Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Last Nuremberg Prosecutor Has 3 Words Of Advice: 'Law Not War'

The Last Nuremberg Prosecutor Has 3 Words Of Advice: 'Law Not War'

"War is hell. It's not terrible. It's awful. And in addition to being cruel and mean and rotten, it's stupid, because look at what we do now. We take young people, if the heads of state can't agree, you send young people to kill other young people they don't even know, who may never have harmed them or anybody else, and they get tired of killing them and then they stop and each side declares victory, rests for a while, and they go back again and they start killing each other again." - Benjamin Ferencz (96)

Beginning in 1945 with his prosecution of war criminals during the Nuremberg Tribunal, the work of Benjamin Ferencz has long focused on issues of international criminal justice and world peace. A strong supporter of the International Criminal Court, Mr. Ferencz advocates steps to replace the “rule of force with the rule of law.”  This website is devoted to his life’s work.  LAW. NOT WAR

Monday, September 5, 2016

Gentle Cynicism as True Life - Part II: Historical, Canonical Basis of the Life of Cynic

The only true commonwealth is as wide as the universe.

It was the “the disinherited of the earth” who were the original candidates and beneficiaries of the early Greek school of cynic philosophy organized in a public gymnasium outside of Athens called Cynosarges.[1] It was here that Antisthenes lectured, preached on the streets and developed the form of literature called Cynics. As a student of Socrates, Antisthenes assimilated the fundamental ethical precept: virtue not pleasure is the end of existence. Everything that the wise person does, Antisthenes taught, conforms to perfect virtue, and pleasure is not only unnecessary, but a positive evil. He is reported to have held pain and even ill-repute to be blessings, and said that "I'd rather be mad than feel pleasure".[2]

Foucault outlined the following interpretive description of the original characteristics that made up the ancient life of cynic (bios kunikos).
First, the kunikos life is a dog’s life in that it is without modesty, shame, and human respect. It is a life which does in public, in front of everyone, what only dogs and animals dare to do, and which men usually hide. The Cynic’s life is a dog’s life in that it is shameless. Second, the Cynic life is a dog’s life because, like the latter, it is indifferent. It is indifferent to whatever may occur, is not attached to anything, is content with what it has, and has no needs other than those it can satisfy immediately. Third, the life of the Cynic is the life of a dog, for it received the epithet kunikos because it is, so to speak, a life which barks, a diacritical (diakritikos)[3] life, that is to say, a life which can fight, which barks at enemies, which knows how to distinguish the good from the bad, the true from the false, and masters from enemies. In that sense it is a diacritical life: a life of discernment which knows how to prove, test, and distinguish. Finally, the Cynic life is phulaktikos. It is a guard dog’s life, a life which knows how to dedicate itself to saving others and protecting the master’s life.[4]

Underneath the Cynic’s life was a cheerful irreverence in its historical form. Moreover there was an air of eternal adolescence, for in its sovereign individualism it ignored the needs of society at large. Nonetheless, the Cynic’s life was a full-hearted response that was essential to human flourishing in a society that, like today, was beset with subtle and harsh, inhumanities, injustices and vanity. Accordingly, there was an absence of tribal recognition in the Cynics ethos, like Diogenes who was not an Athenian or Corinthian, but a wanderer, a citizen of the universe—a human being who made little of his race while standing apart from the rest of society. The Cynic possessed the right to exercise frankness (truth-telling, parrhesia). Demetrius, the first Roman Cynic, tormented three successive emperors, Caligula, Nero, and Vespasian, and remarkably, suffered nothing worse than exile. Other Cynics, no doubt, were less fortunate. In Roger Caldwell estimation, “Having the courage to tell what they saw as the truth without regard for rank or authority (in the capacity more­ or ­less of licensed jester) the Cynics are exemplary.”[5]

In our 21st century, a consumerist age, the message and practice of the Cynics ethic is essential for one’s preservation—to distinguish one’s wants from one’s needs, to simplify one’s life, to seek to do with less—less nationalism, less consumption of goods that pollute and destroy the air, water and atmosphere, and the mind—less head-in-the-sand naiveté with respect to the conventional forces that dumb down the larger society (das Man) with its dominant scripts and narratives that have been summed up by Walter Brueggemann as “technological, therapeutic, consumer militarism.”[6]

Of course, in everyday parlance, the term cynic or cynicism receives a poor rap, for it tends to conjure up ideas of pessimism and distrust. If virtue is the end or goal of existence, e.g., hope, then, as Maria Popova has wisely said, “Critical thinking without hope is cynicism.”[7] Hence the deficit is self-protective resignation (or the modern notion of cynicism) while the excess is blind resignation or naiveté. Foucault emphasized the virtue of courage in the historical practice and ethics of the life of Cynic; hence the extremes would be cowardice and fool hardiness. Fleshing out Gentle Cynicism in the last few years, I have recognized the development of the virtue, integrity (true to self, authentic, honesty) with its excesses being feign ignorance and arrogance.

