All we are saying is “give peace a chance”

Just finished watching the #BEDPEACE video which Yoko Ono has made available for this weekend via a free stream. It is a portrait of John and Yoko’s Bed-In in Montreal from 1969. Yoko writes “John and I were so naïve to think that doing the Bed-In would help change the world.” My response would be “yes” and “no”. I’d like to elaborate on a few points, if I may.

The Beatles Bed In for Peace and the whole counter-culture movement of the sixties is indirectly part of my youth and something that always strikes a chord within me. I was to young to experience the movement firsthand. I was only seven years old when the Bed-In took place. But later in the seventies when I began to get interested in music, I was always drawn to the music and culture that took place at that time instead of the contemporary music of the day. I had often secretly wished that I would have been born ten years earlier so that I could have experienced all these things firsthand. Maybe I was drawn to it because then events of that period had already achieved a kind of mythical status by the mid seventies. I’m sure there are many factors. But maybe it was better that I wasn’t born earlier. Perhaps my reaction would have been different.

Anyway, in 1980 I became a Christian of the evangelical variety and as was the case with many like me, I was drawn into the realm of conservative political thought, This in turn brought me into an inner conflict about many of the views of the sixties and in particular John and Yoko’s pacifism. I had accepted as true  and necsessary many of the things which they were campaigning against. I have since become more flexible in my thinking, which is in a constant process of reevaluation. Especially the fact that I’ve lived outside the USA for over twenty years now, has given me the opportunity to reflect on things from afar and from other perspectives.

Watching the video struck me and I was impressed by several things. John Lennon was very intelligent and had an excellent grasp of human nature and the problems of the world. Quite remarkable, since at the time he was not yet thirty years old. He was not advocating a kind of class warfare. He realized that the problem lie in the heart of all mankind. He realized that a revolution by force would not solve things but simply replace the existing regime with a new one that would end up repeating the same mistakes. His hope was to do something different, to change the hearts of people and bring change from within. This is where I would disagree with Yoko. They were not naïve in thier analysis of the problem but right on.

Where I would agree with Yoko is in another area, their solution to the problem. The change that is required in the heart of mankind is not something that can be achieved by a simple refelction and change of the will. It requires Jesus Christ. The nature of mankind must be radically altered and this can only be achieved by God. But for this to occur we need as individualy to recognize this and ask for his forgiveness and life changing power. A conversion must take place which takes usfrom the kingdom of darkeness into the kingdom of light. As admirable as their efforts were I think they were naïve as to the solution.

I think many valuable lessons can still be gained from their approach: we require change,  the system is not the problem but our human nature, it is our responsibility to take action the solution won’t come from othersin the sense of a system or structure. In my opinion the action that is needed is for us to get on our knees and come before God. Yes, “power to the people,” but the power comes from God.

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Where are the protests?

Is it just me or are other people missing something? Why are there no mass protests about the wests military action against Libya? if you remember a few years back there was a man named George W. Bush and a situation in a country called Iraq. As far as I can tell the situation is not that much different. One could even argue that Saddam Hussein was much worse than Gadaffi.

Yes, it’s still early days. And maybe things are different. But somehow I have the sneaking suspicion that all the anti-war protesters who vehemently opposed the Iraqi invasion are asleep at the wheel. Back then reasons were given for opposing the war, that should be just as applicable to the situation now. But the moralists and pacifists don’t seem to have the Libyan situation on their radar.

A few explanations come to mind. Maybe the situation is different. Maybe there are vital U.S. interests at stake. But what? Maybe things are moving to quickly and the protesters need time to organize. Maybe the mood of the country has shifted. Or perhaps Obama has been more clever. Bush tried to get the public behind him before committing to military action. Obama just went ahead and did it without asking anyone. Perhaps he couldn’t be bothered it might take away from his time watching a Basketball tournament.

tell me people what is the difference between the situation then and now and tell me why Bush’s handling of Iraq was so bad and why Obama’s handling of this is OK. I’d really like to know.

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Hats off to the Egyptians

Hats off to the protesters. They have been by and large peaceful. They have withstood attempts from looters and pro-Mubarak crowds to generate chaos. Christians and Muslims have worked together.

Hats off to the military. They have been restrained and for the most part neutral. They have kept things from escalating. And now it seems they are stepping in giving guarantees that reform processes toward full democracy will go forward.

