Posted January 14, 2014
by Jerry Alatalo
“It is demonstrable that many of the obstacles for change which have been attributed to human nature are in fact due to the inertia and to the voluntary desire of powerful classes to maintain the existing status.”
– John Dewey (1859-1952)
There are times when one wishes that the world of ideas could be shrunk down into a form which could be held in one’s hands. So many varying theories are out there in all the various fields of study. Perhaps there is some agreement on your part that sometimes it seems the amount of information the human race has created is “more information than I needed”, or perhaps people who have a curious nature seem drawn like magnets to abstract thinking which in instances feels somewhat like quicksand.
This is intellectual whining in a sense, perhaps what some people call “information overload”, par for the course for those who volunteer themselves to exploring human thought. So, here I am in my small boat, my dinghy, sailing about in the oceans of thoughts created by other explorers who most likely have created large yachts through their intense study and introspection. Credit is owed to all men and women who enter into the abstract worlds of thought, a noble activity requiring determination, courage, hope, and vision.
As one who has come to writing and researching in a somewhat “tardy” way, having only begun surfing the internet a little more than two years ago, a catching up with men and women who have grown up staring into their computers is in process. It is a fascinating process in that there is so much available to learn, almost as if a person can go to the most prestigious universities without enrolling for classes. University professors vary in their degree of concern on whether their students complete their courses and have gained some real, practical knowledge – whether the goals of education were accomplished.
This is understandable. Burnout is felt at times by all people, not only academics but the factory worker, the nurse, the police officer, the politician, and the business person. Taking the time every day for quiet prayer or introspection, being out in nature, finding enough sleep and water, as well as eating right and taking vitamin/mineral supplements are ways to avoid burnout. What does this have to with political philosophy and spirit you ask.
Perhaps there is a health reason related to stress which led to creating the idea to avoid talking about “politics and religion”. These are two of the big issues on Earth, holding a vast level of abstraction through the grand amount of thought devoted to their study through the centuries. One has to stand back in awe at the endeavors of men and women in these fields; at the length and breadth of knowledge attained by study of the most intense kinds.
One would think that with the billions and billions of ideas humanity has experienced since the beginning of time life on Earth would be a utopian heaven on Earth by now. Surely there is some type of strainer large enough to separate out the golden genius ideas which will be implemented to create a new world where historic human problems and difficulties become solved and overcome. Perhaps the “golden rule” – a simple idea compared to the abstract academic theories – is all that humanity needs to solve problems and overcome difficulties. Or, is the “golden rule” too simple an idea to even deserve consideration?
The men and women who through history have been thought of as spiritual masters in many instances were not graduates of the finest universities in the world. Perhaps not having the internet in those days was fortunate, because then these men and women had to find and create their own ideas. The great philosophers of political theory combined spiritual ideas with ideas of the most positive forms of governing, forming the earliest known organized creations of self-governance. Each succeeding generation has added more knowledge gained through history’s lessons, and mankind has evolved to here in 2014.
In the fields of politics and spirituality the human race can now find the shelves full of various theories and intellectual “products”. Humanity has in front of it all the available idea constructions created through over two thousand years of generational study and thought. In 2014 many more people every day are asking themselves if the “products” chosen and purchased are doing all that the advertisements said they would. Here, we are talking about political, spiritual, economic, and financial products. Many are heading back to the store to see if there are “new” and “improved” products available which are of a higher quality.
While reading fellow bloggers the other day, one article was mentioning a Harvard professor of political philosophy by the name of Roberto Mangabeira Unger. His article piqued my interest and I went to find out about this fellow. As it turns out he had Barack Obama in one of his classes. Mr. Unger was born in Brazil and advised the national government of that country. I noticed a YouTube video of an interview of Mr. Unger on “BBC Hardtalk” so I listened to that. It was interesting to notice how the BBC interviewer spoke more than Professor Unger, similar to a football game where one team dominates the time of possession.
After listening to the BBC interview I came to the opinion that the interviewer certainly had an agenda to portray Mr. Unger as confused or vague, by cutting off his interview subject in mid-sentence and changing topics abruptly. At two points Mr. Unger was in mid-sentence, mentioned “financial system”, and immediately the interviewer (rudely in my opinion) cut him off and changed the topic. Obviously I would not share such a manipulated interview with readers here. My idea of a good interviewer is one who asks a question and then allows the guest to answer fully before moving on to the next question.
So, I then noticed that Professor Unger had his own YouTube channel, and found one of his videos where he alone spoke. Let me first say that my first impressions of Professor Unger is that he is one tough cookie. One could say that he is a no-nonsense kind of man, arriving at that state from years of deep thought and study; perhaps a little too serious for some, yet interesting none-the-less. Perhaps veteran philosophers invariably come to a point where most of their spoken words are polysyllabic; when the only words which are able to convey abstract thoughts contain many syllables.
Just like most philosophers he touches on concepts that are more of a general nature, as contrasted to specific solutions for the present world economic and political situation. One could compare his talk here to a philosopher of music who speaks about the reasons one enters into musical performance, but not about the range of chords available on the piano or guitar. Professor Unger argues for a new way of thinking about economics and politics and finance related to the desires of humanity.
Mr. Unger has been disappointed and disillusioned with progressives, especially in political office, for settling as the “softer face” of the conservative agenda. He believes that Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal” was the last episode of ideological experimentation and that such bold actions are called for today. He calls for a reshaping of markets, permanent innovation, sharing and wide dissemination of advanced technology, radical change in education, and challenging the dominant economic sector.
He speaks of a “dictatorship of no alternatives” which has limited and restricted the fate of contemporary society. He describes “minimalist” as the present situation where major innovation has been excluded as an option for society, and “maximalist” where social innovation is about everything – an organized collaboration between state, corporate, educational, and labor – energizing innovations which raise people to a higher quality of life.
Professor Unger argues that to succeed with his vision there needs to be a strong resistance and subversion of the dictatorship of no alternatives, and acceptance of small-scale innovations as “down-payments” leading to larger possibilities, while creating alternatives to the current habit of travelling the path of least resistance – dominated by a hegemonic structure opposed to social innovations. He suggests actions which change the financial sector from being more about small and medium-sized business instead of serving the largest corporations on Earth and itself.
Basically, Professor Unger is conveying that there are more tools in humanity’s tool-kit, and that those tools need to become used more energetically and fearlessly. He calls for a “high-energy” democracy. Overcoming resistance to social innovations is the first step which can then lead to new ways of living on Earth.
In those fields of intellectual inquiry that contain a significant philosophical element – such as politics, economics, spirituality, and finance – men and women have varying theories which are then compared and evaluated. Mr. Unger is a political philosopher whose theory is up for your evaluation and comparison to others’ perspectives and views. He does not give people the specifics of piano chords or political/economic proposals, but lays the ground for thinking in a new way.
(Thanks to Roberto Mangabeira Unger @ YouTube)