Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Anthropocentrism and the Technocratic Paradigm

Pope Francis writes (Laudato si’):


106. The basic problem goes even deeper: it is the way that humanity has taken up technology and its development according to an undifferentiated and one-dimensional paradigm. This paradigm exalts the concept of a subject who, using logical and rational procedures, progressively approaches and gains control over an external object. This subject makes every effort to establish the scientific and experimental method, which in itself is already a technique of possession, mastery and transformation. It is as if the subject were to find itself in the presence of something formless, completely open to manipulation. Men and women have constantly intervened in nature, but for a long time this meant being in tune with and respecting the possibilities offered by the things themselves. It was a matter of receiving what nature itself allowed, as if from its own hand. Now, by contrast, we are the ones to lay our hands on things, attempting to extract everything possible from them while frequently ignoring or forgetting the reality in front of us. Human beings and material objects no longer extend a friendly hand to one another; the relationship has become confrontational. This has made it easy to accept the idea of infinite or unlimited growth, which proves so attractive to economists, financiers and experts in technology. It is based on the lie that there is an infinite supply of the earth’s goods, and this leads to the planet being squeezed dry beyond every limit. It is the false notion that “an infinite quantity of energy and resources are available, that it is possible to renew them quickly, and that the negative effects of the exploitation of the natural order can be easily absorbed”.

107. It can be said that many problems of today’s world stem from the tendency, at times unconscious, to make the method and aims of science and technology an epistemological paradigm which shapes the lives of individuals and the workings of society. The effects of imposing this model on reality as a whole, human and social, are seen in the deterioration of the environment, but this is just one sign of a reductionism which affects every aspect of human and social life. We have to accept that technological products are not neutral, for they create a framework which ends up conditioning lifestyles and shaping social possibilities along the lines dictated by the interests of certain powerful groups. Decisions which may seem purely instrumental are in reality decisions about the kind of society we want to build.

108. The idea of promoting a different cultural paradigm and employing technology as a mere instrument is nowadays inconceivable. The technological paradigm has become so dominant that it would be difficult to do without its resources and even more difficult to utilize them without being dominated by their internal logic. It has become countercultural to choose a lifestyle whose goals are even partly independent of technology, of its costs and its power to globalize and make us all the same. Technology tends to absorb everything into its ironclad logic, and those who are surrounded with technology “know full well that it moves forward in the final analysis neither for profit nor for the well-being of the human race”, that “in the most radical sense of the term power is its motive – a lordship over all”. As a result, “man seizes hold of the naked elements of both nature and human nature”. Our capacity to make decisions, a more genuine freedom and the space for each one’s alternative creativity are diminished.

109. The technocratic paradigm also tends to dominate economic and political life. The economy accepts every advance in technology with a view to profit, without concern for its potentially negative impact on human beings. Finance overwhelms the real economy. The lessons of the global financial crisis have not been assimilated, and we are learning all too slowly the lessons of environmental deterioration. Some circles maintain that current economics and technology will solve all environmental problems, and argue, in popular and non-technical terms, that the problems of global hunger and poverty will be resolved simply by market growth. They are less concerned with certain economic theories which today scarcely anybody dares defend, than with their actual operation in the functioning of the economy. They may not affirm such theories with words, but nonetheless support them with their deeds by showing no interest in more balanced levels of production, a better distribution of wealth, concern for the environment and the rights of future generations. Their behaviour shows that for them maximizing profits is enough. Yet by itself the market cannot guarantee integral human development and social inclusion. At the same time, we have “a sort of ‘superdevelopment’ of a wasteful and consumerist kind which forms an unacceptable contrast with the ongoing situations of dehumanizing deprivation”, while we are all too slow in developing economic institutions and social initiatives which can give the poor regular access to basic resources. We fail to see the deepest roots of our present failures, which have to do with the direction, goals, meaning and social implications of technological and economic growth.

110. The specialization which belongs to technology makes it difficult to see the larger picture. The fragmentation of knowledge proves helpful for concrete applications, and yet it often leads to a loss of appreciation for the whole, for the relationships between things, and for the broader horizon, which then becomes irrelevant. This very fact makes it hard to find adequate ways of solving the more complex problems of today’s world, particularly those regarding the environment and the poor; these problems cannot be dealt with from a single perspective or from a single set of interests. A science which would offer solutions to the great issues would necessarily have to take into account the data generated by other fields of knowledge, including philosophy and social ethics; but this is a difficult habit to acquire today. Nor are there genuine ethical horizons to which one can appeal. Life gradually becomes a surrender to situations conditioned by technology, itself viewed as the principal key to the meaning of existence. In the concrete situation confronting us, there are a number of symptoms which point to what is wrong, such as environmental degradation, anxiety, a loss of the purpose of life and of community living. Once more we see that “realities are more important than ideas”.

