With our stunning window view of eagles gliding effortlessly over the waters of Finlayson Arm along the ridges and forested steep hills of Sanich Peninsula, we chose to sit side by side more like an awestruck audience than a couple ordering dinner at a restaurant. Within an hour of my arrival at the Victoria airport I felt like I was in another country. Neither the January weather nor the temperate rain forest in its spectacular topography were part of what had become familiar to me as Canadian. I’d already lived in five provinces and Canada’s newest territory but this warm land was nothing like anything I had experienced. Most of the rest of the drive along the dark and winding highway was an anticlimax to that view, that is until we came to the Malahat lookout.

Eighteen months later we are again faced with a choice. Today may be the last day of familiar habits repeated day after day. I’m not sure if I have seen, experienced and learned enough yet to be able to leave.

When I first arrived I devoured maps and trail books to lcoate myself in this unfamiliar topography. Mountain trails traced on a map are useful when you are hiking between and around rocky outcrops, ancient trees and stumps, narrow footpaths . . . Deep in among the Garry Oak, Arbutus and Douglas Fir hilly slopes and valley confuse the hiker who ends up not really knowing if she is ultimately reaching a higher level or heading downhill. Like yesterday when we heading out looking for the low trail along the shore of Tzuhalem and ending up in Genoa Bay having crossed to the other side of the mountain just by putting one foot in front of the other.

Google earth offered seemingly endless potential for locating myself in space and time. But now I realize that it is most useful for tracing where I have been. Flickr lets me geotag my digital photos and visual art works unto scaled maps so I can zoom in to exact locations. Google video lets me float my shaky images and breathless voice in cyberspace describing what I am seeing in the ‘here-and-now’ so that my future self can better remember places that were once familiar.

I have learned the names of the wildflowers that grow under the oaks, fir and deciduous trees of Mount Tzuhalem. I have learned to name it by latitude and longtitude. I know its smells and sounds. I know how to dress in layers in this ecosystem that constantly changes from cool to warm to rain, wind and sun. I know its panoramas and vistas and the names of the mountains and bodies of water that surround it. But I could still get lost here and end up far from my goal.

And this is the glitch in one’s ethical topography of self. The everyday habits, the things that make a home a home, can be taken away either by choice or necessity from one day to the next. And there you are in some unfamiliar place, re-examining again, locating oneself again.

For those who can control how their lives unfold or seem to think they can, habits repeated day after day, reinforce values and make ethical decisions automatically without a lot of reflection.

But for the nomads, the one’s who travel, the unfamiliar shakes us into thinking consciously, deliberately about entrenched habits, values, goals and perhaps even the meaning of life. This is why this phrase remains with me as a question mark, a point of departure for a line of deep reflection that will never end . . .

an ethical topography of Self and the Other based on an authentic relationship of mutual respect

It is by encountering the stranger, the unheimlich, by getting lost in unfamiliar topographies (Taylor 1989, Murray 1991) that we open ourselves to encountering the Other in a spirit of hospitality and friendship that transcends our habitual ways of knowing. It is the unheimlich that puts into perspective that which we held to be true, about ourselves, our beliefs and our values. If the stranger offers us something that resonates or is dissonant with our own beliefs we are compelled to take them out in the light of day, to examine them with new eyes. It is as if in the mirror-pupil of the Other we see ourselves reflected. If we are mutually respectful we will accept that we are answerable (Bakhtin) to that Other and will at least closely examine our own reflection in her eyes. If we are truly practicing hospitality from a cosmopolitical viewpoint (Bennington and Derrida 1997) we will examine those unchallenged assumptions about our values in a more precise and logical way. We will use more precise instruments and acknowledge that somethings were not as they once seemed and our belief in them need to be revised. Others resonate so soundly that it is evident that they are part of our authentic selves.

I see this outer topography as a metaphor for the inner self. Reconfiguring rivers in that intellectual, emotional, spiritual landscape is to me like reconfiguring entrenched habits of thought or behaviour. It won’t happen through human nature but takes a conscious act of will. Through the conscious re-evaluation of our everyday habits and by willfully changing then repeating them day after day we can more clearly evaluate values, behaviours and with greater lucidity and reason (Changeux and Ricoeur 2000b).

