issue of national security" in November 2002, because voters "trust the Republican Party" for "protecting America." Similarly, he explained, Bush will have to be portrayed as a wartime leader for the 2004 presidential campaign. "As long as domestic issues were dominating news coverage and political battles over the summer. Bush and his Republicans lost ground," the chief international analyst for UPI pointed out. But the "imminent threat" of Iraq was conjured up just in time, in September 2002. Recognizing its vulnerability on domestic issues, "the administration is campaigning to sustain and increase its power on a policy of international adventurism, new radical preemptive military strategies, and a hunger for a politically convenient and perfectly timed confrontation with Iraq."23

For the midterm electoral campaign, the tactic worked—just. Even though voters "believe that Republicans are more concerned about large corporations than about ordinary Americans," they trust the Republicans on national security.24

In September, the National Security Strategy was announced.

Manufactured fear provided enough of a popular base for the invasion of Iraq, instituting the new norm of aggressive war at will, and afforded the administration enough of a hold on political power so that it could proceed with a harsh and unpopular domestic agenda. Again, the script of the first tenure in power is being followed closely, though now with greater fervor, fewer external constraints, and considerably greater threats to peace (116-121).

Notes for Chapter 5

12. See Thomas Ferguson and Joel Rogers,
Right Turn (Hill & Wang, 1986), Michael Meeropol, Surrender (Michigan, 2003). See also my Turning the Tide, chapter 5, and my Year 501, chapter 11. On economic consequences, see State of Working America studies by the Economic Policy Institute; and Edward Wolff, Top Heavy (New Press, 1996).

13. On Libya's role in Reaganite demonology, see my
Pirates and Emperors, Old and New, chapter 3; Stephen Shalom, Imperial Alibis (South End, 1992), chapter 7.

14. See my
Necessary Illusions, pp. 176-80.

15. See pp. 96-97.

16. Anthony Lewis, New York Times, 17 April 1986.

17. Hodding Carter, Wall Street Journal, 14 September 1989; Thomas Pickering quoted by AP, 20 December 1989. For a detailed review, see my Deterring Democracy, chapters 5 and 6, and Shalom, Imperial Alibis, chapter 8.

18. Cited in Irene Gendzier, Notes from the Minefield (Columbia, 1977), p. 256.

19. Ferguson and Rogers, Right Turn, p. 122. Jackie Calmes and John D. McKinnon, Wall Street Journal, 11 November 2002.

20. Peronet Despeignes, Financial Times, 29 May 2003. Kotlikoff and Sachs, Boston Globe, 19 May 2003. Fleischer, Financial Times, 30 May 2003.

21. Paul Krugman, New York Times, 27 May 2003.

22. Anatol Lieven, London Review of Books, 3 October 2002.

23. Martin Sierf, American Conservative, 4 November 2002.

24. Donald Green and Eric Schickler, New York Times, 12 November 2002.

He's not easy to dismiss, is Mr. Chomsky.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

2011.03.22 — Jung The Development of Personality CW17

An interesting Goodreads thread has wandered into a discussion of life after death and childhood learning and parenting.

The nature of this meander brought to mind one of my favourite citations from Jung. I have re-read this many times, and I feel that this ☆☆☆☆☆ book is some of C.G.Jung's most passionate writing. It is from his great book,

The Development of Personal Reality: Papers on Child Psychology, Education and Related Subjects. CW17. Princeton University Press. ISBN: 9780691018386.

