(Nope! Love is not all ya need when connecting the universe, but it is suggestive of a good answer. Short post. It suggests a basic contrast that helps ‘fill in’ our world from the deficit suggested by the ‘Causes cause everything view.” That view that Science is all, pejoratively known as Scientism, is not advocated here. So if it’s not “All we need is Love!”; it’s more like all we need is Causes And Information! And love is a kind of informing, so good enough.
I would like to thank Rom for his frequent comments on NatieRel, without them I would not have come to such a concise and clear –I hope– statement of our metaphysical situation. This is a response to his criticism of some of my positions as can be seen on his blog: rom’s corner, the “Monism” post, but it has been slightly modified upon rereading and publishing here..)
Below is my response to his comment that I do not appreciate that the things of our everyday world — us, horses, houses,— are the whole things that are made of parts which are sub-atomic objects. This is a confusion of levels, I say. To Rom, wholes are caused by their subatomic parts. I say, first and foremost, us and horses and houses have parts like “hearts” and “legs” and “foundations” that are their parts in their Design. Only in an extended sense are their parts atoms or quantum waves. Here is my reply:
“I’m glad to see you (Rom) are allowing for different levels of things. So much is obvious. The issue is how to connect them. How do they interact? Your hunch “causation” is not a big enough idea to do it sufficiently, I believe.
And this is not your problem alone. Science ‘wants’ to understand everything as causes and that is why Compatiblist philosopher’s argue science is a “one-sided” point of view. In the world as only particles of physics and reactions of chemistry, a “viewer” that ‘sees’ different levels does not exist, only particles and reactions exist. A “viewer” of added levels is a mind, and can be compatible with science objects but also importantly different!”
“But for biology, psychology and sociology, this lack of viewer And Agent ——because Having a Point of View IS Agency, Rom (got ya! Don’t I?) —- starts to debilitate their ‘science’. That is why they are the ‘soft’ sciences. In psychology that is where Behaviorism came from, to toughen it up, to diminish the role of subjectivity. Yet, behaviorism has been largely dismissed as an insufficient overall psychological approach, especially by most psychologists. Agency forces itself on these disciplines, at least to a larger degree.”
“Philosophy has traditionally picked up the ball, to get to this other side of things. I have come to realize recently, and in part thanks to our correspondence, that a good way to frame it —the other side to causation—- is Information! Our world, especially, but the universe, also, with its other life Forms, is both connected by causes and by information. Anything with a Point of View and thus Agency is not only being caused but also being Informed! Agents are designed things, and they have made something particular out of the generalized universe of physics and chemistry!”
“So, the complex things of the world are designed and, therefore, are informed. Physicist S. Carroll, in his philosophy of Poetic Nationalism, says the relationship of higher level realities to the baseline physics reality is “usefulness”. The higher levels make use of it for their purposes. Philosopher D.Dennett, argues “Information is design that is worth (the designed object’s –gww) getting.” Info is worth going after, because it functions to support and enhance the designs that exist all around us and in us too! Whole things are Associated with their lower level ‘components’, like atoms; but they Emerge from them, and they and their Designs are not caused by them. From the p. of v. of physics, all these Particular Shapes and Forms and Designs are blurred out, indistinguishable, amid the one big form, the universe! But as we exist, we look out and see directly that which is pertinent to us; it is Our In-Formation in that biggest of allshow.
“So, Rom, the universe is both caused and informed, probably each at the same time. Your “causes only” view, does it have anything to say about Info other than it’s just causes by a different (confused) name? Right now, I think the most fruitful way to understand what we are doings, is notcause each other to believe anew, but inform each other to do so.”
“Thank you, Rom, for the fruitful dialogue!
Yours truly, GregWW”
I(The Cartoon Special!In this post, reasons in nature can become reasons in persons. In fact, we might say the whole idea of a “person” gets invented at about this point in nature’s evolution. It’s a good post, as the narrative of our enhanced abilities continues and nears its end, in this series, “Freedom and the Environment”. Our freedom lies in our ability to do more. Caaaave Maaannn Cartooooons! Ya gotta love’m. )
(Reasons in Nature are then taken a step or two further by Persons. Natural Selection designed the Flying Javanese Cucumber and Northrop Grumman designed the B-2 Spirit bomber. Both are “flying wings” that use their entire body to provide lift. The seeds of the Java Cucumber are grown in gourds — seed pods — the size of a football. When released they can glide hundreds of meters in the rain forest. Photos and info from BU Bio-Aerial engineering course.)