Hats NOT off to Mubarak. He seems to have completely misread the voice of the people and the seriousness of the situation. He has tried one trick after another to try and placate the protesters and has failed. His speech was just confusing. Is he stepping down or not? He could have been more forthright and clear.

but still …

Hats off to Mubarak. I believe he does want to keep Egypt from degenerating into chaos. I believe he does want to prevent Egypt from developing into a radical Muslim state in which the people would be worse off than they are now.

And now …

But what happens now? Interesting days and months are ahead.

Will the reforms really go through?

Will the Military take over? They certainly must be considering the fact that a democratic Egypt could move in a direction which would cause the U.S. and others to reduce their subventions of the Egyptian military.

What will become of the Arab-Israeli peace accords? Egypt has been a cornerstone of the fragile peach which has prevailed over the last 30 years. If a future Egypt scraps this, what will transpire? This is especially probably if the Muslim Brother has a strong voice. But is this true? I’ve read reports that the Muslim Brotherhood is largely secular and then other reports which deny this. The times they are a changin’.

And lastly …

How shall we judge the effects of Bush’s invasion of Iraq to the mood in the Arab world? One of Bush’s justifications for the war, number 5 – I believe ;), was that he wanted to bring democracy to the region. Things certainly didn’t go as he planned. Off course there are a many factors causing the protests in the Arab world but I think it would be dishonest to discount the influence the the Iraqi-Invasion has had on the region.

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The tyranny of the perlocution

When trying to understand the statements and actions of others we often misinterpret their intentions. Depending on the subject matter, such misinterpretations can lead to heated accusations flying in both directions and end up in a situation resembling WWI style trench warfare. I believe we should be aware of two key elements in the communication process which can aid in reducing the amount of trench warfare and improve our dialog with people holding disparate ideas.

Element #1: The Perlocution

When people make statements and assertions, part of what they say is external and accessible to all: e.g. sentences, words, text layout, body language and gestures etc. Another part of what they’re saying is unspoken and internal: e.g. their specific understanding of the terms and signs being used, the connotations of the phrases, the motivation for and the purpose of the statement etc. This is an important point to recognize. Every time you interpret the statements and actions of another person, part of the work involved is in essence guess work. The meaning you associate with their statements is based in part on your ability to adequately ascertain the speakers internal understandings, motivations and views. The term perlocution stems from the speech-act theory of J. L. Austin. What I am referring to with the term (which may not be 100% congruent with Austin’s usage) are the goals and motivations of a speaker, pertinent to a speech act, which do to their subjective nature are only truly knowable by the speaker him- or herself. Even if one does not hold to Austin’s speech-act theory, I think one must concede that something exists similar to what I have described, regardless of the use of the perlocution moniker.

Element #2: Worldviews

Wikipedia defines a worldview as a “fundamental cognitive orientation of an individual or society encompassing natural philosophy; fundamental existential and normative postulates; or themes, values, emotions, and ethics.” When we think about how things work in the world, what the cause and effect relationship is, the ethical evaluation of specific activities and a host of other issues, the judgments we make are related to our worldview. When a boy on the school playground through speech and action is aggressive and assertive, some may judge this behavior as “bullying” and others may view it as a demonstration of “a healthy ego.” One person sees the use of military force as a proper response to a specific threat. Another person views the same use of military force as unwarranted and even as a cause rather than solution to problems. I.e. the same activity is judged differently by different people. This is because the people in question hold different worldviews about how people should relate to one another and what role military force plays in the world.

The tyranny of the perlocution occurs when these two elements of human nature (perlocution and worldview) are inappropriately combined. Unfortunately, this appears to be the standard procedure among human beings. We combine the outward expressions from others with our personal worldview in order to deduce the related perlocutions of the other. This often results in misunderstanding and hostility. Because the communication process necessarily involves a degree of speculation about the the motives and goals of the speaker, we are forced to fill the void (the missing perlocutionary qualities) with something. The most natural source is our own worldview. When someone makes a statement, we instinctively ask ourselves, “why are they saying this?” or “what do they hope to gain from this?” The most natural answer comes from our own experience. We imagine ourselves making such a statement and deduce the perlocutionary qualities that would accompany such a statement. We then ascribe these deduced perlocutionary qualities to be those of the speaker. The problem arises when the the speaker and the hearer subscribe to differing worldviews. The actual perlocutionary qualities of the speaker may be quite different than those ascribed to him or her.

