Greta Thunberg, who started it all

Today is the day of the Global Climate Strike, in which young students all over the world will present strong arguments that the global Powers That Be had better pay attention to climate change and do something about it – something far more drastic than the piddling measures taken by most governments so far. We owe these youth our best efforts to support and follow up on their demands. To do that, or even to live responsibly in the Anthropocene, we need to appreciate what a genuine argument is.

Don’t argue with me!

That’s how the boss asserts his authority. What he really means is:

Follow my orders! Don’t argue against me!

Can you argue with people without arguing against them?

Not if an argument is just a verbal dispute, a “fight.” But when we talk about “having an argument”, that’s what we mean, isn’t it?

The Oxford English Dictionary says that an “argument” is ‘A statement or fact advanced for the purpose of influencing the mind; a reason urged in support of a proposition’; or, ‘A connected series of statements or reasons intended to establish a position (and, hence, to refute the opposite); a process of reasoning; argumentation.’ As Peirce puts it, ‘An “Argument” is any process of thought reasonably tending to produce a definite belief. An “Argumentation” is an Argument proceeding upon definitely formulated premisses’ (EP2:435). A single statement may be called an “argument” if and only if it forms part of a process of reasoning, but not all parts of the process need to be explicitly stated or ‘definitely formulated.’ The element of conflict may enter into the process if one argues for or against a ‘position’ or proposition, while facing opposition. But as we all know, when two people “have an argument,” the element of conflict often overwhelms the element of reasoning – especially when the feeling of being right matters more (to one or both people) than the truth of the matter being argued about.

In Turning Signs – with a few exceptions, such as Humpty Dumpty’s “nice knock-down argument” in Chapter 2 – the word ‘argument’ refers to a sign which embodies a process of reasoning. In a nutshell, it says that ‘if you believe A, you ought to believe C, because C logically follows from A.’ A here, which may consist of more than one statement, is called the antecedent (“going before”), while C is called the consequent (“following with,” according to the Latin roots). The “following” relation itself should be called the consequence, according to Peirce.

But also according to Peirce, the reasoning process goes much deeper than anything humans do “on purpose,” as we say. We know that our actions have unintended consequences (as well as intended ones) because nature itself has tendencies leading some things or events to follow from others, just as the consequent follows from the antecedent in an argument. Indeed Peirce claimed that the Universe itself is a vast argument (EP2:193-4), of which all human argumentations, and even our greatest works of art, are nothing but dim reflections.

No matter how strongly the youth of the Global Climate Strike fight for their cause, the inhabitants of Earth will all be the losers if we humans fail to see the truth of their argument, and act accordingly.

Invitation to Immanence

Last week, blogger and cultural critic Adrian Ivakhiv responded to my post on ‘Holocenoscopy’ with a post on his own Immanence blog which takes my own thoughts on the “Anthropocene” a few steps further. Since then most of my prime reading time has gone into his new book Shadowing the Anthropocene, which i bought and downloaded (PDF) from punctum books. It offers some fascinating insights, both theoretical and practical, on how we can live through these trying times. Also, being a lover of cinema, I’m delving into his earlier book Ecologies of the Moving Image.

Besides thought-provoking movies and the “AnthropoScene,”Adrian and I have several interests in common, including Peircean and process-oriented philosophy and an ecological perspective on things. His work strikes me as complementary to mine in that he is much more broadly acquainted with recent theorizing in the “social sciences” and “humanities” than I am, while my sources in Turning Signs incline more toward the “natural sciences” of biology, psychology, neuroscience etc. I don’t know how he will feel about my characterization of him above as a “cultural critic,” but it seems clear that we are both boundary-crossers in terms of the traditional disciplines, although (unlike me) he’s employed as an academic (University of Vermont). Anyway i find his work very refreshing and i’ll be exploring it for some time to come. I would recommend that readers of Turning Signs take a close look at his blog, at least.

for Sake

And he said to all, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life [psyche] will lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life [psyche] for my sake [ἕνεκεν ἐμοῦ], he will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?

Luke 9:23-5 (RSV)

Is his sake like your sake, or my sake, or God’s sake? What is a sake anyway? Are there any synonyms for that word? Where did it come from?