Reasons in Humans
Now humans have taken these Reasons in Nature and gone a step or two or three further. Of course, we started in much the same place as the plants and fishes, and still do, as children. Much of what children do well, is still “competence without comprehension”, says Dennett. A child may use many words in simple situations — saying “doggie”, then pointing and go to pet it — but still not ‘get’ the bigger and more subtle distinctions and elaborations necessary for broad and accurate use of that term. They may “take” a cat for a dog, and that is to “mistake”. It’s our order of language pointing out and being misapplied, but heart-warmingly so.
Dennett calls these competencies “know-how”. They are “a way”, a way of doing or behaving. They are “an informational structure”— some “relatively simple” such as a single word, others very complex such as a language — and in this sense they are similar to “a software app”, and what biologist Richard Dawkins has called “a meme”. They are organized around a Reason in Nature, and they “cut nature at the joint”*, or at least cut into the more stripped-down and objective side of nature, in the way we do, to ‘see’ ourselves emerging from it. It’s the way we ‘see’ and understand “lion”, for example, as existing as part of a world composed only of subatomic particles and laws of physics. It’s like a complicated game of connecting the dots.
(Leo the lion, or better Leona the lion, Emerging from the background. It’s the particular way we humans—with the help of Mother Nature and Natural Selection — have come to cut up the more objective background of the world into more Person-like objects. Of course, creatures from some other world will have somewhat their own way of doing it. This astrological map is only an early attempt at connecting the dots of life by humans, an effort that continues today with more reasonable attempts.)
“Being of One Mind”
But Memes start simple,as something Persons can copy and transmitrelatively easily from one person to another, and then grow in complexity. What this eventually comes to is that when a group of persons share the same memes, we can say these memes inhabit their brains and these people are now of one Mind. These people now operate on many of the same presuppositions and in many of the same ways. They function together and exhibit a design. This is an explanation of Mind and Consciousnessnot as some new and mysterious kind of thing, but as a sociological and social psychological emergent property of groups of humans: “A Design of Enhanced Human Togetherness!”
This “Know-How” is very different from scientific knowledge, which would be better to call “knowing that” in this case. We knowhow to speak our language, but that is not scientific knowledge of language, not knowledge “that” certain parts of the brain are active or that certain neural patterns exist or certain neural signals are sent. That is more Theoretical Reasoning; this is more Practical Reasoning or the knowledge of how to be a person and function with other persons. Picasso certainly knew how to paint but was not in the least interested (I assume) in knowing that painting is associated with various neural processes and even must have some obscure relation to the laws of physics.
“Know-How” and Practical Reasoning are the knowledge of how to be a Person and function in coordination with other persons in their various traditions of acting (memes).
(“The Providential Environments“: settings in which we pass on the traditions — or Know-How — of Personhood. Korean folk dance, elementary school, family fishing, music concert, Philippine folk dance, mother and daughter cooking. All require Knowing-How, personal interaction and instruction, not Scientific Knowledge of Causes! )
Humans have honed providential environments (my phrase) to aide in the transmission, creation, acquisition and development of memes or know-how. These environments are “providential” because being in sync with them is constructive of us as complex things—persons.
A school or a university –a place for education and creativity– is one of these “enhanced” environments. A family should be an environment that initiates the transmission of these memes of personhood: language, appropriate role playing, responsibility, common goals and coordinated behaviors. The arts, the crafts, sport — cooking — are all “know-how” and not primarily “knowing that”. “Knowing how” involves understanding and acting by the rules and traditions of a procedure. “Knowing that” is more objective; it can attempt to separate the doer from the object that is being worked on, and in that way can become what we call scientific knowledge. So, “Science” is itself a human “know-how” that seeks “knowledge that.” In that way, scientists can get philosophically confused about what comes first!