Notes:
1. This is how I have come to internalize Charles Taylor’s moral topography of self. Psychologist Murray summarizes Charles Taylor’s concept of the moral topography of self.

2. Shields’ concept of an ethical dialogical relationship between self and the other has informed my understanding:

Dialogism offers us the potential within a more sophisticated theory of semiosis to position Self and Other, seeing their relationship for what it is, an ethical one of mutuality in the social construction of meaning.

Bibliography

Bakhtin. Answerability.

Changeux, Jean-Piere and Paul Ricoeur. 2000b. What Makes Us Think? A Neuroscientist and a Philosopher Argue about Ethics, Human Nature and the Brain. Translated by M. B. DeBevoise. Princeton: University of Princeton Press.

Bennington, Geoffrey and Derrida, Jacques. 1997. “Politics and Friendship: A Discussion with Jacques Derrida.” Centre for Modern French Thought. University of Sussex. 1 December.

Flynn-Burhoe, Maureen. 2007. “Reconfiguring Rivers Ethics Human Nature and the Brain. >> Speechless.

Murray, K. 1991. “A Life In The World In Australia.” Australian Cultural History. 10:32-45.

Shields, Rob. 1996. Meeting or mis-meeting? The dialogical challenge to Verstehen. British Journal of Sociology: 47.

Taylor, Charles. 1989. “Moral Topography of Self.” in Messer L A Sass and R L Wootfolk (eds) Hermeneutics and Psychological Theory: Interpretive Perspectives on Personality, Psychotherapy and Psychopathology New Brunswick Rutgers University Press.


If our minds are what our brains do (Dennett 2003:i) and changing entrenched brain pathways may be harder than we think (Merkl 2007) is the logical conclusion of an entirely naturalistic Darwinian human evolution a more just, humane world or a dystopia? Or you tried to change your mind but your brain wouldn’t let you.

Dennett (2003) argues that the evolution of the human brain over deep time has followed the laws of natural science and that human free will is an emergent phenomena of that same physical process. He forcefully argues that biological determinism does not limit human behaviour to predictable, inevitable outcomes.

Dennett contends that recognition of the true nature of man as an exclusively physical body proscribed by the laws of nature will provide a stronger, wiser doctrine of freedom (Dennett 2003:22) than the belief that the reality of man resides in her immaterial, immortal human soul capable of defying the laws of nature (Dennett 2003:1).

Man’s evolution towards moral thinking and existential interpretations is constituted by higher levels of evolution, more advanced outcomes of the natural evolution of entities towards emergent changes that allowed them to avoid harm and reproduce themselves (Dennett 2003:22).

While Dennett draws on arguments from biology, cognitive neuroscience, economics and philosophy proposing provocative and original arguments, there is a lack of the psychological or sociological2 imaginations in his work. It is in the area of habits (particularly those that are institutionalized or community-sanctioned) that flaws may be revealed in Dennett’s arguments of a logical evolutionary conclusion of an emergent salutary human nature incapable of overriding its material brain yet somehow managing to move beyond its own autopoietic system. Would human nature not follow evolutionary pathways towards conservation of the familiar while eliminating that which is uncomfortably unfamiliar from everyday life? What are the ethical implications for sustaining an authentic pluralism, diversity of cultures? It is in this area of an expanded Derridian hospitality towards the stranger, the unknown that Dennett’s secular humanism fails to respond.

