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Reflecting on Erich Fromm’s “To Have or To Be”

November 25, 2009 1 comment

Erich Fromm is an influential social philosopher and prolific writer, whose life work offers a provocative synthesis of Western capitalism, Marxist humanism and socialist rational planning. He defines two modes of being: “to have” and ” to be”, and examines the characteristics and values of lives led in each mode with respect to materialism, politics, religion, spirituality, knowledge, love, sex, language and economics. He asserts that modern living is dominated by the “to have” mode and generalizes it as a soul-less and thoughtless pursuit of material things that disrespects the human soul, love of nature and fellow humans and leads to unsustainable pursuit of things which can lead to poverty, war and extinction.  Fromm discards the idea that either conventional Western capitalism or Soviet-style communism offer a way out of the darkness, since both systems remain entrenched in the “to have” mode of being.  He offers an escape from this bleak vision of the future, by suggesting that a shift to the “to be” mode of being will bring a change in perspective and behavior at the individual, family, tribe, state and national levels. He asserts this change can bring lives back into harmony with the needs of the human spirit and permit sustainable societies to emerge.His utopian vision of modern living blends the freedom, liberty and productive power of Western capitalism, the central planning and rationality of Soviet style communism, and the tempered and non-materialistic spiritual centeredness of Buddhism and European- style mystics like Meister Eckhart. A society organized along these lines could manifest as economically linked villages of perhaps 100 families. They would be voluntarily joined in support, satisfying the legitimate needs of healthy living through the free exchange of goods and services produced by craftsmen. As craftsmen, people would take pride in and develop a sense of identity through their careful, mindful work and whose stewardship of precious resources would be reflected in a sustainable, respectful partnership with nature and their fellow man. Appetites are suppressed to just those that are commonly and wisely thought to be legitimate. Common spiritual needs are valued and encouraged at each level of social organization. Language itself is amended to reflect the importance of creating “states of being” that reflect nurturing, loving spiritual lives, families, and communities. You will notice this description is full of passive voice, because it is never quite clear “who” will be taking the lead or being the instrument of action in a transformation on a species level. I will address this later in greater detail.

I admire the scope, depth and breadth of Fromm’s vision, and the passion he brought to his life work, and his commitment to living his principles, as seen through his direct engagement with the dominant issues of his day. He was a social philosopher who lived his words and put himself into the arena of ideas and actions to make a difference. He made a positive difference in the lives of millions and those who worked closely with him testify to his optimism, energy, and basic human goodness. Granting all of that, and acknowledging that I have changed my opinion of Fromm’s work after spending time in background research and reflection, I want to engage his work in two useful ways: through disinterested philosophical discourse, and through an abbreviated dialectical materialism: a method of argumentative inquiry that would have come naturally to a Marxist. I decided on this approach after Dr Armstrong asked what Fromm might have said in response to a couple of extended Moodle discussions that were critical of some of his positions.Constructivism is a world view that asserts we are active participants in the creation of our knowledge of the world, particularly in the human, social areas of our lives. There are two well-known forms of dialogue that have been instrumental in the development of social, political and economic knowledge: the disinterested philosophical discourse of ancient philosophers described so well by Hadot (2002) and the dialectical materialism of Karl Marx, which is a fusion of Hegel’s dialectics and Feuerbach’s materialism with roots that reach back to the ancient Greeks as well. (S.E.P, n.d.) (Mao, 1938)  

Hadot’s discussion of discourse is thorough. Discourse obliges you to set aside your own perspective,  to accept the other participant’s positions and truths, and to transcend disinterestedly to a new perspective which leads both to increased self knowledge, knowledge of the other, and to a new appreciation of the synthesis that is possible through a fusion of different opinions. There is a sense of philosophical cooperation and wisdom in play for true discourse. (Hadot, 2002)Marx’s dialectical materialism describes a dialogue between opposing views as a struggle between forces, with each committing passion and insight to argue a position. The initial argument is known as the thesis, the opposite view as the antithesis. Out of the tension of the vigorous exchange between thesis and antithesis, a broader, more comprehensive synthesis is created, which contains elements of both previous positions but which can be said to resolve the tension, encapsulate the essence of both, and  move on to a new and deeper understanding of the situation. As an example, Marx characterize the struggle between owners (thesis) and workers (antithesis) over the means of production as a dialectic which becomes resolved into a synthesis of communism, after the tension of class warfare has run its course and been resolved.

