East Meets West in RealPolitik

Struck by this quote from last week’s BBC news story on the Iran nuclear programme resumption – referred to the security council this week. I still see this whole world-energy / economy / consumption story tangled up in the same web as the mid-east / Israel story, whether we’re talking Chinese energy needs, Iranian nuclear ambitions, Hamas election victories, Declared anti-Zionist aims, and so on. One reason I scoffed last week at the “we don’t negotiate with terrorists” rhetoric.

The mix of brinkmanship and good-cop / bad-cop negotiation games goes on, fortunately …

China’s work behind the scenes seems to be focussed on trying to keep the diplomacy alive.

China’s most obvious interest is energy. Three years ago, when Iran was already supplying 13 per cent of China’s oil needs, the two governments signed a major deal which included Chinese development of Iranian oil fields. It is a source of supply of growing importance for China – one it doesn’t want disrupted by politics.

China also has a deeply-engrained reluctance to takes sides with the US against a fellow non-Western nation.

It’s a complex game, needing a steady nerve and the ability to walk and chew gum at the same time. Interesting, given the outward appearance that expanding China has bought the western consumerism “dream” that the “deeply engrained” east-west cultural difference comes into play, even in the diplomatic dealings.

“We” – fellow non-western nations, notice.

The Four “Meme”

I’ve been avoiding this, at least partly because it’s a misappropriation of the concept of a meme, but partly cos I can never think what to say … anyway, Sam tagged me so here goes …

Four jobs I’ve had:
1. Waiter / Barman
2. Labourer (Market garden / Construction site)
3. Aircraft dynamics analyst / test-engineer
4. err em, Engineer/ Manager / Consultant in various Oil& Gas&Process industry guises.

Four movies I can watch repeatedly:
(Too many to mention …)
1. Lawrence of Arabia
2. 2001
3. Pulp Fiction
4. Cabaret

Four places I have lived
(Excluding where I grew up and where I live now):
1. Kew, London
2. Shetland Isles
3. Olso (Nesbru / Sandvika)
4. Perth, Western Australia

Four TV shows I like to watch:
(Tough one – I actively avoid the box)
1. Friends
2. West Wing
3. Question Time
4. South Bank Show

Four places I have been on vacation:
1. Whitby, North Yorkshire
2. Greek Islands
3. Grenada
4. Jordan

Four favourite dishes:
1. Fresh Baked Bread – unbeatable
2. Oysters – fresh, with lemon only
3. Bean Salad
4. Tom Yam – Hot Thai Soup

Four websites I visit daily:
1. BBC News (Feed direct on my home page)
2. MoQ-Discuss
3. Robot Wisdom
4. Bifurcated Rivets

Four places I would rather be right now:
1. Portland Bill (anywhere by a restless sea, actually)
2. Travelling (to the coast) with the lid off (with the Hamsters at full volume)
3. The broody summit of Great Gable (looking across at the crowds on Scafell)
4. Any great cathedral (marvelling at the power of will)

Four people to tag:
1. Leon (go on, you know you want to blog)
2. Paul
3. Georganna
4. Alex

Protection Racket ?

Talking of “offers you can’t refuse” as I was earlier … Mark Federman’s McLuhan Blog has some interesting items …

This story about US Telco’s considering charging the likes of Google a premium for “expedited” comms service. Interesting thoughts, though I’m guessing Google’s muscle and distributed content will give ’em flexibility of channels ?

And in another story on the threat of blackmail Mark quotes this McLuhan definition of libel “The greater the truth, the greater the libel.”

Wow, it’s full of holes.

Thanks to David Morey over at MoQ-Discuss for picking up these links to papers mentioning Pirsig’s work. (I’m guessing partly prompted by the observations from Sam and Ant about the Ram-Prasad “Great Divide” article decrying the dearth of links between Eastern and Western philosophy – lets’ not overlook Pirsig and Northrop.)

A Hubert Dreyfus paper on Albert Borgmann’s Heideggerian thesis on the “affirmation of technology” which makes only a passing reference to Pirsig, but seems to include significant further parallels between Borgmann, Heidegger and Pirsig. Also includes confirmation of the idea that “technology” is the irresistible driver of most progressive change.

Jeremiah Lewis “reconciliation of opposites“, bridging eastern and western philosophies drawing significantly on Pirsig, as well as William Barrett and Fritjof Capra (Nothing against Capra, but I really must redress the Capra / Talbot balance).

