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Linda Nowakowski (230)

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Mindfulness

Posted to: Linda Nowakowski (230) by Linda Nowakowski (230), Sat, 24 May 2008 16:50:43 PDT
Edited: Sat, 24 May 2008 16:54:58 PDT
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DISCLAIMER This is rambling. This is thinking. Call it (at this point) individual brainstorming. I have posted this here because I want to work with each of you and share these ideas to build an organized vision and maybe lead to an insight in a positive forward direction. I speak of Buddhism not being a Buddhist but admiring much of what I see. I am not an expert.

I believe deep in my heart that every person on the globe wants to move their life forward toward something better.

The problem is figuring out the direction. We wander. We look around us to see what others are doing and kind of figure the direction most people is going is the right direction.

Some of us travel that path and find that it really isn't going anywhere that we want to go and screw up enough courage to try to swim upstream.

I guess I feel like I have always been swimming upstream. I mean I gave my first doom and gloom speech on the environment to a large church group in 1966. (About the same time I was protesting the war in Vietnam.)

I got into this mode of thinking by the constant comments when I speak about Sufficiency Economy here in Thailand (remember, this is a philosophy developed by the King of Thailand) that I must be crazy. How could I get into the Sufficiency Economy thing when I am an American?

People in Thailand and much of the rest of the world, believe that the west (most visibly and audibly America) has the answers to happiness and well being. They don't have a clue. But why should I be surprised that Thais and Africans don't understand that the western goal of mindless consumerism and endless accumulation is not the answer when those who are living in the middle of that and know that it is not really the answer keep chasing it?

When I came to first learn about Buddhist Economics, it grabbed me. Most simply stated it is economics where ethics matter. Where people are central. Where having a job is more than making money; it is honing a skill and having pride in your work and knowing that you are contributing to society with your work. It is an economics where the focus is not on the accumulation of wealth but rather a measure of how you distribute your wealth.

One of the biggest problems with it is that it is still, in many ways, a regional, cultural concept that is fully shrouded in Buddhism. That is not to say that there is anything wrong with that. It is to say that it is my belief that as long as it wears that outer layer, not many people will look at the beauty inside it. I have more than once joked with Aj. Apichai that I thought I was called to take the Buddhism out of Buddhist Economics. I am just not sure how to do that so that it can speak to millions of people in the west who I believe are searching for the answers it points to.

The hub in Buddhist Economics is the Buddhist concept of relieving suffering. Relieving suffering for oneself and for all those around us. The goals of the Buddhist Philosophy are to examine (in your own life) the causes of suffering. The central cause of suffering is identified as attachment. Attachment to things and people and ideas - attachment to anything - limits our satisfaction.

Buddhism seems to be focused on awareness: self awareness, awareness of others and awareness of our actions and their effects....looking for causes.

Mindfulness.

It is a term that was focused into my vision last year when I went to the conference in Budapest. There was another conference participant, Joel Magnuson who is from Portland. He is an economist who teaches at Portland State University and Portland Community College. He has written a great textbook "Mindful Economics".

mindfulness
thinking about what you are doing
thinking about why you are doing it
thinking about what the effects of doing it are going to be

Mindfulness.... It makes me think of all the times I would get in hot water with my mother and would land up saying "... but I didn't think it would matter" or "I didn't think you would care" and she would come back with "That is precisely the point: you didn't think." She used that phrase often. I hope she knows that now I at least try to think.

Your turn...



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By Gayle Rogers (78), Sat, 24 May 2008 19:55:59 PDT
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I have Yunus-induced brain-freeze - I'll be back later with thoughts.

By Gayle Rogers (78), Sat, 24 May 2008 19:59:08 PDT
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Oh yeah - GREAT question/topic/thread - Linda.

And I love that you swim upstream :)


By Liam Cullen (11), Sun, 25 May 2008 01:31:00 PDT
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Hi Linda,

I wonder how this approach to economics will endure with a new Thai Government stating to the world it is now very investment friendly and with cheap labour, large investors will be looking albeit with an eye to the political uncertainty?

The only advice I can give for swimming upstream is to be careful when your mouth is open.

cheers,

Liam


By Linda Nowakowski (230), Sun, 25 May 2008 01:59:27 PDT
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Liam...it's a good observation. I don't think there is a single aspect of Thai government that is not problematic for me.

In terms of economics...the new gov't proposed 5 year plan declares that the Sufficiency Economy Philosophy is the basis of Thai development. And yet, it is not clear that anyone in the government outside of the King's Crown Property Bureau understands what Sufficiency Economy is. (Most of the people in that bureau don't either, I don't think.)

The distribution of wealth n Thailand is very lopsided. (Pretty comparable with the US) Government in Thailand has always be structured so that those who are governing get rich. When they start getting too rich, there is a coup in order to share the wealth. (between the businessmen, technocrats and military)

I don't think this view of wealth distribution is very Buddhist. It is very capitalist. It is very greed driven which is distinctly not Buddhist.

Buddhist Economics is not the driving force behind Thai policy of any kind. Except where it is advantageous to appease the King (as in supporting the Sufficiency Economy Philosophy in some token way).

That is not to say that any of it is bad. What is the old Christian maxim? "Only in their own towns and in their own homes are prophets without honor." It holds in Buddhist countries too.


By John Powers (139), Tue, 27 May 2008 22:37:23 PDT
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Speaking of rambling posts--lol. I've been thinking about this one for a few days. Spring is excruciatingly beautiful I find. But I also spend days digging and it makes me tired, too tired to write--well sort of what I write doesn't seem to make much sense even to me.

I'm looking over what I wrote last night and didn't post. There are several threads to it and links, but weaving all the threads together wasn't coming to me last night and isn't obvious to me now. So I'll just ramble a little tonight.

My favorite story about mindfulness is Three Questions by Leo Tolstoy. Something I like about it is the action revolves around and emperor, and I like to imagine I am of some consequence and imagine most people do too.

This is a story that Buddhist tell and yet there is no "outer layer" of Buddhism to distract others from the deeper meaning. In the West, teaching stories are not so commonly used as in other cultures, at least stories are told over and over so that a person hears them as a child, a young adult, adult and elder. Such stories don't lie flat on the page.

I'm rather stuck of the notion of taking Buddhism out of Buddhist economics ;-) I do understand the problem of broader acceptance, and in a sense transmuting culturally embedded constructs into other cultures.

But here's where I'm feeling a bit stuck on it: Something that has interested me quite a lot over time is why are theories in the behavioral or social sciences so poor? Economists seem to think that Economics is the most scientific of all the social sciences. A liability for me is that I'm not very good, or very knowledgeable about maths. I often find that economists seem so morally certain about positions which seem quite morally suspect to me and offer numbers to back them up. Is morality a sort of calculus?

Well, something about Cartesian coordinates and working out problems with the Calculus, is the ability to simplify problems by ignoring some things and paying attention to others.

I like Tolstoy's story because the important questions are about what to pay attention to and the answers have nothing to do with numbers.

That said, I do like science very much. Science is a very good and important way of knowing, so I don't begrudge economists employing the scientific method.

Teachers here in the West are want to say that education "is both an art and a science." Medical doctors say much the same, indeed many professions hold this balancing act as central to what they do. I rather wish that Economics did to.

John Broome has an interesting article in this month's Scientific American, The Ethics of Climate Change: Pay Now or Pay More Later?. In it he argues that economists in trying to draw up plans about what to do about climate change cannot escape making ethical judgments.

The problem as I see it is that Economics as the discipline exists today hasn't honed the skills needed to make ethical judgments. I think one of the reasons that Buddhist Economics jumped out at you is because you sense the deficit about economics as a discipline in this regard too, and Buddhist Economics perhaps provides a paradigm of better ways to imagine the study of Economics.

I haven't used one link that I packed in yesterday's unposted reply to this thread yet. LOL, so you know I've got more rambling to do, but I'll save it for later.

The simple point of this post is that the distraction of Buddhist Economics doesn't simply seem to me to be the Buddhist part. The other part is how Economics is envisioned as a discipline here in the West. The problem is more general to all the social or behavioral sciences. And the solution seems to me probably in dancing with both the art and science of things.


