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Saturday, October 22, 2011

Capitalism, Its Crises, and the Extended Mind

I was thinking about capitalism's cycles of boom and bust this morning. If the wolves and moose of Isle Royale - as well as other species elsewhere - could find the way to prevent population "crashes", we might all learn something to guide our own behavior as we tiptoe around economic and societal "crashes" and downturns.

Consider folk science as exemplified in folktales, specifically The Grasshopper and the Ants: it is the grasshopper who is subject to boom and crash, which are symbolized by summer/plenty and winter/desolation.
The ants are not subject to boom and crash, for their activity is pretty much on an even keel and they have stored up food for the winter "crash".

Notice how folk tales indicate that the type of mind which avoids boom and crash is a group mind, and furthermore, it is a swarm-type of mind. It is not the greatly individualized mind of the grasshopper, who is very unique and idiosyncratic, but the swarm or hive mind of the ants which avoids the downturns of the seasons.

And reflecting on it, it seems that politics is the clash and working of individual minds: Democracy is the coming together of individuals in the forum to voice their opinions and seek a mutual decision through a period of conflict of ideas, whether the conflict is hot or cool.
In our day and democracy, everything is a proposition that is subject to argument and evaluation; there a few sacrosanct and untouchable axioms that are never questioned.
In the polity of the ants, it is different: there is no questioning of the seasonal cycle of acquisition and consumption and accumulation. The ants do not come together every summer solstice and debate whether they should harvest and store up food for the winter: it is a given and true axiom that is not questioned.

From this, I thought of Moral Agency and Dr. Stanley Cunningham's book, which I am reading, on Moral Agency and Albert the Great.
The focus of morality is the individual, not any moral code. Moral codes are a particular type of what we facetiously call "belief systems", which are comprised of propositions that are constantly being debated and mooted in courts and taverns across the land. However, if the individual be "virtuous"... if the individual has come through childhood and early adulthood and even middle adulthood and has become "virtuous... there is no need of a spoken code of moral propositions, for the code is embodied within the actions of the virtuous individuals.

Think of abortion; it is referred to as "the abortion debate". That is because on a group level it is being debated just as if it were a new tax law being argued back and forth by both sides. On both sides of the debate, everything is up for grabs. On no side of the debate is there a undebated virtuous way of life.

Out in the nation, for the most part we are not all political activists and we live our lives quietly. When moral questions come up, we handle them according to our lights... according to our lives and life histories that we have lived thus far. There is trial and tribulation, but little debate.

Notice how the extended group mind requires not just agreement, not just political consensus: it requires an honorable bedrock of unspoken virtue in the individuals and within the society comprising those individuals. A perfect example would be the Amish attempt to forgive the murderer of Nickel Mines, and to extend forgiving to his family: it strikes us as so beyond human nature that we are incredulous.....

BUT, this example of violence is very revealing, for we know a lot about violence, do we not? If there is no forgiveness, superhuman or otherwise, we fall into the cycle of revenge and vendetta, of killing/exultation and burial/grieving; once again, we see a perfect cyclical (almost seasonal) cycle of boom and bust........

a cycle of Filling and of Emptying, or Plerosis and Kenosis... filling and emptying.... like the joy of sin and the remorse of penance.

I believe our future lay in our efforts to educate the group mind to a stasis which remains on the edge of creativity.


One note on this: we have images and beliefs based on the notions of "swarm" minds and "hive" mentalities which we have gotten from cheap science fiction films and novels, so we may wish to purge our minds of such claptrap.

In the "Occupy Wall Street" demonstrations, we have a very good example of a society which is not "onboard" in any sense with a common bedrock of social direction:  99% vs. 1%.

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