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Volume XXXII June 1994 





An Interdisciplinary Perspective 

Siegfried G. Karsten 


Cover Design: Henry Setter 



Siegfried G. Karsten 

(Volume Editor) 

Volume 32 of West Georgia College Studies In The Social Sciences 
Francis P. Conner (Series Editor) 

Copyright® 1994 by: 
West Georgia College 
Carrollton, GA 30118 

ISBN: 1-883199-04-2 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form - 
except for brief quotation in a review or professional work - without per- 
mission from the publishers. 

Printed in the United States of America 

As far as the laws of economics 

refer to reality, 

they are not certain; 

and so far as they are certain, 

they do not refer to reality. 

Albert Einstein 



Acknowledgements vii 

Contributors viii 

Economics in an Interdisciplinary Setting - Introduction A 

Siegfried G. Karsten 

Social Justice - An Artist's Commentary 15 

Henry Setter 

Economics and Society: A Consideration of the 

Epistemology of Economics 23 

William C. Schaniel 

Economics and Social Morality 37 

Douglas Hilt 

Industrial Speenhamland: 

British "Lessons" of History 53 

James Stephen Taylor 

The Impact of Proposed Structural Legislative 

Reforms on the Attainment of Economic 

Security, Equity, and Justice 67 

Stanley M. Caress 

Institutional Conditions for Efficient 

Sustainable Development: Implementing 

Low Social Time Preference 81 

Jacob J. Krabbe 

Growth as a Prerequisite for Sustainability 97 

P.C. van den Noort 

Sustainable Development: Redefining 

Economic Policy Goals 109 

Michael Spyrou 


Humanizing the Workplace for Increased 

Productivity and Worker Satisfaction 125 

Cheryl Sink Rice and Donadrian L. Rice 

Income Taxation and Justice 147 

Richard F. Fryman 

Financial Institutions and Community Reinvestment: 

The Social Responsibility to Lend to the Nation's 

Poor Communities 161 

David Boldt 

Private Enterprise and Entrepreneurship in the 

Context of Social Market Economics 177 

Siegfried G. Karsten 



This volume represents a somewhat rare undertaking in that it com- 
piles varied efforts from distinct disciplines addressing a topic of 
common concern. Th-e editor thanks the individual authors for their 
contributions and cooperation in making this issue possible. The 
editor is especially indebted to Professor Henry Setter for the de- 
sign of the cover. He also expresses his appreciation to Mrs. Liz Key 
and Mr. Vedat Giinay for technical assistance, to Mr. Aydin Tasdelen 
for assisting in the preparation and editing of the manuscripts, and 
to Mrs. Ellen Karsten, for proof reading and valuable suggestions. 



David J. Boldt serves as Assistant Professor of Economics at West 
Georgia College, CarroUton, GA 30118. He earned his B.A. in Eco- 
nomics at San Diego State University, his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees 
at the University of New Mexico. Previously, he held positions as 
an Economist with the Bureau of Business and Economic Research, 
University of New Mexico, and as a Research Analyst with SRI In- 
ternational. He has presented and published papers in the areas of 
regional economic development, environmental economics, and 
economic education. 

Stanley M. Caress holds the position of Assistant Professor of Po- 
litical Science at West Georgia College, CarroUton, GA 30118. His 
B.A. and M.A. degrees were earned at San Jose State University, his 
Ph.D. at the University of California at Riverside. He has served as 
Lecturer at California State University at Long Beach and as Assis- 
tant Director of the Center for Future Democracy. His research in- 
terests are in the areas of American politics, governmental bureau- 
cratic behavior, and legislative reforms, in which he has published 
two books: Dynamics of American Politics and Issues in State Politics 
and Administration. 

Richard F. Fryman has been Professor of Economics and Chair- 
man of the Department of Economics, West Georgia College, Car- 
roUton, GA 30118, since 1986. He received his B.S. and M.A. de- 
grees from Miami University, Ohio; his Ph.D. was earned at the 
University of Illinois. He previously served as Professor of Econom- 
ics at Southern Illinois University and has had teaching assignments 
in the Virgin Islands, Malaysia, and London. His research interests 
are in the area of public finance and taxation. 

Douglas Hilt has held the positions of Professor and Chair of the 
Department of European Languages and Literature at the Univer- 
sity of Hawai'i at Manoa, Honululu, HI 96822, since 1988, where he 
has twice been named Principal Humanities Scholar. He received 
his B.A. in German and French at the University of Bristol in his 
native England, and wrote his M.A. in Spanish at the Universidad 
de las Americas in Mexico. His doctorate, from the University of 


Arizona, dealt with German and Spanish comparative Hterature. 
He has taught languages and literature in Europe, Canada, Mexico, 
and the United States, and was Department Chair of Foreign Lan- 
guages at West Georgia College for ten years. In the summer of 1982 
he was a Fulbright scholar to Germany. He has written extensively 
in the cross-cultural fields of European history and comparative lit- 
erature, including two books: Ten Against Napoleon and The Troubled 
Trinity - Godoy and the Spanish Monarchs. His current research con- 
cerns German and Spanish exiles who came to the United States 
following the Spanish Civil War. 

Siegfried G. Karsten is Professor of Economics at West Georgia 
College, Carrollton, GA30118. His teaching career began at the Uni- 
versity of Utah, where he earned B.S. (Mathematics), M.S., and Ph.D. 
(Economics) degrees. He served on the faculties of the Universities 
of Utah and Wyoming and at Jilin University, China, as Fulbright 
Professor of Economics (1986/87), and participated as a Fulbright 
Scholar in seminars in Germany (1984,1991) and India (1989). Dur- 
ing his professional career he had assignments as a systems analyst 
for Hercules Powder Company and conducted demand and elas- 
ticity studies with regard to electricity and natural gas for the State 
of Utah and served as a consultant in rate hearings before the Pub- 
lic Service Commission of Utah. Besides writing columns for the 
newspaper, he has published articles on methodology, industrial 
policy, consumer behavior, environment and development, the so- 
cial market economy, China's and the Soviet Union's approaches to 
socialist social market economics, and on other topics (also in China, 
Germany, and the Netherlands). Translations of his book. Business 
Forecasting and Economic Cycles, and of several of his articles were 
published in China. 

Jacob J. Krahbe, Tulpenlaan 1, 6866 DT Heelsum, The Netherlands, 
presently serves as Visiting Professor of Economics and as Coordi- 
nator of the M.Sc. Program of Environmental and Resource Eco- 
nomics at the Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Chania (Crete), 
Greece. He has held the positions of Associate Professor of Econom- 
ics and Head of the Department of General Economics at 
Wageningen Agricultural University, The Netherlands. His academic 
career began with a two year practical experience in the banking 


and trade sector of Indonesia. He earned his M.Sc. Degree at Erasmus 
University and his Ph.D. at Wageningen Agricultural University, 
The Netherlands. His research and publications are in the areas of 
economic theory, history of economic thought, and in environmen- 
tal and resource economics. 

P.C. van den Noort holds the positions of Professor of Economics 
and Chairman of the Department of Agricultural Economics and 
Policy at Wangeningen Agricultural University, P.O. Box 8130, 6700 
EW Wageningen, The Netherlands. He has served in teaching posi- 
tions at Michigan State University and at the University of Limburg, 
Belgium, and as a consultant for the OECD, the European Commis- 
sion, and for the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture. He has published 
in the areas of agriculture and the environment, land use problems, 
technology, and economic methodology - most recently a book on 
Chaos Theory and Evolution. 

Cheryl Sink Rice is a sociologist and free lance writer, residing at- 
711 N. Lakeshore Dr., Carrollton, GA 30117. She earned her B.A. in 
Sociology at West Virginia Wesleyan College and her M.S. (Sociol- 
ogy) and M.Ed. (Rehabilitation Services) at Auburn University. She 
has taught sociology at the University of Tuskegee, Auburn Uni- 
versity, and West Georgia College. She is active as a free lance writer 
and has published articles in Parenting and Marriage and the Family 

Donadrian L. Rice serves as Associate Professor of Psychology 
and Chairman of the Department of Psychology at West Georgia 
College, Carrollton, GA 30118. He was awarded the B.A. (Psychol- 
ogy) at Wofford College, the M.A. (Clinical Psychology) at Western 
Carolina University, and the Ph.D. (Psychology) at the Saybrook 
Institute in San Francisco. He is a licensed Professional Counselor 
and a Marriage and Family Therapist. Previously, he has taught at 
Auburn University and served as a therapist in mental health in 
Lee County, Alabama. He is co-editor of a book Psychology of the 
Martial Arts, member of the editorial board of The Humanistic Psy- 
chologist, and past editor of the Transpersonal Psychology Interest Group 
Newsletter. His research interests and publications are in the areas 
of humanistic psychology, transpersonal psychology, medical psy- 
chology, psychotherapy, and the psychology of martial arts. 

William C. Schaniel is Associate Professor of Economics at West 
Georgia College, Carrollton, GA 30118. Prior to coming to West 
Georgia College, he has held teaching positions at Tennessee's 
Tusculum College and Maryville College. He received his B.B.A. 
degree from Gonzaga University and his M.A. and Ph.D. from the 
University of Tennessee at Knoxville. His research interests and 
publications are in the fields of economic anthropology (with spe- 
cial attention to Africa, India, and Polynesia), the economic history 
of the Maori of New Zealand, and institutional analyses of economic 

Henry Setter holds the position of Professor of Art at West Georgia 
College, Carrollton, GA 30118. He studied at the University of Day- 
ton (Ohio), where he received his B.S. (Education) degree, at the 
University of Fribourg (Switzerland) and at the Gregorian Pontifi- 
cal University (Rome). His professional art training started at the 
Dayton Art Institute (Ohio), continued at the Ecole du Louvre (Paris), 
and culminated at the University of Georgia, where he earned his 
M.F.A. (Sculpture). He has taught Latin, German, theology, and art 
during his thirty-seven year teaching career in high schools and 
colleges. As a professional sculptor he has completed twenty major 
commissions in the U.S. and Europe. His work has been honored 
with numerous awards in competitive exhibitions and juried shows. 

Michael Spyrou is Assistant Professor of Geography and Planning 
at West Georgia College, Carrollton, GA 30118. His B.A. in Geogra- 
phy and Education was awarded at Cyprus College, Cyprus; his 
M.A. and Ph.D. were earned at the University of Oregon. He has 
taught at the University of Oregon, University of North Carolina at 
Wilmington, and in public and private schools on Cyprus. He has 
also held consulting positions with the Rural Center of North Caro- 
lina and DARE, Inc., dealing with the redevelopment of downtown 
Wilmington, NC. Research interests and publications are in the ar- 
eas of rural development (economic, community, and housing) and 

James Stephen Taylor serves as Professor of History and Chair- 
man of the Department of History at West Georgia College, Carroll- 
ton, GA 30118. He earned his B.A. degree at Northwestern Univer- 


sity, his M.A. at Georgetown University, and his Ph.D. at Stanford 
University He also studied at the London School of Economics and 
Political Science and at the Institute of Historical Research in Lon- 
don. His teaching career began at Ohio State University and he held 
the Koch Chair in the Humanities at Wells College. His research 
interests focus on British social welfare history, especially of the eigh- 
teenth and early nineteenth centuries, i.e., of the early period of the 
"industrial revolution." He has published articles and two books in 
this field - Poverty, Migration and Settlement in the Industrial Revolu- 
tion and Jonas Hanway (an analysis of Christian mercantilism). 




Economics in an Interdisciplinary 
Perspective - Introduction 

Siegfried G. Karsten 

How societies forge and maintain the bonds which guarantee their 
material survival constitutes the basic problem of economics. Simi- 
larly, the basic problem of production is to devise socioeconomic 
institutions which will mobilize human energy for creative and pro- 
ductive purposes to attain as high a level of well-being as possible 
with a given resource base. This necessitates that societies efficiently 
organize systems of producing goods and services which they need 
for their own perpetuation. Furthermore, they need to arrange for 
systems of effectively distributing the fruits of production among 
their citizens in order to stimulate more production. In the final 
analysis, the continuing existence as a prosperous nation hinges on 
the tacit precondition that the mechanism for socioeconomic orga- 
nization will continue to function effectively. 

People are prosperous, not as individuals, but as members of a 
prosperous society. Hence, people's material well-being is actually 
only as reliable as the bonds which forge them into a socioeconomic 
whole. This implies a holistic, an interdisciplinary approach to so- 
cioeconomic challenges, integrating economics with other social and 
humanistic sciences in defining a paradigm which best addresses 
the needs and aspirations of society and of its people. 


Wilhelm Roepke, a great defender of the principle of a free mar- 
ket economy, was of the opinion that effective competition needs to 
take place within a framework of ethical economic behavior, of so- 
cial and economic justice, of human dignity and decency, and of 
community and solidarity. (17, pp. 63, 119, 133-34, 182, 194) 

In Roepke's view, it is a "catastrophic mistake" to assume that 
the "market system" is autonomous in nature, that it is a natural 
condition existing outside the political sphere, that it automatically 
assures honorable conduct and solidarity, requiring no defense or 
support. (17, pp. 118, 127-28) In other words, a viable market 
economy needs a moral, political, and institutional framework, i.e.. 

2 S.G. Karsten: Economics in an Interdisciplinary Perspective - Introduction 

minimum standards of business ethics (which now receive increas- 
ing attention in schools of business), a strong state, sensible regula- 
tions, and anti-monopoly policies. Therefore, the state ought to play 
a positive though limited role in assuring not only the proper po- 
litical and social framework for a free market economy but also for 
a "free, happy, prosperous, just, and well-ordered society." (17, pp. 
XV, 52, 181, 186, 192) To strengthen such a framework, he suggested 
"conformable intervention," consisting of policies which least in- 
terfere with the "nerve center of the price mechanism." (17, pp. 
xv-xvi, 159-63) Roepke's basic premises have, at least in part, been 
incorporated and applied in the paradigm of a social market 
economy (e.g., in West Germany). The last paper in this volume. 
Private Enterprise and Entrepreneurship in the Context of Social Market 
Economics, by Siegfried Karsten, discusses these propositions and 
their applicability in greater detail. 

The front cover of this volume, designed by Henry Setter, reflects 
these concepts of Wilhelm Roepke, as well as those of a social mar- 
ket economy, in his depiction of Themis, the Greco-Roman personi- 
fication of wisdom and justice. Similarly, the Preamble of the U.S. 
Constitution states: 

We the People of the United States, in order to form a more 
perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, 
provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare 
and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Pos- 
terity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United 

What is meant by domestic tranquility, social and economic jus- 
tice, and by general welfare? It appears that these concepts form the 
"imaginary" battleground between the so-called conservatives and 
liberals of all shades and orientations. The premises of social and 
economic justice, however defined, that each citizen should be able 
to lead a "productive" life, that unemployment, inflation, an unsat- 
isfactory rate of economic growth, poverty, and a polluted environ- 
ment, to mention some, are undesirable, are commonly accepted in 
the U.S. It is also commonly agreed that the purpose of govern- 
ment is to ensure life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Where 
the disagreement arises is how to address these challenges. 

Pope John Paul II, in his Encyclical Centesimus Annus, empha- 
sized that although "the free market is the most efficient instrument 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 3 

for utilizing resources and effectively responding to needs. ... there 
are many human needs which find no place on the market." Fur- 
thermore, "there exists something which is due to man because he is 
man, by reason of his lofty dignity." (10, pp. 66-67) 

Henry Setter, in Social Justice - An Artist's Commentary, asserts that 
"justice is the hinge upon which the individual and society should 
pivot with equity, impartiality, propriety and rationality." In his 
perception, social justice, addressing numerous social challenges, 
is not only a matter of economics but involves actions to restructure 
socioeconomic institutions, which are beyond the scope of individual 
action. As he sees it, the aim of social justice is to promote the com- 
mon good by obliging individuals to work collectively for society. 
The application of social justice does not eliminate the need for col- 
laboration among individuals in checking and balancing socioeco- 
nomic institutions nor does it replace government as an actor on 
the socioeconomic scene. 

Walter Eucken, one of the architects of the West German economic 
miracle, was of the opinion that no socioeconomic policy is viable 
in the long run which does not take into account people's desires 
for a life in dignity. Hence, he called for the conscious shaping of a 
socioeconomic system that also makes allowance for human free- 
dom, justice, economic security or protection from economic calam- 
ity beyond the individual's control, and efficient economic processes 
to the maximum extent possible, combining advantages of compe- 
tition with concerns for equity and justice - the hallmark of his 
paradigm of a "social market economy." (3, pp. 123-32, 182; 4, pp. 


These concepts of dignity, justice, tranquility, common welfare, 
and others, in essence involve value judgements. William Schaniel 
addresses the question of valuing means and ends as well as the 
role of "trust" in traditional economic models in his paper Econom- 
ics and Society: A Consideration of the Epistemology of Economics. Dem- 
onstrating the interrelationship of epistemology, economic anthro- 
pology, and "trust," he stresses the necessity of an interdisciplinary 
perspective and approach in addressing economic, political, as well 
as social challenges. Schaniel essentially makes the point that socio- 
economic systems do not function in terms of fixed and stable rela- 

4 S.G. Karsten: Economics in an Interdisciplinary Perspective - Introduction 

tionships but are subject to dynamic processes of change, involving 
communication, feedback, and continuity, as posited by "structur- 
alism" and "functionalism." (11) Similarly, "quantum theory" chal- 
lenges a mechanistic picture of the socioeconomic world. Metaphysi- 
cal issues such as ethics, morality, and truth are as important to sci- 
ence as empirical evidence. Furthermore, training, research, preju- 
dices, customs, habits, etc., affect the basic assumptions and pre- 
mises which the analyst formulates. (12) 

New methodological insights brought to light by "chaos theory" 
point out that an important characteristic of many economic vari- 
ables is that they can and do change unexpectedly and discontinu- 
ously, with their long-term effects on the economy often being un- 
predictable. Although these changes or events may appear to be 
random, they are not - being unpredictable does not necessarily 
imply randomness. Chaos theory postulates that every event is 
unique. Its occurrence distinguishes it from all other events and is 
influenced by the entire labyrinth of past events. Hence, socioeco- 
nomic phenomena cannot be separated from the universe of which 
they are a part and then be reconnected in some causal relationship 
with other "isolated" events. (16, p. 226) 

Douglas Hilt's Economics and Social Morality reinforces the points 
made by Setter and Schaniel. As he discusses, the socioeconomic 
challenges facing society, such as energy, defense, education, trans- 
portation, the inner cities, medical care, and special interests, to 
mention some, are all interrelated. He calls on educators, politicians, 
and community leaders to be more aware of the fact that all people 
are sitting in the same boat, to consider a more humanitarian ap- 
proach, greater balancing of the material and immaterial aspects of 
life, and paying greater attention to the insights which social sci- 
ences and the arts can contribute, i.e., advocating in essence an in- 
terdisciplinary approach towards a more humane socioeconomic 


Stephen Taylor provides the reader with historical insights to- 
wards this end in his review oi Industrial Speenhamland: British "Les- 
sons" of History, furnishing valuable hints for contemporary policy 
makers. The lesson to be learned from the "Speenhamland system" 
is that a social safety net can play an important role in a dynamic 

YJest Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 5 

industrial society. Taylor points out that the British patchwork of 
"social welfare provisions" of more than 200 years ago not only cre- 
ated greater social stability but, most importantly, significantly pro- 
moted the "industrial revolution." He finds so-called "evidence" 
that these social safety net measures under-motivated or immobi- 
lized the poor to be mostly anecdotal and inconsistent. Furthermore, 
he observes that "social welfare provisions" are most satisfactorily 
employed in areas which are economically growing and expand- 
ing. This is in stark contrast to contemporary popular held notions 
that "welfare" tends to deprive workers, and especially the poor, of 
incentives to work and to limit their number of children. Taylor's 
contention may have received additional credibility from a recent 
study conducted at the National Bureau of Economic Research. This 
study concluded, contrary to emotional charged rhetoric, that the 
institution of Canada's national health insurance program increased 
both long-term employment (by about 2 percent) and also wages. 
These results are attributed to Canada's health insurance system 
improving both workers' health and mobility, resulting in higher 
worker productivity, which, in turn, induces firms to hire more 
people. (6, p. 22) 

Rawl's theory of justice, which essentially gives the moral justifi- 
cation for many socioeconomic policies stipulates that 

... all social primary goods - liberty and opportunity, income 
and wealth, and the bases of self-respect - are to be distrib- 
uted equally unless an unequal distribution of any or all of 
these goods is to the advantage of the least favored. (15, p. 

Although this, or similar theories of justice, have been applied to 
justify inequalities in the distribution of income, in favor of upper 
income groups, it could also be used to justify universal health care, 
education, etc. 

For example, it is generally recommended that former so-called 
communist-oriented socioeconomic systems set up social safety nets 
to facilitate their transitions to market economies, as is being done 
in China and strongly suggested for Russia and other countries. A 
rational social safety net, combined with welfare reform, education, 
training, and health care, has the potential of invigorating the labor 
force, increasing motivation and mobility. As Taylor suggests in his 
research on "Christian Mercantilism," national wealth may be more 

6 S.G. Karsten: Economics in an Interdisciplinary Perspective - Introduction 

meaningfully defined in terms of a skilled, healthy, and motivated 
labor force rather than in terms of the quantity of non-human re- 
sources. The experiences of Japan and Switzerland may serve as 
appropriate examples. 

Taylor also suggests that the purpose of a socioeconomic system 
is "high civilization" - human dignity and a balance between the 
collective and individual good, not primarily greed and 
self-gratification. Zbigniew Brzezinski recently warned of a spiri- 
tual crisis in the U.S. and other industrialized countries. He sounded 
the alert that "consumerism and hedonism are becoming our soci- 
etal standards. Freedom is increasingly defined as the accumula- 
tion of rights, entitlements, and a license for any form of 
self-gratification." (1, p. 28) 

Stanley Caress, in The Impact of Proposed Structural Legislative Re- 
forms on the Attainment of Economic Security, Equity, and Justice, takes 
the position that the national government can and should play a 
significant role in actively promoting a greater sense of community 
and solidarity, as well as subsidiarity and complementarity, as 
Brzezinski apparently suggests. As Caress posits, the government, 
especially the Congress, has the power to provide society with 
greater economic security, economic fairness, and economic equity. 
The question is, of course, whether Congress will do so. In this light, 
the issue of Congressional reform is essential for a more equitable 
social and economic order. The author defines economic justice in 
his article in terms of all citizens having fair opportunities to accu- 
mulate wealth, to enjoy a comfortable standard of living, and to 
share in the economic resources of their nation. 


Jacob Krabbe adds another dimension, in his Institutional Condi- 
tions for Efficient Sustainable Development, to the points made by 
Stanley Caress. Krabbe expresses concern about the basic structure 
of a continuously evolving system of economic interactions which 
ignores the role of "nature." He advocates an "economic structure 
policy," defined to maintain and to improve a basic system of insti- 
tutions that focuses on economic efficiency. However, economic ef- 
ficiency is not to be defined solely in terms of "hedonistic" prefer- 
ences and "natural" factors, but more importantly with reference to 
social value judgements to make the socioeconomic system more 

' West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 7 

humane. This, in turn, demands a modification of the traditional 
concept of "efficiency." Furthermore, "economic efficiency" needs 
to be revaluated in the context of what he refers to as "sustainability 
policy," a policy which pays close attention to "nature-preserving" 
technological developments. 

Krabbe is of the opinion that customary interest rates do not sat- 
isfactorily ration scarce resources when nature and her resources 
are taken for granted. To deal with this more rationally, he recom- 
mends the establishment of a "normative discount rate," which 
should evolve in the political process of a community of people who 
accept responsibility for the long-term interests of mankind. Simi- 
larly, Ulrich Hampicke suggested the adoption of a "rational-just 
marginal interest" - one which is free of elements of both usury and 
of irrational myopic motives - to facilitate intragenerational 
allocative and distributive effects. (7, pp. 402, 410) In both instances, 
however, the question that remains unanswered is how to measure 
such a "normative discount rate" or "rational-just marginal inter- 

In line with Krabbe's call for "nature-preserving technological 
developments," P.C. van den Noort's article: Growth as a Prerequisite 
for Sustainability emphasizes the importance of a continuous pro- 
cess of inventions and innovations. Van den Noort stresses that 
"nature-preserving" policies cannot be equated with a 
"zero-growth" policy, even in a highly economically developed so- 
ciety. As he illustrates, adoption and implementation of a 
"zero-growth" strategy would lead to a collapse of the existing so- 
cioeconomic order. Such an approach would lessen people's will- 
ingness to make sacrifices for the common good, e.g., for preserv- 
ing and improving the environment, for the social infrastructure, 
and meeting other socioeconomic challenges. As a result, the stan- 
dard of living would suffer, society would be de-stabilized, and 
people's desire for a life in dignity and freedom would be called 
into question. In other words, "sustainability" would be impossible 
under a scenario of "zero growth." 

