Literary Obsession ~ Chapter Two

 

I dream of making points clear to Messrs. Gates, Soros, Ga Ga, and Winehouse.  I am not rich or famous, but I am not nonexistent either; I exist here in my small corner of the world and I have a point of view.  I do  not believe the central problem  is that you and the other rich and famous people have power and influence while I and other poor and unknown people do not.  I do not think I need to persuade you to support worthy causes.  You are not against ecology or peace  or social justice;  so it is not a matter of persuading you to change sides and start working for the good of the biosphere and the world’s people;  it is a matter of rethinking thinking, changing paradigms, finding social change strategies that work.   I only plead for a chance to explain to you how to turn the tide; to propose a Game Plan with two sides:  on the one side methods for getting out of the lockstep of compulsory obedience to the systemic imperatives of capital accumulation, so well described by Ellen Wood and David Harvey; and on the other side methods for detecting and enhancing in any given milieu the cultural resources (or social capital) available to organize cooperation and sharing there  –two sides of the same Game Plan because enhancing not-for-profit public and private institutions builds a plural economy loosening the death-grip of the systemic imperatives.   Here Erich Fromm’s ideas imply more good news:  while our buying-and-selling way of life tends to reduce people to personalities-for-sale while reducing the rainforest to opportunities-for-profit; when we join together in communities of resistance to overcome this fragmented and fragmenting way of life (uniting for some practical purpose like cooperative day care or community supported agriculture), we feel joy and make friends in the short run at the same  time as –by decreasing addiction to profit—we contribute to changing the system in the long run.   In my own small way I try to be a catalyst organizing cooperation for non-commercial motives in my family, in my neighborhood, in the schools where I work, in my church, in my political party –uniting people for practical purposes.   I do not claim to be more obscure than the millions of other obscurities who are resisting fragmentation by building social capital, but I do claim to have a useful theory justifying what we do.  If I were famous enough to get in their doors I would suggest to Messrs. Gates and Soros, Ladies Ga Ga and Winehouse, that ethical norms are causes; changing the norms changes history.   Xxx 18Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi gave us examples.  Martin Luther King Jr. drew his strength from the black church tradition (as James Cone has shown), a tradition with roots in African conviviality, in the spiritual consolation of slaves, in keeping joy and hope alive in times of low wages and unemployment; while Mahatma Gandhi was able to think and act outside the box (as Joanna Swanger and I have shown in our book on him) because beginning in his childhood he lived and breathed an indigenous dharma that his reading of anti-modern Europeans –like John Ruskin and Leo Tolstoy—only complemented; much as the philosophies of the Boston personalists complemented the gut intuitions of King.   One coming from Africa and Christianity, one coming from India and Hinduism; both show how filling in the ethical gaps in the modern western economic way of life is often achieved by recovering ancient wisdom,  not-western or not-modern.

My only desire is to explain wisdom  not so much to explain why I choose to be in this world but not of it keeping my heart  in la la land with Plato where truth and beauty have an eternal affinity for each other, for that explanation would chiefly interest the few who have noticed that I am a misfit; but mainly to explain wisdom as a path from here where we all are,  in a dysfunctional world,   to where we all want to be,  in a world that works; and to that end I will explain wisdom as a remedy for two things  that at the present time are not  working: (1)  our efforts to prevent crime, and (2) our efforts to  rehabilitate criminals; beginning by hearing our  neighbor Guido  who says his house is marked to be burglarized by “the same old crazies and druggies.”   Somebody has recently spray-painted two large capital letters on Guido’s front wall, a large backwards E and a large frontward B superimposed on a cross-hatch pattern that Guido believes is a map showing the thieves how to find their way around the interior of the house after they break in.

Since the words “ancient wisdom” –which according to me name the solutions to Guido’s problem—form a common phrase, almost a cliché, while “modern wisdom” is an odd combination, which seems false, like a cat pretending to be a rabbit; one can perhaps discern a truth in the poetic hyperbole of the implausible assertion of Jacques Maritain that modern Europe is kept alive by the prayers of the faithful in the monasteries.   In Habits of the Heart Robert Bellah and his co-authors make a similar point more soberly: the USA does not –and it could not—function using only its modern and dominant language, business-talk; it also employs the ancient languages of religion and civic virtue, as well as several versions of therapy-talk.   From Maritain and Bellah I derive my first point: ancient wisdom is not out of the running; it is still here with us today as a substrate underlying modernity,  making modernity possible by tempering it; and my second point would be that to the extent that we do have some limited success  already in rehabilitating  delinquents and criminals it  is largely  because of their religious conversion, or –as they say in the evangelical prison ministry in Chile—their caminando el camino.    My third point would be that my second point shows that my point of view, Martin Luther King’s point of view,   Mahatma Gandhi’s point of view, are not absurd, not legitimately to be ignored –because the soul of the criminal is already the indispensable agent of his or her rehabilitation, because the partial solutions we already have to Guido’s problem already rely on wisdom.

