January 20, 2012

Thomas Berry - Philosophy and Evolution

I was assigned to read Thomas Berry's The Viable Human, which was then a person/essay, I've never heard of so I wasn't sure what to expect. Well it didn't take me long into reading his essay before I could probably guess that I was going to disagree with almost everything he had to say, except for his overall conclusion. People should take a more active stance on how they see the environment and their place within it, but Berry gets there only through misunderstanding, mysticism and idealism.

It really comes from the first page of his essay and becomes more blatant further in. I agree with his first line that, "We need to move from our Human Centered- to an Earth-centered norm of reality and value." Yet, his second line starts the path to error and he begins to lose support and respectability. 

Berry qualifies the first sentence by saying that, "Only in this way [Changing from human-centered view to a earth-centered view] can we fulfill our human role within the functioning of the planet we live on." Which doesn't seem like such a big deal, but the 'role' isn't just something idealistic for Berry it's something real.

This subtle misunderstanding of evolution continues with something that most people might let slide, as Berry sums up his view of evolution, "As with every species, there was a need for humans to establish their niche, a sustainable position in the larger community of life, a way of obtaining food, shelter, and clothing." Yet, species don't get created and look for a niche, there are interacting factors and create subtle changes and create something different that is better adapted for the situation it is in, period. There is no talk of niche's or something having to fit in.

The community of life is, also a cover up for describing the struggle for life as it actually is.  Animals don't fit into a sustainable position and happily fill the web of life. If a cat can kill every bird/rodent on an island it will and has, despite whatever anyone thinks about the 'niceness' of cats or how the ecosystem strives towards balance.

Thomas, has attempted to slide in his view slowly with the two quotes above and then comes out and says more strongly that, "Human society in its beginnings would not have survived if it had not had some basic role to fulfill within the larger Earth community composed of all its geological as well as its biological elements." Animals don't exist and wait to be placed where it's role will be good and balanced. Birds didn't evolve wings and wait for a role of flight. The potential for flight was always there, but it isn't a role to be filled like a casting call for a script. Berry is putting the buggy in front of the horse. Human society wouldn't have evolved if there wasn't something to exploit in the first place.

Worse than that though is what he seems to be implying. That the Earth neatly fits together into something balanced and meant to be.  Evolution doesn't neatly fit something in with the geological and biological background, each animal is trying to be more successful than the next to the point that about 98% of all life that existed has become extinct.

He can argue the above because he knows that, "If we look back over the total course of Earth['s] development, we find that there was a consistent florescence [blooming] of the life process in the larger arc of the planet's development over some billions of years. Innumerable catastrophic events occurred in both the geological and biological realms but not of these could cause the forebodings such as we might experience at present." 

The earth is not in a steady state which, to Berry's credit, he seems to understand, but what he doesn't seem to get is that life isn't a fair and balanced game where everything works together to create a viable world. The earth may look like it has a balance and indeed many animals have found some long term stability, but it isn't supposed to be that way, just as the world isn't supposed to be any way in particular; it just happens to be the way it is now, which inherently shouldn't be viewed as anything special. There is no blooming just an unfolding ongoing struggle to which everything will eventually lose.

Moving a little away from Berry, you can say the would should be some way, but it should never be an appeal to how the earth 'naturally was' or 'ideally would be'. Those are conceptions that are anthropomorphic and idealized. The earth has no way 'it should be' expect in the subjective eyes of the person who is telling you. Take lessons from that, don't worry about what naturally is, or what has been in the past, those aren't limits for what the future can look like.

Human's are just starting to get the power to create the environment they want, and it can and should be un-natural. Schopenhauer see's the reality of the world, not viewable through Berry's rose coloured glasses,  and while it may need a little less pollution, it doesn't provide any roles or path that should be taken.

Thanks for reading,

January 9, 2012

Cee Lo Green - Stupid or Just Religious?

First of all I know that the title is a false dilemma, so if your here just to point that out, congratulations for being so clever. This is my first post in a while, but I've been busy moving, getting ready for my masters program and hibernating (It's cold in Canada).

Anyway, I was getting ready to break out of the new years slump when I heard about Cee Lo Green's New Years Eve performance where he changed the words to John Lennon's song Imagine.  Now I'm not a huge Beatles fan, but I don't mind them by any means and I respect what a song is trying to say when it does have a clear message, which is more than I can say for Cee Lo.

I'm also an atheist, so the words that were changed drew a lot of interest. Instead of saying, "Nothing to kill or die for and no religion too." Cee Lo chose to sing, "Nothing to kill or die for and all religion's true."

I understand the personal reasons that could have lead Cee Lo Green to change the words of the song to represent himself better, and he should have the freedom to do so, but I also have the freedom to criticize the changes he made.

The problem isn't that Cee Lo made changes to the song, it's that the changes he made ruined the message/meaning of the song. John Lennon wasn't bashing religion when he sang of there being an absence of religion. He was creating a situation where all the things that define and keep people separate from each other were magically taken away, so that people could be free to get along.  That being the case I don't see why even a religious person would have a problem with the hypothetical situation, just as no religious person should have a problem with John Rawl's Vail of Ignorance

It's a hypothetical situation created to show something, and if you don't like what you see because, you see that the world would be better off without religion than you don't have a problem with the hypothetical, you have a problem with religion. However, if you see the world as worse off without religion in the scenario 'Imagine' creates then there is no need to be offended by it, or to change the words.

That said, lets look at what Cee Lo Green created when he changed the words. Instead of there being no religion in the hypothetical situation, all religions are true. Well, that's nice to say, but how would it really work?

1. There could be one world where the rules change all the time, and then what ever your religion says comes true. It would  be an arbitrary world where everyone's religion's were true, but where it would be impossible to really communicate with others because of basic incompatibilities. For instance, 2+2 would be 4 for some people and maybe other people would have a religion where 2+2 = 5 and in Cee Lo's world both of them would  be correct. Yet, this complete incompatibility would leave people unable to communicate basic truths to each other and even if they could communicate them, they would be meaningless to the other person who has their own truth. 

2. Another way for it to work would be for every person to have their own little world where what their personal religion says is true. This is a world where you can be happy about having the capital 't' truth that just doesn't exist now, but it is also a world disconnected from everyone else. 

Either way, these are situations that seem less desirable than the world in which we currently reside, but that's alright because Cee Lo tweeted a clarification for us, "Yo I meant no disrespect by changing the lyric guys! I was trying to say a world were u could believe what u wanted that’s all.”

I have a news flash for Cee Lo, we live in a world where you can believe whatever you want! You don't have to create a hypothetical situation so see what that world looks like. There is no thought police, and the only limitations are in John Lennon's terms, what you can 'Imagine'.

So while he meant no disrespect, he did manage to take a classic song, ruin the message it had and create a new message that doesn't make any sense. If this were a game of clue we would find Mr. Green in the study humming while he urinated on John Lennon's rug that just so happened to tie the room together.

I've clearly put more thought into this than Cee Lo did, because I think anyone who knows the message of the song and then went through the implications of Cee Lo's words would come to the same conclusions I have.

Thanks for reading,
-the moral skeptic

P.S. To those who were waiting to find out what a false dilemma was, it's when you're given a choice between a limited number of things and the answer isn't necessarily contained within the list of choices. Cee Lo Green is both stupid and religious, a choice excluded in the title.