Sunday, June 29, 2008

Abolishing Pain through a Joyful Pursuit of Millennium Development Goals

I enjoy tremendously Anthony Judge's texts at his website called "laetus in praesens" (joy in the present). They are mostly about world problems, or what he sometimes calls the world problematique, and they are, as he wrote once in his revision of The Charge of the Light Brigade, "prepared at a time of an exceptional crisis of crises: energy, water, food, shelter, health, unemployment, climate, banking, confidence, drugs, etc. -- accompanied by continuing unchecked cycles of violence and rumours of possible nuclear war."

I enjoy his 'laetus in praesens'. The association of joy or enjoyment with world problems is highly revealing, methinks. Just as we feel problems painfully, we feel joyful in solving them. I would go as far as saying, with much provisos and caveats, that feeling painful is THE problem, and enjoying a problem is (dis)solving it. World problematique, that is to say the sum of all problems, is the most enjoyable problem of all: that's why friends who meet around a table often go for a while into the process of resolving the problems of the world. As for me, I cannot imagine a better line of work than algonomy, because inasmuch as work involves pain almost by definition, I prefer to work painfully to relieve pain, especially, to begin with, the pain of work.

However… Joy and pain considerations are not enough for real problem solving because reality and problems are wider than our affective sensibility or even our whole consciousness. In actual fact, our consciousness is a recent evolutionary produce and it is subject to constant delusion. On the one hand, we are so 'transcendentally' deprived that we hallucinate gods or extraterrestrials. On the other hand, we are so 'immanently' deprived that we are blind and deaf to our intellectual dishonesty or to the most obvious material needs. See for instance Judge's masterful account in Institutionalized Shunning of Overpopulation Challenge ─ Incommunicability of fundamentally inconvenient truth which describes, with reference to Atkin [2008-07-01: with reference to Atkin's q-analysis, more precisely in that section], how some of the most basic problems escape collective care because they are hidden in psychological or structural traps underneath the scene, for the greatest benefit of exploiters or soulless self-perpetuating entities. Such deprivation is not the smallest of the growing pains that our species undergoes in this recess of the universe. However, despite everything, humankind seems already a viable species, already capable of the best morally as well as technically. So, at the very moment that we have to deal with problems that are typical of a species reaching maturity, we have no choice but to bet that our means are also coming to maturity.

Because… The big question that arises, the great unknown factor, has to do with evolution: do we have the brain-mind for the survival task that befalls us? Judge tries to answer this in Self-reflective Embodiment of Transdisciplinary Integration (SETI): the universal criterion of species maturity? I must mention here two peculiar features that Judge's texts presents, according to me, and which perhaps should be explained to new-comers. First, his texts at times may look overwhelmingly erudite, but readers should not be afraid: the guy has worked during decades in a world clearinghouse of information, he has no prejudice against even the most abstruse sources, but he always manage to express himself clearly, and, as a result, reading him is often extremely instructive. Second, his texts [2008-06-30: because they are so 'trans', 'meta', 'multi', 'pluri', 'poly', etc.] look to me like scores for the "songlines of the noosphere", an expression that he invented. Into those scores, I guess, one can replace the voice of any particular idea with that of another favorite idea, in such a way that, as a result, reading that author 'creatively' is like voicing one's own pet idea in a kind of world jubilation gospel choir. For instance, when Judge speculates and asks in Institutionalized Shunning of Overpopulation Challenge: "Is imminent population overshoot then to be understood as a significant mark on the collective face of humanity which it is as challenged to recognize as it would be for some immature species?", I, for one, rather ask whether the absence of algonomy is to be understood as such a mark. More specifically, when Judge sings:

  • rather than self-recognition in a conventional mirror, the standard of maturity may be the capacity of a species to recognize its reflection in its environment as a whole.
  • rather than "intelligence", maturity may be framed as the capacity to integrate such reflection meaningfully and to engage with others in the light of the recognition of how they mirror oneself.
  • rather than the capacity to recognize the existence of a mark on one's face in a mirror, it may be more a capacity to recognize how a problem in the environment is a reflection of one within one's own awareness -- from which the problem emerged and by which it is sustained.

I sing:

  • rather than self-recognition in a conventional mirror, the standard of viability for a highly intelligent species may be the capacity of its members to recognize their reflections in consciousness as a whole.
  • rather than "intelligence", maturity may be framed as the capacity to integrate such reflections meaningfully and to engage with others in the light of the recognition of how they mirror oneself.
  • rather than the capacity to recognize the existence of a mark on one's face in a mirror, it may be more a capacity to recognize how a problem in others is a problem within one's own awareness.

My point is that we are billions, each obsessed with one's own incommensurable stream of consciousness, collectively still unaware that the mark of consciousness is to be found not only on one's own face but also on the face of the others in the mirror, humans and animals [2008-06-30: the spot of one's own consciousness is not only on me but also on other humans and animals who all think that they are myself, literally!]. This is our most fundamental identity, beyond that of nation, religion, patronym, etc.: we are identical in consciousness. (Inspiration on this matter could probably also be taken from Judge's writings about the classic sequence of Zen Ox-herding Pictures [2008-06-30: link changed from the former one].)

So… Let us suppose that we have what's needed for maturing "just in time". Then what work should we collectively undertake for our survival, inasmuch as it depends on us? I suggest, for my part, the following operative rule, until the time comes that it can be replaced with another operative rule: let us work to save from 'intolerable' suffering each and every being that we are 'capable' of saving at a 'reasonable' cost. I trust that we can see the relevance of mastering suffering for the sustainable pursuit of our consciousness destiny, and I trust therefore that we are able to get a working consensus on what is the meaning in this context of 'intolerable' or 'capable' or 'reasonable'. Now, given that we can see and hear, that we can show enlightenment and sing together, it still remains that we have to decide and act, as far as what depends on us is concerned. What shall we decide and do? There are thousands of suggestions on the table! How are we going to choose? I suggest that we turn to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), since they are de facto constituting our most 'global' strategy of action, as I argued in Le (sous) développement fait partie de la (défectueuse) gestion collective de la souffrance, et vice-versa. (in French only).

MDGs, admittedly, are in many ways short of being adequate as a global strategy. First, they are not 'algonomic, be it only because they do not consider tough questions having to do with deciding who is going to suffer what, how, when, why, etc. For a glimpse at what should involve an adequate strategy, see for instance Judge's contribution to reflection on viable strategies for sustainable development. Or see Judge's harsh judgment in Institutionalized Shunning of Overpopulation Challenge about one of the masterminds of MDGs: "The seemingly naive 'fix-it' optimism of analyses such as those of Sachs -- as for climate change -- completely fail to take into account the track record of failures with regard to fix-it strategies of past UN 'development decades' and development goals ('health for all', 'food for all', etc.)" For a fresh report on MDGs by the North-South Institute, see We the Peoples 2008 — Getting to 2015: Building participation, seeking success. As far as I am concerned, I am looking since last January for a place where I, as a 'thinker', could take part in the success of MDGs. I am not sure that such a place exist yet, but in any case, I believe MDGs could be conceptually improved and become one of the central pieces of a global strategy for the management of suffering, until 2015, and far beyond that date, well into the new millennium.