Rehabilitating the authors of the graffiti on Guido´s  wall would have been duck soup for the wisdom of Saint Francis,   who converted a wild animal –a wolf   who terrorized the village of Gubbio devouring alike dogs, women,  and men—by preaching to it the love of authority and the authority of love, and then –so it says in the Little Flowers of Saint Francis– cutting a deal with the wolf  on the following terms:  “I promise thee that thou shalt be fed every day by the inhabitants of this land so long as thou shalt live among them; thou shalt no longer suffer hunger, as it is hunger which has made thee do so much evil.”   From this miracle performed by Saint Francis of Assisi I derive three precepts, three rules for cultural action, three methods for enhancing the available cultural resources in any given milieu: (1) Make a strong emotional appeal, (2) Affirm authority, (3) Solve the material problem;  and now in the light of these precepts I will consider the attitudes of delinquent youth in Chile today, the kind of youth who say to their high school guidance counselors, as one whom I interviewed did say to his, “I can make more money than you make by stealing and pushing drugs,” the kind of youth who grow up expecting to spend part of their lives in jail, because their parents and most of the people in their milieu spend time in jail.  I have interviewed nearly a hundred of them.   Apart from some fascinating individual and subgroup differences, I found the general trend to be that although they are defined by the school system as at-risk, as vulnerable, as underachievers, they define themselves as happy and normal young people, who love their families and friends  –the same families that teach their children how to steal, the same friends that hang together spraying graffiti on walls– who enjoy even school because it is a place to be with their friends; who thrive on all-night parties with lots of dancing to loud sensual reggaeton music, lots of beer, lots of sex; and who in normal hours in between the heavy pleasures of weekend nights spend  most of their time watching TV, playing soccer, flirting, hanging, and chatting on Facebook.

My minor research on the attitudes of minor authors of minor crimes shows their approach to life  to be similar to that of the psychotics Uncle Sigmund described as deeply attached to their psychoses,  because, in one case as in the other, a strong emotional appeal drawing them into conformity with socially defined normality would have to be extremely  strong because strong basic emotions already attach them firmly to the way of life they already have.    I know it can be done because I know pastors in Chile and elsewhere who keep reformed delinquents so busy with healthy fun that they do not have time to get drunk and pregnant even if they want to.   But now Instead of entering into the general topic of how some cultures succeed and some cultures fail in the sacred task of convoking angelic choirs of  higher spirits whose singing deafens young pre-delinquents to the siren songs of orgies and easy money,  let us turn  to the topic of affirmation of authority.   Starting my investigation of this topic here where we are now when it is,   my data show that authority  is affirmed by the pastors who here and now save souls from perdition by repeating over and over again a single  central message:  Not my will but thine be done, on earth as it is in heaven.   These words ring strangely in the modern world, for there is no way to reconcile them with personal autonomy as the supreme principle of morality; they express  a categorical rejection of modernity’s basic cultural structures, even though today in the cities, suburbs and countrysides throughout the planet they continue to be spoken, sung, and prayed by millions, by billions;  let thy will not mine be done  still endures as song and  substrate contradicting and accompanying the individualistic mythology  now organizing the global economy;  these ancient words coexist with modernity; these ancient words still express the meaning of wisdom, or rather  they would express the meaning of wisdom if the powers that dominate the manufacturing of knowledge and writing of curricula would allow the people to remember what wisdom used to mean,  what the people still instinctively feel it to mean, and what it means today for scholars who remember Plato, who was the great spring at the headwaters of the rivers of western classical tradition, because in Plato the definition of wisdom is the harmonizing (not suppressing) government  of the entire soul by that part of the soul which has the word (the logistiche psuche), because in Plato the logistiche psuche governs pride and appetite;  wisdom is a form of obedience to authority,  it is obedience to the word (logos, commonly identified with the divine Logos).   Speaking from a naturalistic and scientific point of view we can say that producing an ecologically sustainable social cohesion has been the central challenge not only for Plato, but for sages of all times and places, some of whom like Plato have identified the Higher Power that brings order to souls and communities with the Divine Word, while others have named the Higher Power some other way  — as ancestors, as  spirits dwelling in the forests, as   mighty pantheon, as patriotic valor, as love,  as  whatever may be  named in the culture’s  myths  about  ultimate concerns (Tillich).   But there are times and places – like now and here — where a generalized decline of legitimate authority sets in, not least because authority loses legitimacy when it fails to deliver security and material prosperity (Habermas);  where chaos,  mental illness,  drugs, alcohol,  inability to socialize children, irresponsibility, normlessness (anomie),   and social disintegration threaten to dissolve any and all cultured and humane government of souls and communities, be it religious, be it secular.   Since the remaining alternative   — neither the affirmation of obedience to cultural norms nor decline into disorder — is   the establishment of hierarchy by fear and by force (Eisler),  cultural action to enhance existing cultural resources ( to raise their ethical level) saves us from not one but two less desirable alternatives: from chaos and from violence;  cultural action is thus  an intelligent progressive response to the conservative abhorrence of chaos forever demanding the establishment of peace by violent means:  first by law and order, then by repression, and finally by dictatorship.   As Saint Francis knew that to tame a wolf you have to feed it, so a third of three general rules for cultural action today is: solve the material problem.   (First:  a strong emotional appeal; second: affirm authority.)   A material aim of criminal rehabilitation is to re-insert people in the labor market with good jobs at good pay, but this aim is routinely frustrated because the number of jobs is smaller than the number of people who want jobs.   I have been explaining in   installments –partly in the previous chapter and partly in other writings and powerpoints– why recovering ethical wisdom (thinking outside the box) solves the basic problem of too-few-jobs; and here starts another installment:   I witnessed a wonderful training workshop in a poor part of Africa for 257 unemployed men and women; some young some old, some moderate to severe alcoholics, some teetotalers because of   their Rastafarian religion.  The poor learn to organize themselves, following the steps of the   methodology of Clodomir Morais     where the participants   put each theoretical lesson into practice,  organizing themselves into work teams and then submitting bids on community service projects that have been lined up and “ scoped” in advance by the teaching crew.  The newly created work teams analyze the jobs; they prepare work plans and budgets; then  they submit bids; and then they sign contracts with the teaching crew, which is also a technical crew qualified to  evaluate the work done, for  –in the  case of the organization workshop I witnessed–   building a day care center for children, remodeling an old peoples´ home,   planting trees, cleaning up the playground of a school, planting community gardens…; and then when a job is done the team submits an invoice   and is paid (at market wage rates) as per its  contract.

