Sunday, 15 April 2012

Sapere aude, grown-up man!

As a teenager, I found in my parents' bookcase a little book, which I still have in my bookshelf: "Weisheit des Lächenden Lebens." written by Lin Yutang.

A section of the book critical regarding religious believes has stayed with my thinking since I had read it decades ago. 

That section could be summarized as: Should humans be a good person, because being threatened with hell or rewarded with heaven or should humans be a good human being on your own thinking?

Well, I found these days – through a Facebook link - a school essay [*] on the same topic to which I would like to refer here because it deserves it to be shared:

According to Sigmund Freud, the development of religious ideas is a psychological phenomenon: 
  • Psychoanalysis has taught us to know the intimate connection between the father complex and belief in God has shown us that a personal God is psychologically nothing but exalted father and leads us daily aware of how young people lose their religious beliefs as soon as the father's authority breaks down. As parents, we recognize that is the complex roots of religious “needs” "(S. Freud, Totem und Taboo).
  • The model of wish-fulfilment, Freud applies it also to the origin and cause of religion. Religious concepts are "not precipitation or final results of experience or thinking", but "illusions, fulfillment of the oldest, strongest and most urgent wishes of mankind, the secret of their strength is the strength of these wishes" (Freud: Die Zukunft einer Illusion)
  • This desire to refer to a helpless, childlike man who longs for protection from the hazards of life. It is all about projection. The unclear inner perception is projected outward to something otherworldly way. All of these wishes are infantile desire according to Freud. The soothing ominous threatening powers in primitive religions or of God the Father in monotheistic religions brings no real help, but a psychological relief. Freud had doubted whether a religious life of man would have made life happier and more fulfilled. Likewise, it is not only a measure of morality, but also support of the immorality. Consequently another moral standard is to be used instead of religion: the rationality.
  • Not religious rules and prohibitions should confine the driving desire of the people, but their own reason and intelligence. Man should detach from its expectations of the afterlife and relate with all his means and powers to this worldly existence. This the mature, adult, mature person can achieve.
Freud continued in his work thinking that made modern Europe, the thoughts of „enlightement“ emerging in the second half of the 17th century. A good reading about life, though and lasting impact of scientists, philosphers and artists laying the foundation of modern (western) world is found in „Aufklärung – Das Europäische Projekt“ (Manfred Geiger, Rowohlt Verlag, 2012).

Ukko El'Hob
p.m. first posted in April 2012 and updated on 13th October 2013

[*]  after Annette Theis, Von-der Leyen-High School, Blieskastel (Germany): htm; in German 

Sunday, 8 April 2012

In the pressure cooker - survival strategy

We started the Anthropocene; human economic activity is driving this planet into a new geological age. Since first estimates of “human domination of earth's ecosystems” two decades ago (P.M. Vitousek et al. 1997, Science Vol. 277) much more evidence has built up that our daily activities gather such force that they drive the globe in the same manner as ordinary natural process do. The size of human population, its appetite for natural resources, and the speed turning these around transform landscape, ecosystems and global biogeochemical cycles for, e.g. carbon, nitrogen, water or our wastes. 

In addition we consume directly about 20% of the global primary production -  the marine fishery example “Modern fisheries, including both landings and by-catch, currently consume 24-35% of global marine primary production in the continental shelf and major up-welling areas, corresponding closely to recent estimates that humans now appropriate roughly one quarter of the land's potential net primary production as well. Humans are thus the dominant marine predator on earth... meaning that they [fisheries stocks] are being harvested at rates estimated to be near their maximum sustainable limit, 24% are over-exploited or depleted, meaning that they are being harvested at rates not sustainable in the long term, and 1% are considered to be recovering from depletion.” (J.E. Duffy, Marine Biodiversity and Food;  earthportal, quoted: 8th April 2012). 