John J Emerson’s “Pirsig and Buddhism” response to the Baggini / Pirsig interview inlcuding references to Magliola (Derrida & Nagarjuna), Frederick Streng, Stephen Toulmin and Michel Meyer. (Just starting reading Magliola’s “Derrida on the Mend” and Jay Garfield’s translation of Nagarjuna’s “Mulamadhyamakakarika – The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way”). Emerson includes some pretty succinct summaries of the essence of buddhist thought in that there can be no exhaustive metaphysical ontology, best illustrated in a few of his own words …

The anti-ontological view does not deny the reality of things or of the world, but doubts the value of the attempted verbalization and classification of reality represented by ontology. To a Buddhist, all ontologies probably have some good in them, but they all miss and misrepresent some things, so the choice of ontologies is a choice of evils.

Any system of ontology is a set of answers to a certain set of questions, but ontological writing does not express the originary questions, but instead states its answers in absolute form. Were the questions made explicit, readers would understand that a different set of questions would produce a different ontology.

What Pirsig seems to have produced is a philosophy of qualities without substances. This seems tolerably close to the Buddhist or the Taoist view …

Emerson’s “idiocentrism” appears somewhat indigestible, but his observations are incisive.

Whilst I’m in the mode of grabbing links for later digestion …
… I also today read …

Ant McWatt’s earlier paper on “The MoQ and Time” – not sure the analysis of the scientific view of time is exhaustive, but it does illustrate that any dynamic model of reality has some important assumptions about time and causality at base – seriously weird concepts when you research beyond common sense – a recurring issue of mine. (And the point, like most of the links in this post – pragmatically, the culturally determined common sense metaphors are probably as good as it gets – we probably shouldn’t wait around for a temporal plug to close up our metaphysical holes. As Dave Bowman finally notices “Wow, it’s full of holes.” Get used to it. Wishful thinking BTW – Bowman actually says stars, not holes.)

Paul Turner’s “Notes on the Tetralemma” – excellent short piece which again re-inforces the “integration of opposites” and the fact that no exhaustive ontology can exist, but that is readily accepted by buddhism, and need not represent a problem to a pragmatic framework for reality. As Emerson says above, “When Rorty says that pragmatism, rather than offering a new theory of truth, offers reasons why we do not need a theory of truth, he approaches a Buddhist view.” (Note also comparing Lewis above with Mary Parker Follett, that “integration” of opposites incorporating difference is a better metaphor than “reconciliation”, implying compromise and elimination of difference.) [Post Note – As indicated in his comment, Paul has another related article entitled “alterity” on his Twelve Links blog.]

The Blue Screen of Death

Dave Pollard picks up on The Edge 2006 Question response from Kai Krause, and adds quite a detailed take of his own.

The original Krause analogy is a good one. If you take a memetic view of cultural ideas, that drive our day to day decision making, the crises that occur (those that don’t arise from unpredictable natural causes, we couldn’t have prepared for) are pretty akin to system crashes. Conflicts that interrupt smooth running of the program – irrespective of whether the current program was actually productive, valuable or in any sense good.

Generally despite my fundamental informational / computational view of physical reality, I don’t subscribe to everyday “computer” analogies of behaviour. Social “programmes” are quite different to typical digital computer software. That said, the cultural bases of decision making are certainly software of a kind.

Dave makes a good point. He says

“We have ‘forgotten’ how to [respond to quantitative objective evidence] because we have been taught to ignore and suppress our instincts [until it gets personal].”

This is the failure of objectivity I’ve been banging on about. Without the subjective, the objective is (literally) meaningless. It’s also what I believe is behind the Brunsson “hypocrisy” of management decision making. Provided we can show evidence of objective rationale, we can do the downright wrong.

Perhaps, as MoQ-Discuss has suggested, it’s not that objectivity is for the birds, more that we need to learn a “new-objectivity”, that incorporates the meaning of instinctive personal subjective involvement with the merely (otherwise deliberately detached) objective.

When the road is paved with good (but soft and subjective) intentions, rather than hard objective facts, we’re maybe more likely to notice when we’re sleepwalking towards the freight train at the rail crossing ?

China Progress ?

Oh well, as a fan and user of Google products I guess I too must comment on their Chinese censorship deal, given the other progressive Chinese news recently.

Look, even the BBC are completely blocked in China, so I think Google are probably right to bow to the pressure, as they said “The company argues it can play a more useful role in China by participating than by boycotting it, despite the compromises involved.”

China is not perfect, but it is evolving. Better to evolve with it, than stand outside. With so much connectivity, serious issues of free speech and communication will out, one way or another.

(Interestingly, I have been getting lots of “Baidu” hits in the last couple of years, though nowhere near as many as Google. See story)