Notice first that the unemployed found employment without depending on effective market demand, by doing community service, without out-competing other job seekers, without throwing others into unemployment, doing work with use value, work that gave them dignified and respectable social roles but was not commercial;  then try to imagine achieving full employment by  relying not on a single logic –the logic of sales and profits— nor on two, but rather on the sum of a series of diverse logics.     Notice second that the participants learn  to work together   in ways that could  subsequently be utilized  in more than one way  in the world as it is and in the world as it might become either in commercial or in  social enterprises, as has indeed happened, for graduates of organization workshops have gone on to organize  in the private sector, in the public sector, and in  “third sectors.”   Notice third that the wages of the participants — paid by a foundation with both private and public funding– are a channel for sharing the wealth, for recycling funds into the lower strata of society.   Changing the basic rules of the game of human life, rules about buying and selling, doing things with money, working and being worked for; as is being done by  organization workshops and by thousands of  other innovations in economic solidarity found all around the globe; has seemed to me to be, since I was eleven years old, a matter of playing clay, as I did when I would leave my divorced mother and my four-years-younger brother in our shack in the slums of Barstow, California (circa ) to wend my way to an elegant residence surrounded by gardens, an oasis in the desert,  to meet my school chum John Krouser and his sister Susan to play clay,  a game consisting of  making whole cities out of modeling clay; making tiny women and men, their children, their buildings, their vehicles, and of course their gardens, for it was against the rules to make people without gardens (because if there were no food what would the people eat?);  and when the top of the Krousers’ patio table was entirely covered by a clay city, we would cross the lawn to make a “colony” on a large flat rock amid rambling roses and twining ivy.

Back at the shack in the slums I played a similar game with punch cards and my little brother, playing with the small cards with tiny square holes punched in them that the early computers of those days made their calculations with, of which we had an enormous supply because since our mother taught at an elementary school proudly possessing one of those  primitive computers, she was able to bring home for us the stacks of  cards we used to make first a house of cards, and then another and another, and then a school and a fire station and a grocery store, until the entire floor of the room was covered by a card city  –which goes to show, since we only had two rooms, and since our mother never complained when the floor of one of the rooms was covered by play buildings made of punch cards, that our mother had read Jean Piaget, who had made the discovery that children are biologically programmed to make up games with rules and to play them,  and had taken to heart the slogan “play is the work of the child.”

Later our games imitated capitalism; elaborating  on the board game Monopoly, we supplemented the simple version for sale in stores with complexities we invented ourselves like corporations with shares that could be traded and which paid dividends when you passed “Go.”     Piaget also found that children are programmed to form groups, a finding I confirmed by being a full-fledged member of two child-organized gangs; first one  called “Four Bafflers” (although it had ten members) which arose out of the dense mists of nothingness and took on mythical form and liturgical substance in the fertile imagination of latency in the town of Fontana, California, where we lived before our mother left our father and took us to Barstow.   We inducted our new members trespassing into an old warehouse filled with bales of textured cardboard (waiting to be made into egg cartons) that we had rearranged  to create a labyrinth of tunnels, through which we led  blindfolded novices into an inner chamber also made of bales of cardboard, where they were solemnly initiated into “Four Bafflers” by candle light.     I am consequently a person with a not inconsiderable background in game-invention.    I think this fact about me will help you to understand why I sink into such despair when I watch the evening news on television.

I watch Barack Obama, whom I had earlier watched  saying he would raise spending and lower taxes for the purpose of increasing demand and therefore sales and therefore profits and therefore employment; now saying  he will lower spending and raise certain taxes for the purpose of lowering the rate of growth of government debt; followed by    Representative Boehner, the Speaker of the House,  who says the president’s current plans for taxing the rich will increase unemployment; followed by Robert Reich, Secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton.  When Reich says Obama is fighting fire with gasoline, taking money out of the economy when he should be putting more money in to stimulate growth and employment, it makes me want to curse the box and scream: “Why can’t they invent new games and play by different rules?”   Then my mind flashes back to Barstow when I was in Fifth Grade and a member of the Trusty Gang (named after Duane Trusty its leader) when I first encountered a complexity I have often encountered since: that of being both pro-authority and anti-authority.    It was essential to obey the rules of our gang.  The point of the gang was to defy the rules of the school.    Homer –I wish I could remember his last name— told me he was once caught  pissing within a hundred feet of our hideout –which flouted our most important rule–  and he had been whipped for it.  He took off his shirt to show me the whipping scars on his back, proud to bear on his body the proof of the Power of the Rule.   That meant The Power of the Gang, which for me meant Protection.   I got all the way through twelfth grade and graduated without being beaten up mainly by having tough friends like Duane Trusty.

Defying authority was my specialty because my role in the Trusty Gang was to dream up ways to have fun breaking rules, like wet-paper-towel-skiing, thus justifying a membership in the gang that could not be justified by any ability to defend my comrades with my fists.  To do wet-paper-towel-skiing, we would go into the Boy’s Bathroom, take down wads of paper towels from their dispensers, soak them in water, and then throw them on the floor.  We would get a running start, jump on the wet towels and slide across the floor until we crashed into the wall  –an activity we would continue until we were caught and punished; the punishment  phase being a further fount  of fun and also a producer of prestige for the glory of the gang; as was marble-dropping –an activity which began when we were all seated at our desks in straight rows, and I would unobtrusively drop a marble on the floor; signaling the gang members  unobtrusively  to drop marbles on the floor too, leaving the teacher confused by the noise  and unable to discern who had dropped one and who had not.  Having been such a goof-off at age  eleven, I might  now  trumpet  “Question Authority” everywhere, but  instead  I have grown up to echo John Ruskin’s call  for  respecting legitimate authority and for opposing it when it ought to be opposed   “…loyally and deliberately, not with malicious, concealed, or disorderly violence.”

