Sunday, July 19, 2020

#201 / Worldview 101

Come October, I will be teaching LGST 196, the Legal Studies Capstone course at UCSC. Given the spread of Covid, the course will be given online. In other words, just to be clear about what that word "at" implies, I am not actually expecting to be on the UCSC campus in person. Wish it were otherwise!

I first began teaching LGST 196 in Winter Quarter, 2014, and I have taught the course every year since then. As I teach it, the class is focused on the topics of "Privacy, Technology, And Freedom."

This time around, I will probably teach the course a little bit differently, given that it will be online, but students can still expect to be discussing government surveillance, facial recognition, social media, "big data" and its impact on politics, biometrics, the "Internet of "Things," and how privacy is protected in our Bill of Rights through William O. Douglas' famed "penumbra theory" (See Griswold v. Connecticut).

I have greatly enjoyed teaching LGST 196, and as I look back, I see that I have injected into the Syllabus and Class Schedule a few of my own theories and thoughts. These are outlined in a very summary fashion below. Candidly, the discerning student could probably figure out that the course ought to be called:

Gary Patton's Worldview 101

#1 - Two Worlds
I think we best understand our human situation if we explain that situation through what I often call the "Two Worlds Hypothesis." That way of thinking about our existence suggests that we live in "Two Worlds," simultaneously. First, we live in the "World of Nature," or the "World That God Made," if you would like to remember the traditional way of thinking about it. We find ourselves most mysteriously here on Planet Earth, and we are (though we keep forgetting it) absolutely, totally, and ultimately dependent on the World of Nature (the World That God Made). 

Most immediately, though, we don't live in any unmediated way in the World of Nature. We live primarily in a "human world," a world that human beings have created within the World of Nature. This is "our" world, and it is the immediate reality we inhabit. However, just as a reminder, while we live "immediately" in a human world that we create, we are "ultimately" dependent on the World of Nature, which we most emphatically did not create. 

#2 - Law In The World of Nature
The "Two Worlds" that we simultaneously inhabit are governed by two completely different kinds of laws. First, within the World of Nature (the world we don't create ourselves), the laws that govern are descriptions of what must and will happen.

The "Law of Gravity" is my go-to example (but all the laws of Nature operate in the same way). You can't disobey the law of gravity, or any of the other Laws of Nature. "What goes up must come down," and it will come down according to a law that perfectly describes what will happen.

The fact that the laws that govern the World of Nature cannot be broken, and that they inevitably and exactly tell us what will happen when certain things are done, is the reason that we can be sure that the continued combustion of hydrocarbon fuels, according to our current practices, will ultimately heat the Earth to the point that our human systems (dependent on the World of Nature) will fail, and that human civilization will (probably) come to an end, along with mass extinctions and physical changes in the World of Nature that will remind us (just in case we persist in denying the obvious) that we are ultimately dependent on that World of Nature, and that the World of Nature is governed by laws that we cannot ignore, without experiencing the consequences.

#3 - Law In The Human World
All that is pretty glum news, perhaps (since we keep ignoring the laws that apply in the World of Nature), but there is another kind of "law," too. That is the kind of "law" that applies to the human world that we create ourselves, by human action. Human laws, unlike the Laws of Nature, are not descriptions of what must and will happen in various circumstances. Human laws are prescriptions. They are written-down instructions that we give to ourselves, telling ourselves what we think we ought to do (not what we must do).

A human law tells us to stop at red lights, but we can run right through them. If we ignore our own laws, there may or may not be a penalty to be extracted. You can run a lot of red lights before you either kill somebody or are killed yourself. Maybe that's why human beings get in the habit of thinking that all laws are like that, and that maybe we can get away with ignoring the law. Human laws, yes! You can ignore or defy them, and maybe even get away with it. The Laws of Nature, though, are not subject to avoidance or evasion. What goes up, must come down!

#4 - Changing Our Human Laws
The fact that human laws are not "given," but that we can change them, is actually extremely good news. If our world is "governed" by human laws (which it is, to the extent that we follow our own laws, which most people do, most of the time), that means that we can change human realities by deciding to change the "law," the rules that direct and govern our behavior. Human laws are "prescriptions" that we issue to ourselves, telling ourselves what we think we ought to do.

We are not inevitably constrained, in other words, by any existing realities, within our human world. Again, this is quite different from our situation in the World of Nature. In the human world, what "goes up" does not necessarily have to "come down." We can change the rules. Since our laws are "prescriptions," that means that if one prescription isn't working we can write ourselves another one.

#5 - Possibility And Inevitability
Because we can change the laws that direct and govern human behavior, and by doing so change what our human activities will accomplish, "possibility" is the key operative category in the human world that we create. To the extent that we can bring ourselves to change the prescriptions that govern our behavior, we can completely change any aspect of the human world. At least, that will be the effect of changing the laws if we then actually follow them. As I say, this is quite a piece of good news! Within our human world, nothing is "inevitable," and anything is "possible." That does include, of course, both our most wonderful dreams and our most horrible nightmares!

#6 - Human Observation
We, as human beings, are born to be observers. From our earliest moments of life, we look around to see what realities exist, both in the Natural World and in the world that humans have created. If we truly understand the "Two Worlds Hypothesis," and consistently recognize that we live in two, quite different, worlds simultaneously, then we will understand that the realities we "see" in the human world, are something quite different from the realities we "see" in the World of Nature. If we truly understand that nothing is "inevitable" within the human world, and that "possibility" is the key category for understanding the human world, then we will also understand that whatever we "see" in the human world can be changed. Often, we forget this. In considering what we see around us, in the world that we create, we tend to succumb to the "is" fallacy. The fact that something "is" true (in our human world) does not mean that it is inevitable or unchangeable. Quite the opposite!

