Saturday, 11 February 2017

Developing a Research Philosophy, Part 2

De Bono's "Gang of Three". Photo by impulsenine/CC-BY-2.0
For a long time I was reluctant to trust Western thought, its origins (others, controversially, have recently referred to the "decolonising" of the mind), and the way it had been rehashed to further others' self-interest. After a series of disillusion relating to some major institutions I had identified with strongly, I endured a long period of wandering in the desert without a compass.

In hindsight, I wandered for about seventeen years. I could see I was getting closer to my "holy city" if I could just get past a few obstacles. Of course, upon arriving at my holy city, I discovered that it was but a mirage. Nevertheless, when I looked at where the holy city had been, I found my compass.

Life is not a destination. It is merely a cliché.

In the last few years, I have read widely and steadily, and done my best to keep notes on my reading. What I have found is a strange convergence of thought, including East, West, and the Middle East. This set me to thinking.

When I conducted my research into telecommunications in Canada, I was surprised to discover how the telephone and the telegraph became distinct industries and remained so long after there was no reason for the industries to be separated. Bell and Western Union, following a patent dispute, each agreed to stay out of the telegraph and telephone businesses (respectively) (Casson 1922: 83).

It is the same with philosophy. It seems that the Greeks and Romans were fine, but then Europe collapsed into the Dark Ages, then Christian monks rediscovered the classics, then the Renaissance began. Except that is all bunk.

Probably resulting from the Crusades, the interaction between philosophers and ideas and East and West may never be traced accurately, but it was not all about Western thought. Neither is scientific method something that was established by a bunch of white people. It has been deliberately diverged.

So too, as we see in the telecommunications industry, and more recently with telecommunications and media, that in philosophy which was deliberately diverged has converged, or, more appropriately, (re)converged. If you don't believe me, read Epictetus, Confucius, the Holy Bible, and the Book of Hadith, as a small sample, and tell me I am wrong. Then go add lying to your list of sins for your next confession.

Which brings me briefly to religion. I am surprised by many of my colleagues who think that nothing except Atheism can be of Enlightenment thinking, can work with Scientific Method, or can be considered "academic". I do not agree. If Muslim scholars had not translated and communicated the Greek and Roman classics, Europe would have stayed in the Dark Ages. If monks had not received the ancient wisdom and worked out a way to enable reason and faith to work together, Atheists wouldn't know what Atheism was or could be. 

Below are some of my favourite quotes about art, religion, science, and right conduct which I refer to again and again.
If anyone travels a path in search of knowledge, God will conduct him through one of the paths of Paradise (Hadith, p. 11).
He who possesses art and science also has religion (Goethe cited in Frankl, p. 75).
The foolishness of a man twists his way, And his heart frets against the Lord (Prov 19:3). 
Whom Allah doth guide,- he is on the right path. Whom He rejects from his guidance,- Such are the persons who lose (Qur'an 7:178).
...the existential vacuum derives from the following conditions. Unlike an animal, man is not told by drives and instincts what he must do. And in contrast to man in former times, he is no longer told by traditions and values what he should do. Now, knowing neither what he must do nor what he should do, he does not even know what he basically wishes to do - which is conformism - or he does what other people want him to do - which is totalitarianism (Viktor Frankl, p. 94).
To be religious is to have found an answer to the question, What is the meaning of life? (Frankl p. 153) .
To believe in God is to see life has a meaning (Wittgenstein). 
From all of this, my own conclusion, since a young man, has been, If God does not exist, then there is no point in living. Further, I attended a lecture in 1992 by a veteran of New Guinea. He said, "Any man who says he is not religious is a liar. When we were ambushed by the Japanese one day, every single man prayed". 

Being a soldier draws one closer to God, and as a young officer, I remember with fondness one of my tough, rough and ready gun sergeants, who was not religious, but would routinely round up his ragamuffin, tough-as-nails gun crew yelling at them, "Get to the padre's service. Soldiers go to church!" They all went as a crew and every time. For the padre's sake, I am pleased that group never went to confession, but you get the point.