The need to be both pro-authority and anti-authority, both respectful and critical, both for and against rules, follows from the need to change from today’s set of basic rules to tomorrow’s set of basic rules.  The system-changing process is a rule-changing process because systems are made of rules, because institutions are made of rules; and  since rules require authority (Rechtfertigung in Wittgenstein’s German), if  contesting the old rules dissolves authority, then people will not obey the new rules; from which it follows that if  you (mistakenly) view the system-changing process as a struggle for power, overlooking         Karl Marx’s main point  that the basic rules of the capitalist game – mocked by Marx as Freedom, (formal) Equality, Property, and Bentham– ought to be replaced by  rules serving everybody  not just a few (to the extent that it might be said that a thinker so comprehensive and profound as Marx had a single main point); and consequently  –having overlooked what I am claiming to be Marx’s main point and not thinking of rule-changing but of power-destroying— you adopt as a strategy for social change the  undermining of an oppressive culture by  undermining the general habit of obedience to rules, then the result  inevitably will be –if you succeed—what we saw so often in the twentieth century:  socialisms that do not work.

Yes, that is why Adam Smith and Karl Marx are both unavoidable, why they frame both our dreams and our nightmares.   These four —   Freedom, (formal) Equality, Property, and Bentham — constitute what Marx mocks as a bogus Eden of natural rights; these four govern the Master Game, the game of buying and selling; they mirror precisely Adam Smith’s “natural liberty;”   these four nail the box; they organize our global economy; these four create both the pretexts and the underlying dynamics of our wars.   Each is free to buy or not to buy, to sell or not to sell; all face each other as formal equals in the market place;   each disposes only of her or his own property, which in the cases of workers with nothing else to offer for sale is their labor-power; each looks only to her or his self-interest (self-interest is a principle of Jeremy Bentham, who   analyzes all human action as seeking pleasure and   avoiding pain).  Follow these rules of natural liberty, says Adam Smith.   Yes, that is the question, the unavoidable question, to Smith or not to Smith.  Some of us misfits answer it weird, dreaming, making new myths.  I want to tell Gates,   Soros, or Lady Ga Ga or Amy Winehouse.  But I fear that if they came down from Olympus to glance at me they would say, no, forget him, he does not exist, he does not have a point of view.    Because when you live in the box, which is where I believe they live, you see only a limited number of possible points of view, and mine is not among the possibilities, nor is Mahatma Gandhi’s, nor Martin Luther King’s,  nor John Ruskin’s, nor Hjalmar Branting’s.   I want to preserve and improve the “cultural resources” of any given milieu, because like Hannah Arendt I do not want a world where governing norms are gone and “anything is possible.”  But our basic rules of the life-game today make everyone’s bread and butter depend on the confidence of investors.  So the Game Plan to change the world is not to boil investors in olive oil or in vats of vanilla extract;  it is to change the rules to free humanity from what the Grenoble School calls “regimes of accumulation” where all the elements of culture  — from designer jeans  to military hardware– are pressed into the service of the logic of capital accumulation; it is to encourage all the sustainable conviviality  we can discover among the diverse cultures of the world, together with all the delicious and feasible life-games   we can invent.   I realize you still have an unanswered question: “Who is Hjalmar Branting?”  Here is the answer:  Hjalmar Branting became in 1920 Sweden’s first socialist prime minister, but since the socialists had only a one-vote majority in parliament, they decided not to implement their program until they could get a broader social consensus behind it,   emphasizing for now training workers in the management of cooperatives and unions to prepare them to assume the government of the nation at a later date.   Son of a professor, himself an astronomer and a gymnast, Branting believed in Uppfostran.   Uppfostran in Swedish means roughly “self-improvement” in English.  Like Plato Branting promoted personal self-improvement as part and parcel of improving society.

Here is a thumbnail exercise in cultural action to close this chapter:    The objective is to contribute to transforming the basic cultural structures of the modern world starting  here now, standing on the  sidewalk with a Chilean gentleman of Italian extraction looking at the graffiti sprayed on his wall;   beginning by listening and  making small talk;  and then (simplifying and skipping steps for the sake of brevity; see “Culture Change” by   Richards and Swanger in Manual for Building Cultures of Peace, Springer 2008)  looking for usable themes and finding one  when Guido says you must run and hide  if the delinquents outnumber you.   Asking him to expand on his own words when he speaks to this theme (…somewhat like a community organizer facilitating setting up a Neighborhood Crime Watch writing the words of the people on butcher paper with a magic marker…), I hear   Guido expressing the sentiment that he is afraid living in a big house all by himself, and the rest is history:  Guido gets a roommate.  Society is a bit more cohesive and sustainable.   Although it is not easy to get along with another person, as anybody who has ever tried to do it knows, Guido does; thus reducing the world’s total number of solo dwellers in big hard-to-heat houses.

 

I like to dream of Guido becoming a Generative Person.  That means (extending Paulo Freire’s concept of generative themes) becoming a source and example of a culture-shift in the milieu.     Generating a culture-shift requires energy –another key point in the methodology– and detecting energy is an art that draws on the findings of biology and all science.   But in this case the energy is clear: Guido wants an audience.   He lives for music:  he is a musical genius who needs a public, a gold-lode waiting for miners, a cultural resource I might connect with the collective happiness community spirit of our Having Fun Being Good dances, sing-alongs, Christmas parties and sundry amusements.  These festivities have earned our alley a reputation as the home of the Singing Drunks, of which we are proud because we know that while descending sensually  into a bottomless pit of dysfunctional and destructive behavior is easy, and that self-discipline is hard and in some cultures not even honored, we also know that persisting faithfully in functional and constructive behavior without pleasures is impossible;  it is  contrary to what many millions of years of primate evolution have programmed into human brains and bodies; being good without pleasures is so unlikely that any Game Plan worth diddly poop must activate old and new ways to unite  ethics with positive emotions.