Like Dennett, William James1 (1986:369 cited in Tursi 1999) perceived the same evolutionary principles at work in inorganic matter that have been applied to organic matter. In the same year that James developed his ideas on the relationship between the birth of human consciousness, habit and knowing, Freud explored the concept of habit formation as simple agents of conservation that are instinctual reaching deeply back through consciousness, through organic and even organic compulsions. James seemed to perceive the evolutionary changes in human consciousness as radical agents of variance and development. He aligned habit and knowing so that free human agents develop habits by force of will and character. James regretfully admits that habits are difficult to change after the age of thirty (1890). Freud’s theorized that an organism, including a human being, is disposed towards repeating its own lived experience while protecting itself against unsafe levels of stimulation from the unknown, the unheimlich or the uncanny. Freud argued that the cerebral cortex as the seat of consciousness, recorded negative past experiences of unfamiliar stimuli protected itself by constructed hardened defensive shields against outer stimuli. James acknowledges the way in which habitual sequences and customary feelings provide us with an agreeable feeling of being at home with oneself, whereas unsafe levels of excitation from uncustomary, unfamiliar, incongruous representations evoke distress, doubt, misunderstanding and irrationality (Essays in Philosophy 345). For a more in-depth thoughtful discussion see Tursi (1999).

James “advocates idiosyncrasy, spontaneity, and originality as enrichments to a malleable world, he always returns to habit (Tursi 1999). We reconfigure the unfamiliar or uncanny, the unheimlich to a more welcome pattern (Pragmatism 122).

Just as rivers can be reconfigured so too can our neural networks but deep entrenchment of fast flowing rivers in their time-worn river beds are less flexible, less plastic and more embedded.

It may seem easy to change your mind, but if it’s your brain we’re talking about, maybe it’s harder than we think. A University of Houston professor is looking into this with research into something called ‘brain plasticity (Merkl 2007 ).’

Key Words: brain plasticity, free will, entrenched core beliefs, reconfiguring entrenched brain pathways, habits, character, morality and meaning,

Notes

1 The work of William James, considered by his followers as canonical, has been derided by his critics as classist and elitist. I consider it fortunate that his work has again found a legitimate place even with these critics. James began or contributed to so many debates that have been recently resuscitated.

2 Pierre Boudieu’s studies on the reproduction of social values through cultural institutions through schools and museums, for example, reveal the degree to which entrenched societal values continue to be reinforced in a hidden curriculum that benefits exclusive, powerful social strata. In Modernity and the Holocaust (1989) sociologist Zygmunt Bauman argued that genocide was the logical conclusion of the Enlightenment project with its promise of a better society based on shared western values. The Other who refused modernity would be eradicated through a process of natural selection that ensured a safer world for those with more power to reproduce themselves.

Not just for radicals, but for many mainstream liberals too, the road that began in the Enlightenment ends in savagery, even genocide. As the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman argues: ‘Every ingredient of the Holocaust… was normal… in the sense of being fully in keeping with everything we know about our civilisation, its guiding spirits, its priorities, its immanent vision of the world – and of the proper ways to pursue human happiness together with a perfect society (Bauman 1989:8).


Bibliography

Zygmunt Bauman. 1989. Modernity and the Holocaust. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), p8

Dennett, Daniel C. 2003. Freedom Evolves. New York: Penguin.

Flynn-Burhoe, Maureen. 2007. “You tried to change your mind but your brain wouldn’t let you.” >> papergirls. May 3. http://papergirls.wordpress.com/2007/05/04/you-tried-to-change-your-mind-but-your-brain-wouldnt-let-you /

Freud, Sigmund. 1953-75 [1919]. “Beyond the Pleasure Principle” in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works. Trans. and Gen. Ed. James Strachey. 24 vols. London: Hogarth, 1953-75.

James, William. 1890. “Habit.” The Principles of Psychology. http://psychclassics.yorku.ca/James/Principles/prin4.htm

James, William. 1986 [1919]. Essays in Psychical Research. Ed. Frederick H. Burkhardt, Fredson Bowers, and Ignas K. Skrupskelis. Cambridge: Harvard UP.