 I experienced both of these modes of dialogue and constructive knowledge in my readings of and reflections on Fromm’s work. The effect of the two different modes on my thinking has been instructive for me and serves to demonstrate the utility of both modes. I like the idea that they contribute both heat (the dialectic) and light (the discourse) to my own understanding of Fromm.

 Dialectic:

 The dialectic generated heat from my emotional reaction to my initial reading of Fromm, as I discovered deep seated and argumentative reactions to his assertions, conclusions, and matters offered in in evidence to support his claims. These responses have roots in my undergraduate days as a student of Asian history and political science in the 1970s when I did a lot of work in the historical events surrounding socialism and communism in Asia and Europe, while simultaneously experiencing and exploring non-Western cultural and religious responses to the challenges of defining and living the good life as seen by Hindus, Buddhists and Taoists.

 I read Fromm from that perspective: as a modern who sought to synthesize the ancient and modern thoughts of the good life and human nature with the tidal forces that were defining and shaping human culture through economics and political struggle. I understood his perspective and rationale for opting to follow the path of enlightened Marxism with its foundations in rationality and central planning, its concern for social justice, and his belief that freedom includes the ability to shape our destiny through choice and action, even if it means confronting and opposing what has been thought of as human nature combined with the power of tradition.

The heat came from the difference between his choices and my own, since I have chosen a different approach to understanding, framing and drawing policy conclusions from the same data set. My beliefs and values follow along the lines of valuing individual freedoms in the traditions of Payne and Locke, the political freedoms and limited government of Jefferson, the lack of central planning found in the tenets of laisse-faire capitalism, and the intellectual humility and disbelief in the perfectability of man epitomized by Twain. When the dialectical smoke had cleared though, I found room for Fromm and I to coexist:

Here are three samples of the thesis-antithesis-synthesis threads that I worked through in the dialectical tradition. In each case Fromm plays the role of thesis, as is his right as “first speaker” since we are using his text, not mine. They are representative of the more than 20 different annotated emotionally charged differences I discovered upon my first reading.

 a. Tennyson’s poem: Fromm’s thesis is that Tennyson’s speaker tore the flower from the ground to understand it, while the enlightened spirit became one with it as co-members of the scene. My antithesis is that it is a matter of interpretation as to whether Tennyson’s speaker killed the flower, since it could have carefully and mindfully been moved to a new place for examination and understanding without harming it. Indeed, later in the book, Fromm describes the wisdom of a Japanese gardener who transplants plants without harm to create beautiful, spiritual gardens. My synthesis is that while the passive appreciation of the flower in nature is groovy, it is the Western scientists’ inquiry which leads to new knowledge of the world around us, but that a science without humble mindfulness can easily lead to disaster for the race given the reach and consequences of modern technology.

 b. Human nature and central planning: Fromm’s thesis is that we can reshape our actions beliefs and destiny through the power of rational thought and disciplined action, and that we can design a universally applicable, better life for everyone. My antithesis is that man is in equal parts, a rational and emotional being; that there are limits to rationality and the persuasiveness of logic and reason; that life is too complex to be reduced to centrally planned, universal designs for the good life; and that the political realities of life do not permit simple transitions due to the nature of power.  My synthesis is that we can appeal through dialogue and discourse to the good that is in human nature, and aspire to an improved life for others, and that rugged individualism is not the ideal life for everyone either, despite its personal appeal to me.