 

Two

I dream of making points clear to Messrs. Gates, Soros, Ga Ga, and Winehouse.  I am not rich or famous, but I am not nonexistent either; I exist here in my small corner of the world and I have a point of view.  I do  not believe the central problem  is that you and the other rich and famous people have power and influence while I and other poor and unknown people do not.  I do not think I need to persuade you to support worthy causes.  You are not against ecology or peace  or social justice;  so it is not a matter of persuading you to change sides and start working for the good of the biosphere and the world’s people;  it is a matter of rethinking thinking, changing paradigms, finding social change strategies that work.   I only plead for a chance to explain to you how to turn the tide; to propose a Game Plan with two sides:  on the one side methods for getting out of the lockstep of compulsory obedience to the systemic imperatives of capital accumulation, so well described by Ellen Wood and David Harvey; and on the other side methods for detecting and enhancing in any given milieu the cultural resources (or social capital) available to organize cooperation and sharing there  –two sides of the same Game Plan because enhancing not-for-profit public and private institutions builds a plural economy loosening the death-grip of the systemic imperatives.   Here Erich Fromm’s ideas imply more good news:  while our buying-and-selling way of life tends to reduce people to personalities-for-sale while reducing the rainforest to opportunities-for-profit; when we join together in communities of resistance to overcome this fragmented and fragmenting way of life (uniting for some practical purpose like cooperative day care or community supported agriculture), we feel joy and make friends in the short run at the same  time as –by decreasing addiction to profit—we contribute to changing the system in the long run.   In my own small way I try to be a catalyst organizing cooperation for non-commercial motives in my family, in my neighborhood, in the schools where I work, in my church, in my political party –uniting people for practical purposes.   I do not claim to be more obscure than the millions of other obscurities who are resisting fragmentation by building social capital, but I do claim to have a useful theory justifying what we do.  If I were famous enough to get in their doors I would suggest to Messrs. Gates and Soros, Ladies Ga Ga and Winehouse, that ethical norms are causes; changing the norms changes history.   Xxx 18Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi gave us examples.  Martin Luther King Jr. drew his strength from the black church tradition (as James Cone has shown), a tradition with roots in African conviviality, in the spiritual consolation of slaves, in keeping joy and hope alive in times of low wages and unemployment; while Mahatma Gandhi was able to think and act outside the box (as Joanna Swanger and I have shown in our book on him) because beginning in his childhood he lived and breathed an indigenous dharma that his reading of anti-modern Europeans –like John Ruskin and Leo Tolstoy—only complemented; much as the philosophies of the Boston personalists complemented the gut intuitions of King.   One coming from Africa and Christianity, one coming from India and Hinduism; both show how filling in the ethical gaps in the modern western economic way of life is often achieved by recovering ancient wisdom,  not-western or not-modern.

My only desire is to explain wisdom  not so much to explain why I choose to be in this world but not of it keeping my heart  in la la land with Plato where truth and beauty have an eternal affinity for each other, for that explanation would chiefly interest the few who have noticed that I am a misfit; but mainly to explain wisdom as a path from here where we all are,  in a dysfunctional world,   to where we all want to be,  in a world that works; and to that end I will explain wisdom as a remedy for two things  that at the present time are not  working: (1)  our efforts to prevent crime, and (2) our efforts to  rehabilitate criminals; beginning by hearing our  neighbor Guido  who says his house is marked to be burglarized by “the same old crazies and druggies.”   Somebody has recently spray-painted two large capital letters on Guido’s front wall, a large backwards E and a large frontward B superimposed on a cross-hatch pattern that Guido believes is a map showing the thieves how to find their way around the interior of the house after they break in.

Since the words “ancient wisdom” –which according to me name the solutions to Guido’s problem—form a common phrase, almost a cliché, while “modern wisdom” is an odd combination, which seems false, like a cat pretending to be a rabbit; one can perhaps discern a truth in the poetic hyperbole of the implausible assertion of Jacques Maritain that modern Europe is kept alive by the prayers of the faithful in the monasteries.   In Habits of the Heart Robert Bellah and his co-authors make a similar point more soberly: the USA does not –and it could not—function using only its modern and dominant language, business-talk; it also employs the ancient languages of religion and civic virtue, as well as several versions of therapy-talk.   From Maritain and Bellah I derive my first point: ancient wisdom is not out of the running; it is still here with us today as a substrate underlying modernity,  making modernity possible by tempering it; and my second point would be that to the extent that we do have some limited success  already in rehabilitating  delinquents and criminals it  is largely  because of their religious conversion, or –as they say in the evangelical prison ministry in Chile—their caminando el camino.    My third point would be that my second point shows that my point of view, Martin Luther King’s point of view,   Mahatma Gandhi’s point of view, are not absurd, not legitimately to be ignored –because the soul of the criminal is already the indispensable agent of his or her rehabilitation, because the partial solutions we already have to Guido’s problem already rely on wisdom.