“Noticing That We Are Noticing”: Reasons in Persons
Language is possibly the primary form of meme. “Doggie”, “cat’, “Ma Ma” and quite a few other words, when a child points and says these, the child eventually begins to ‘notice’ that‘all things have a name’, and language acquisition really picks up. They are now ‘getting the point of language’, as a Directed Order. Now, is that a fact, or is that a rule, that “all things have a name”? That is kind of a silly question, akin to asking about the chicken and the egg. Silly because it’s both. It is ahigher level fact and a rule that only leads to more facts, more questions and more designations. It is one of the rules and facts of language-doing, that know-how.We have now “gone meta“. It is akin to asking, “What is the way to fly?”
Dennett has a fascinating section on what it must have been like for early humans just acquiring language. Early on, they noticed “words” or proto-words, “song” and proto-song, “gesture” and proto-gestures, scrawled ‘drawings’ or even proto-maps, but they did not have the word “word”, the word “song”…the word “map”. They used and responded to these, but they did not notice words, gestures, songs…as “things” themselves. Communication, here, like bird flight, was something done but not realized it was done. Language use, here, was a Reason in Nature and it was a Reason that was not Represented in any Mind. It was a “free-floating rationale” says Dennett. What survivedamong these early words, gestures, songs, pictures, maps and the groups that were using them, were Naturally Selected. The ones that worked continued and even spread, and that is true for even the groups using them.
Dennett speculates that some of these early memes “infecting the brains” of these early humans may have been destructive, like very attractive bad habits. A group captivated by the idea of ‘dance’, danced in a frenzy and to the detriment of their need to hunt and gather, possibly. Maybe such communication — through this ‘gesture’, ‘dance’, proto-language — started and died out in many different human groups until some group got the mix right, enough beneficial memes to outweigh the non-adaptive ones. It’s a cool story, this story of the dawn of storytelling, itself.
(CAVEMAN JOKES! Ya gotta love ’em. How ironic, to think of these Proto-Persons as being sophisticated and a lot like us. Of course, they weren’t, but they got the ball of human culture rolling!)
A huge step is this next one. Like in a child, at some point in this growing sophistication of communication, the early kinda-persons not only noticed these devices, but “noticed that they noticed them”, argues Dennett. Now, some of their attention went not only to the immediacy of the communication but to the devices being used to do it, that know-how. ‘Soon’, came not only words, but a word for “word”, a word for “gesture”, for “song”…and with that … what?
It was hugely important to have objectified this process, this know-how of communication and being together. It was when these “unwitting communicators” (Dennett) probably ‘discovered’ or noticed that I was an “I”, you a “you”, and we a “we”. Of course, somehow these concepts of “I” “you” and “we” were already implicit in the initial communication situation, but without our recognition of them. Just like ‘the logic’ of flight was implicit in nature and eventually discovered by natural selection. Modern day philosophers have tackled this problem: the structure or design of “communication” or “the communicative situation”. Like any good design, it certainly has one.
(True and Honest Communication is the Basis of All Communication. Deception, lies, misinformation are all parasitic upon Honest Communication. If everyone lied and lied all the time, communication would fizzle out. An Astounding Contention! But true! Ritualized in the human practice of Oath-Giving.)
A large quantity of literature has grown up around the contentions of H.P. Grice and his Theory of Meaning, starting in the late 1950s to late 80s, explains Dennett. The core of his ‘discovery’ is that Communication necessarily involves a Three-Way Sharing of Attention, Goal, andAct, a sharing of presupposition and intention. One, the speaker must intend to invoke a certain response in her audience. Two, the audience must recognize that intention in the speaker. Three, the audience’s appropriate response to the speaker is at least partly prompted by their recognition of the speaker’s intention and their willingness to go along with it. It’s like telling a joke; the teller and the audience must all get that it is a joke and want “to go along with it”.
This Three-Way Sharing closes the circle on itself! And, as Dennett points out, it is a “virtuous circle” as opposed to an uninformative one. Like every good design, it defines its parts and their functions in relation to each other and their goal. In this way, they establish a bit of isolation from ‘outside’ influence and establish the Freedom to define themselves and and an environment in their terms, to an important degree. It is what the aqueduct bridge, mentioned in earlier posts, Does as an Agent. It is what every plant and animal and forest Does; it Functions within its defined limits. It is not only an Order, but a Directed Order within the emergent domain of Life!