Two examples

Many people view the world through the lens of making money. Not that they themselves are greedy but they conclude that the desire for money is the primary motivation for personal sacrifice. For them this is how people tick. However, there are people in the world who view speak and act from other motivations. Perhaps they desire to order their world based on aesthetics. Others may be motivated by the belief and hope for tolerance and peaceful coexistence among people. I have repeatedly observed situations similar to the following: when someone from the “money makes the world go around” worldview hears a statement from a person who holds a different worldview, they interpret the statement based on their own worldview, which states that most things are money driven. How many times have you heard something like “everything he says is just show, all he really wants to do is make a buck.”

In the political arena in the U.S.A. the left and the right regularly condemn one another by ascribing motives that IMO are often false. The right accuses the left of negative socialist goals because this is the only explanation of the left’s activities based on the worldview of the right. The left accuses the right of desires for totalitarian and regressive control because this is the only sensible explanation of the activities of the right based on the worldview of the left. Could it not be that the left has a noble goal, for example combating oppression? Could it also not be that the right is simply acting on moral conviction about what they believe to be right and wrong? Would it not be better if the left and the right attempted to understand the worldview and presuppositions of each other before resorting to a childish demonizing of the opponent?

In short people normally interpret the statements and others by using their own worldview and often come to incorrect conclusions. My suggestion would be that we try to make a correct judgment about the motives of the other. This, however, is not always an easy task. It entails two things which often go against our nature: 1.) we must realize that everyone does not think like I do, i.e. they have a different worldview, and 2.) we must be humble and consider the possibility that my worldview may be incorrect, i.e. just because I have an understanding of how the world functions, it may not be correct.

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Consequences of a Postmodern Epistemology – Part 1

In the course of my life I have been fortunate to witness many profound happenings. One thing that has intrigued me is the societal transition from a predominantly modern (in the epistemological sense) to a postmodern culture. In this series of posts I want to ponder some of the consequences of this transition.

Background

Classical Definition of Kno

Image via Wikipedia

In my understanding one of the main differences between modernism and postmodernism on the epistemological level is that modernism believes one can obtain objective and certain knowledge.  Postmodernism disagrees and holds that one cannot know with certainty and that objectivity is a pipe dream.

One implication of a modernist epistemology is that its practitioners assume a warrant to impose their understanding upon the less enlightened. After all they posses a certain and objective truth (so it is assumed).

Postmodernism brings a moral dimension into the epistemological debate. It is assumed that practices stemming from a modernist epistemology come from impure motives and generally are an attempt at maintaining (even misusing) power.

Analysis

For all the criticism waged against modernism there is one thing that it can do well. It can maintain order and unity. Postmodernism cannot do this. In fact it encourages the opposite. Unity or disunity, order or chaos can take place at all levels of a society depending on the predominant epistemological modal. In politics, in the judicial system, in ethical questions even in the church.

Although I agree with much of the postmodern criticism against modernity I see a naive and fatal flaw in its argumentation that could prove disastrous. In my understanding postmoderns assume that mankind left on its own without the evil domination of moderns would live in peace, happiness and generally be better off. I disagree, my contention is that the evil in the world propagated by mankind is normal and to be expected. This is a Christian anthropology, which asserts the depravity of mankind. When people live in peace and justice reigns this is not the normal and expected state of affairs but rather an exception.

A Societal Consequence

Map of former Yugoslavia during last wars.

Image via Wikipedia

I think the driving force behind the implementation of societal practices and norms, which are based upon a postmodern epistemology, is the hope that the removal of modern dominance will release society from bondage and peace, prosperity and happiness will ensue.

This, however, assumes a much more optimistic anthropology. If this assumption is incorrect and an anthropology of depravity is closer to reality, than the removal of modern dominance will not result in prosperity but in catastrophe. The developments in post cold war Yugoslavia provide a possible analogy. During the cold war an oppressive regime was able to maintain order among the differing ethnicities. With the removal of this regime society became worse and not better.

In the western world we may experience something similar in the long term. Instead of returning to Eden we may end up in Belgrad.

Conclusion

I’m not proposing a return to modernism. I too see many of its faults. At the same time I do not view postmodernism as an epistemological improvement. A moral improvement yes to a degree, but epistemologically it is a step backward. Thus my position is neither full fledged modernism nor full fledged postmodernism. There are positive aspects to both. In our zeal to do penance for the sins of modernism let us not be naive and forget some of the positive aspects.

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