I've put an extract of this extended citation into the thread, but Jung's writing is so densely integrated that it is better served with the extended citation.
In somewhat free-handed fashion the last two lines of Goethe's stanza are often quoted:
The Highest bliss on earth shall be
The joys of personality.
This gives expression to the view that the ultimate aim and strongest desire of all mankind is to develop that fullness of life which is called personality. Nowadays, "personality training" has become an educational ideal that turns its back upon the standardized, mass-produced, "normal" human being demanded by the machine age. It thus pays tribute to the historical fact that the great liberating deeds of world history have sprung from leading personalities and never from the inert mass, which is at all times secondary and can only be prodded into activity by the demagogue. The huzzahs of the Italian nation go forth to the personality of the Duce, and the dirges of other nations lament the absence of strong leaders. (Since this sentence was written [1934], Germany too has found her Führer.) The yearning for personality has therefore become a real problem that occupies many minds today, whereas in former times there was only one man who had a glimmering of this question – Frederich Schiller, whose letters on aesthetic education have lain dormant, like a Sleeping Beauty of literature, for more than a century. We may confidently assert that the "Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation" has not taken much notice of Schiller as an educator. On the other hand, the furor teutonicus has hurled itself upon pedagogics (in the strict sense of the education of children), delved into child psychology, ferreted out the infantilism of the adult, and made the childhood such a portentous condition of life and human fate that it completely overshadows the creative meaning and potentialities of adult existence. Our age has been extravagantly praised as the "century of the child." This boundless expansion of the kindergarten amounts to forgetfulness of the problems of adult education divined by the genius Schiller. Nobody will deny or underestimate the importance of childhood; the severe and often life-long injuries caused by stupid upbringing at home or in school are too obvious, and the need for more reasonable pedagogic methods is far too urgent. But if this evil is to be attacked at the root, one must in all seriousness face the question of how such idiotic and bigoted methods of education ever came to be employed, and still are employed. Obviously, for the sole reason that there are half-baked educators who are not human beings at all, but walking personifications of method. Anyone who wants to educate must himself be educated. But the parrot-like book-learning and mechanical use of methods that is still practised today is no education either for the child or the educator. People are everlastingly saying that the child's personality must be trained. While I admire this lofty ideal, I can't help asking who it is that trains the personality? In the first and foremost place we have the parents, ordinary, incompetent folks who, more often than not, are half children themselves and remain so for all their lives. How could anyone expect all these ordinary parents to be "personalities," and who has ever given a thought to devising methods for inculcating "personality" into them? Naturally, then, we expect great things of the pedagogue, of the trained professional, who, heaven help us, has been stuffed full of "psychology" and is bursting with ill-assorted views as to how the child is supposed to be constituted and how he ought to be handled. It is presumed that the youthful persons who have picked on education as a career are themselves educated; but nobody, I daresay, will venture to assert that they are all "personalities" as well. By and large, they suffer from the same defective education as the hapless children they are suppose to instruct, and as a rule are as little "personalities" as their charges. Our whole educational problem suffers from a one-sided approach to the child who is to educated, and from an equally one-sided lack of emphasis on the uneducatedness of the educator. Everyone who has finished his course of studies feels himself to be fully educated; in a word, he feels grown up. He must feel this, he must have this solid conviction of his own competence in order to survive the struggle for existence. Any doubt or feeling of uncertainty would hinder and cripple him, undermining the necessary faith in his own authority and unfitting him for a professional career. People expect him to be efficient and good at this job and not to have doubts about himself and his capabilities. The professional man is irretrievably condemned to be competent.

Everyone knows that these conditions are not ideal. But, with reservations, we can say that they are the best possible under the circumstances. We cannot imagine how they could be different. We cannot expect more from the average educator than from the average parent. If he is good at his job, we have to be content with that, just as we have to be content with parents bringing up their children as best they can.

The fact is that the high ideal of educating the personality is not for children: for what is usually meant by personality – a well-rounded psychic whole that is capable of resistance and abounding in energy – is an adult ideal . It is only in an age like ours, when the individual is unconscious of the problems of adult life, or – what is worse – when he consciously shirks them, that people could wish to foist this ideal on to childhood. I suspect our contemporary pedagogical and psychological enthusiasm for the child of dishonourable intentions: we talk about the child, but we should mean the child in the adult. For in every adult there lurks a child – an eternal child, something that is always becoming, is never completed, and calls for unceasing care, attention, and education. That is the part of the human personality which wants to develop and become whole. But the man of today is far indeed from this wholeness. Dimly suspecting his own deficiencies, he seizes upon child education and fervently devotes himself to child psychology, fondly supposing that something must have gone wrong in his own upbringing and childhood development that can be weeded out in the next generation. This intention is highly commendable, but comes to grief on the psychological fact that we cannot correct in a child a fault that we ourselves still commit. Children are not half as stupid as we imagine. They notice only too well what is genuine and what is not. Hans Andersen's story of the emperor's clothes contains a perennial truth. How many parents have come to me with the laudable intention of sparing their children the unhappy experiences they had to go through in their own childhood! And when I ask, "Are you quite sure you have overcome these mistakes yourself?" they are firmly convinced that the damage has long since been repaired. In actual fact it has not. If as children they were brought up too strictly, then they spoil their own children with a tolerance bordering on bad taste; if certain matters were painfully concealed from them in childhood, these are revealed with a lack of reticence that is just as painful. They have merely gone to the opposite extreme, the strongest evidence for the tragic survival of the old sin – a fact which has altogether escaped them.

