Category Archives: Strategic advocacy

Consequences of choice of symbols: Framing and describing is more than an analytic tool

Framing and describing is more than an analytic tool. The words and concepts used are symbols that carry meanings, often multiple and easily unconscious, that have consequences and affect action. Writing the natural history of the Wrangell Mountains thus can have significant outcomes, beyond helping create a pleasant understanding of local geology and ecology for readers, and the choice of how to write it is significant: the selection of framing, concepts and terms and how they are presented, in what language, and visually as well, because the Wrangells are both a thing in itself and, at the same time, representative of something more. The same, of course, can be said about framing and description of any social or public issue. They are all political.

from Parks, S. D. “Leadership, Spirituality, and the College as a Mentoring Environment.” Journal of College and Character 10, no. 2 (2008), 5:

In Christian tradition, for instance, a dove is often used as a symbol for Spirit. In the Celtic experience of Christianity, however, a wild goose is often used as a symbol of Spirit. The symbols are similar, but they take us to different places. For example, a group of people was asked to think of the presence of Spirit as a dove, and then to consider how they should respond to a situation of injustice in inner-city housing. Their response tended to move in the direction of prayer and patience. Then they were asked to consider the same situation, thinking of Spirit as a wild goose. Their response then tended to move in the direction of mass protest at city hall!

State of the art reasoned analysis of complex social-economic systems

Kauffman is saying that the following sort of analysis is useful, in fact essential, but also inherently incomplete and insufficient:

From Ostrom, Elinor, Marco A Janssen, and John M Anderies. 2007. Going beyond panaceas. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 104, no. 39: 15176-15178, p. 15178:

The study of the governance of SESs [social– ecological systems], and of sustainability science more generally, is an applied science like medicine and engineering, which aim to find solutions for diverse and complex problems. In diagnosing problems, the applied scientist examines attributes of a problem, layer by layer, and focuses on traits that are thought to be essential in a particular context. When an initial solution is adopted, considerable effort is made to dig deeply into the structure of the problem and to monitor various indicators of the system. On the basis of this information, applied scientists change their actions and learn from failures. The study of SESs, however, is not yet a mature applied science, but as the articles in this special feature attest, excellent research that can form the foundation for a mature applied science does exist.

Diagnosing the multiple processes occurring in complex, nested SESs is far more challenging than recommending a favorite cure-all solution to a simplified picture of all fisheries, all forests, or all terrestrial ecosystems. If sustainability science is to grow into a mature applied science, we must use the scientific knowledge acquired in the separate disciplines of anthropology, biology, ecology, economics, environmental sciences, geography, history, law, political science, psychology, and sociology to build diagnostic and analytical capabilities.

So, what sets of attitudes, skills, and experiences are appropriate for engaging with these problems, for being an effective, ethical actor and public leader? What practice, in the Buddhist sense? The answer calls for bringing together the analytic and the reasoned with the ethical and the poetic (are these the right terms?). We return to the question of the relationship between contemplation and action, of the ultimate and historical dimensions, of emotion and logic, heart and head, body and spirit, the necessity to become whole. This is expressed in the Shema, yes?

Why reasoned analysis is an insufficient foundation for effective action & leadership

In his Tillich lecture at Harvard this year, Stuart A . Kauffman says, “Reason is an insufficient guide to living our lives. … Therefore, we need all we’ve got. We need reason, emotion, intuition, imagination, story …” (Spoken at 48:20 minutes into the recording.)

From the press release for his Reinventing the Sacred: A new View of Science, Reason and Religion:

Kauffman asserts that it is time to break the Galilean spell – the faith that all aspects of the natural world are governed by natural laws – that has driven science for the past four centuries. With examples ranging from DNA and cell differentiation to Darwinian preadaptation, consciousness, and human technological advances, he argues that not everything that happens in the universe is governed by natural laws. The evolution of the biosphere, human economic life, and human history are partially indescribable by natural law, he writes.
Further, science alone simply doesn’t have the ability to predict the complex processes that occur every day. According to Kauffman, we do not lack sufficient knowledge or wisdom to predict the future evolution of the biosphere, economy, or human culture. Rather, it is that these things are inherently beyond prediction. We live in an emergent universe in which ceaseless unforeseeable creativity arises and surrounds us, writes Kauffman. And since we can neither prestate, let alone predict all that will happen, reason alone is an insufficient guide to living our lives forward.