Modern slash and burn clearing for agriculture
This experience calls for global stewardship, going well beyond climate change concerns because most of our economic use of  the planet's resources is undertaken in a stone-age like manner - "search, find and, gather" - as in modern marine fishery;  or at best  as "slash, burn and grow", as done once in neolithic agriculture, or nowadays for oil.  However, many local settings or restricted use-cases of sustainable use are  found,  evidently most often for activities for which we care because of our cultural, social or economic value systems. It is understood that lasting,  sustainable use of resources requires binding these value systems into one balanced set to guide our practice to the best of our knowledge.

State of Planet under pressure

Gathering for the conference “Planet under Pressure” - 26th-29th March London - to argue how to make best if that unprecedented situation our peers published the “State of the Planet Declaration" [1]:
  • Research demonstrates that the continued functioning of the Earth system as it has supported the well-being of human civilization in recent centuries is at risk. Without action, we could face threats to water, food, biodiversity and other critical resources: these threats risk intensifying economic, ecological and social crises, creating the potential for a humanitarian emergency on a global scale.
  • In one lifetime our increasingly interconnected and interdependent economic, social, cultural and political systems have come to place pressures on the environment that may cause fundamental changes in the Earth system and move us beyond safe natural boundaries. But the same interconnectedness provides the potential for solutions: new ideas can form and spread quickly, creating the momentum for the major transformation required for a truly sustainable planet.
  • The defining challenge of our age is to safeguard Earth's natural processes to ensure the well-being of civilization while eradicating poverty, reducing conflict over resources, and supporting human and ecosystem health.
  • As consumption accelerates everywhere and world population rises, it is no longer sufficient to work towards a distant ideal of sustainable development. Global sustainability must become a foundation of society. It can and must be part of the bedrock of nation states and the fabric of societies.

What's on stage - one?

Curiously, the global process are less visible to us; we, as citizen in our daily life, cannot grasp easily the sheers size of our human activities. What does it mean people consuming annually about 91.000 TerraWattHours energy? What does it mean that global primary production is about half terrestrial and half marine and we consume directly about a fifth of it?

Science, research and reason based choices can handle these complexities; and modern societies that have a science base could grasp them through their educational systems. Local, traditional knowledge based societies, although they miss the global scale, they have a way of functioning in which the need to nurture commons is a self-evident behaviour and thus stewardship comes naturally. Between these two poles there is a range of societies in which poverty ravages and thus neither caring of commons  nor understanding the global picture is an evident option.

Thus it is to acknowledge: 

“Humanity's impact on the Earth system has become comparable to planetary-scale geological processes such as ice ages. Consensus is growing that we have driven the planet into a new epoch, the Anthropocene, in which many Earth-system processes and the living fabric of ecosystems are now dominated by human activities.”  

“These insights demand a new perception of responsibilities and accountability of nation states to support planetary stewardship. A crucial transformation is to move away from income as the key constituent of well-being and to develop new indicators that measure actual improvements in well-being at all scales. Equity in opportunities to improve well-being and eradication of poverty at the individual level will also play pivotal roles in the transition towards planetary stewardship.”

 What's on stage -  two? 

The global village is emerging rapidly, and it gets visible - least on this side of the digital divide. As villagers we know about our neighbours; their deeds, strengths and failures. As villagers we may hate each other, but even then we are bundled into one undertaking. Villagers know that they are bound to work together, or fail, in particular to face the challenges of the environment - be it on the fields of the Nile valley or keeping up shore defences  at the North Sea. The village is a interconnected system of surprising complexity; mutual assistance and caring is possible as well as destructive run-away reactions.  The risk for the latter rises in the global village.

Thus, opportunities and risks:

“The Earth system is a complex, interconnected system that includes the global economy and society, which are themselves highly interconnected and interdependent. Such systems can confer remarkable stability and facilitate rapid innovation. But they are also susceptible to abrupt and rapid changes and crises, such as global financial meltdowns or the volatility of the global food system.”

"A commitment to the proposal for universal Sustainable Development Goals is needed, as goals for Global Sustainability. These should be developed to take account of the synergies and trade-offs in and between areas such as food, water and energy security, maintenance of biodiversity and ecosystem services, sustainable urbanisation, social inclusion and livelihoods, protection of seas and oceans, and sustainable consumption and production."  

 What's on stage -  three?  