 

c. Black and White classifications:  Fromm’s thesis is expressed in absolute terms, making mutually exclusive distinctions in almost every category he considers. Examples include his unqualified support for the success and goodness of the sexual revolution of the 1960s; the characterization of language itself as a conscious means whereby those in power create the meaning of individual words to further their materialistic agenda; that the choice of capitalism must inevitably lead to unbridled appetites for more and more until we exhaust the planet. He takes everything to its logical and often illogical extreme to dramatize the differences in the modes of beings and in the choices presented to people and nations. My antithesis is that there are checks and balances between your values, between members of your family, between friends, interest groups, communities, branches of government, and between nations themselves. Further, these checks and balances are adaptive and dynamic and that it is in the peaceful accommodations and adjustments we make that we have hope for a better future for all; that there are limits to how far a theory or model may be taken to explain phenomena; that there is a limit to the region of fit for any theory. My synthesis is that black and white characterizations can be useful to make dramatic statements that get your attention; that sometimes taking things to the logical extreme is a valuable way to demonstrate the very need for the compromise and discourse that I favor. Discourse:

            After declaring a week of truce for reflection and research, I engaged Fromm discursively. I researched his background, his other writings, and the testimony of friends and colleagues concerning his impact on their lives as a scholar and a person. I found that by conducting dispassionate research, I was able to transcend the heat of the dialectic, which actually helped me to complete the synthesis portion of each dialectic thread where I’d experienced an emotional reaction. The syntheses in the three example of dialectic above were only reached after a cooling off period of discourse, research and reflection.

             I found that the heat of the dialectic helped me raise the energy to conduct the research. Once engaged in research, my natural curiosity took over and carried me deeper than I would have gone if just motivated by a need to be right in some fanciful, contrived “argument” between Fromm and me. Fromm’s Germanic background reminded me of Hesse’s story of Magister Ludi and the Glass Bead Game, where a traditional game continued to be played long past the time when its origin, relevance and importance had been forgotten.

             I grew to respect for Fromm’s independent thinking, even as it caused him to depart over and over again from groups once friendly to his thinking, and where he could have remained and enjoyed the fruits of inclusion. He was a German Jew who left both Germany and the Jewish faith in search of a better life and a deeper spirituality. He was a trained psychologist and psychiatrist who left the confines of the Freudian, Rogerian and Jungian schools of thought to elaborate his own ideas of personality and psychological balance. He was a social philosopher who engaged in the practical worlds of politics and punditry by fighting peacefully against nuclear proliferation and  the Vietnam War , and in support of social justice. He was a prolific scholar, yet he wrote many popular books that made his ideas on the good life accessible to the masses. He was a systematic thinker, yet his ideas and concepts evolved through time as he reflected on his experience and the world around him. He was a good friend and a generous humble person by the accounts we have from his friends and co-workers.

 And so, I find in Fromm all the elements of the good life defined by Socrates and the ancients.  He is a man of passion, intellect, scholarship and good works, who lived an examined life, and who sought to apply his values in daily life.  If he and I disagree on certain aspects of how precisely to define the good life and how completely we might propose a design for a good life for all, surely the world is large enough for us to both live in it at the same peacefully and in mutual support.

In the course of thinking about this paper, the design of its concept and flow, the research I conducted, the Moodle discussions where I began to partially explore some of these ideas and in the actual writing this paper, I found the heat of dialectic and the light of discourse to be useful and enlightening. I think that the combination of both perspectives was more important that the exclusive use of either by itself would have been. To have applied just the dialectic would have resulted into an argumentative essay between Fromm and I, whereas a pure discursive paper, with the energy of passion, may have been a theoretical inquiry without the motivation to go beyond my own beliefs.

 In conclusion, I have enjoyed and learned from my engagement with the life  and works of Erich Fromm.