Michael Spyrou's Sustainable Development: Redefining Economic 
Policy Goals rounds out the arguments made by Krabbe and van 
den Noort. This article examines the concept of "sustainable devel- 
opment" in greater detail; it focuses on economic development, and 
reviews applicable policies. Spyrou is of the opinion that a policy of 

8 S.G. Karsten: Economics in an Interdisciplinary Perspective - Introduction 

"sustainable development" would enjoy broad-based support due 
to its underlying synthesis of people's concerns for justice, equity, 
economic efficiency, environmental integrity, and for a secure and 
sustainable livelihood. As he points out, natural resources need to 
be developed and preserved for the benefit of the many and not 
merely for reasons of profit for a few. It reflects people's awareness 
that environmental protection and economic growth and develop- 
ment are complementary and not necessarily antagonistic in na- 
ture. In other words, people and nature are interdependent with 
many different acceptable ways of using nature and her resources 
rationally. To facilitate this, he recommends a system of "cost ac- 
counting of natural resources," including the defining of a "gross 
ecological product" (GEP) to replace society's current GDP (gross 
domestic product), which does not account for the depletion and 
preservation of the environment and natural resources. Krabbe's 
suggested "normative discount rate" or Hampicke's recommended 
"rational-just interest" could serve important functions in defining 
such a cost accounting system. 

To fully account for the costs of using "nature," Hans Immler 
recommends that she be treated as a factor of production, like labor 
and capital, in order that nature's material wealth, including hu- 
man labor, is not destroyed but preserved and expanded. He is of 
the opinion that "nature" can no longer be taken for granted or which 
can be exploited without substantial costs to society in the form of 
air, soil, and water pollution, rapidly depleting natural resources, 
soil corrosion, and environmentally-conditioned diseases affecting 
not only man but also animals and the plant world. (8, pp. 15-25, 

To strengthen "sustainable development," Immler advocates that 
traditional concepts of a market economy be transformed into those 
of an "ecological market economy," based on four basic principles: 
(a) Nature is productive, (b) Nature is produced, (c) Man and soci- 
ety are products of nature. And, (d) Man and society create or en- 
hance nature. (9, p. 224) To restructure the socioeconomic setting 
according to the concept of an "ecological market economy," he 
outlines a ten-point program consisting of: (a) Commitment to an 
ecological-oriented order, (b) Set-up of a functional "nature system." 
(c) Minimum compensation of nature (for its preservation), (d) Bud- 
geting or cost accounting for nature, (e) A strategic nature initia- 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 9 

tive. (f) Ecological re-orientation of business and industry, (g) Econo- 
mizing of nature through more ''market and planning." (h) An eco- 
logical oriented legal system, (i) Work and environment - full em- 
ployment through the rehabilitation of nature. And (j), preserva- 
tion of nature in general and of endangered species in particular. (9, 
pp. 296-313) 


The paper by Cheryl and Donadrian Rice, Humanizing the Work- 
place for Increased Productivity and Worker Satisfaction, focuses on the 
human element in the production process from a psychological per- 
spective. The authors advance the argument that a more humane 
workplace, characterized by greater flexibility and substantive com- 
munication between labor and management, improves solidarity, 
complementarity, and does not violate the principle of subsidiarity. 
When both managers and workers learn to communicate more ef- 
fectively with each other and when they become more sensitive to 
each others' attitudes and feelings, they also tend to become more 
responsive to change and exhibit greater adaptability to changing 
requirements in the workplace. Hence, greater productivity can be 
achieved, which, in turn, translates into better profits, more invest- 
ments in plant and equipment, higher economic growth, rising in- 
comes, a higher standard of living, greater social harmony, as well 
as improved human dignity and social and economic justice. 

The relevancy of the arguments by Rice and Rice for modifying 
man's values towards a more rational and humane consideration 
of the production process in general and of people in particular, has 
been borne out by Jon Wisman. He calls attention to the importance 
of synchronizing production processes with labor and management 
as more equal partners. Wisman poses the question whether "de- 
mocracy," with its underlying assumption of sharing responsibili- 
ties in political decision-making processes, might not also be appli- 
cable to other social domains, especially the workplace. (18, pp. 
11-23) He is of the opinion that in an affluent, dynamic, industrial 
society, there exists no long-term alternative to workplace democ- 
racy. It will inevitably be brought about by intensifying domestic 
and global competition, and by the necessity to increase productiv- 
ity, profits, and the standard of living - points which are also made 
by Rice and Rice. 

10 S.G. Karsten: Economics in an Interdisciplinary Perspective - Introduction 

Richard Fryman, discussing the question of Income Taxation and 
Justice, suggests how the attainment of the above outHned goals may 
be better faciUtated through tax reform. By analyzing the presently 
applied structure of a progressive income tax, he concludes that it 
is neither just, fair, nor humane. As a solution, he recommends re- 
placing the current system of progressive income taxation with a 
flat tax, exempting low income levels from taxation. Fryman is of 
the opinion that this in itself would be tantamount to a progressive 
tax but one which is fairer, more just, and more humane. He conjec- 
tures that this type of tax reform would result in greater honesty 
and compliance, enabling government to collect more tax revenues 
with the same tax structure. Hence, more funds would be available 
for meeting socioeconomic challenges, stimulating economic activ- 
ity, and, therefore, move society in the direction of greater prosperity. 

The proposition that financial institutions ought to be mobilized 
for community development and socioeconomic objectives is dis- 
cussed in David Boldt's paper: Financial Institutions and Community 
Reinvestment: The Social Responsibility to Lend to the Nation's Poor Com- 
munities. Boldt is of the opinion that banks, savings and loan and 
other financial institutions have a social responsibility, if not a moral 
obligation, to pay attention to the credit needs of local, especially 
impoverished, communities. Similarly, he argues that it is neces- 
sary for the federal government to play a more active role in com- 
munity development. In order to face the socioeconomic challenge 
to raise the standard of living in the inner cities and in rural com- 
munities, it is essential that the private and the government sectors 
complement each other towards achieving the social objective of 
improving and increasing the housing stock of poor communities, 
to reduce poverty, to create jobs, and, therefore, to lay the founda- 
tion for a greater sense of community, solidarity, fairness, social and 
racial harmony, and a more dignified life for a major segment of the 


The common theme that permeates the varied papers in this vol- 
ume is that a meaningful private enterprise system needs to take 
into consideration society's social interests and the interrelationship 
between ethics, laws, government, and public policy. Siegfried 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 11 

Karsten (in Private Enterprise and Entrepreneurship in the Context of 
Social Market Economics) stresses that 

Private enterprise and entrepreneurship are part of a wider 
culture. They do not exist in a vacuum but are conditioned by 
human aspirations as well as by socioeconomic, cultural, po- 
litical, and environmental factors. A free enterprise system 
which sticks to passive positions with regard to social chal- 
lenges or rigidly insists on maintaining the status quo will find 
itself increasingly out of step with changing socioeconomic 

The renown journalist and scholar Will Lissner observed: 

Early in my life I was impressed by the fact that social life was 
subject to two movements, one toward ethical and physical 
progress, the other toward entropy (deterioration). ... I came 
to believe that it was only through human intervention that 
the former can be strengthened and the latter weakened. (2, p. 

In the words of Alfred Marshall: "government should govern as 
little as possible but not do as little as possible." (14, pp. 336, 363) 
This mandates, in essence, a "functional" free enterprise system, 
which not only accommodates economic growth and change but 
which also makes allowance for human dignity and freedom, inte- 
grating economic principles with concepts of order and justice. As 
the papers in this volume imply, and as this writer emphasizes, for 
our socioeconomic system to remain viable in the long run, it needs 
to transform itself into a more "socially responsive market economy." 
The latter is thought of as a free enterprise system which combines 
individual initiative with social progress. It should be a paradigm 
within which entrepreneurs and citizens are encouraged to coordi- 
nate their own interests with those of society. 

The observations and conclusions of the varied papers in this 
volume may be summarized by Erhard Eppler's observation that a 
socioeconomic system only possesses validity if it offers people as 
much freedom and self-determination as feasible, satisfies as many 
of their needs and wants as possible, and safeguards for future gen- 
erations conditions for a high quality of life. (5, p. 128) Or, quoting 
Alfred Marshall: "... the wellbeing of the whole people should be 
the ultimate goal of all private and public policy." (13, p. 47) 

12 S.G. Karsten: Economics in an Interdisciplinary Perspective - Introduction 


1 . Brzezinski, Zbigniew. "Crisis of the Spirit," Interview, American Legion, Janu- 

ary 1994, pp. 28-29, 58-62. 

2. Contemporary Authors. Vol. 101. Ed. Frances C. Locker. Detroit, MI: Gale Re- 

search Company, 1981. 

3. Eucken, Walter. Grundsatze der Wirtschaftspolitik. Eds. Edith Eucken Erdsieg 

and Paul K. Hensel. Hamburg: Rohwolt Verlag, 1959. 

4. . "Das Ordnungspolitische Problem," Ordo-Jahrbuch fiir die Ordnung 

von Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft, 1, 1948, pp. 56-90. 

5. Eppler, Erhard. "Wie gut sind die Besseren?" Der Spiegel, 8 February 1993, 

pp. 128-33. 

6. Farrell, Christopher. "Canada's Health Plan Gives Employment Figures A 

Rosy Glow," Business Week, 28 February 1994, p. 22. 

7. Hampicke, Ulrich. Okologische Okonomie. Opladen, Germany: Westdeutscher 

Verlag, 1992. 

8. Immler, Hans. Natur in der okonomischen Theorie. Opladen, Germany: 

Westdeutscher Verlag, 1985. 

9. , Yom Wert der Natur. Opladen, Germany: Westdeutscher Verlag, 


10. John Paul II. Centesimus Annus. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1 May 


11. Karsten, Siegfried G. "Dialectics, Functionalism and Structuralism in Eco- 

nomic Thought," American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 42, April 
1983, pp. 179-92. 

12. . "Quantum Theory and Social Economics," American Journal of 

Economics and Sociology, 49, October 1990, pp. 385-99. 

13. Marshall, Alfred. Principles of Economics. 9th ed. London: MacMillan and Com- 

pany, 1961. 

14. Pigou, A. C, ed. Memorials of Marshall. New York: Augustus M. Kelley, 1966. 

15. Rawls, John. A Theory of Justice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 


16. Rifkin, Jeremy. Entropy. New York: Viking Press, 1980. 

17. Roepke, Wilhelm. The Social Crisis of Our Time. New Brunswick, NJ: Transac- 

tion Publishers, 1992. 

18. Wisman, Jon D., ed. Worker Empowerment - The Struggle for Workplace Democ- 

racy. New York: Bootstrap Press, 1991. 

Social Justice - An Artist's Commentary 

Henry Setter 

Themis, the Greco-Roman personification of Wisdom and Jus- 
tice, as depicted on the cover of this journal, testifies to the bUnd 
objectivity required to guarantee impartial equity and genuine hon- 
esty in providing to every human being what is rightfully due. 
Themis ranked as the most important of the lesser gods among the 
Titans and the Olympians, who vanquished the Titans and cast them 
into the dark, bottomless Tartarus. Unlike her disgraced Titan broth- 
ers, Themis merited honor and favor on Mount Olympus. 

The three Fates - Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos - are credited 
with matchmaking the wedding of Zeus with Themis at a time well 
before Hera, Zeus' later Olympian wife, ever assumed her regal 
marital role. For all the jealousy harbored by Hera for the numer- 
ous escapades of her husband Zeus, Hera always remembers that it 
was Themis who handed her the cup of nectar on the day of her 
enthronement and wedding on Mount Olympus. 

At Mount Olympus and at the Temple of Delphi, Themis offered 
counsel and service. She maintained order there and organized the 
Olympian and Delphic ceremonials. On earth, Themis protected the 
just and punished the guilty. She was the goddess of justice. Judges 
declared law upon her advice and decreed so in her name. Her wis- 
dom prevailed at public assemblies and at the deliverance of oracles. 
Her attributes are the blindfold, a pair of scales and the cornucopia. 
Deliberately, her sword, a symbol of retribution and punitive sanc- 
tion, has been omitted. 

I. Justice 

Speaking architectonically, we assert that justice is the hinge upon 
which the individual and society should pivot with equity, impar- 
tiality, propriety and rationality. Although justice can be perceived 
both positively as "giving everyone what is due" or negatively as 
"rectifying the wrong" through some form of compensation or pun- 
ishment, it will be the positive perception that will be the primary 
concern of this commentary. For this reason, no sword! 


16 H. Setter: Social Justice - An Artist's Commentary 

A further clarification appears to be in order. Real distinctions 
need to be made concerning the variant forms of individual and 
true Social Justice. Confusion among speakers and writers seems to 
prevail. At the outset it must be understood that it is not sufficient 
to address Social Justice issues merely in terms of commutative jus- 
tice, distributive justice or legal justice. Briefly, commutative justice 
is the virtue exercised between equals; that is, the due given to the 
fellow person. Distributive justice influences the conduct between 
superiors and subjects, between the "boss" and the "worker." Legal 
justice regulates the individual's conduct toward society and soci- 
etal conduct toward the individual. Alas, the latter virtue can be 
officially binding without the law being truly just. Legal power can 
be, and has been, abused. 

II. Social Justice and Restructuring 

Social issues concerned with the injustices burdening society at 
any given moment in history are best addressed by the cooperative 
effort of those directly and immediately involved. It is the day-in 
and day-out experts in a specific realm of inequity who must at- 
tempt to rebuild or restructure that institution of society that is hin- 
dering the Common Good. Individuals in influential positions may 
well recognize the social problems of inequity and may eagerly de- 
sire to rectify the injustices, but they find that alone, by themselves, 
they are helpless. For that reason, everyone bears the personal re- 
sponsibility to collaborate with others also qualified in the respec- 
tive areas of expertise. Social Justice is concerned with the restruc- 
turing of those social institutions which hinder or prevent the Com- 
mon Good; it is not merely limited to issues of economics. 

Earlier in this century, the guaranteeing of a living family wage 
for bread-winners was a major preoccupation of Social Justice in 
the western world. Today, it is evident that the same problem still 
exists in some of the less fortunate regions of the world. For that 
reason. Social Justice still needs to be applied in those countries. 
However, other violations of the Common Good in the western 
world also require the application of Social Justice by those of us 
who enjoy experiential know-how. 

It is easy to be critical of the social institutions which seem to 
cause the wholesale abuses of the Common Good: drug-dealing, 
violence, massive ignorance, prejudice, illness and disease, inner-city 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 17 

crime, homelessness, political corruption, deception in the media, 
bribery, war, bigotry, etc. But how difficult it is to assume personal 
responsibility for collaboration with others, who share the same 
expertise, to make a difference for the Common Good. For example, 
those in the medical profession fittingly should be the most able to 
rectify the inequities that deny health care to the disadvantaged. 
Obviously, when the medical profession fails in its duty to make 
health care available to all, then the government must justly inter- 
vene. The individual medical practitioner, for all the nobility of good 
intention, is helpless. Ideally, the societal institution of medical prac- 
titioners can affect the availability of health care for everyone; not 
just for only those who are wealthy enough to pay. 

Although the ancients recognized Themis as the personification 
of Justice and Wisdom, the concept "justice" seems to have been a 
vague optative for all of the virtues (sometimes called "cardinal" 
virtues from the Latin "cardo" meaning hinge) that would make 
for law-abiding citizens. Plato and Aristotle, in typical Greek fash- 
ion, preferred the just man - the self-disciplined man - whose pas- 
sions or emotions are always controlled by reason. Uncontrolled 
passion was the mark of the brutish animal. Greek sculptures 
preached the idealism, the perfection, befitting gods and men. In 
fact, the perfect man was the prototype for their Greek god. 
Protagoras had asserted in the fifth century B.C.: panWn chrematon 
metron anthropos, MAN IS THE MEASURE OF ALL THINGS. Later, 
Stoic philosophers concluded that justice was naturally discover- 
able by human reason and is superior to positive law and custom. 
The Stoics further argued that justice treats all men as equals. Plato's 
justice did not. Interestingly enough, the Romans permitted the le- 
gal institution of slavery in their empire even though they admitted 
slavery to be contrary to natural justice. Strangely, these classical 
ancients could sometimes put Wisdom on hold - Themis not with- 

III. What Does Social Justice Demand? 

It was the thirteenth century A.D. scholastic philosopher St. Tho- 
mas Aquinas, sometimes indelicately dubbed the "Dumb Ox" by 
his fellow monks, who redefined the vague Aristotelian "legal jus- 
tice" as a special virtue aimed directly at pursuing and achieving 
the Common Good. But Thomas Aquinas never clarified how this 

18 H. Setter: Social Justice - An Artist's Commentary 

"legal justice" was more specifically directed to the Common Good 
than any other virtue. Only after several centuries, the late nine- 
teenth and early twentieth centuries to be specific, did a major trea- 
tise on Social Justice appear. 

The context of the document was prompted by the timely need 
in the 1930s to attempt to guarantee workers' rights to earn living 
family wages and to enjoy ownership of personal property. Com- 
memorating the fortieth anniversary of the earlier Papal Encyclical 
Rerum Novarum (On the Condition of the Working Class), written 
by Pope Leo XIII in 1891 (9), Pope Pius XI addressed the topic of 
"The Reconstruction of the Social Order" in his Encyclical 
Quadragesimo Anno (10). Ten times Pius XI employs the term "Social 
Justice" in this papal letter. However, the timely urgency then in 
Europe and the USA, to confront the issues about a "living family 
wage," the "right to own property," "labor conditions," "capital- 
ism," "communism," etc., suggested then and suggests now to some 
readers and commentators to conclude that "Social Justice" con- 
cerns itself only with the issues of economics. Let us do a test run to 
verify the presumptions or understanding of "Social Justice," with 
reference to the following passage of Paragraph 71 of Pope Pius 
Xl's Encyclical Quadragesimo Anno: 

Every effort must therefore be made that fathers of families 
receive a wage large enough to meet common domestic needs 
adequately. But if this cannot always be done under existing 
circumstances, social justice demands that changes be intro- 
duced [into the system] as soon as possible whereby such a 
wage will be assured to every adult workingman. (10, p. 426) 

Without looking back to the text just cited, answer kindly this 
question: "What does Social Justice demand?" Most respond quickly: 
"A family wage." Look again! Don't confuse commutative justice (the 
virtue that regulates actions and rights that should exist between 
individuals) with Social Justice. Nor should one confuse distributive 
justice (the virtue that regulates actions and rights between superi- 
ors and subjects) with Social Justice. In the first sentence of the quoted 
paragraph, the Pope clearly teaches that the employer does owe the 
employee a family wage by virtue of distributive justice. But the 
Pope also suggests a new wrinkle. For all the good intentions of the 
individual employer, "existing circumstances" may hinder the ex- 
ercise of rightful, proper distributive justice. Kindly go back to the 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXIl, 1994 19 

paragraph cited. What is the direct object of the verb "demands?" 
rhe Pope proclaims that Social Justice demands SOCIAL ACTION, 
tual passage reads: "Social Justice demands that changes be intro- 
duced [into the system] as soon as possible ..." Social Justice de- 
mands the REORGANIZATION OF THE SYSTEM. When the insti- 
tutions of society are badly organized social INJUSTICE prevails. 
For that reason, SOCIAL JUSTICE must restructure the institutions 
3f society in order to safeguard the Common Good for all society. 

IV. Responsibility for the Common Good 

Social philosophers recognize "institutions of society" as aspects 
3f social life in which distinctive value-orientations and pursued 
interests generate specific modes of social interaction. Informal or 
"natural" social groups such as "hayseed farmers," "city slickers" 
3r "frontier cowboys" are easily recognized and clearly distin- 
guished from the formal or "planned" social groups, such as realtors, 
politicians, bankers, clergy, teamsters, physicians, professors, and 
Dthers. Every institution of society, at whatever level (from the fam- 
ily, neighborhood, city, state, province, nation, continent to an inter- 
national forum), controls some aspect of human life and the net- 
work of subordinate institutions. 

Because each person participates in these different levels of hu- 
man life and in the subordinate groups, no one is exempt from the 
responsibility to work for the Common Good. It is only when indi- 
viduals at the level of their respective competencies unite for coop- 
erative effort can these specific groups (a.k.a. "social institutions") 
affect the Common Good. Regrettably, the inveterate individualis- 
tic moralist will protest screamingly: "Good example is what I give. 
Who doesn't notice my honesty, my generosity, my trust of others?" 
Left alone, the individualistic moralist will experience the dishon- 
est taking advantage of the generosity and trust displayed. Social 
evils are never remedied with only individualistic means. 

V. Social Justice and Government 

At no time does Social Justice replace effective government. Nor 
should government eliminate the need for effective collaboration 
of individuals in the checking and balancing of the institutions of 
society. Frequently the government issues necessary legal decrees, 
but these laws can remain ineffectual if they are not genuinely and 

20 H. Setter: Social Justice - An Artist's Commentary 

promptly implemented. Obviously, any deliberate violation of the 
Law should be and will normally be prosecuted. But how often have 
we not observed foot-dragging? The "March on Selma" has been a 
long time ago. Consider, for example, the legal requirements en- 
acted for "desegregation" and the declarations proclaimed for "equal 
opportunities among all minorities" in the country. The laws are on 
the books, but who will deny that the "white Plantation Owner" 
has yet to die? That the "Male Supremacist" has yet to remove his 
imagined crown and to quit playing "King of the Hill?" 

Today, Social Justice must address the numerous social issues and 
social concerns: the plight of the homeless ... the prevailing literary 
ignorance in our society ... the desperation of the "battered" physi- 
cally and emotionally ... the hopelessness of the addicted ... the in- 
trusive violation of what is sacred and decent by the mass media ... 
the greed of corrupt financiers and war mongers. We shall never be 
relieved or absolved from our responsibility. Social Justice did ad- 
dress the issues and concerns, and did confront the inequities in 
labor, wages, and property rights in the 1930s. 

VI. Conclusion 

Social Justice is double pronged, because it aims to guarantee the 
Common Good and to oblige individuals to work collectively for 
society. These personal convictions, long held and enacted where 
and when possible, have inspired the cover illustration of this issue 
of the West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences. Themis, the 
personification of Wisdom and Justice, is blindfolded but she is not 
blind! Themis, the Protectress on Mount Olympus, weighs carefully, 
exactly, and without prejudice the individual and societal rights to 
the Common Good. Themis, the Delphic Oracle-Counsellor, shares 
abundantly from her cornucopia for our social responsibilities. Are 
we humans - men and women - truly up to being the measure of 
all things? 


1. Bokenkotter, Thomas. "Social Justice: The Church's Call to Action," in Essen- 

tial Catholicism. Garden City, NY: Image Books, 1986, pp. 352-76. 

2. Curran, Charles E. American Catholic Social Ethics: Twentieth Century Approaches. 

Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1982, pp. 56-61. 

]Nest Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 21 

3. Calvez, J.Y. "Social Justice," in New Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 13. Washing- 

ton, DC: Catholic University Press of America, 1967, pp. 318-20. 

4. Eister, Allen W. "Social Structure," in A Dictionary of the Social Sciences. Eds. 

Julius Gould and William L. Kolb. New York: The Free Press, 1965, pp. 

5. Ferree, William J. Introduction to Social Justice. Dayton, OH: Marianist Publi- 

cations, 1948. 

6. Guirand, F. "Greek Mythology ~ Themis," in Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythol- 

ogy. Ed. Felix Guirand. London: Paul Hamlyn Limited, 1966, pp. 156-57. 

7. Kelly, J.N.D. "Leo XIII and Pius XI," in The Oxford Dictionary of Popes. New 

York: Oxford University Press, 1987, pp. 311-13, 316-18. 

8. Kiing, Hans. "Social Relevance," in On Being a Christian. Trans. Edward Quinn. 

New York: Simon & Schuster, 1978, pp. 551-89. 

9. Leo XIII. Rerum Novarum. "On the Condition of the Working Classes." 15 

May 1891. Boston: Daughters of St. Paul. 

10. Pius XI. "Quadragesimo Anno," On Reconstruction of the Social Order, 15 

May 1931, in The Papal Encyclicals. Vol. 3: 1903-1939. Ed. Claudia Carlen. 
Wilmington, NC: McGrath Publishing Company, 1981, pp. 415-43. 

11. Plamenatz,J.P. "Justice," in ADictionary of the Social Sciences. Eds. ]u\iusGou\d 

and William L. Kolb. New York: The Free Press, 1965, pp. 363-64. 

12. Rose, H.J. "Themis," in The Oxford Classical Dictionary. Eds. M. Carey, et al. 

Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1949, p. 891. 

13. Schneider, Louis. "Institution," in A Dictionary of the Social Sciences. Eds. Julius 

Gould and William L. Kolb. New York: The Free Press, 1965, pp. 338-39. 

