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Saturday, December 26, 2015

On Transcendence


Maslow identified the highest level of his hierarchy of needs as self-actualization.  I have expanded this to, in aggregate, a concept that I call 'The Finely Crafted Life'.  This includes not just self-actualization, but also self-improvement (for Polymathicans erudition is a large portion of this), aesthetic expression, social justice and transcendence.

Maslow Hierarchy of NeedsAs incomes explode across the world, most populations will be pushed up Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.  In other words, when median household income is 500,000 2015USD, the lower level considerations of shelter, food, clothing, health care, etc. will become relatively insignificant. Everyone will have these things and people will begin to think of higher level needs.

Among the quintessential Polymathicans I have only gotten push back on transcendence.  Apparently many perceive this as code for religiosity.  While consideration of religious questions is part of transcendence, that is an inaccurate interpretation.  Transcendence, as I use it, is a relatively complex concept that actually contains its own hierarchy of meaning.

At the most basic level it means transcending the purely animal aspects of our motivations, behaviors and interests that are fairly well summarized in the lowest of Maslow's levels.  The Polymathican quest for erudition is a good example of this.  People who are functioning at the lower Maslow levels view education as a route to a job, which is a route to money, which is necessary to satisfy Physiological and Safety needs.  Polymathicans view erudition as an expression of humans' basic curiosity and consequently seek knowledge and understanding for their own sake, not as a tool to satisfy animal needs.

Transcendence also can be interpreted as a desire to externalize oneself, or to transcend self-interest, even enlightened self-interest.  Specifically, the transcendent person will be informed by ethical principles that are not based upon efficient functioning within their proximate social environment.  In this sense, transcendence stands opposite to Utilitarianism and more generally Consequentialism.  It implies that principles govern and that while the ends inform us as to the morality of the means, they do not, alone, justify them.

It has not been uncommon, in the history of Philosophy, to reify the non-animal character of humans as a soul or, alternately, the super-ego. Contemplative, reflective and synthesizing, it appears, experientially, to be in some way non-corporeal.  It is to this definition that some Polymathicans object.  In doing so, they are confusing the answer with the question.

The question is, 'To what do I refer when I refer to self?'  For some the answer may be a higher order, self-referential, manifestation of cognitive activity.  This answer does not make humans unique in their transcendence.  There is strong evidence that several other mammals are capable of recognizing themselves as individuals. However, it is an Objectivist interpretation of transcendence, not a logical repudiation of it.  In other words, it recognizes that some animals, including humans, cannot be explained entirely by describing them as 'survival optimized stimuli-response machines'.  There is something more, transcendent, about these animals.


There is a second order interpretation of transcendence that involves the contemplation of the human species' relationship to the rest of the universe. As a greater percent of the population gains sufficient affluence to focus on the higher Maslow's levels, this has become an important issue.  Some people believe that humans, in fact all species, have a moral imperative to place their well-being above the well being of other species.  Others think that humans in their ethical considerations should weigh the well-being of all species equally.

This is inherently a transcendent question.  Pure animals will pursue their own survival and well-being without any considerations of transcendent meaning. In fact, no animal, save humans, will contemplate the question at even a rudimentary level.  For that matter, only transcendent humans will.  Many, perhaps most, people spend little to no time thinking about this.

So, while I appreciate the negative connotations that the term transcendence has for many people, including some Polymathicans, I do not apologize for its inclusion.  In fact, I would argue that transcendence, in its several meanings, is above self-actualization on a modified Maslow's Pyramid.  I would also say that Polymathicans are not characterized by their answers to transcendent questions, but rather by their interest in them.  


Sunday, December 13, 2015

Catalonia, The Donbass and the Coming Left/Right Divorce

The Catalonians had a referendum on secession from Spain in 2014 and secession won with a commanding 80% of the vote.  The Catalonian Regional Parliament had an election in September, 2015 and the parties favoring independence took a majority of the seats. They are moving toward independence. This is interesting because while it was close, similar movements in Quebec and Scotland lost. The next time, they may not.
Catalonian leadership as of a month ago has vowed to implement independence from Spain within 18 months. The Spanish national government sued for and received from the Constitutional Court, the opinion that Catalonian secession is illegal. So, an 18 month fuse has been lit. Perhaps they will find a way to put it out, but right now, it looks like we are going to have an interesting experiment on separatist movements in the very heart of the developed world.
How Spain, Catalonia, the EU, NATO, and the UN handle this is going to set the tone for a future that is likely to see a growing number of regional independence movements.  It could also modify the accepted processes in resolving currently contentious separatist movements as exists now between Ukraine and The Donbass.
In the Ukraine, when the new central government announced that it intended to pursue a course toward EU membership, both Crimea and the Donbass declared independence. For these Russian Identity regions, the declaration of EU membership without Russia was a step beyond an example of acceptable majority rule and was taken to be an example of 'tyranny of the majority.' In both cases, the central government's reaction was to bring in troops, tanks, and rocket launchers to forcibly return these regions to Ukraine.
Russia moved in protect Crimea from the Ukrainian military and subsequently accepted Crimea's request to join the Russian Federation. This has been improperly characterized as a Russian annexation.  In fact, it was petition for membership in the Russian Federation favored by the vast majority of Crimeans, that had historical precendent but was illegal by Ukrainian law.