References:

 Currie, N. (2008). To Have or To Be.  frieze magazine: a leading magizine of contemporary art and culture.. Retrieved Nov 20, 2009, from http://www.frieze.com/comment/article/to_have_or_to_be/

Daniels, V. (2003). Lecture notes on Erich Fromm.  Victor Daniels’ Website in The Psychology Department at Sonoma State University.  Retrieved Nov 20, 2009, from   http://www.sonoma.edu/users/d/daniels/frommnotes.html

Fromm, E. (1976). Fromm: To have or to be? New York: Continuum.

 Hadot, P. (2002). What is Ancient Philosophy. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Infed editors. (n.d.) erich fromm: freedom and alienation, and loving and being, in education. infed: the encyclopedia of informal education.  Retrieved Nov 20, 2009, from http://www.infed.org/thinkers/fromm.htm

 Maccoby, M. (1994). The Two Voices of Erich Fromm: The Prophetic and the Analytic. The Maccoby Group: Agents of Change. Retrieved Nov 20, 2009, from http://www.maccoby.com/Articles/TwoVoices.shtml

  Mao, T. (1938). Dialectical materialism. Marxist Internet Archive. Retrieved Noc 17, 2009, from http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/selected-works/volume-6/mswv6_30.htm

 MGM830 Moodle entry authors. (2009). Assorted.  MGM830 Moodle discussions. Retrieved Nov 15, 2009, from http://www.instituteforadvancedstudies.net/mod/forum/discuss.php?d=26503

New World Encyclopedia editors. (n.d.) Fromm, Erich. New World Encyclopedia.  Retrieved Nov 20, 2009, from http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Erich_Fromm

 Pace, G. (1977). Erich Fromm Interview: To Have or To Be.  scribd. Retrieved Nov 20, 2009, from http://www.scribd.com/doc/8895007/Erich-Fromm-Interview-To-Have-or-to-Be

 Raapana, N, & Friedrich, N. (2005). What is the Hegelian Dialectic?.    Crossroads: the Kjol Ministries. Retrieved Vov 15, 2009, from http://www.crossroad.to/articles2/05/dialectic.htm

 SparkNotes Editors. (n.d.). SparkNote on The Communist Manifesto. Retrieved November 17, 2009, from http://www.sparknotes.com/philosophy/communist/

 Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy editors. (2008). Karl Marx: Theses on Feuerbach. The Stanford Encyclopedia on Philosophy (SEP). Retrieved Nov 17, 2009, from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/marx/#2.4

 

Leadership: Believing in others as a way of life

November 23, 2009 Leave a comment

Leadership as a belief in others

there are two models of leadership that I am directly familiar with.

The first is the leadership quality model which treats leadership as a quality manifested by the leader, often composed of subordinate virtues like honesty, loyalty, competence, empathy. In this sense leadership could be considered a state of being.

The second model is one of technique usually described as a form of situational leadership in which a leader applies the appropriate technique based on a diagnosis of the situation, who the people are who are being led, and the necessary form of a successful outcome.

The idea of believing in people seems to be directly related to leadership in my experience and doesn’t fit into either category. I say this based on some personal experiences which I’ll describe.

I can think of it a number of circumstances in which my leaders believed in me and my potential . It motivated me to perform at a level higher than I thought was possible. What unites these cases is that my leader was a significant other to me, whose opinion I respected and whose approval I sought.

Another essential element was the element of risk and authenticity. I knew that my leaders trust in me had consequences for them which affirmed my belief in the authenticity of their belief because they have something to lose if they were wrong. In other words, these are not just empty words there was real meaning in the outcome.

Taken together these contributed to my motivation and determination and made the difference in my final performance.

As a leader myself I have seen the difference in trying to replicate a technique and manifesting a true inner belief in others. In my experience, your subordinates can sense a lack of authenticity a mile away.

I think the topic of belief in people is tied to leadership because it places it in a situation in which hierarchies matter, outcomes matter, risk is taken in the consequences are in doubt.