14. Smith, William. "Themis," in Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. New 

York: AMS Press, 1967, p. 1023. 

15. Stone, Merlin. "Themis and Dike," in Ancient Mirrors of Womanhood. Boston: 

Beacon Press, 1979, pp. 366-68. 

Economics and Society: 
A Consideration of the 
Epistemology of Economics 

William C. Schaniel 

Economics, as a social science, is concerned with issues of valu- 
ing means and ends of socioeconomic processes, involving questions 
of livelihood and the issues surrounding it. Cultural variations in 
livelihood processes - from the kula ring of the Trobriand Islands to 
the caste system of India - are engendered by different structures of 
valuing, which mandate interdisciplinary approaches to the studies 
of livelihood. Unfortunately, cultural and interdisciplinary charac- 
teristics, focusing on issues of social valuing, are not commonly con- 
sidered in the models of standard or mainstream economics. 

In general, mainstream economics tends to view history, anthro- 
pology, sociology, and other social sciences to be insignificant for 
economic inquiries. Similarly, questions of justice, community, and 
trust - questions about the valuing of ends and means by society - 
are often viewed as being irrelevant to economic analyses. This pa- 
per will raise two inter-related questions. Why is economics not 
interdisciplinary in its approach? Why are questions of social jus- 
tice generally overlooked in economics? The answer to both ques- 
tions may be found in the epistemology of mainstream economics. 

The approach to answering these two questions will be cast in a 
narrower context than is implied above. Rather than discuss the 
wide range of social valuing issues, this article will focus on a single 
issue - trust. Similarly, this paper will discuss only one of the mul- 
titude of interdisciplinary approaches - economic anthropology. In 
the conclusion, I will contend that the points made within these 
narrow confines also apply more generally. Thus, within this nar- 
rower range of scrutiny, this treatise will examine the question of 
why standard economics appears not to be interested in social in- 

Before delving into analyzing "trust" in the context of econom- 
ics, a definition of trust must be established. This will be done in 


24 W.C. Schaniel: Economics and Society 

the first section of the paper. The second section will discuss the 
question of whether trust matters in economic analyses and in eco- 
nomic systems. Finally, "trust" will be considered as an essential 
component of socioeconomic systems. 

I. A Definition of Trust 

In the popular press, the term "trust" has been used in connec- 
tion with politics, sales promotions, and community spirit. Popular 
usage of the word implies a clear definition of "trust," but such a 
definition is of little use for economic discourse. Newspaper col- 
umns and statements, such as "Why Americans Don't Trust Repub- 
licans" (3) and that an individual's "trust in humankind" has been 
restored by the kind act of a stranger (1), are examples of simplistic 
explanations of this concept. A 1960 cold war polemic plays off the 
popular usage of "trust" in its title "You Can Trust the Communists 
(to be Communists)." (15) 

In these and numerous other cases, the term "trust" suggests a 
faith in positive qualities, actions, or intentions of others. The con- 
cept, though, does not imply positive outcomes for society. The 
criminal trusts his confederates as much as the legitimate entrepre- 
neur trusts his employees. Trust, as an article of faith, depends on 
the one doing the trusting, and not on the one being trusted. For 
example, in political discussions some people do not trust Demo- 
crats - this could just as well read Republicans - because of their 
personal certainty about the outcomes of proposed policies (e.g., 
suggested health care changes will destroy the ability of doctors to 
provide the best care for their patients). A different group could be 
equally certain about the outcomes which they perceive and, hence, 
find that a reason to trust them (i.e., the proposed health care changes 
will provide access to some basic health care for all citizens). 

In other words, two individuals can look at the same informa- 
tion, evaluate it in the same manner, yet arrive at different conclu- 
sions. The difference is to be found in the valuing of outcomes, not 
in the outcomes themselves. Thus, two individuals can have the 
same belief in the certainty of actions, but differ as to whether they 
trust or do not trust the individual or institution based on their valu- 
ing of perceived outcomes. Without a universally agreed upon set 
of valuations of outcomes, no interpersonal consistency of the term 
"trust" exists. Indeed, the use of the concept infers more about the 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 25 

beliefs of individuals than anything else. Hence, another source 
beyond common usage must be found for a useful definition of trust. 

The term "trust" does have meaning in the history of social sci- 
ences. One of the formative debates for modern political science, 
and for social science in general, were the debates over the legiti- 
macy of governments. The debate, as framed by John Locke in the 
seventeenth century, had three general camps: those who argued 
for the divine rights of the rulers; those who thought that the rulers 
were equals with the ruled; and those who viewed the rulers as 
being servants of the ruled. John Locke developed, and advocated 
the third position in his Two Treatises of Government. (9) 

Locke in his formulation of a social contract attempted to legiti- 
mize England's "Glorious Revolution" of 1688, during which lead- 
ing members of the nobility helped to depose James II. Locke ar- 
gued that a government was the servant of the people and used the 
term "trust" to express this concept. The obligation of the govern- 
ing body was to implement the will or desires of the governed. Thus, 
"Governments are dissolved ... when the legislative, or the Prince ... 
act contrary to their trust." (9, p. 54) Government was not the mak- 
ing of God, or natural in its organization, but rather derived from 
the consent of men. 

The focus of this paper, though, is not on political science but on 
economics. Locke's definition is broad enough to encompass any 
social process, including the processes of livelihood. In this 
context," trust," as a socioeconomic process, embodies the idea of 
social consent, that the institutions of a society exist to fulfill the 
desires of members of society. Hence, economic as well as other in- 
stitutions, are legitimized by their ability to meet the needs per- 
ceived as important by the people. Trust, therefore, is indicative of 
this broader social contract of which livelihood is but one element; 
it is the belief in the fulfillment of the aspirations of a society. With 
this definition in mind, we can move to the more perplexing ques- 
tion of the relationship between trust and economics. 

IL Economics and Trust 

To discourse about trust in economic systems presupposes that 
trust matters in economic affairs. If it does not matter, a discussion 
of trust is irrelevant at best and definitely misguided from a scien- 
tific point of view. The lack of discussion of trust in mainstream 

26 W.C. Schaniel: Econoynics and Society 

economics is because the topic is thought of as being irrelevant. The 
reason that trust does not matter in standard economics involves 
the epistemology of economics, that is how knowledge about eco- 
nomics is arrived at and how it is organized by economists. 

Epistemology is important. How a question is formulated or how 
facts are to be explicated contours what data is to be collected and, 
most importantly, the way it is to be analyzed. The evidence that is 
researched to validate an argument is influenced by what is to be 
proven. Max Weber posited that "all of our 'knowledge' is related 
to a categorically formed reality ..." (16, p. 188) In other words, the 
question that is sought to be answered defines both what we are 
looking for and also how we look for it. Rephrased, the question 
that is central to a discipline defines the "truth" it seeks to explain - 
the epistemology of a discipline. This argument has been made in 
more detail by other economists. (5) 

John Locke is an informative example of the epistemology of stan- 
dard economics. In Some Considerations of the Consequences of Lower- 
ing the Interest and Raising the Value of Money, Locke develops what 
some consider the first complete formulation of the quantity theory 
of money. (8, pp. 1-22) He even hints at Irving Fisher's reformula- 
tion two centuries later. (7, p. 267) The social order implicit in Locke's 
formulation of the quantity theory of money is in striking contrast 
to his earlier view of the importance of a social contract in establish- 
ing political legitimacy. 

As indicated above, Locke, in Two Treatises of Government, argued 
that political systems were human creations subject to trust. (9, p. 
54) This position differs from what he posited in Some Considerations 
of the Consequences of Lowering the Interest and Raising the Value of 
Money (8, pp. 54-89), in which he viewed economic relations to be 
outside of the will of the participants and, thus, not subject to "trust." 
This contrasting conclusion reflected his thinking about the rela- 
tionship between economic variables. For example, the relationship 
between money, its velocity, the price level and output he thought 
to be immutable, not be contravened by the will of society. In mod- 
ern economic theory, this immutability is a reflection of the 
self -regulating nature of the system. The role of the state relative to 
the economy is not to control it, but to insure the necessary condi- 
tions for the satisfactory interplay of economic relationships. (8, pp. 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 27 

J4-89) This is the earliest presentation of the epistemological ap- 
proach of modern mainstream economics. 

In his essay on money (8), Locke muses about social will and the 
economy. Locke assigned volition not to the legitimacy of the eco- 
lomic system, as he did to political systems, but only to one ele- 
Tient of the economy - money. It was created by common consent, 
wssibly again foreshadowing modern concepts. (8, pp. 88-94) But 
o Locke, the economy was not one of consent, but one of immu- 
:able principles. His vision of the economy as a process beyond in- 
lividual or social control and influence is consistent with the view 
)f contemporary mainstream economics. This mode of thinking 
:an be traced from Adam Smith, and his forerunners such as Locke, 
:o present day economists in most texts dealing with the history of 
economic thought. (12, pp. 37-38, 42-43) The economy is thought of 
is an artifact of nature and not of man. However, this is not the only 
epistemological tradition in economics. 

Three broad epistemological approaches had evolved in econom- 
cs by the turn of the twentieth century: the Classical /Marxist ma- 
:erialistic approach which was founded on a labor theory of value; 
:he historical /cultural approach of the German Historical, English 
rlistorical, and American Institutional schools of thought; and neo- 
rlassical demand and supply theory. Lionel Robbins, in 1932, re- 
stated the neoclassical epistemology in its now familiar form. "Eco- 
lomics is the science which studies human behavior as a relation- 
ship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses." 
'13, p. 16) Robbins work presented not only a rejection of the first 
:wo epistemological approaches, i.e., of the Classical /Marxist and 
:he historical /cultural, but also a refinement of the neoclassical 
[nethodology His definition of neoclassical economics was estab- 
lished in part by attacking both the historical /cultural and the ma- 
terialistic conception of economics. 

The explicit dismissal of alternative epistemologies by Robbins, 
in itself, formed an important element of his book. Prior to Robbins, 
5ome economists took a more eclectic view of the nature of eco- 
nomics. Marshall, for example, comments favorably on the work 
3f the historical school of economics and occasionally employed 
the comparative method of the historical approach. (11, pp. 774-78) 
This eclectic pursuit may have led Marshall to conclude that "eco- 
nomics contains no long chains of deductive reasoning." (11, p. 781) 

28 ]N.C. Schaniel: Economics and Society 

Robbins, on the other hand, rejected the vaUdity of the alternative 
historical and materialistic approaches as well as the eclectic method. 
He sought not only to establish the epistemological basis of eco- 
nomics but also its epistemological purity. 

Robbins' argument, that allowed for the absolute rejection of the 
alternative epistemologies, represented the absolute immutability 
of the neoclassical epistemology This was logically predicated on 
two parts - first, the inherent nature of the problem, and second, 
the universality of the process of solution. To establish the first, 
Robbins reasoned that "economics brings into full view the conflict 
of choice which is one of the permanent characteristics of human 
existence." (13, p. 30) The second part of the argument placed the 
neoclassical tools of economic analysis on the same plane as those 
of natural science. 

Economic laws describe inevitable implications ... In this sense 
they are on the same footing as other scientific laws, and as 
little capable of "suspension." If, in a given situation, the facts 
are of a certain order, we are warranted in deducing with com- 
plete certainty that other facts which it enables us to describe 
are also present. To those who have grasped the implications 
of the propositions set forth in the last chapter the reason is 
not far to seek. If the "given situation" conforms to a certain 
pattern, certain other features must also be present, for their 
presence is "deducible" from the pattern originally postulated. 
(13, pp. 121-22) 

Robbins thus posits a relationship between data and logic that 
has become the position of standard economics. Evidence for the 
validity of analysis is not established in the context of data but in- 
dependent from the data under consideration. The validity of the 
analysis was inherent - that is, deductively derived - in the tools. 

The argument for the immutability or universality of economic 
laws implies that the economy operates on principles which are 
beyond human creation and control. This has important conse- 
quences for the actor or participant in economic relations as well as 
for the observer of those relations. For the actor, the system is greater 
than the sum of its parts. This is because the consent of the partici- 
pant, or even his awareness, is unnecessary for the operation of the 
system. The actors need not be conscious of these laws because 
they act "as if they occurred in a hypothetical and highly simplified 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 29 

world containing only the forces that the hypothesis asserts to be 
important." (2, p. 40) In other words, the participant is unimportant 
for the functioning of the system. For the observer or economist, 
the approach defines appropriate and inappropriate lines of inves- 
tigation. Thus, according to Milton Friedman: 

... the canons of formal logic alone can show whether a par- 
ticular language is complete and consistent, that is, whether 
propositions in the language are "right" or "wrong." Factual 
evidence alone can show whether the categories of the "ana- 
lytic filing system" have a meaningful empirical counterpart, 
that is, whether they are useful in analyzing a particular class 
of concrete problems. (2, p. 17) 

The role of categories for the organization of knowledge that Max 
Weber perceived is reversed. That is, the model is derived from logic 
first and evidence is valued only as illustrations of logical processes. 
Since economic systems are driven by forces outside of and are un- 
affected by the participants, questions about the participants' inter- 
action with the system are unimportant. 

In the context of the epistemology of standard economics, "trust" 
would be a description of noise, rather than of substance, in such a 
system. Hence, no individual or group can permanently contravene 
inherent economic processes. Thus, the question of trust is an un- 
important question in mainstream economics because of the belief 
that economic processes are irresistible and external to the partici- 

Furthermore, Robbin's argument that the neoclassical epistemol- 
ogy was immutable resulted in his rejection of the possibility of 
other social sciences making contributions to economics. The so- 
cial, behavioral, as well as historical contexts of an event were 
thought to be unimportant to the economic analysis of that event. 
The role of data was to illustrate the argument rather than to estab- 
lish it. 

It follows from the argument of the preceding sections that the 
subject matter of Economics is essentially a series of relation- 
ships - relationships between ends conceived as the possible 
objectives of conduct, on the one hand, and the technical and 
social environment on the other. Ends as such do not form 
part of this subject-matter. Nor does the technical and social 

30 W.C. Schaniel: Economics and Society 

environment. It is the relationships between these things and 
not the things in themselves which are important for the econo- 
mist. (13, p. 38) 

Other economists have reiterated this argument in their rejection 
of an interdisciplinary approach to economics. Frank Knight asked 
and answered the question "as to 'what use' anthropology can be 
to the economist ...?" (6, p. 516) Knight reasons that "as to the sig- 
nificance of [anthropology] in economic exposition, the answer must 
be that it usually makes little or no difference whether the compari- 
sons are anthropologically authentic or not." (6, p. 516) This is true 

... of the categorical difference ... between economics as an ex- 
position of principles - which have little more relation to em- 
pirical data of any sort than do those of elementary mathemat- 
ics - and as a descriptive exposition of facts. From the oppo- 
site point of view, there is this difference - that any intelligent 
or useful exposition of facts imperatively requires an under- 
standing of the principles, while the need for facts in connec- 
tion with the exposition of principles is far more tenuous, and 
the "facts" which are really in question need not be facts at all 
in the sense of actuality for any particular point in time or space, 
provided they are realistically illustrative. (6, p. 516) 

If information did not conform to the model at hand, more ap- 
propriate data was to be sought to make the proper illustration. 
Indeed, the data used to illustrate the logic of economics did not 
have to be behaviorally accurate. It only has to be accurate in the 
context of the principle being illustrated. Anthropology, and by 
extension any social science, is of use only if it provides examples. 
However, within the context of the epistemology of standard eco- 
nomics, the social sciences cannot provide any useful insights into 
economic processes. 

The epistemology of those engaged in interdisciplinary ap- 
proaches to economics differs significantly from those in orthodox 
economics. From the perspective of economic anthropology, the 
economy - processes of livelihood - are part of the culture. There 
are no innate institutions or patterns of doing things for obtaining 
livelihood. Man "has no 'natural disposition' to barter." (4, p. 15) 
The variations in livelihood processes that are described in the lit- 
erature of economic anthropology are broad. For example, in the 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 31 

Trobriand yam system, described by Bronislaw Malinowski (10), 
there was a complete circuit of yam transfers. Every man had a 
biological or adopted sister to whom to give yams to, and a sister or 
wife who received them from some kind of brother. It represented a 
symmetrical circuit with many stations, of pairs of givers and re- 
ceivers, and never reversing roles - the party that a household gave 
yams to was different from the party that the household received 
yams from. 

Another example of the diversity of livelihood systems can be 
found in the Indian village economy, which can be viewed as an 
arrangement among castes. It is a system of reciprocity between 
castes. Members of each caste produce the caste's own specialty for 
members of other castes, as needed or as appropriate to circum- 
stances, sometimes having to do more work, sometimes less. As 
members of the circuit, the non-cultivating castes receive food from 
the farming castes (which is their specialty). Each caste performs 
duties for others and each benefits as others do their duties. In other 
words, the Indian village economy represents a complex, integrated 
circuit of obligatory performance without directly associated or 
immediate recompense, but in which each was nevertheless recom- 
pensed. The institutions of livelihood are means created to achieve 
ends which were defined by the participants. Every society varies 
in the ends desired, the boundaries of appropriate and inappropri- 
ate behavior, and the processes of achieving those ends. Thus, from 
the viewpoint of economic anthropology, trust - the actualization 
of social will - is reflected in the diversity of livelihood systems. 

III. Trust as Process 

Trust, or the actualization of social will, is an element in the pro- 
cesses of change. The valuing of new opportunities that arise from 
technology, culture contact, and variance in societal parameters re- 
sult in changes in rules, institutions, and the processes of livelihood. 
New opportunities do not carry any values with them, but instead 
are valued in the context of the adopting society. This process of 
valuing is important. If new opportunities carry values with them, 
then the expression of the desires of society are as unimportant in 
the process of change as they are assumed to be in the immutable 
epistemology of standard economic analysis. 

32 W.C. Schaniel: Economics and Society 

The cultural history of white potatoes serves as a useful illustra- 
tion of the process of adoption. The Incas of South America consid- 
ered white potatoes to be food for those of high status; their cultiva- 
tion was closely monitored. Europeans, however, in adopting the 
white potato, did not accept the white potato ceremonies of the Incas, 
nor the Incas' valuing of white potatoes as a food to be eaten by 
important people. Indeed, the white potato was considered to be 
an inferior food in Europe, and was even banned for some time in 
several of its regions. (14, p. 112) By the late seventeenth century, 
however, the white potato was widely adopted in Ireland. Popular 
myth of the day, tied the Irish adoption of the potato to their low 
standing as a people. 

The later European introduction of the white potato to the native 
Polynesians of New Zealand, the Maori, resulted in another rever- 
sal of the social role of the white potato. It was viewed by the Maori 
as a food appropriate for chiefs and feasts. Hence, the valuing of 
white potatoes by the Maori was independent of the valuing of the 
Europeans who introduced them. Indeed, the Maori adapted their 
sweet potato techniques and ceremonies to the cultivation of white 

The process of valuing a new opportunity is done within the con- 
text of the adopting society. This process of adoption takes place 
within the context of what is considered appropriate or inappropri- 
ate - the frame of reference - of the adopting society. That is, pro- 
cesses of valuing and integrating are part of the processes of ex- 
pressing social will or trust. 

Trust is not just a feature of economic change, but a feature of the 
general processes of livelihood. The effectiveness of leaders in many 
tribal cultures - African, Polynesian and American Indian, for ex- 
ample - are often attributed to their effectiveness in manipulating 
events and the symbols of society in order to build a consensus of 
support. Tribal tasks were undertaken in Polynesia after the chief 
had mustered the support and commitment of the tribal members. 
An effective chief could marshal the tribe to produce the food and 
gifts necessary to conduct inter-tribal relations which were deemed 
necessary to maintain and expand the status of the tribe. In other 
words, livelihood is integrated into the fabric of society in part by 

V^est Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 33 

IV. Conclusion 

The epistemology of standard economics precludes issues of valu- 
ing of means and ends of economic processes. The universal nature 
of the economic problem and the processes of its resolution meant 
that the data of other social sciences at best could provide examples 
of these processes, but could not furnish any additional insights, 
into the processes. 

This epistemological approach is implicitly rejected by social eco- 
nomics by its interdisciplinary approach and analysis of the valu- 
ing of social means and ends. Trust, justice, and community are 
important elements of analyses for economists because of their im- 
pact on economic processes, which can only be comprehended 
within the context of broader social processes. This broader social 
context, that encompasses economic processes, can only be fully 
understood by utilizing an interdisciplinary approach. 


1. "Carrollton Thanked", The Times-Georgian, 16 February 1993, p. 4. 

2. Friedman, Milton. Essays in Positive Economics. Chicago: The University of 

Chicago Press, 1953. 

3. Gigot, Paul A. "Potomac Watch: Why Americans Don't Trust Republicans," 

The Wall Street Journal, 5 March 1993, p. A8. 

4. Hoyt, Elizabeth Ellis. Primitive Trade. New York: Augustus M. Kelley, 1926, 


5. Karsten, Siegfried G. "Quantum Theory and Social Economics: The Holistic 

Approach of Modern Physics Serves Better Than Newton's Mechanics 
in Approaching Reality," The American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 
49, October 1990, pp. 385-99. 

6. Knight, Frank H. "Anthropology and Economics," The Journal of Political 

Economy, 49, April 1941, pp. 508-23. 

7. Kuhn, W. E. The Evolution of Economic Thought. 2nd ed. Cincinnati: 

South- Western Publishing Co, 1970. 

8. Locke, John, Some Considerations of the Consequence of Lowering the Interest and 

Raising the Value of Money. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1692, 1977. 

9. . Tiuo Treatises of Government. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1690, 


10. Malinowski, Bronislaw. Argonauts of the Western Pacific. London: George 
Routledge & Sons, 1922. 

34 W.C. Schaniel: Economics and Society 

11 . Marshall, Alfred. Principles of Economics: An Introductory Volume. 8th ed. Lon- 

don: Macmillan and Co., 1930. 

12. Rima, I. H. Development of Economic Analysis. Homewood, IL: Richard D. Irwin, 

Inc., 1972. 

13. Robbins, Lionel. An Essay on the Nature and Significance of Economic Science. 

2nd ed. London: Macmillan and Co., 1932, 1948. 

14. Salaman, RedcUffe N. The History and Social Influence of the Potato. Cambridge: 

At the University Press, 1949, 1970. 

15. Schwartz, Fred. You Can Trust the Communists (to be Communists). Englewood 

Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1960. 

16. Weber, Max. The Methodology of the Social Sciences. Trans, and Eds. Edward A. 

Shils and Henry A. Finch. Glencoe, IL: The Free Press, 1949. 

Economics and Social Morality 

Douglas Hilt 

It would be immoderate vanity on my part to compare myself to 
Robert Reich, widely considered to be one of President Clinton's 
closest advisors on economic policy and co-author of Putting People 
First, the Clinton 1992 campaign economic gameplan. To my sur- 
prise I learned that Reich is not an economist by training, an omis- 
sion that darkened his prospects for tenure at Harvard. Faced with 
this daunting academic battle, Reich wisely turned instead to the 
more attainable task of helping solve the nation's myriad economic 
problems. I am even less an economist by profession - for my sins I 
labor in the ever-fractious groves of foreign languages and litera- 
tures. That one in my field may have interests beyond modish liter- 
ary theory and esoteric linguistics (to my shame I confess a prefer- 
ence for old-fashioned language and literature) may surprise some. 
In this essay 1 shall cheerfully leave the four trillion dollar national 
deficit and any peace dividend to the experts, and concentrate in- 
stead on areas that professional economists may choose to over- 
look or dismiss entirely. These include problems related to educa- 
tion and the inner city, humane imperatives, the need for clear pri- 
orities, and consideration of a host of social implications that im- 
pinge on all our lives. 

I. The Role and Responsibility of Economics 

One of the few benefits from the 1992 protracted election cam- 
paign was a heightened public awareness of the pivotal role that 
economics plays in our daily lives. Thanks especially to candidates 
Ross Perot and Bill Clinton, the mounting national deficit with all 
its social implications was presented to the public in clear outlines. 
Less obvious, but in the long run of equal importance, are the so- 
cial, moral, and aesthetic considerations that must inform the deci- 
sions to be taken. Today, economics is no longer the "dismal sci- 
ence" restricted to making financial sense out of recalcitrant raw 
data while seeking to provide theoretical and practical applications 
to specific economic problems. Rather it must in today's world in- 
volve itself with a whole host of related questions that a previous 


38 D. Hilt: Economics and Social Morality 

generation of business-oriented economists might well have 
shrugged off as being none of their concern. What will be the social 
effects of governmental decisions on the environment? Are there 
aesthetic values we should address that don't make strict economic 
sense yet which contribute to our inner sense of well-being and that 
of the larger community? Belatedly, recognition is growing that so- 
cial consequences and the overall quality of life are linked in an 
all-encompassing economic framework. 