By Linda Nowakowski (230), Wed, 28 May 2008 04:00:37 PDT
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I am quite sure that the ethics issue is central to my interest. It is not verbotten to speak of ethics in a classroom here. It is rather, in fact, encouraged.

In our International BBA program that I teach in, we have been working and changing things. The program will have its first graduates this year and over the last 3 years we have learned a lot in terms of the different things we need to do here to be able to do this kind of program.

I guess about 6 months ago, I asked the Dean, If he had employers in front of him, how would he want to market our BBA graduates. He said that he would want to be able to say 5 things: 1) they were ethical, 2) they they were diligent, 3) had a reasonable command of English, 4)they had good, solid introductions to basic management skills and 5) they were computer literate. That sounded great and doable to me.

Since that time we have added a year to the program to make the entire first year non-business fundamentals: English, ENGLISH and MORE ENGLISH plus problem solving skills, study skills, time management tools, computer skills etc. We have instituted a plagiarism policy that makes the program a cheat free zone: 1 infraction = 0, 2nd you are out of the program. Every course is required to have 20% of the mark for diligence - Do they do the reading? Do they do the homework? are they participating and asking questions? Are assignments on time? Attendance? Miss 20% of the classes and you fail the course.

I have been doing some research on how to help them solve some of their learning deficiencies. I found a wonderful book on teaching math done by the National Science Foundation and free on the net! There is a great introduction about how people learn and metacognition skills. I have been talking today about how we can ground this program on core issues and those will likely be ethics related.

Buddhist ethics are taught in schools here. It works mainly (I think) because Buddhist ethics are pretty acceptable to any religious tradition - don't kill, don't lie, cheat or steal, and make it your job to alleviate suffering in yourself and those around you. Imagine business managers who behaved like that!!!!

Everything we do in life has an ethical factor whether we choose to recognize it or not or whether we call it that or something else. I have been quickly re-evaluating my Economics class in these terms (Classes start on Monday so I don't have much time!) I think it works and I am getting excited about teaching it. I think it gives them a central point to tie all of their studies together. I think it might help them learn the material easier.

I hope...


By John Powers (139), Wed, 28 May 2008 22:46:07 PDT
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As if you have time to click on lots of links ;-) I put links in in case you might be interested not with the expectation of clicking.

Your BBA program is a wonderful professional program. In the NY Times there's an article about a program at Binghampton University called the New Humanities Initiative. Basically it's an effort to combine the sciences and humanities. And your BBA program really achieves that sort of integration.

Finding a way to make your PhD work meaningful to the broader discipline is a real challenge; at least here I'm still stuck on taking the Buddhism out of Buddhist Economics ;-)

I enjoy reading Dani Rodrik's weblog. LOL much of what's on the Internet is too smart for me to really follow. Rodrik seems a natural blogger with short posts and a conversational style, unlike much of the economic blogging that available. Rodrik posted Re-uniting development economics. He sees a consensus emerging among macro and micro development economists on policy, but a methodological divergence.

So that problem isn't the same as the problem you're tackling of how to make Buddhist Economics a place at the larger table of the study of economics, but some of the outlines of the challenges seem similar. Anyway I found his attempt to get macro and micro economists to see that they have much in common nice.

Obviously one of the big challenges for your work is to find a method that fits well with the discipline without--well--loosing the essential insights of Buddhist economics.

Somewhere along the line you probably heard of the book Pigs for the Ancestors. I'm really far afield here, but somehow how Roy Rappaport managed to merge his hard materialism with the a sympathetic study of people's beliefs seems very smart. Rappaport made a distinction "between how a people interpret their ecological niche and how their reality actually exists." He used the terms "cognized environment" and "operational environment."

My probably unjustified "hit" on conventional Economics is that economist believe they are studying an objective operational environment, but, no, that environment is loaded with all sorts of assumptions, myths, beliefs, and stories.

I liked that Scientific American article about the economics of climate change and especially the point that many decisions that economists must make are based on ethical judgments not economic verities.

You make the point that Buddhist Economics is "in many ways, a regional, cultural concept that is fully shrouded in Buddhism." LOL well I think you are ahead of the game simply for that observation. Economists, it seems to me, aren't very good at looking for what Rappaport called the "cognized environment." It's important if only to be more realistic (scientific) about the operational environment. The operational environment even if not the focus of your study cannot be ignored.

You've identified the purpose of the economy is for people to make happy lives--well you've figured out that happiness is somehow essential to economics. Buddhist economics takes seriously not just what is "out there" but also what is "in here." I agree that Americans like me wonder what Buddhism could possibly have to do with economics? But there are many Americans like us who know that meaning, perhaps a consistency with what is "out there" and what is "in here," is vital. Economics seems somehow off the rail because as a discipline practiced here doesn't seem to acknowledge the importance of this. Buddhist Economics takes seriously this quality of knowledge.

Shoot I babble on so long. Let me just put up a link to a paper by Jeff Vail The New Map: Terrorism and the Decline of the Nation-State in a Post-Cartesian World (PDF). I like the title, especially the "Post-Cartesian World" bit.

One of the reasons I find the work you are doing so important is that so many challenges we face require a better study of economics; we need economics which can enable human happiness. Vail's piece simply highlights some of the current challenges we face. We've reached the point where "More!" isn't a good answer. Ha! But what is a good answer for today?


By John Powers (139), Mon, 02 Jun 2008 21:44:20 PDT
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I think you're a good sport for opening up discussions like this. And especially a good sport to let me ramble on in your discussion threads ;-)

I still haven't gotten around to the links I compiled for my first--and aborted--attempt to respond to your post. I do want to get around to them, but it seems other things come to mind first.

Surely when you are introducing student to doing a research paper one of the points you make is that students should be realistic in choosing a manageable topic. The same advice goes at the graduate level as well. Perhaps I'm not really understanding your intentions with this post well enough. I imagine that you are stepping back to look at the big picture of economics and how Buddhist Economics fits within the larger discipline. In other words to get some perspective so as to find ways to conduct research within a Buddhist Economics school that "fits" somehow with the broader discipline.

LOL, now clearly my lack of study makes my perspective distorted. I've often wondered why it is that I act like it's good to have an opinion on everything. Hum, not sure how to solve that puzzle...

In my rambling in previous entries one point that I've tried to make is that I see Economics as part of the not-science side of the bifurcated knowledge system, Sometimes this binary view of knowledge is rendered science/humanities; but the realm of social and behavioral sciences are wedded to empirical study and often are considered on the science side. I think it is useful, however, to make a distinction between the "hard" sciences and other fields because such a distinction reminds that these "other" disciplines lack the unified paradigms of the "hard" sciences. But economist often seem militant in positioning economics in the realm of hard science.

Many people easily equate "wealth" and "money." I don't think they are the same. But it's hard to actually define either term in fundamental ways. It doesn't seem that Economics spends much effort in defining either, taking it for granted that we know what both terms mean.

In "Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth"--Chapter VI-- among other places Buckminster Fuller proposed a definition for wealth--he modified the definition in several ways in different places:

"Wealth is our organized capability to cope effectively with the environment in sustaining our healthy regeneration and decreasing both the physical and metaphysical restrictions of the forward days of our lives."

Here's a really smart sentence by Phil Jones:

The more effective the internet and the web are at helping us communicate and co-ordinate, the less money will be involved. Because ultimately the economy is a communication network and money is its protocol

The network is not the means to the end of money.

I like viewing wealth as forward days for human beings and the economy as a communication network. But such a view is non-standard to say the least. However, there are scholars in numerous fields looking at the ways that the internet changes things and their views of wealth and money are not so standard too. So the links I want to get around to sharing are to a few well-known people who are looking at the internet and society. I think somehow they are related to Buddhist Economics, but so far I haven't worked out how:-) I have some ideas, but I'll leave them until tomorrow.


By Linda Nowakowski (230), Tue, 03 Jun 2008 06:32:35 PDT
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I enjoy your posts so much, John. Since I don't have many people around here to jabber with, you provide me that crucial thing that is missing in my life. I need someone to brainstorm with and bounce ideas off of and you are willing and able to do that. Thank you.