The life of Cynic fleshed out this vital philosophical ethic using a host of methods and disciplines. While the ancient form appears more ascetic, the post-modern practice of Gentle Cynicism utilizes critical thinking, forms of phenomenology and various disciplines to navigate places of tension being self-aware while preventing the extremes. In the spirit of ancient Cynic, Gentle Cynicism negotiates a context of time requiring a response to move more fully to a place where hope enlarges.  It is a realm of practices and outlook that vigorously works with the limitations of a world juxtaposed with the social and moral issues of the day, filtered through narrative, poetry, philosophy and social ethic, and the classic virtues replace conventional sentiment and correctness.  In the end the life of Cynic is about discovering, living and promoting truth as it unfolds and devotion to the virtues that are the only source of human fullness (eudaimonia).

                                                             Truth can never hurt you; finding it is hard.[8]

[1] Κυνόσαργες Kynos + argos, from genitive of kyon (dog) and argos (white, shining or swift).
[2]References from Laërtius, Diogenes (1925). "The Cynics: Antisthenes". Lives of the Eminent Philosophers 2:6. Translated by Hicks, Robert Drew (Two volume ed.). Loeb Classical Library. § 1–19.
[3] Διακριτικός, piercing, penetrating; separative; able to distinguish(L&S)
[4] Michel Foucault, The Courage of the Truth (The Government of Self and Others II). Lectures at the College De France (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 243.
[5] Roger Caldwell, “How To Be a Cynic” in Philosophy Now, 104. https://philosophynow.org/issues/104/How_To_Be_A_Cynic
[6] Walter Brueggemann, “Counterscript, Living with the Illusive God” in Christian Century. Nov. 29, 2005. 
[7] Popova, Maria, transcript from interview, “Cartographer of Meaning in a Digital Age” accessed from On Being with Krista Tippett, 05/14/2015, accessed at http://onbeing.org/program/transcript/7584#main_content. See also “Response to Maria Popova’s Cautionary Essay regarding a Culture of Cynicism” accessed at http://gentlecynic.blogspot.com/2016/06/response-to-maria-popova-cautionary.html
[8] Giles Laurén, The Stoics Bible and Florilegium for the Good Life (Createspace, 2010). Epilogue.

Image: Brandon Kidwell, "To Find Truth, Sometimes Have to Reach into the Darkness" at http://www.brandonkidwell.com/

Monday, August 8, 2016

Gentle Cynicism as True Life - Part I: Becoming More Fully Human

The height of human bliss? To die happy.

Being-in-the-world requires more than mere survival or das Man (quiet conformity to the conventional world) if one is to experience eudemonia (human flourishing)[1] or using Heidegger’s term, authenticity. The masses too easily conform to dominate narratives (social and otherwise) that include activities regarded as worthy of one’s time and effort, values and meanings to pursue, and particular styles and forms through which to pursue assumed goals. The cynic historically via contemplation and reflection grows or expands into authentic life, i.e., to “become what one is.”  Such a project means critical self-reflection, a coherent theory, committed engagement in practical philosophy and eschewing aspects of one’s contemporary social world, not wanting to simply be one of the masses that functions as merely a place-holder in a society that constantly reduces possibilities to the lowest common denominator—“inauthenticity.”  Without authenticity, one has not the grounding by which to develop one’s own story and the virtues that lead to the promise of eudemonia.[2] If one is to follow the way of true life, one has to wrest control of one’s own life from society. If not, then all of one’s decisions will continue to be made for him/her by the unnoticed forces of the cultures in which one lives.

Heidegger alludes to this phenomenon as lostness (in conformity) and the reversal of this mass plight in the search for being (Being and Time).
'They' even hide the process by which 'they' have quietly relieved us of the 'burden' of making choices for ourselves.  It remains a complete mystery who has really done the choosing. We are carried along by the 'nobody', without making any real choices, becoming ever more deeply ensnared in inauthenticity.  This process can be reversed only if we explicitly bring ourselves back from our lostness in the 'they'.  But this bringing-back must have that kind of being by the neglect of which we have lost ourselves in inauthenticity.