Ultimately, economics is a matter of priorities considered and 
decisions carried out. Our cities, industries, schools and museums, 
the landscape we view, whether rural or urban, our work condi- 
tions, how we travel from place to place, what we breathe and eat, 
even our leisure activities - all of this and much more, stem from 
economic choices made and subsequent actions taken. As citizens 
who vote for officials at local, state, and national levels, we are all 
involved, like it or not. Just as politics, religion, the arts, the applied 
sciences impinge on many facets of life, we now see that economics 
affects nearly every aspect of our daily course. There is a growing 
sense that in social priorities - health care, family leave, unemploy- 
ment benefits and job security, to name but a few - as a nation we 
are lagging behind not only Western Europe but Canada, our own 
neighbor to the north. If American academicians win nearly every 
Nobel Prize for Economics, why are we seemingly incapable of cur- 
ing our own ills? 

Perhaps as a European transplanted to America 1 can venture 
some clues. 1 am repeatedly taken aback by the dangerous double 
myth that is widely accepted in the U.S., especially during national 
elections: namely, that Americans are taxed beyond endurance, and, 
as a somewhat shaky corollary, they need only toss out the villains 
in the state capitals and in Washington for unsullied outsiders to 
step in and solve every problem. Frequently the promise not to raise 
taxes is the only one politicians keep (though the national deficit is 
now so forbidding that recent presidents have had no option but to 
renege). Despite Ronald Reagan's failure to keep his campaign 
pledge to balance the budget, he won easy reelection in 1984, due in 
large part to Walter Mondale's temerity in suggesting a tax increase. 
It can easily be proven that West Europeans pay a noticeably higher 
percentage of their salaries in taxes than Americans do. Gasoline 
prices are often triple what they are in the U.S. (ask any returning 

}Nest Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 39 

tourist who has rented a car), yet, until recently, we have stead- 
fastly refused to pay the few cents more that would cut back on oil 
imports and at the same time help reduce the federal deficit. 

II. Mistaken Economic Priorities 

Clearly we need to distinguish between genuine and false issues, 
between arguments of real merit and those that are selfish and which 
only offer short-term palliatives. Aspiring legislators of integrity (in 
contrast to poUtical hacks) must repudiate facile cliches such as "gov- 
ernment is not the solution, government is the problem" and is there- 
fore incapable of solving anything. In fact any number of pressure 
groups and lobbyists devoutly believe just the opposite, as is dem- 
onstrated when businesses run into economic trouble. In these situ- 
ations it behooves Washington to provide bailouts and guarantees 
no matter to what extent such action distorts the free market. A like 
consideration applies to the closing of military bases in a candidate's 
home district with the attendant loss of jobs. The ethical office-seeker 
faces many a cruel dilemma: dare he or she spell out the need for 
sacrifice and extra taxes to help achieve the national long-range goal 
which may only show positive effects far beyond the candidate's 
own term of office? And what about the politician who presumes to 
advocate strict gun control laws or the rights of women to an abor- 
tion? Remaining true to one's convictions may prove fatal to get- 
ting elected, while an opponent with fewer qualms and a more 
malleable stand will be in place to influence future legislation. 

In today's world, emphasis on the role of government is inescap- 
able. Not only have the twelve years from 1980 to 1992 witnessed a 
near quadrupling of the national debt, but, Reaganite protestations 
to the contrary, the Administration has become directly involved in 
multiple facets of our daily lives. We are now paying a heavy price 
for more than a decade of self-indulgence to the point of national 
bankruptcy, to superficial images of "feeling good" and "standing 
tall." The piper is at last presenting his bill for the massive failures 
of banks and savings institutions, for leveraged buyouts of compa- 
nies, for inside speculation and manipulation of stocks and bonds. 
As a nation we have very little of a positive nature to show for such 

True fiscal conservatives, who care to remember the origin of the 
word, are among the first to concede that the Reagan /Bush years 

40 D. Hilt: Economics and Social Morality 

were an aberration of traditional rightist tenets. Nor must we forget 
that both houses of Congress, with Democrat majorities, went along 
with this adventurism. There is much to answer for on both sides of 
the political aisle, though the current reform atmosphere in Wash- 
ington and in state capitals gives cautious grounds for optimism. 
The same holds true for business. Dare we hope that producers and 
manufacturers will no longer be solely driven by the profit motive 
and keeping their shareholders happy, even less so by cynically 
charging "what the traffic will bear?" Our leaders are beginning to 
recognize that economic problems are not merely isolated financial 
exercises but are at heart human and social concerns in which the 
better placed must sacrifice something in order to help those who 
have fallen through the social net. This, of course, is the essence of 
all religions and altruistic philosophies, and ultimately what de- 
fines the worthiness of human society. 

Such considerations are not merely theoretical. Honesty, even in 
state capitals where shameless manipulation has hitherto been the 
rule, increasingly becomes its own reward. More and more backroom 
politicos are being replaced with men and women of conviction who 
possess a broader grasp of the overall socioeconomic picture. True 
enough, the powerful committees in both houses of Congress are 
still determined by seniority, and many projects are still of the boon- 
doggle and pork barrel variety. The good news is that these waste- 
ful expenditures are receiving closer scrutiny and more open criti- 
cism. A bi-partisan commission has been set up to study closings of 
military bases, specifically to avoid party politics. No district, espe- 
cially one where unemployment is already running high, is ever 
happy to receive the sad news of a closing, but at least the manner 
in which the decision is reached can be seen as objective and as 
impartial as possible. 

But a serious ethical question now intrudes: do powerful corpo- 
rations over the years acquire a vested interest in maintaining the 
status quo? More specifically, does the arms industry at heart wel- 
come continued international tensions and, together with the mili- 
tary, benefit from the threat of an external enemy? By all accounts 
the Gulf War of 1991, in strict financial terms, showed a serendipi- 
tous profit due to the sizable contributions exacted from nations 
dependent on Arab oil. The morality of waging a highly techno- 
logical war, resulting in the death of upward of 100,000 young Ira- 

YJest Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 41 

qis, has never really been addressed by the American people, nor 
for that matter our responsibility in the events leading up to the 
conflict. Similarly, few universities seriously debated the rationale 
of the Strategic Defense Initiative ("Star Wars"), viewed by many as 
an unabashed defense-industry gravy train with little chance of ever 
proving effective. Yet how many research scientists stifled their 
doubts and quietly accepted lucrative long-range contracts? The 
services of these minds and others were lost to the nation, making 
competition with Germany and Japan that much more difficult. To 
make the most of any peace dividend, we must ensure that the best 
brains are free to bolster the productive economy and address ur- 
gent social needs. 

III. The Future of Transportation 

If, as a nation, we are prepared to go to war to defend faraway 
oilfields, then we must also see ourselves as others see us. Having 
long since frittered away our own resources in past decades by driv- 
ing steel behemoths that barely achieved ten miles a gallon, we are 
now dangerously dependent on foreign oil. But how distant Presi- 
dent Jimmy Carter's "moral equivalent of war" on wasted sources 
of energy seems today! The days of oil embargoes and testy lines at 
the gas pump have long since been forgotten; powerful vehicles are 
all the rage, the kids are back to cruisin' the streets and idling their 
motors while lining up for another 'burger (who needs clean air?). 
Happy days are here again, well, at least for some. 

In a nation so dependent on the car, the Big Three of Detroit have 
long played a dominant role in the economy, but with little con- 
straining ethical sense. Alain Lipietz, the well-known French econo- 
mist, in a recent book (3) has described how Henry Ford eagerly 
adopted Frederick Winslow Taylor's principle of timed tasks which 
took the artisan skill out of work and in turn led to mass produc- 
tion. The result was that a whole host of products - in this case, 
motor vehicles - became available to a wider public. In the process 
niggling questions dealing with inhumane work conditions on the 
relentless production line were dismissed as irrelevant at best and 
unpatriotic at worst. Costs were kept low to make cars affordable, 
but so were quality and especially safety features (any emphasis on 
the latter was seen as implied criticism of the industry). Detroit 
fought the introduction of head supports, padded dashboards, ra- 

42 D. Hilt: Economics and Social Morality 

dial tires, and double braking systems, all of which were introduced 
by foreign competitors. A one-piece bench up front (as in 
horse-drawn carriages) was deemed sufficient for all passengers. 
The advertising was blatantly false: the pretty girl perched on the 
hood never came with the car. 

Today, thanks largely to European and Japanese competition, the 
emphasis is on quality and safety. Few would dispute that Ameri- 
can cars have improved greatly, but the heritage of planned obso- 
lescence - more accurately, early and frequent replacement - dies 
hard. Now, with over a third of all cars sold in America being of 
foreign origin, the price paid in lost jobs, lowered confidence, and 
customers vowing never again to be defrauded, is beyond calcula- 
tion. Yet despite high unemployment in the auto industry, affluent 
Americans are still buying luxury foreign cars such as the Mercedes 
and the Lexus (in some upscale residential areas Alfa Romeos and 
Maseratis are also favored). Why such supercharged outrageously 
expensive cars are necessary in dawdling traffic is not for the econo- 
mist but rather for the psychologist to answer. While the ethics of 
such purchases may be argued, Detroit remains the classic caution- 
ary tale of an industry that lost its sense of responsibility. 

Parallel with the above is the sorry state of public ground trans- 
portation in America. There is considerable evidence that the tire 
industry during the 1940s helped sound the death knell for buses 
and streetcars in many major cities, reducing a once 
all-encompassing transportation system to a patchwork of its former 
self. The transcontinental trains with their proud names were next 
to go, followed by shorter distance intercity services. The vestiges 
of this wanton neglect are there for all to see: rusting tracks, run- 
down rolling stock, and generally indifferent service. Amtrak and 
freight trains alike are depressingly prone to topple off the rails due 
to sheer fatigue. Meanwhile, our overreliance on petroleum contin- 
ues unabated, no matter the destruction wrought upon wildlife and 
the environment through its extraction and shipping. In the next 
century the world's oil supply is expected to diminish noticeably, 
once more bringing train travel to the fore. Given the lack of any 
long-range planning, in all likelihood the fast interurban trains and 
the highspeed track required will all come from abroad. Why is there 
no American TGV or Bullet Train? In economic and social terms. 

Yiest Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 43 

A^hy were the vital questions never asked and acted upon accord- 
ngly? Are we any more serious today? 

IV. Urban Considerations 

Which brings us to the parlous state of our cities, perhaps the 
jingle most vexing issue facing the nation. A whole host of bedevil- 
ing crises descend on the urban planner, many with no ready solu- 
:ion. Such are the urgent needs, the reconstruction of our inner city 
renters could swallow up the nation's tax resources for years to come, 
flecently I took the shuttle bus from downtown Manhattan out to 
La Guardia airport. Though by no means the worst urban blight in 
Sfew York, even so, block after block of dilapidated row housing, 
graffiti- scrawled walls, rusty cars and other junk in front yards and 
ilong the cracked sidewalks, was as depressing as anything I had 
jeen during the two years I lived in Mexico City. At street corners 
>tood forlorn groups of men of all ages, with scant prospect of any 
asting job. Pent-up frustration was visible on their faces, revealing 
:he dehumanising effect of extended unemployment. These beings 
ire not just economic statistics, to be measured in numbers and per- 
zentages, but men and women of flesh and bone who feel and suf- 
fer intensely. Describing Los Angeles nearly a year after the 1992 
disturbances. Norma Cook, the assistant director of Operation Re- 
wound, observed: "People's real concerns center on jobs and hous- 
ing. It's an economic issue. That's at the bottom of the feeling of 
hopelessness." (1, p. 35) There could be no plainer link between 
economics - the means available to bring about much-needed 
:hanges - and social morality, the driving force behind any such 

Here civic leaders bear a great responsibility. Highly visible 
projects clearly pay the best political dividends to candidates and 
incumbents. A new stretch of highway or a wider bridge is there for 
all to see and use, and perhaps one day will even bear the name of 
the official who sanctioned the funds. Underground sewage and 
drainage systems, on the other hand, provide little incentive, even 
though they have a far more direct bearing on the health of the av- 
erage citizen. Few city mayors would care to run on a platform urg- 
ing the affluent to pay for the effluent (admittedly, not the most 
catchy of slogans), but it is environmental priorities such as these 
that help determine the quality of urban living for everyone. Simi- 

44 D. Hilt: Economics and Social Morality 

larly, our hastily constructed and poorly planned housing develop- 
ments, whatever the short-term benefits, are little better than the 
crudely built and justly despised Stalinallee in East Berlin, future 
shantytowns on a vast scale, the negation of any except the most 
basic human needs. Do we not have a right to expect more than this 
from our politicians, from our universities which trained these pro- 
fessional planners, and our citizenry who, by refusing to pay more 
taxes, pay later in far more significant ways? 

If for the most part European cities have done better, surely it is 
because the spiritual and aesthetic needs of their inhabitants have 
been taken into account. There is a realization that urban planners 
must address the whole person, not just the dollars-and-cents effec- 
tiveness of a project, that crowded inner cities benefit immensely 
from greenery, fountains and lakes, extensive flowerbeds, the occa- 
sional curve to relieve the monotonous rectangular look of apart- 
ment buildings. Children react positively to imaginative play areas 
and to the sense that some token of nature has come to the city. 
Access for all to public gardens, museums, subsidized concerts and 
theatre - all appeal to the child's imagination and allow the person 
to develop an aesthetic sense and pride in oneself and in one's com- 
munity. None of this comes cheap, but then neither does the cost in 
human and physical terms of clearing up a ghetto racked by days 
and nights of widespread violence. As it is, the disparity of housing 
in America, from grandiose residences to piteous shacks, is uncon- 
scionable for any form of government, let alone in a self-proclaimed 

V. Educational Planning 

In any community the schools, colleges and universities tradi- 
tionally play a major part in determining social patterns. Taken as a 
whole, American graduate schools are without a doubt the best in 
the world. Certainly the university libraries, laboratories and other 
educational facilities are far and away the best I have seen in any 
country. It is all the sadder that, despite prestigious departments 
and highly qualified faculty, this fails to translate into a better edu- 
cated populace living in aesthetically pleasing cities and working 
at satisfying jobs. All too often undergraduates turn into unmoti- 
vated degree-assemblers, only too glad to escape once they tot up 
the magic number of credits. 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 45 

The picture is even less encouraging at the pubUc school level. 
Local schools vary enormously in educational quality, ranging from 
the excellent (especially those near a major university) to the totally 
inadequate. Some states, notably in the South, simply lack the nec- 
essary resources to support a quality school system. More critical - 
and unacceptable - are the wide disparities within the same city or 
county, often along income or racial lines. Another factor is the lo- 
cal taxpayers' willingness (or lack thereof) to raise taxes to support 
their schools. In Kalkaska, Michigan, officials declared the school 
year over in mid-March when the money ran out. In three elections 
the Kalkaska voters had rejected an increase in property taxes to 
cover a $1 .5 million shortfall. The pattern is repeated again and again 
throughout the nation, sad testimony to Galbraith's dictum of "pri- 
vate wealth and public poverty." One need only reflect upon the 
disastrous consequences to California of Proposition 13, that monu- 
ment to shortsighted self-interest. 

But increased funding alone is not the answer. We must also sac- 
rifice our more immediate desires to that quaintly oldfashioned con- 
cept, greater discipline. Surely the relentless pap served up on much 
of radio and television, the vast bulk of deafening electronic "mu- 
sic," rap and rock videos, the interminable mindless commercials 
represent an incalculable waste of creative mental resources. Mil- 
lions of schoolkids are growing up on junk activities, junk reading 
(if they read at all), a spiritual vacuum that diminishes the quality 
of their lives and their future. Violence-filled movies with graphic 
sex are purposefully aimed at impressionable teenagers, the ones 
with money to spend in today's disordered society, a depressing 
case of the tail wagging the dog. In a broader social sense, econom- 
ics - what we are prepared to pay and sacrifice - has to be value 
oriented, beginning at the home and local levels. 

Earlier mention was made that our taxes are, in fact, some of the 
lowest in the Western world. One consequence is that our school 
day and year are far shorter than those in most other countries. The 
typical 180-day academic year, with its origins in the agricultural 
communities of the eighteenth-century, has no relevance to today's 
competitive world. Clearly, the day and year must not only be length- 
ened, but the academic programs also be expanded and invigorated. 
If we fail to do so, we have no right to fare well in economic terms 
with other nations. Pep rallies, the adulation of sports and pop-music 

46 D. Hilt: Economics and Social Morality 

heroes, the time spent on football and road trips, can all be signifi- 
cantly reduced to the advantage of learning. Some supervised home- 
work would also not be amiss (parents in Germany are held legally 
responsible that their children have completed their assignments). 
Final high school examinations along the lines of the German Abitur 
and the French baccalaureat, corrected by outside examiners, would 
give the diploma real substance. 

Having advocated a stronger academic program in both the sci- 
ences and language studies - SAT scores have declined precipitously 
over the years - may I also enter a heartfelt plea for the arts in all 
their extension. The case for better trained mathematicians and sci- 
entists is clear enough, but the need to improve the offerings in the 
humanities, including the fine arts, is less obvious in the public mind. 
In recent decades, budget-conscious school authorities have cut back 
on theatre, art, and music classes as mere fringe offerings, useful 
enough in their way, but not really essential to the degree program. 
Grudgingly they may be offered as extras, to be paid for by indi- 
vidual parents. Likewise throughout the nation. Public Radio and 
Television are reduced to unseemly begging just to ensure their bare 
survival. Our symphony orchestras and local theatres seem to exist 
on sufferance, receiving but a fraction of the subsidies paid to their 
confreres in Europe. Again, we are not talking about luxuries, but 
the basic quality of life and its cultural dimension. 

VI. Humane Imperatives 

For it is clear by now that economics, if applied only in its most 
limited sense to human activity, is an inhumane exercise. Matthew 
Arnold's observation that, "There are a good many people in our 
paradisiacal centres of industrialism and individualism taking the 
bread out of one another's mouths" (2, pp. 347-48), remains apt a 
century and a quarter later. If this inhumane effect still exists re- 
garding human beings, consider that of pure economic determin- 
ism upon the sentient non-human beings forced to exist in 
factory-farms and destined for the slaughterhouses. When a 
chicken-factory entrepreneur who has enriched himself from this 
horror contributes substantially to the campaign of the newly-elected 
president, is his contribution regarded in the same light as that of a 
textiles manufacturer? 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 47 

These and countless related issues belong within the realm of 
both economics and humanistic studies. Yet the hopefully-begun 
reemergence of the humanities in the early 1980s was stymied by 
the combined forces of budgetary constraints (reduced tax revenues) 
and the excess with which some humanities recipients of govern- 
ment grants expressed their so-called art. One example of philoso- 
phy and history suggesting to us a solution to the dilemma of art 
and censorship is Aristotle's notion of the mean between extremes, 
with reasoned virtue as the goal. (4, pp. 483-90) Indeed, the humani- 
ties teachers' insistence on isolating their subject matter from social 
mores was a major factor in the defeat of that hoped-for renaissance. 
The humanities may also be faulted in their self-separation from 
the practical applications of economics and science. The far-ranging 
ethical effects of economic policies and scientific advances must 
become a primary concern not only of humanistic studies, but of 
economics and science themselves. 

At the most obvious level, we now see in the universities grow- 
ing armies of lower ranked, non-permanent, and part-time instruc- 
tors, a phenomenon that has become increasingly common in in- 
dustry: the disposable worker, insensitively referred to as a "temp," 
hired and fired according to perceived economic need. The reduc- 
tion of the workforce is euphemistically termed "downsizing;" that 
wage earners, human beings, are directly affected is lost in a stack 
of statistics aimed to please company stockholders. Here the uni- 
versity and big business have become interchangeable, both of them 
at the mercy of bottom-line economics, while large and pressing 
concerns remain unaddressed. 

Which brings us to yet another vicious circle. With medical ex- 
penses rapidly outpacing the cost of living, companies can no longer 
afford to pay their share of contributions, which again discourages 
the hiring of more full-time employees. Over the last decade alone, 
temporary employment in the U.S. has increased by almost 250 per 
cent. The consequences in human terms are enormous, as compa- 
nies seek to escape the need to pay fringe benefits, health costs, and 
pensions, while being able to hire and fire at will with little fear of 
litigation and little pause for considerations beyond the most im- 
mediate goals. 

Yet many economic decisions, knowingly or unknowingly, rest 
with ourselves as individuals. Why do a large number of us work 

48 D. Hilt: Economics and Social Morality 

overtime or even at two jobs? In some cases there is a real need to 
produce extra income to make ends meet, but often it is to buy luxu- 
ries and marginal services. At the same time, the average worker in 
the U.S. is considered lucky to have two weeks of vacation a year 
(the comparable figure in Europe is double or triple), while our 
workweek is one of the longest with few local, national, or religious 
holidays to relieve the tedium. The need, in truth, is to reduce work- 
ing hours, not only to engender more work opportunities for others 
truly in poverty, but equally important, to enable employees to en- 
joy leisure pursuits. Instead of emphasizing increased wages and 
excess consumption, our thoughts should turn to improving the 
inner quality of our daily lives, which in turn can improve the qual- 
ity of both our environment and our economic system. 

VII. Social and Moral Implications 

In the end applied economics is rooted in social mores, alterna- 
tives weighed and decisions taken. We have seen that short-run 
options which seem to make economic sense frequently overlook 
ethical or aesthetic implications. Recently, arguments in favor of 
gambling have won support in many communities with the justifi- 
cation that schools and hospitals can be funded with no correspond- 
ing increase in taxes. But do we really wish to encourage citizens to 
fritter away their income and become hooked on a pernicious habit? 
Higher taxes on tobacco products and liquor are easier to defend 
than gambling, though the exact moral responsibility of govern- 
ment in health matters and, by extension, enforcing safety measures 
(e.g., mandatory seat belts, smokefree work zones, laws to reduce 
drunk driving) must at some point become arbitrary, in favor of the 
greater good of the whole. This in turn raises further questions. How, 
for example, can one defend continued government subsidies to 
the tobacco industry? Faced with the proven risk of cancer from 
smoking, does the right hand know what the left is doing? As it is, 
two of our leading exports, mainly to Third World countries, are 
arms and tobacco products, both ultimately causes of death. Should 
we export goods that may be legal, but which morally are indefen- 

Here matters become murkier still. Few would argue that radio 
and television commercials are intrusive and habitually insult the 
intelligence. Yet unless Americans are willing to pay an annual li- 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 49 

cense fee as in most European countries, the quality of program- 
ming is unlikely to improve. As it is, the best drama offerings on 
Public TV are imported, a bleak commentary on where we place 
our priorities. Parallel to TV commercials, the billboards that dis- 
figure our highways are easy to justify in purely financial terms; 
they are legitimate, taxes are collected, and occasionally the signs 
may even provide information. But what of the visual blight, not to 
mention the material wasted in their construction? And what of the 
telephone poles and overhead wires that further scar our neighbor- 
hoods, the freeways that gouge out the very heart of our cities? As 
with modern shopping centers and concrete highrise parking lots, 
in our car-driven society they are practical enough. But why are so 
many city dwellers only too anxious to flee the crime-ridden urban 
centers with their shared ugliness? No one wishes to live in an aes- 
thetic vacuum, devoid of visual gratification. Yet that is what mil- 
lions of Americans are condemned to. 

When on vacation at home and abroad we seek out the historic 
sites that please the eye and appeal to our imagination (even 
Disneyland harks back to some vague bygone era or leaps forward 
to a scientific futurist realm, anything but present-day Downtown 
USA). The irony is that we prefer the colonial and medieval centers, 
towns and villages supposedly built under oppressive rulers, to our 
own lackluster conurbations designed in more "enlightened" times; 
Toledo, Spain, will always be preferred, by tourists at least, to To- 
ledo, Ohio. We marvel at the medieval artisan and his handiwork, 
the great cathedrals and imposing buildings that line many a river 
and lakefront. With us, a structure rises, serves its brief purpose, 
and then is torn down to make way for its equally transitory suc- 
cessor. No doubt this can be justified in the name of progress and 
efficiency, but the argument fails to convince. 

It would be naive to believe that enlightened economics can cure 
every social ill. Yet as we have seen, far from being a detached aca- 
demic exercise, economics employed imaginatively can frequently 
deal with everyday situations. Even as I write this, millions of Ameri- 
cans still go to bed hungry, or at best, barely make ends meet. How 
do we measure the real cost in wasted lives? Clearly corruption in 
our country has not reached the rampant levels in Latin America 
and Italy, but for all that, there is no lack of dubious practices, rang- 
ing from doctors referring patients to their own profit-making fa- 

50 D. Hilt: Economics and Social Morality 

cilities to innumerable cases of price fixing, politicians in hock to 
lobbyists and special interest groups. These questionable deals are 
accepted all too often as the price of conducting business; if we are 
incapable of viewing them as morally reprehensible, at least we may 
recognize that they are inefficient in economic terms as well. We 
have become a debtor nation in every sense. 