111. Ecological culture cannot be reduced to a series of urgent and partial responses to the immediate problems of pollution, environmental decay and the depletion of natural resources. There needs to be a distinctive way of looking at things, a way of thinking, policies, an educational programme, a lifestyle and a spirituality which together generate resistance to the assault of the technocratic paradigm. Otherwise, even the best ecological initiatives can find themselves caught up in the same globalized logic. To seek only a technical remedy to each environmental problem which comes up is to separate what is in reality interconnected and to mask the true and deepest problems of the global system.

112. Yet we can once more broaden our vision. We have the freedom needed to limit and direct technology; we can put it at the service of another type of progress, one which is healthier, more human, more social, more integral. Liberation from the dominant technocratic paradigm does in fact happen sometimes, for example, when cooperatives of small producers adopt less polluting means of production, and opt for a non-consumerist model of life, recreation and community. Or when technology is directed primarily to resolving people’s concrete problems, truly helping them live with more dignity and less suffering. Or indeed when the desire to create and contemplate beauty manages to overcome reductionism through a kind of salvation which occurs in beauty and in those who behold it. An authentic humanity, calling for a new synthesis, seems to dwell in the midst of our technological culture, almost unnoticed, like a mist seeping gently beneath a closed door. Will the promise last, in spite of everything, with all that is authentic rising up in stubborn resistance?

113. There is also the fact that people no longer seem to believe in a happy future; they no longer lies elsewhere. This is not to reject the possibilities which technology continues to offer us. But humanity has changed profoundly, and the accumulation of constant novelties exalts a superficiality which pulls us in one direction. It becomes difficult to pause and recover depth in life. If architecture reflects the spirit of an age, our megastructures and drab apartment blocks express the spirit of globalized technology, where a constant flood of new products coexists with a tedious monotony. Let us refuse to resign ourselves to this, and continue to wonder about the purpose and meaning of everything. Otherwise we would simply legitimate the present situation and need new forms of escapism to help us endure the emptiness.

114. All of this shows the urgent need for us to move forward in a bold cultural revolution. Science and technology are not neutral; from the beginning to the end of a process, various intentions and possibilities are in play and can take on distinct shapes. Nobody is suggesting a return to the Stone Age, but we do need to slow down and look at reality in a different way, to appropriate the positive and sustainable progress which has been made, but also to recover the values and the great goals swept away by our unrestrained delusions of grandeur.


115. Modern anthropocentrism has paradoxically ended up prizing technical thought over reality, since “the technological mind sees nature as an insensate order, as a cold body of facts, as a mere ‘given’, as an object of utility, as raw material to be hammered into useful shape; it views the cosmos similarly as a mere ‘space’ into which objects can be thrown with complete indifference”. The intrinsic dignity of the world is thus compromised. When human beings fail to find their true place in this world, they misunderstand themselves and end up acting against themselves: “Not only has God given the earth to man, who must use it with respect for the original good purpose for which it was given, but, man too is God’s gift to man. He must therefore respect the natural and moral structure with which he has been endowed”.

116. Modernity has been marked by an excessive anthropocentrism which today, under another guise, continues to stand in the way of shared understanding and of any effort to strengthen social bonds. The time has come to pay renewed attention to reality and the limits it imposes; this in turn is the condition for a more sound and fruitful development of individuals and society. An inadequate presentation of Christian anthropology gave rise to a wrong understanding of the relationship between human beings and the world. Often, what was handed on was a Promethean vision of mastery over the world, which gave the impression that the protection of nature was something that only the faint-hearted cared about. Instead, our “dominion” over the universe should be understood more properly in the sense of responsible stewardship.

117. Neglecting to monitor the harm done to nature and the environmental impact of our decisions is only the most striking sign of a disregard for the message contained in the structures of nature itself. When we fail to acknowledge as part of reality the worth of a poor person, a human embryo, have blind trust in a better tomorrow based on the present state of the world and our technical abilities. There is a growing awareness that scientific and technological progress cannot be equated with the progress of humanity and history, a growing sense that the way to a better future a person with disabilities – to offer just a few examples – it becomes difficult to hear the cry of nature itself; everything is connected. Once the human being declares independence from reality and behaves with absolute dominion, the very foundations of our life begin to crumble, for “instead of carrying out his role as a cooperator with God in the work of creation, man sets himself up in place of God and thus ends up provoking a rebellion on the part of nature”.