These early persons ‘noticed’ the dynamics of this form of know-how, and began to work as, and be, not only individuals but “our kind of individual”. Somewhere in this early history, somewhere as far back as the dawn of group hunting, or the domestication of fire, this process of human coordination became a necessity to these new humans; it was an adaptation that worked. And natural selection began to select for it, and even select for adaptations that facilitated it, like lengthening infancy and the white’s of our eyes that aide gaze-monitoring as opposed to the dark eyes of other primates. Communication was now a necessary “good trick” for successful human groups.
This was now a more self-conscious communication than anything else in the animal kingdom. With practice, it began to ‘thicken’, to become more complex. The art of persuasion was eventually realized, and even the art of deception. Morality, as a growing awareness of the fundamental agreement necessary to communicate, began to appear. An awareness and refinement of Thought occurred. Talking to others suggested and provided an opportunity to talk to oneself! The fluidity of the “I–you–we” situation — sometimes I am an “I”, other times a “you”… — stimulated the coordination of our different parts of the brain.
(Talking To Yourself: Good Thing or Bad? Good! It’s the reasonable reduction of Thought and Mind into a Social Psychological Form.)
Dennett, and some other theorist, speculate that the brain is not some permanent hierarchical organization among neurons that makes decisions, like in a standard computer, but varying competing structures of neurons, as in some more experimental forms of Artificial Intelligence. At some point, these early humans asked a question and no one was there to answer it, but that asking helped prompt their own “concentration” and focus, and they then came to their own answer, possibly by an enhanced cooperation among parts of the brain, something like a conversation.
This refined way of Thinking is then a Conversation with yourself, a Self-Monitoring,and hence a Self-Consciousness. It is interesting, and revealing, that we use the word “concentration” to describe this focus as we attempt to think. It is well suited for the reality of thought as Directed Order. When we concentrate, we ‘look out’ from some place in our system of memes. We ‘look out’ from some “practice” or “know-how” in our culture — some “doing” in the art of science or literature or carpentry — and we wait for In-Put! We hope for the right idea to come ‘bubbling up, bubbling from deep down.’ We then ask ourselves, “Will that one work, or that one?” We concentrate again, and a decision is made.
“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it” ——Einstein
The settings for “concentration” are rather well defined in human culture. Even something a innocent as standing in front of your closet and choosing your outfit for the day, qualifies —as suggested by the physicist Sean Carroll. As you read this post, you have placed yourself in such an enhanced and providential environment. These seem to be the places where, for us —persons — our level of complexity graciously glides into contact with the levels below. It is the spot where Persons, as Thoughtful Social Creatures, willingly open the door to the rhythms and energies of the levels below. Inspirations “bubble up”; Ideas appear like “a light bulb switched on”; Words “come to mind”. It is how We are Free by Coordination with our Environment and not in struggle against it. Freedom becomes the ability to do more.
In an important sense, the above is the conclusion of this series, but we have not faced the final and biggest hurdle, Freedom and the Ultimate Physical Background. That will be the title of post 6 of this series, Freedom and the Environment. Here, the science of physics will take a few shots at this high flying idea of Human Freedom.
(Cookn’ here at the naturereligionconnection! A wide ranging post, we do have here.We are speculating about speculation! Post 4 in the Freedom and the Environment series. People are “people” when they ‘see’ and understand the Emergent Realities built atop the world as pure chemical and physic’s objects. The world is both “atoms in motion” and animals and persons “acting according to their natures”, their design. Designed things are Informed as well as Caused. This provides an opportunity for Freedom. It’s not Absolute Freedom, but it’s not just ‘whistling Dixie’, either. It is Freedom as the ability to do a lot of stuff well!)
Reasons in Nature
The Solar System changed from a ‘mere’ physical order to a participant in the directed — purposive — orderof the living things on Earth, as argued in post 3. Dan Dennett contends that this is the origin of “justification”. A hawk exists because it is moresuccessful at survival and reproduction through its ability to fly; that is its justification. The Solar system, itself, simply “is”.
When we consider the ‘higher’ levels of complexity, we ask of them, “what for?”, “what do they do?” along with “how did they come about?” They have a purpose that we only successfully understand by not only describing an order but also the kind of environment in which that order successfully functions. It is, now, a directed order.The two, object and “its” environment, are at the same level of vocabulary and complexity. They are inherently related and not contingently related, and the successful functioning of that object in its environment is their Justification.
