Thursday, August 28, 2008

High Petrol Price Savings!

Australian road fatality figures are down 11.6% across the first seven months of 2008 accelerating a downward trend which has been evident over recent years. Could this be attributable to changed driving habits as a result of higher petrol prices?
American trauma statistics back this thesis up even further, where road fatalities fell by 22.1% in March and 17.9% in April - the latest figures available, but which appear to be continuing through May and June. WHilst some of this might be attributable to a lowering in the distance travelled, it is more likely that the greater proportion is attributable to improved driving habits to increase fuel economy.
Which raises an interesting economic question. If fatalities are down this much, how much reduction in serious injury is also evident, with what saving in health costs? Dare it be suggested that higher fuel costs might actually be cheaper overall for the economy, even if not for individuals within it?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

What Makes Value

A rare stamp was sold overnight in Melbourne for $29000. The stamp - a 1913 10/- purple stamp with a kangaroo standing over a map of Australia - normally sells for around $1000. This stamp was unique inasmuch as it contained a fault which caused a double-printing of part of its border.

It's amazing, really, when we live in a society which pursues perfection with relentless ambition. Celebrities will often have photographs airbrushed to remove blotches before publication. This week we laud the perfect performances of athletes while many others pass in silence. When we make the inevitable comparisons between ourselves and those in the public domain, we clearly do not match up and tend therefore to undervalue our unique identity. This blemished stamp perhaps serve to remind us that is our unique faults which make us valuable in this world.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Freedom Paradox (Book Review)

“We have built ourselves a grand castle of freedom but choose to live in a shack nearby”
- Kierkegaard

In his first two books, Growth Fetish and Affluenza, Clive Hamilton began to unmask the prevailing philosophies of our time and expose the high price being paid for our unwitting enslavement to them. In his latest work Freedom Paradox: Towards a Post-Secular Ethics, Hamilton directly addresses the question which emerges from these two works: Why it is that our unparalleled time of economic prosperity and choice has left us with lower levels of life satisfaction and happiness? Has the modern promise proven empty, and left us unfulfilled, with less freedom, rather than more?

Beginning his journey with the father of modern liberalism John Stuart Mill, Hamilton begins a journey which dialogues with great thinkers through the ages, seeking explanation for the deep unease which permeates Western Culture, in spite of the promise of freedom which the great economic growth spurt promised us. By juxtaposing three alternative views of life: the pleasant life, the good life, and the meaningful life, the framework is set for exploring the dialectic between liberty and limits.

Whereas modernity has conceptually enthroned the individual, Hamilton suggests that we have exchanged submission to obvious powers (church, state) for more subtle ones which subvert our capacity for freedom. Our ability to freely consent has been compromised by our capacity for self-deception, our tendency for akrasia (the ability to act in contradiction to one’s considered judgment), and in response to the subtle forms of coercion from the market and from socio-economic forces, all of which have served to diminish rather than enhance our freedom.

Having articulated some of the ways in which freedom has been compromised at the socio-political level, Hamilton explores the realm of metaphysics for an exploration of the relationship between inner freedom and greater wellbeing. In revisiting questions of the nature of reality, Hamilton boldly suggests that which modernity first announced and post-modernity has buried – the transcendent – remains accessible. The dense argument which comprises the middle stages of the book outlines a philosophical and metaphysical basis for access to the noumenon (the reality which lies behind the world of appearances) which Hamilton argues is based within humans (rather than God-centred), which provides a basis for the real Self as the centre of moral autonomy. In engaging with the mystical world of Buddhism, Sufism and of Christian mystics, Hamilton suggests that the “secret door to the citadel” is in finding the universal Self, where the God within and the God without are united, in the words of William Law, “in the deepest and most central part of thy soul.”

Hamilton examines – in a brief digression – the question of the existence of God, taking issue with Dawkins (whom he criticises for his poor metaphysics), Kant (with his view of God as separate and remote from humanity), and attempts to equate the concept of God as expressed in words with the Supreme Being, abandoning the idea of a God as cosmic policeman (my term) for a “more sublime notion of eternal justice”.

The basis for morality is thus grounded no longer in rational ethics, or an external moral code, but the Universal Self – where our independent existence merges into the Universal Self, shared by all. Morality is therefore grounded in metaphysical empathy, in which we recognise our common humanity, not merely as independent selves sharing a common core, but united by participation in the being of each other. Here Hamilton seeks to redeem emotion, compassion, intuition and conscience as a source for morality. The greatest moral acts are often counter to the prevailing social-cultural norm, citing Gandhi, Mandela and the Dalai Lama as avatars of virtue who have lived life on a higher moral plane.

“The freedom to do as we please is the most subtle form of unfreedom ever conceived,” he concludes. In seeking to reclaim access to the noumenon within the phenomenal world we experience, Hamilton suggests that the journey towards true freedom begins in being rather than doing. Many readers will welcome his call to rediscover the transcendent, although some will argue that he has been too optimistic of the human capability to overcome these forces and gives too little attention to what Christian theologians continue to hold in spite of its contemporary unpopularity: the nature of sin in the human condition, although we perhaps need to confess that the church has often placed this too much at the forefront and so shadowed the good news of grace it seeks to embody.

The Freedom Paradox offers a healthy critique of modernity, post-modernity and institutional religion and seeks to point us back to the deeper reality of which the spiritual giants of history have sought to point towards. ‘Tis a pity that too often we have wrestled with the words rather than the reality.

Clive Hamilton, Freedom Paradox: Towards a Post-Secular Ethics, Sydney: Allen & Unwin 2008

Review by Gary Heard

Friday, August 08, 2008

Companies or Corporations?

Quote worth pondering:
We can't let little countries screw around with big companies like this - companies that have made big investments around the world.
- a Chevron lobbyist, who asked not to be identified, speaking about a lawsuit brought on behalf of thousands of Indigenous Ecuadorian peasants over the dumping of billions of gallons of toxic oil wastes into their region's rivers and streams. Chevron is pressuring the Bush administration to eliminate special trade preferences for Ecuador if its government doesn't quash the case.
(Source: Newsweek)