If there is anything that we wish to change in our children, we should first examine it and see whether it is not something that could better be changed in ourselves. Take our enthusiasms for pedagogics. It may be that the boot is on the other leg. It may be that we misplace the pedagogical need because it would be an uncomfortable reminder that we ourselves are still children in many respects and still need a vast amount of educating.

At any rate this doubt seems to me to be extremely pertinent when we set out to train our children's "personalities." Personality is a seed that can only develop by slow stages throughout life. There is no personality without definiteness, wholeness, and ripeness. These three qualities cannot and should not be expected of the child, as they would rob it of childhood. It would be nothing but an abortion, a premature pseudo-adult; yet our modern education has already given birth to such monsters, particularly in those cases where parents set themselves the fanatical task of always "doing their best" for the children and "living only for them." This clamant ideal effectively prevents the parents from doing anything about their own development and allows them to thrust their "best" down their children's throats. This so-called "best" turns out to be the very things the parents have most badly neglected in themselves. In this way the children are goaded on to achieve their parents' most dismal failures, and are loaded with ambitions that are never fulfilled. Such methods and ideals only engender educational monstrosities.

No one can train the personality unless he has it himself. And it is not the child, but only the adult, who can achieve personality as the fruit of a full life directed to this end. The achievement of personality means nothing less than the optimum development of the whole individual human being. It is impossible to foresee the endless variety of conditions that have to be fulfilled. A whole lifetime, in all its biological, social, and spiritual aspects, is needed. Personality is the supreme realization of the innate idiosyncrasy of a living being. It is an act of high courage flung in the face of life, the absolute affirmation of all that constitutes the individual, the most successful adaptation to the universal conditions of existence coupled with the greatest possible freedom for self-determination. To educate a man to this seems to me no light matter. It is surely the hardest task the modern mind has set itself. And it is dangerous too, dangerous to a degree that Schiller never imagined, though his prophetic insight made him the first to venture upon these problems. It is as dangerous as the bold and hazardous undertaking of nature to let women bear children. Would it not be sacrilege, a Promethean or even Luciferian act of presumption, if a superman ventured to grow an homunculus in a bottle and then found it sprouting into a Golem? And yet he would not be doing anything that nature does not do every day. There is no human horror or fairground freak that has not lain in the womb of a loving mother. As the sun shines upon the just and the unjust, and as women who bear and give suck tend God's children and the devil's brood with equal compassion, unconcerned about the possible consequences, so we are part and parcel of this amazing nature, and, like it, carry within us the seeds of the unpredictable.

Our personality develops in the course of our life from germs that are hard or impossible to discern, and it is only our deeds that reveal who we are. We are like the sun, which nourishes the life of the earth and brings forth every kind of strange, wonderful, and evil thing; we are like the mothers who bear in their wombs untold happiness and suffering. At first we do not know what deeds or misdeeds, what destiny, what good and evil we have in us, and only the autumn can show what the spring has engendered, only in the evening will it be seen what the morning began.

Personality, as the complete realization of our whole being, is an unattainable ideal. But unattainability is no argument against the ideal, for ideals are only signposts, never the goal.

Just as the child must develop in order to be educated, so the personality must begin to sprout before it can be trained. And this is where the danger begins. For we are handling something unpredictable, we do not know how and in what direction the budding personality will develop, and we have learned enough of nature and the world to be somewhat chary of both. On top of that, we were brought up in the Christian belief that human nature is intrinsically evil. But even those who no longer adhere to the Christian teaching are by nature mistrustful and not a little frightened of the possibilities lurking in the subterranean chambers of their being. Even enlightened psychologists like Freud give us an extremely unpleasant picture of what lies slumbering in the depths of the human psyche. So it is rather a bold venture to put in a good word for the development of personality. Human nature, however, is full of the strangest contradictions. We praise the "sanctity of motherhood," yet would never dream of holding it responsible for all the human monsters, the homicidal maniacs, dangerous lunatics, epileptics, idiots and cripples of every description who are born every day. At the same time we are tortured with doubts when it comes to allowing the free development of personality. "Anything might happen then," people say. Or they dish up the old, feeble-minded objection to "individualism." But individualism is not and never has been a natural development; it is nothing but an unnatural usurpation, a freakish, impertinent pose that proves its hollowness by crumpling up before the least obstacle. What we have in mind is something very different.

Clearly no one develops his personality because someone tells him that it would be useful or advisable to do so. Nature has never been taken in by well-meaning advice. The only thing that moves nature is causal necessity, and that goes for human nature too. Without necessity nothing budges, the human personality least of all. It is tremendously conservative, not to say torpid. Only acute necessity is able to rouse it. The development of personality obeys no caprice, no command, no insight, only brute necessity; it needs the motivating force of inner or outer fatalities. Any other development would be no better than individualism. That is why the cry of "individualism" is a cheap insult when flung at the natural development of personality.