It is interesting, here, to recall that physicist Sean Carroll — in his philosophy of “Poetic Naturalism” — contended that the relationship of all the emergent vocabularies to the universe as described by physics is “usefullness”. Emergent vocabularies are “useful” ways for us to talk. They reveal emergent objects — designs — that exist from our point of view and are useful ways for us to ‘see’ reality and understand ourselves –as persons — in it. (see post, The “Secretly Profound” Idea of Emergence.)
Purposive objects exhibit design. They are —By Definition — interrelated and interacting with “their” environment. Some biologists become nervous here, and insist that Design in Nature is only “apparent design”; it is “seemingly designed”. It is, as if, they say, “Things are not really put together that well.” They fear that a design needs a designer, or that “adaptionist” thinking and talk of “purposes” is Teleological — as if nature is striving for some goal — and therefore insufficiently Causal and Contingent. But, there are many things that are really well connected: their parts are subsumed under their design! (“Huston, the Eagle has landed!”) We can say designed objects are Caused by their environment, but in our broadest attempt to understand our world and our situation in it we must recognize that this is only a half truth and the seed for significant confusion. It is better to say, “The two Inform each other!”
Flight has been a frequent example in this series. It is an opportunity in the Ordered Physical World for Purpose to appear, and it certainly has! In his book From Bacteria to Bach and Back, Dennett argues the history of evolution has been a process of “the functional crowding out the nonfunctional.” Our planet is now covered with the functioning objects of life and of them, and their parts, we ask “the reasons why” they are “shaped and ordered as they are.” “To fly,” is frequently an answer, and yet, no bird — who is designed for flight — knows it! The Birdhas a Reason but is no reasoner. Dennett calls it “Competence without Comprehension” and it is a very frequent thing. Birds do it, bees do it, (“even educated fleas do it”), fish do it—that is swim in this case and do it very well but without knowledge or awareness of their own design and behavior.
(“Lets do it, Lets fall in Love!” Human love may be an example of “competence without (full) comprehension”. We really don’t know how it happens, in fact we believe it is often “magic”. Yet, we have numerous rituals and practices that ‘promote’ it, from song to poem to dances to dating. These are “our enhanced environments” that ‘set the stage’ for romantic opportunity and for its ‘contemplation’ and ‘decision’. “Love” is a form of human “know-how” and humans shouldknow how to “Love”!)
These are Reasons in Nature, says Dennett! He calls them “free-floating rationales” because they are reasons without a reasoner; reasons not Represented in a Mind but are discernible in the design of the creations of Mother Nature. In this sense, Natural Selection is “a reason finder” and has filled this planet with a splendid array of living things operating for, or by, one reason or another. And interestingly, since these are Reasons in nature, there are more and less effective and efficient ways — rational ways — of accomplishing them. Natural Selection is not only “a reason finder” but also “developer”.
(Natural Selection has discovered Powered Flight four times; first in insects, then dinosaurs, birds and finally bats. It is a “reason-finder” and “developer”. The Reason these creatures survived was, in part. their ability to fly. That is there Justification.)
(Nature is full of Reasons. Gliding is A Reason these animals exist. Only Persons have Reasons and are sometimes aware of them. Bluntnosed Flying fish, Flying Squirrel, Paradise snake, Borneo Flying Frog, Gliding Ant, Flying Dragon Lizard are just a few of Nature’s gliding creatures. I do not know the approximate number of species that Glide, but each of the classes above have several different species that do. And this is not to mention animals that “parachute”.)
(A “ballooning” spider! Note the thin thread coming from its abdomen. Another way Mother Nature has designed a creature to “fly”. Natural Selection, through its mechanical process of trial and error, has sought and discovered this Opportunity too, and perfected it. It justifies this creatures survival.)
Part 2 of this post will be published this weekend. In it, we will find out what humans do with these Reasons In Nature. Now I know some of you are finding that idea strange — reasons in nature — but its point is to establish Reasons in Persons and then having a basis for it Naturally! That is what we do when we think in the widest context; we want a lot of things to fit together. The reasons for our behavior and in our consciousness must come from nature but also be true to themselves. To think that thinking is really a chemical or neural or physic’s process, that it is somehow “caused” by them, is what the famous American philosopher John Dewey called, “the modern one-sidedness.” Getting really wide and two-sided, here at The Connection! Enjoy!