Lately I haven't responded much because life is overwhelming. If you can imagine a semester starting without having all of the staffing done - that happens here every semester and it drives me crazy. Imagine a university with a program that is ready to graduate students who have never sat down with an academic adviser...it is a nightmare. Of course when you point out these glaring deficiencies, you land up doing the work to repair them. (I should learn to keep my mouth shut, huh?)

A man from Los Angeles who has taught consumer behavior here for a couple of years, managed to talk himself into a full time position as Business Manager for the program. He is to go out and sell our International BBA program to students and to international companies for both internships and hiring opportunities for our students. He has decided that we need a learn and earn program in the faculty and sent out stuff today to open the "InterCafe" - serving yuppie American food - at yuppie American prices. He hasn't a clue. And as I read that stuff....the menu, the prices, I was so turned off. Most of what he wants to serve is stuff that needs to be imported and is expensive. It's not particularly healthier. It would be comfort food for westerners (and the visitors would pay the prices) but for Thais it would be either luxury food or prestige food, if you know what I mean. It is such a not Buddhist Economics thing. So totally not sufficiency economy. OMG .... I am becoming Thai... no ... Thais are becoming American .... But I am mot like that so am I not American? I get so confused .....

The power has gone out and I am on battery...and have no internet because the modem requires power.... guess I will save this and close down and watch the storm.... The only thing worse than narrow bandwidth is no bandwidth.


By John Powers (139), Tue, 03 Jun 2008 11:00:36 PDT
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So nice to see your post Linda. Last night I wrote something but kept getting an error message when I wanted to post, so I saved it, now I guess I'll edit it and try to post.

I think you're a good sport for opening up discussions like this. And especially a good sport to let me ramble on in your discussion threads ;-)

I still haven't gotten around to the links I compiled for my first--and aborted--attempt to respond to your post. I do want to get around to them, but it seems other things come to mind first. There are scholars in numerous fields looking at the ways that the Internet changes things, so the links I want to get around to sharing are to a few well-known people who are looking at the Internet and society. I think somehow they are related to Buddhist Economics, but so far I haven't worked out how:-)

Surely when you are introducing students to doing research papers one of the points you make is that students should be realistic in choosing a manageable topic. The same advice goes at the graduate level as well. Perhaps I'm not really understanding your intentions with this post well enough. I imagine that you are stepping back to look at the big picture of economics and how Buddhist Economics fits within the larger discipline. In other words to get some perspective so as to find ways to conduct research within a Buddhist Economics school that "fits" somehow with the broader discipline.

Now clearly my lack of study makes my perspective distorted. I've often wondered why it is that I act like it's good to have an opinion on everything. Hum, not sure how to solve that puzzle...

In my rambling in previous entries one point that I've tried to make is that I see Economics as part of the not-science side of the bifurcated knowledge system, Sometimes this binary view of knowledge is rendered science/humanities; but the realm of social and behavioral sciences are wedded to empirical study and often are considered on the science side. I think it is useful, however, to make a distinction between the "hard" sciences and other fields because such a distinction reminds that these "other" disciplines lack the unified paradigms of the "hard" sciences. But economist often seem militant in positioning economics in the realm of hard science.

My view is that economic study would benefit from the analytic methods of the humanities. Both inductive reasoning from empirical data and deduction from fundamentals is important. The deduction part gets tricky because of the lack of a unified paradigm in economics. Economics of course has a "dominant" paradigm which is connected to Western culture and and power.

In Western academies, Cultural Studies seem sort of a thorn in the side of "right thinking" scholars. Last night I was reading the Making Sense of Darfur blog. The post was introducing an upcoming series of post discussing David Keen's book Complex Emergencies. Alex de Waal made this observation of Keen's method:

Complex Emergencies is about reading wars actively, by engaging intellectually with data and subjecting it to critical analysis. This is not a technical exercise: the spirit of Michel Foucault is always close to Keen’s writing, and – arguably with some generosity – Keen asserts that Foucault’s florid style is intentional, the aim being to remind the reader not to lay claim to scientific knowledge. The implication is that the knowledge behind the systems of violence explored in the book is constructed and so too is the critique.

Keen's approach seems a bit like what I have in mind for economic study. In any case the observation that economic knowledge is constructed is what I think, and that so many economists pretend otherwise is one of my sore points about the discipline.

Many people easily equate "wealth" and "money." I don't think they are the same. But it's hard to actually define either term in fundamental ways. It doesn't seem that Economics spends much effort in defining either, taking it for granted that we know what both terms mean.

In "Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth"--Chapter VI-- among other places Buckminster Fuller proposed a definition for wealth--he modified the definition in several ways in different places:

"Wealth is our organized capability to cope effectively with the environment in sustaining our healthy regeneration and decreasing both the physical and metaphysical restrictions of the forward days of our lives."

Phil Jones is a British coder living in Brazil and a friend on the Internet. Here's a really smart sentence by Phil Jones:

The more effective the internet and the web are at helping us communicate and co-ordinate, the less money will be involved. Because ultimately the economy is a communication network and money is its protocol

The network is not the means to the end of money.

I like viewing wealth as forward days for human beings and the economy as a communication network. But such views are non-standard to say the least. However, there are scholars in numerous fields looking at the ways that the Internet changes things and their views of wealth and money are not so standard too. So the links I want to get around to sharing are to a few well-known people who are looking at the Internet and society.

I'll get around to talking about these changes eventually. But your story about the Internet Cafe really illustrates the sorts of contradictions that globalization is showing up in Western academics, including economics.


By John Powers (139), Wed, 04 Jun 2008 11:46:05 PDT
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Opps, I see what I wrote actually was published. LOL well you can see my editing in action with the two posts. I know that's not an advantage, too many words simply get in the way. But the issues you are addressing are so important and I don't really have others in my life who are talking about them seriously as you are.

Having already repeated myself with the two similar posts above, perhaps it's a bit annoying to try to summarize the points. But I'm trying to strain out the solid bits.

One of the threads in these posts has to do with the nature of economics as a discipline. The point is to make a critique of economics. Many economist consider the discipline as science. The scientific method is a powerful way of knowing, but not the only way. The most significant advancements in scientific knowledge are about physical things. Stuff is obviously an important object of study for economists. But there is a pitfall which economists often fall prey: The map is not the territory; the name is not the thing named.

You define mindfulness:

mindfulness thinking about what you are doing thinking about why you are doing it thinking about what the effects of doing it are going to be

Oh yes all of that, but I can't help but think there is something essential about Buddhist ideas of mindfulness that definitions obscure. One insight of Buddhism and of mediators everywhere is: "We are not our thoughts." So one of the purposes of meditation to to appreciate our being not just our thoughts about being.

So my purpose for trying to critique the discipline of economics especially in re science as a method, is to point to the challenge of being clear about a distinction between names and objects.

I put in Fuller's stab at what wealth is because it seems odd that economics pays little attention to definitions of wealth. It seems to me that how we envision wealth has a great impact on how we think about the economy. I am quite fond of Fuller's humanistic conception of wealth.

John Robb quotes Rothkopt in the Financial Times--the link has expired-- with a disturbing factoid:

Rothkopf: "the world's 1,100 richest people have almost twice the assets of the poorest 2.5bn"

Most people "know" that a few people have almost everything and most people have almost nothing, but I think most people have a hard time fathoming that. It doesn't make sense. Perhaps that cognitive dissonance is part of the reason most people have a hard time being too interested in economics.

So one reason to put Fuller's notion of wealth into the mix is to suggest that one of the great appeals of Buddhist Economics is that it's economics as if people--regular people--matter.

Phil's distinction between the economy and money is quite useful. First it's helpful to understand that the economy is not money. Second, I think his observation that the economy is a communication system is quite important.

Our current economic system concentrates assets in the hands a very few. Money seems to flow all about, but there is a very clear direction to all the flows. I think of myself as a reasonably well-informed person, but I don't believe I could name even a dozen of the 1100 richest people in the world. Money flows to a very few, but few of us know to whom the money flows.

Introducing the notion of the economy as a communication system is a way to introduce links to people thinking about the ways that the Internet changes things and my attempt to find some connection between those discussions and mindfulness.

I love the TED Talks although I've not really watched and listened to many of them. What I've done is to listen to a few talks over and over ;-) One of the talks I've viewed several times is Jill Bolte Taylor, a brain researcher who had a stroke. She talks about her keen observations about her experience of a stroke.