Merkl, Lisa. 2007. “How Plastic Is Your Brain? UH Engineer Seeks Answers.” Medical News Today. May 3. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/medicalnews.php?newsid=69263&nfid=crss


Tursi, Renee. 1999. “William James’ Narrative of Habit.” Style. Spring. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2342/is_1_33/ai_58055905/print

© Flynn-Burhoe, Maureen. “If our minds are what our brains do (Dennett 2003:i) and changing our brain’s habits may be harder than we think (Merkl 2007) can we achieve a wiser, stronger freer society through a process of purely natural selection as Dennett predicts?” >> Speechless
http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=ddp3qxmz_227c46gc3


 

Everyday life[1] is the space in which social interaction unfolds, memories are produced and sympathies formed. These impact directly on individual and collective evaluations of social justice and on human rights issues. It is a matter of critically engage with useful concepts, to situate pivotal moments in space and time so that we will be able to evaluate situations ─ in the case of human rights to evaluate justice ─ with greater lucidity and reason (Changeux and Ricoeur 2000b).


[1] Everyday life is a dynamic social space, where in meanings are mutually constructed by human actors who are answerable or responsible for actions. This concept of answerability within everyday events, was developed by Bakhtin (1998:181) and summarized by Bender (1971) The working concept of everyday life as “the ground of sociality, culture, and the emotional ground tone of individual interaction” was developed by Lefebvre (1999), and Shields (Thompson 1939).

Bibliography

 

 

Changeux, Jean-Piere and Paul Ricoeur. 2000a. “Origins of Morality: Darwian Evolution and Moral Norms.” Translated by M. B. DeBevoise. Pp. 179- in What Makes Us Think? A Neuroscientist and a Philosopher Argue about Ethics, Human Nature and the Brain. Princeton:University of Princeton Press.

 

Changeux, Jean-Piere and Paul Ricoeur. 2000b. What Makes Us Think? A Neuroscientist and a Philosopher Argue about Ethics, Human Nature and the Brain. Translated by M. B. DeBevoise. Princeton: University of Princeton Press.

 

© 2007 Flynn-Burhoe, Maureen. 2007. “Reconfiguring Rivers: Ethics, Human Nature and the Brain.” > Speechless. April 28. http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=ddp3qxmz_208hp4xp6

 

Speechless

December 11, 2006


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Somewhere on the Pacific a small lifeboat shared by two unwilling and unlikely passengers rolled with the waves. Pi knew he could do more than just survive once he realized that Richard was dependent on him. Pi could fish. A Bengal Tiger, king of his own ecosystem, would die at sea without the help of the seventeen-year-old. The book really ended there; it didn’t matter after that what was truth or fiction. Pi’s understanding of power in everyday life was his new reality.

Speechless refers to both the writer and reader. At one level it’s about a writers’ block being blogged. At another level is refers to deafening silence that occurs when one speaks with too much feeling or mentions an uncomfortable idea in a nice place, a unpleasant reminder in polite company, a divergent idea in a space of group think, another perspective than the Renaissance perspective. But it also refers to robust conversations among political philosophers who understand the power of language and everyday life. Socrates, Plato, Derrida called for renewals in philosophy. They examined what we do with words, the role of memory. Speechless alludes to Derrida’s urgent appeal for a renewed democracy, for a revitalized philosophy from a cosmopolitical point of view.

The human eye can distinguish 16 values of grey but that’s not including the subtle differences in the colours of grey. We just don’t have the time to see the variations.

I began speechless on October 16, 2006. Two months later I have learned what a permalink is and how to make one. It’s the equivalent to the old web page’s index.html. Now I have to learn where to use it.

https://oceanflynn.wordpress.com/index.php/2006/12/11/speechless

The cloud of tags below has grown organically since I first began using WordPress as my main blog host on October 16, 2006. I am building my customized clouds of folksonomies by working on and learning from a number of Web 2.0 feeds. This includes a Flickr account for photo blogging which attracts alot of viewers. I have only a couple of dozen images but one image alone uploaded on October 22, 2006 was viewed 1,179 times over a period of 64 days! I reworked this image again and posted it on speechless under “Wave Algorithms.”