It came into English originally “for God’s sake,” according to the online etymological dictionary (consulted 25 March 2018):
{sake (n.1): “purpose,” Old English sacu “a cause at law, crime, dispute, guilt,” from Proto-Germanic *sako “affair, thing, charge, accusation” (source also of Old Norse sök “charge, lawsuit, effect, cause,” Old Frisian seke “strife, dispute, matter, thing,” Dutch zaak “lawsuit, cause, sake, thing,” German Sache “thing, matter, affair, cause”), from PIE root *sag- “to investigate, seek out” (source also of Old English secan, Gothic sokjan “to seek;” see seek).
Much of the word’s original meaning has been taken over by case (n.1), cause (n.), and it survives largely in phrases for the sake of (early 13c.) and for _______’s sake (c. 1300, originally for God’s sake), both probably are from Norse, as these forms have not been found in Old English.}
So we trace it back to a Proto-Indo-European root *sag- (which, as the asterisk signifies, is our best guess at what the original prehistoric form would have been, working back from the actually attested forms).

Who is the one ‘for whose sake heaven and earth came into being’? Was or is the primal person a seeker for his sake? Is there a primal cause, or purpose, or crime? Who is trying this case?

The answer is always there, but people need the question to bring it out.

— Thomas Cleary (1995, 164)

Kingdom Come

we’re flying high on a wing and a prayer
I hope we know when we get there

Oysterband, ‘Wayfaring’

Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God was coming, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.”

Luke 17:20-21

… or as the King James Version has it, “the kingdom of God is within you.” Its coming is unobservable, like the time you are living in. We cannot observe spacetime: we can only observe differences or changes in the current state of things. Can you direct your attention to the ground of your attention (and your intentions)?

In the Gospel of Thomas, the question was put to Jesus by his disciples:

His disciples said to him, “When will the kingdom come?”
“It will not come by watching for it. It will not be said, ‘Look, here it is,’ or ‘Look, there it is.’ Rather, the Father’s kingdom is spread out upon the earth, and people do not see it.”

logion 113 (NHS)

At another time they asked him a very similar – or is it the same? – question:

His disciples said to him, “When will the rest for the dead take place, and when will the new world come?”
He said to them, “What you look for has come, but you do not know it.”

Gospel of Thomas 52 (NHS)

In Greek/Coptic, the word for ‘rest’ here is anapausis. Some say this is a mistake for anastasis, which means ‘resurrection’ – another event connected to the coming of the Kingdom and the new world. But perhaps ‘rest’ is just the other side of the coin of ‘resurrection’ – both beneath our knowledge, like the water underground.

Die Aufgabe

Franz Kafka

Du bist die Aufgabe. Kein Schüler weit und breit.

This is one of a series of aphorisms written by Franz Kafka in 1917-18. An Aufgabe is an assignment given by a teacher as a problem to be solved by a student. But in this case

You are the problem and there is no student available (or able?) to solve you.

Who made you a problem, a task to be done, a mission to be accomplished?
Can a problem solve itself?

Who knows?

Zhuangzi and Hui Shi were strolling across the bridge over the Hao river.
Zhuangzi observed, “The minnows swim out and about as they please—this is the way they enjoy themselves.”
Huizi replied, “You are not a fish—how do you know what they enjoy?”
Zhuangzi returned, “You are not me—how do you know that I don’t know what is enjoyable for the fish?”
Huizi said, “I am not you, so I certainly don’t know what you know; but it follows that, since you are certainly not the fish, you don’t know what is enjoyment for the fish either.”
Zhuangzi said, “Let’s get back to your basic question. When you asked ‘From where do you know what the fish enjoy?’ you already knew that I know what the fish enjoy, or you wouldn’t have asked me. I know it from here above the Hao river.”

— Zhuangzi 45.17.87–91, tr. Roger Ames (Dao De Jing: A Philosophical Translation, 108-109)

Who knows what you know from where you are?

Creative Words (for Manitoulin Islanders)

Here on Manitoulin Island, we’re trying out a new kind of gathering which brings a small group of us together for some deep conversation. First we focus on a song, saying or sacred verse, then we hear what it brings forth from each of our hearts.

