THE LAST HURRAH OF A FLAWED VISION

social space

In his essay “What is your purpose?” (York Times, May 5, 2015) David Brooks, a distinguished writer for the New York Times addresses the vision of great thinkers of some fifty years ago — persons who asked, and persuasively answered “the ultimate questions” of what one’s life is all about, what a person should and can aspire to be.  Brooks bemoans the fact that nowadays we don’t have profound moral leaders — such as Reinhold Niebuhr, Abraham Joshua Heschel, Harry Emerson Fosdick (who gave us the book, “On Being A Real Person”) and a number of others, all of whom produced real moral guidance that millions of persons found compelling and vitally relevant to their own life.  Nowadays, Brooks accurately tells us, we don’t have such eminent moral leaders to guide us.  Instead, we seem to be side-tracked into far more trivial immediacies of daily living.

Should we be looking for new leaders to help us formulate and answer “the ultimate questions” in our life as Brooks seems to imply?

Perhaps this is the wrong question.

Perhaps we should recognize that the venerated leaders of fifty years ago — and their less eminent followers of feel-good psychologists — are the last hurrah of an overly psychological vision of human life.  It is time to recognize that theirs — and David Brooks’ “What is your purpose?” — is a vision of the individual finding one’s “inner self”, “one’s purpose” that does not recognize some fundamental facts of how human life is lived.  Specifically, that as human beings, we are saddled with this biological duality:

(1)  From the moment of our birth all of us begin a life-journey as separate, identifiable creatures.

(2)  Yet, we are not self-sufficient!  We are connected to our surroundings — from the air we breathe to the bonds with other persons that nurture us.

(3)  Both of these — our separate identity as functioning individuals and our vital connection to surroundings — are part of what I call Social Space. It has distinctive, knowable attributes of its own.  For the past several years I have been trying to help jump-start science about that Social Space.  The Blog you are reading is devoted to it.  My most recent book is OUR QUEST FOR EFFECTIVE LIVING: HOW WE COPE IN SOCIAL SPACE.  Its website is: http://www.questforeffectiveliving.com

 

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ACCESS TO A HIGHER POWER: ISIS IN THE YEAR 2015 / THE CRUSADES IN THE YEAR 1096

Coping behavior, Crusades, extremism, higher power, ISIS, Jews, persecution, social space, Ultimates

In today’s New York Times (February 15, 2015) Susan Jacoby presents an enlightening essay, “The First Victims of the First Crusades”. She reminds us that Catholic Crusaders, in 1096, entering on their journey to free Jerusalem from Muslims singled out Jews for their first extremist target. Jews must convert or die. Her essay, along with President Obama’s recent speech point to similarities between the ISIS type of extremism and the extremism of the Crusades. To be sure not all Muslims share in the ISIS murderous extremism, in fact they are appalled by it, just as not all Catholics shared in the murderous extremism of the Crusades, and were appalled by it.   And yet, these actions deserve serious analysis – not merely labeling the participants as crazy terrorists, or violent lunatics (as Susan Jacoby does). Just what is going on? What is the appeal of such supposedly “medieval behavior” that’s happening in our time, highlighted by the actions of ISIS members?

For some time I have been studying how we humans cope with the fact that we live in Social Space. (*) Within that space we often find ways to “transcend” our immediate circumstances. I began this work by interpreting Viktor Frankl’s famous book “Man’s Search for Meaning.” In it he describes how, in the Auschwitz concentration camp, a young, dying women was able to transcend the horror of her present situation, convinced that she had gained access to a HIGHER POWER, some sort of  Ultimate Reality, and thereby achieve sublime insights that made her declare that she was now happier than she had ever been!  She was convinced that she had brought that HIGHER POWER, that Ultimate Reality, INTO HER HERE AND NOW! It gave her the tools to deal with the horror in her present situation.