It is with this spirit (Geist) of reversal that I further promote Gentle Cynicism (GC) as a disciplined practice with the aim of turning toward an authentic being in time, where speech breaks from the discourse and practices (values, interests, behaviors) of das Man and attempts to take responsibility for one’s life as a whole. I have experienced the emerging philosophy of GC as a dynamic filter between the flourishing (possibility of) self or authenticating self with the larger society (das Man) and its dominant scripts (narratives),[3] like sifting chaff from wheat.  GC is ultimately a search for what is best or good rather than what is simply accepted. The gentle cynic  reads, listens, contemplates with his/her mind (Geist) the wisdom of prophets, poets, writers, philosophers, musicians, theologians, sages of history and perhaps a tradition or community  versus the dominant scripts or myths peddled by popular media, Hollywood, politicians, military, sports, advertisers, big business. GC seeks to actually participate with or work toward a vision of human flourishing (human centered) while differentiating what misses the mark (illusions both personal and societal).

Hence, Gentile Cynicism has become a way of protecting one’s autonomy by training the whole self (as subject) to actively explore, examine, test and experience more fully the vibrant, flowing, and invigorating reality of humanity's creative energy and purposes, and less the draining emptiness and existent bitterness of a fragmented world. It is a way of moving through (not stepping away from) tensions where there is a complex array of easy-to-get-to thin practices, answers and ideals on one side (along with their alluring advertisements); while on the other, profound, thick sources of questions, contradictions and insights that invite persistent souls toward the way of becoming more fully human.

[1] See Moving from the thin idea of “Happiness” to the classical pursuit of Eudemonia: http://gentlecynic.blogspot.com/2014/12/moving-from-thin-idea-of-happiness-to.html
[2] R. Ryan, V. Huta, E. Deci, “Living Well: a Self-determination Theory Perspective on Eudaimonia” Journal of Happiness Studies (January 2008, Volume 9.1, pp 139–170) presents a model of eudaimonia that is based in self-determination theory, arguing that eudaimonic living can be characterized in terms of four motivational concepts which appears to explain the motivation psychologically of the GC:
(1) pursuing intrinsic goals and values for their own sake, including personal growth, relationships, community, and health, rather than extrinsic goals and values, such as wealth, fame, image, and power;
(2) behaving in autonomous, volitional, or consensual ways, rather than heteronomous or controlled ways;
(3) being mindful and acting with a sense of awareness; and
(4) behaving in ways that satisfy basic psychological needs for competence, relatedness, and autonomy.
In fact, they theorize that the first three of these aspects of eudaimonic living have their positive effects of psychological and physical wellness because they facilitate satisfaction of these basic, universal psychological needs.

[3] Walter Brueggemann describes the dominant (American) scripting (narrative) in our society as a script of technological, therapeutic, consumer militarism that socializes us all, liberal and conservative, which is enacted through advertising and propaganda and ideology, especially on the liturgies of television (media), promises to make us safe and to make us happy. Brueggemann further calls for descripting, relinquishment and disengagement from the dominant script and a counter narrative/script that is managed by disciplined practice that may well be linked to a tradition or community.
Image: Brandon Kidwell: http://www.brandonkidwell.com/

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Make America Hate Again

Protestor Leshia Evans is detained by law enforcement near the headquarters of the Baton Rouge Police Department in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S. July 9, 2016.  

Hosea Williams and John Lewis confront troopers, March 7, 1965 on “Bloody Sunday” in Selma, Alabama.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Historical Cynicism: The Care of Self

A recent reading of Michel Foucault, The Courage of Truth,[1] reveals the long history of Cynicism viewed on the basis of a theme of life as “scandal of the truth”, or of “style of life as site of emergence of the truth”  (bios as alethurgy[2]) (p. 180).  Foucault wrote,

[In its ancient form] Cynic practice, the requirement of an extremely distinctive form of life—with very characteristic, well defined rules, conditions, or modes—is strongly connected to the principle of truth-telling, of truth-telling without shame or fear, of unrestricted and courageous truth-telling, of truth-telling which pushes its courage and boldness to the point that it becomes intolerable insolence. The connecting up of truth-telling [parrhêsia] and mode of life, this fundamental, essential connection in Cynicism between living in a certain way and dedicating oneself telling the truth us all the more noteworthy for taking place immediately as it were, without doctrinal mediation, or at any rate within a fairly rudimentary theoretical framework. . . Cynicism appears . . . to be a form of philosophy in which the mode of life and truth-telling are directly and immediately linked to each other. (pp. 165-6)