Monetary value is key to have built a global network of exchange of goods and services. Maximising monetary value is the main driver in our societies to reduce process inefficiency. It locked appealingly simple and worked convincingly if applied to local problems, as long as side effects could be externalised, following the "the solution to pollution is dilution" - approach; but that got stuck as "your solution is my pollution". There is the end to dilution. Thus, simplicity of optimised single value driven choices does not work any more.. 

Thus, value and action:

“Recognition of the monetary and non-monetary values of public goods such as ecosystem services, education, health and global common resources such as the oceans and the atmosphere. These must be properly factored into management and decision-making frameworks at the national and sub-national levels to ensure that economic activities do not impose external costs on the global commons. Corrective measures that internalize costs and minimize the impacts on the commons need to be identified and implemented through regulatory and market-based mechanisms.”

...towards Anthropocene
“Our highly interconnected global society has the potential to innovate rapidly. The international scientific community must rapidly reorganize to focus on global sustainability solutions. We must develop a new strategy for creating and rapidly translating knowledge into action, which will form part of a new contract between science and society, with commitments from both sides.”

One, two,  three  - thus!

We acknowledge that humanity's activities form now a planet-scale geological process, starting the Anthropocene. WE will keep it functioning - for our survival in the pressure cooker. Global stewardship will take care of the globe and its commons, of  reason based choices favouring social inclusion, knowledge and participation.  

[1] quotes in italic are from "State of Planet Declaration"

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Emancipation from Europe's arabo-judeo-christian heritage - enlightenment!

The last election campaign for the French President  was an event for Europe. We should add to it, not letting our neighbour alone. Their debates are our debates. Thus, I reacted to Nicolas Sarkozy:  "Je crois aux racines chrétiennes de la France. Il suffit de voir le long tissu de cathédrales et d'églises...  Quand on ne sait pas d'où on vient, on ne peut pas savoir où on va !" (Nicolas SARKOZY  at Ormes, 26/03/2012).  A non-surprising statement  from Nicolas "Le President".

My polemic: one might consider too his second phrase " Quand on ne sait pas d'où on vient, on ne peut pas savoir où on va ! ", but in the light of the events during the night 23rd / 24th August 1572  - a faith-based mass-killing in Paris organised by the authorities. Certainly not a nice "racine", but modern Europe, modern France was built in a process of emancipation from these roots. That matters Monsieur Le President!

Focussing our identity to "racines chrétiennes" is much too limited; but pointing to that immediately brings up a slightly extended cliché namely the "...l'héritage judéo-chré bon nombre de pays européens...."; so a friend of mine arguing in defence of  Nicolas "Le President" . That is a bit wider concept, limited and additive and neglecting the dialectic of the historical processes, but the latter could be choice in the heat of the election debate. Nevertheless  that cliché is too narrow too, but, as Einstein is supposed to have said, "to any problem there is a solution, simple, neat and wrong". So let simplify a bit less to capture more features and to avoid caricaturization. 

Let's consider two major additional angles. First; the lasting Arabic influence on Europe, which is by cultural transfer and opposition to our  "... l'héritage arabo-judéo-chrétien...". Second; Europe's modernity has built itself in opposition to this heritage, which to a fair degree is  a frightening triad of "... théocratie, fondamentalisme, et jihad..." for the benefit of those in  power. 

The jihad, although  at the northern shores of the Mediterranean more commonly called "crusade" or "reconquista", is oriented outward to project power and faith.  Theocracy and fundamentalism are oriented inward to restrict style of life and content of thought in the civil society.

Marianne Aatz, 2009 "Apokalyptischen Reiter"
Interesting and rightly, this "triad" worries us when looking nowadays towards the orient;  and we feel joy and hope when the triad of  "... théocratie, fondamentalisme, et jihad..." is overcome. The shadows of our own past rise fear when seeing our "racines..." and how societies may functioning there in the orient. Neverteheless our "l'héritage arabo-judéo-chrétien" reflects on the  process, by which we were defining Europe's identity during the first thousand years following the crumble of the Roman empire. But that Europe, the medieval Europe is gone, although "...le long tissue de ces bâtiments et vestiges..." is found in Europe, is pleasant to see, and rewarding to study. But nevertheless we feel happy to live in "späteren Zeiten" (later times). 