I am convinced that this is not as unique as it may sound. We humans practice Transcendence quite often — in mundane ways when we pray, when we “declare allegiance to the flag”, when we are enraptured by a guru and, even, when decent Germans followed a charismatic Hitler. In each case we are convinced that not only do we have a glimpse of some sort of Higher Power, an Ultimate Reality. We may believe we have access to it, and even more importantly, that this Higher Power, this Ultimate Reality, comes into our life, here and now.   That LURE OF THE ULTIMATE  is surely at work in the actions of ISIS extremists – just as it was for Crusaders in 1096. They feel empowered by the conviction that the ULTIMATE is with them. They are its agents. They must implement its vision.  It is their highest calling.  Their greatest reward.

The basic issue is that the ISIS extremist actors are using the human capacity to connect to a supposed Ultimate Reality and bring it into one’s personal life, here and now. Their actions are appalling. But they make use of an ordinary, commonly used human attribute. This is what we must look at if we want to fight their evil actions.

(*) In my book, “Our Quest for Effective Living: A window to a New Science / How we Cope in Social Space.”

ISIS: A MOST STRANGE AMALGAM

amalgams, ISIS, modernity, morality, religiosity, social space, tribalism

ISIS is a baffling phenomenon. It practices public beheadings and deliberate and exuberant mass killings of enemies that modern Westerners associate with primitive tribalism we left behind many centuries ago. From our Bible we read about King David exuberantly slaughtering two thirds of the Moabites – and tell ourselves, “this sort of thing, once sanctioned on supposedly religious grounds, is really a form of ancient tribalism”, long forgotten and left behind by Modernity, with its far greater reverence for life. Now, surprisingly, we discover that religion-grounded tribalism is currently embraced and practiced by contemporaries calling themselves ISIS.

Yet the members of this same ISIS also practice the most sophisticated social media techniques we associate with the height of modernity – where the brutal, religion-grounded tribalism has surely been surpassed long ago.

I have been trying to help us get a better understanding of the Social Space in which we humans live – the subtitle of a book of mine is “How we Cope in Social Space” (*). One of four attributes of that Social Space is that we humans often live in a Closed Moral World. It gives us our sense of who and what we are; it provides us our moral moorings. Yet such Closed Moral Worlds sometimes become totally impervious to other beliefs, to other perspectives of what is decent and worthy. This characteristic of Closed Moral Worlds is surely at work among contemporary ISIS adherents. Its practitioners seem totally shut off from Modern sensibilities about human life, yet imbued with the passionate sense that they are acting Morally.

Nonetheless, the ISIS phenomenon teaches us something new about the nature of Closed Moral Worlds. It is that within such Closed Moral Worlds there can develop unique amalgams that defy the external world’s ideals about human life. This, it seems, is what is happening in the ISIS phenomenon. It amalgamates ancient tribalism with selected parts of Modernity.

(*) The full title of that book is “Our quest for effective living: A window to a new science / How we cope in Social Space.” For a description of that book, including the Closed Moral World construct, see, http://www.questforeffectiveliving.com

The Electric Shock experiments: They teach us more than their creator, Stanley Milgram, realized

authoritarian personality, Milgram, obedience, psychological experiments, social psychology, social space

The background: How could the Holocaust, with its grotesque character of mass murder happen in a country as “civilized” as modern Germany? Was it due to Germans being brought up to be obedient to authority – thanks to German authoritarian fathers, who set them up for it? Surely Americans, with their very different upbringing, would not be so prone to obedience.   Stanley Milgram, a young psychologist, set out to test this hunch in what became known as a series of famous electric shock experiments in a laboratory at Yale University, starting in 1961.

To Milgram’s surprise his American participants in the experiment behaved just like the proverbial Germans – they obeyed orders when a person in authority demanded that they perform horrifying actions. Milgram believed this indicates that obedience-to-authority is not merely a matter of the German character but that, on the contrary, it is a distinctly human attribute – one we all share.

It occurs to me that Milgram failed to recognize a fundamental feature of his experiments. Yes, there was obedience-to-authority. But something else took place as well.   In his experiment Milgram unwittingly, but in reality, created a Closed Moral World. It contained a specific set of values and rewards. These persuaded the participants that by their own actions they were making very important contributions to science, even if these actions were difficult for them. And they were doing so under the umbrella, and tacit approval, of a famous university. At the same time their outside morality, their moral upbringing, was emphatically excluded.