The words "many are called, but few are chosen" are singularly appropriate here, for the development of personality from the germ-state to full consciousness is at once a charisma and a curse, because its first fruit is the conscious and unavoidable segregation of the single individual from the undifferentiated and unconscious herd. This means isolation, and there is no more comforting word for it. Neither family nor society nor position can save him from this fate, nor yet the most successful adaptation to his environment, however smoothly he fits in. The development of personality is a favour that must be paid for dearly. But the people who talk most loudly about developing their personalities are the very ones who are least mindful of the results, which are such as to frighten away all weaker spirits.

Yet the development of personality means more than just the fear of hatching forth monsters, or of isolation. It also means fidelity to the law of one's own being.

For the word "fidelity" I should prefer, in this context, the Greek word used in the New Testament, πíστις [pistis], which is erroneously translated as "faith." It really means "trust," "trustful loyalty." Fidelity to the law of ones own being is a trust in this law, a loyal perseverance and confident hope; in short, an attitude such as a religious man should have towards God. It can now be seen how portentous is the dilemma that emerges from behind our problem: personality can never develop unless the individual chooses his own way, consciously and with moral deliberation. Not only the causal motive – necessity – but conscious moral decision must lend its strength to the process of building the personality. If the first is lacking, then the alleged development is a mere acrobatics of the will; if the second, it will get stuck in unconscious automatism. But a man can make a moral decision to go his own way only if he holds that way to be the best. If any other way were held to be better, then he would live and develop that other personality instead of his own. The other ways are conventionalities of a moral, social, political, philosophical, or religious nature. The fact that the conventions always flourish in one form or another only proves that the vast majority of mankind do not choose their own way, but convention, and consequently develop not themselves but a method and a collective mode of life at the cost of their own wholeness.

Just as the psychic and social life of mankind at the primitive level is exclusively a group life with a high degree of unconsciousness among the individuals composing it, so the historical process of development that comes afterwards is in the main collective and will doubtless remain so. That is why I believe convention to be a collective necessity. It is a stopgap and not an ideal, either in the moral or in the religious sense, for submission to it always means renouncing one's wholeness and running away from the final consequences of one's own being.

To develop one's personality is indeed an unpopular undertaking, a deviation that is highly uncongenial to the herd, an eccentricity smelling of the coenobite, as it seems to the outsider. Small wonder, then, that from earliest times only the chosen few have embarked upon this strange adventure. Had they all been fools, we could safely dismiss them as idiotai , mentally "private" persons who have no claim on our interest. But, unfortunately, these personalities are as a rule the legendary heros of mankind, the very ones who are looked up to, loved, and worshipped, the true sons of God whose names perish not. They are the flower and the fruit, the ever fertile seeds of the tree of humanity. This allusion to historical personalities makes it abundantly clear why the development of personality is an ideal, and why the cry of individualism is an insult. The greatness has never lain in their abject submission to convention, but, on the contrary, in their deliverance from convention. They towered up like mountain peaks above the mass that still clung to its collective fears, its beliefs,laws, and systems, and boldly chose to go their own way. To the man in the street it has always seemed miraculous that anyone should turn aside from the beaten track with its known destinations, and strike out on the steep and narrow path leading into the unknown. Hence it was always believed that such a man, if not actually crazy, was possessed by a daemon or a god; for the miracle of a man being able to act otherwise than as humanity has always acted could only be explained by the gift of daemonic power or divine spirit. How could anyone but a god counterbalance the dead weight of humanity in the mass, with its everlasting convention and habit? From the beginning, therefore, the heroes were endowed with godlike attributes. According to the Nordic view they had snake's eyes,and there was something peculiar about their birth or descent; certain heroes of ancient Greece were snake-souled, others had a personal daemon, were magicians or the elect of God. All these attributes, which could be multiplied at will, show that for the ordinary man the outstanding personality is something supernatural , a phenomenon that can only be explained by the intervention of some daemonic factor (pars 284-323).
I think that Jung was angry, and not just passionate,when he wrote this. But it certainly has created me a great deal of thought and self reflection on the nature of my parents' and teachers' educating me, and on my own slothful torpidity.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

2011.03.18 —Language and Responsibility - Finished 2011.02.24

There is so much I want to write about this book since I finished it last month, including an amusing fushigi with Margaret Atwood's book Payback, that I've not written anything. [Click here to see the fushigi which I've blogged separately.]

