Sunday, July 15, 2007

On the Way Toward an Open Source Society

Listen to today's post (m4a file, right-click to download, 4.5MB)

This week, we will continue with our Harry Potter feature, and I'd like to explain some of the reasoning behind this. In my own book about the Potter phenomenon, I attempted to show that Harry's path of growth through his years at Hogwarts starts from a point of domestic oppression (every story opens with Harry at the home of the odious Dursleys), where no feeling lives but cold calculation reigns alone; and leads gradually toward a place of inner balance, where Harry's action is guided by a coalescence of feeling and thought (Professor Dumbledore's lesson, which is delivered in a theme-and-variations format throughout the series).

What does this have to do with politics or culture or the media? Well, everything, in my opinion. Even among the lefties in the political world, feeling has taken a pretty rough going over: it has been isolated in a demonic polarization of intellect and intuition that have left both faculties at war in the media, among the pundits, and eventually within ourselves. We need to correct that polar misconception if we are to make the right choices for the future of our democracy. So here is an excerpt from a book I'm working on, called The Open Source Society, which I've adapted to this purpose and this moment.

The rules of evidence and the activity of intuition are not mutually exclusive. Your brain and your heart are not meant to compete for primacy within the living self. They are meant instead to work as a team, as a single functional unit of cooperative leadership. This is a principle that has guided the best scientists, the most influential artists, the greatest thinkers, and it even supports the actions and decisions of good corporate leaders and businessmen. They let feeling, the action of their inner senses, lead them to a deeper understanding of relationships and situations; and this is the direction they follow on the path of objectivity that intellect and the executive functions of decision and action travel.

Error comes in when we try to arrive at an intuitive conclusion without seeking objective clarification first. It is a very common human error—I can say so confidently, having made it several times myself. The principals of our current government in Washington commit this fallacy quite regularly, nearly to the point where it might often be mistaken for policy. Past governments have also done it: perhaps you can remember the phrase "nattering nabobs of negativity" that was written by the New York Times columnist William Safire and spoken by Spiro Agnew, back in the Nixon years. Today, similar accusations are leveled against various straw men captured in phrases like "the liberal media" and "some among the pundits" and "left-wing critics." In fact, we gave a couple of examples of this yesterday.

The consequences of such practices of incomplete and sloppy judgment can be far more severe than the kind of bland stupidity that we heard from Tucker Carlson and Mike Huckabee. For workers who are oppressed into the silence of conformity or the pain of unemployment, there is a range of suffering; depression, anxiety disorders, and even physical illness can result; and productivity is compromised. If that is the case for corporate employees, you can just imagine the implications when the same fallacy is committed by the leaders of powerful nations. In fact, we have seen the results: wars founded on fancy; economies ruined by misguided intuitions; diplomacy undermined by false suspicion.

Intuition is meant to lead you to evidence. It asks the right questions, raises the right issues, and targets the appropriate direction for intellect and action to follow in their unique way. To adapt an old expression, the heart steers and the mind rows. The self cannot endure in truth and balance any other way.

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