118. This situation has led to a constant schizophrenia, wherein a technocracy which sees no intrinsic value in lesser beings coexists with the other extreme, which sees no special value in human beings. But one cannot prescind from humanity. There can be no renewal of our relationship with nature without a renewal of humanity itself. There can be no ecology without an adequate anthropology. When the human person is considered as simply one being among others, the product of chance or physical determinism, then “our overall sense of responsibility wanes”. A misguided anthropocentrism need not necessarily yield to “biocentrism”, for that would entail adding yet another imbalance, failing to solve present problems and adding new ones. Human beings cannot be expected to feel responsibility for the world unless, at the same time, their unique capacities of knowledge, will, freedom and responsibility are recognized and valued.

119. Nor must the critique of a misguided anthropocentrism underestimate the importance of interpersonal relations. If the present ecological crisis is one small sign of the ethical, cultural and spiritual crisis of modernity, we cannot presume to heal our relationship with nature and the environment without healing all fundamental human relationships. Christian thought sees human beings as possessing a particular dignity above other creatures; it thus inculcates esteem for each person and respect for others. Our openness to others, each of whom is a “thou” capable of knowing, loving and entering into dialogue, remains the source of our nobility as human persons. A correct relationship with the created world demands that we not weaken this social dimension of openness to others, much less the transcendent dimension of our openness to the “Thou” of God. Our relationship with the environment can never be isolated from our relationship with others and with God. Otherwise, it would be nothing more than romantic individualism dressed up in ecological garb, locking us into a stifling immanence.

120. Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties? “If personal and social sensitivity towards the acceptance of the new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away”.

121. We need to develop a new synthesis capable of overcoming the false arguments of recent centuries. ...

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Sunday, June 14, 2015

The thousand names of Greyhound

Whence comes the name Greyhound?

Webster: From Old English grighund and/or Old Norse greyhundr, the latter prefix from Indoeuropean ghru-, variation of gher-, to shine, whence also gray.

In other words, Webster ignores grig- and simply describes the derivation of grey-.

But the meaning to shine brings to mind the Irish for sun, grian.

Oxford English Dictionary (OED): “The etymology of the first element is unknown; it has no connexion with grey or with grew, Greek, nor with grey = badger.”

The OED does note that the Old English grig- or grieg- is equal to the the Old norse grey-.

It also notes that the variant grifhound is from variant pronunciation of grewhound (grew- being a corruption of grey with the idea of the breed having a “Greek” origin, i.e., an association with the origins of human civilization).

But perhaps the prefix grif- stands on its own. In French a griffe is a claw, as derived from the Frankish grif. In German, griff is a noun for catch, and greif is a verb for grasp. All of these fit the greyhound.

Further possibilities are suggested in Irish. Gadhar (pronounced “geyer”) means hunting dog. Gaothar (“gih-her”) means like the wind. Gaobhar (“givver”) means near, which is applicable as the greyhound was the companion of chiefs and kings: The legendary warrior Fionn Mac Uail’s favorite dogs were the greyhounds Bran and Sceólan; the name of the other legendary warrior Cú Chulainn, whose mythical cycle is that of the sun (grian), actually means the greyhound (cú) of Culann.

Rather than pinned to any of these, the name, and the creature herself, would seem to contain them all.

Irish provides yet another possibility with the word for hare: giorria (“giriyeh”). The word is geàrr (“gyarr”) in Scottish, from gearr-fhiadh, meaning short deer, which is the same in Irish and also meaning hare. It is pronounced “g’arig”, which is essentially the Irish pronunciation of grig-. Since most hunting hounds take a name from their prey, this seems to suggest a likely derivation for greyhound.

And Webster says hare comes from the Indoeuropean root kas [or has (whence ashen)], meaning gray! However, the OED says it is not related to similar germanic words for gray.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Why had it to go on and on and on?

“Injustice. The police themselves. Dirty politics. It’s grand to say let it stop to people who have been the victims of it. What were they supposed to do? Say they’re sorry they ever protested and go back to being unemployed, gerrymandered, beaten up by every policeman who took the notion, gaoled by magistrates and judges who were so vicious that it was they who should be gaoled, and for life, for all the harm they did and all the lives the ruined?”

