Sunday, December 18, 2016


The Deconstruction of Aleppo

Below are quotes from: ”We Don't Have Enough Proof: Pizzagate as Epistemological Panic” by a U of Chicago Div School prof, Spencer Dew, published on “Sightings” recently.  See for more info which is presumed to be reliable.  Here's the link to the article as published: links.

(Pizzagate is the irreverent name for a shooting episode at a pizza place rumored to be trafficking children.  A man with a rifle went there to “get to the bottom of this.”)

Here’s the key:  
“The desire is to go beyond belief: to know, to be certain, and to convince the world of the objective and factual reality of the theory.” 

“Pizzagate is merely one manifestation of our current epistemological panic, facilitated by the replacement of (elite) broadcasting venues with populist access to media, stoked by anxiety over the overlap of the megawealthy with those in positions of political power, exacerbated by those things that are not merely engaged in but valued and given value by the megawealthy (contemporary art, in particular: Jeff Koons, Lady Gaga, and Marina Abramović all represent foci for terror; their decadence and/or esotericism coupled with a magical commodification of otherwise commonplace objects, from balloon animals to sliced meat to sitting and staring for a long time).

“The epistemological panic is, in turn, a moral panic, and, in keeping with moral panics in American history—Salem, for instance, or the ritual child abuse panic of the 1980s—it offers believers important roles in decoding the plot of and fighting against cosmic evil. Yet the current epistemological panic resists the certainty of previous moral panics: the anxiety over Satanic conspiracy is ultimately not as horrifying as the anxiety over not knowing and not knowing how to know or how to let others know.”

Epistemology is “the theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its methods, validity, and scope. Epistemology is the investigation of what distinguishes justified belief from opinion.”  One of the shifts not noted above, a kind of “meta” shift, is that to avoid conflict in society in America we have moved religion from belief to opinion.  From one all- encompassing institution as in the historic Roman Catholic church, to the many Protestant denominations born from schism.  And after that, the shattering into worldwide alternatives.  

It’s rather a problem in combat that if the other side believes absolutely and concretely that death will be transcended by faith in their god, they will fight in a more risky and potent way than those who think mostly democracy is a good thing.  Ask any veteran of Middle East conflict.  It's what’s makes terrorists so dangerous.  Maybe WWII was the last time we all fought beyond all limits to save something we all loved and believed in.  Maybe that’s why everyone seems to long for it as an ideal.

Another pair on either side of the belief/opinion split is science v. religion.  Science is supposed to be fact — we believe that it’s proven true — while religion is only strong opinion.  Then someone notices that science functions like a religion (a matter of conviction guided by culture) and then science (esp. in medicine) becomes opinion.  But science keeps on testing its beliefs, which reveals new truths and the abandonment of old truths — isn’t it then just a matter of opinion?

When issues are set up as dyads in this way, then the gap between the ends must be investigated.  Are they two ends of a continuum and, if so, is the continuum actually a gradient from a great something to a diminished something?  Are the two ends opposed (a joust, a duel) or somehow interacting (a thermostat)?  Is the separation an impossible abyss or a matter of negotiable defiance?

Those who try to define religion are almost always defeated by the complexity of the concept in our global world.  Different circumstances create different institutions.  (Is unified and persisting religion always an institution?)  The emphasis might be on history, liturgy, ecology, Cartesian logic, spiritual direction, morality, therapy, connection, propriety, buildings and borders, or — almost always -- social status.  Most crave prosperity and safety.  

The shifts I see within the UUA are an increased emphasis on therapy because of women entering the ministry, and an increased emphasis on social action pulling in secular politics, maybe to borrow power.  What will all these liberals do now that the Democrats have lost power?

The classes I took from Don Browning at U of C Div School concentrated on method.  Choices of METHOD ranged from rule-based (ten commandments), through principles (the greatest good for the greatest number) to situational (if we consider the facts of the event closely, we can see what should be done — which can be challenged as merely emotional).  Thinking this way was a revelation to me and I think it would be to most people who haven’t had this way of thinking.  Unfortunately, I will say cynically, most institutions discourage this level of reflection.  It takes time and makes people wander.  And wonder, which is hard work.

Recently I read something about our confusion concerning authorities being derived from the “death” of “God” who had previously (in Europe at least) been the ultimate resolver of any doubt over who was in charge.  The Pope could intervene among kings to settle wars.  One could quote God to counter even the US Supreme Court.  It was originally the foundation of the Constitution.  If the opposition to authority is merely citizens, ordinary people, having a difference of opinion, it's not a moral crisis.  

What is our source of authority now?  We don’t give nobody any respect.  They’re just protecting their own interests, which are defined in terms of profit.  Trump didn’t get elected because we all respect him so much.  It was because we are — like him — greedy.  Now he’s angry because he himself confuses the two and he thought he would be respected now.  His bad taste and ignorance of limits are to him just a matter of social opinion, not moral deficits when measured against more sophisticated or idealistic standards.

We’ve been anthropomorphic because our god was anthropomorphic.  Now we need to explore what is good and beautiful as well as just, even if we leave human emotion out.  But is there any way to judge something like the destruction of Aleppo besides the human tragedy?  Can bloated bodies and smashed ruins be beautiful?  Is bombing human homes worse than destroying the Great Coral Reef?

People looking for role models have been considering Genghis Khan.  He avoided scorched earth policies because they were bad for business.  No profits to tax.  He killed the leaders and elites, because they were too much trouble, and spared all those who weren’t valuable as slaves so they would go on making money to tax.  He would have been dismayed by low birth rates, the neglect of children, and resistance to immigrants because these are anti-growth.

On the other hand, some thinkers have pointed out that a major ecological disaster, including plagues and major earthquakes, always in the end reduce the population but force change and invention.  The harrowing is followed by a fertile blossoming that comes from our desperate attempt to discover a new certainty that will guarantee survival.  There is no such thing.  To be human is to be transient.

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