Still to be mentioned is violence in today's America. Despite 
armed police and the arbitrary use of capital punishment (abolished 
in Canada and most of Europe) we still have by far the highest 
murder rate in the Western world. In a grotesque distortion of the 
Constitution, guns are as readily accessible to citizens as a driver's 
license. Professional hunters and marksmen in other countries are 
only too anxious to see weapons kept out of the hands of rank ama- 
teurs, but not here in America, where in some states more young 
men between the ages of 15 and 34 are killed by guns than in car 
accidents. The gun lobby still cows irresolute politicians who find it 
more expedient to accept campaign contributions from the NRA 
than to oppose that powerful organization. Foreign tourists are be- 
ginning to think twice before coming to America, and teachers are 
beginning to think twice before taking high school jobs. 

VIII. Conclusion 

What can we do? To a large extent, it is a matter of individual 
conscience and social courage. Educators, politicians, community 
leaders must also in a wider sense become humanitarian econo- 
mists, just as professional economists, in their turn, must seek com- 
mon ground with sociologists, philosophers, artists, musicians, and 
historians, to name but a few fellow disciplines. The need, surely, is 
to view the larger picture in all its interacting facets, to educate the 
whole person for living in a more humane society. The economic 
and ethical challenge facing each one of us is to maintain our sys- 
tem of democracy while imposing the discipline of real learning 
upon the individualistic American reared in a freewheeling, mate- 
rialistic society. Through renewed emphasis on the humanities and 
their application to the practice of economics rooted in social mo- 
rality, we may hope to meet such a challenge. We must see the Bill 
of Rights not as a list of privileges to be pursued to the utmost per- 
sonal advantage, but as a two-sided coin with which we pay our 
civic dues (not merely taxes) as well as receive our benefits, a Bill of 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 51 

?^ghts and Responsibilities that asks us to demand less and con- 
Tibute more. 


'.. Green wald, John. "L.A's Open Wounds," Time, 8 February 1993, pp. 35-36. 

!. Honan, Park. Matthew Arnold, A Life. New York: McGraw-Hill Book, 1981. 

5. Lipietz, Alain. Towards a New Economic Order; Postfordism, Ecology and Democ- 
racy. London: Polity Press, 1993. 

[. Solomon, Robert C. Introducing Philosophy. New York: Harcourt, Brace 
Jovanovich, 1985. 

Industrial Speenhamland: 
British ''Lessons'' of History 

James Stephen Taylor 

"Damn," said the Duchess. Agatha Christie once opined that those 
lines were optimal for getting the reader's attention. Such help may 
be necessary in an essay which seeks to show how social welfare 
provisions at the inception of the British industrial revolution played 
an important role in allowing that revolution to happen.^ 

First, what are the lessons of history? The principal one is humil- 
ity. We know that things change, that there are no perfect trajecto- 
ries into the future, no models not deeply flawed, and that perhaps 
the principal and very salutary lesson one learns from academic 
history is that there are no firm lessons, except to be on guard against 
the snake oil salesmen in academic or political garb who attempt to 
peddle them. But there is the experience of past time, the knowl- 
edge thereof lending insight to understanding current circumstances, 
and there are, perhaps, rules of thumb. 

Certainly one can not view current debates in the United States 
involving the economy and social welfare without echoing Yogi 
Berra's "deja vu all over again," or Solomon's more stately utter- 
ance, "there is nothing new under the sun." 

I. The English Poor Law, Old and New 

Most Americans' knowledge of the English Poor Law begins (and 
ends) with Charles Dickens. In the Christmas Carol, Scrooge's re- 
sponse to a charity appeal was to recommend the workhouse, and 
those who have read Oliver Twist, or seen the musical, know what 
that meant - a single helping of gruel. Of course, at the time Dickens 
wrote, England and Wales were the only countries in the world with 
a comprehensive welfare system, providing assured relief to all in 
need.^ To be sure, the level of relief was often little better than Oliver's 
dinner. Yet even today, one does not have to look far to find a major 
country that does not assure shelter and sustenance for all its citi- 
zens. Second, Dickens was caricaturing the New Poor Law, intro- 
duced in 1834, which was reflective of the influence of Jeremy 


54 J.S. Taylor: British "Lessons" of History 

Bentham's utilitarianism and T.R. Malthus' demographic vision of 
the future.^ 

Yet by 1834 Britain had already taken off into the industrial revo- 
lution. Historians debate when the revolution officially began, but 
the general range is from the mid-eighteenth century to the close of 
the war with the American colonies. By 1834 Britain had entered 
the railway age, a second stage of its industrial development. 

During this pre-1834 period, indeed, stretching back to the six- 
teenth century, there was a poor relief system known as the Elizabe- 
than Poor Law or the Old Poor Law. This system, if that is the right 
word, was extremely complex, variegated and ramshackle compared 
to the new improved poor law initiated by the Poor Law Amend- 
ment Act of 1834, perhaps the quintessential example of Benthamite 
principles at work."^ While the New Poor Law was more rational, 
uniform and supervised, it was also in spirit, and to some extent in 
operation, less humane. The doctrine of "less eligibility" applied in 
the Act was to make poor relief the least eligible (or attractive) alter- 
native to any form of self-support available to the poor. This was 
done by mandating the establishment of consolidated workhouses 
supported by unions of parishes. By centralizing relief in such es- 
tablishments, and by ending "outdoor" relief (relief outside of work- 
houses), it was hoped that poor relief would be less expensive and 
would spur its likely recipients to save against sickness, unemploy- 
ment, and age in order to avoid the awful fate of the union work- 

In fact, the new law groaned imperfectly into operation, and was 
particularly ill-received in the industrial North of England. It proved 
to be neither as inhumane as its critics had feared or as efficient as 
its supporters had hoped. 

Many factors motivated the "get tough" mood of the Parliament 
that passed the 1834 Act, quite apart from Malthusian and 
Benthamite currents. Politics is always a factor. So too is the locus of 
power, and one incentive for reform was to enhance the position of 
the magistrates (justices of the peace) in dealing with recalcitrant 
parish officers. There was a sense that the old system was out of 
control, administered as it so frequently was by annual volunteers 
as overseers of the poor, or delegated by the parish vestry to an 
employee who might be despotic or corrupt. 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 55 

II. The Myth of Speenhamland 

Still, in the swirl of thought and action one word has come to 
symbolize the inefficiency and misplaced generosity of the Old Poor 
Law. That word is Speenhamland. It all supposedly started on May 
6, 1795, when the Berkshire justices met at the Pelican Inn, located 
in a tithing of Speen Parish. The justices established for their juris- 
diction a regular process of subsidizing laborers' wages from the 
poor rates (taxes), with the size of the allowance based on the size 
of the family and the price of bread. This "Speenhamland system," 
as it came to be called, was thought to have spread throughout the 
agrarian counties of southern England, leading to a number of un- 
fortunate results, so it was believed. The "system" was thought to 
have deprived workers of the incentive to move from the parish 
providing the subsidies, or incentive to better their condition in that 
parish, or to limit the size of their families. Indeed, the more chil- 
dren, the larger the subsidy. 

The meeting at the Pelican Inn occurred during the dark days of 
war with revolutionary France, and at the end of a terrible winter. It 
was motivated in part by a temporary shortage of bread. Emergency 
measures to prevent starvation (and a rebellious peasantry) became, 
so it was later argued, a pervasive system for decades, which en- 
couraged welfare dependency and robbed Britain of much of its 

Such beliefs were promoted by the Poor Law Commissioners' 
Report of 1834, which preceded passage of the Act. Wildly 
unstatistical and biased, the 1834 Report gave verisimilitude to per- 
vasive opinion. In the generations to follow, Speenhamland became 
enshrined in the temple of historical verities. It was used by 
historian-reformers in the twentieth century, such as Sidney and 
Beatrice Webb, whose magisterial English Poor Law History (19) be- 
came the major source for those who studied the poor law. The 
Webbs were assiduous scholars, and were not defenders of the New 
Poor Law, but they had a social agenda, and were prepared to ac- 
cept the judgment of the 1830s.^ 

Recent research has shown that the Speenhamland system was 
not a system. What was adopted at the Pelican Inn was part of a 
patchwork of efforts to deal with poverty through provision of fam- 

56 J.S.Taylor: British "Lessons" of History 

ily allowances, and the evidence that it immobilized and 
undermotivated the poor is anecdotal and inconsistent. 

III. Social Welfare and the Industrial Revolution 

In all the debates on the English poor law there is a curious myo- 
pia affecting most scholars of the subject. First, there is the failure of 
perspective alluded to at the beginning - that however imperfect 
the poor law was, old or new, it was still better than any other na- 
tion at that time had developed. The second even more striking 
oversight is that at the very time that many English workers were 
thought to be immobile and undermotivated, Britain was initiating 
the world's first industrial revolution, a process that would put Brit- 
ain at the top as a world power in the nineteenth century. Was this 
impressive transformation in spite of the Old Poor Law or was that 
law irrelevant to the economic changes? Given the magnitude of 
the poor law system, neither alternative seems likely. The Old Poor 
Law reached into every parish and administering it was the princi- 
pal business of parish government. Settlement law, developed to 
determine the parish responsible for each pauper, was in the eigh- 
teenth century the largest single branch of English jurisprudence, if 
judged by the number of cases, individuals affected and lawyers 

There remains a third alternative, and that is that the Old Poor 
Law contributed positively to making the industrial revolution pos- 
sible. In other words, the welfare system, far from impeding eco- 
nomic change, worked to promote it, in three ways. First, there can 
be little doubt that the existence of the poor law helped dampen the 
prospects of social revolution. Weekly allowances, relief in kind, 
and in variously styled institutions for the poor (workhouses, 
carehouses, almshouses, poorhouses) meant the English lower or- 
ders (classes) were unlikely to trade these cold comforts for the even 
colder business of barricades and marches. To be sure, there were 
riots and sporadic outbreaks of machine breaking, but disturbances 
tended to be localized, and largely deprived of a sustained and com- 
prehensive vision. The Chartist Movement is one of several excep- 
tions. However, the exceptions show even more clearly that the Brit- 
ish working class lacked the stomach for major revolution, surely 
in part because the workers had some assurance their stomachs 
would be fed, if not filled. 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 57 

Second, the Old Poor Law undoubtedly did inhibit migration of 
some people from some parishes, especially in southern England. 
Relief was locally disbursed, and to move to a distant parish might 
raise complex legal questions that could drastically upset an 
individual's life. A pauper, for example, might be forced to sell out 
and move back to his home parish, if he could not find employment 
elsewhere. Alternatively, he might be marooned in his new parish, 
having fulfilled one of the myriad ways a new settlement could be 
obtained.^ In such a case, his original parish might not be willing to 
welcome him back. Yet, inhibiting migration was not necessarily 
disadvantageous in either economic or social terms, however much 
it violated civil liberty. One need only reflect on the bloated barrios 
of South and Central America today. Indeed, much of the world has 
suffered from dramatic urban-rural shifts that have been socially 
and economically destabilizing. The very ramshackleness of the Old 
Poor Law guaranteed that movement would not be prevented, but 
moderated, which served to keep the less employable at home but 
posed little barrier to those who wished to move and could find 

IV. Industrial Speenhamland 

Third, there was a system in the industrial North of England that 
positively enhanced migration from the agrarian to the industrial 
sector. It is this which I call, using some license with the original 
term, "industrial Speenhamland." (The agrarian-industrial di- 
chotomy that follows is, of course, simplistic; all sorts of communi- 
ties were involved in the interchange of migrants.) 

To understand how it worked, it is necessary to keep in mind two 
postulates in the administration of the poor law It might not be overly 
rash to call them the twin pillars of most governance at the local 
level, and they are located far from the realms of thought inhabited 
by the devotees of Malthus or Bentham. Most parish or township 
officers, most of the time, had as their guiding principles the avoid- 
ance of trouble and expense. Unpleasant confrontations with pau- 
pers or supervising magistrates were not sought by overseers serv- 
ing out their annual stint in office. The same was true, perhaps to 
lesser extent, with hired officers, known as assistant overseers. Pau- 
per complaints to vestry or, still worse, to a magistrate could be 
troublesome. Besides, it is more difficult to be rigorous to a neighbor 

58 J.S. Taylor: British "Lessons" of History 

than to an unknown, and the local nature of administration meant 
that givers and receivers were likely to be known to one another. 
This introduced an element of benevolent paternalism in which the 
moral conduct or reputation of the pauper petitioner weighed heavily 
in the generosity or the lack of it from relief providers. 

Avoidance of trouble pulled overseers in the direction of gener- 
osity but avoiding expense operated inversely. If the locally taxed, 
that is, the ratepayers, decreed stringent economies then the over- 
seers might have little choice but to say "no." The dynamic tension 
between the two poles introduced the most variegated circumstances 
over time and in different places. Of course, the overseer was usu- 
ally most content when he could satisfy both ratepayer and pauper. 
This is what industrial Speenhamland enabled him to do. 

The process was inordinately commonsensical, and worked to 
universal advantage, at least in the short run. A poor person who 
might otherwise be a burden on the rates would decide to move 
from his agrarian township to Manchester, or some other industrial 
town, in order to find employment and a better life (townships, not 
parishes, were the principal unit of local government in the North). 
The home township might subsidize the move as an investment in 
lower poor rates (the poor person would not be around to request 
relief). The best scenario would be for the poor person to earn a 
settlement elsewhere, and so save his township any further obliga- 
tions. The second best scenario would be for the person to find full 
employment and become self-supporting for an extended period of 
time. The third scenario would be for the person to find some work 
in town, either regular or part-time employment, or periods of full 
employment alternating with no work and subsequent dependency. 
In fact, the third scenario was exceedingly common. What to do? 
The industrial township did not want to support such people, nor 
did it wish to lose laborers who might be needed in the next trade 
upswing. The agrarian township did not want to have poor mi- 
grants return to be heavy charges on the rates, nor did the migrants 
themselves usually relish returning, disrupting their new beginnings 
and acknowledging failure. 

Under such circumstances, the least trouble and expense all 
around was for the agrarian township to send an allowance to its 
charge, and the industrial township to act as the go-between. 
Everyone gained something in this beneficent circle, yet one must 

V\lest Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 59 

not be Pollyannaish about it. The lives of these rural migrants were 
usually at the outer edges of misery. Wages of unskilled labor, and 
they usually were unskilled, were low, and the subsidies they were 
likely to receive, still lower. There was little or no motivation for 
such "out-parishioners" to avoid work because of a paltry subsidy. 
The agrarian township could be stingy, knowing that the recipient 
was far away and not likely to be troublesome, while the industrial 
township was given a subsidized workforce for little more than the 
costs of administering the allowances. 

Nothing is perfect. The mails were unreliable and various ad hoc 
arrangements in this triangular trade could go awry over problems 
of communication. The agrarian township might be delinquent in 
making payments or so stingy that the industrial township either 
had to supplement relief or remove the pauper to his home town- 
ship. There was room for fraud from both relief officers and recipi- 
ents. And yet, if it had not worked reasonably well, cities such as 
Manchester or Preston would not have supported it. In these cir- 
cumstances, quite modest welfare investment led to a mobile and 
motivated workforce in Lancashire and the West Riding, the world's 
first industrial heartland. 

Evidence for industrial Speenhamland is partly inferential, and 
based on knowledge of how the poor law actually functioned on 
the local level. Most arrangements were extra-legal, and so the pa- 
per trail is imperfect. Nevertheless, there are collections of corre- 
spondence, entries in overseers' accounts, and bills from industrial 
townships to agrarian townships, which reveal the pervasiveness 
of the system and how generally accepted it was. One of the most 
revealing illustrations of this was the many printed forms drawn 
up precisely to serve this end, with only the blanks for the town- 
ships' and paupers' names, and the amount of money to be trans- 
ferred, to be filled in by township officers. The Manchester 
Churchwardens' Accounts are particularly helpful in providing a 
broad statistical accounting over an extended period of time. 

The Accounts also contain records of relief given to a large Irish 
contingent. Ireland did not have a comprehensive social welfare 
system, and so there was no way for the Manchester authorities to 
be reimbursed for expenditures made on behalf of Irish sojourning 
in their city. However, the option of not providing support was to 
incur the cost of transporting the Irish back to Ireland. Least trouble 

60 J.S. Taylor: British "Lessons" of History 

and expense was often the policy of providing niodest subsidies to 
tide Irish sojourners over a bout of unemployment or sickness.^ 

Some townships did not welcome sojourners from other town- 
ships because the local economy might have been stagnant over an 
extended period of time. That is, there might be too many unem- 
ployed inhabitants, with a claim on their township. Also, a series of 
bad experiences with agrarian townships might make the overseers 
shy of entering new arrangements. However, it was precisely in those 
areas that were expanding economically that the system worked 
best - where the workers were needed is where they, in fact, tended 
to go. In addition, the sojourners, either English or Irish (and some- 
times Scottish) were on probation, subject to removal whenever the 
local authorities decided. This provided sojourners incentive to work 
well, and incentive for the local authorities to want to keep them. 

V. Mercantilism and Industrialism 

The Old Poor Law was essentially mercantilist in nature, and 
conceived quite opposite to the views of Adam Smith, one of the 
Law's critics. What James Fallows (5) identifies with Asia's fastest 
growing economies today was, in fact, in place during the take-off 
stage of the British industrial revolution. ^° There are interesting par- 
allels, such as China's current settlement restrictions which serve to 
moderate migration in her expanding economy. 

The Christian mercantilists of mid-eighteenth century England 
preceded Friedrich List in emphasizing productivity at home over 
the satisfying of consumer wants, the importance of protection, in- 
telligently employed, and the welfare of the nation over the 
self-interest of the capitalist. The Christian mercantilists were par- 
ticularly interested in promoting the welfare of the workers, identi- 
fying national wealth less with resources than with healthy, trained 
and willing workers. Unfortunately, this view, which prevailed in 
the London merchant community, failed to find an exponent with 
the brilliance of Adam Smith." 

Natural law was the order of the day, applied to the sciences by 
Newton, to politics by Locke, and to the economy by Adam Smith. 
The untidiness and complexity of mercantilist views were 
off-putting, and it did not help much when thirteen American colo- 
nies decided to revolt in 1776, the year of publication of Smith's 
Wealth of Nations. Adam Smith and the successful colonists helped 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 61 

put eighteenth-century mercantihsm out of business. However, it 
was a gradual process, and it was the old ideas, not the new, that 
launched the initial industrial revolution. James Fallows is correct 
in arguing that laissez-faire and free trade are the luxuries of econo- 
mies that have arrived. (5, pp. 79, 84, 87) Neither, however, may 
always be beneficial for a society that aims at justice and solidarity. 

Ever since Bernard Mandeville launched his disturbing ideas in 
the early eighteenth century, economic thinkers have had to wrestle 
with the notion that private vices lead to public benefits. (9) Adam 
Smith helped give Mandeville's work intellectual respectability, but 
to base an economy on either man's thought is surely to miss the 
point of what an economy ought to be for. It is not primarily to sat- 
isfy all the ephemeral wants of consumers, not even to provide the 
greatest happiness for the greatest number, and not to maximize 

The purpose of the economy is to undergird high civilization. 
Such civilization involves the ability of humans (a) to live comfort- 
ably and peaceably in large communities; (b) to balance between 
the collective and the individual good; and (c) to provide sufficient 
diversity of skills, knowledge, cultures and perhaps even income 
levels, so as to motivate its members in creative pursuits. Of course, 
no civilization has ever attained perfection in all those ways, and 
no ism, economic or otherwise, is sufficient for such a complex end. 

It is the so-called golden ages of history, such as fifth-century 
B.C. Athens or fifteenth century Florence, that have come closest to 
such high civilization, under a variety of economic circumstances. 
Self-gratification, material plenty and an absence of anxiety are not 
essential to high civilization. These, certainly, do not characterize 
all golden ages, although sometimes great wealth in the hands of a 
few may be used to support the creativity of others, as in the Flo- 
rence of the Medici. 

Britain, during the early industrial revolution, was able to create 
a certain balance between the collective and individual good in a 
society that provoked and motivated its members in creative ways 
- from designing new machinery for factories to designing new 
methods of governance. The social welfare system in place, com- 
monly known as the Old Poor Law, contributed to that end until 
British society became so wealthy and powerful it could afford to 
adopt dogmas that had little to do with its initial success. 

62 J.S. Taylor: British "Lessons" of History 

VI. Conclusion 

So what does all this contribute to an understanding of the theme 
of this volume? If nothing else it provides a bit of perspective, and 
perhaps four rules of thumb. 

First, human affairs are messy and complex; it is natural to strive 
for order and simplicity, but moderate success in that effort is all 
one can hope for. Second, conditions in Britain in the eighteenth 
and early nineteenth centuries are impossible to recreate, even if 
one were foolish enough to wish it. Life was Hobbsian for many 
and certainly miserable for most, at least by later standards in the 
West. Rule two, then, implies that there is no return passage. Rule 
three is that if there is any rule governing human behavior, on the 
grand scale, it is a propensity to avoid trouble and expense in all the 
manifold ways they present themselves. There are, to be sure, higher 
and lower principles affecting human action, but this is the main 
current that carries us forward, or more accurately, the principal 
property dictating the direction the water will flow. 

Finally, Rule four, and most central to this essay's thrust, a social 
welfare system offering comprehensive security at a modest level 
may contribute to economic growth if it stabilizes and motivates 
large numbers of people. One should be prepared for some 
untidiness, including welfare fraud, but guard against 
over-dependence on anecdotal evidence. Individual and family al- 
lowances, in the form of stipends and other forms of relief (medi- 
cine, clothing and shelter), in spite of the costs, and, especially if 
they encourage workers' physical and social mobility and flexibil- 
ity, may pay for themselves in increased economic productivity. 
Furthermore and more importantly, these may facilitate an advance 
to a higher level of civilization.^^ The people of the United States 
could not tolerate the levels of deprivation experienced by the Brit- 
ish common people during the industrial revolution. Neither should 
they be prepared to tolerate homelessness or hunger for any of its 

Speenhamland was once a term symbolizing what was thought 
to be a failed system of social welfare. It was, in fact, one of the 
processes that transformed Britain into the greatest power among 
nineteenth-century states. It did this by helping Britain undergo the 
world's first industrial revolution. 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 63 


l.This article builds on three earlier works by the same author: "The Impact 
of Pauper Settlement, 1691-1834" (14); Poverty, Migration and Settlement in the In- 
dustrial Revolution (16); and "A Different Kind of Speenhamland: Nonresident 
Relief in the Industrial Revolution" (18). 

2. England and Wales were integrated in a poor relief system that excluded 
Scotland and Ireland. Scottish and Irish sojourners in England and Wales could, 
in some cases, receive poor relief, however. 

3. An excellent introduction to Dickens, as history, is Humphry House, The 
Dickens World. (8) The intellectual history of poverty is explored by Gertrude 
Himmelfarb, The Idea of Poverty: England in the Early Industrial Age. (7) 

4. Great Britain, Parliamentary Papers, Report from His Majesty's Commission- 
ers for Inquiring into the Administration and Practical Operation of the Poor Laws, 
1834 (44), 27-28. Volume 27 is the Report itself. The other volumes are massive 
compilations of information of great value, but little used in the Report itself. 

5. Speenhamland has been examined in several studies by Mark Neuman, 
such as "Speenhamland in Berkshire" (11). Reevaluations of the Old Poor Law 
are found in Mark Blaug, "The Myth of the Old Poor Law and the Making of the 
New" (2); James Stephen Taylor, "The Mythology of the Old Poor Law" (13); and 
D.A. Baugh, "The Cost of Poor Relief in South-East England, 1790-1834." (1) 

6. Sidney and Beatrice Webb's work is embedded in three volumes (7-9) in 
the authors' still more magisterial English Local Government. Another fundamen- 
tal shaper of later opinion was Dorothy Marshall's The English Poor in the Eigh- 
teenth Century. (10) 

7. The centrality of the poor law is most clearly seen in the thirty editions of 
Richard Burn's The Justice of the Peace and Parish Officer (3), variously published in 
London between 1755 and 1869. Virtually every aspect of public welfare was part 
of the poor law, and directly or indirectly, as administrators or recipients, it touched 
the lives of the great majority of the English and Welsh people in the eighteenth 
and nineteenth centuries. 

8. It would take hundreds of pages to describe all the ways settlement might 
be gained or lost. It could be derived through one's family or acquired by one's 
actions. However, the great majority involved marriage (the wife assuming her 
husband's settlement), the serving of an apprenticeship or serving out a con- 
tracted year of service. Renting or owning land, serving in local government, and 
paying rates (local taxes) also figured in settlement determinations. 