Featured folksonomy:

Benign colonialism is a term that refers to an alleged form of colonialism in which benefits outweighed risks for indigenous population whose lands, resources, rights and freedoms were preempted by a colonizing nation-state. The historical source for the concept of benign colonialism resides with John Stuart Mills who was chief examiner of the British East India Company dealing with British interests in India in the 1820s and 1830s. Mills most well-known essays (1844) on benign colonialism are found in Essays on some Unsettled Questions of Political Economy. Mills’ view contrasted with Burkean orientalists. Mills promoted the training of a corps of bureaucrats indigenous to India who could adopt the modern liberal perspective and values of 19th century Britain. Mills predicted this group’s eventual governance of India would be based on British values and perspectives. Those who adopt benign colonialism as a truth claim argue that education, health, housing and employment possibilities improved conditions for indigenous peoples as settlers, merchants and administrators also brought new industries, liberal markets, developed natural resources and introduced improved governance. The first wave of benign colonialism lasted from c. 1790s-1960s. The second wave included new colonial policies such as exemplified in Hong Kong (Liu 2003)), where unfettered expansion of the market created a new form of benign colonialism. Political interference and military interference (Doyle 2006) in independent nation-states, such as Iraq (Campo 2004 ), is also discussed under the rubric of benign colonialism in which a foreign power preempts national governance to protect a higher concept of freedom. The term is also used in the 21st century to refer to American, French and Chinese market activities in countries on the African continent with massive quantities of underdeveloped nonrenewable envied resources. Literature that challenges the assumptions of benign colonialism claiming colonialist project as it actually unfolded placed First Nations, Inuit and Métis at higher risks of vulnerabilities to catastrophes, to social exclusion and human rights abuses, have not been as widely publicized.

For more see Flynn-Burhoe (2007).

There is a widespread Canadian mythology that First Nations, Inuit and Métis are among those who benefited from settler colonies prempting, improving, managing and governing aboriginal lands, resources and educating, training, developing, serving, monitoring and governing its peoples. Those who adopt benign colonialism as a truth claim argue that education, health, housing and employment possibilities improved conditions for the indigenous peoples since the arrival of settlers. Literature that challenges the assumptions of benign colonialism claiming colonialist project as it actually unfolded placed First Nations, Inuit and Métis at higher risks of vulnerabilities to catastrophes, to social exclusion and human rights abuses, have not been as widely publicized. The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP) addressed these claims but the term benign colonialism is still a convenient truth for many. Celebratory and one-sided social histories of the Hudson’s Bay Company, the RCMP, and various government leaders such as John A. MacDonald or civil servants such as Indian Agents, northern adventurers, when viewed through the lens of settlers while ignoring the perspective of First Nations, Inuit and Métis contribute to on-going dissemination of distorted histories. Museums, maps and census contribute to these distorted histories by grave omissions.

Related citations:

“Today, Mill’s most controversial case would be benign colonialism. His principles of nonintervention only hold among “civilized” nations. “Uncivilized” peoples, among whom Mill dumps most of Africa, Asia, and Latin America, are not fit for the principle of nonintervention. Like Oude (in India), they suffer four debilitating infirmities – despotism, anarchy, amoral presentism and familism — that make them incapable of self-determination. The people are imposed upon by a “despot… so oppressive and extortionate as to devastate the country.” Despotism long endured has produced “such a state of nerveless imbecility that everyone subject to their will, who had not the means of defending himself by his own armed followers, was the prey of anybody who had a band of ruffians in his pay.” The people as a result deteriorate into amoral relations in which the present overwhelms the future and no contracts can be relied upon. Moral duties extend no further than the family; national or civic identity is altogether absent. In these circumstances, Mill claims, benign colonialism is best for the population . Normal relations cannot be maintained in such an anarchic and lawless environment. It is important to note that Mill advocates neither exploitation nor racialist domination. He applies the same reasoning to once primitive northern Europeans who benefited from the imperial rule imposed by civilized Romans. The duties of paternal care, moreover, are real, precluding oppression and exploitation and requiring care and education designed to one day fit the colonized people for independent national existence. Nonetheless, the argument also rests on (wildly distorted) readings of the history and culture of Africa and Asia and Latin America. Anarchy and despotic oppression did afflict many of the peoples in these regions, but ancient cultures embodying deep senses of social obligation made nonsense of presentism and familism. Shorn of its cultural “Orientalism,” Mill’s argument for trusteeship addresses one serious gap in our strategies of humanitarian assistance: the devastations that cannot be readily redressed by a quick intervention designed to liberate an oppressed people from the clutches of foreign oppression or a domestic despot. But how does one prevent benign trusteeship from becoming malign imperialism, particularly when one recalls the flowery words and humanitarian intentions that accompanied the conquerors of Africa? How far is it from the Anti-Slavery Campaign and the Aborigine Rights Protection Society to King Leopold’s Congo and Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”?