Rehabilitating the authors of the graffiti on Guido´s  wall would have been duck soup for the wisdom of Saint Francis,   who converted a wild animal –a wolf   who terrorized the village of Gubbio devouring alike dogs, women,  and men—by preaching to it the love of authority and the authority of love, and then –so it says in the Little Flowers of Saint Francis– cutting a deal with the wolf  on the following terms:  “I promise thee that thou shalt be fed every day by the inhabitants of this land so long as thou shalt live among them; thou shalt no longer suffer hunger, as it is hunger which has made thee do so much evil.”   From this miracle performed by Saint Francis of Assisi I derive three precepts, three rules for cultural action, three methods for enhancing the available cultural resources in any given milieu: (1) Make a strong emotional appeal, (2) Affirm authority, (3) Solve the material problem;  and now in the light of these precepts I will consider the attitudes of delinquent youth in Chile today, the kind of youth who say to their high school guidance counselors, as one whom I interviewed did say to his, “I can make more money than you make by stealing and pushing drugs,” the kind of youth who grow up expecting to spend part of their lives in jail, because their parents and most of the people in their milieu spend time in jail.  I have interviewed nearly a hundred of them.   Apart from some fascinating individual and subgroup differences, I found the general trend to be that although they are defined by the school system as at-risk, as vulnerable, as underachievers, they define themselves as happy and normal young people, who love their families and friends  –the same families that teach their children how to steal, the same friends that hang together spraying graffiti on walls– who enjoy even school because it is a place to be with their friends; who thrive on all-night parties with lots of dancing to loud sensual reggaeton music, lots of beer, lots of sex; and who in normal hours in between the heavy pleasures of weekend nights spend  most of their time watching TV, playing soccer, flirting, hanging, and chatting on Facebook.

My minor research on the attitudes of minor authors of minor crimes shows their approach to life  to be similar to that of the psychotics Uncle Sigmund described as deeply attached to their psychoses,  because, in one case as in the other, a strong emotional appeal drawing them into conformity with socially defined normality would have to be extremely  strong because strong basic emotions already attach them firmly to the way of life they already have.    I know it can be done because I know pastors in Chile and elsewhere who keep reformed delinquents so busy with healthy fun that they do not have time to get drunk and pregnant even if they want to.   But now Instead of entering into the general topic of how some cultures succeed and some cultures fail in the sacred task of convoking angelic choirs of  higher spirits whose singing deafens young pre-delinquents to the siren songs of orgies and easy money,  let us turn  to the topic of affirmation of authority.   Starting my investigation of this topic here where we are now when it is,   my data show that authority  is affirmed by the pastors who here and now save souls from perdition by repeating over and over again a single  central message:  Not my will but thine be done, on earth as it is in heaven.   These words ring strangely in the modern world, for there is no way to reconcile them with personal autonomy as the supreme principle of morality; they express  a categorical rejection of modernity’s basic cultural structures, even though today in the cities, suburbs and countrysides throughout the planet they continue to be spoken, sung, and prayed by millions, by billions;  let thy will not mine be done  still endures as song and  substrate contradicting and accompanying the individualistic mythology  now organizing the global economy;  these ancient words coexist with modernity; these ancient words still express the meaning of wisdom, or rather  they would express the meaning of wisdom if the powers that dominate the manufacturing of knowledge and writing of curricula would allow the people to remember what wisdom used to mean,  what the people still instinctively feel it to mean, and what it means today for scholars who remember Plato, who was the great spring at the headwaters of the rivers of western classical tradition, because in Plato the definition of wisdom is the harmonizing (not suppressing) government  of the entire soul by that part of the soul which has the word (the logistiche psuche), because in Plato the logistiche psuche governs pride and appetite;  wisdom is a form of obedience to authority,  it is obedience to the word (logos, commonly identified with the divine Logos).   Speaking from a naturalistic and scientific point of view we can say that producing an ecologically sustainable social cohesion has been the central challenge not only for Plato, but for sages of all times and places, some of whom like Plato have identified the Higher Power that brings order to souls and communities with the Divine Word, while others have named the Higher Power some other way  — as ancestors, as  spirits dwelling in the forests, as   mighty pantheon, as patriotic valor, as love,  as  whatever may be  named in the culture’s  myths  about  ultimate concerns (Tillich).   But there are times and places – like now and here — where a generalized decline of legitimate authority sets in, not least because authority loses legitimacy when it fails to deliver security and material prosperity (Habermas);  where chaos,  mental illness,  drugs, alcohol,  inability to socialize children, irresponsibility, normlessness (anomie),   and social disintegration threaten to dissolve any and all cultured and humane government of souls and communities, be it religious, be it secular.   Since the remaining alternative   — neither the affirmation of obedience to cultural norms nor decline into disorder — is   the establishment of hierarchy by fear and by force (Eisler),  cultural action to enhance existing cultural resources ( to raise their ethical level) saves us from not one but two less desirable alternatives: from chaos and from violence;  cultural action is thus  an intelligent progressive response to the conservative abhorrence of chaos forever demanding the establishment of peace by violent means:  first by law and order, then by repression, and finally by dictatorship.   As Saint Francis knew that to tame a wolf you have to feed it, so a third of three general rules for cultural action today is: solve the material problem.   (First:  a strong emotional appeal; second: affirm authority.)   A material aim of criminal rehabilitation is to re-insert people in the labor market with good jobs at good pay, but this aim is routinely frustrated because the number of jobs is smaller than the number of people who want jobs.   I have been explaining in   installments –partly in the previous chapter and partly in other writings and powerpoints– why recovering ethical wisdom (thinking outside the box) solves the basic problem of too-few-jobs; and here starts another installment:   I witnessed a wonderful training workshop in a poor part of Africa for 257 unemployed men and women; some young some old, some moderate to severe alcoholics, some teetotalers because of   their Rastafarian religion.  The poor learn to organize themselves, following the steps of the   methodology of Clodomir Morais     where the participants   put each theoretical lesson into practice,  organizing themselves into work teams and then submitting bids on community service projects that have been lined up and “ scoped” in advance by the teaching crew.  The newly created work teams analyze the jobs; they prepare work plans and budgets; then  they submit bids; and then they sign contracts with the teaching crew, which is also a technical crew qualified to  evaluate the work done, for  –in the  case of the organization workshop I witnessed–   building a day care center for children, remodeling an old peoples´ home,   planting trees, cleaning up the playground of a school, planting community gardens…; and then when a job is done the team submits an invoice   and is paid (at market wage rates) as per its  contract.