Hemingway picks up on this relationship between God and soldiers in his short piece known as the seventh preface, or Chapter VII, of In Our Time:
...he lay very flat and sweated and prayed oh jesus christ get me out of here. Dear jesus please get me out. Christ please please please christ. If you'll only keep me from getting killed I'll do anything you say. I believe in you and I'll tell every one in the world that you are the only one that matters. Please please dear jesus...
Needless to say, once the shelling moved on, and later that night, when the soldier went to a brothel, he didn't say anything about Jesus, "And he never told anybody". 

This idea of faith leads me further toward the idea of being right with God, and doing things according to one's nature. I do not mean that a pathological liar should accept the fact and lie away, but that there are certain things that we can do that can add meaning to our lives.

To quote Epicurus, "If you shape your life according to nature, you will never be poor; if according to people's opinions, you will never be rich" (Seneca's Letters, p. 65). What does that mean in this context? 

Well, I like to blog. I've been doing it for at least a decade. In the beginning, colleagues told me that writing a blog was academic suicide. Now, academics are required to write articles for blogs as a matter of course.

But I found there is a way to blog to get many hits, and then there is a way to blog that suits my nature. I stumbled upon this some time ago. If I went back through my travel journals, I might find when. But the point is, since I first travelled overseas, every trip I have kept a journal, some trips moreso than others.

The words of Ralph Potts (2006), author of Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel, resonate with me and I have used the approach to guide my blogging:
[My blog is written] by myself and for myself — an author and audience of one.
I discovered Potts' words when I first started keeping travel journals, and my blog and journalling tended to co-evolve over time, as did my blogging and research. Interesting that when I wrote my article on blogging and research, I changed the name of my blog. Here reflecting on the same topic, I have changed the name of the blog once again.

Only recently, from the 3rd December 2016, in fact, have I journalled every day in detail. I do not mean I keep a diary, but rather a free form record of reflection, thoughts, ideas, complaints, and so on. This coincides with a gift I received from my wife for our tenth wedding anniversary: Ben Franklin's Virtues Daily Record and Journal

Doing so is worth the effort, and journalling is a skill that requires patience and practice. It is also helping to guide and inform my research and the underlying purpose of doing it in the first place. This is not about selling the idea of journalling, but a story of the major activity that enabled me to claw myself out of a deep black pit. Putting my thoughts into writing has done so time and again since I was a teenager. At least then I could just run until I felt better. Now if I run I don't feel very good at all!

Benjamin Franklin is one of two people I admire in terms of self-development. The other is Jean-Jacques Rousseau. I see the two as polar opposites: Franklin developing himself and how he interacted with others to achieve his goals; Rousseau developing his ability to be himself and not give a toss what others thought.

It is interesting that these two great men and their ideas make sense of where I sit with academia and religion. Franklin was an embodiment of the Age of Reason and scientific method; whereas Rousseau signals the end of the Age of Reason and the beginnings of Romanticism. It is not a bad place to be.

So I, at least, can dismiss this view of Atheism and academia but I needed to get it out of the way. It never seems right for me to dismiss first principles. In the words of Seneca (Letters, p. 65), let's just say that, over time, I have developed "a settled spiritual disposition".

What does this mean for my research? Well, when I look back over various careers and interests, political science has been the most enlightening study I have undertaken. It started with "winning" a trip to the first Cairns City Council meeting after the 1982 election, a reward for scoring 100% on a politics quiz. Politics, and in particular, political science, continues to fascinate me.

But after not being able to solve all the problems of the world through looking at national security and civil liberties, I thought to myself, What can help develop the necessarily "vigilant and informed citizenry"? 

For me, then, it was the Internet. I have been using computers since the TV ping pong game (in black and white AND colour) in the 1970s, to the TRS-80 (Basic) and the Microbee (Pascal) in the 1980s, and then through every evolution of PC-DOS to Windows 10 (don't ever mention Apple) since, from dreaming about the Internet after watching Matthew Broderick almost ruin everything (ah! national security!) in the movie War Games, to using Facebook in my teaching (as early as 2007) and so on.

I thought that the Internet would be a panacea for our political woes, and that education via the Net would lead to an enhancement of liberty. Instead, education has moved away from a liberal education, in Hutchens' (see Part 1) or Rousseau's sense of its purpose. And after enthusiastically joining the early social media movement, by the time it became mainstream, I was already well-along the Gartner hype cycle.