9. City of Manchester, Cultural Services, Central Library, Churchwardens' Ac- 
counts, 1809-48, M3/3/46A & B. (4) A preliminary analysis of this splendid source 
is found in the present author's "'Set Down in a Large Manufacturing Town': 
Sojourning Poor in Early Nineteenth-Century Manchester." (17) 

10. James Fallows' article is certain to give the student of eighteenth-century 
mercantilism an acute case of deja vu, as he discusses the mainsprings of Asia's 
fast growing economies. His knowledge of British history seems rudimentary. 

64 J.S.Taylor: British "Lessons" of History 

Edward III did not create the manufacture of woolen cloth, and Elizabeth did not 
found the mercantile marine and foreign trade of Britain (p. 66). In fairness, his 
essay is partial confirmation of this essay's argument. 

11. Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of The Wealth of Nations. 
Eds. R. H. Campbell and A. S. Skinner. (12) This is well-edited; Campbell and 
Skinner are not shy in pointing to the weaknesses in Smith's analysis of pauper 
settlement. The most prolific exponent of Christian mercantilism was Jonas 
Hanway. An extremely effective philanthropist, he was no scholar or writer, and 
his eighty-five published works are a trial to read. See the present author's Jonas 
Hanway. (15) 

12. In 1969 the present author was contacted by a junior official in the Nixon 
Administration about Speenhamland's relevance to family allowances in the 
United States. The contact was transitory. Even today, most textbooks, if they 
mention Speenhamland at all, still provide the interpretation of the 1920s. It is 
rather discouraging. 


1. Baugh, D. A. "The Cost of Poor Rehef in South-East England, 1790-1834," 

Economic History Review, 28, 1975 2nd ser., pp. 50-68. 

2. Blaug, Mark. "The Myth of the Old Poor Law and the Making of the New," 

Journal of Economic History, 23, 1963, pp. 151-83. 

3. Burn, Richard. The Justice of the Peace and Parish Officer. 20th ed. London: A. 

Strahan, 1805. 

4. City of Manchester, Cultural Services, Central Library, Churchwardens' Ac- 

counts, 1809-48, M3/3/46A & B. 

5. Fallows, James. "How the World Works," The Atlantic Monthly, December 

1993, pp. 61-87. 

6. Great Britain, Parliamentary Papers, Report from His Majesty's Commissioners 

for Inquiring into the Administration and Practical Operation of the Poor Laws, 
1834 (44), 27-28. 

7. Himmelfarb, Gertrude. The Idea of Poverty: England in the Early Industrial Age. 

New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1984. 

8. House, Humphry. The Dickens World. 2nd ed. London: Oxford University 

Press, 1942. 

9. Mandeville, Bernard. The Fable of the Bees: or, Private Vices, Publick Benefits, 2 

vols. Ed. F. B. Kaye. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1924. 

10. Marshall, Dorothy. The English Poor in the Eighteenth Century. London: George 

Routledge & Sons Ltd., 1926. 

11. Neuman, Mark. "Speenhamland in Berkshire," in Comparative Development 

in Social Welfare. Ed. E. W. Martin. London: Allen & Unwin, 1972, pp. 

V^est Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 65 

12. Smith, Adam. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. 
Eds. R. H. Campbell and A. S. Skinner. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976. 

13. Taylor, James Stephen. "The Mythology of the Old Poor Law," Journal of Eco- 
nomic History, 29, 1969, pp. 292-97. 

14. . "The Impact of Pauper Settlement, 1691-1834," Past and Present, 

73, November 1976, pp. 42-74. 

15. . Jonas Hanivay. London: Scolar Press, 1985. 

16. . Poverty, Migration and Settlement in the Industrial Revolution. Palo 

Alto: SPOSS, 1989. 

17. . "'Set Down in a Large Manufacturing Town': Sojourning Poor in 

Early Nineteenth-Century Manchester," Manchester Region History Re- 
view, 3, Autumn/Winter 1989-90, pp. 3-8. 

18. . "A Different Kind of Speenhamland: Nonresident Relief in the 

Industrial Revolution," Journal of British Studies, 30, April 1991, pp. 

19. Webb, Sidney and Webb, Beatrice. English Poor Law History, 3 vols. London: 
Longmans, Green & Co., 1927-29. 

The Impact of Proposed Structural 
Legislative Reforms on the Attainment of 
Economic Security^, Equity^ and Justice 

Stanley M. Caress 

While the economic prosperity of the United States is primarily 
dependent on market forces, available resources, and private initia- 
tive, the role of the national government in the distribution of mate- 
rial goods is undeniable. The American national government, 
through its taxation, budgetary, and regulatory authority, can sig- 
nificantly influence societal patterns of wealth and impact virtually 
every aspect of the domestic economic system. (12, pp. 2-3) The taxa- 
tion policies adopted by the national government determine which 
segments of society will shoulder the cost of providing public ser- 
vices and if any particular income group will carry a disproportion- 
ate share of the tax burden. 

The government's budgetary decisions have a profound impact 
on which segments of the American people will benefit from gov- 
ernment action. The federal budget specifies which programs will 
be funded and, consequently, which individuals and groups will 
receive government funds and services. (11, pp. 2-5) Moreover, the 
national government, through its regulatory practices, can also pro- 
mote or inhibit particular classifications of industries and businesses, 
which can have a considerable impact on their potential for mate- 
rial growth and success. The national government, therefore, 
through its exercise of legitimate governmental duties, is in a piv- 
otal position to impact the economic life of this nation and thus to 
determine who in American society prospers and who does not. 

Because of its potential economic power, the national government 
is frequently considered to be the ultimate insurer of society-wide 
economic justice. This is a logical extension of its constitutionally 
mandated authority to promote the general welfare and to secure 
the blessings of prosperity for the American people. (6, p. 3) Thus, it 
is not surprising that throughout American history, the national 
government has been petitioned to intervene in private economic 
matters to help produce equitable economic conditions and results. 


68 S.M. Caress: The Impact of Proposed Structural Legislative Reforms 

Despite American culture's continuous enthusiasm for free enter- 
prise and market capitalism, the involvement of the government in 
promoting a fair business environment has always attracted strong 
popular support. Moreover, in the twentieth century, an expanded 
role of the national government has been publicly embraced, which 
includes protector of the temporarily and permanently disabled or 
displaced, facilitator of economic growth, and legitimate overseer 
of the utilization of the nation's resources. 

The increased participation of the national government in eco- 
nomic matters in this century has provided the genesis of the 
government's involvement in the pursuit of economic justice. Eco- 
nomic justice, for the purposes of this article, will be defined as a 
situation where all citizens have a fair opportunity to accumulate 
material wealth, enjoy a comfortable standard of living, and share 
the economic resources of their nation. This definition implies that 
no elite class is given disproportionate advantage in the pursuit or 
maintenance of wealth and that all citizens, regardless of social sta- 
tus or other personal characteristics, are entitled to an equal oppor- 
tunity to participate in the economic life of the nation. 

I. Congressional Economic Authority 

In the American governmental structure, the ultimate authority 
over taxation policy, budgetary allocations, and regulatory practices 
rests with the United States Congress. (5, pp. 90-93) The United States 
Constitution grants the power to levy taxes exclusively to the Con- 
gress and also gives it the authority to regulate commerce and to 
pass the federal budget. These functions provide the Congress with 
the means to impact the economic system considerably more than 
the other branches of American government. While Presidents can 
devise extensive economic programs, it is the Congress that decides 
if they will be enacted into official government policies. Presidents 
can only attempt to provide the nation's economic direction. How- 
ever, unless Congress is willing to follow this lead, these efforts are 
meaningless. The leadership of the Congress typically develops its 
own economic objectives, which eventually determine the 
government's policies in this area. The majority viewpoint of the 
membership of both houses of Congress, therefore, is the primary 
determinant of national economic policy. This constitution- 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 69 

lUy-specified power arrangement has often made the Congress the 
"ocus of efforts to insure economic justice. 

Since the decisions of Congress have such a far-reaching impact 
3n the allocation of this country's material goods and resources, the 
'esults of Congressional elections, the composition of the Congres- 
sional membership, and the subsequent rules that govern legisla- 
tive behavior have a tremendous relevance to the attainment of the 
goal of economic justice. The decisions of Congress can either facili- 
tate or hinder the equitable distribution of the nation's wealth. If 
Congress, for example, tailors tax policy to favor a particular seg- 
ment of the American population, that segment will reap more than 
its fair share of economic rewards. If, however, the Congress is com- 
mitted to representing the interests of the entire public in a fair and 
just manner, no grouping within the nation will receive any dispro- 
portionate advantage. Therefore, the potential for the adoption of 
measures that promote economic justice has a linkage to the cir- 
cumstances that surround Congressional elections as well as to the 
regulations that impact legislative functions. Hence, the issue of 
Congressional reform is significantly relevant to the creation of a 
more equitable social and economic order. 

Despite the potential influence that Congress can exert on eco- 
nomic conditions, its interpretation of its own proper role in the 
management of the economy, and the appropriate extent of govern- 
mental involvement in the pursuance of economic justice, has var- 
ied considerably over time. During the formative years of Ameri- 
can nationhood, there existed only limited public pressure on the 
Congress to aggressively intervene in economic matters beyond 
merely regulating the currency and promoting international trade. 
As American society industrialized and urbanized in the latter half 
of the nineteenth century, calls on the Congress to involve govern- 
ment to a greater extent increased dramatically. 

Industrialization generated a very apparent unequal distribution 
of wealth on an unprecedented scale. It also gave rise to previously 
unknown negative societal conditions, such as child labor abuses, 
industrial accidents, and long-term forced unemployment. This situ- 
ation produced widespread public outrage and concern. The Con- 
gress, because of both its potential for economic authority and its 
representative function, was called upon to take action to mitigate 
the more obvious abuses of industrialization. Congressional will- 

70 S.M. Caress: The Impact of Proposed Structural Legislative Reforms 

ingness to intervene in this previously untouched poUcy area, how- 
ever, changed only gradually 

II. Congressional Economic Policy Classifications 

It is useful at this point to examine the evolution of the willing- 
ness of Congress to involve the national government in directing 
economic forces in pursuance of social goals such as economic jus- 
tice. The Congress specifically, and the national government gener- 
ally, have considered and adopted economic policies that can be 
classified into three broad categories. Each category represents a 
different focus and level of commitment to use government to ad- 
dress economically related social problems. Moreover, Congress has 
demonstrated a noticeable inclination to support legislation that falls 
into each of these three specific classifications during well defined 
historical periods. Thus, the adoption of legislation that fits each 
category tends to be concentrated in specific decades. These cat- 
egories of legislative orientation can be labeled: economic security; 
economic fairness; and economic equity. 

A. Economic Security 

Policies that can be properly classified as "economic security" 
are predicated on the belief that the government has a legitimate 
obligation to protect its citizens from economic calamity and latent 
financial crises. Congressional action that falls into this category 
protects the citizenry from the more negative consequences of un- 
employment, disability, economic displacement, and old age. Eco- 
nomic security programs empower the government to function as a 
nationwide insurance company. In this type of policy, the govern- 
ment passes legislation that authorizes the collection of revenues 
which are aggregated into a large fund that is utilized to financially 
protect all participating citizens. Hence, the government assumes 
the role of mitigator of widespread negative economic conditions 
and protector of the citizenry from economic catastrophe. 

Policies that promote economic security have a distributive na- 
ture because the revenues used to fund them are also collected from 
the individuals who potentially benefit from the policies. Thus, re- 
cipients help pay for their own benefits. The financing mechanisms 
of economic security programs rely on citizens who are gainfully 
employed, paying a portion of their income into reserved funds, 
which are subsidized by both their employers and the government. 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 71 

These funds support the programs that protect citizens in the ad- 
vent of loss of employment, ill-health, accident, economic down- 
turns, or old age. 

While the role of the government in providing economic security 
programs today is broadly accepted, and in fact expected by the 
public, this was not always the case. Early attempts to promote the 
government's role in this area were viewed by critics as an abroga- 
tion of individual freedoms. During the nineteenth century, the 
Congress displayed a strong reluctance to aggressively pursue eco- 
nomic security matters, and was frequently hostile to the subject. It 
was not until the virtual collapse of the economic system in the 1930s 
that numerous neophyte Congressmen were elected to alter the pre- 
vailing Congressional resistance to governmental economic inter- 
vention. The new Congress of 1933 enthusiastically supported the 
programs of President Roosevelt's New Deal that had economic 
security policies as their centerpiece. (9, p. 264) Today economic lib- 
erals and conservatives both accept the legitimacy of government 
involvement in the area of economic security. Programs such as 
workmen's compensation, disability insurance, and social security 
have become interwoven into American society and are never seri- 
ously challenged in Congress. 

B. Economic Fairness 

Economic fairness policy represents an increased level of gov- 
ernmental involvement in the nation's economic life. Policies of this 
type go significantly further than the protection offered by economic 
security programs; they attempt to rectify economic maladjustments 
within society. Legislation that falls into this category seeks to re- 
move artificial barriers that inhibit certain groups within American 
culture from full participation in the economic system. These artifi- 
cial barriers can be based on the lack of education or job training. 
They may be the result of patterns of poverty or the product of ra- 
cial, religious, or ethnic discrimination. These types of policies are 
based on the assumption that specific identifiable clusters of citi- 
zens have not reaped the benefits of American society because of 
institutional and culturally-erected obstacles. Government initiatives 
are required to correct this situation, and to mitigate these social 
and economic barriers. Specific programs enacted by Congress that 
promote economic fairness include various civil rights acts that pro- 

72 S.M. Caress: The Impact of Proposed Structural Legislative Reforms 

hibit discrimination in employment opportunities, educational en- 
richment programs, and job training legislation for the disadvantaged. 
While economic security legislation was primarily enacted in the 
1930s, it was not until the mid 1960s that sufficient popular impetus 
was present to motivate Congressional action in the area of eco- 
nomic fairness. Specific aspects of these programs still remain con- 
troversial today because of their redistributive nature. Criticism of 
this class of legislation revolves around the principle that the re- 
cipients of these programs do not pay the taxes that are used to 
finance them. Employed individuals are required to cover these 
expenditures even though they may not receive direct benefits. The 
fundamental premise of prohibiting economic discrimination, how- 
ever, has been generally accepted by the American public. Congress 
has committed itself to correcting this problem by continuously 
supporting legislation in this area. 

C. Economic Equity 

Economic equity policy is a major departure from the other two 
categories. While economic security has been popularly accepted 
and even taken for granted, and economic fairness programs, though 
remaining marginally controversial have generally been enacted, 
economic equity remains beyond the current political mainstream. 
Economic equity policies include government action aimed at sys- 
tematically reducing the difference between the affluent and im- 
poverished segments of the population. Guaranteed annual income 
and comparable worth are two examples. The rationale for policies 
that fit this classification is that the government must go beyond 
merely opening up opportunities and providing educational train- 
ing; it should actually promote the interests of economically disad- 
vantaged groups. These policies attempt to manipulate and direct 
economic factors in order to create an equitable society. While ideo- 
logically liberal Congressmen have introduced legislation in this 
area, the majority of Congress has been extremely reluctant to adopt 
these initiatives. Previously enacted programs, that fall marginally 
into this category, remain controversial and subject to revision. 
Moderate Congressmen, for example, frequently espouse rhetoric 
about cleaning up the welfare system. Two decades ago, a Presi- 
dential candidate dared to suggest that a basic income level should 
be federally guaranteed. An avalanche of criticisms immediately 

vilest Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 73 

occurred. The suggestion proved to be a major political embarrass- 
ment and was quickly retracted. Thus, Congressional support for 
economic equity policies, despite the acceptance of both economic 
security and fairness, is at best sporadic. 

III. Congressional Policy Tendencies 

Throughout this century, there had been a steady progression in 
Congressional acceptance of policies that promote economic jus- 
tice. Economic security policies were first adopted in the 1930s, and 
then economic fairness programs were enacted in the 1960s. Finally, 
economic equity initiatives were considered in the early 1970s, even 
though the Congress never accepted their legitimacy and soon re- 
tracted from them. During the 1980s, however. Congress reversed 
the direction it had taken since 1933 regarding economic justice. In 
the 1980s, a number of new Congressmen were elected who influ- 
enced the then prevailing majority view of Congress on economic 
matters. This reconstituted Congressional membership changed the 
tax code which substantially reduced the rates of upper-income 
groups and simultaneously passed budgets that lessened services 
to the poor. 

These actions were taken in response to popular dissatisfaction 
with the economic conditions of the late 1970s. (1, p. 543) 
Double-digit inflation and a significant level of unemployment, 
which at the time were considered unacceptably high, generated a 
climate of public fear. These negative conditions were used as cam- 
paign issues by a variety of Congressional candidates in the 1980 
election. The public's concerns regarding the country's economic 
well-being were fertile ground for opponents of the government's 
movement towards economic justice, leading Congress to reverse 
its traditional economic policy direction after this election.(7, p. 1143) 

Moreover, during this time period a number of industries were 
deregulated which caused a variety of ramifications. In some in- 
stances, this produced a succession of major scandals such as the 
savings and loan debacle, while in other cases, it fostered corporate 
restructuring and contraction which drastically increased unemploy- 
ment. These and other factors contributed to a growing disenchant- 
ment with government. 

Congress typically comes under intense scrutiny during pro- 
tracted periods of economic uncertainty. (13, p. 570) The actions taken 

74 S.M. Caress: The Impact of Proposed Structural Legislative Reforms 

by the national government in the 1980s failed to produce the pre- 
dicted sanguine results. The Congressional reversal from its tradi- 
tional progress towards economic justice neither stimulated real 
economic growth nor significantly improved conditions for the 
American middle class. Only the wealthiest echelons of the Ameri- 
can people experienced a measurable material improvement, as a 
result of these actions. Consequently, public sentiment to alter the 
existing political order intensified. In Presidential politics, this sen- 
timent was expressed by the turning out of an incumbent Presi- 
dent. At the Congressional level, it was manifested in new demands 
for legislative reform. 

American history is ripe with examples of demands for Congres- 
sional reform; the last decade of the twentieth century is a prime 
example. While numerous proposed reforms had emerged earlier, 
they received an intensified impetus since 1990. In recent years. 
Congressional salary caps and district readjustments have been sub- 
jects of serious public discourse. Term limits and public campaign 
financing, however, have attracted the most widespread public con- 

Congressional term limits and public campaign financing are two 
reforms that have gained a degree of credibility and have been the 
subject of intense popular debate. Both have been promoted as hold- 
ing the potential for improved Congressional behavior and have 
experienced some degree of public popularity. The question that 
should be addressed at this point is: do these reforms have the po- 
tential to improve domestic economic conditions and, also, to ulti- 
mately promote the attainment of economic justice? 

IV. Congressional Term Limits 

The public disenchantment with government that resulted from 
the lingering recession and various scandals of the 1980s stimulated 
calls for limiting the number of years an incumbent Congressman 
can serve in office. Term limits are promoted as an effective method 
for ameliorating the abuses of those in power. Proponents of term 
limits contend that Congress has become insulated from public opin- 
ion because of the tendency of incumbent Congressmen and Sena- 
tors to be continuously reelected. (3, p. 5) These Congressional crit- 
ics claim that reelection is less an indication of popular support than 
the result of creative district drawing and of disproportional cam- 

]Nest Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 75 

3aign resources. They claim that Congress has become a body com- 
posed of permanent careerists who seldom are seriously challenged, 
rhis situation has created an environment where the members of 
3oth chambers of Congress have developed concerns that reflect 
:he power elites of Washington and not of their constituents. For 
:hese critics. Congress has become an intransigent institution that 
s incapable of reflecting public opinion. 

The attractiveness of term limits is obvious. If the current mem- 
bership is not performing well, limiting terms of office can expedite 
1 rapid change of members. Theoretically, this will produce fresh 
"epresentatives with innovative ideas and prevent Congressmen 
Tom being in office for such a duration that they lose concern for 
:he needs of their constituents. This simplistic solution to a com- 
plex problem unfortunately contains numerous latent negative rami- 
'ications. The only known consequence of term limits is a constant 
:urnover of members. However, continuous turnover would sig- 
nificantly disrupt Congressional procedure. (4, p. 3497) The rules of 
I^ongress are arcane and complex; most freshman members require 
\ minimum of a year, and frequently longer, to master basic parlia- 
Tientary procedures. With a large class of newcomers in each ses- 
sion. Congress would constantly be in a state of acclimating its mem- 
bers. Consequently, the creation of legislation might be impeded, 
regardless of its ideological underpinnings. Clearly, this inefficiency 
does not insure that Congress will reflect the needs of the public. 

Moreover, the utilization of term limits does not alter the dynamics 
Df the existing political system. There is no mechanism for prevent- 
ing incumbents from anointing like-minded individuals to be their 
successors. This process already exists when an incumbent retires. 
While the endorsement of the incumbent does not ensure election 
dctory, it does provide a major advantage which typically trans- 
lates into electoral success. Thus, even with a consistently revolv- 
ing membership, the ideological and philosophical makeup of Con- 
gress might remain intact. 

V. Campaign Finance Reform 

A vast amount of scholarly and journalistic attention has been 
directed towards the financing of Congressional campaigns. (10, pp. 
5-6) The fact that the cost of campaigning has skyrocketed in the 
past three decades has been an overriding, often repeated conclu- 

76 S.M. Caress: The Impact of Proposed Structural Legislative Reforms 

sion. The current average cost of conducting a reasonably effective 
Congressional campaign is about $300,000. Senate campaigns in 
larger states typically exceed several million dollars. The huge sums 
of money that all successful candidates must raise has been a fre- 
quently mentioned source of concern. 

A more troubling problem than just the amount of money needed 
to run for Congress, relates to the source of the funds used for Con- 
gressional campaigns. The lion's share of funding comes primarily 
from two sources. The first source of funding is Political Action 
Committees that represent a wide spectrum of interest groups. It 
has been well-documented that interest groups contribute campaign 
donations in hopes of convincing Congress to favor their legislative 
initiatives. Group theory literature has frequently noted that effec- 
tive groups have a narrow focus, and, because of their contribution 
policy, do enjoy disproportional influence over the creation of leg- 
islation. (8, pp. 62-63) The other source of campaign-funding comes 
from individuals with great personal wealth. While many candi- 
dates engage in mass solicitations of small donations, increasingly 
candidates have concentrated their efforts on appealing to wealthy 
contributors who can personally donate the maximum of $1,000. 

The dependency of Congressional candidates on wealthy donors 
and narrowly focused interest groups raises serious questions about 
ethics and equitable representation. The reliance of Congressmen 
on large contributors gives the appearance of impropriety and also 
provides disproportionate access and influence to the most affluent 
elements in American society. While numerous campaign finance 
regulations were enacted in the wake of the Watergate scandal of 
the 1970s, they merely limited the amount of each donation and 
required that contribution sources be recorded. These reforms do 
not alter a fundamental political reality - private contributions fi- 
nance the campaigns of public officials. This arrangement is not in- 
herently corrupting, but it creates a condition where specific seg- 
ments of the population have a disproportionate impact on the cre- 
ation of law. 

Major contributors have access to Congressmen and Senators that 
is not available to the general citizenry. Hence, concerns arise that 
political donors receive unequal degrees of Congressional attention, 
while other constituents' issues must compete for the limited time 
remaining. It is arguable that if Congressmen consider bills that have 

]Nest Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 77 

a direct impact on their major financial backers that this necessarily 
creates a conflict of interest. This situation, however, clearly tends 
to give the wealthiest segment of the American people a vastly un- 
equal share of influence on the legislative process. This influence 
can translate into benefits as illustrated by the fact that Americans 
with the highest income currently pay less in federal taxes, as a pro- 
portion of income, than twelve years ago. (2, p. 31) 

Restructuring campaign financing methods is a possible solution 
to some of the more troubling aspects of the current system of cam- 
paign contributions. A frequently mentioned proposal is public fi- 
nancing. Public financing eliminates private contributions and re- 
places them with a government supported source of funding. The 
particular details of the different public funding proposals vary, but 
the underlying premise is the same. Each candidate for a particular 
Congressional seat receives the same amount of funds to utilize for 
election purposes. These funds may be augmented with govern- 
mentally provided postal services and free media time; but private 
monetary donations of any kind are prohibited. Winning candidates, 
therefore, are not beholden to individuals or groups who finance 
their campaigns. This arrangement theoretically prevents a wealthy 
elite from dominating the legislative process and removes the ap- 
pearance of conflicts of interest. 

Public financing of Congressional campaigns is currently cham- 
pioned by civic reform organizations such as the League of Women 
Voters and Common Cause. These and other similar organizations 
view public financing of legislative campaigns as an effective means 
of facilitating equal representation and ethical government. Public 
financing, however, is vehemently opposed by taxpayer organiza- 
tions that object to using public money to fund all candidates. These 
groups believe that individuals should have control over which can- 
didates are funded with their taxes. Incumbent Congressmen also 
have been reluctant to support these reforms because they would 
remove the campaign advantages that they currently enjoy. Thus, 
while public financing is frequently a subject of scholarly debate. 
Congress is not likely to adopt it in the near future. 