“Sorting the relevant from the irrelevant, identifying salience, and directing decisions when uncertainty prevents definitive judgment.”

More support for bringing the Buddhist notion of “practice” into the practice of effective public leadership:

from Feleppa, Robert. 2009. Zen, Emotion and Social Engagement. Philosophy East & West 59, no. 3 (July): 263-293.

In the past two decades a number of researchers in psychology, cognitive science, and philosophy have converged on a different understanding of the place of the emotions in action, one which emphasizes the important role they play in framing the context of decision making: sorting the relevant from the irrelevant, identifying salience, and directing decisions when uncertainty prevents definitive judgment. I shall argue that this view of the more complex integration of reason and emotion makes clearer why self-liberation is fundamentally a matter of liberation from judgmental habit and inflexibility, and lends support to Hershock’s advocacy of a Mahâyâna view that emphasizes compassionate engagement with others.

Will be worth bringing in more of Lakoff’s take from the neurological/cognitive perspective, to see where it fits with the idea of liberation and the ethics of compassionate engagement.

Conze on perennial and sciential philosophies

The crux here is bringing the perennial and the sciential together, so they are both seen and experienced, though the distinctions are not blurred. Seems like the dichotomy is similar to (identical with?) the distinction between the ultimate and historical dimensions that Thich Nhat Hahn (Thây) refers to frequently. So Thây’s work would be a place to go to explore how the two fit together, and how to work with that connection and opposition. I am finding the question of the relationship between the perennial and sciential in both my activism (effective public leadership) and natural history projects. On the activism side, it’s expressed as the relationship between engagement with public issues to achieve specific policy goals, versus the potentially personally and socially transformative consequences of alternative methods of practice in this arena, in terms of our connections with the cosmos and beyond, with our mortality, and the ethical. On the natural history side, it’s the relationship between the geometric and quantitative scientific revolution, with its outfall, and nature as manifestation or representation of the ultimate. (See Rosenberg, previous post & his “The Revolution in Geology from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment.”) How to engage with both: a central question in my novel Alaska Dragon, so the question is basic, and the roots go deep.

from Conze, E. 1963. Buddhist Philosophy and Its European Parallels. Philosophy East and West 13, no. 1: 9–23, p. 14:
As  philosophies,  both   the  “perennial”   and  the “sciential”    systems  possess  some   degree   of intellectuality, and  up  to a point  they  both  use reasoning.  But considered  in their purity, as ideal types, they differ in that the first is  motivated by man’s spiritual needs, and aims at his salvation from the world  and its ways, whereas  the second  is motivated  by his utilitarian  needs, aims  at  his conquest  of  the  world, and  is  therefore  greatly concerned  with  the  natural  and  social  sciences. Between  the  two  extremes  there  are,  of  course, numerous  intermediary  stages.  They depend  to some extent  on the quality   of  the  spirituality behind them, which  is very high, say, in Buddhism, slightly lower in Plato and Aristotle, and still  quite marked in  such  men  as  Spinoza,  Leibniz, Berkeley, Kant, Goethe,  Hegel,  and  Bergson.   The  general  trend, however, has  been  a continuous  loss  of  spiritual substance   between   1450  and  1960,  based  on  an increasing  forgetfulness  of age-old  traditions, an increasing  unawareness of spiritual  practices, and an increasing indifference  to the spiritual life  by the classes which dominate society.

from Betty, L. S. 1971. The Buddhist-Humean Parallels: Postmortem. Philosophy East and West 21, no. 3: 237–253.

I agree with Professor Conze, along with practically all other students of Buddhism, that Buddhism, for the most part regardless of schools, provides “essentially a doctrine of salvation, and that all its philosophical statements are subordinate to its soteriological purpose.”