• Tag Archives modernism
  • Clean Teeth. Legislation. Western Civ.

    Spring                                                                       Waning Bloodroot Moon

    Dangerous driving conditions tomorrow. Winter storm warning.  Who stole my spring?

    Into the city twice today, once to get my teeth cleaned and a second time for a Sierra Club meeting on legislative basics.  The teeth cleaning, an every 6 months visit, has become routine by now.  Mary, the dental hygienist I saw today, complimented on my teeth-brushing.  That feels a bit to me like being told, good boy, you cleaned your plate.  Mary has a gentle way with her and worked hard to convince me to take extra good care of my teeth.  It’s important for overall health, especially as we age.

    On both trips listened to another lecture series, this one on Western Civilization, part II.  It focuses on the 500+ years in which modernism arose.  This is ground I’ve been over from several perspectives over the years, but each time it gets a bit clearer and the puzzle pieces seem to fit together better.  Modernism and the Enlightenment are key to understanding our current political, cultural, social and economic conditions, so it’s hard to become over educated about them.  What I enjoy now is finding connections between, say, Chinese history and Western.

    I’m on lecture 9 already.  Just finished the Reformation, ground I know pretty well, but it never hurts to hear it put in the larger socio-political context.

    The economic and environmental situation we find ourselves in now can be traced back to this period, both the good and the bad.  More later.  I’m tired.

  • Cultural Relativism

    Summer                                 Waxing Strawberry Moon

    “The trouble with life isn’t that there is no answer, it’s that there are so many answers.” – Ruth Benedict

    Long ago, back in the Paleozoic 1960’s I majored in anthropology.  Anthropology taught me a lot, shaped my view of the world.  In anthropology, long before it became fashionable enough to merit bashing on the then non-existent Fox News Network, multi-culturalism was an everyday conversation.  Ruth Benedict, herself an early anthropologist and student of Franz Boas, the father of anthropology reflects just that sensibility in this quote.

    Anthropologist’s developed the idea of cultural relativism and it was and is crucial to anthropology as a discipline.  Anthropologists do field work using the participant observer method, which involves immersing oneself in the cultural of another, then writing about it.  Boas and the early anthropologists, among them Margaret Meade, had to undergo psychoanalysis as a preliminary to field work.  This was to enable the field worker to grasp, as best he or she could, the difference between something they brought to the interaction and the actual expression of a different worldview.

    Cultural relativism meant that much as we might like to believe otherwise (manifest destiny, Hail Britannia) one culture’s solution to the way of surviving and flourishing is as valid as any others.  This is the core idea behind multi-culturalism, not merely a liberal tolerance of difference, but suspension of our own values and beliefs in order to accord respect to the other.

    Does this have problems?  Yes, it does.   Critics like Alasdair MacIntyre in his book, After Virtue, say it represents an essential of Modernism, that is, ethical relativism.  MacIntyre suggests we consider Hitler’s Nazi party or, I suppose, Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge.  Using the notion of cultural relativism are we not bound to honor their horrific outcomes?

    Academics often get caught in the absolutizing of their notions.  It’s either cultural relativism or a solid tradition, like the Thomistic Catholicism that MacIntyre puts forward.  In fact, I think these are more tendencies, ways we lean when assessing data.  Cultural relativism and the thinner soup of multi-culturalism are an inoculant, a vaccine against imperialism, against the unthinking imposition of a more powerful culture on a weaker one.

    Tradition, on the other hand, seems an inescapable and therefore most likely necessary ingredient of the human lived experience.  Within in it we learn how to behave as an American, a Vietnamese, a Hmong, a Trobriand Islander.  We come to assume that the tradition and the culture in which we are raised is normative, and, in fact, it is normative in the vast majority of situations which we encounter.  It is when we cross cultures or traditions that questions arise that we may not have considered.

    Who says democracy  is the only acceptable form of government?  Who says individual rights always come before the needs of the tribe or the state?  Who says marriage between homosexual couples is wrong, ipso facto?  Who says circumcision is critical?  Who says we cannot execute anybody we want to by firing squad, lethal injection or the electric chair?

    It occurs to me that cultural relativism is a necessary defense against the arrogance of power, just as tradition is a defense against the moral relativism that a global perspective seems to require.  To position these two powerful aspects of human life, culture and tradition, against each other goes too far.  Instead, we need to learn the lesson each has to teach us and apply them both with humility and care.

    NB:  Back to Hitler and Pol Pot.  We do not need to accept their violent prejudice as normative even under the notion of cultural relativism. What is necessary in those cases is to go within the culture of Germany and Cambodia, to mine their traditions and to critique them from within their worldviews.  It can be done and can easily be shown to be possible.  Then, we respect culture and yet have an avenue for expression of our deeply held values in a different cultural idiom.

  • PostModern? Oh, Yeah? Prove it.

    Spring                                              Awakening Moon

    It’s been a long, long dry spell.  We’ve had no appreciable rain or snow since ()  and the garden has begun to show it.  The daffodils have come up a bit stunted, many still in the ground would have popped long ago if they had the moisture.  Our irrigation system doesn’t start up until late April.  I may give’em a call and see if we can move it up, but that means I have to fix the netaphim Rigel and Vega chewed up at the end of last growing season.  Gotta be done anyhow.

    Until Now has me cranked up into steep learning curve mode.  I’ve had the first two lectures, another one comes up next week as do walk-throughs for Art Remix and Until Now.  Before then I have to get my head into the new artists and the new art, read a good bit.  Look at the art.  Read some more.  Write a little. Peck a little.  This should be fun, a new universe of art and artists to explore, many of them working with enlightenment ideas, especially the idea of the modern and the so-called post-modern.

    That’s another rabbit hole I’m going to drop into again.  Post-modernism.  I started getting into when I did my D. Min. thesis back in 1990.  Since then, I’ve read a good deal about post-modernism.  The content of the term still eludes me.  Perversely, it has made me very interested in modernism.  That happened because I decided I needed to understand modernism to understand what folks claim about post-modernism.  Seems logical, but I’ve begun to suspect that post-modernism is camouflage for other ideas, especially an assault on the nature of truth claims.  Bet you can’t wait to find out what I learn.

    Into the MIA today for two tours, both highlights.  I did a highlights collection of things I already know well because this was a busy week for me.  Besides, I’m putting my energy now into the Until Now/Art Remix.