Cynicism was a distinct shift within the locus of the parrhesiatic speech, from the political domain to the ethical, truth-telling as part of democratic citizenship. More than mere franc speech it is more closely associated with the notion of ethos. The Cynics and their concerns went beyond the traditional topics of politics and democracy, unto questions of “happiness and unhappiness [3] Historically Foucault traced three profound historical paths or stances that resulted in the ethical development of the self: the confession or the Christian hermeneutics of the self, the Greek and Roman philosophical care of the self and the Cynical parrhêsia or fearless speech.
[eudaimonia], good and ill fortune, slavery and freedom” of all humankind. Cynicism established and sustained “constant relationship to the self on the basis of a particular truth discourse”.

We could say today, the cynic ("gentle" or otherwise) is one who publicly lives out inconvenient truths concerning one’s daily existence, an existential attitude and the mark of a sage (or development of); i.e., one who transforms one’s own body in a ”theater of the scandal of truth” which ultimately challenges ones’ fellow friends/citizens to radically revise their opinions, institutions and common shared values.  Cynicism should be viewed as beginning with the “care of the self” in the struggle of living daily against the normalization of injustices, violence, and uncaring modes and methods of people and the planet. It means at some level a resistance to solitude or estrangement, to “everything which separates the individual, breaks his links with others, splits up community” and forces an individual back on himself and ties him to his own identity in a constraining way.[4] Thus in its subjective forms, truthful speech (parrhesia)  is truth telling as a form of the care of self, intended to do work, to have an effects on others and on ourselves—to govern self and influence others.

[1] M Foucalt, The Courage of Truth(The Government of Self and Others II) Lectures at the College De France, 1983-84.
[2] ἀληθουργής, someone who speaks the truth (a hapax legomenon); This hapaxadjective is the result of composing the noun meaning “truth” (alétheia, ἀλήθεια) with the noun meaning “action” or “deed” (érgon, ἔργον). The “fictive word” forged by Foucault, alethurgy, is decidedly defined to signify “the set of possible verbal and non-verbal procedures by which one brings to light what is laid down as true as opposed to false, hidden, inexpressible, unforeseeable, or forgotten,” in order to conclude that “there is no power without something like alethurgy”. The word does not only sound like the combination of alétheia and érgon, but also like the combination of alétheia and liturgy. Liturgy, in turn, is a civil duty that one performs at his or her own expenses (and risks). As civil duty, it has a certain ritual, a series of forms and spaces where it can be performed. In fact, throughout Foucault’s text, alethurgy goes from “manifestation of truth” to mean the forms and rituals in which truth is manifested as part of the technique of government.
[3] Foucault’s 1984 lectures on The Courage of Truth, http://blogs.law.columbia.edu/foucault1313/the-thirteenth-seminar/
[4] Cristian Iftode, Foucault’s Idea of Philosophy as ‘Care of the Self:’ Critical Assessment and Conflicting Metaphorical Views. West University of Timisoara, Romania: Elsevier Ltd., 2013

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Response to Maria Popova Cautionary Essay regarding a Culture of Cynicism

Maria Popova essay, Some Thoughts on Hope, Cynicism, and the Stories We Tell Ourselves, places cynicism on the polar side of Hope. This identified kind of raw cynicism is “that terrible habit of mind and orientation of spirit in which, out of hopelessness for our own situation, we grow
embittered about how things are and about what’s possible in the world. [Hence this sort of] Cynicism is a poverty of curiosity and imagination and ambition. . . In its passivity and resignation, cynicism is a hardening, a calcification of the soul. Hope [on the other hand] is a stretching of its ligaments, a limber reach for something greater.”

She advises,
Today, the soul is in dire need of stewardship and protection from cynicism. The best defense against it is vigorous, intelligent, sincere hope — not blind optimism, because that too is a form of resignation, to believe that everything will work out just fine [or other sentimental blah, blah, blah] and we need not apply ourselves. I mean hope bolstered by critical thinking that is clear-headed in identifying what is lacking, in ourselves or the world, but then envisions ways to create it and endeavors to do that.