Let's draw some traits of a bigger picture of our European "l'héritage arabo-judéo-chrétien" and its dialectic to overcome the simplistic reference to its hegemonic trait, Christianity. Such a bigger picture is needed, because recent migration has accumulated in Europe's civil society  quantitative modifications that drive now a qualitative change. We have a multiple heritage; cultural reference to Judaism, Christianity and Islam (listed in historical order) is possible within it - building on commonalities and differences. All three "religions of  the book" belong to this part of the world - around the Mediterranean sea. They together distinguish it from other parts of the globe further east or south and their hegemonic faiths, cultures and heritages. However our emancipation from our "racines  arabo-judéo-chrétien" is the essential process that lead and is leading to nowadays Europe. Europe's modernity is the antithesis to its theocratic and fundamentalist heritage by overcoming the concept of "jihad / crusade". Only part of this is achieved and  modernity is at risk when emancipation stops. 

Looking at Europe, what is the time-line of our "...l'héritage chrétien..."? It starts with a period of codification of basic believes happening on both shores of the Mediterranean Sea and ending about 1300 years ago, when the balance of codification was tipped by the French kings against Arianism and in favour of Catholicism. Since then we find a variable southern boundary of European Christianity, as well on the Iberian or Italian peninsular including Mediterranean islands as on the Balkan.  Christian heritage east and north of the Rhine grew only since the last 1100 years ago, and less than 900 years at northern and eastern shores of the Baltic. Thus our "l'héritage chrétien" was experienced very differently in different parts of Europe. Within this variable geographical space of Christianity internal struggle and war  was common: about the right faith, theological dogmas and power; the latter often seen given by grace of God to his representatives on earth.  Internal cleavages opened in this historical homeland of Christianity - opposing orthodox and catholic thinking about state and church, opposing protestant and catholic concepts of God's grace, contesting ecclesiastic and worldly authorities by various faith-driven movements. Theocratic government, fundamentalist believes, and holy war made up a faire share of our "...l'héritage chrétien...". Not a very nice heritage to live with, but on the other side not negligible either the many passionate achievements and laborious technological progress man made during these times. 

Looking at Europe's "... l'héritage judéo..." we may wish to put aside the archaic believe, which possibly is typical for tribal societies, that [a] god has assigned a specific piece of land to his people.  Nevertheless it is a fantastic achievement of  tradition among Jewish people to have kept that tradition alive. This archaic believe is deadly virulent in Palestine today and takes  it most primitive form,  struggle for land.  However the same believe about "assigned by God" forms also part of our European cultural heritage. It motivated holy wars, the crusades, and thus kept virulent a tradition to make war acceptable if motivated by faith. The historical Jewish state and people, which was sandwiched between Egyptian and Mesopotamian powers, was erased by the Roman emperor Titus. He crashed  in year 77 a risk of a further revolt by ethnic cleansing of the Jewish state. Since then Jewish people were dispersed about wide stretches of Europe, Asia and Africa. They were in constant risk to suffer further ethnic cleansing, in particular in Europe including its ever-to-remember climax in the holocaust organised by the German state. Thus our " ... l'héritage judéo-chrétien..." is to a very far degree a history of an oppressive hegemonic culture and threatened minority culture; seldom inter-spaced by short periods of cooperation and transcultural exchanges. Therefore Israel is determined that no further ethnic cleansing of Jewish people may occur and them being the hegemonic culture. To that end Israel is supported by many; not  a very nice heritage to live with either.