One of the points she makes is that we have two brains. She says: The right hemisphere functions as a parallel processor and the left hemisphere functions as a serial processor. This talk says something very important about the nature of mindfulness. Mindfulness isn't simply thinking. Mindfulness includes the parallel processing of our right brains


By Linda Nowakowski (230), Wed, 04 Jun 2008 20:25:41 PDT
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Thank you for the link to Jill Bolte Taylor's talk. My office all listened to it this morning. Totally inspiring.

I also just sat down with a Chicago Book catalog. Argghh...to have access to a library! I made a list of books I want to read - 11 books, $375.90 ..... man, the price of knowledge.

Off to meetings but I wanted to not forget to say thank you. :-D


By John Powers (139), Thu, 05 Jun 2008 21:27:59 PDT
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The price of knowledge indeed. I truly love the Internet, but books provide better context for knowledge.

Clearly I love brainstorming with you about economics. But I am well aware that mastery of the subject, even a tiny branch of it, requires great effort and attention. I haven't lent my attention nor expended the effort. So I'm sure I come across as sophomoric and seem to take cheap shots. I still think that ordinary people talking about important subjects like economics is a very good thing. It's just important for me to remember how little I actually know.

I came across a quote by Lewis Lapham this afternoon which made me smile:

An English professor who had marked one of my papers with an "F" because I had proposed an unauthorized view of a 17th century divine. In the margin of the paper, the professor had written, "I don't care what you think; I'm only interested in knowing that you know what I think." The message pretty much defined the thesis of a Yale education at the time.

Part of the impetus for taking the Buddhist out of Buddhist Economics is perhaps the hope that your work might be considered a part of economics and therefore paid some attention. But that's a hard row to hoe.

Speaking of Lewis Lapham, I had let my subscription to Harpers lapse, but re-subscribed and today both May and June arrived in the mail. In the May issue is an article by Wendel Berry, Faustian Economics: Hell hath no limits.

I don't know whether you used to read the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and if you did whether you remember Clarke Thomas? Thomas still writes for the paper as old as he is. I imagine "back in the day" that more journalists were like Thomas, but I suspect that like in all other endeavors the reality is that talent is rare. In any case I'm fan of Thomas because he seems to have a good eye for fundamentally important issues. And what he writes is a pleasure to read--usually will a local angle--well sourced and concise. Yesterday he wrote on peak oil, suggesting that city leaders had better pay attention.

I wrote to Thomas thanking him for the piece and sent him a link to Transition Culture. I think the Transition Towns model is really quite a significant recent development. Ever since I first started reading about it I've given thought to how what is primarily a UK-based phenomenon might be translated into the USA. It's not so easy and I'm fairly lazy. The suburban reality of most of America is really daunting.

I like reading Wendell Berry, but I've got to admit he's something of a scold. I'm afraid that my laziness isn't something recent. I was lazy as a kid too, at least not always so good at attending to the things I was supposed to. The result is that over the years I've become rather inured to scolding. Now, I guess, I'm lazy and thick-headed. Berry looks at the "unscientific faith" that Americans that somehow The American Way of Life is indestructible, and that as far as the problem of gas and energy goes, "science will find and answer." He thinks these beliefs "look like a sort of national insanity." I've got to admit he's got a point.

One of the aspects of the Transition Towns is how meeting the limits of oil and "powering down" is presented as a great opportunity to build the world we always dreamed of. I think that sort of positive frame is very helpful if for no other reason than despair easily feed apathy--a lazy man knows.

There's a adage--at least rock song by Timbuk3--that there are two medicines: laughter and tears. I do sort of bounce between the two, so I'm back to Berry. Here's bit from his article that speaks to the importance of mindfulness in economics somehow:

I am well aware of what I risk in bringing this language of religion into what is normally a scientific discussion. I do so because I doubt that we can define our present problems adequately, let alone solve them, without some recourse to our cultural heritage. We are, after all, trying now to deal with the failures of scientists, technicians, and politicians to "think up" a version of human continuance that is economically probable and ecologically responsible, or perhaps even imaginable. If we go back into our traditions, we are going to find a concern with religion, which at minimum shatters the selfish context of the individual life, and thus forces a consideration of what human beings are and ought to be."

Buddhist Economics it seems to me takes this consideration of human beings into consideration. Buddhism doesn't easily translate across traditions, but this essential consideration: "what human beings are and out to be" is not simply a Buddhist concern. So Buddhist Economics provides an example of how economics can take this seriously.


By Linda Nowakowski (230), Sat, 07 Jun 2008 21:02:04 PDT
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Dearest, John,

Thank you so much for sharing the Harper's article by Wendell Berry.

I have engaged with David Braden for a long while now and I have always stumbled on his denial of scarcity. This article helped me understand at a deep level why, and now I have only to try to lift that understanding out of the depths to a place where I can explain it. :-)

Economics likes to talk about making decisions on how to use scarce resources for unlimited WANTS. I doubt not that man has developed a taste for unlimited wants. However, our needs are limited. Even when those unlimited wants exceed the limited needs and often destroy or at least damage us in the process. And yet the things that make us human and social creatures are in fact unlimited. Loving, caring and beauty have no bounds; because my mother loved my father didn't mean that she cared an iota less for me or any of my brothers and sisters. People have died from over indulging in even necessities (obesity and its hazards) but I have never heard of anyone who died from being loved too much.

In one of the Randy Pausch lectures, he talks about the one economic term that he felt everyone should really understand: opportunity cost. His reasoning was related to time management. Once you have used an hour of time for one thing, you can never get it back. It is a recognition of the limits of our time.

I find that the times that cause me the most stress are times when I don't recognize the limits around me and very often they are the limits of my time. There are only so many things that you can fit into 24 hours.

One of the things that I am slowly (very slowly) understanding is a Thai thing that drives me crazy. It drives me crazy I think because I still have that western efficiency mentality that tries to maximize production. It tries to stretch time. It doesn't stop and recognize that sometimes people need time to to bathe themselves in those unlimited resources of love and caring - of relating to people and taking care of each other. Someday, maybe, I will learn how to do that.

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3092/2559513829_254646644c.jpg

This is a slide form one of my lectures this last week. I need to think about how I change this to measure well-being if I spend all of my TIME making computers OR I spend all of my TIME cultivating those unlimited resources. Perhaps plotting computers versus community?

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3010/2559513739_3231b78e51.jpg

What is the opportunity cost of spending time with your family? Or maybe it would be better to ask was is the cost of making 1 computer in terms of your family life?

Can I use time and community in these common graphs to better describe what Buddhist Economics is? Economics where people matter...?


By Linda Nowakowski (230), Sun, 08 Jun 2008 17:24:32 PDT
Edited: Sun, 08 Jun 2008 19:39:46 PDT
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(I needed someplace to put something til I got to the office. Gmail wasn't working and my thumb drive was in the office.)

By John Powers (139), Mon, 09 Jun 2008 22:26:38 PDT
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I had a social weekend ;-) We've gone from cool Spring to a heat wave too. Saturday my rose bushes were barely blooming, now they're in full bloom.

Mindfulness is really something keeping me thinking.

I expressed to Linda something about sharing a generation, we're Baby Boomers. Barak Obama was born in 1961, some people end the BB generation at 1960 others at 1964. But Obama seems of the next generation to me, and Linda seemed to allude to feeling that way too. Now I'm not really comfortable with the stereotypes around Generation X. Maybe the generalizations about generations aren't really very valuable, but they do seem interesting.

According to the Wikipedia article on Buddhist Economics that Ernst Schumacher coined the tern in 1955, the year of my birth.

My good friend David Pohl is about ten years younger than I am. Thinking of him is partly why I think Obama is of the next generation. Friday night he came out with another good friend Bob. David and Bob come out several times a year and we have a fire and listen to music. Bob's daughter and son in law live near me and they came for a while too. They brought their one year-old baby girl along too. The way that the recent generations are talked about isn't very clear, but let's just call the young couple Generation Y.