Here Doyle is referring to John S. Mill cited in “A Few Words on Nonintervention.” . 1973. In Essays on Politics and Culture, edited by Gertrude Himmelfarb, 368-84. Gloucester, Peter Smith.

See also WordPress featured blogs Benign colonialism.

Related tags: Tom Kent Royal Commission on Newspapers, Hackett and Zhao, economic efficiency, Power and everyday life, ethical topography of self and the Other, teaching learning and research, wealth disparities will intensify, C.D. Howe, Cannibals with Forks.Selected annotated webliography

Campo, Juan E.  2004. “Benign Colonialism? The Iraq War: Hidden Agendas and Babylonian Intrigue.” Interventionism. 26:1. Spring.

Doyle, Michael W.  2006. “Sovereignty and Humanitarian Military Intervention.” Hoover Institute.

Falk, Richard. Human Rights Horizons: the Pursuit of Justice in a Globalizing World. New York & London: Routledge.

Flynn-Burhoe, Maureen. 2007. Benign colonialism. >> Speechless. Uploaded January 14th, 2007

Liu, Henry C. K. “China: a Case of Self-Delusion: Part 1: From colonialism to confusionLiu 2003.” Asia Times. May 14, 2003.

Kurtz,Stanley. 2003.”Lessons from the British in India.” Democratic Imperialism: A Blueprint. Policy Review.Mill, John Stuart. 1844. Essays on some Unsettled Questions of Political Economy.
Of these Essays, which were written in 1829 and 1830,

Current debates on colonization and human rights (Falk 2000) raise questions about the notion of benign colonialism. The dominant language, culture and values of colonizers imposed on colonised peoples is often narrated as salutary. Dominant social and cultural institutions contributed to faciliating the entry of indigenous peoples trapped in unsustainable subsistence economies. Previously colonised peoples claim that the colonization process resulted in a parallel process of the colonization of the minds of indigenous peoples. The process of decolonization of memory (Ricoeur 1980), history and the spirit is crucial for the social inclusion (OECD) of indigenous peoples and nations within nations, such as Canada.

 

Aquarium Gaze

November 4, 2006


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This layered Adobe Photoshop image was inspired by a paragraph in Michael Ignatieff’s book entitled Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry. This was the book preferred by the adult students in the Human Rights course I taught at Nunavut Arctic College, Iqaluit, NU in 2002-3. Aquarium Gaze

“Here was a scientist, trained in the traditions of European rational inquiry, turning a meeting between two human beings into an encounter between different species. Progress may be a contested concept, but we make progress to the degree that we act upon the moral intuition that Dr. Pannwitz was wrong: our species is one, and each of the individuals who compose it is entitled to equal moral consideration. Human rights is the language that systematically embodies this intuition, and to the degree that this intuition gains influence over the conduct of individuals and states, we can say that are making moral progress.[...] Human rights was a response to Dr. Pannwitz, to the discovery of the abomination that could occur when the Westphalian state was accorded unlimited sovereignity, when citizens of that state lacked normative grounds to disobey legal but immoral orders. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights represented a return by the European tradition to its natural law heritage, a return intended to restore agency, to give individuals the civic courage to stand up when the state ordered them to do wrong.”(Ignatieff 2001)

My emerging folksonomy:

This linear page entitled Memory Work will be a site of collecting and sharing focused research on the urgently needed on the concept of memory work. This concept was developed by Ricoeur, Derrida, Cixous, Nora. It is urgently need in a postnational, post-WW II, post-apartheid, post-RCAP world where citizens move closer to reconciliation, towards forgiveness or apologies, while revisiting distorted histories with an attitude of mutual respect for Self and the Other-I.

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