Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Studying habits in an age of ignorance

Mike of Then There was Light reports on Toronto's Israel Apartheid Week Event 1 - Preaching Hate to the Converted:
A complete irony that most people in the crowd are probably too thick to have realized is that the moderator of the event had no idea how to pronounce the word Apartheid - she kept pronouncing the th wrong. And this wasn’t an accent issue, she just genuinely had no idea how to pronounce it. It just goes to show you how much they really know about what Apartheid is. If you didn’t even take the time to learn how to pronounce the word, then isn’t it safe to assume that you never even took the time to learn what it is? Apartheid is completely misrepresented by these people, and it’s such a shame to the true victims of South African Apartheid.
And this brings me to the point I really want to make. The people involved in this movement are all on the fringe extreme left. This kind of talk is, I am sorry to say it, completely out of touch with reality. Who still refers to themselves in Marxian terms?

And I’m not just talking about the organizers and the speakers being on the fringe extreme left. That’s expected. The good news is that a quick analysis of the demographics of the entire crowd really speaks volumes for the so-called success and growth of this movement. The crowd was almost completely made up of two groups: muslim/arabs, and middle aged Caucasian ex-hippies.
As I commented at Mike's, however, we should not assume that the many who would not waste their time at such an event are immune to all the crazy talk about Israel as some kind of "apartheid" state. The scapegoating of Israel has clearly gone mainstream and is the agenda of many states, the media, academy, and NGOs, among others.

However, because the powerful are often backing the "apartheid" theme in today's representations of Israel, they leave themselves open to revelations that they are not in touch with reality. And that is an opportunity for those of us who want to renew our culture's commitment to a shared reality. Two recent blogs touch on this question of how we can now hope to do some creative work by reaching out to those who are starting already to see the failures of the Obama-led world view. See 1) Wretchard's latest at the Belmont Club:
The time for recriminations comes later. Kimball knows this and warns against the Tertullian heresy, which holds that one of the delights in heaven is watching the damned burn in hell. That’s wrong; even professional soldiers know better. They let defeated generals keep their swords. Right now the important thing is to realize we’re in a hole and to stop digging. Paradoxically, the apparent vindication of those who called for a closer look at the Lightworker will make it harder for those who voted for him to get up on national TV and eat crow. It’s just too humiliating. Although Cramer and even Matthews may get to the point where they substantively criticize Obama’s policies, they’ll dance around BHO for a while, because I don’t see them coming on the air in sackcloth and ashes. Nobody wants to say he was wrong in general, but they don’t mind admitting they were mistaken in particulars. For example, Martin Peretz has been on a campaign to attack Obama’s choice for chairman of the National Intelligence Council, Chas Freeman, as a Saudi stooge. There should be no need to go further. That should be enough of a plank on which to build bridges.

If conservatives are astute they should be building mini-coalitions with Obama supporters who have seen the penny — the two million ton penny — drop. On them.

And for those willing to grapple with the discipline of Generative Anthropology, see Adam's latest at the GABlog:
the Democrats had a near-death experience between 2000-2006, when they were shut out of power at all levels of the federal government for what I assume was the first time since the founding of the party, they have never seen the Republican revolt against the New Deal State as legitimate, and they are determined not to go through all that again. The Global Intifada is in the ascendancy and normalcy is on the defensive–who knows, maybe on its last legs. Of course, it will all crash, but when and how can’t be predicted, nor can the precise shape and size of the pieces that will need to be picked up–much less who will be around with the capacity to start putting them back together. So why talk about it?
And so Adam turns instead to a discussion of habits, since we can discuss our habits in a much less contentious way than we can discuss more formal intellectual or political positions. And yet what are these positions but the distillation of our habits, which are in turn our inheritance from past models of human creativity, and which, in their interactions with other peoples' habits, will somehow lead us to create new models and norms in future when the failure of today's reigning ideologies becomes clear.

Discussing our habits in terms of those who accept risk, who are willing to go "first" in attempts to model some new reality, in contrast to those who go last in affirming a new communal norm and who then hold on most incessantly to this favored model of reality, Adam argues:
The first takes risks, but never everything he has except in an emergency, and certainly never what others have–the first needs his credibility so as to see the circulation of the sign through to the end. The last eschews risks, but this might take various forms: the discipline imposed by the poor parent–the unwavering insistence upon the exact imitation of the best models–upon the children who might, in a reasonably open environment, do better, initiate something of their own; or it might be a parasitic set of demands upon “society,” which, after all, is rich enough to support anyone. The most productive errors in an open society where rituals have been mostly replaced by habits (that’s another story, isn’t it?) are precisely those where the lasts make their bid for firstness, and get the model all wrong–thereby transforming it into new models. Meanwhile, the terror of error is reinforced by the alliance between those legatees of firstness who blame firstness for lastness and the worst habits of the last–both participants in this alliance collude in confirming for each other that their errors are nothing of the sort, but an arbitrary exclusion mechanism deployed by the firsts.

So, extricating ourselves from the conjoined and mutually reinforcing crises of the Global Intifada and the financial meltdown, and getting the process started without any expectation of help or good models from our mainstream institutions, involves creating sites of generative interaction between the habits of those who are first on the current scene and those who are last but would be first on some future one. The way to set these (or any) divergent sets of habit in productive interaction is to create assignments–minimal tasks and rules in following which the limits of each set of habits opens it to the other set. A good assignment generates productive errors around which we then gather so as to turn them into a sign. The best way to approach it is to establish a model, transcending both the first and the last, as absolute–our common starting point is then delineating its distinctiveness and establishing a “perimeter” distancing the model from criticism (resentment). We all–first and last alike–then commence to iterate that model, knowing we shall all err, and committing ourselves to the creation of new models out of that array of errors. The beauty of this approach is that we can all follow our own habits slavishly (a key ingredient of happiness) in perfectly good conscience because doing the same thing over and over again (iterating my own eccentric appopriation of the model) keeps making everything different–that is, generating new signs. Together we gather maxims–which I am coming to see as the highest form of thinking–from the process: maxims are translations of the interference of one set of habits with another into rules (both in the sense of discerning regularities and in the sense of obeying a series of imperatives) and are generative of new habits in turn–ultimately, what Charles Sanders Peirce called the “deliberately formed, self-analyzing habit.”

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