Notice first that the unemployed found employment without depending on effective market demand, by doing community service, without out-competing other job seekers, without throwing others into unemployment, doing work with use value, work that gave them dignified and respectable social roles but was not commercial;  then try to imagine achieving full employment by  relying not on a single logic –the logic of sales and profits— nor on two, but rather on the sum of a series of diverse logics.     Notice second that the participants learn  to work together   in ways that could  subsequently be utilized  in more than one way  in the world as it is and in the world as it might become either in commercial or in  social enterprises, as has indeed happened, for graduates of organization workshops have gone on to organize  in the private sector, in the public sector, and in  “third sectors.”   Notice third that the wages of the participants — paid by a foundation with both private and public funding– are a channel for sharing the wealth, for recycling funds into the lower strata of society.   Changing the basic rules of the game of human life, rules about buying and selling, doing things with money, working and being worked for; as is being done by  organization workshops and by thousands of  other innovations in economic solidarity found all around the globe; has seemed to me to be, since I was eleven years old, a matter of playing clay, as I did when I would leave my divorced mother and my four-years-younger brother in our shack in the slums of Barstow, California (circa ) to wend my way to an elegant residence surrounded by gardens, an oasis in the desert,  to meet my school chum John Krouser and his sister Susan to play clay,  a game consisting of  making whole cities out of modeling clay; making tiny women and men, their children, their buildings, their vehicles, and of course their gardens, for it was against the rules to make people without gardens (because if there were no food what would the people eat?);  and when the top of the Krousers’ patio table was entirely covered by a clay city, we would cross the lawn to make a “colony” on a large flat rock amid rambling roses and twining ivy.

Back at the shack in the slums I played a similar game with punch cards and my little brother, playing with the small cards with tiny square holes punched in them that the early computers of those days made their calculations with, of which we had an enormous supply because since our mother taught at an elementary school proudly possessing one of those  primitive computers, she was able to bring home for us the stacks of  cards we used to make first a house of cards, and then another and another, and then a school and a fire station and a grocery store, until the entire floor of the room was covered by a card city  –which goes to show, since we only had two rooms, and since our mother never complained when the floor of one of the rooms was covered by play buildings made of punch cards, that our mother had read Jean Piaget, who had made the discovery that children are biologically programmed to make up games with rules and to play them,  and had taken to heart the slogan “play is the work of the child.”

Later our games imitated capitalism; elaborating  on the board game Monopoly, we supplemented the simple version for sale in stores with complexities we invented ourselves like corporations with shares that could be traded and which paid dividends when you passed “Go.”     Piaget also found that children are programmed to form groups, a finding I confirmed by being a full-fledged member of two child-organized gangs; first one  called “Four Bafflers” (although it had ten members) which arose out of the dense mists of nothingness and took on mythical form and liturgical substance in the fertile imagination of latency in the town of Fontana, California, where we lived before our mother left our father and took us to Barstow.   We inducted our new members trespassing into an old warehouse filled with bales of textured cardboard (waiting to be made into egg cartons) that we had rearranged  to create a labyrinth of tunnels, through which we led  blindfolded novices into an inner chamber also made of bales of cardboard, where they were solemnly initiated into “Four Bafflers” by candle light.     I am consequently a person with a not inconsiderable background in game-invention.    I think this fact about me will help you to understand why I sink into such despair when I watch the evening news on television.

I watch Barack Obama, whom I had earlier watched  saying he would raise spending and lower taxes for the purpose of increasing demand and therefore sales and therefore profits and therefore employment; now saying  he will lower spending and raise certain taxes for the purpose of lowering the rate of growth of government debt; followed by    Representative Boehner, the Speaker of the House,  who says the president’s current plans for taxing the rich will increase unemployment; followed by Robert Reich, Secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton.  When Reich says Obama is fighting fire with gasoline, taking money out of the economy when he should be putting more money in to stimulate growth and employment, it makes me want to curse the box and scream: “Why can’t they invent new games and play by different rules?”   Then my mind flashes back to Barstow when I was in Fifth Grade and a member of the Trusty Gang (named after Duane Trusty its leader) when I first encountered a complexity I have often encountered since: that of being both pro-authority and anti-authority.    It was essential to obey the rules of our gang.  The point of the gang was to defy the rules of the school.    Homer –I wish I could remember his last name— told me he was once caught  pissing within a hundred feet of our hideout –which flouted our most important rule–  and he had been whipped for it.  He took off his shirt to show me the whipping scars on his back, proud to bear on his body the proof of the Power of the Rule.   That meant The Power of the Gang, which for me meant Protection.   I got all the way through twelfth grade and graduated without being beaten up mainly by having tough friends like Duane Trusty.

Defying authority was my specialty because my role in the Trusty Gang was to dream up ways to have fun breaking rules, like wet-paper-towel-skiing, thus justifying a membership in the gang that could not be justified by any ability to defend my comrades with my fists.  To do wet-paper-towel-skiing, we would go into the Boy’s Bathroom, take down wads of paper towels from their dispensers, soak them in water, and then throw them on the floor.  We would get a running start, jump on the wet towels and slide across the floor until we crashed into the wall  –an activity we would continue until we were caught and punished; the punishment  phase being a further fount  of fun and also a producer of prestige for the glory of the gang; as was marble-dropping –an activity which began when we were all seated at our desks in straight rows, and I would unobtrusively drop a marble on the floor; signaling the gang members  unobtrusively  to drop marbles on the floor too, leaving the teacher confused by the noise  and unable to discern who had dropped one and who had not.  Having been such a goof-off at age  eleven, I might  now  trumpet  “Question Authority” everywhere, but  instead  I have grown up to echo John Ruskin’s call  for  respecting legitimate authority and for opposing it when it ought to be opposed   “…loyally and deliberately, not with malicious, concealed, or disorderly violence.”