So, how to begin? Well, I guess I can start by giving it its 
☆☆☆☆☆. (Begun 2011.01.06, with comment 2011.01.23.)

The book begins with Chomsky, with typical clarity and documentation, examining the many egregious failures of responsibility the American intellectual elite have displayed in remaining ignorant of America's true history, and/or of disseminating the myth of American democratic benevolence in the world. But very quickly the book moves beyond that and it was with great pleasure that I had my first extended foray into Chomsky's real passion, that of linguistics. It turns out that this is a fascinating subject, especially as told with the intelligence and creative honesty of Chomsky.

And I loved that Chomsky seriously questioned the intellectual integrity of his linguistics community, as well as that of the behaviorist's school of psychology, for failing to be empirical even as they aver their scientific integrity. I felt a particular affinity for this because I am doing something similar with the economic schooling and schools I have experienced and read. My first reaction was surprise at just how similar in kind are our arguments. But when I thought about it a bit more, my surprise is misplaced because they both go to conceptual and thinking fallacies that naturally arise whenever and wherever ideology trumps practical experience. 

The interviewer Mitsou Ronat brings obvious intelligence and a thorough knowledge of linguists to the interview, and was perhaps integral to the high quality of the discussion.

Anyway, for these reasons, and many more, it is well deserving of five stars.

But that only begins to describe the depth of the excitement I felt reading this book because in Lang. & Resp. I read tangible evidence of a connection I have long felt between Chomsky and the psychologist C.G. Jung. I began reading Chomsky several years after I had begun to explore Jung, and nowhere in all the Chomsky I've read, which isn't everything but is quite a bit, do I remember him mentioning Jung. But I have found that my exposure to Jung, even in a limited way, has helped me to understand Chomsky. I have felt for a long time that both these thinkers have a similar, very empirical, approach in their method's of inquiry and in coming to tentative conclusions about the nature of life. And I am bemused that both have been castigated by their ideological peers for being ideologues. 
In Lang. & Resp. Chomsky, in several places, sharply criticizes both behavior psychologists and linguists for a secular ideology that blinds them to the pragmatic real world evidence that their theories fail to account for in more than very limited examples of diurnal reality. For an example of his criticism as it pertains to linguistic ideology, see my earlier blog 2011.01.08. This argument reminds me of the frustration Jung felt whenever he was accused of being un-scientific by peers stuck on theories to the oblivion of real world experience. Jung felt that theories were easy traps that could and did lead the un-wise into trying to force the facts of life to fit the theory at the expense of understanding what the real world facts were saying about life. Chomsky's argument against behaviorist theories is just about identical.

Both Jung and Chomsky condemn as irrational empiricism when it dismisses or overlooks the unknown just because it is unknown. Chomsky is less troubled by a scientist ascribing to God a characteristic or behaviour than for that scientist to irrationally ascribe that behaviour to incomplete and unproven psychological 'truths' only because they are 'modern' theories that have removed God from the equation. Chomsky, on several occasions in Lang & Resp. comments that it was indeed scientific for thinkers of the past to assign a behaviour to 'God' because doing so was saying, quite bluntly, 'we don't know why this or that, and until we do it remains simply what it is, a mystery.' To Chomsky, that is being honest and empirical. Jung makes the exact same kinds of arguments throughout his writing about the unconscious.

But what really got me buzzing with excitement was when I realized that Chomsky's descriptions of a 'universal grammar' is nothing more or less than Jung's archetypal imagery from the collective unconscious but put into words and their rules rather than images and their meanings. Jung speculated — I am here loosely paraphrasing him — that there was some innate quality to being human, like a genetic code (what Ronat referred to as a "mental organ"), that is independent of race or creed that creates common archetypal imagery expressed through myth, mythologems, religions and dreams. Chomsky's universal grammar argues the exact same thing, but for the development of language.

Where Jung puzzled at the common mythological themes he saw in the world religions, and then in the dreams of people ignorant of these archetypal motifs, Chomsky puzzles that regardless of race, language is learned from the exposure to a human environment, even when they are ostensibly inadequate. So, for example, even if a child is born a hunter-gatherer in the Amazon, s/he will become a New Yorker if raised there from a young enough age — but decreasingly so as the child ages before immersion and vice versa. Language acquisition is a human trait independent of race, and as such exists outside of the rules of a particular language's grammar. But this strikes me as exactly the same idea as the collective unconscious!