I don’t think belief in others is pure leadership quality like in the quality model because it takes on the context of the situation to establish the importance of the belief in the risk that the leader is taking. I think it’s a leadership matter because the trust must come from the leader first to be truly motivational.

It’s not something the subordinate can request or requisition but it must come flowing from the leader to the subordinate.

AP trying to do the math

November 18, 2009 1 comment

The AP assigns 11 staff writers to immediately fact check Palin’s book.

They apparently haven’t yet read Obama’s book, which precludes them from asking him why he won’t admit that it was written by Bill Ayers

Reflecting on the ancient philosophers and their practice

November 12, 2009 1 comment

Hadot’s thesis is that the ancient Greek philosophers understood philosophy to be a love of wisdom, He placed philosophers in a state of conscious striving, between the already realized perfect wisdom of the gods and the masses of unconscious humankind, unaware or unconcerned with arête (excellence). He examined how four schools and two refinements answered the three common elements of philosophical inquiry: physics, ethics and logic. Based on fundamental assumptions, rooted in values, each discipline defined the Good Life for their practitioners. The physics described the nature of reality, cause and effect, and situated man properly within the world. The ethics described the proper treatment of one’s fellow man. The logic provided a discursive structure of context, concepts and rules for dialogue.

Hadot convincingly demonstrates how the six disciplines shared two incommensurable perspectives: (1) that of philosophy-in-action, as a life lived, and (2) the philosophical discourse that critically analyzed the context, concepts and claims of the discipline’s tenets. After tracing how these two perspectives diverged in modern philosophy, Hadot argues that the ancients integrated them to understand and live the Good Life. I argue that this is as valid and important today. I adopt both perspectives to link personal reflections, Moodle discussions and my applications of these insights in my own life as an exercise of the ancient philosophers’ ask?sis (exercise) (Griffin, 2009, p.2).

Reflection: The practice of applied philosophical discourse.

The observation: Hadot says “ a dialogue is possible only if the interlocutors want to dialogue” (p.63). He describes the essential characteristics of a specifically philosophical discourse: neither imposes his truth on the other, but seeks rather to discover and understand himself through disinterested transcendence of personal perspective.

My reflection: the spirit of the philosophical discourse requires values of mutual trust and vulnerability; integrity in representing our position; humility and restraint in order to appreciate your partner’s position; critical thinking skills that deconstruct, analyze and synthesize the essential elements of the argument, and a respect for the nature of inquiry; the maturity to separate your Self from the argument that has been offered for examination.

Our discussion board: I offered a discursive opportunity on the subject of a sage who asserted that Silence is an appropriate technique when encountering critics. I proposed that this was the opposite of wisdom, arguing that it allows you to access wisdom of your own making, does not engage in open dialogue with respected others, and rejects the possibility of shared insights and mutual construction of new knowledge. I felt very disappointed that my offer to dialogue was not accepted but I publicly respected the decision. I also have observed another student’s best passionate efforts to push discourse to the forefront, often generating more heat than light, but with more success than I expected. It has become much clearer to me how important Hadot’s prescriptions for successful, responsible discourse are. It is a special form of discussion, whose nature must be explicit and intentional for both parties in order to engage fruitfully, since it approaches values and emotions that are at our very heart and soul.

My applications:

I am developing formal materials to improve the critical thinking and discursive skills in our college, motivated by student interest and their assessed skill level in argumentation. I’ve helped develop the argumentative essay rubric I shared with group. I discovered convincing research demonstrating how “argument mapping” improves critical thinking skills. Its educational efficacy is so demonstrably superior to traditional means that I have started a campaign to discuss making major modifications to our core curriculum. Creating a rubric is discursive; using it is the practical application, thus closing Hadot’s loop.

My latest late night father-son discussions include the ingredients of discourse, particularly the respect for the Other and self knowledge through transcendence. In fact, the outline of this paper’s arguments emerged from the hot tub during one such heated discussion on the nature of Creationist “science”. My son was conflating positions on Creationist claims as science, with worth as human beings to society. Hadot helped me describe a reframing that he was able to see and accept without sacrificing his personal beliefs.

