A different kind of "blog," consisting of selections from my scribblings over many years. The date of each post is the date I originally wrote that piece. So, the top post is usually not the latest post, because I continually add writings from different years to the blog. If you have visited here before, you are likely to find new posts anywhere on the page. I'll continue to add "new" posts as my time allows.
- Name: Al S. Eslami
- Location: Toronto, Canada
13 July 2008
1 July 2008
15 January 2006
15 July 2000
15 June 2000
15 May 2000
15 April 2000
15 March 2000
15 February 2000
15 January 2000
11 April 1994
The good is rational
Our fear was what it would be like in a world where decisions were made by computers; also we feared the marginalization of ordinary, non-elite, people -- we would become totally dispensable and dispensed with.
The fear was that computers will replace people. But in a rationally computerized society, run on a basis other than greed, computers can serve and enhance people's lives by allocating resources in a rational manner.
At some point in the future, the logic of the machine may radically contradict the logic of the socioeconomic system. At that time, company presidents and executives better watch out, because they may be the ones who will be judged obsolete, and dispensed with.
From the point of view of workers' interests, computerization may be the best thing that ever happened. In the computer, the rational animal may finally meet himself, and rejoice in the reunion.
4 January 1994
To the real conservatives out there
We had run into each other almost daily for months, but he had never spoken to me. The other day he finally addressed me: "So, what is your nationality?" having overheard his conversations with my non-visible-minority colleagues, I had some idea of his Reform-Party-oriented mindset, so I just said: "Canadian." This not being the kind of answer he wanted, he said: "Yes, you're a Canadian now, but what is your real nationality?" I just repeated my original answer. Given the chance, though, I would have told him:
Yes, Don, I do have a dual nationality. But I want you to get to know me as a person first, and then as an immigrant. Don't you, Don, want people to know you as a person first? Don't you want to be judged according to the values you uphold, rather than the place you happened to be born?
Don, you are worried that immigration is diluting what you think of as Canadian values. I know you love this country, and you are concerned about its future. So I dearly wish you will try to understand what I'm trying to tell you. That's because I think you, as a conservative, can contribute to saving the real Canadian values.
The real Canadian values, it seems to me, are centered around the idea of peace. And peacefulness goes hand-in-hand with tolerance. There are few nations more tolerant of differences than Canadians. The Canadian people's willingness, and even eagerness, to listen to people with opinions different from their own is a precious quality.
An enlightening way of looking at Canadian values is to compare them with American ones: the rights to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. Canadian values are all of these and more, but in each case tempered with tolerance and equity. Unhampered individualism is un-Canadian. Communal peace and social equity define Canada.
So you see, Don, I think a concern with equity is just as much a part of being Canadian as a concern with social peace and harmony. If you are worried about the deterioration of communal peace and harmony in Canada, you should realize that the deterioration of the other half of the equation, social equity, is partly to blame. Some powers-that-be are even trying to take away medicare and unemployment insurance. They want to discourage average working people from immigrating to Canada. I think you, as a conservative, should try to do something about it.
By pushing people like me away from you, Don, you are serving neither peace nor equity. If you join the rest of us and embrace peace and equity, you would in fact be confirming Canada. Canada has been receptive to immigrants and refugees because it is Canada. A Canada that rejects them would no longer be the Canada that you know and love.
3 January 1994
Even "liberal" observers of the scene have deep roots in the culture of contentment. They know it from first-hand experience. At the same time, their own contentment makes it impossible for them to recognize its deeper nature, and the actual cure for it. After all, a physician contented with a disease is not the best person to diagnose or prescribe for it.
As even various disaster scenarios are unlikely to jolt the contented our of their complacency, faith in the workings of the "modern industrial economy" is not justified. It is a myth that with just the right kind of government intervention, and by the grace of the contented giving up many of their privileges, we will be save by the flexibility of the modern industrial economy. The same groups who are blind to portents of disaster will not suddenly agree to the implementation of progressive policies.
It is necessary not only to acknowledge the existence of class struggle, as far example in discussions of the "underclass," but also to admit class struggle as an actor in the drama. Contentment is a tranquilized state brought about by fear of change. Contentment is a negative reaction to class struggle. A symptom of this is the contented's need to feel morally justified in their desire for wealth and their denial of responsibility for the poor.
It is not enough to utter platitudes about the need for economic aspiration, with the usual lessons-to-be-learned-from-the-Japanese-and-the-Germans. The true opposite and remedy for contentment is the desire for radical social change. This is the underlying issue that is avoided at everyone's peril.
It is fine to try to understand the economic and political forces and actors that have created the economic mess in North America. Yet the very obsession with forces and actors precludes attention to systemic causes and remedies.