—Seamus Deane, Reading in the Dark, 1996

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

An Milleánach

Flann O’Brien’s The Poor Mouth is titled An Béal Bocht An Milleánach in the original Irish (and “edited” by Myles na gCopaleen). As noted in a recent Irish Times article about it by Mairin Nic Eoin, an milleánach means “the fault-finding one or the one from the land of fault-finding”.

Milleánach is the adjective form of the noun milleán, blame: i.e., blameful or censorious. In Patrick Dinneen’s 1904 Irish-English dictionary, milleánach is defined as “blaming, rebuking”. In the shorter 1938 edition for schools, it is defined as “blaming, finding fauth with”.

Technically, I think, it should be in the genitive masculine form, milleánaigh, because it describes an béal, which is masculine. But also technically, its use in the title is as a noun, which it isn’t. The solution is to imply the subject, i.e., “The Censorious [One/Thing]”, or follow the analogy of oileán (island) to oileánach (islander) to come up with the nonsensical “one who lives in (to?) blame”. Why not simply “The Censor”? Or perhaps, on the analogy of iasc and iascach (fish and fishing), “The Blaming”?

What is clear, however, as also noted by Nic Eoin, is that Brian Ó Nualláin’s primary intention was to echo the title of Tomás Ó Criothann’s classic memoir of life on The Great Blasket, An tOileánach.

My Irish teacher (who earned her certificate around the same time that An Béal Bocht was written) thought that An Milleánach meant The Millionaire (an milliúnaí in modern Irish; no entry in either Dinneen). That certainly makes more sense as an ironic comment on the main title instead of mere word play.

And in fact the hero of An Béal Bocht does venture to Cruach an Ocrais and takes the horde of the legendary Maoldún Ó Pónasa, the lone survivor of the Deluge of Corca Dhorca, which he buries for himself (after fleeing the corpse’s reanimation into all-too-familiar storytelling).

Furthermore, na Gopaleen wrote in his “Cruiskeen Lawn” column in The Irish Times (as reprinted in The Best of Myles (New York: Walker, 1968; reprinted by Dalkey Archive Press [Normal, Illinois], 1999), “A lady lecturing recently on the Irish language drew attention to the fact … that, while the average English speaker gets along with a mere 400 words, the Irish-speaking peasant uses 4,000. … The 400/4,000 ration is fallacious; 400/400,000 would be more like it. There is scarcely a single word in the Irish (barring, possibly, Sasanach) that is simple and explicit. … In Donegal there are native speakers who know so many million words that it is a matter of pride with them never to use the same word twice in a life-time.”

Ó Criomhthain himself, whom na Gopaleen particularly praises, cherished that language given to him by his parents. For example, after his mother dies, joining his father, he writes:

Sin críoch leis an mbeirt do chuir sioladh na teangan so im’ chluasa an chéad lá. Beannacht Dé le n-a n-anam. (That was the end of the two who [from the first day] put the sound of this language of ours in my ears. May the blessing of God be on their souls. [Translation by Garry Bannister and David Sowby.])

One might also consider the suggestion of milleanna, bell flowers, and millteanach, terrible. Not to mention meilleanna, grimaces (poor mouths!).

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Findtan is Bith is Ladra.

Roġab em ol int aingel fri Caillin cetamus, Cesair ingean Bethaḋ mic Noi, int oilen irisech aingliḋesi .i. Eri. L. ben umorro do riachtatar imaraon fria; triar fer imorro tancatar le .i. Finntan mac Labradai mic Bethaḋ mic Lamiach. Bith mac Noi mic Lamiach on ainmnigthear Sliaḃ Betha. Ladru luam on ainmnigther ard Ladrand. Is heside cetna marḃ hErenn rian dilind; atḃath do ḟurail banaich. Da fichet la rian dilind do rochtatar. Fuaratar huili bas rian dilind aċt Findtan nama, bai ina ċoḋlad fri ré na dilend.

Cesair, then, said the Angel to Caillin, the daughter of Bith, son of Noah, first occupied this religious angelic island, i.e. Ireland. Fifty women, moreover, came with her. Three men came with her likewise, to wit, Finntan, son of Labraid, son of Bith, son of Lamech; Bith, son of Noah, son of Lamech, from whom Sliabh-Betha is named; and Ladru the pilot, from whom Ard-Ladrand is named. He [Ladru] was the first that died in Ireland before the Deluge. He died of female persecution. Forty days before the Deluge they came. They all died before the Deluge, except Finntan alone, who was asleep during the Flood.