And it would seem with what is happening in politics globally, the Internet is fast undoing any of the dignity of a liberal education that I thought unprecedented access to information would bring about. The irony is that what is needed now, more than ever, is a solid grounding in the liberal arts if we are to remain authentic, not only as individuals, but to ourselves.

Being authentic, in Rousseau's view, was essential to avoid a "dystopia of alienation, oppression, and unfreedom". Destructive self-interest aided and abetted such a future state, which may explain much of what is happening today. But I enjoy Franklin's ideas about deliberate self-improvement, while I would argue my default is to eschew the popular in favour of doing my own thing.

In my teaching philosophy, I relate to the Socratic idea of the examined life. But what does this mean? For Socrates, this means asking yourself several questions, and then working patiently and deliberately to answer these questions: "Who am I? What is important to me? What do I like? What do I need?"

Marcus Aurelius wrote "...what happens to each of us is ordered to help aid our destiny". Epictetus had previously stated "Don't seek for everything to happen as you wish it would, but rather wish that everything happens as it actually will - then your life will flow well".

In teaching leadership, I discuss the concept of "flow", as indicated by Clawson, whose work I admire. To paraphrase, flow is that feeling one gets when one is at their peak and all is going right with the world. 

I have experienced such elation at critical times in my life, when at my fittest as a young army officer, as an accountant when booking out ten times more than others day in and day out, when lecturing and the 1,000 strong audience is captivated and I know it, and just after submitting my examined PhD thesis.

Recently, I listened to a presentation by Patrick Hollingworth, and then bought and read his book. As an academic, I maintain a level of scepticism with such work, but he had what I believed to be a difficult audience captivated. He was in his flow.

Hollingworth showed this video to explain the idea of mastery (10,000 hours) and how "Alpine style" is "antifragile" compared to "expedition style". In the video below, Ueli Steck is clearly demonstrating the concept of flow.

But how can we know what it is that we want and need and like and what is important and be working with our nature? Patterson et al say it best in their book Change Anything: one must treat oneself as both scientist and subject. There is much to support such an approach.

Maria von Ebner-Eschenbach (cited in Frankl, p. 59) provides a useful guide:
Be the master of your will and the servant of your conscience.
And also from the Book of Hadith:
Consult yourself. Consult your heart. Consult your heart. Consult your heart. Right is what your inner self and heart feel secure with, and wrong is what agitates your inner self and brings doubt to the heart, no matter how much advice people give you (Hadith, p. 11).
And an important spiritual take on it all:
O God, guide me and let me reach my aim. And remember that the guidance you seek is your being guided along a path, and that reach that you seek is how an arrow hits its mark (Hadith, p. 75).
To cut an even longer story short and to arrive at a point that has taken years of reading and study, I have found that what interests me most is the way that institutions shape how we think and act, something that Rousseau was wary of, Franklin helped to create, and Socrates died for. These have been most obvious to me when I have tried to do something well, better, or different, in that the institutions can both help and hinder.

But this does not explain how I arrived at transport. Aside from a fascination with aviation from a very young age, later motor cars, and more recently, ships and trains, a phrase from my military days comes to mind: "time and space". Once you have assigned "troops to tasks", the next (or thereabouts!) phase of the military appreciation process is to manage time and space.

Telecommunications overcomes the time and space conundrum in communicating, while transport does the same but for physical goods. Throw in my first adult qualification in "physical distribution management", and there I have an entire lifetime of destiny pointing towards telecommunications and transport policy as a focus for my research.

But take this a step further, and bring in my training in political science, my fascination with history and travel, and more is revealed. If I compare different jurisdictions and how they "do" policy, I am dealing with the politics of "space". If I then bring in historical institutionalism, I am dealing with the politics of "time".

I suppose I have thought about this a bit, but have not written it down in detail before. The major challenge now is to write all of this in a way that can be communicated in a page. But I must explore these concepts of space and time more thoroughly, and this will be the thrust of Part 3.

Creative Commons License Except where indicated otherwise, Le Flâneur Politique by Michael de Percy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 Australia License. Based on a work at Background image © @redshinestudio