When Jung made a similar observation about the dreams of people from different ethnic back grounds, he was accused of being a racist. And that is very similar to what Chomsky has been charged with by the so-called 'socio-linguists' who argue that social environ trumps anything like a universal grammar and, therefore, claim that Chomsky is supporting a language class system that ghettoizes blacks, for example, because they do not speak 'proper' English.

In proposing a 'universal grammar' Chomsky broaches the problem of understanding skills that exist independently from the experiences of the individual. Chomsky argues that this universal grammar becomes a specific grammar through, perhaps, socio-biological systems that derive from the time and place that the infant and child experiences. But this is exactly the same rationale Jung used to postulate the collective unconscious. Jung argues that the collective unconscious, while universal, is expressed uniquely through the individual and his/her experiences, in the wordless language of meaningful imagery.

Chomsky also lightly introduces the problem of context when language is both used to create communication and understanding. To me, this is a huge hurdle for those in linguistics fixated on the rules of the acquisition of a language from within the language itself, because I do not understand how puns, for example, could be made intelligible from rules derived from within the language itself. Puns exist outside any rules of language, and yet are perfectly understandable — but only to those who have the right language skills and, perhaps, social awareness to make the pun 'work.' And it is here, too, that there is a curious link with Jung's ideas of symbols of transformation: the understanding of a transformative experience is done only when the previous rules are superseded by new ones outside of or beyond what had been up until then, the rule. Puns exist because of an understanding skill beyond the 'proper' rules of grammar/language, and Jungian transformation happens when understanding moves beyond an individual's personal rules of understanding. [And I've bumped into another weird fushigi: the only thread I'm following in the Goodreads social networking site, has just been discussing personal transformation that has changed completely one's understanding of life and their place in it.
M, every religion claims special rites are required for such experiences. I have to admit I had been listening to a series of books on my iPod as I worked, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Siddhartha, and I was somewhere in the middle of The Universe in a Single Atom when that switch in conscious processing occured. But I doubt it was Richard Gere's voice in my ears, reading the Dalai Lama's words, that caused the event! I think there is a physical basis in the brain for what happened, a switching from one stable topology to another, the collapse of observer into observed, or the formation of a metaobserver, I'm not really sure which.

I experienced the "sea of joy and love" much the same as Rose describes it, but a few days after the initial experience, in trying to understand it, logically. It happened as I internalized what the Buddhist idea of "attachment" means. As I consciously let go of attachments and felt the release, found I had the power to release them if I chose, the joy that was there was very powerful. I realized I could let go of the attachment to life, and did. The only thing I was not ready to let go of was my responsibilities to my boys, and whatever I might be able to do to help others with my life (Jeff).
Back to Chomsky and Jung.

Here's Noam Chomsky's (N.C.) discussion with Mitsou Ronat (M.R.):

Universal Grammar and Unresolved Questions

M.R.: These last years you have concentrated your linguistic work on the discovery of the conditions imposed on rules, that is, hypotheses concerning universal grammar. This is the third epoch of generative grammar which I defined at the beginning.

N.C.: We may think of universal grammar as the system of principles which characterizes the class of possible grammars by specifying how particular grammars are organized (what are the components and their relations), how the different rules of these components are constructed, how they interact, and so on.

M.R.: It is a sort of metatheory.

N.C.: And a set of empirical hypotheses bearing on the biologically determined language faculty. The task of the child learning a language is to choose from among the grammars provided by the principles of universal grammar that grammar which is compatible with the limited and imperfect data presented to him. That is to say, once again, that language acquisition is not a step-by-step process of generalization, association, and abstraction, going from linguistic data to the grammar, and that the subtlety of our understanding transcends by far what is presented in experience.

M.R.: The expression "mental organ" has appeared on occasion in these hypotheses...