I critiqued Strunk & White’s formulaic advice in our first paper, and then disinterestedly applied their formulas to my critique, which measurably improved. This paper is better after re-writing. Writing is thinking, and thinking is hard. Transcending my own initial position has been fruitful and refreshing. I am better able to improve my positions without regret for revising my statements.

I expressed my frustration in the lack of discourse in Moodle with the professor, who guided me to think of ways to meet my needs in other ways. This has led me to continue to provide connections of our material to Chinese philosophical traditions (Confucius and the Legalists), insights from the Mahabharata (the epic story of Yudisthira’s principled rejection of Heaven) and the analogy of Hesse’s Glass Bead game in Magister Ludi as an example of discourse for discourse’s sake. I have been trying to improve the quality of my small group feedback, and taking on some essay critiquing outside of my small group.

Brief summaries of other reflections and applications.

I continue to grow in respect for the courage of my peers to push past their own boundaries. In particular, Mel is working hard on channeling her passion in new and constructive ways, reaching out to other cohorts to engage in discourse even when it’s not popular. That she can do this while double loaded with classes and in China is remarkable. Tamara continues to read deeply and express insights clearly and personally. Reviewing her comments about askesis made me think more deeply about that topic, which led me to this paper’s theme. Andy and Negar each are pressing on through the fog of finding researchable questions while pondering what can seem to be so abstract on the surface: ancient philosophy. I admire that they are asking for more and deeper critiques even when their plate is full.

Hadot’s treatment of the bifocal nature of meditation was a nice way for me to reconnect and synthesize my own experience of sitting meditation which in turn can be inwardly focused on your core being, and outwardly expanding in search of reconnecting with the unity of all things. His review of the various ancient Greek traditions and how this practice fits into a larger set of exercises was elegant.

The deep review of the six disciplines allowed me to reconnect their tenets with times and places in my life where I had been trying on all of their styles for fit. I have been at various times Socratic, Platonic, Aristotelian, Epicurean, Skeptic, Cynic, with an increasing predominance of Stoic throughout my military career. I sense a return of the Epicurean on occasion, as I follow my bliss more often these days with this program and with youth soccer.

I think Hadot, and this review of the principles of “principled discourse” will enable me to engage with both Fromm and Kuhn, about whom I have had well-developed positions, which I am now prepared to transcend to see what I may see.

Conclusion:
Hadot reconciles the opposing views of philosophy as a guide to living and philosophy as an analytical inquiry into conceptual systems by showing how the ancient philosophers respected both of these incommensurable positions while integrating them in their thoughts and deeds. What comes through most importantly for me is Socrates’ notion that the unexamined life is not worth living, integrating with the idea that critical thinking without practice are words games.

Griffin, T. (2009). Ancient Philosophers, paper 2, MGM830, Colorado Tech.

Hadot, P. (2002). What is Ancient Philosophy. Cambridge: Harvard Univ Press.

Ken –

Engaging in dialogue is definitely not easy and one’s desire to do so in a meaningful and thoughtful way is not always accepted. I imagine that there were times at the beginning of philosophy before philosophy that sophists perhaps attempted to create dialogue and they were left standing alone.

However, do you think that as we continue to genuinely give of ourself, there is a requisite return of others or is it by luck that we find others who are willing to engage. In other words, does our repeated genuine attempts cause others to participate, or do we just have to get lucky that someone who is of the same dialectic bent ends up in our area of town?

Mel

i think of discourse as living in a marketplace, of buyers and sellers. It is voluntary, both are seeking value for their resources. Each needs to have something to offer, each is in need of something new, and there must be an agreement for exchange under certain mutually acceptable conditions, and you know ahead of time specifically what you want.