In the “Library of Babel”, a short story by author Jorge Louis Borges (1941), a vast, astronomically large — though not infinite — collection of All Possible Books is imagined to exist.They are housed in a Library that is also inhabited by a people who have never found a corridor or a room that did not lead to other corridors and rooms all filled with books. They have always lived entirely inside this Library. They believe that it contains all the possible variations of their 22 letter alphabet along with the space, the comma and the period. Therefore, they also believe that it contains all their knowledge and everything that could possibly be known, including a perfect index of The Library of Babel’s contents. But where is it? There is no order to these books and as these people travel the overwhelmingly vast number of books they open contain pure gibberish.
Here a naturereligionconnection.org our organizational problems are less severe.
There is a new format that will keep different Series of Post and categories of topics separate and therefore more accessible. There will still be a general post category titled “The Connection.” All this will be accessible from the Home Page.
In the vein of the above Libraries, Dan Dennett has proposed a “Library of Mendel”. It contains all the possible varied assemblages of DNA composed of its amino acid “letters”: A,C,G and T, and therefore all potential organisms. Biologist R. Dawkins has then commented that there are surely ‘vastly more ways to be dead (not alive) than ways of being alive.’
Thanks for your patience and your readership. GregWW
(I feel obligated to forward this for your consideration. For the sake of our planet and our sanity, I thank the NYTimes and Paul Krugman for allowing this use — Times 12/12/2019. Krugman has always been one of my favorite commentators. He is the Nobel Prize winner for Economics in 2008 for his modelling of international trade. This column reads smoothly and quickly. It is a short, devastating and dire analysis of Climate Change and the American Republican Party. ‘God save us’, for surely we will not save ourselves, GWW)
The Party That Ruined the Planet: Republican climate denial is even scarier than Trumpism.
by Paul Krugman
The most terrifying aspect of the U.S. political drama isn’t the revelation that the president has abused his power for personal gain. If you didn’t see that coming from the day Donald Trump was elected, you weren’t paying attention.
No, the real revelation has been the utter depravity of the Republican Party. Essentially every elected or appointed official in that party has chosen to defend Trump by buying into crazy, debunked conspiracy theories. That is, one of America’s two major parties is beyond redemption; given that, it’s hard to see how democracy can long endure, even if Trump is defeated.
However, the scariest reporting I’ve seen recently has been about science, not politics. A new federal report finds that climate change in the Arctic is accelerating, matching what used to be considered worst-case scenarios. And there are indications that Arctic warming may be turning into a self-reinforcing spiral, as the thawing tundra itself releases vast quantities of greenhouse gases.
Catastrophic sea-level rise, heat waves that make major population centers uninhabitable, and more are now looking more likely than not, and sooner rather than later.
But the terrifying political news and the terrifying climate news are closely related.
Why, after all, has the world failed to take action on climate, and why is it still failing to act even as the danger gets ever more obvious? There are, of course, many culprits; action was never going to be easy.
But one factor stands out above all others: the fanatical opposition of America’s Republicans, who are the world’s only major climate-denialist party. Because of this opposition, the United States hasn’t just failed to provide the kind of leadership that would have been essential to global action, it has become a force against action.
And Republican climate denial is rooted in the same kind of depravity that we’re seeing with regard to Trump.
As I’ve written in the past, climate denial was in many ways the crucible for Trumpism. Long before the cries of “fake news,” Republicans were refusing to accept science that contradicted their prejudices. Long before Republicans began attributing every negative development to the machinations of the “deep state,” they were insisting that global warming was a gigantic hoax perpetrated by a vast global cabal of corrupt scientists.
And long before Trump began weaponizing the power of the presidency for political gain, Republicans were using their political power to harass climate scientists and, where possible, criminalize the practice of science itself.
Perhaps not surprisingly, some of those responsible for these abuses are now ensconced in the Trump administration. Notably, Ken Cuccinelli, who as attorney general of Virginia engaged in a long witch-hunt against the climate scientist Michael Mann, is now at the Department of Homeland Security, where he pushes anti-immigrant policies with, as The Times reports, “little concern for legal restraints.”