David and Bob are both avid music lovers. David really has studied the Baby Boomers, especially with an eye towards the artists of the generation. He also has studied Yoga for a long time. In many ways he's a better authority on the cultural zietgist. His father was a high school social studies teacher who also came out against the Vietnam War early. So David even when very young had his eyes pealed on events.

I'm the fourth of five kids. When my younger brother started kindergarten, my mother started to work as a teacher in about 1965. We had moved to Greenville, South Carolina. School desegregation was a big issue then. So a little like David because of his father, the Civil Rights movement was something even as I youngster I paid attention too. And the way that paying attention to Civil Rights affected us is something shared between Linda and I.

The summer of 1968 was forty years ago. What an awful summer, and yes I do remember. I graduated high school in 1973. I think the five years were spent trying to figure out what was happened in 1968.

Another one of the social events I attended this weekend was a high school graduation party for the son of good friends. I'm very fond of this young man--I'm sure my fondness for him must seem a little sappy, who that age wants to be reminded of when they were little?

Over the weekend I pulled "The Politics of Experience" by R. D. Laing, a book written in 1968. Sometimes books that seemed important to me at the time--early 70's--seem hopelessly dated when read them now. There are aspects of "The Politics of Experience" which do seem dated. Among them is the issue of the masculine default; my ears are attuned to the more gender inclusive language customary today. I suspect the gist of the book would seem dated to a young person reading it today. But for me there are many ideas that I've been wrestling with for more than thirty years, so it hardly seemed outdated.

Laing wrote:

"The truth that I am trying to grasp is the grasp that is trying to grasp it."

I can imagine my friend Bob's son in law rolling his eyes over that. I can be sure he will never read the book. And I would be at a loss to tell him that I've spent years trying to sort out that idea in one way or another for so many years.

In the June issue of Harpers is a book review essay discussing ideas in five books about the self and the brain. One of the books discussed is The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist's Case for the Existence of the Soul. I haven't read the book, but I can tell that my biases are more towards monism rather than dualism. That said, I'm not inclined to think that the only thing which can be proven to exist is matter. Ideas matter to me.

Chris Blattman linked today to an essay about Obama's economists and quoted a health eonomist Victor Fuchs:

Fuchs wrote that a general, systemic failure was common to all the policies that plague the provision of such services. It stemmed from “our unwillingness and inability to discuss and resolve value issues that form the foundation of any society.” He continued,

At the root of most of our major choices about social problems are choices about values. What kind of people are we? What kind of life to we want to lead? What is our vision of the good society? How much weight do we want to give to individual freedom? How much to equality? How much to security? How much to material progress? If we emphasize only individual responsibility, we come close to recreating “the jungle,” with all the freedom and all the insecurity and inequality that prevails in the jungle. On the other hand, if we ignore individual responsibility and rely entirely on social responsibility, the best we can hope for is the security of a well-run “zoo.”

My rambling posts even get to me! The link that I'm trying to make between R. D. Laing, brain scientists on the nature of consciousness, and Fuchs on the importance of discussing values, is mindfulness.

Laing cogently argues the case against the notion that psychology has nothing to do with people's experiences, but only their behavior. He places experience at the center of psychology. The problem of consciousness is one that seems to attract scientists bent on demonstrating materialism. The mainstream of neuroscience takes this materialism very seriously. What matters is biochemistry. Clearly biochemistry does matter, but I feel certain it's not all that matters. On the other hand, it doesn't really make much sense to me to divide what is into matter and spirit; at least it makes no sense to say that matter can be studied, but the spirit can be left behind. I think that Fuchs' point about the "unwillingenss and inability to discuss and resolve values" as an essential problem in applying economics to policy.

I'm so windy, but I really do think that mindfulness sets Buddhist Economics apart from the main stream of economic study and may provide a way to take seriously the the importance of "experience" in the way that Laing discusses it.

Main stream economics, it seems does not adequately take into account the "pathologies" of the economic system. Laing was concerned with mental sickness in society. What's interesting to me is how closely his critique maps with a Buddhist view of mindfulness; mindfulness something different from a mind full of ideas.

What the musing about generations has to do with any of this I'm not sure. Siddhārtha Gautama was born around 400 BCE. There's a long history of thinking and talking about existence. Laing's book, The Politics of Experience" was widely read by young people back in the day. I'm not sure many young people today would find it so interesting. But the underlying themes are issues of great consequence and have a very long history. Buddhist Economics is a subject which I think many young Americans are ready for.


By Linda Nowakowski (230), Tue, 10 Jun 2008 02:34:42 PDT
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I want to add something here, John, but I need to get pictures...I made such great strides over the week-end but the beauty is in the visuals and I need to get them in digital form.

By John Powers (139), Tue, 10 Jun 2008 23:12:05 PDT
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This thread seems to be something of an obsession with me. I do hope that doesn't bug you. As verbose as I am, I know that I'm barely scratching the surface. Indeed I'm rambling about the topic.

There are some concepts that have come up that I have some peculiar notions about.

One of those is religion. I was raised in a Christian household, Episcopalian by denomination. And as a teenager I was a Jesus Freak. Nowadays I say that I'm not religious. There's a kernel of truth to that, but it also obscures a lot about how I think about things. I am not anti-religious, certainly. Nevertheless in academic research I think there is a real hazard to splitting the world into the spiritual and things. Of particular concern to me is that things be the object of study and what's spiritual be left to God.

Laing raises many good points about the study of psychology. He writes:

Natural scientific investigations are conducted on objects, or things, or the patterns of relations between things, or on systems of "events." Persons are distinguished from things in that persons experience the world. Thing-events do not experience. Personal events are experiential. Natural scientism is the error of turning persons into things by a process of reification that is not itself part of true natural scientific method. Results derived in this way have to be dequantified and dereified before they can be reassimilated into the realm of human discourse.

Now you can't really do economic research without gathering data. The data are important. Laing suggest that "we should speak of capata rather than data" because the data are taken out of "a constantly elusiuve matrix of happenings."

Mindfulness is a very essential construct to intelligible Buddhist Economics. "Being" not just stuff is central to the project. But there is a strong materialism in most schools of economics, so many economist and academics from many other fields take at a first principle that all that's worth study is stuff.

You might be able to imagine me as a young man in college trying to figure it all out. I was engaged in academic study and trying to understand my "crisis of faith." When I picked up Gregory Bateson's "Steps to an Ecology of Mind" The very first essay really ressonated. Here's something that I thought very important then and still do:

The conservative laws for energy and matter concern substance rather than form. But mental process, ideas, communication, organization, differentiation, pattern, and so on, are matters of form rather than substance.

Bateson introduced me to ways of rigorously studying precisely the sorts of matters of form which so interested me without recourse to religious or spiritual explanation.

I might note that religious and spiritual ideas interest me and often seem to reveal profound truths. But religious language doesn't easily translate or relate to academic discourse outside of religious studies.

From a Christian perspective, Buddhism isn't very easy to relate to as a religion, and yet I think most Christians understand Buddhism as a religion. Schumacher's essay on on Buddhist Economics really is about economics in a way that I think an essay on "Christian Economics" would be much harder to keep to economics.

As far as my religious views go--not very far probably-- Creation Spirituality appears to be the stream of modern Christian thought most harmonious with my academic musings on what Bateson called "matters of form." I understand well that Creation Spirituality is considered a heresy by many of my Christian friends.

So strong is the materialism of Western academics, the physical science metaphors within economics, where human behavior is thought to act so much like billiard balls, that placing human experience at the center, as Buddhist Economics must, is also considered heresy of another sort.

Karen Armstrong was one of this year's TED Prize winners. Here wish is help to make a Charter of Compassion among the Abrahamic religions happen and then to make people aware of the Charter.

Compassion along with mindfulness are important to Buddhism. It maybe that the Abrahamic religions get to compassion at the root by different routes than Buddhism, but there it is.

To a great extent what interests me about economics are the pathologies; otherwise sensible people seem to have confidence in ideas which seem downright crazy to me. For example Chris Blattman links to an interview in the New York Times Magazine with Enrique Pemlosa the former mayor of Bogata. Pemlosa points out something that drives me crazy:

We were building much more for cars’ mobility than children’s happiness.

I quoted Phil Jones as saying that the economy is a communications system with money as it's protocol. R.D. Laing is just one example of someone who has looked at psychology with an eye to taking existence seriously. So in academic psychology there are some examples of looking at pathologies, and especially messed up communication systems.

