Saturday, January 19, 2008

Constant Value in a Changing World (3)

Moving frame + Uniformity/Nonuniformity + Constant value = General Theory of Value (? + 0/1 + c = cValue)

The third component: The model becomes “value-based” when it incorporates the idea of constant value as a measure of value. I have borrowed the “c” from the formula E=mc2 because it is a symbol for the constant speed of light. The “c” is an icon for the idea that constant value must be superimposed on the whole model. The argument is that universal value remains the same regardless of the changing circumstances of life -- just as the free space velocity of light remains the same regardless of nature’s changing circumstances. Constant value provides a rationale for interaction between and among variable categories because each of the categories is valued in relationship to an independent and constant referent. When we connect the icons for all three components, they come together to form a general theory of value that I refer to as cValue.

The fact that society has been unable to make a case for a general theory of value is not a failure of constant value; it merely means we have been unable to put the puzzle together.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Constant Value in a Changing World (2):

A New Model of Understanding

Moving frame + Uniformity/Nonuniformity + Constant value = General Theory of Value (? + 0/1 + c = cValue)

The second component: Human beings cannot live with the uncertainty and disorder of a moving frame of reference. Therefore, we use our ability to distinguish between sameness (uniformity) and difference (nonuniformity) in order to impose linguistic order on the disorder that we sense all around us. I have borrowed “0/1” from mathematics and digital computers as an icon to represent this classification process, a process which distinguishes, for example, between self and other, male and female, black and white, right and wrong, etc.

The uniformity/nonuniformity model (0/1) is a nondiscriminatory classification process that comes into play once privilege is eliminated and everyone is relegated to the same status. Nondiscrimination is guaranteed because the identity of an individual (or group) is sometimes associated with uniformity and sometimes associated with nonuniformity, depending upon whose point of view is being considered. Uniformity describes “me and my group” from my point of view, and nonuniformity describes other individuals and other groups also from my point of view. Equity exists because the same model is used to describe other points of view.

The model frustrates “us vs. them” discrimination because I am both uniform and nonuniform -- uniformity from my own point of view and nonuniformity from the point of view of other individuals and groups. The classification process points to the fact that differences exist rather than to the nature of the differences. The uniformity/ nonuniformity model is a classification process -- not a measure of value. There is a need, however, to consider the question of value, and that need is addressed with the third component.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Constant Value in a Changing World (1)


As I mentioned in an earlier post, I am trying to make the case for a “general theory of value” that would be viable for all times and all places. Without in any way suggesting the existence of a mathematical formula, I have used the following three components to conceptualize such a model:

Moving frame + Uniformity/Nonuniformity + Constant value = General Theory of Value
(? + 0/1 + c = cValue)

The model can be summarized as follows:

The first component: The model is based upon the lowest common denominator, that is, the "moto" of a “moving frame of reference” rather than the "modo" of time as in “just now.” The moving frame creates a level playing field where nothing and no one has a special preference. The situation is as if a merry-go-round is spinning fast enough for centrifugal force to overcome the usual forces of gravity and bring everyone to his or her knees. (For anyone who believes in the power of prayer, being brought to one’s knees is more than a metaphor.) I have borrowed the familiar “?” from grammar and computer jargon as an icon to represent the idea of a moving, changing frame of reference. The icon identifies human existence with mystery and uncertainty. Standing alone, it looks a lot like chaos and disorder. As N. Katherine Hayles says in Chaos Bound, it is “ungrounded and indeterminate,” a “context of no context” and a “history of no history” (Hayles 268, 272, 281).

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Truly Amazing Grace

What would it take to change the way people think?

Committed people like John Newton, a slave ship captain, and William Wilberforce, a British politician, made a difference in their time.

Who is working to preserve truth in the pluralistic world of the 21st century?

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Painful Realities

From the pen of historian Martin Marty:

Paul Stanosz, a sociologist and priest in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, speaks of difficult times: "It's been a rough year…where I have been a priest since 1984. Recently the Archdiocese announced the closing of the academic program at its 151-year-old seminary. Its central offices…are for sale to pay clergy sexual-abuse claims, and bankruptcy looms." Milwaukee is not alone in travail.

Stanosz is not a ranting leftist critic, but, as a consultant on matters of priestly morale, an empathic servant of the Archdiocese. More close-up visions from him: "Among priests, meanwhile, there is much talk of high stress, poor health, and low morale. More and more are battling burnout and depression as well as suffering heart attacks and dying prematurely. Two have committed suicide." Not all is well in the parishes: "The steep decline in religiosity among Catholic youth is also evidence of an acute crisis." The editors of Commonweal, the Catholic magazine in which Stanosz's comments appeared on November 23rd, lifted out one sentence and made a bold subhead of it: "Roman Catholicism in the next two decades will almost certainly face the sort of enormous decline that mainline Protestant denominations suffered in the 1960s." On many levels, according to a variety of sociological accounts in the same Commonweal, it already has.

