Monthly Archives: May 2006

The True (Techni)colours of Al Gore

I used to think former vice-president Al Gore was an idiot. He was portrayed as such by the media. And people, like myself, bought into this unfair caricature. It was not until I read about David Suzuki’s encounter with Mr Gore that I was given a different perspective.

Mr Gore as vice-president used to avoid environmental issues in political campaigning. It was something of a dead platform he believed. The American people simply weren’t ready to hear it. And he knew it would not give him a chance in elections.

And how right he is. Politics isn’t about the issues. It is about choosing the right issues that win elections. How sad it is that something as important as the environment – our future – should be left out of the political discourse because it lessens one’s chance in winning elections. It says something about the fickleness of politics, particularly democracy.

And now that Mr Gore is no longer a man with political ambitions he can say what he wants, say what really is on his mind. It is truly a pity that good men (as well as the bad) in politics must spend much time and effort to deceive the public during the election campaign in order to do what they really want when they get into power. It is this deception that has led us to the environmental degradation today. But I blame not politicians (though they have a hand in it) but also voters must learn to see the political rhetoric for what it is and make better choices for our future’s sake.

The relativity of “theory”

The term “theory” today is often used to mean Postmodernism theory or just Postmodernism. And because of this Postmodernism is often accused of high jacking the term. But that is just plain wrong.

In acts of elitism this may have occurred a century ago and can be said to still be practiced today. The term “philosophy” could be seen as one such word. Today it represents only the Western tradition (Russell, Kant, etc) and quietly excludes Eastern thought (Confucius, Vasubandhu, etc) all together. But theory is somehow different.

Theory as a term to be used as a stand-alone term represents a set of values, those of Postmodern thought, and it was not used in this manner until Postmodernism came along. Through an act of defamiliarity it has gained momentum through usage. And there is nothing wrong with this. As Postmodernism labours to point out words only have meaning insofar as a series of differences.

A word can be said to be relative to all usage within a language or even against all languages. I do not see there is snobbery or elitist tendency in Postmodernism’s appropriation of the term, but rather it has been seen as misappropriation and that it is a misunderstanding of Postmodern thought and its non-hidden agenda. It is a case of theory of relativity as well as being the relativity of (the term) “theory”.

Mr Blair, thermostats and nuclear power

There is this man named Tony Blair who one day decided to do something for the environment and then a month later decided to do another. Must be a pain to be scrutinized in the public light in this way.

What exactly is Postmodernism?

It seems nowadays we all know that we live in Postmodernism. But most are at a loss as to what exactly it is. And therein lies the problem. Perhaps it is better not to state what it is, but rather say what it does. While what Postmodernism “does” is not new, simply before the term Postmodernism came along we did not have a name for the combination of things it does. Here are just some of the things Postmodernism does.

Postmodernism is highly reflexive in the (grammar) sense of “reflection” rather than reflex. Before Postmodernism much of Western intellectualism tended to criticize the Other – other ways of thought, etc. It ignored its own failings by shutting out any possibility of internal critique. To borrow a term from late twentieth-century Russian political development Postmodernism ushered in an era of openness.

Actually much of that development in the former Soviet was due to Postmodern thought. Breaking down discourses is something Postmodernism does particularly well. No opinion is free from bias (including Postmodernism) as it is a condition of existence to which we are condemned to. Some discourses intentionally hide their bias. While others subconsciously do so. But either way they must be exposed, they must be open to scrutiny.

Postmodernism also exposes the reality of all claims as artificial constructs, that they are all a matter of choice. What becomes popular or dominant is only a matter of circumstance, sometimes through favourable conditions, and more often through accident. Chance plays more a role than choice. In other words, things are more out of our control than we really want to admit. Often Postmodernism is described as arbitrariness and relativity.

I have thus far avoided any link to Modernism because critics of Postmodernism misunderstand the latter’s intention believing it is no different to the Modernism that came before. But through a commitment to the belief and practice of relativity, arbitrariness, discourse analysis, openness and scrutiny Postmodernism has changed the way think. The intellectual mood is different to our recent past and it is different in a better way. But that does not mean we are living in a better world. This is another feature of Postmodernism – we longer believe in a unidirectional, universal, linear progression of history and development. Because all this talk of Modernism and Postmodernism really only has meaning only as difference to each other, in a form of relativism. There is nothing intrinsic in their definitions. And to think any different is to not understand what Postmodernism is all about. And that being wrong is a possibly that one must keep in mind at all times.

SDB News – May 2006

This month has been another very slow month. Finding the time to keep up with the news and write about it has been a struggle. The main goal is then to focus on “pillar” posts, which I see as my strength when taking time into consideration.

There have also been some aesthetic and practical changes to the appearance of SDB. The calendar function is now gone. Its function only seemed to be to highlight blogging infrequency. The lesson here is that calendars are only good if you are a prolific poster. So it seemed logical to remove it and concentrate on content – quality over quantity – instead.

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Paradigm shift, dolphins, language

When man saw in his telescope a planet for the first time he noticed it was round and came to guess that his own planet (indeed that is what it was) might also be round. The act of circumnavigation by Christopher Columbus (even though it was not quite a circumnavigation – he mistook America for Asia) proved it conclusively. This is just one instance of how wrong one can be from using his senses alone. Sure, the earth seems to be flat, but it is not. The discovery brought about a major shift in our thinking to say the least.

Such shifts are not uncommon as Thomas Kuhn has famously shown – he called them paradigm shifts. Paradigm shifts have occurred many times throughout history. That the Earth revolves around the sun was one such shift. Less dramatic was the discovery that language does not have inherent meaning (that it is arbitray) is another. Our perceptions change or shift through such discoveries.

But how do paradigms come into existance? Most simply through a lack of information. The terracentric view of astronomy came to hold sway (at least in Western culture) – partly but not holy wholy – because 1) it seems that way since the planet does not feel like it is moving, and 2) a book (the Bible) said so. This is nothing but presumption from available information, without another method to verify it that it comes to become fact. And often with persumption comes arrogance, as in the following case.

It has been discovered that dolphins actually call each other by something akin to a name, suggesting that they have the capacity – like humans – for language. But why have we come to presume for such a long time that we are the only creatures on this planet to have language capacity is a complex and perplexing one. In our conceit we have dulled our senses to sounds that turn out to be sophisticated communication, perhaps as sophisticated as ours. Or to put it another way, we have simply dismissed something as noise when in fact it was language.

So please tell me: how many times do we have to make the same mistake before we will learn to be humbled by how little we really know? Or are we again going to congratulate ourselves for making such “great” discoveries and forget our past stupidities?

Why this blog was aimed at the wrong audience

Peter Gibson in this article argued a very good point – that people in poorer areas are simply too busy with life to worry about ozone depletion. He points out that the majority of people in green groups (in developed Western nations, at least) are mostly white middle class. In other words their message and concerns are for areas already well established and rich, or rather environmentalism is for those who afford to be concerned about the environment.

Most of the world’s population today still do not have internet access. So I am really talking preaching to other like-minded people who do not need to hear the message. What I do need to do then is not work for my already nice clean area, but help those in other areas in need of help.

Often I have talked about leaving human concerns out of the equation – calling this “strong sustainability” – but really leaving economics and government out is not the same thing as working for human rights. So I must reassess my line of thinking.

The work ahead then is both for the environment and for humankind. While the environment is most definitely a victim of politics and capitalism, I now must reconsider that the underprivileged and the need-not-be lower class are also part of the same systematic victimization.

Thank you, Mr Gibson.