N.C.: I think that is a correct and useful analogy, for reasons we have already discussed. The problems concerning this "mental organ" are very technical, perhaps too much so to enter into detail here [but which which link to an interesting fushigie with something else I was reading at about the same time — see 'Atwood' below this citation.] A particular grammar includes rewriting rules, transformational rules, lexical rules, rules of semantic and phonological interpretation. It seems that there are several components in a grammar, several classes of rules, each having specific properties, linked in a manner determined by the principles of universal grammar. The theory of universal grammar has as its goal to determine precisely the nature of each of these components of the grammar and their interaction. For reasons we have already discussed—having to do with the uniformity of acquisition of a highly complex and articulated structure on the basis of limited data—we can be sure that universal grammar, once we have understood it correctly, imposes severe restrictions on the variety of possible rule systems. But this means that the permissible rules cannot express in detail how they function, and it also means that the rules tend to overgenerate —one cannot include within the rules themselves the restrictions placed on their application. What many linguists have tried to do is to abstract from the rules some quite general principles that govern their application. The study of these abstract conditions is a particularly interesting part of universal grammar. I have been working on this topic since the beginning of the 1960s, and more specifically in the past few years. From about 1970, I have been working on and writing about some fairly radical hypotheses on this subject. These hypotheses restrict very severely the expressive power of transformational rules, thereby limiting the class of possible transformational grammars. To compensate for the fact that the rules, thus restricted, tend to generate far too many structures, several quite general principles have been proposed concerning the manner in which transformational rules must be applied to given structures. These general principles are of a very natural type, in my opinion, associated with quite reasonable constraints on information processing, in ways that are probably related quite closely to the language faculty. What I hope to be able to show is that these principles provide the basic framework for "mental computation," and that in interaction with rules of limited variety and expressive power, they suffice to explain the curious arrangement of phenomena that we discover when we study in detail how sentences are formed, used, and understood. I doubt that they will work entirely, but I believe that they are on the right track. This type of approach has proven very productive, much more so than I expected. In my opinion this is a reasonable way to develop the Extended Standard Theory. Some work has been published, and more is on the way. I feel that the work of the past few years is much more encouraging than has been the case for quite some time. I'm very happy about it ... (180-2)
I would like to return to the idea of the biological part of language acquisition, the so-called 'mental organ' or 'genetic links.' Until I read Lang. and Resp. I had not made an interesting link between an experiment I saw on TV with song birds and the 'problem' of the feral child, which is mentioned in Lang. and Resp.

The 'problem' of the feral child is that beyond a certain age if a human child is not exposed to language, then that person fails to acquire language skills. S/he may learn the words that can do things, like get food, or the like, but the real language of understanding seems lost. This is exactly comparable to the song bird experiment I saw, in which a baby song bird was incubated and hatched sonically isolated from the song birds of its genus — a so-called 'feral' bird, if you will. That bird did have a song, but it was without the depth and vibrancy of the normally raised song bird. And this biological connection between the acquisition of a behaviours is even more strongly supported by those people who as adults got for the first time the use of their eyes or ears, but found that they were unable to use them — whatever mechanism required in the body between the brain and the senses that is needed to turn light or sound into meaningful images or communication had never been created, and seemed to now be something that could not be created.

And, in another near fushigi, the problem of context in understanding language was hammered home, for me, when I read the following:

To what does this refer? When I first read it, it seemed obvious to me it was about the ecological problems facing the planet these days, with over exploitation and global warming. But is it? Here's the bigger picture:

Even with the entire context of the cited text, I first read 'The Nature Issue' as relating to the problems of the ecology, because that is the context I have come to expect with that kind of phrase. It took a couple of second thoughts to realize that the word 'issue' was referring to the magazine itself, and 'nature' to the travel. And even here, my thoughts turn to Jung and the differences between symbols and signs, and the problem of having adequate knowledge to know when a sign is a symbol and vice versa.

2011.03.20 — Language & Responsibility, Payback and a fushigi

This fushigi blog began in the blog "2011.03.18 —Language and Responsibility - Finished 2011.02.24." But even though it began with Noam Chomsky's Lang. & Resp., I'll begin here with Margaret Atwood.

In Payback she mentions the idea of a 'mental organ' associated with the concept of debt. She doesn't use the phrase 'mental organ' — that is a phrase from Lang. & Resp. — but this idea forms the pith of this fushigi. She refers to 'gene-linked configurations' as building blocks to what makes us fundamentally Human Sapiens SapiensHere is what she wrote:
... perhaps debt exists because we imagine it. It is the forms this imagining has taken — and their impact on lived reality — that I would like to explore.

Our present attitudes toward debt are deeply embedded in our entire culture — culture being, as primatologist Frans de Waal has said, "an extremely powerful modifier — affecting everything we do and are, penetrating to the core of human existence." But perhaps there are some even more basic patterns being modified.
Let's assume that all of the things human beings do — the good, the bad, and the ugly — can be located on a smorgasbord of behaviours with a sign on it reading Homo sapiens sapiens. These things aren't on the smorgasbord labelled Spiders, which is why we don't spend a lot of time eating bluebottle flies, nor are they on the smorgasbord labelled Dogs, which is why we don't go around marking fire hydrants with our glandular scents or shoving our noses into bags of old garbage. Part of our human smorgasbord has actual food on it, for, like all species, we are driven by appetite and hunger. The rest of the dishes on the table contain less concrete fears and desires — things such as "I'd like to fly," "I'd like to have sexual intercourse with you," "War is unifying to the tribe," "I'm afraid of snakes," and "What happens to me when I die?"