 The Donbass did not have such a history nor such a clear majority in favor of secession. So, in that case Russia offered limited and covert protection for the Donbass against violence from the central government while advocating that both sides sit down and negotiate.
That eventually happened in Minsk, Belarus, with France, Germany, Russia, Kiev and representatives from the Donbass at the negotiations and after two sessions, Kiev agreed to allow effective autonomy to the Donbass while issues were worked out. This, of course, is where it should have started and if it had, a whole lot of bloodshed could have been avoided.
That is clearly not the model that we want to use for the handling of separatist movements. Declaring the secession illegal and moving in with military enforcement is not the proper response no matter what the Constitutional Court says.  And, it is very difficult to imagine that it is what the Spanish government will do. It is posslible that they will roll tanks into Barcelona, but that would be a surprising and unfortunate response to Catalonian independence.
The Catalonian situation is of international significance because it is an opportunity for the community of nations to have a better model for the proper response when a region decides it no longer wishes to be a part of the nation as a whole. If the Ukraine model stands, the 21st century is going to be a violent one. However, I do not believe that Madrid will respond that way. I think that once it is clear that the Catalonians won't back down (if that is how it goes), I think they will go immediately to negotiations.

The Catalonian independence movement is the direct result of the EU and, in some ways, it is surprising that it took this long for a major independence movement to arise.  The nation state in Europe has had the problem that the EU weakens national identity because some of the sovereignty has been transferred to the EU.  Because of this, by comparision, regional indentities have become more important than national identities.  This is a phenomenon not unique to Spain.  Certainly, U.K., Germany, Italy are all good examples of EU nations with identifiable regional identities.

This is also important because the U.S. is heading for a divorce. While separatist movements in the EU are the result of regional identity, in the U.S. it will be the result of underlying cultural values of the Right and Left that have reached the point of being irreconciable differences. Crafting compromises has become ineffective, which is why Congress has become so confrontational.  It is reflecting the changing attitudes of the electorate.  Simply put the U.S. is reaching the point where the benefits of the union are less than the costs of unacceptable compromise.

Exactly how it will play out is impossible to say with precision. However, it is possible that Texas will reach a point similar to Catalonia where they do not see that the submission to the majority on a series of issues is sufficiently compensated by the benefits of the union. After all, Texas is larger than many significant countries and has a very nice coastal region.  It is a viable nation state.

If Texas secedes, the Republican Party will become a permanent minority and strongly red states will likely follow suit and sue for membership in the new Republic of Texas. It is quite possible that Houston's Harris County will not secede as well as a Democratic swath of counties along the Rio Grande. There are probably several other states whose majorities would vote for independence where urban counties would not secede with them.

Given the political polarization that Pew Research has found to have emerged over the past decade, public opinion is actually ripe for a secessionist movement. One way that it might begin is with County referenda on whether the County favors membership in a Conservative nation.  The referendum might be phrased like this - 'If a portion of the U.S. became a separate, more Conservative, nation would you favor XYZ County becoming part of it?'

Such referenda would have no legal force and would likely be declared illegal by Federal courts.  However, they probably would not be taken any farther than the press reporting that XYZ county has voted to join a hypothetical, more conservative, nation if it were to come into existance.  Neither the Federal government nor the county would attempt to move any further.

Unlike the first U.S. secession, where northern leaders were strongly in favor of forcing the South to remain part of the Union, today, many Democratic thought leaders are moving toward the view that it would be better for the rest of the U.S. if Texas seceded.  They see a long string of legislative initiatives that are being thwarted by red state majorities in Congress such as gun control, the death penalty, climate change, etc.  Also, a number of issues currently settled or mostly settled, such as ACA, abortion, gay marriage ,etc. are being put under pressure with every election.  The successful secession of just a handful of strongly red states would likely turn the U.S. permanently blue and allow those states that remain to move toward a European style social democracy.


There is a serious question whether the strongly liberal northeast and the more laid back liberal Pacific coast, if separated by a mid continent conservative nation could continue on as a single nation.  The rest of EUNA (roughly equivalent to the NATO nations) would probably see the eventuality of three daughter nations as beneficial.  Far too often, due to its sheer size, the U.S. has behaved like a playground bully.  The three nations would be closer in population and GDP to other EUNA nations and would have foreign policies that would differ significantly from one another.