Why care, in a column chartered by a Center which focuses on "public religion?" One can care personally: I've had familiarity with and emotional ties to the Milwaukee scene for sixty-five (sixty-five!) years, since we Lutheran kids debated Jesuit high-schoolers. I've benefited from the later ministries of two former archbishops, remain an admiring friend of another and have had a few pleasant exchanges with the current leader. I can see the glow of Milwaukee and other lakeshore cities from my high-rise window in Chicago. Yes, I care.

Others would care, since the Catholic one-fourth of America remains enormous, weighty, and in some ways—especially on the lay front—vital. The church cannot deliver or block votes from post-bloc Catholics in politics, but politicians find reasons to court post-modern Catholic movements and causes. One could go on and on. Fellow Christians in the various Protestant ranks and flanks have not lunged in a spirit of Schadenfreude, joy in someone else's misfortunes, or triumphally, as if they were above the crises.

Protestant commentators have been almost silent about the "clerical abuse crisis," also because of other kinds of clerical shortcomings among them. No, their mood is elegiac. So are most of the Catholic authors in this issue of Commonweal: They review sociological analyses pointing to dimensions of the crisis and they notice and complain about the growing schism across the generations, posing the "JPII" younger harder-liners versus the more moderate "Vatican II" seniors. The editors are concerned about the encouragement given to clerical forces that distance themselves from and put down the laity. Just enough of the contributors find glimmers of hope. Even Father Stanosz does not let himself be done in, but notes that "the problems are embodied in the worn, torn, aging, and overweight colleagues I observed" at a recent assembly. The greatest threat to their "well-being is denial." Post-denial, are there reasons for new hope?

(Reference: Posted 12/3/07 at "Sightings")

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Universal Value

In the previous post, I suggested that modernity has used “time” as an overriding frame of reference and that the “latest” ideas, fashions, etc. were usually viewed as the best. But the folly of this modern/postmodern scenario is demonstrated in the American musical “Oklahoma” where a farm boy returns from the big city, and sings, “Everything’s up to date in Kansas City. They’ve gone and built a skyscraper seven stories high, and that’s about as high as you can go.” More to the point was the 20th Century’s exposure to the great depression, WWI and WWII, Nazism, Fascism the holocaust, Stalinist purges, the fear of nuclear winter, and the devastating realization that maybe the “latest thing” was not the best thing. Maybe progress was not inevitable after all.

Anyone who has a cursory understanding of the work of Albert Einstein knows that both time and space are relative rather than absolute, therefore time is an inappropriate frame of reference -- regardless of whether the model of understanding is based upon premodern time, modern time, or postmodern time. Time and space make up a space/time continuum where time is measured in terms of the interval it takes for light to travel from one space/time point to another. Indeed, the whole of twentieth century science, from Einstein’s 1905 paper on special relativity to contemporary space probes, confirms the fact that everything in the universe is in motion -- The earth is rotating on its axis and orbiting around the sun; our galaxy is hurdling through space; and the universe, itself, is expanding.

Around 1923, American astronomer Edwin Hubble (1889-1953), for whom the Hubble Telescope in named, discovered that there were multiple galaxies outside of our own Galaxy. In 1929, relying upon the constant speed of light as a standard, Hubble was able to measure the speed and direction of eighteen of these other galaxies. His discovery that the velocity of each galaxy increases in proportion to its distance from the Earth provided scientific evidence that the universe was expanding and is now known as Hubble’s Law.

I would argue that premodern absolutism with its fixed frame of reference has outlived its usefulness and that the modern/ postmodern idea of “time” has failed as a frame of reference. Therefore, we are left with no frame of reference, and the resulting muddle has lead to moral and cultural relativism.

Since the whole cosmos is in perpetual motion, perhaps motion is the most promising frame of reference for the development of a new model of understanding. Cosmic motion would certainly apply to all people, all places, and all times. Maybe the Latin term moto, meaning “motion” or “to keep moving,” paints a better picture of life in our universe than the “just now” of modernity’s modo.

In recent years, I have struggled to break free from modernity’s “just now” assumptions and to develop an alternative “model of understanding” that would unite all people around a “general theory of value” -- a model based on motion rather than time. The basic problem in developing a general theory is that the “general” idea must incorporate “particular” ideas without losing their individual distinctiveness. For example, a general theory must affirm the differences that abound within and among various cultures, but it must also reaffirm the existence of universal value.

The goal is to integrate the variables of contemporary pluralism with the traditional idea of universal value. However, to achieve this objective, the model would have to overcome three obstacles: The model would have to have a general point of view; it would have to preserve both the sameness and the differences of particular points of view; and it would have to be value-based.

Without in any way suggesting the existence of a mathematical formula, I have used the following three components to conceptualize such a model:

Moving frame + Uniformity/Nonuniformity + Constant value = General Theory of Value

Stay tuned for the next installment…