VI. Conclusion 

Can structural alteration to the Congressional election process 
facilitate the attainment of the goals of economic justice? A defini- 

78 S.M. Caress: The Impact of Proposed Structural Legislative Reforms 

tive answer is elusive, but it is extremely plausible because there is 
a clear linkage between the actions of Congress and the economic 
conditions of the nation. The cursory examination of the evolution 
of the economic and social policy orientation of Congress, presented 
in this article, demonstrates that Congress does have the power to 
promote economic justice. Given this reality, do either of the pro- 
posed Congressional reforms analyzed have the potential to increase 
Congress' willingness to resume its traditional direction towards 
the achievement of economic justice? The answer to this question 
also can be only conjectured; however, one of the two reforms ana- 
lyzed in this article has greater potential than the other. It is evident 
that campaign financing reforms, not term limits, can promote a 
Congress committed to economic justice. 

Both Congressional term limits and campaign financing reform 
are viewed by their proponents as being vehicles for positive change. 
Term limits, however, while impacting the composition of the Con- 
gress, do little to correct the underlying dynamics that inhibit Con- 
gress' ability to enact policies that promote economic justice. Alter- 
ations to the current system of private campaign financing, in con- 
trast, do have the latent potential to produce a Congress that is less 
deferential to wealthy individuals and narrowly focused interest 
groups. This consequence could allow Congress greater latitude in 
its policy deliberations. It would thus enhance the possibility that 
Congress will give a higher priority to the needs of the non- wealthy 
segments of the American people and resume its customary move- 
ment towards economic justice. 


1 . Alvarez, Michael R; Garrett, Geoffrey and Lange, Peter. "Government Parti- 

sanship, Labor Organizations, and Macroeconomic Performance," Ameri- 
can Political Science Review, 85, June 1991, pp. 539-56. 

2. Dowd, Ann Reily "Clintonomics and You," Fortune, 22 March 1993, pp. 30-39. 

3. Frenzel, Bill and Mann, Thomas E. "Term Limits for Congress: Arguments 

Pro and Con," Current, July 1992, pp. 4-9. 

4. Galvin, Thomas. "Big Chunk of the 103rd Congress May Have Limited Ten- 

ure," Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, 5, 31 October 1992, pp. 

YJest Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 79 

5. Haveman, Robert H. The Economics of The Public Sector. New York: John Wiley 

& Sons, Inc., 1970. 

6. Huntington, Samuel P. "American Ideals Versus American Institutions," Po- 

litical Science Quarterly, 97, Spring 1982, pp. 1-37. 

7. Jackson, John E. and King, David C. "Public Goods, Private Interests, and 

Representation," American Political Science Review, 83, December 1989, 
pp. 1143-64. 

8. Olsen, Mancur. The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and The Theory of 

Groups. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971. 

9. Skocpol, Theda and Finegold, Kenneth. "State Capacity and Economic Inter- 

vention in the Early New Deal," Political Science Quarterly, 97, Summer 
1982, pp. 255-78. 

10. Stern, Philip M. Still The Best Congress Money Can Buy. Washington, DC: 

Regnery Gateway, 1992. 

11. Wildavsky, Aaron. The Politics of The Budgetary Process. 4th ed. Boston: Little 

Brown and Co., 1984. 

12. Wilson, Graham K. Business and Politics: A Comparative Introduction. Chatham, 

NJ: Chatham House Publishers, Inc., 1985. 

13. Wright, Jr. Gerald, and Berkman, Michael B. "Candidates and Policy in the 

United States Senate," American Political Science Review, 80, June 1986, 
pp. 567-90. 

Institutional Conditions for Efficient 
Sustainable Development: Implementing 
Low Social Time Preference 

Jacob /. Krabbe 

It is one of the aims of "economic structure policy" to maintain 
and improve a basic system of institutions that is focused on eco- 
nomic efficiency. Efficiency is not fully defined by "hedonistic" pref- 
erences and "natural" factors. It also contains social judgements 
about the means of production which are available not only at the 
present but also in the future. This is particularly true if this policy 
is focused on "sustainable development," which is the other orien- 
tation point of my essay. 

Economic structure policy forms part of an overall economic 
policy. With regard to the former, one of the major concerns of poli- 
ticians is about the basic structure of the system of economic inter- 
actions in society, which is an evolving system. Other branches of 
economic policy are directed towards the correction of deviations 
from this basic dynamic system, for example, trade cycle effects. 
For modifying such deviations and for achieving specific aims, an 
additional set of instruments is used which is complementary to 
the system of basic institutions discussed in this article. Thus, I con- 
sider only the institutional framework of the economic process as 
far as it centers on structural "institutional efficiency," placed in the 
context of sustainability policy. 

In my view sustainability criteria can be expressed in terms of 
the rates of nature-preserving technological development, deple- 
tion of exhaustible resources, population growth, and time prefer- 
ence. The greater the social time preference, the greater also the de- 
mand for technological progress, for the conservation of natural 
resources, and for birth control. Comparing the spontaneous im- 
pact of the economy on the environment and on stocks of natural 
resources with the political ideal of sustainability, I consider that 
the actual interest rate might not sufficiently express the compara- 
tively low social time preference for nature preservation, as it is widely 


82 /./. Krabbe: Institutional Conditions for Efficient Sustainable Development 

understood in the political circuit. I attempt to explain that this dis- 
crepancy must be eliminated in the institutional sphere, including a 
modification of the spontaneous price structure. Towards this end, 
factor substitution, in the context of institutional and technological 
renewal, is at the heart of the nature-preserving model suggested. 
My point of departure is an efficiency-oriented social aims func- 
tion, expressed in terms of national income, income equality and 
the quality of nature. Moreover, I examine various types of efficiency 
determining institutions. Next, I look at the idea of "efficient tech- 
nology," including the negative impact of comparatively high in- 
terest rates on nature-benign technology. For this purpose, technol- 
ogy and capital are conceived as a subsystem of the whole economic 
system. The structure of this subsystem is being tuned to scarcity 
ratios of the original factors of production - labour and nature. It is 
in this context that I consider the deficiency of the spontaneous 
interest-rate mechanism. Furthermore, 1 describe the functioning of 
the efficiency-seeking system and discuss the applicability of the 
proposed nature-oriented model. 

I. The Basic System Determining Efficiency 

The institutional message of the classical economists was laissez 
faire, a term adopted from the eighteenth-century Physiocrats. The 
concept is based on the enlightened idea of a natural order in soci- 
ety. Present-day transformations of East-European centralized 
economies into market-oriented systems indeed prove the signifi- 
cance of the classical message; it became abundantly clear that the 
ordering function of the market mechanism can not be ignored in- 
definitely. However, in the Free World, political elements entered 
the structure of the "natural" system in the course of time. These 
elements include social security laws, other measures to maintain 
the idea of the welfare state, and, more recently, measures for the 
preservation of nature. Such modifications of the economic system 
are not thought to affect efficiency in society. In fact, the perception 
of social efficiency itself is changing. Making the socioeconomic 
system more humane implies a modification of the efficiency idea. 
This section outlines the structure of a contemporary "efficiency 
determining basic system." 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 83 

A. Efficiency Determining Factors 

In welfare theory, efficiency is usually characterized by a Paretian 
optimum, determined by a system of individual welfare and pro- 
duction functions. This is also within the scope of my analysis. In 
this study, however, this approach is broader and also includes in- 
stitutional change, consistent with changing welfare functions. This 
is referred to in terms of "institutional efficiency." Efficiency in soci- 
ety can be reflected according to various principles. The following 
approach is a somewhat specific one; I account for the degree of 
income equality among welfare determining factors, considering it 
decisive for indicating an optimum optimorum, in the sense that a 
choice is made out of various socioeconomic situations, character- 
ized by different distributions of income. This type of thinking or- 
ders various attainable situations from a political point of view, ac- 
cording to preference. On this basis an optimum income distribu- 
tion can be determined. (3) 

I connect efficiency with the situation in which social welfare is 
maximized structurally. A situation is considered institutionally ef- 
ficient if the dominating political conviction is that the structure of 
efficiency-oriented institutions can not be improved. Van den Noort 
(6), when referring to welfare theory in general and to Tinbergen (9) 
specifically, makes a plea for a social aims function (Q) that is op- 
erational in economic policy. In van den Noort' s vision, the func- 
tion must be based on preferences that are manifested in the world 
of socioeconomic policy. My conception of institutional efficiency is 
also along this line of thinking. 

Economic policy has consequences for the present as well as for 
future welfare. A concise way of giving expression to this is by mak- 
ing use of the magnitudes of national income (Y), the degree of in- 
come equality (a), and a quality index of nature (N). Then efficiency 
is given by: 

(1) Max Q = 0(Y^,...Y^, a, N^,...N^), 

where the subscript t refers to the time horizon of public policy. The 
function also reflects social time preference, on the basis of cer- 
tain expectations for population growth. Conditions are given by 
the quantities of production factors available. However, it must be 

84 /./. Krabbe: Institutional Conditions for Efficient Sustainable Development 

realized that there exists interdependency between these wel- 
fare-determining variables. First, in the proximity of the equilib- 
rium value of a, as well as the increasing function 0, there is the 
decreasing function i/c 

(2) Y^ = ^(a). 

This equation shows that, within a certain range of values of a, an 
increase of the degree of income equality may weaken production 
incentives in the system. (3) (This refers especially to situations in 
countries like the Netherlands and Sweden in which incomes are to 
a large degree leveled out. In countries with great income inequal- 
ity the opposite might be true. In this case, the function ( i/d might 
increase, expressing that more equality has a positive impact on the 
level of Y.) Secondly, besides the direct effect of the quality of nature 
on welfare, as reflected by function 0, there is also an indirect effect 
through production functions: 


where functions /. (i=l,...,t) reflect expectations for population 
growth, as already mentioned, and those for the level and structure 
of technological development, including capital formation. By math- 
ematical elimination of a and Y. in this system of equations, Q. be- 
comes a function of N^. Moreover, the indices reflecting the quality 
of nature are endogenous magnitudes in the institutionally-oriented 
economic system that is under discussion. 

B. Distinct Approaches to Judgement of Institutional Change 

The effects of institutional changes are judged ex ante, before po- 
litical measures are taken, as well as ex post, determining what the 
measures brought about. Ex ante judgements are based on the present 
knowledge of the functioning of the economic system. Ex post judge- 
ments are of significance not only for obtaining additional knowl- 
edge of the system but also for the preparation of further policy 
measures. Another distinction is the difference between marginal 
and mutational institutional change. An example of the former is a 
small change of a tax rate. In general, effects of marginal measures 
can be predicted with more certainty than those of mutationa 
changes, especially if mutations refer to radical changes in the insti 
tutional system. Examples of the latter can be borrowed from the 

]Nest Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 85 

construction of the Western welfare state. Many measures had to be 
amended after it became clear that not all effects were necessarily 
favourable. Other examples can be found in the present-day trans- 
formations of Eastern-European economies. Thus, the striving for 
institutional efficiency is a political process. Sometimes the process 
is characterized by gradual change in a certain direction; at other 
times by abrupt changes, which may give the development pattern 
a stochastic feature. 

In "mechanistic economics" it is maintained that society is volun- 
tary, "to be made," in accordance with generally adopted plans. In 
"organic-oriented economics" it is posited that political plans often 
result in long-term changes that are not in full accord with rational 
political intentions. I agree with the idea of the relativity of the 
mechanistic approach, also in the context of "institutional efficiency." 

II. Types of Efficiency-Oriented Institutions 

Institutions are factors that influence behavior in social intercourse. 
Institutions that manifest themselves in the economic system are 
called economic institutions. The set of economic institutions may 
also be defined as the economic aspect of the set of social institu- 
tions. Institutes are organizational units in the institutional sphere, 
sharing responsibility and authority in society. The system of insti- 
tutes maintains the system of institutions. For the distinction be- 
tween institutions and institutes I also refer the reader to Gustav 
SchmoUer. (7, p. 61) 

In this section I discuss various types of efficiency-oriented insti- 
tutions, which are subsets of the set of economic institutions in gen- 
eral. I distinguish the following types: those that determine the in- 
teraction pattern, prescriptive institutions, conduct-oriented insti- 
tutions, market-oriented institutions, and institutions for the trans- 
fer of income. 

A. Institutions Determining the Interaction Structure 

In the field of fundamental institutions, determining the economic 
interaction structure, the main distinction is between production 
activities and consumption activities. The first I regard as those ap- 
plying scarce means of production and the second as consumer be- 
havior with regard to private and public goods. This distinction is 
typical of all developed economies. However, the institutional char- 

86 /./. Krabbe: Institutional Conditions for Efficient Sustainable Development 

acteristics of households as such, in which production and consump- 
tion activities are practiced, differ profoundly in various societies. 
Laws and other regulations, as well as customs, also belong to the 
subset of interaction determining institutions. There are various 
forms of production, carried on in various types of households, e.g., 
large-scale and small-scale production units, private and 
government-run households. Consumption can take place in pri- 
vate households as well as in the public sector. 

The behavior of producers and consumers, characterized as ba- 
sic institutes, is influenced by a whole network of institutions. This 
network is maintained by institutes that are authorized to do so. 
Institutions which sustain these authorities must also be considered 
as interaction determining institutions. The following types of in- 
stitutions also have interaction determining aspects. 

B. Prescriptive Institutions 

The key feature of prescriptive institutions is that government 
offices dictate what other actors in the system should or should not 
do. These prescriptions may affect actors in the system such as house- 
holds of certain types. Other institutes in the system can also be 
influenced by such prescriptions and can, in turn, influence the be- 
havior of households, either directly or indirectly. These measures 
may have an impact on each of the efficiency determining variables 
Y^, a, and N.. Prohibition orders form the main type of institutions in 
this category. This means that households are not allowed to do 
certain things. The impact on welfare (Q) is mainly as follows. Pro- 
hibition orders have a negative impact on Q by decreasing profits. 
However, if the measure in question has, e.g., a nature-sparing char- 
acter, then there is also a positive effect on welfare, either directly 
on individual welfare or indirectly through an increasing capacity 
of the factor "nature." There may be consequences for income dis- 
tribution as well, if rents are earned by firms that are less limited in 
their behavior than others. Trespassing against prohibition orders 
is usually punishable by fines. If paying such fines becomes a mor- 
ally accepted custom, the fines function as fees, discussed below. It 
is desirable to legalize such payments and not to allow infringe- 
ments of the law to become part of the legal economic system. Con- 
ditional orders are representative of a specific type of prescriptive 
institutions. The central idea is that government dictates conditions 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 87 

of economic behavior, including precautionary measures - for ex- 
ample, various forms of care for human and natural resources, i.e., 
for man and the environment. As far as the impact on welfare is con- 
cerned, similar observations can be made as for prohibition orders. 

C. Conduct-Oriented Institutions 

Institutions oriented towards economic conduct are maintained 
by private as well as public institutes. In this area, the key words 
are education, information, and the changing of attitudes. The sig- 
nificance of this type of institution, for the system under consider- 
ation, is along the lines of the impact of government measures al- 
ready mentioned. Governments are forced to intervene if, in certain 
respects, voluntary behavior fails. 

Thinking of conduct-oriented institutions in this context, one is 
confronted with a fundamental difficulty in applied welfare theory. 
It is paradoxical to consider an improvement of economic behavior 
on the basis of social priorities that are supposed to determine the 
original social welfare function as well as the institutional setting 
which comes into being. The resolution to this paradox is to be found 
in that the political conception of social welfare and its components 
are subject to gradual change, constantly requiring adaptation of 
the institutional system. 

D. Market-Oriented Institutions 

Institutions having a direct impact on market behavior are levies 
and subsidies which are applied proportional to production and 
sales as well as to the means of production used. Some of these 
levies and subsidies are, in fact, related to the external effects of 
production and consumption. As far as levies are concerned, it is of 
interest to know which expenditures are financed by the funds 
raised. Various forms of eco-taxes are examples of market-oriented 
institutions. Turnover taxes belong to this category as well, although 
they may also have the character of transfer institutions. 
Market-oriented institutions are typically oriented towards efficiency 
in social production. 

E. Income Transfer Institutions 

Institutions for the transfer of income may not only refer to pay- 
ments between households, but also to those from the private to the 

88 /./. Krabbe: Institutional Conditions for Efficient Sustainable Development 

government sphere and vice versa. Transfers from the private to 
the government sector may serve not only the financing of the pub- 
Uc sector as such, but also facilitate the redistribution of private in- 
comes. This institution is mainly focused on the welfare compo- 
nent a. Yet, the components Y^ and N. are usually also affected, ei- 
ther positively or negatively. 

III. Efficient Technology 

Capital plays a crucial part in modern production. In this sec- 
tion, I focus on the role played by factor productivities and price 
ratios in the formation of capital. The analysis addresses institu- 
tional impacts on structural price ratios which are supposed to re- 
flect relative scarcities. 

A. Capital in the System 

Marginal factor productivities and time preferences are of cru- 
cial importance in determining the size and texture of capital, formed 
and applied in the economic system. The state of applied technol- 
ogy, related to specific production circumstances, is given by the 
productivities of the original factors labour and nature and the de- 
rived factor capital. Technology has an induced character; it is deter- 
mined by scarcity ratios, manifesting in factor prices. Thus, in this 
context, the optimal volume and structure of the factor capital is a 
component of the applicable technology. It must also be viewed in 
its relationship with available volumes of the original production 
factors labour and nature. 

B. The Impact of Factor Prices on the Structure of Capital 

Capital is the key factor in technology. In the economic system, 
technology and capital function as complementary elements. How- 
ever, they can also be conceived as a subsystem, which may be use- 
ful for the analysis of the structure of capital. In this subsystem a 
certain structure crystallizes during the depreciation period, which 
is tuned to the most remunerative technology. 

It is known that substitution elasticities between factors of pro- 
duction are greater in the long than in the short term. This is due to 
the fact that technology adapts itself better to changing price ratios 
when the adaptation period is longer. It can be demonstrated that 
changing marginal factor productivities are the main determinants 

YJest Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 89 

in this long-term process of substitution. This is because techno- 
logical change is directed towards applying more of those factors 
which become comparatively cheaper due to increases in their mar- 
ginal productivities. (4, pp. 19-20) 

C. Institutional Impacts on Factor Prices 

The increasing scarcity of the original factors of production mani- 
fests itself in higher prices of these factors. Generally, this results in 
an increase in the price of capital. This increase will be smaller in 
the long than in the short term; the capital structure adapts itself 
better, the longer the adaptation period. This adaptation process is 
directed towards the realization of the economic principle: produc- 
ing more with given resources, or, what boils down to the same 
thing, producing a given volume with fewer means. In some cases, 
the price-raising tendency caused by increasing scarcity is out- 
weighed by a type of technological development that has the effect 
of making the factors concerned more plentiful. It is clear that a 
central problem of structural economic policy is how to create con- 
ditions for efficient technologies by taking the latter effects into ac- 

In his work, Der moderne Kapitalismus, Werner Sombart noticed 
that in the course of time production took on a scientific character. 
The further development of scientific knowledge tends to move from 
the sphere of independent inventors and universities to corporate 
research departments. He pointed out that, in a culture of capitalist 
invention, inventions are tested with regard to profitability. In other 
words, what counts as "a good invention is a remunerative inven- 
tion." (8, p. 95) 

In his book The Social Costs of Private Enterprise, K.W. Kapp (2) 
questioned whether, in a capitalist society, private costs are in line 
with social costs. Kapp's position is that an environment-friendly 
technology will not develop as long as "nature" is too cheap, both 
as a resource and as a depository for waste. Kapp believed that 
economists must investigate this matter profoundly and that politi- 
cians must transform the economic system accordingly. This is what 
happens at present. The basic objective of modern economic theory 
and policy is to shape the economic system in such a way that effi- 
cient technologies spontaneously come into existence. 

90 /./. Krabbe: Institutional Conditions for Efficient Sustainable Development 

D. The Impact of Interest on Nature-Benign Technology 

According to Hotelling's rule, a determining factor in the pro- 
cess of utilizing natural resources is the level of interest. Yet, the 
rate of depletion that is considered desirable in preservation policy 
might be considerably below that of the spontaneous depletion of 
nature in a system of laissez faire. Thus, in general, a low interest 
rate is favourable for the preservation of natural resources. How- 
ever, an artificially lowering of the rate of interest will not solve the 
problem; interest rates affect various parts of the economic system 
differently. This implies that making interest rates fully subservient 
to preservation policy would deregulate the economy because so- 
cioeconomic aims such as monetary equilibrium and employment 
would receive insufficient attention. Therefore, nature-benign tech- 
nology must be mainly achieved through institutional changes. This 
policy has two main dimensions: direct prescriptions for producers 
and consumers and modification of the price structure. 

IV. Time Preference in Sustainability Criteria 

Time preference is the preference for consumption in the present 
rather than consumption in the future, based on "perspective decli- 
nation" of future wants. It is the main factor, together with the de- 
mand for capital, that determines interest rates. The actual level of 
interest reflects the time preferences of actors in the economic sys- 
tem and, as such, the time preference of the economic system as a 
whole. Time preferences of members of society for sustainable pro- 
duction, however, could be considerably below this level. 

The term sustainability expresses a judgement about certain pat- 
terns of economic development. This implies realistic prognoses 
about technological progress and, on that basis, determining a nor- 
mative discount rate for future needs. This norm should evolve in the 
political process of a community of people who accept responsibil- 
ity for the interest of mankind. In valuing nature, a crucial part is 
played by expectations of the intensity and character of technologi- 
cal development. The substitution of components of nature that 
gradually become scarcer by less scarce components forms an im- 
portant element in this picture, although there exists much uncer- 
tainty about substitution opportunities. 

On the basis of these ideas a criterion for sustainability can be 
formulated. For this purpose I have subdivided nature into 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 91 

depletable production factors (nj, renewable production factors {n^ ), 
and direct environment of life (n). Furthermore, I distinguish be- 
tween the rates of time preference (/), the depletion of natural stocks 
id), the technological progress that is preserving depletable nature 
ih^), and the technological progress that is economizing renewable 
nature (h^). 

Leaving n^ and n^ out of consideration, the production function 

(4) y = y/n^), or in linear form, 

(5) y = a n^, 

in which r refers to ''renewable nature,'' supposed to be the only 
production factor. In this case the sustainability criterion takes the 

;6) 1 a (e'^ -l)n^dt>0 (i = h^-f), or 



f n is included, which means that the environment of life is also 
aken into account, then social welfare {w) is: 

'^) w=<^ {y,n^) => w = '^(n^,nj. 

The rate of degeneration (k) of the direct environment of life is rarely 
jubject to compensation. Let the maximum degeneration rate (k*) 
:onsidered to be acceptable be equal to the minimum rate that is 
"easible. Then the sustainability criterion is: 

9) \-f>vk\ 

Adhere the parameter v represents the weight of environmental deg- 
'adation in the social welfare function. This means that technologi- 
:al progress must outweigh the sum of time preference and a term 
"eflecting the degeneration of the environment of life. If n^ is not 
ncluded, and y = pn^, the criterion is: 


10) jpd(e'^ - l)n^ dt>vk* (j = h^-d-f), or 


W) h^-d-f>vk\ 

92 /./. Krabbe: Institutional Conditions for Efficient Sustainable Development 

This is valid if "exhaustible nature" is supposed to be the only pro- 
duction factor. In this situation technological progress must also 
outweigh the depletion of nature, as well as the terms indicated in 
Equation 9. 

Finally, I want to consider the case where all aspects of nature are 
relevant. The rate of population growth (g) and its weight (2) in the 
welfare function are also included. If the production and the wel- 
fare functions are linearized, the sustainability criterion then is: 

(12) J (e" - l)n^ dt +ajd (e'^ - l)n^ dt>vV + zg, 

(a>0) (i = h^-f;j = h^-d-f), 

with the magnitudes/, d and h being in hundredth of percent (lO^^). 
Unfortunately, this equation can not be expressed as simply as Equa- 
tions 7 and 11. The left term of Equation 12 is a "compound"- of 
Equations 9 and 11. 

The crucial political question is whether nature-preserving tech- 
nological development will offset the effect of time preference, of 
the depletion of nature, and of population growth. (5) 

V. Economic Cybernetics 

Analyzing the character and the functioning of the 
efficiency-oriented system, one must keep in mind that in the chaos 
of economic data various systems can be conceived. My point of 
departure is the problem formulated in the exordium of this essay. 
The model under discussion does not only represent a theory about 
decisions of economic actors under given circumstances, but the 
attention is also directed towards the various types of conditions 
under which decisions take place. This is the question which has 
also been raised by Gustav Schmoller (7) and, nowadays, by Nicho- 
las Georgescu-Roegen (1). 