But why have Republicans become the party of climate doom? Money is an important part of the answer: In the current cycle Republicans have received 97 percent of political contributions from the coal industry, 88 percent from oil and gas. And this doesn’t even count the wing nut welfare offered by institutions supported by the Koch brothers and other fossil-fuel moguls.
However, I don’t believe that it’s just about the money. My sense is that right-wingers believe, probably correctly, that there’s a sort of halo effect surrounding any form of public action. Once you accept that we need policies to protect the environment, you’re more likely to accept the idea that we should have policies to ensure access to health care, child care, and more. So the government must be prevented from doing anything good, lest it legitimize a broader progressive agenda.
Still, whatever the short-term political incentives, it takes a special kind of depravity to respond to those incentives by denying facts, embracing insane conspiracy theories and putting the very future of civilization at risk.
Unfortunately, that kind of depravity isn’t just present in the modern Republican Party, it has effectively taken over the whole institution. There used to be at least some Republicans with principles; as recently as 2008 Senator John McCain co-sponsored serious climate-change legislation. But those people have either experienced total moral collapse (hello, Senator Graham) or left the party.
The truth is that even now I don’t fully understand how things got this bad. But the reality is clear: Modern Republicans are irredeemable, devoid of principle or shame. And there is, as I said, no reason to believe that this will change even if Trump is defeated next year.
The only way that either American democracy or a livable planet can survive is if the Republican Party as it now exists is effectively dismantled and replaced with something better — maybe with a party that has the same name, but completely different values. This may sound like an impossible dream. But it’s the only hope we have.
I’m pleased to report a recent surge of readership here at naturereligionconnection.org. Modest as this may be, on Monday Nov. 11 we had 10 visitors who viewed 23 posts. Most were from the good old U.S.of A. and our Canadian friends up north (thanks especially to Rom and John), but, one visitor was from China and viewed 4 posts! Posts receiving the most attention recently are “Sean C and Our Freedom to Choose” 25 recent views (rv’s), “Nika No More” 16 rv’s, and “What is Morality” 36 rv’s. Thank you for your consideration! Please don’t be shy, comment!
Nika was Nika, and now she is no more. Her materials no longer carry on that pattern of organization so familiar and generally loved by my wife and myself. What is left of that dear dog sits in a tin container atop a bookshelf with family photos. What is left, also, is in our memory and habits.
All living things exhibit “need”,”effort” and “satisfaction”, contended American philosopher John Dewey in 1929. Dewey was one of the prominent members of a philosophic movement called “Pragmatism”. They sought to rehabilitate philosophic Idealism by expressing its insights in naturalistic terms. Today, Idealism represents the belief that the wholeness of a thing is as real and significant as the pieces that compose it, in some contexts.
In that sense, a living thing is a whole whose activity expresses itself in its own characteristic environment: first, in its most immediate and ‘intimate’ environment — its own parts; its body and consciousness (as that variously applies); second, in its more ‘external’ environment where its needs, efforts and satisfactions play out. Living things have this distinctive relation of “inside” and “out” as recognized by Dewey: “a living organism and its life processes involve a world or nature temporarily and spatially ‘external’ to itself but ‘internal’ to its functions.” The web of a spider, the pond built by a beaver, the house of a person are its external ‘organs’, and their bodies are their most immediate ‘environment’.
This unity of inside and out makes a living thing “an equilibrium pattern”, Dewey wrote. This particular pattern or organization must maintain itself through “restoration” and “recovery” in “a complex integrated course or history.” In words more plain, a living thing must “keep this shit together” as long as it can.
Nika was such a history. A mass of molecules, constantly varying, that was nonetheless her, nonetheless that same sweet dog. That history, that continuity, is worth recounting. That is this post: Our life with Nika.
Nika had obvious satisfactions. Upon the appearance of a friendly face her entire body burst into reaction. Ears perked, the back half of her body swung side to side in sync with her wagging tail. At that person’s feet, she would throw herself to the ground and roll, still wiggling, to expose her stomach. With very little doubt, her behavior was always interpreted as “friendly”, “happy”, “affectionate”.
Frequently, she could not contain herself, especially early in her life. Her molecules seemed to explode with enthusiasm. In the house, she would charge from room to room, repeatedly, with great speed and agility, over top of couches, under tables.