It’s a varied and diverse market of many interests, and the degree of overlap is probably somewhat less than that of a vegetable market, which has known commodities whose qualities are readily apparent.

We are often in the position in the discourse marketplace of not knowing yet what we have or what we need, other than perhaps a desire to engage. We have trust that the discourse may lead us somewhere profitable and perhaps beautiful, at the risk of fatigue, lost time, diversion, frustration, vulnerability.

Being human, there is a desire perhaps for comfort and affirmation in our dialogues, which may outweigh the risk/reward of true discourse, which opens us up to scrutiny and uncertainty. If we cannot separate our nascent ideas from our Self, we are constantly at risk of ego loss and reputation loss, embarassment/shame.

Part of what may attract us to a particular discursive space is our experience with its inhabitants , our would be partners, its reputation, its tendency to meet all our human and inquiry needs.

Probably cant force it without the kind of outside pressure that is long term harmful to the spirit of genuine inquiry and discourse.

if you think of Hadot’s list of the “rules for good discourse” you will recognize a social contract that accounts for these issues: respects each other, shows a committment to transcend both individual perspectives, in order to synthesize to a new knowledge

to me, Socrates’ questioning doesnt rise to the level of discourse, because he isnt risking anything: he already knows where he is going, and he never has a breakthrough in his own understanding: he always is “reading from the same script”; he is never surprised; he is always sure of himself and where he is going from the moment of the first question.

He is much more god-like than philosopher-like in Hadot’s formulation of god-philosopher-common man, since he always manifests pure wisdom.

the closest we ever see him in a transcendent state is when he is by himself, in deep contemplation: i argue that he never engages in discourse: he simply takes you where he has already been.

Do you ever see Socrates trying on the other’s point of view, or discovering a new insight in any of his dialogues?

Of course i speak of Socrates here as the character actor as conceived by Plato, the playwright, and not the man, who probably began conversations over important topics without knowing where he would end up; at least I hope he was like that. Otherwise he was born perfect, or became self-perfected without discourse.

To get back to your first point then, I’d say that if you want to engage in discourse, you have to “put up your shingle” and market your product and announce what you want in exchange, and trust the network that when someone who is ready to exchange on those terms shall appear and together you will be able to sort it out.

posting your paper was an act of marketting that, to me, shows your willingness to engage.

Ask a Pakistani why Afghanistan matters

November 10, 2009 Leave a comment

If you want to know, ask somebody: (ht: smallwarsjournal)

Afghanistan: Seven Fundamental Questions by Major Mehar Omar Khan

I know we live in a world that is real and is moved by minds – thinking, manipulating, conniving, conspiring, calculating and masquerading minds. Our world therefore seldom has a place for ‘sentiments’ – pure, sincere, honest and spontaneous as sentiments are. But when it comes to war in Afghanistan, I am not deterred by the tyranny of the trend. I like, in fact I am forced, to think through my heart. What else can you do when you see images of your countrymen; innocent and unsuspecting men, women and children; ripped apart by other human beings exploding in their midst almost on a daily basis? How can I not worry about my daughter when I see a pale and empty face of a mother in Kabul or Peshawar, bent like a broken branch of an old, dried up tree; over the dead body of her child? How can I not cry when the soul of my nation is hit and hurt by violence that is so inextricably linked with bloodshed beyond the snaky Khyber Pass? For us in Pakistan, the ongoing struggle in Afghanistan and astride Durand Line is the most seminal endeavor of our history. If this war is won, the entire world stands to benefit. But if it is lost, one country that will be hurt the most is Pakistan – my daughter’s home and her future. War astride the Durand Line is therefore so personal to so many of us.

This war is also extremely personal for thousands of American mothers who await and pray for the safe return of their sons and daughters: bright young men and women who deserve to live and who must never be wasted just because someone considers it politically expedient to continue to muddle along and because setting the course right needs some statesmanship and may also involve some political cost.