Findtan is Bith is Ladra.
 Gabrat ar tus in banba;
 Is ccoiggad ingen ngel ngrind,
 Da fichet la re ndilind.
In lucht sin huili ba marb,
 Re ndilind, ba mor in plag,
 Achtmad Findtan in fer seng,
 Na cadlad re re ndileand.

Finntan, and Bith, and Ladhra,
 Occupied Banba at first,
 With fifty fair, sprightly maidens,
 Forty days before the Flood.
All that band died,
 Before the Flood—great the plague—
 Except Finntan, the subtile man,
 Who slept during the period of the Deluge.

—from: Leabar Fidhnacha, The Book of Fenagh, edited by W. M. Hennessy, translated to English by D. H. Kelly, published by Alexander Thom, Dublin, 1875

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Climate science denial of environmentalism

There is great anxiety in certain quarters about convincing "nonbelievers" of the dire truth about anthropogenic climate change.

The desperation of that effort suggests that accepting climate science isn’t in fact the real issue. That’s because there is no reason to question the science, unless one has doubts about what is being done with it.

The fact is that most people in line with the science aren’t doing anything more meaningful about it than people who question the science. Climate science is used mostly as a cudgel to promote new businesses (that are just as harmful to the planet, such as nuclear power, or even more so, such as biofuel) or – perhaps even more importantly – as a distraction from other, usually more immediate, problems that have obvious – but politically more challenging – solutions (eg, climate change is probably the least serious of the threats to The Everglades, but since nobody is directly to blame, nobody has to worry about being forced to actually do anything about it).

A glaring example of the cynical use of climate change – in the win-win-win of politicians and businesses expressing concern while promoting each others’ purely venal interests and of environmental groups taking their cut and keeping membership numbers growing by making it easy to save the planet with mere symbolic gestures. The lack of seriousness regarding climate change is most evident in the acquiescence to animal agriculture. Animal agriculture is conservatively estimated to contribute as much greenhouse effect as all transportation (not to mention its being the leading cause of many other environmental effects, such as deforestation and water depletion and pollution). Furthermore, most of that greenhouse effect is due to methane (CH₄), which persists in the atmosphere a small fraction of the time that carbon dioxide (CO₂) does, so that decreasing it would have almost immediate climate benefit. In contrast, benefits from reducing CO₂ would not be seen for many decades, even centuries. Yet reducing consumption of meat and dairy – which is as easy as switching lightbulbs – is almost never mentioned by those who fight to defend the science of climate change.

Accepting climate science does not make one an environmentalist. It actually often seems to enable a denial of environmental concerns.

Most real solutions to social and environmental problems would also benefit the carbon balance of the atmosphere, so accepting climate science is not actually important. Analogously, one doesn’t have to accept (let alone understand) the science of biological evolution to support protecting species and habitat.

These are culture-war sideshows that only serve business as usual, not positive change.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

As long as we exploit animals and kill them for food, we will exploit and kill each other.

Chris Hedges:

… I no longer accept that cows must be repeatedly impregnated to give us milk, must be separated immediately from their newborns and ultimately must be slaughtered long before the end of their natural lives to produce low-grade hamburger, leather, glue, gelatin and pet food. I can no longer accept calves being raised in horrific conditions before they are killed for the veal industry, developed to profit from the many “useless” males born because dairy farms regularly impregnate cows to ensure continuous milk production.

Once the right of the powerful to exploit the powerless – whether that exploitation is of animals by humans, other nations by an imperial power, other races by the white race, or women by men – once that right is removed from our belief system, blinders are lifted. …

Farmers often display genuine affection for the animals they abuse and send to slaughter. They do this by normalizing the abuse, believing that it is a practical and unquestioned necessity, and by refusing to emotionally confront the suffering and fate of the animals. This willful numbness, this loss of empathy and compassion for other living beings, was something I encountered frequently in the wars I covered as a reporter. Prisoners could be treated affectionately, much like pets – the vast disparity of power meant there was never a real relationship – and then killed without remorse.

A culture that kills, including for food, must create a belief system that inures people to suffering. …

“Because cruelty is inescapable in confining, mutilating, and slaughtering animals for food, we have been forced from childhood to be distracted and inattentive perpetrators of cruelty,” Will Tuttle writes in “The World Peace Diet.” …

The animal agriculture industry is an integral part of the corporate state. The corporate state’s exploitation and impoverishment of workers and its poisoning of the environment, as well as its torture and violence toward animals, are carried out because of the obsession for greater and greater profit. …

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