The need to be both pro-authority and anti-authority, both respectful and critical, both for and against rules, follows from the need to change from today’s set of basic rules to tomorrow’s set of basic rules.  The system-changing process is a rule-changing process because systems are made of rules, because institutions are made of rules; and  since rules require authority (Rechtfertigung in Wittgenstein’s German), if  contesting the old rules dissolves authority, then people will not obey the new rules; from which it follows that if  you (mistakenly) view the system-changing process as a struggle for power, overlooking         Karl Marx’s main point  that the basic rules of the capitalist game – mocked by Marx as Freedom, (formal) Equality, Property, and Bentham– ought to be replaced by  rules serving everybody  not just a few (to the extent that it might be said that a thinker so comprehensive and profound as Marx had a single main point); and consequently  –having overlooked what I am claiming to be Marx’s main point and not thinking of rule-changing but of power-destroying— you adopt as a strategy for social change the  undermining of an oppressive culture by  undermining the general habit of obedience to rules, then the result  inevitably will be –if you succeed—what we saw so often in the twentieth century:  socialisms that do not work.

Yes, that is why Adam Smith and Karl Marx are both unavoidable, why they frame both our dreams and our nightmares.   These four —   Freedom, (formal) Equality, Property, and Bentham — constitute what Marx mocks as a bogus Eden of natural rights; these four govern the Master Game, the game of buying and selling; they mirror precisely Adam Smith’s “natural liberty;”   these four nail the box; they organize our global economy; these four create both the pretexts and the underlying dynamics of our wars.   Each is free to buy or not to buy, to sell or not to sell; all face each other as formal equals in the market place;   each disposes only of her or his own property, which in the cases of workers with nothing else to offer for sale is their labor-power; each looks only to her or his self-interest (self-interest is a principle of Jeremy Bentham, who   analyzes all human action as seeking pleasure and   avoiding pain).  Follow these rules of natural liberty, says Adam Smith.   Yes, that is the question, the unavoidable question, to Smith or not to Smith.  Some of us misfits answer it weird, dreaming, making new myths.  I want to tell Gates,   Soros, or Lady Ga Ga or Amy Winehouse.  But I fear that if they came down from Olympus to glance at me they would say, no, forget him, he does not exist, he does not have a point of view.    Because when you live in the box, which is where I believe they live, you see only a limited number of possible points of view, and mine is not among the possibilities, nor is Mahatma Gandhi’s, nor Martin Luther King’s,  nor John Ruskin’s, nor Hjalmar Branting’s.   I want to preserve and improve the “cultural resources” of any given milieu, because like Hannah Arendt I do not want a world where governing norms are gone and “anything is possible.”  But our basic rules of the life-game today make everyone’s bread and butter depend on the confidence of investors.  So the Game Plan to change the world is not to boil investors in olive oil or in vats of vanilla extract;  it is to change the rules to free humanity from what the Grenoble School calls “regimes of accumulation” where all the elements of culture  — from designer jeans  to military hardware– are pressed into the service of the logic of capital accumulation; it is to encourage all the sustainable conviviality  we can discover among the diverse cultures of the world, together with all the delicious and feasible life-games   we can invent.   I realize you still have an unanswered question: “Who is Hjalmar Branting?”  Here is the answer:  Hjalmar Branting became in 1920 Sweden’s first socialist prime minister, but since the socialists had only a one-vote majority in parliament, they decided not to implement their program until they could get a broader social consensus behind it,   emphasizing for now training workers in the management of cooperatives and unions to prepare them to assume the government of the nation at a later date.   Son of a professor, himself an astronomer and a gymnast, Branting believed in Uppfostran.   Uppfostran in Swedish means roughly “self-improvement” in English.  Like Plato Branting promoted personal self-improvement as part and parcel of improving society.

Here is a thumbnail exercise in cultural action to close this chapter:    The objective is to contribute to transforming the basic cultural structures of the modern world starting  here now, standing on the  sidewalk with a Chilean gentleman of Italian extraction looking at the graffiti sprayed on his wall;   beginning by listening and  making small talk;  and then (simplifying and skipping steps for the sake of brevity; see “Culture Change” by   Richards and Swanger in Manual for Building Cultures of Peace, Springer 2008)  looking for usable themes and finding one  when Guido says you must run and hide  if the delinquents outnumber you.   Asking him to expand on his own words when he speaks to this theme (…somewhat like a community organizer facilitating setting up a Neighborhood Crime Watch writing the words of the people on butcher paper with a magic marker…), I hear   Guido expressing the sentiment that he is afraid living in a big house all by himself, and the rest is history:  Guido gets a roommate.  Society is a bit more cohesive and sustainable.   Although it is not easy to get along with another person, as anybody who has ever tried to do it knows, Guido does; thus reducing the world’s total number of solo dwellers in big hard-to-heat houses.

 

I like to dream of Guido becoming a Generative Person.  That means (extending Paulo Freire’s concept of generative themes) becoming a source and example of a culture-shift in the milieu.     Generating a culture-shift requires energy –another key point in the methodology– and detecting energy is an art that draws on the findings of biology and all science.   But in this case the energy is clear: Guido wants an audience.   He lives for music:  he is a musical genius who needs a public, a gold-lode waiting for miners, a cultural resource I might connect with the collective happiness community spirit of our Having Fun Being Good dances, sing-alongs, Christmas parties and sundry amusements.  These festivities have earned our alley a reputation as the home of the Singing Drunks, of which we are proud because we know that while descending sensually  into a bottomless pit of dysfunctional and destructive behavior is easy, and that self-discipline is hard and in some cultures not even honored, we also know that persisting faithfully in functional and constructive behavior without pleasures is impossible;  it is  contrary to what many millions of years of primate evolution have programmed into human brains and bodies; being good without pleasures is so unlikely that any Game Plan worth diddly poop must activate old and new ways to unite  ethics with positive emotions.