But there's nothing on the table that isn't based on or linked to our rudimentary human patterns — what we want, what we don't want, what we admire, what we despise, what we love, and what we hate and fear. Some geneticists even go so far as to speak of our "modules," as if we were electronic systems with chunks of functional circuitry that can be switched on and off. Whether such discrete modules actually exist as part of our genetically determined neural wiring is at present still a matter for experiment and debate. But in any case, I'm assuming that the older a recognizable pattern of behaviour is — the longer it's demonstrably been with us — the more integral it must be to our human-ness and the more cultural variations on it will be in evidence.

I'm not proposing a stamped-in-tin immutable "human nature" here — epigeneticists point out that genes can be expressed, or "switched on," and also suppressed in various ways, depending on the environment in which they find themselves. I'm merely saying that without gene-linked configurations — certain building blocks or foundation stones, if you like — the many variations of basic human behaviours that we see around us would never occur at all. An online video game such as Evercjuest, in which you have to work your way up from rabbit-skinner to castle-owning knight by selling and trading, co-operating with fellow players on group missions, and launching raids on other castles, would be unthinkable if we were not both a social species and one aware of hierarchies.

What corresponding ancient inner foundation stone underlies the elaborate fretwork of debt that surrounds us on every side? Why are we so open to offers of presenttime advantage in exchange for future though onerous repayment? Is it simply that we re programmed to snatch the low-hanging fruit and gobble down as much of it as we can, without thinking ahead to the fruitless days that may then lie ahead of us? Well, partly: seventy-two hours without fluids or two weeks without food and you're most likely dead, so if you don't eat some of that low-hanging fruit right now you aren't going to be around six months later to congratulate yourself on your capacity for selfrestraint and delayed gratification. In that respect, credit cards are almost guaranteed to make money for the lender, since "grab it now" may be a variant of a behaviour selected for in hunter-gatherer days, long before anyone ever thought about saving up for their retirement. A bird in the hand really was worth two in the bush then, and a bird crammed into your mouth was worth even more. But is it just a case of short-term gain followed by longterm pain? Is debt created from our own greed or even — more charitably — from our own need?

I postulate that there's another ancient inner foundation stone without which debt and credit structures could not exist: our sense of fairness. Viewed in the best light, this is an admirable human characteristic. Without our sense of fairness, the bright side of which is "one good turn deserves another," we wouldn't recognize the fairness of paying back what we've borrowed, and thus no would ever be stupid enough to lend anything to anyone else with an expectation of return (10-3).
I think this is interesting in itself, but now I here is one of the references to it in Lang. & Resp., brought up, here, by Mitsou Ronat, Chomsky's interviewer:

N.C.: We may think of universal grammar as the system of principles which characterizes the class of possible grammars by specifying how particular grammars are organized (what are the components and their relations), how the different rules of these components are constructed, how they interact, and so on.
M.R.: It is a sort of metatheory.

N.C.: And a set of empirical hypotheses bearing on the biologically determined language faculty. The task of the child learning a language is to choose from among the grammars provided by the principles of universal grammar that grammar which is compatible with the limited and imperfect data presented to him. That is to say, once again, that language acquisition is not a step-by-step process of generalization, association, and abstraction, going from linguistic data to the grammar, and that the subtlety of our understanding transcends by far what is presented in experience.

M.R.: The expression "mental organ" has appeared on occasion in these hypotheses...

N.C.: I think that is a correct and useful analogy, for reasons we have already discussed. The problems concerning this "mental organ" are very technical, perhaps too much so to enter into detail here. A particular grammar includes rewriting rules, transformational rules, lexical rules, rules of semantic and phonological interpretation. It seems that there are several components in a grammar, several classes of rules, each having specific properties, linked in a manner determined by the principles of universal grammar. The theory of universal grammar has as its goal to determine precisely the nature of each of these components of the grammar and their interaction. For reasons we have already discussed—having to do with the uniformity of acquisition of a highly complex and articulated structure on the basis of limited data—we can be sure that universal grammar, once we have understood it correctly, imposes severe restrictions on the variety of possible rule systems...(180-1).
I think that this is an interesting, albeit little, fushigi. But the idea of a 'mental organ' relating to language is particularly fascinating, and I explore it more fully on my blog Lang & Resp.