Major Mehar Omar Khan, Pakistan Army, is currently a student at the US Army Command and General Staff College at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas. He has served as a peacekeeper in Sierra Leone, a Brigade GSO-III, an instructor at the Pakistan Military Academy in Kakul, and as Chief of Staff (Brigade Major) of an infantry brigade. He has also completed the Command and Staff Course at Pakistan’s Command and Staff College in Quetta.

The weightless administration is even further out of touch

November 8, 2009 Leave a comment

At some point, you hope the administration will find the time to prevent a possible wave of shootings of Americans by Muslims.  You know, to go along with the duty description of Department of Homeland Defense

The U.S. Homeland Security secretary says she is working to prevent a possible wave of anti-Muslim sentiment after the shootings at Fort Hood in Texas.

Janet Napolitano says her agency is working with groups across the United States to try to deflect any backlash against American Muslims following Thursday’s rampage by Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, a Muslim who reportedly expressed growing dismay over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The shootings left 13 people dead and 29 wounded.

Meanwhile the President’s tone-deaf teleprompter gets it wrong again

Obama, often described as “cerebral” by the mainstream media, should know the difference between the Medal of Honor and the Medal of Freedom, especially since he personally awarded the latter to Crow.  Don’t expect his blunder to receive wide coverage.  It’s not something he can blame George Bush for.


A Reflection on my professor’s commentary on my mid-term assessment

November 5, 2009 1 comment

On engaging more with fellow class members:


i think on the engagement piece, i have to look to hook in more to where my peers are rather than where i want them to be.   I have to start from their position and proceed rather than trying to drag them to my position.

I think a lot of the frustration comes from the mixing of cohorts.  Whereas our cohort’s research questions are mature and proceeding, with mentor  relationships being fairly well developed, it’s easier for us to focus on classwork whereas the newer cohorts are still filled with so much uncertainty, and also may have less of a doctoral persona forming that they can feel overwhelmed. I think that tends to explain the vast majority of the “Yeah great point! You go girl! postings” Early on,  the emotional support is much more important because the research hasn’t matured yet.  That may also be an area where i can offer more value to the other cohorts and look for engagement.  I will continue to offer resources  as I find them.

On the subject of my students and helping them develop a  personal credo,

I have been spending a lot more time on helping them develop a “field grade officer” persona;  it’s usually a role they have not really thought about before, and it needs deep reflection to develop. So I have them write a management philosophy (distinct from a leadership philosophy which they write in other classes). I make it a point to discuss the all important mentoring role and what it takes to develop lieutenants and captains for their crucial roles. Its part of the tribal wisdom and culture that binds our profession together.  Its really a bit deeper thana  profession in the “professional” sense, as elements of “tribe” come in to play. Especially with the growing sense that we are an Army at war, but not a nation at war.

On the Ft Hood killings:

The incident earlier today is especially troubling for us, as the entire school remained riveted to the tube looking for info on names and families, scanning for people we might know. 9/11 was similar although much more horrific, by several orders of magnitude.
So, yes, the credo is an essential element of what I try to encourage in them (I would have said “teach” even just a year ago). Part of opening up myself and my thinking and writing to public inspection, the vulnerability of public writing, and the encouragement of voice is a way to try to model the behaviors I hope for them to develop. The relationships with students that extend beyond graduation to their next assignment are the most gratifying. I live for the chance to be of some help to them when they are in their next unit.

My son inducted into the National Honor Society tonight:

My son was inducted into the National Honor Society tonight, his speech was hilarious.  We were talking about the Allegory of the Cave tonight to and from the ceremony, as I had found an hourlong CD of commentary on it at the store while searching for something else.  there are elements of that i will probably weave into my Hadot paper, since the Allegory is kind of departure for Socrates, as he plays the unusual role of taking a position rather than dismantling someone else’s logic. To me, the Allegory has always sounded more like Plato talking through Socrates, tahn Socrates speaking himself, although we can never really know, since Socrates was content to just talk