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a reflection on critical pluralism, pragmatism, & politics

Zen (version 5)
Image by zenonline via Flickr

my take on critical pluralism is that it is a form of scholarly pragmatism, in the following sense:

Pragmatism could be a shortcut around doing “due diligence” if it becomes a habit to satisfice, and avoid doing deep analysis and comparisons between perspectives , solutions, methods.  there are some situations where we can do better than satisfice; without the due diligence of “critical pluralism” we might prematurely avoid deep theoretical waters for immediate satisfaction of action that seemed ok at the time.

the “critical” element is the willingness to thoroughly examine each time.  the “pluralism” is the willingness to cast a wide net for alternatives.

I am uncomfortable with lazy pragmatism which says “been there, done that, and good enough is good enough”, despite the fact that it quite often is 😀

an uncritical attitude will cause you to miss the moments when something more is available

On politics: i think a great practical primer is Perry Smith’s “Assignment Pentagon“. He makes the case for a professional, ethical, moral attitude towards navigating the political bureaucracy that is the Pentagon

Many find their first assignment there off-putting; and from the outside it looks like Hesse‘s glass bead game with meaningless ritual and insider politics playing games with the defense of the nation.
Smith takes the time to explain how the game IS played, WHY it is played, HOW it came to be that way, and what an ethical professional approach would look like.
In the Pentagon, officers are usually appointed as  as an action officer, which means  to be an effective advocate of the program you have been assigned. You are faced with competing values all the time: to your nation, to your service, to your boss, to your subordinates, to your program, to your sense of duty; and you are immersed in a sea of grey and  murky waters

He describes a values-based framework that allows you to play the game honorably and selflessly; this is an increasingly important issue as the size of the military-industrial complex grows and the purpose of military force is examined. Action officers are called upon to exercise judgment in defense of the nation and to do the right thing as they see it.

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  1. Terry Lesniak
    February 2, 2010 at 12:10 pm

    Could Smith’s “Pentagon” be applied towards not only “navigating the political bureaucracy” but also changing it’s culture altogether from the perspective of wiser leadership that better meets the needs of the people it is supposed to represent? How do we get away from visionary egos where problem solving takes a secondary role to getting re-elected at any cost?


    • Osamu Uchida
      February 3, 2010 at 8:51 am

      Hello Terry,

      Though you may not remember, this ken’s issue reminds me of an old saying in Japan,
      “Thinking inefficiently, is much similar to doing nothing,” which I wrote in my reply to you in old iitm forum, a few years ago. Also now, I am thinking about “thinking inefficiently” as a kind of a “rat-race of 1 person’s mind” or a “thinking-loop” that dose not lead a person anywhere even if he/she lives for 200 years. In such a “loop” there are no critical points for the long period, 200 years. It may be like Edo-era, pre-modern days in Japan, which had been kept on for more than 250 years.


      • Terry Lesniak
        February 3, 2010 at 11:28 pm

        Hello Osamu,

        When I think of Edo-era, I’m reminded of Basho, Dogen and the depth of wisdom they represent. Recently, I read a book by Kaoru Nonomura entitled, “Eat Sleep Sit”. The temple at Eiheiji I believe was founded by Dogen and Nonomura’s journey during the year of releasing himself from the “ratrace” proved exhilarating and life affirming.

        In a world where thirty second news bites are passed off as collective wisdom, I wonder if critical thinking might not be better incubated and nourished in an Edo-like-era?

        It’s nice to hear your words Osamu. Best wishes and good trading!


  2. Osamu Uchida
    February 6, 2010 at 1:42 pm


    It is nice for me to here you, too.

    About zen, what you are writing is “hiding oneself from the world,” which is called “datsu-seken” in Japanese, I think. That is not a literal meaning, “staying far from the world,” but “thinking little of the public image,” which shows one’s attitude in his/her mind. Maybe, a mental freedom of zen even if one lives really in the “world.” It is true that a life ignoring general information provided very frequently, is exhilarating, but sometimes such a living-way makes a person too naive.

    In Japanese history, Perry came to Uraga, a Japanese port-town, in 1853, the last days of Edo-era. It might be a “critical event” for Japanese people those days, for the first time, more than 200 years. Japan had been turning her back on the “international-world” for about 250 years. It might be called “isolation” or “being withdraw.” Whether using positive words or negative, the no-engagement with international world for so long a time, influenced Japan and Japanese people much, in modern days after 1867, in my opinion. Too diplomatic and political speaking would be long, so I will stop here.

    Best wish and great trading.


    • Terry Lesniak
      February 7, 2010 at 12:53 am

      Zen, like good trading, concerns itself with focused engagement, not withdrawal. Nonomura’s quest wasn’t a matter of escape but a search for spiritual meaning. He certainly seemed to have found it, but not without a considerable amount of pain in the process. Pain is a requirement before knowledge becomes wisdom. The politics of verbal virtuosity that takes the place of critical thinking by credentialed fools makes you wonder if political wisdom will ever be anything more than an oxymoron?


  3. Osamu Uchida
    February 9, 2010 at 6:32 pm

    I feel, I have to add some words. You are writing about honor spiritual sacrament, on the other hand, I wrote about “mundanity” through the word “real world.” Generally, “seken” in Japanese means a community that consists of “worldly people”, or the rules in a group of “laypeople.”
    Perhaps, you are focusing on “sacrament” or spirituality of zen, while I am concerned with being far from “mundanity” through zen meditation.
    “Sacrament and mundanity” is a religion science theme, which a scholar like M Eliade, kept on studying through one’s whole life. So, I am neither able to talk so easily nor so well.


    • Terry Lesniak
      February 9, 2010 at 8:15 pm

      I think we both agree on the power of Zen and its application. My only point was to see it applied on a larger political stage.
      You speak easily and well my friend. It is always a pleasure to hear your wisdom.
      Regards and good trading…Terry

      • Osamu Uchida
        February 11, 2010 at 6:36 am

        I am also glad to talk with you, Terry.
        regards and great trading,


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