Popova’s notion of critical thinking resonates with my conception of gentle cynicism, which sees dark cynicism always lurking in the background seeking to make ground in some way, while in front of me is hope (I am thinking here of the theory of hope and its landscape). Gentle Cynicism seeks to hold the polar sides in tension via various practices that allow one to engage in clear-headed critical thinking, goals, and pathways that envision ways to create and endeavor to do something that contributes to human flourishing (eudaimonia) spured by the complex notion of hope.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Evangelicals Anxiously Forgotten the Way

Like Charles Krauthammer’s baffled response to evangelicals’ support of such a vulgar, egotistic leader, Donald Trump (“Defender of Faith” March 5), I too ask how a large mass of Christian evangelicals have become so far removed from the core ethic of the Christian Tradition in their craze with Donald Trump. The answer might be complex, albeit Trump helps to diagnose the problem. Trump’s own rhetoric has been able to tap into their anxieties--anxieties that surface as fear of impotence, negation, and disempowerment.
What’s worse is the shift to a leader like Trump is further evidence that a mass of evangelicals
are far removed from their namesake, the “good news.”   The evangelion or “good message” pronounces an enduring vision of the kingdom of God that protects and advocates for the exiled, the poor and parentless; and supports organizations that offer a vision and concern that has echoes of the Great Reversal (e.g., economic and racial equality). Instead, a great host of traditional evangelicals, it would seem, just want “someone to protect them” at the expense of choosing a toxic leader who reverberates strong tones of bigotry and racism.
Such regression, not to speak of sour interpretation due to an inability to set aside personal and ideological biases, means instead of becoming part of a life-changing and transformative encounter with the current culture, they are quickly overtaken by another’s weak promises and have quickly adopted his caustic ideology.
Trump offers strength against what these lost evangelicals fear. Yet he offers very little in the way of solutions with substance while rallying people about dividing groups, building walls and name calling. He motivates vigorously while under protest from others while his numbers continue to fathom many. This is the force of anxiety being feed like a cancer.
Anxiety, especially since 9/11 has become a pronounced feature of our time and Trump profits on people’s fears. While anxiety certainly has its place in the psyche and can be a motivating force, Trump is spreading societal anxiety epidemically. This pandemic can be interpreted through the insight of Edwin FriedmanA Failure of Nerve. The Five Characteristics of Chronically Anxious Societies (2007).
 First there is “reactivity.” No doubt, many evangelicals feed on the distraction of a 24/7 news litany that is destructive to their consciousness and have become acquainted and comforted by Trump’s reactive nature and his quick fix solutions that are mixed with his own anxious rhetoric.  Friedman explains that highly reactive groups “are in a panic in search of a trigger.” In this case, Trump supplies the trigger.  Second is the impulse of “herding”, a regressive tendency to reverse one’s direction of “adaption toward strength,” while organizing one’s survival around the least mature, the most dependent, or dysfunctional member of a group. As Krauthammer points out, “a more scripturally, spiritually flawed man than Trump would be hard to find.”
 “Blame displacement” is one of Trump’s fierce tactics which focuses on pathology rather than strengths. This is well exemplified in Trump’s naming all the ills and isms he promises to protect against with “a not-going-to-take-it-anymore defiance” absent of policy and substance. Trump feeds the primal instinct for mimetic scapegoat mechanism with his call to ban all Muslims from entering the US.  This and his mantra “I will build a great wall” are examples of the fourth characteristic of chronically anxious groups, a “quick-fix mentality”. Chronically anxious societies and groups find solace or obsession with technique and method over maturity.
Lastly, the above characteristics of chronically anxious groups lead to the creation and dependence of “poorly defined leadership” whose motivation revolves around crises while lacking distance to discern clear vision and is thus unable to develop a well-principled presence.
 It may well be too late, as evangelical’s insular need for protection results in an inability to function in a position of strength and to appreciate areas of consensus and agreement; hence preventing them from influencing the surrounding society with a range of concerns that religious and secular traditions all have in common, such as the sanctity of life, the well-being of the family, justice for the poor, economics of inclusion and equality, care for creation, peace, freedom and racial justice.
For Krauthammer, Trump appears like a malignancy, which can only be eradicated by an intense, all-out attack, leaving evangelicals on the right in a position of significant weakness and loss of an already weakening influence on the body politic.  We all do well to hear the often repeated message, “Be not afraid.”