31 December 1993
Introvertness is a reflection of extrovertness that gains a level of authenticity over extrovertness, because it is authentic action with an authentic object. But action can achieve full authenticity only in a Kantian universalization. It is not, then, merely conformism in order to survive. Rather, it is an expression of what action really is. It may not receive the same plaudits as extrovert action. But there are other kinds of plaudits.
30 December 1993
29 December 1993
28 December 1993
Kant and Socialism
27 December 1993
26 December 1993
A similar argument can perhaps be constructed for the case of the various groups that make up Canada. For better or worse, we are all here now. Therefore, the most rational course and behaviour may be simple tolerance and active bond-forming.
25 December 1993
The Gift (an atheist's religious moment)
10 December 1993
The diremption between finance and economics
9 December 1993
3 August 1993
2 August 1993
1 July 1993
The new paradigm: The contribution of each to all creates an obligation of the part of all to help each. Each contributes to all with the sole motive of creating that obligation. And all helps each only because of the contribution of each – each has no intrinsic value – in fact, each is not a part of all – because, for one thing, there is no all.
31 May 1993
Justice vs Efficiency
30 May 1993
29 May 1993
12 April 1993
11 April 1993
Now as has been pointed out by some, the pre-capitalist, capitalist and post-revolutionary societies represent a continuing progression, and not a circle closing back on itself. Therefore, the revolution does not lead to a society of craftsmanship and pre-capitalist values and norms, but rather to a society of higher values and norms than earlier ones -- a more "spiritual" society, if you will. The Western attitude towards commodities noted above, may be seen as part of a movement in this direction. So, what may have been seen, from a different point of view, as a greater attachment to objects, and hence a more "materialistic" attitude, appears entirely differently as seen from another point of view. The point again is that the post-revolutionary spirituality is very different from the relatively primitive, pre-capitalist spirituality. Hence it is an error to expect the current attitudes to be moving back to those of a previous epoch. In other words, when we see a movement in a direction even farther away from what we are used to think as spirituality, we shouldn not automatically assume that the movement is towards a degradation of spirituality. To state the dialectical obvious then, "spirituality" itself is subject to development and transformation.
7 May 1992
Thoughts on the destructive power of ideology
-Both the "elect" (leftist activists/intellectuals) and the "politically naïve" could use a boost in morale. (Why do we think of them as naïve?) It is not true that increasing oppression will eventually lead to revolution. There is nothing dialectical about this position.
-Revolutions are not made of bitterness and guilt; they are made of hope and confidence in a better future.
-Weber is not necessarily an enemy. Perhaps we need to look at him a little differently and try to appropriate and use his thinking, rather than going into an automatic attack mode every time someone sounds like him.
-Interpersonal conflict and other things that people make themselves (unnecessarily?) unhappy about, tend to keep them from seeing the social solutions to the underlying causes of their difficulties. Hence, anything that helps reduce personal unhappiness may have long-term social advantages.
-The us-vs.-them mentality is perhaps suitable only for collective bargaining situations. Not because there is no class conflict; there definitely is. But because a "progressive" is not something that a person is, but rather something that a person aspires to be. A progressive is a person who, through his or her life activity, tries to bring his or her community closer to the ideal of a happier better world. A leftist is not something that you become by some ceremony of conversion or initiation; there are no "card carrying leftists." Being a progressive does not mean confessing to a certain creed or statement of belief. The issue is not separating people into believers and nonbelievers, and trying to convert the latter; the material issue is to try to increase the amount and the potential for positive action in the world.
-Elitist theoris and university degrees are worth very little in the day-to-day struggle of the poor, the oppressed, and working people. A little happiness and hope, however, can go a long way.
-Leftist objections to Weber (and now to the self-esteem movement) have been based on the notion that these ideologies try to tell people they can think or feel their problems away. But perhaps this is a misunderstanding. Perhaps these ideologies say the exact opposite, namely that problems must be correctly understood in their exact material nature, rather than getting bogged down by ideologies.
6 May 1992
Love of the root of all evil
The trouble is I always considered Alex's ideology (of getting rich at any cost) completely abhorrent and alien. A life spent in pursuit of wealth and possessions seemed like no life at all. Pursuit of the True, the Beautiful, and the Good seemed essential to a full life.
I found myself becoming discouraged in my pursuit of truth and knowledge. Accepted "knowledge" I found a pack of lies. I found that whenever someone, despite discouragement and frustrations, had discovered a portion of the truth, the entire weight of society had come down upon him (perhaps in the form of economic deprivation or social isolation) to prevent him from sharing his discovery with others. As for beauty and love, a deprived life is hardly the right soil for such delicate flowers. Most of us have enough to do just managing to survive from one day to the next. And as for goodness and justice, it seems all power in the world is aimed at increasing evil and injustice.