One of the sources of pathology and suffering among people seems to stem from variations on the theme of "Us and Them." Laing looks at family pathology and observes:

Such family "homeostasis" is the product of reciprocities mediated under the statutes of violence and terror.

In the USA George Lakoff has noted that politics is frequently understood using family metaphors. I suspect that the kinds of understandings psychologists and family therapists have teased out about us and them thinking and the hazards therein, could be quite useful in understanding economic pathologies.

The main point is that compassion stands in stark contrast to violence and terror. Compassion follows logically from mindfulness. Placing experience (being)at the center of economics might be a corrective to the sorts of economic pathologies we observe today.

I think it is quite possible to do academic work in Buddhist Economics without recourse to a religious or spiritual way of thinking and talking about it. I also believe that concepts in Buddhist economics can be related to religious insights of the many major religions, and think that's a good thing. Buddhist Economics cuts against the grain of many widely held and largely unconscious consensus views in both academics and religion, so relating to both sphere is quite a challenge!


By John Powers (139), Thu, 12 Jun 2008 21:26:01 PDT
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I should be doing some work;-)

So my views of religion are a bit peculiar. Just as I imagine I can find truth and beauty in Christianity I imagine I can find truth and beauty in Buddhism. Does that make me a practitioner?

My sister and her children used to visit here in the summer. They are grown-ups now. They lived in Florida so the rolling hills around here were something they noticed, especially when riding in the car. Once when my niece Priscilla was very small, 3 or 4, we set off in the car to the store or for some errand. Just out the driveway and Priscilla asked me: "John, do you believe in God?" I proceeded with a fake answer along the lines of "Some people think..." She cut me off and said:

Well, I do, except God is nothing real because God doesn't die.

I was astounded by her insight.

Buckminster Fuller is quoted as saying:

God, to me, it seems, is a verb not a noun, proper or improper.

Well, to me it seems, I don't know very much about God. Still my conception is more along the lines of God as a verb. But when we think of verbs we think of doing, and the sense in which God as a verb most interests me is in being. Being it seems is essential to mindfulness. In meditation thoughts are allowed as simply thoughts, meditation isn't simply thoughts, but appreciating there's something more than thoughts. It's that being of myself, others and God that seems important.

There is matter and energy, stuff. It also seems to me there is something other than stuff. Consider a group or an organization of people. Now the individual people might be said to be made of stuff, but can the same be said of the group? Is a group stuff? Economics certainly pays attention to stuff, but much of the study and attention is not about stuff but forms of organization which aren't stuff.

Buddhist speak of illusion. My sense of it is that Buddhism is pointing to all the not-stuff that makes a difference to us. When we talk of not-stuff, the talk is riddled with metaphors of stuff; for example "psychic energy." One illusion is that ideas, patterns, form, follow the same rules as stuff (matter and energy). To see beyond the illusion must mean at least in part understanding that in the fundamentals of knowledge there is a dichotomy between fundamentals of matter and energy and fundamentals of form and pattern.

How to study and talk sensibly about matters of form rather than substance don't have the same sort of consensus that exists among the physical sciences. It's not that there are no ways of talking about matters of form and pattern in a rigorous way, rather not such a firm consensus such as in the physical sciences.

Another word, besides God, about which my views are rather heretical is the word values. Values it seems to me are an important subject for economics. What interests me is not values as nouns but the process of valuing.

Values draw attention mostly when we think of how they are imparted. And for the most part it seems we imagine that values are inculcated.

Back in the early days of college, Louis Rath's book, "Values and Teaching" was one of a handful of seminal books. Raths emphasized valuing rather than values. Values Clarification seems like a short movement in education circles barely worth a footnote. I guess it's interesting to me because I was learned about it when I was young and tried to find out more. In the process I encountered the very strong push back of social forces which viewed the approach as moral relativism. Ten years later when getting my teaching credentials much of the same sort of push back was voiced in the warfare against reading instruction: Reading textbooks were the product of radical "homosexual deconstrutionists." Like most teachers the passions seemed a bit inflamed. Teachers are quite aware how conservative a practice schooling is and textbooks are hardly ever radical!

Raths clearly was influenced by American Pragmatists, notably John Dewey. Dewey it seems to me is relegated to about the same place in education as Freud in psychology: A name to remember, but ideas it's safe to forget. Call me old-fashioned, but I find myself still intrigued by Pragmatism and their approach to knowledge, especially how we might come to understand all the important not-stuff of the universe.

Matthew Fox was a Dominican priest important to Creation Spirituality who is now an Episcopal priest. He was forbidden to teach theology by Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) when he served as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It appears the final straw was over attitudes towards homosexual people--an issue that puzzles me how divisive it is within Christianity. But the theological differences are stark between Fox and Pope Benedict going much deeper than surface the surface issues about gay people and other despised groups.

Pope Benedict gave an address which seemed offensive to many Muslims. No doubt that he is a very learned man. I'm not sure I really get all that he's saying in the lecture, but the subject of the address seems very relevant to what I'm trying to say now about trying to study rigorously the not-stuff. It seems to me that a major difference between Fox and Ratizinger has to do with how they imagine God: whether as a noun or a verb. Creation Spirituality emphasizes in creation, whereas Benedict emphasizes the creation.

I'm not a Roman Catholic, but have many friends who are. Pope John Paul II was viewed by many , not just Catholics, as a very holy person. I don't mean to be crass in this, but I can saw it. One way to put it is that I would have willingly handed a baby for Pope John Paul to hold. Now some Catholics are very glad for Pope Benedict, seeing him sort as a "law and order" pope. I might be reluctant to hand over a baby to Pope Benedict afraid he might scare the child. In a way I don't see that as such a bad thing because it rather forces a person to listen and watch Pope Benedict rather than to ascribe some ethereal quality to him. There is no question that Ratzinger is an intellectual. At least I can understand my heresy when he describes it. Take for example these notes on Liberation Theology

Benedict and wide swaths of the Christian community it seems to me think of God as a proper noun. The word Bible is always capitalized, I learned in elementary school. The Bible contains the Word of God. Whereas Fox thinks of God as Verb, God's "is-ness" which is not contained. It seems that Buddhism is more in line with Fox's views.

Fox looks over the history of Christianity and sees two main streams: Original Sin and Original Blessing. But as Karen Armstrong notes compassion is one essential that all the Abrahamic religions agree is at the root.

How much then does it matter how we get there, that is, how we come to a compassionate understanding? Laing notes: "Only when something has become problematic do we start to ask questions." Economics has become problematic. On one hand our attention is drawn to the twin conundrums of peak oil and global climate change, and on the other hand the economic growth. We have a problem. It seems to me that these are fundamentally problems of life, not-stuff. What we know of the physical world cannot be denied, it's just that the solutions are not primarily physical. What is essential to religion is not stuff.

Gregory Bateson liked to remind people that he was a fourth-generation atheist. But his father had them read the Bible at the supper table so they wouldn't become "empty-headed atheists." He also made the point "God is not mocked" quoting Saint Paul. Bateson thought that looking at feature of human religions with an eye to what can become intelligible in light of systems theory and advances in epistemology is a good idea because people have been thinking deeply for centuries and we're bound to discover important insights there.

After Bateson's death his daughter Mary Catherine Bateson gathered together his work on the book he was working on to see about making them available in a publishable form. One of the techniques she used was to intersperse chapters of his writing with chapters of her writing on the topics of those chapters. Some of those were in the form of metalogue: a defintion from here:

A "metalogue" is a conversational exchange that embodies and offers a clear example of the subject matter being discussed.

Here's part of one metalogue:

Daughter: Yes, but...but it's different. Every time I lecture about the Gaia hypothesis I find myself warning against the danger of thinking of Gaia as a vis-avis. You can't say, "Me and Gaia," or "I love Gaia," or "Gaia loves me." And you can't say, "I love Eco," either, can you?

Father: They are not the same. The notion Gaia is based in the physical reality of the planet--it's Pleromatic, thingish. When I ask people to think about a god who might be called Eco, I'm trying to make them think about Creatura, about mental process.

Daughter: The word "process" is important there, isn't it?