We call these sessions Creative Words. Readers of Turning Signs can think of a ‘Creative Word’ as a kind of turning symbol. But you don’t need to read the book or know anything about signs and symbols to take part in one of these conversations.

My wife Pam and I host these CW gatherings in our living room (a.k.a. the Honora Bay Free Theatre, where we also host Manitoulin movie nights.) Usually there’s about four to six of us, and when we’re all ready, we prime the conversation with a short text, somewhere between a sentence and a paragraph or a song. It could be something already posted on this blog, but we don’t reveal the source or context until we’ve all had a chance to enter the realm of thought-feeling created by this Creative Word, using some focussing practices to direct our collective attention. Then we explore that realm by engaging in dialogue with one another and with the text. In this way we recreate the world created by the “Word,” and recreate ourselves as well.

A picture may be worth a thousand words of information, but the recreation of a single saying can be worth a million pictures to a mindful heart. We think of CW as an antidote to the information overload that we all tend to suffer in this media-flooded world. Pam and I, as Bahá’ís, also think of it as part of the service we can render to our fellow humans. Bahá’ís sometimes refer to the revelation of Bahá’u’lláh as the “Creative Word,” and one of its precepts is to “consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship.” Even if you’re allergic to all religions, you’re still welcome at CW sessions! What matters, we think, is “that the peoples and kindreds of the world associate with one another with joy and radiance” (Bahá’u’lláh again).

Our first Creative Words gathering took place on the evening of January 31, 2018, and we intend to hold one every 19 days (that’s once a Bahá’í month). We’ll post reminders on Resilient Manitoulin and the Calendar connected with it. If you want to join us for a session, you’ll need to let us know beforehand, but you don’t need to bring anything other than friendliness and fellowship. For more information (or recreation!) use the “Contact Me” button on my blog, or phone me or Pam. We’ll be happy to hear from you.

I n I

The meanings of words in English can be described as ‘conventional,’ but in most cases no ‘convention’ was ever called where users of a word got together to decide what those words would express. Many users of the English language never chose to do so, because it was forced upon them along with the colonial rule of the British (or the American) Empire. But some have resisted colonization by consciously creating their own conventions, their own dialect of English.
One good example of such creative cultural transformation is the “patois” of the Rastafarians.

In the past half century, Rastafarian language found its way into globally popular culture through the spread of reggae music and the lyrics of artists such as Bob Marley. His ‘Redemption Song’ is one example:

Old pirates yes they rob I
Sold I to the merchant ships
Minutes after they took I
From the bottomless pit …

Standard English would call for “me,” or maybe “us,” instead of “I” here. But this repurposing of “I,” including the Rastafarian use of “I an’ I” for the first person pronoun, has a deep spiritual significance for this religion of ‘love and unity.’ It is part of what Marley calls the ‘I’n’I vibration’ in his song ‘Positive Vibration’, and is connected with the central figure of the religion, Haile Selassie I (Ras Tafari is another name for him.)

For many Rastas, the ‘I’ after Selassie is multivalent in its significance. Read as ‘first’, it points to his pre-existence from the beginning and to his preeminence as earth’s ‘rightful ruler’. Read as the first person singular pronoun ‘I’, which is generally how Rastas pronounce it, it becomes an indicator of Selassie’s divinity. From this understanding, Rastas extrapolate that ‘I’ represents the divine essence of humans. They then elaborated the philosophy of InI consciousness (‘Isciousness’) as the realization of one’s own divine identity.

— Edmonds, Ennis B.. Rastafari: A Very Short Introduction (p. 37). OUP Oxford. Kindle Edition.

For instance, to indicate the divinity of “Creation”, Rastas call it “Iration” instead.

In 1983, the year after Bob Marley’s death, Bob Dylan released a song titled ‘I and I’ (on the album Infidels). The chorus goes like this:

I and I
In creation where one’s nature neither honors nor forgives
I and I
One says to the other, no man sees my face and lives

One of the verses tells how it

Took a stranger to teach me, to look into justice’s beautiful face
And to see an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth

This song puts yet another spiritual spin on the Rastafarian expression. Or at least it seems that way to I and I. How about you and you?