Imagined Utopias have been one answer to the horribleness of the real. After all, if what exists is far from right, then why not try to imagine what would be right, and perhaps also what would take us from here to there.
But even Utopias don't seem satisfying anymore! What is so true, beautiful, or good about a world where everyone lives at close to a bare subsistence level? Such would be a realistic Utopia.
12 December 1991
The egoistic or ego-centered thoughts that most people seem to have at one time or another (that the whole world and whatever is in it exist for one's self) are actually a misconception or a reflection of the fact that each person is unique.
11 December 1991
Truth versus Dissemblance
20 March 1989
Truth versus Wisdom
19 March 1989
Television as a new religion
18 March 1989
Mother Teresa's real mission
4 February 1988
Faith, nationalism, and racism
Although fideism was formulated into a philosophical doctrine by highly respected writers and philosophers, such as Montaigne, Pascal, and Kierkegaard, it has become associated with fanaticism and intellectual laziness -- and for good reason. Notwithstanding the significant contributions of fideist writers, fideism is essentially an abdication of the will to know, and inevitably leads to fanaticism. As the object of faith is defined as irrational, the highest and purest form of faith would presumably consist of belief in the greatest absurdities conceivable. Hence the dialectic of faith itself leads to belief in not just absurd ideas, but the belief in the greatest possible absurdities.
One way to understand this process is to think of the historical dialectic of religious faith versus knowledge. As knowledge pushed back the boundaries of ignorance about the world, religion was gradually forced out of this universe, and into a supernatural one. In other words, as more and more natural processes were (more or less) understood, the primitive nature religions, based as they were on absurd ideas about nature, were replaced by religions based on abstract and sophisticated absurdities.
As Tertulian, a third-century Christian theologian, put it: "I believe it because it is incredible." And the more incredible the "object" of belief, the more the likelihood of fanaticism. An irrational idea can have only an emotional hold on a person as the mind reject such an idea. Thus the more irrational and far from known reality one's beliefs are, the more would be the need for strong emotional attachment to the beliefs. In other words, an irrational belief can give rise to fanaticism.
Religion does not, however, have a monopoly on irrational beliefs. The object of faith may be any idea based on unquestionable premises, rather than on evidence. "Race" and "nation" are two such ideas.
The two concepts of "race" and "nation" or as absurd and internally incoherent as any religious idea. The two concepts were invented by the same people, namely the nineteenth-century colonial powers, strictly as tools of domestic and colonial domination.
The concept of race has no content whatsoever, surprising as such a claim may be. It is usually assumed, without question, that there are three or four "main" racial groups, and several subgroups within these. The main groups are supposed to include the Caucasian, the black, and the oriental races. Each of these is supposed to consist of the native inhabitants of a particular continent or part of one.
The real world, however, is not nearly so simple and neat. No two neighboring groups of native inhabitants look radically different from each other. For example, the French have common feature with both Germans and Spaniards; Egyptians have common features with both Middle Eastern Arabs and the Sudanese; so do the Burmese with both Indians and Thais; and so on. In the real world there are no racial boundary lines. The concept of race was derived from an arbitrary selection of extreme points on what is in reality and unbroken continuum.
Paralell to the use of the concept of race as a rationalization of oppression and exploitation of "inferior" people, the colonial powers invented the concept of nation to unify their own countries' people behind their rulers. The word "nation," which originally simply referred to a bond to one's place of birth (as in native, nativity, and so on) was made to refer to the total population who happened to live within the domain of the same ruler.
Absurd as the concepts of race and nation are, they were not nearly as absurd as many religious beliefs and practices thousands of years old. This may well account for the hold of and nationalism and racial stereotypes on people's minds; the little lies are easy to swallow once the Big Lie has been assimilated.
5 May 1986
The future does not belong to us
12 March 1986
An equitable formula for voting power at the United Nations
Votes = Population x Contribution
It seems fair, however, that the absolute amount of contribution should be balanced by introducing a factor for ability to pay. Per capita income is the first sich factor that comes to mind:
Votes = (Population x Contribution) / Per capital income
A simple per capita income figure, however, is not quite representative of ability to pay, because it may hide wide disparities in individual income in many countries. A fairer measure of ability to pay, then, may be that the per capita income of the poorer half of each country's population:
Votes = (Population x Contribution) / Per capita income of poorer half
This arrangement is not fair either, because the figure for "contribution" already has a component of "population."