#7 - Actors Not Observers
Because we are, as humans, born "observers," and because the World of Nature is a reality that exists outside our own existence, and is a world that we have not created, it is a common mistake to attribute an absolute "reality" to the things we "observe." That may be fine as we study aspects of the World of Nature, but that doesn't work very well in the human world, because the human world is not something that exists outside of our own actions and activity - much of the action and activity having taken place in the past, of course. Human beings have created and can recreate the human world. Therefore, while it is good to know what human realities exist, as we observe them (and those human realities run from greed to goodness and from racism to reconciliation), we must always understand that our human world will be what we "make" it to be, and that the human world is the product of our "action," and that what we see is not a definition of what can exist. Observation is only helpful to us if we do not equate what we "see" and observe in our human world with a message that what we see is what must inevitably exist.

Because "possibility" is the key category for understanding the human world, which exists as it does because human beings have created it that way, then we will also understand that whatever we "see" in the human world can be changed.

#8 - Individuals
There is another important realization that can help orient us to our situation in the human world, and to how we should conduct ourselves within it. We need, always, to be very much aware of the "I," and of our individual existence - of how important and powerful each one of us is. In fact, each one of us is an independent and individual human being, and every human reality has begun, or begins, within the mind, and heart, and spirit of an individual human being. Our individual ability to act, to create, to do something unexpected and new must never be forgotten.

#9 - We Are Not Only Individuals
However, it is equally important to realize we are not just individuals. Thinking always from an individual point of view is a perspective error. While each one of us is an individual, we are also, inevitably, bound up with others, and are part of a larger community. We are in this life "together." No one can exist individually and independently. Our lives depend on others, and as we are more and more learning today, we are inevitably connected to, and are part of, every other human being in the world. To the degree that we have two political parties in the United States - which is the typical way we tend to think of it - we have a party that clamors to make sure that no one forgets that the "individual" is where everything begins, and that the ability of individuals to act is supremely important. The other party tends to emphasize the collective nature of our lives, and that we must, as a community, provide support and assistance to any individuals who need that.

Both/And! That is the truth.

#10 - Putting The Formula To Work
If the human world is something that we create - and not through a bunch of individual and separate actions added up, but through a collective effort - then we are talking about a world that we create through "politics." As the title of this daily blog asserts: "We Live In A Political World." While we are individuals,  we are inevitably a community, too. We need to debate and discuss what to do. We need to celebrate the conflict and contention that reflect the fact that we have different ideas of what we should, in the end, decide to do (together).

The overall process by which we decide what we need to do, together, is called "government," and in the United States, our process is called "self-government," a process in which we all know that we can be, and need to be, involved. That is how we govern ourselves and create the human world we want. And, of course, we can change our minds, because in our human world, the "Political World" that we most immediately inhabit, anything is possible. We can decide what to do. Should everyone have health care? Should public lands be opened up for oil development? In the human world, everything is possible, and noting is either "necessary" or "inevitable." We debate, and then we decide. Here is the "formula" that describes this process. After the debate, there is a decision. We make a "law," a prescription that tells us what we think we ought to do. That is how we govern our human world:

Politics > Law > Government

As I say, these ideas have slipped into my Syllabus and Class Schedule for LGST 196. Frequent readers of this blog will have seen these ideas before. I think this ten-point ouline is a good start on a "worldview" that is worth considering.

But, of course, this set of thoughts is really just a start. It's the "political" part of the course. Besides including a lot more about the World of Nature, I know that a "Worldview 101" course needs to recognize art, music, and the Three Commandments: Faith, Hope, and Love. 

And the greatest of these is Love.

Love for all humans. Love for this wonderful World of Nature, this blue/green planet of oceans and trees into which we have been so privileged to have been born:


Image Credits:
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1 comment:

  1. I find your course outline exciting! I wish I could take the course or be an electronic
    mouse in the corner.

    As you know, I have different ideas about the Natural World/Human World dichotomy, based on my career work as an anthropologist, and my
    subsequent study of quantum physics and quantum mechanics. I also know that this is your course that comes from your understanding and perceptions of reality. As educators, that's all we can do to serve our students in the best way we know how.

    Nonetheless, I cringe at a few things I read in the course outline.

    #1 - Two Worlds - The "World That God Made" is only one traditional way of expressing the origin of the natural world. I would hope that this concept could be presented in a non-religious context that doesn't ignore other views about the origin (if there is one) of the natural world. Also you know that I don't perceive a difference between the natural world and the human world. It's all an interconnected world. The duality expressed by the distinction between the two worlds is the source of much of our problems (see below).

    #2 - Law in the world of Nature - I would argue that there are no laws in the natural world. Law is a totally human concept that has no reality in the Universe(s). The so-called "Law of Gravity" is a hypothesis, not a law. The formula for the force of gravity between two physical bodies is merely a mathematical description of observations. There are several theories of gravitation, but none yet that explain the fundamental processes that result in gravitational attraction and repulsion.

    Also, the human constructed world is just as subject to the force of gravity as is the natural world, demonstrating that there is no division between the natural world and the human world. The universe(s) is all of a piece and cannot be separated into discrete human and non-human components. And I would argue that the inescapable principles and processes of the natural world demonstrate that we are not just dependent on the natural world, but we are inextricably entwined as interdependent parts of the natural world.

    I would say that the human constructed world is subject to human laws in addition to natural non-human principles and processes.

    I think it's important that we recognize the non-duality of the human/natural world in all aspects of our lives, perhaps especially in the classroom. This should be the basis of our approach to living and dealing with the human world, and especially in understanding why the human world, as we manage it today, is so out of balance with the natural world.

    Thanks for posting your outline. I look forward to hearing more about the class as it progresses.


Thanks for your comment!