Mukhammad ibn Musa Al-Khorezmi (lived about 780-850)
was the chief mathematician in an academy of sciences
Looking for  "... l'héritage arabo..." of Europe or possibly better  "... l'héritage islamo..." of Europe, we may put aside the somewhat recent episodes of "Türken vor Wien" (1529 and 1683). These episodes belong to more to post-medieval Europe and its transition to modernity, although it triggered at times a well trained reflex to defend Europe on grounds of culture and faith. A more important contribution  from south-eastern Europe to our heritage  seems to be the design of  lasting ethical-religious cleavages established there, which hinders prospect and development still today.  Compared to that the well referenced Islamic cultures of ruling Berber and Arab clans on the Iberian Peninsular that had helped a transcultural transfer of knowledge and philosophy from the classical past of Europe's Mediterranean cultures, from Arabic cultures in Mesopotamian and northern Africa; however also including the reference to theocratic or autocratic governance structures and fundamentalist civil society. A similar process, although of lesser influence, has happened on the Italian peninsular including Sicily; being there modulated by ruling Norman clans and German emperors of the late dynasty of "regis salici". Little of this knowledge and  thinking, which  finally was taken up to give birth to Europe's modernity, could have emerged in Europe without these  transcultural transfers including transfers into ecclesiastic circles. Likewise Europe's determination to take up struggle and war for motives of faith possibly would be lesser without its cultural experience of "reconquista".

The antithesis to our  "... l'héritage arabo-judéo-chrétien..." is Europe's emancipation from theocracy and fundamentalism. Historically this process succeeded as antithesis to its hegemonic medieval trait, Christianity. Europe's emancipation from the non-hegemonic traits, namely the " ... l'héritage arabo-judéo...", has succeeded lesser and happened mainly by transcultural transfers. Neither are the consequences of the archaic believe in "land assigned by God" mitigated nor are the theocratic or fundamentalist constraints on our civil societies confined, which are exercised by  religious fundamentalism of our  "... l'héritage arabo-judéo-chrétien...". 
Kant & Globe
Europe's process of emancipation from its "... l'héritage arabo-judéo-chrétien..." emerged in the civil society stage with the age of enlightenment, the modernity; first in France, England and Germany and finally all over Europe. However before René Descartes could write and publish his famous "Discourse de la Methode" in 1637, which by many is seen as marker of the begin of the enlightenment, much had happened already that reshaped thinking of European elites: Reworking the thinking of classical Mediterranean times that was transposed by savants of Arabic origin, pondering the depths of Christian thinking how to narrow the gap between dreadful daily life and promises of the script,... and building by trial and error scientific understanding of the world. Even more has happened before Imanuel Kant published in December 1784, in response to a competition,  his most famous essay  on emancipation  “Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity". Emancipation, thus enlightenment  " der Ausgang des Menschen aus seiner selbstverschuldeten Unmündigkeit. Unmündigkeit ist das Unvermögen, sich seines Verstandes ohne Leitung eines anderen zu bedienen. Selbstverschuldet ist diese Unmündigkeit, wenn die Ursache derselben nicht am Mangel des Verstandes, sondern der Entschließung und des Mutes liegt, sich seiner ohne Leitung eines andern zu bedienen. Sapere aude! Habe Mut, dich deines eigenen Verstandes zu bedienen! ...[dazu] aber wird nichts erfordert als Freiheit; und zwar die unschädlichste unter allem, was nur Freiheit heißen mag, nämlich die: von seiner Vernunft in allen Stücken öffentlichen Gebrauch zu machen..."; thus the freedom to exercise reason in all public causes
This is what Europe has put in place instead of the "frightening triad": - freedom, to exercise reason  in all public causes, Sapere aude!

Five years after a German philosopher, who lived most of his life in a remote town far east, summarized  the emancipatory programme for Europe's modernity in 2569 words, the  French revolution put the cultural programme "emancipation" on the political stage; fifty years later the industrial revolution put on programme the social emancipation; hundred-fifty years later the end of World War II sparked global emancipation..and here we go! Since some centuries Europe struggles to put modernity into reality, with much success, under steady attack and with failures, but shaping the concepts of human rights, of the autonomy of human thinking, or of the genuine value of each and any human individual. That's Europe, that's our Promethean heritage - if heritage has to be - and  Nicolas "Le past-President" was quit right:  Quand on ne sait pas d'où on vient, on ne peut pas savoir où on va !

Up-date 20th August 2012
Ukko El'Hob