Father: And also the fact that the interconnections are not entirely tight, and that all knowledge has gaps, and mental process includes the capacity to form new connections, to act as what I have called self-healing tautologies.

Daughter: So..tragedy and opposites and the total fabric? And Eco as a nickname for the logic of mental process, the connectedness that holds all life and evolution together? And It can be violated but cannot be mocked? Perhaps It really is beautiful rather than lovable.

Father: Beautiful and terrible. Shiva and Abraxas.

I'm afraid I've contributed more mush to my already mushy thinking, but I'll post this anyway. I did find a delightful Web page while I was looking to see if Warren McCulloch's "What is a Number, that a Man May Know It, and a Man that He May Know a Number?" or any part of it was online. I was looking for context for McCulloch:

What do we think a man is? What is it to be human? What are these other systems that we encounter and how are they related?

The page is a wonderful remembrance of Warren McCulloch by Heinz von Foerster. There's a cartoon of McCulloch with a balloon that reads:

Don't bite my finger, look, where I am pointing.

By Linda Nowakowski (230), Fri, 13 Jun 2008 19:33:52 PDT
Comment feedback score: 1 (*) +|-

Just a quick and dirty post to see what I have been conjuring in my little mind.

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3040/2576203407_1342f4b349.jpg

If we are interested in Economics as if people matter, we are not interested in the opportunity cost of computers in terms of food but rather we are interested in the opportunity cost of the produced item in terms of the cost to the individual. When people work they are giving up their time to do something else. There are only 24 hours in a day and part of them have to be used in sleeping and other activities. The weight of these activities and the priority is completely individual. When we look at the graph, it might seem that the opportunity cost of the production on one chair is 2 hours of free time (It takes 2 hours to make one chair) but because there is a commute time it is more. the 4th chair has really cut into the time that would have been used for something else. To increase efficiency, you need to reduce either the time it takes to make the chair or the commute time. Maybe the employer figures a way to offer affordable (competitive) housing that reduces the commute time. This allows th eemployee to make the additional chair without compromising the things that are important in the person's life.

It needs more thought and work. I will get there. Not right now!

tata


By John Powers (139), Sat, 14 Jun 2008 13:48:35 PDT
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At the core the three questions the emperor asks in Tolstoy's story are about opportunity costs. The answers the emperor discovers are very local.

When I read your first entry many of the links that came to mind had to do basically with issues of the Internet and society. I'm not sure really why I didn't post that response; well one reason is I didn't finish it. But another reason I think is the difficulty I have in trying to understand ethics in a time when communication is global.

Last year around this time of year I was in the garden. Probably I was doing something like breaking the iris stems off and pulling weeds in any case my butt was on the ground. I was thinking and my thoughts traveled to something I'd read about global warming and the extinction of all flowering plants. Ha, at that moment the extinction of all people seemed like a minor matter compared to plants. Under the shade of a mulberry tree and surrounded by so many plants and flowers, my grief was palpable.

Voltaire ended "Candide" with:

We must cultivate our garden.

In one way or another I try to live ethically. Like most things I'm not so good at it. But I think that my understanding of what it is I am to do is local in the ways that both Tolstoy and Voltaire suggest. The challenge of global climate change is that it's global. What to do and an individual may be local, but the big global nature of it really can't be ignored.

Since reading Laing, I seem to be on a Sixties kick and just pulled out my copy of Marshall McLuhan's Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man.

Technology is running ahead of me and I can't keep up. Global climate change as a result of human technology is quite terrifying. And it's unsettling to rest hope to avert catastrophe for all life on the planet in further development of technology.

Schumacher's essay Buddhist Economics is remarkable for its clarity about such a number of topics in such a short space; quite unlike my prolix ramblings! One topic is the distinction between tools and machines:

there are therefore two types of mechanisation which must be clearly distinguished: one that enhances a man’s skill and power and one that turns the work of man over to a mechanical slave, leaving man in a position of having to serve the slave.

My reading is probably hopelessly out of date. I'm not a particularly good reader to begin with, but it's also true that it seems to take me years to draw out meaning from the books that seem to me to contain good clues for discovering knowledge that makes a difference. I think I did read "Deschooling Society" by Ivan Illich back in the day (It was first published in 1971) but I don't have a copy of the book. I do have his book Gender. From what I can gather this book was not well received, especially by feminists. It is out of print as is Shadow Work.

From "Gender" is this description of shadow work:

Unlike the production of goods and services, shadow work is performed by the consumer of commodities, specifically , the consuming household. I call shadow work and labor by which the consumer transforms a purchased commodity into a usable good. I designate as shadow work the time, toil, and effort that must be expended in order to add to any purchased commodity the value without which it is unfit for use. Therefore, shadow work names an activity in which people must engage to whatever degree they attempt to satisfy their needs by means of commodities.

It technology seems both our downfall and possible salvation the distinction which Schumacher points to between tools which enhance our skills and power and machines which turn our work into being mechanical slaves seems very important. Machines are incapable of ethical judgments but it seems the continued existence of life depends upon ethical judgments.

Shadow work seems related to your musings on opportunity costs. When you talk about efficiency my thoughts turn towards prices, something economists are want to study. Price seems to me not the best approach to take a stab at this. One problems is that shadow work is not priced, and so even its existence seems questionable to mainstream economists.

Stirling Newberry was someone I wanted to link to when I first read your post. Partly because he was on something of a tear over at The Agonist. But searching Newberry's posts at The Agonist is a pain and I got frustrated. I like to figure out how to access his writings better, and will try invent some ways. If you are interested this essay titled "The Progressive Century" provides an introduction to some of his major economic themes. But in regards to your discussion of opportunity costs and my trying to relate them to shadow work, I'm looking for some recent writing on the current monetary crisis and can't seem to find it.

Newberry points out that American monetary wealth is premised on housing. Unlike gold that can be rounded up and put somewhere like Fort Knox housing prices depend on a care and feeding which gold does not. Suburban house prices require inexpensive gasoline for people who live in suburban houses to get to work. As gas prices increase the value of the suburban houses are put under pressure. That Americans have so leveraged their monetary wealth, this pressure becomes unbearable to the economy as a whole.

Okay, I don't quite get all the nuances that Newberry includes, but that's the gist I want to point to. Our monetary wealth here in the USA depends upon shadow work, driving to work is a form of shadow work, but the very existence of shadow work is something which economists have tended to ignore.

When Schumacher begins from the thesis:

"Right Livelihood" is one of the requirements of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path. It is clear, therefore, that there must be such a thing as Buddhist economics.

he proceeds towards a trenchant critique of economics. We've been paying attention to the wrong things all along! Small and local makes sense, but still I'm having trouble mapping that prescription to the global challenges, especially anthropomorphic climate change, which are so pressing.

Globalization is a tough topic. I'm happy that a few economist blog because it allows someone as unschooled as I am to listen in on the conversations. I've had Tyler Cowen's Marginal Revolution for a long time. Lately I notice I've not been bothering to read it. I do read Dani Rodrik regularly. Rodrik has been pointing to the problems with applying empirical evidence from micro economic study to policy at the macro economic level in numerous posts. In this post Rodrik takes on Cowen:

The trouble is that the moment you take the experiment (Rodrik links to a study on bed nets by Cowen) from Western Kenya and want to use it to inform policy in another setting, you need to make all kind of additional, not rigorously tested assumptions (about how similar or dissimilar the settings are and how these affect the likely outcomes). By the time the evidence is used, it has become as "soft" as many other kinds of evidence that development economists traditionally rely on.

I've babbled on too much, but the point I'm trying to make is that while Buddhist Economics certainly doesn't automatically tell us the answers about what to do, the beginning premises provide a direction. They also provide a needed contrast to examine the beginning premises of more conventional economics.

Much of what has been felt safe to ignore in economics now no longer seems so even to conventional economists. The good news about that is it seems the time is ripe for discussions about the fundamental premises upon which study proceeds. The rules of the game are up for discussion and Buddhist Economics has much of relevance to give to the discussions.