Perhaps the saddest outcome was that the participants accepted the new moral system, this “Closed Moral World”. Despite diverging from their own upbringing, they felt good about taking part in it.

I explore such “Closed Moral Worlds” — how they happen in the real world, not only in artificially contrived laboratory experiments – in my book, Fred Emil Katz, OUR QUEST FOR EFFECTIVE LIVING: A WINDOW TO A NEW SCIENCE / HOW WE COPE IN SOCIAL SPACE.

THE HIDDEN DIMENSION IN OUR LIFE

new science, personality, social psychology, social space, sociology, subconscious

As we go about our daily life, most of us, most of the time, are reasonably confident and self-assured. And that is how we usually display ourselves to those around us. Yet that public posture can hide a dimension — a Second Path — that is quite different. That Second Path stores our daily Unmentionables — our uncertainties, fears, rage, even inappropriate honesty, and more. These Unmentionables may exist, persist, and even continue to grow in subterranean ways. They can occasionally erupt into the open, unpredictably and destructively transforming one’s life.

Examples I mention in my book – Our quest for effective living: A window to a new science  /  How we cope in Social Space –   highly successful persons committing suicide, and ostensibly powerful persons having a very vulnerable side to their person. Also,  that the Second Path can contain some of what is best in us: our uncompromising sense of decency which cannot currently be expressed.

You will recognize some similarity to the Unconscious Mind, as studied by Freud.  The Second Path differs from it in that I see it being fed from our present, ongoing life — not merely from early childhood experiences, as Freud emphasized.

Please see, also, my short E-Book: “The Second Path in our Life.”

We need science about Social Space

endangered human species, new science, social psychology, social space, sociology

I.   We are developing ever-more lethal  ways of dealing with our fellow-human beings. If we keep this up, we may extinguish our human species.

—-The level of killings in the Thirty Years War was matched in a few short years in World War I and in the American Civil War.

—-In the Second World War we incinerated thousands of individuals by fire-bombing entire cities and dropping atomic bombs.

—-During the past century we violently killed over 100 million individuals.

—-The possibility of nuclear warfare continues.

—-Killings by drones helps us to kill by pressing buttons in remote-control, without the inconvenience of facing the enemy.

—-We find ways to “morally” justify our lethal actions.

II.   It is all happening in the Social Space we humans occupy.

III.  We need to wake up and coolly assess the nature of that Social Space.  We need a real science about Social Space.  It is a necessary prelude to getting more effective control over life in Social Space.

IV.  I attempt to jump-start real science about Social Space in my book, “Our quest for effective living: How we cope in Social Space / A window to a new science.”  It is not a grand, final science about Social Space. It is a nibbling beginning, to which, I hope, you and others will contribute by going beyond my effort.  I want to be surpassed. Your effort my be helped by taking a look at my book’s website: http://www.questforeffectiveliving.com

There is more than one Universe!

new science, social space, Watson and Crick

I. –Physicists speak about studying “the universe,” as though there is only one universe. Yes, they have developed astonishingly successful science. But is there really only one universe?

II. –In the last century, since Watson and Crick clarified the structure of DNA, genetic science has exploded into an increasingly powerful science, yielding profound new insight about biology and disease. This suggests that they opened up science about quite another universe: the universe of genetic space.

III. –This also suggests that physics is really about the study and understanding of ONE KIND of universe: the universe of physical space. And genetics is about another kind of universe, the universe of genetic space.

IV. –I suggest that there is yet another universe, the universe of Social Space. So far, we don’t have a science about Social Space that is anywhere nearly as well developed as physics and genetics. My recent book takes a stab at fostering science about Social Space. Its title is “Our quest for effective living: How we cope in Social Space / A window to a new science.” I’ll say more about this book in future posts on this blog. And my website — http://www.questforeffectiveling.com — also gives more information about that book.