Nika was Nika, indeed; but she was also a beagle of a smaller variety. Close to the ground, she weighted a mere 17 lbs. In the backyard, when a fit of enthusiasm overtook her, she broke into full gallop. Nose extended, low to the ground, legs fully outstretched, she barely slowed when taking a corner. She ran a circle-eight, cutting through garden and galloping over deck again and again. We called it “the bullet run”. Exhilarated by her own abilities, she did so appear.
Nika had needs, as do all living creatures. Nika needed to smell. Guided by her nose, often she did not get far. Many things were worthy of a sniff to Nika. My wife often despaired of walking her because she was interested in exercise but Nika in smelling life’s daisies.
That keen nose got her into many situations, often bad. Detecting the odor of the many hands that handled currency, she was led into my wife’s purse and my wallet. On several occasions she pulled out bills. Pieces of $5’s, $1’s and even a $20 once, were found on the floor or embedded in stinking piles in the backyard.
One winter holiday, my wife left accessible a bag of holiday-decorated, foil wrapped, chocolate Kisses. Nika’s nose soon found them. She consumed them foil and all. This resulted in the most decorative turds I have ever seen. Sparkling with reds and blues and green, they adorned the yard.
Yes, Nika needed to eat. “Beagles are bagels,” a vet once told us; yet, Nika never gained
weight in spite of her constant desire. A ‘chow hound’, she was: She ate raw carrots and broccoli and certainly cooked. Cantaloupe was a favorite and watermelon too. Salad with dressing was nice, but so was ice. Dirty socks (and underwear) left accessible were shredded and chewed. Kitchen Handi Wipes that were used were several times chewed and they came out her end not much more abused.
She had her needs and like all living creatures was willing to put in the effort to fulfill them.
We did indulge her. In waiting for a plate to lick clean, Nika was never impatient. She
sat several feet away and stared and waited, stared and waited. Seldom did she have anything better to do; staring, waiting for a plate to lick, that was Nika.
But a rabbit or squirrel was a horse of a different color. When the word “rabbit” or “squirrel” was said with enthusiasm, Nika leaped to her feet, ears up, and looking about. Constantly she rushed from the house or deck and through the yard in chase. Never once did she catch one, and never did her efforts decline —- until late in life. Every time the squirrel reached a tree, or the rabbit a hole in the fence. The point was in the chase.
As Nika grew into adulthood, one of the most important factors in her environment changed. I desired to see her in action. After all, by nature and breeding beagles are rabbit hounds. I began looking for opportunities while on walks in our suburban neighborhood to let go of her leash, allowing her in safe and somewhat confined situations to chase her prey.
And so she would dash and howl. “OooOooOooo”, she howled, not barked, until the rabbit escaped and I regained the leash. Once, a rabbit avoided the safety of yards and fences and raced (leaped) straight down the sidewalk of a cul de sac. Nika followed at full speed and full voice, “OooOooOoooo”. A neighbor came to the door thinking a dog had been hit. “No, just chasing a rabbit.”
A Pattern of Activity No Longer Restored
Nika came to our house at the age of three from a relative who could no longer keep her. She was with us for ten years. As she grew old, like me, she lost much of her hair; her body became misshapen and she lost her swiftness and grace. Her need to eliminate waste became more frequent, sporadic and prone to accident; again, like me.
She had a persistent cough and lost most of the use of her hind legs.
When we decided “to put her down”, it was a fairly easy decision. We feared leaving her at home alone when, as teachers, we returned to work in the fall. We set up an appointment at OSU Veterinary Hospital and they did their job with great respect.
When the day arrived, we loaded Nika into the car. They let us in a special door at the hospital and walked us to a special room, really more like a waiting room than an exam room. As we walked down the hall to that room, I set Nika on the floor and she walked between us slowly, somewhat sideways, and with no awareness of what awaited. In the room a pad was placed on a couch and Nika on the pad. We sat next to her and held her as a large dose of anesthesia was administered. She soon slept. In minutes she stopped breathing. Later, my wife recalled how she looked at Nika, when we were walking down that hospital hall, and realized Nika was no longer the dog she was. And yet, Nika was still Nika, a pattern of activity that will never be forgotten.