By Linda Nowakowski (230), Sat, 14 Jun 2008 15:50:55 PDT
Comment feedback score: 2 (* *) +|-

If you look at all of those little 1 hour strips on my graph, John, I think you will see they are all those same kinds of things that you refer to as shadow work. Almost all of them can be monetized...I can hire someone to do my shopping and then it becomes a part of the economy rather than shadow work. I can hire someone to teach me and monetize learning. etc. Feminist economics has focused for a long time on how all of the work that is done in the home (mostly by women) is not measured in economics and counts for nothing. Green or Eco-economics has held that in making its assumptions, neo-classical economics has neglected looking beyond its limited view to the effects that economic activity have on the environment both in terms of the impact of negative externalities and sustainability.

Man (a limited being) has taken a limited biosphere and attempted to devise a system for using the biosphere to provide for the fulfillment of the unlimited wants of mankind. With all of the assumptions, we have lost sight of the limits and in doing so, created an unsustainable monster that has little concern for the real needs of human beings. Family and personal/community relationships are not considered factors in economics beyond perhaps a limited view that education of man provides a better human resource than ignoring it.

I have turned even more skeptical than I was before (and there are people who will tell you that they can't imagine how I could get more skeptical!). People talk CSR...corporate social responsibility...and I think of PR and cover-up. (I should hold a contest for an alternative meaning for CSR that represents how I feel...I will have to work on it.)

There was/is an ugly attitude that parents could throw money at their family responsibilities and things would be OK. I didn't believe that and I don't believe most CSR spiels either and mainly for the same reasons. Responsibility is deeper than money. Family/corporate responsibility requires an total "gut" commitment to doing things right. Not spending time with your child and turning around and buying him some new toy doesn't deal with the real problem. Setting aside a portion of your "mega"-profits to build a park somehow seems dishonest while you are spewing contaminants into the biosphere.

There is a woman at an International Business School in England who is Buddhist and has brought a Buddhist view of communication and human resources to the field of HR. I don't fully understand what she is doing but it seems more real than business as usual. She looks at people as people with histories and life goals and responsibilities and tries to work with the people so that the work environment considers those facets. It seems to fit under mindfulness.

Good Corporate Social Responsibility, it seems to me, needs to look at the corporation, the society and and at the root re-evaluate how the two institutions work together to achieve the common good of societal well-being. It will require mindfulness.


By John Powers (139), Sun, 15 Jun 2008 21:13:53 PDT
Comment feedback score: 0 +|-

What I'm doing in this thread is called hijacking. That's not generally very nice, and it may be not nice in this case. Tell me if you'd rather I put this stuff on my personal page. I am trying to engage with the ideas you are presenting. That's something I want to do, but I do hope I'm not being boorish by putting it here. My intentions most certainly are not to disrespect you or your space. You probably know that, but might be a little shy about telling me to put at another space. Please don't be shy, I can be rather dense and insensitive without realizing it, and I know that.

Some of the items in your illustration are activities which others can do and could be monetized. But some of them, like personal spiritual development, personal intellectual development, personal physical development, and community development really are not. And those sorts of things along with a few others seem to be basic to right livelihood.

The translation of the Tao Te Ching by Stephen Mitchell begins:

The tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.

Last night surfing the Web I came upon an interesting interpretive version by Ron Hogan which begins:

If you can talk about it,

it ain't Tao.

If it has a name,

it's just another thing.

I had to read the whole thing. It captures some of the Tao Te Ching very well I think. I especially like that it takes the text as down-to-Earth. Still, I think most Americans like me read or hear the Tao Te Ching as being a little out of this world.

I was thinking about the book because I'm finding it hard to think and speak clearly about mindfulness, especially the point that mindfulness is something more than being careful about my thoughts. Mindfulness is attending to a quality greater than my thoughts.

I also was thinking about the Tao Te Ching because of Christopher Alexander who I admire for many reasons, not the least of which is how he has taken seriously mindfulness in his study of design.

Alexander introduced a new theory of design in the 1970's with a series of books (Center for Environmental Structure Series). The first book in the series is The Timeless Way of Building. The book is structured with some text in italics so the book can be read for an overview in a fairly short amount of time and then read in a more in-depth way. It also has a detailed table of contents. Right at the beginning Alexander introduces the quality without a name:

  1. There is a central quality which is the root criterion of life and spirit in a man, a town, a building, or wilderness. This quality is objective and precise, but it cannot be named.

I like the chapter on The Quality very much. Some of the points that Alexander raises about the quality without a name can be understood using Bateson's approach to mental systems.

Being of a certain age, I've got a certain fondness for hearing: "That's cosmic man!" But it's also a bit frustrating when it's applied to practical matters. Alexander is concerned with the practical matters of making things. But that's precisely why he's interested in the science of it, and the quality without a name is indeed part of the science he's exploring. His study doesn't separate matter and spirit and say that only matter can be studied scientifically. Alexander proceeds from the idea that, to use Bateson's words, there is a necessary unity between mind (mental systems) and nature. When we look at living systems the form and pattern are intrinsic and cannot be divided out and sequestered as not appropriate for examination. I think that unity is something at the root of mindfulness. And if push comes to shove will admit that unity is cosmic, man.

It's a good thing you're skeptical! I'm not sure how serious students could not be skeptical. But it's quite a dance when scholars try to earn their credentials. I'm not sure that it's fair to say that scholars have to make their skepticism somehow palatable, well, that's a metaphor anyway. But it's a hard task making new work so that it maps familiar and available ideas well enough so that others can follow.

Among the links I've been meaning to post is Umair Haque at Harvard Business Online. I find the business strategy discussions quite thought provoking. One problem I have is that Haque keeps talking about how good beats evil and I keep hearing that in terms of a metaphor, while he insists he's not being metaphorical. But to your point about corporate responsibility often being just so much spin, I think we're all on the same page as Haque in thinking that ethics are not something "other" than what gets done. Ethics are not the result of a one hour PowerPoint and a long lunch after which you can get back to work.

You may have been reading Haque at Bubblegeneration; he's been at it for a long time in Internet years. But I mention the Harvard Business Online page because it shows how much mainstream business thinking really does "get" that the Internet changes things. And Haque is brilliant!

I linked to a page remembering Warren McCulloch. Haque studied neuroscience at McGill. There's a connection somewhere there. And I think the connection has to do with metaphysics being essential to science and rigorous thinking, despite the rather cavalier way metaphysics is jettisoned by "sensible" scholars. That page remembering McCulloch has lots of great links from it, the sort of links that can take up a great deal of time.

My dear Linda, I do understand that time is limited and the demands on your time are enormous. I hope you can just sort of speed through what I write without caring too much about it. Mostly I'm just enjoying trying to get my head around what you're doing with Buddhist economics. Thinking out loud. I feel sure the work you're doing is important. So I'm trying to engage in that, not engage you in argument or to send you on wild goose chases;-)


By Ceris Dien (56), Mon, 23 Jun 2008 11:05:09 PDT
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Fascinating to read your thoughts Linda (and John!), thanks very much for sharing (though I confess I've not read every single word!)

As I say in my profile I'm new to economics, and maths is not exactly my strong point, so I try to approach it with a mixture of amateur science and (I was going to say "poetic awareness", but that sounds horribly pretentious, your word is much better!)"mindfulness".

Thanks ever so much, I now know that even if I'm not on the right track (though I think I may be) at least I know I'm not the only one on the road!

;)


By Linda Nowakowski (230), Mon, 23 Jun 2008 14:48:50 PDT
Comment feedback score: 0 +|-

Welcome, Ceris!

In my personal news I often wander about talking to myself about the thoughts I have doing my "economics" research here in Thailand - a totally foreign culture to my past experience. I am lucky that people wander in and engage with me - like John and now hopefully you. I feel (?), sense (?), know (?) that Buddhist Economics has insights to offer those of us in the west who want to rectify our relationship with nature and each other but figuring out how to understand it with my western mind and how to then communicate it to other people who have no knowledge of Eastern philosophy....that is a challenge. I have a niggling (that is not the right word but I think conveys what I want to say) feeling that it is here that we might find something that can convince people to change their ways since just about the only thing I am sure of these days is stepping up to people in the west and telling them that they have to get their act together and it is going to mean sacrifice ... that will NOT work.

Oh well...back to the drawing board...and feel free to chime in and give voice to your doubts as well as your ideas!


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