Votes = Contribution / Per capita of half
Another factor that may be introduced is the cost of living in each country. This is to answer the objection that the same amount of money buys different quantities of goods in different countries. The figures used should, however , relate to the absolute minimum amount of money needed to subsist in each country, though some allowance may be made for local standards.
Votes = (Contribution x Cost of living) / Per capital income of poorer half
As in progressive taxation , where the rich supposedly pay a higher percentage of their income than the poor, a similar coefficient should be introduced in the above formula. The amount of this coefficient would depend on the ratio of
Per capita income of poorer half / Cost of living
so that the higher the ratio, the closer would the coefficient be to, say, 1.00. The final formula, then, is:
Votes = (Contribution x Cost of living) / (Coefficient x Per capita income of poorer half)
21 October 1985
Means and ends in politics
13 October 1985
What does God have to do with it?
10 October 1985
If an advice falls in the forest...
7 October 1985
Feminism and Compassion
4 October 1985
How real are you?
4 June 1985
Character is behaviour
3 June 1985
Quality versus quantity in J.S. Mill
Happiness, being a quality, is not measurable . In other words, qualitative concepts such as happiness, cannot be quantified, or, for that matter, defined. The reasons for the unsuitability of happiness as a moral criterion should become clearer as we proceed.
Even if we assume happiness to be quantifiable, and even if we are convinced that some action produces happiness, we can never be sure whether it can produce the same balance of happiness against happiness in the long run. Smoking cigarettes may make people happy, but in the long run they may pay for all of that "happiness" with a greater "amount" of unhappiness. How is one to balance many years of mild happiness against a few years of intense unhappiness (due to lung cancer and so on) unless one evokes a "higher" criterion, for example, the intrinsic value of human life? If human life is valuable irrespective of the amount of happiness or unhappiness that it producers, then we can say that smoking cigarettes is bad because it cuts human life short, and not because it causes unhappiness. The problem is that Mill disregards the question of whether the means towards happiness are good or bad in themselves or not.
To remain within his own theory, however, Mill has to disregard the significance of means in any action, and stress only the end result of actions. An act can have a very "happy" consequence, without necessarily being a result of "happy" means. For instance, a feudal lord may drive his serfs night and day in order to produce the maximum possible amount of grains and so on, all the while telling them that it is all for their own eventual happiness. The latter may be true, but one may ask whether all the unhappiness during the year was worth the happiness gained at the end of the year. The question cannot be answered by mere reference to quantitative comparison of the two amounts of happiness and unhappiness, assuming such comparison to the possible. An adequate answer requires reference to such matters as human dignity and freedom, which are outside the Utilitarian sphere of definition.
Mill also does not make it clear how exceptions to moral rules are dealt with, that is, how does one know how widespread those exceptions are.
Mill's theory suffers not only from the inability to tell us what action is right, but also from internal inadequacies and inconsistencies. For instance, what would be the motive or incentive for a person, in cases where there is a conflict between personal and general happiness, to follow the Utilitarian principle and ignore his own happiness for the sake of general happiness? In other words, Mill does not deal with the apparent priority of self-interest in all human actions in a convincing way. The incentives mentioned by Mill, that is, the "external" motives of law and opinion, and the "internal" ones of education and reason, do not seem to be quite adequate to deal with the problem:
(a) If we need laws to act as incentives for good behaviour, then what is the use of a personal code of behaviour such as Utilitarianism?
(b) Opinions of others are by no means infallible, since on one hand they can be manipulated and altered to his own advantage by a sufficiently clever person, and on the other hand others do not know about a great deal of one's behaviour, and, of course, they are not able to form any opinions about them as a consequence.
(c) No matter how highly educated a person may be, he can probably never escape from the overwhelming influence of self-interest on his actions.
(d) Mill refuses to base his morality on subjective feeling about actions, and now he wants to base it on subjective reasoning processes. If the morality of actions can be rationally derived, then what is the use of general moral principles such as Utilitarianism?
23 May 1985
Dialectic of praise
8 April 1985
The absurd meets the irrational
6 April 1985
From hero to madman
5 April 1985
Deification by design
13 March 1985
Nazism is history... or is it?
14 January 1985
It’s for a good causality
13 January 1985
The Essences of Childhood
12 January 1985
From showing-off to showing-with
11 January 1985
The one in all
20 December 1984
Caught in moralisms
19 August 1984
Removing the subject
21 May 1983
The origin of politics
18 May 1983
The poverty of poverty
17 May 1983
Poverty and student life
14 May 1983
The commodification of beauty
22 February 1983
There is no self
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