A. The Composition of the System 

The center of the efficiency-oriented system is formed by a sys- 
tem of decisions of economic actors. This decision system refers to 
the formation and application of means of production; it contains 
within itself a system of institutions and a system of institutes that 
maintain it. Economic actors, the institutes concerned, consist not 

]Nest Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 93 

only of consumption and production households, but also of insti- 
tutes that indirectly contribute to the allocation of the factors of pro- 
duction. Basic institutions are the consumption and production 
households' striving for efficiency, from their specific point of view, 
under given circumstances. This basic behavior is affected by other 

Institutions are realizations of (sometimes conflicting) aims of 
economic actors. Thus, the system of efficiency-oriented institutions 
rests on a system of preferences of economic actors. However, these 
preferences are related to circumstances, e.g., the levels, structures 
and developments of technology, population, and natural resources, 
including environmental quality. Therefore, the decision system 
concerned also needs to contain sets of data in these areas. 

B. A Multifarious Way of Thought 

On the crucial question in economics of how to analyze the above 
complexes of phenomena, the last word has not yet been spoken. 
Yet some points are clear enough. It is in the line of economic tradi- 
tion to reflect on the economic decision system with the help of 
welfare theory, including property rights theory. Thinking prima- 
rily in these terms, one can state that the influence of institutional 
change manifests in the modification of decision functions of eco- 
nomic actors and in extending existing optimization units by spe- 
cial functional relationships and additional constraints. In the wel- 
fare theory system, institutions can be internalized by including fac- 
tors which exert influence on the basic behavior of consumers and 
producers and on the optimization behavior of other actors in the 
economic system. 

On the one hand, the use of human and natural resources is a 
necessary condition for production. On the other hand, degrada- 
tion of capacities of natural resources is the result of the process of 
production and consumption. Thus, institutions are related to re- 
sources along two lines. Furthermore, it must be realized that, in a 
sense, also man himself is a part of "nature." Depending on the 
type of subsystem under consideration, thought is of a specific na- 
ture. Logic has either a welfare-economic, a politico-ethical, a bio- 
logical, or a physical character. 

94 /./. Krabbe: Institutional Conditions for Efficient Sustainable Development 

C. The Purposefulness of the System 

The social aims function (Equation 1) presented in the first sec- 
tion of this essay must be understood empirically. It reflects eco- 
nomic actors' ideas of efficiency, exercised through the institutional 
system under specific environmental circumstances. These ideas 
may differ from actor to actor; the weight of any idea depends on 
the structure of the system and the actor's place in it. 

In the system various types of interdepend ency can be conceived. 
First, there are interdependences between the rational, the biologi- 
cal and the physical spheres. Second, there are interdependencies 
within these spheres. Interdependency in the rational or ethical 
sphere is such, that actors condition each others' decisions. Institu- 
tions are rooted in the rational sphere, and, through it, also in the 
biological and physical spheres. 

Although the system contains a clear biological component, as a 
whole it must not be considered an "organism." However, there are 
some similarities with organic systems. Both types of systems are 
characterized by interdependencies, and by a certain purposeful- 
ness, to which various elements contribute. Therefore, the use of 
organically oriented terms, such as "evolution," must not be rejected 
on a priori grounds. 

VI. Final Remarks 

It is possible to maintain that, in social intercourse, efficiency is 
the result of a political process in which various types of institu- 
tions play a part. This efficiency system can be reflected in terms of 
welfare theory, placed into a broader theoretical framework. Induced 
technology and its main component "capital" can be considered as 
a subsystem. In a system of laissez faire the rate of interest might 
have a negative impact on nature. This must be corrected through 
various institutional measures affecting producers' and consumers' 
decision patterns. For this purpose, sustainability criteria can be 
formulated, indicating that technological development must offset 
time preference, the depletion of nature, and population growth. 

This model of institutional adaptation reflects environmental as- 
pects of European and of North American economies' institutional 
frameworks that have evolved over the last few decades. The model 
is meant to serve further developments on this point, both in the 
political and the analytical fields. 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 95 


1. Georgescu-Roegen, N. The Entropy Law and the Economic Process. Cambridge, 

MA: Harvard University Press, 1971. 
Kapp, K.W. The Social Costs of Private Enterprise. Cambridge, MA: Harvard 

University Press, 1950. 
Krabbe, J.J. "Individueel en Collectief Nut." Diss. Wageningen, Netherlands: 

Mededelingen Landbouwuniversiteit, 1974. 
"Nature in Pigouvian Oriented Economics," in National Income 

and Nature: Externalities, Growth and Steady State. Eds. J.J. Krabbe and 

W.J.M. Heijman. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Kluwer, 1992. 
5 "Quantifying Sustainability: the Entropy Approach," in Issues of 

Environmental Economic Policy. Wageningen Economic Studies 24. Eds. 

W.J.M. Heijman and J.J. Krabbe. Wageningen, Netherlands: Pudoc, 1992. 

6. Noort, PC. van den. "Het vraagstuk van de optimale beleidskeuze voor de 
Europese landbouw," in Economic en Landbouw. Eds. A.A.P van Drunen, 
et al. The Hague: Vuga, 1983. 

7. SchmoUer, G. Grundriss der allgemeinen Volkswirtschaftslehre, erster Teil. Leipzig: 
Duncker & Humblot, (1900) 1908. 

Sombart, W. Der moderne Kapitalismus, dritter Band. Munich and Leipzig: 

Duncker & Humblot, 1928. 
Tinbergen, J. On the Theory of Economic Policy. Amsterdam: North-Holland, 


IUHHltMiiimwiiiw ^Ba 

Growth as a Prerequisite 
for Sustainability 

P.C. van den Noort 

A highly developed economy cannot adopt a zero growth situa- 
tion. According to chaos theory, in such a developed economy there 
must be a continuous process of inventions and innovations in or- 
der to prevent a collapse of the existing socioeconomic structure. 

I. A Biological Analogy 

In economics we are used to biological oriented concepts, e.g., 
the growth of population, of production and of national income. 
There is currently concern about these growth processes; we fear 
there will be a collapse if growth continues unchecked and that 
mankind will go the way of the dinosaurs or of the mammoths. 
Zero growth, therefore, seems to be an ideal policy goal for society, 
since it apparently offers the only escape from further plundering 
of our planet and from total disaster. 

Recently, a diametrically different view has emerged. It holds that 
it is zero growth and zero innovation that are to be feared, because 
they would lead to immediate disaster. "Zero growth" involves three 
problems or dangers. The first one is the problem of the distribu- 
tion of production, i.e., the partition of the "national pie." During 
previous affluent periods, growth made these problems easier to 
deal with since most of us could feel or see an improvement in our 
standard of living, even without changes in the distribution of in- 
come. Hence, less conflict was experienced than had been encoun- 
tered in other times, when more for one meant less for others. The 
discords between farmers and landowners and between workers 
and capitalists are well known examples. 

In a zero-growth scenario, many of these old conflicts would re- 
turn. With less income, and with greater antagonism about the dis- 
tribution of income, there would be less willingness to make sacri- 
fices for improving the environment and nature. This is also the 
second concern or danger. We may say, therefore, that a highly de- 
veloped economy requires some growth to face the challenges of 


98 P.C. v.d. Noort: Growth as a Prerequisite for Sustainability 

serious problems arising from the distribution of wealth and from 
the environment. 

A small part of growth arises from capital accumulation, but most 
is derived from increased productivity. It is here that we see the 
third danger. Production cannot be limited to existing levels with- 
out destabilizing society. It looks simple. We have enough, why not 
stop at this level? Perhaps this might be possible in a much simpler 
society; in such a world we need not to curb production. However, 
in the real world, if we were to limit production to a no growth 
pattern, we would witness a collapse of our socioeconomic system 
and destroy our children's future, thereby achieving the very effect 
we wish to avert. 

A. Logistic Growth 

Growth may be expected to become restricted; growth tends to 
decrease with the attainment of higher levels of production. The 
typical level of production (Y) depends on its logistic growth pat- 
tern over time (t). This can be formulated as: 

(1) Y.^, = kY, - bYj. 

Economic development depends on the coefficients k and b, 
where k is the rate of growth and b is indicative of the resistance to 
worsening conditions or of the vulnerability of the industry in ques- 
tion. The higher the value of k, the more competitive the industry 
will tend to be. By setting y = Y(b/k) we obtain the standard logistic 
growth curve: 

(2) y,„ = ky,-kyj 

in which y varies between and 1 and k between and 4. The logis- 
tic curves derived from Equation 2, for different values of k, are the 
simple parabolas depicted in Graph a of Figure 1 . As the value of k 
increases from 2.5 to 4.0, for example, the parabola steepens but its 
form does not change very much. This implies that no significant 
differences exist between these four situations. 

However, the time series exhibited in Graphs b, c, d, and e of 
Figure 1 convey completely different situations, ranging from the 
very stable to the purely chaotic, i.e., small differences may cause 
enormous consequences. These time series y^ are generated from 
Equation 2 for different values of k, assuming a given value of 

YJest Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 


10 203040500 10 203040 50 

Logistic Graph 

3 < y^^Q < 1 (e.g., beginning with y^ = 0.04, or any other value), de- 
picting dramatically different behavior patterns which depend on 
the precise value of k. (3) For example, a very stable situation is 
derived when k = 2.5, Figure lb. The situation is less stable but still 
'egular when k = 3.15, Figure Ic. "Wilder fluctuations" are observed 
or k = 3.55, Figure Id, and "perfect" or "complete" chaos as k = 4, 
i^igure le. 

In other words, instability results when k > 3; the greater the value 
3f k, the greater the instability. When k > 3.8, we speak of "chaos" 
md define (mathematically) "complete chaos" at the limiting value 
3f k = 4. Manifestations of Equation 2 can be observed in nature, 
:echnology, and the economy, in the form of S-shaped or sigmoidal 
:urves as depicted in Figure 2. (1; 2; 7; 9) 



P.C. v.d. Noort: Growth as a Prerequisite for Sustainability 


/J Canili 

/ Rlilwiyl 

^ Roidi 


■ / / / 

1136 i 




55 YMH / 




i / / 

1 1 1 1 "— r^) ^— ==f= 


— 1 1 1 — 

— 1 — r"~^i — 

— t 1 1 1 1 h- 

— t 1 


2000 YEAR 

nCURE 2 

Growth of Infrastructure in the U.S.A. 

(Percent saturation length) 

B. Logistic Evolution 

In nature one can observe mutations. As a consequence, new types 
with higher k-coefficients sometimes emerge in a population and 
replace older ones. Similar processes also occur in the economy, but 
we prefer to speak of these in terms of inventions and innovations 
instead of mutations. The fundamental idea, however, is the same. 
The k-value of some production processes may increase. 

C. Instability 

Because of this rise in the k-value, our destiny changes without 
us immediately being aware of it. For k > 3.2 we observe instability 
in the former stable sigmoid curves and these fluctuations intensify 
with increasing values of k. (As shown above, for k = 3.15 regular 
fluctuations are observable. Figure Ic, but higher values of k lead to 
less "regularity" and increased instability.) When k = 4, there is 
complete "chaos," as previously defined. Instability is dangerous, 
because competitors might exploit the situation and conquer the 
market; the larger the k-value the greater the danger, as shown in 
Figure 1. 

]Nest Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 101 

In reality we might not always see this instability. Sometimes the 
situation might look very stable, even though k is rather high. For 
example, a stream of new inventions and innovations could enable 
newcomers to grow whereas older firms in the industry might suf- 
fer a setback. In this scenario, streams of new inventions and inno- 
vations may produce stable growth patterns for an industry as a 

II. Vitality 

We can say that a population is viable if it has high vitality. This 
vitality depends on the degree of growth, the level of maximum 
production or carrying capacity, the degree of competition, the num- 
ber of mutations, the resistance to disadvantageous conditions, and 
stability. The concept of viability can also be applied to various forms 
of production or industries, though it is difficult to take full account 
of the many aspects involved, because of their different dimensions. 
It is a problem of comparing like with unlike. We can overcome this 
problem by using index numbers, and weighting each of the as- 
pects in accordance with their "importance" to viability. 

The vitality of a population or of a production process (industry) 
depends on aspects such as size and stability. We know that both, 
size (quantity) and stability, depend on the value of k (are functions 
of k), but also that they cannot be added directly. This can be re- 
solved by using an index number of vitality, such as: 

(3) N^ = w * quantity + (1-w) * stability, 

where w is defined as the number of competitors. 

Stability is especially important if k is high and there are no mu- 
tations (or inventions and innovations). This becomes increasingly 
important as the number of competitors, w, increases. We can com- 
bine all these aspects in the Newell index (6): 

(4) J.J _ hw (k-1) (2.6 - k) + (1-hw) logk . 


Log k reflects the growth of the population (or of production). 
The resistance to deteriorating conditions is equal to the b-coefficient 
in Equation 1; it is a function of 1 /k and, therefore, k is the denomi- 
nator. Stability is indicated by (k-1) (2.6-k). If k has a value between 
1 and 2.6, the population (or production process) is very stable. 


P.C. v.d. Noort: Growth as a Prerequisite for Sustainability 

■0. 5 ■- 

Newell Index for h = 

However, this is not the case for other values of k. There are two 
values for h, e.g., h = 1 if there are no inventions and innovations. 
For h = 0, indicative of an abundance of inventions and innova- 
tions, the resulting Newell index is exhibited in Figure 3. 

The rising curve in Figure 3 depicts a picture of the traditional 
idea of evolution. We have climbed this mountain of evolution. Many 
now believe we have ascended enough; we should stop now and 
stay put. We no longer need ever-increasing growth curves or ac- 
celerating inventions and innovations. In other words, we should 
accept zero growth. But opting for zero growth and /or zero inno- 
vation would have a most unexpected and undesirable effect. 

If h = 1 the situation is not stable for high values of k and be- 
comes more unstable as the number of competitors (w) increases. 
As Figure 4 shows, the "mountain" of Figure 3 caves in, when h = 1 
(no inventions or innovations). Only for w-values smaller than 0.2 
are positive values of N still observed. That is the case if there are 
almost no competitors who will try to take advantage of the situa- 
tion. In nature we will sometimes find such a situation in what we 

Yiest Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 


N 1 

Newell Index for h = 1 

call "living fossils." For example, the stromatolites in Australia did 
not change over the last 500 million years because of lack of compe- 
tition. We call them Methuselahs; Ward (10) described such crea- 
tures - they are rather rare. 

Lack of inventions and innovations will lead to instability and 
this may prove to be fatal for the population. As indicated above, 
this can be observed by setting h = 1 in Figure 4; the mountain caves 
in because part of the index N falls below zero. This, in essence, is 
representative of the extinction of that mode of production. Only 
those modes of production which experience low k values survive; 
the others become extinct like dinosaurs. There is one exception: for 
low w-values (no competition). Figure 4 shows that some high 
k-value populations may survive. This explains why companies 
attempt to corner the entire market (no competitors) or try to inno- 
vate all the time. Innovation is very important; without a stream of 
inventions and innovations the economy caves in. This can be illus- 
trated on hand of statistical data from Schumpeter, Griibler, 
Silverberg and Van Duyn, (6) see also Figure 5 below. 

104 P.C. v.d. Noort: Growth as a Prerequisite for Sustainability 

III. Competition 

Competition plays an important role in the vitality of industries. 
There are various types of competition. Some are already operating 
in the phase of "ideas" or in the planning phase, others emerge once 
there are real products or technologies. Rivalry between innova- 
tions will develop and one will usually win out but will then face 
competition from other products and services. Various battles may 
influence the rate of growth. We may even expect revolutionary 

From the studies of Kuhn (4) and Mulkay (5) we know that the 
acceptance of new ideas is a complicated process in which "revolu- 
tions" in the power structure of the scientific community play an 
important role. Hence, we not only have to deal with "stoppages" 
in the process, but also with "goes," both depending on the psycho- 
logical and social factors that govern the acceptance of new ideas in 
science, industry and government. These revolutions may play an 
important role in the explanation of the Kondratieff or "long wave" 
cycles of economic expansions and contractions. They tend to have 
a wave length of between 40 to 60 years, which can be observed for 
the U.S. and Europe from 1750 on. Kondratieff cycles can be de- 
fined for the periods of 1782-1845, 1845-1891, 1892-1948 and from 
1948-1993 (the latter is highly speculative). One must also expect 
some periods of conservative policies (what Kuhn calls "normal 
science") which may ultimately result in h = 1, causing the whole 
process to grind to a halt. 

The actual and predicted rates of innovation in the U.S. from 1800 
to the year 2050 is depicted in Figure 5. (2) It can be observed that 
this rate is not constant. There are clearly high and low periods cor- 
responding to the long waves of Kondratieff cycles in the economy 
(i.e., long-term business cycles of between 40-60 years duration). 

In other words, interruptions in the innovation process have dra- 
matic effects on the economy. One may imagine of what might hap- 
pen if the processes of invention and innovation came to a halt. Some 
people might think that this is not a real option, but, unfortunately, 
it still is an important factor in some political theorizing. 

The process of progress also has disadvantages. First, there are 
victims of revolutions and of competition. Second, systems will tend 
to become potentially more unstable. This may result in more cartel 

Vlest Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 105 


1800 1850 1900 1950 2000 2050 Year 

Rate of Innovation in the U.S. 

policies, nnore agricultural price policies, more social safety mea- 
sures, and even more subsidies to industries. All of these can only 
be paid for if the system continues to function. If it comes to a halt, 
many of these social niceties fade away because national income 
decreases. Massive direct subsidies may even result in industries 
disappearing. For example, if the value of k were to increase from 
2.6 to 3.4 (with a gift or subsidy), without inventions, innovations, 
or structural change (h = 1), total disaster would result - see Figure 
4. These theoretical considerations are in accordance with the expe- 
riences of declining industries, such as shipbuilding, mining, tex- 
tiles and steel in the Netherlands and other West European coun- 
tries. (8) 

IV. Conclusion 

Those who innocently advocate zero growth or zero inventions 
and innovations tend to overlook the importance of instability. If 

106 P.C. v.d. Noort: Growth as a Prerequisite for Sustainability 

we want sustainability, we must, of course, prevent potential disas- 
ters as indicated in Figure 4, and, therefore, must try to ensure an 
unfailing stream of inventions and innovations. If there is no such 
stream, the most developed part of the economy will collapse, with 
disastrous consequences for society as a whole. Thus, growth and 
innovation do not run counter to sustainability To the contrary, 
without growth and innovation there will be no sustainability. Even 
the absence of inventions and innovations for short periods of time 
would have negative consequences (depressions). Hence, 
sustainability would be impossible to be achieved if society were to 
adapt zero growth or zero innovation policies. 


The author expresses his appreciation to Professors I. Prigogine, 
R.M. May, P. Colinvaux, PA. Vroon, and J.J. Krabbe for their inter- 
est in his work. 


1. Begon, Michael, et al. Ecology. 2nd ed. London: Blackwell Scientific, 1990. 

2. Gmbler, Arnulf. Rise and Fall of Infrastructures. Heidelberg: Physica-Verlag, 


3. Hall, Nina, ed. The New Scientist Guide to Chaos. London: Penguin, 1991. 

4. Kuhn, Thomas S. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. 2nd ed. Chicago: Uni- 

versity of Chicago Press, 1970. 

5. Mulkay, M.J. The Social Process of Innovation. London: Macmillan, 1972. 

6. Noort, PC. van den. Chaostheorie en Evolutie. Delft, Netherlands: Eburon, 1993. 

7. Peitgen, Heinz-Otto, et al. Fractals for the Classroom. New York: Springer- Verlag, 


8. Voogd, Christophe de. De Neergang van de Scheepsbouw. Vlissingen, Nether- 

lands: Den Boer, 1993. 

9. Vroon, PA. De Wolfsklem. Baarn, Netherlands: Ambo, 1992. 

10. Ward, Peter Douglas. On Methuselah's Trail. New York: W.H. Freeman, 1992. 

Sustainable Development: 
Redefining Economic Policy Goals 

Michael Spyrou 

Sustainable development (SD) has become a fashionable catch- 
word; it is the major theme of numerous conferences and publica- 
tions. International organizations, such as the World Bank and the 
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), 
have adopted the concept of SD for the preparation and evaluation 
of economic development plans. It is becoming the development 
paradigm of the 1990s. (11 p. 607) "The National Commission on 
the Environment Report," Choosing a Sustainable Future, was pub- 
lished in 1993, the same year a new President moved into the White 
House. (14) This new administration appears to be sympathetic to 
the ideas of sustainable development. 

It appears that the concept of SD enjoys broad-based support from 
individuals, environmental groups, private and public institutions, 
and also from an environmentally conscious public. Some elements 
3f the attractiveness of the concept of SD are its underlying themes 
3f justice, equity, economic efficiency, and environmental integrity 
:26, p. 14) 

The purpose of this paper is to examine the concept of SD, focus- 
ing on economic development, and to review applicable policies. 
This treatise consists of four parts. It first deals with the genesis, 
evolution and the various meanings and values which define SD. 
secondly, an attempt is made to identify and to describe the major 
assumptions upon which sustainable developmental policies are 
3ased and formulated. The emerging economic policies, values and 
nstruments, used to redefine economic goals, are examined in the 
:hird section. The paper concludes with a brief discussion of the 
prospects of the application of SD policies, i.e., the obstacles and 
strategies needed to make SD successful. 

I. Genesis, Evolution, and Definitions of SD 

The genesis and widespread discussion on SD took place because 
)f concentrated efforts by many individuals, as well as public and 
private organizations which were, and still are, trying to find policy 


110 M. Spyrou: Redefining Economic Policy Goals 

guidelines and rules "that will put the environment into the center 
of economics" and into the heart of development considerations. 
(26, p. 13) 

The popularization of the concept of SD was made possible with 
the 1987 "Brundtland Commission Report," Our Common Future. 
(25) The ideas, views, and prescriptions for SD expressed in this 
report, were developed over a three year period - after the commis- 
sion went through a "broad base of analysis, learning, and debate." 
(12, p. 155) Also, the Brundtland Report represents the culmination 
of a decade-long debate on the issues related to environmental de- 
struction and economic development. The discourse was instituted 
primarily by the United Nations, carried out through various pro- 
grams and international conferences. The most noticeable of these 
were UNESCO's "Man and the Biosphere Program," the "World 
Conservation Strategy" (adopted in 1980), and the "Conference on 
Conservation and Development: Implementing the World Conser- 
vation Strategy," held in Ottawa, Canada, in 1986. 

According to Michael Young, the debate on SD is a matter of 
"policy integration," based on the "emerging interest in 'environ- 
mental economies'." The world has finally realized that it had to 
search "for new ways to understand the non-linear linkages between 
the environment and the economy." (26, p. 13) 

Sustainable Development, as Peter Jacobs and David A. Munro 
point out, (10, p. 20) involves responses to five general needs and 

a) integration of conservation and development; 

b) satisfaction of basic human needs; 

c) achievement of equity and social justice; 

d) provision for social self-determination and cultural diver- 
sity; and 

e) maintenance of ecological integrity. 

The core idea and challenge of SD is based on the notion of inte- 
grating conservation and development, "reflecting the awareness 
that people and nature are interdependent and that there are many 
different, acceptable, ways of using nature." (10, p. 20) 

The attempt to link conservation ideals and development is not 
new. Its roots go back to the genesis of the conservation movement 
whose principles were well articulated by one of its pioneers, Gifford 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 111 

Pinchot. He emphatically stated that "conservation stands for de- 
velopment, the use of the natural resources ... for the benefit of the 
people who live here now." Pinchot went on to say that "conserva- 
tion stands for the prevention of waste." Hence, if waste can be 
controlled in all directions, resources can be preserved, thus extend- 
ing their life. It "is a simple matter of good business" and "we shall 
have deserved well of our descendants." Pinchot, also, advocated 
that "natural resources must be developed and preserved for the 
benefit of the many, not merely for the profit of the few." (18, pp. 

What is evident in Pinchot and, of course, in the views of all those 
who embraced the conservation movement, is that through proper 
resource management and the efficient use of resources, environ- 
mental protection can be complementary, and not necessarily an- 
tagonistic, to economic growth and development. The themes of 
justice, economic efficiency, and environmental integrity, which form 
the core of the debate on SD, are evident in Pinchot's thoughts on 
conservation. Unfortunately, the debate on "the notion that eco- 
nomic growth and development are compatible with environmen- 
tal preservation and that the two should be sold as a 'package' has 
to this day received relatively little analytical attention." (16, p. 59) 

It needs to be mentioned that a distinction exists also between 
the terms SD (sustainable development) and the more familiar 
"growth" (as in economic growth), "economic development," and 
"sustainable growth." For Herman Daly and John Cobb economic 
growth or economic development refers only "to quantitative ex- 
pansion in the scale of the physical dimensions of the economic sys- 
tem." (6, p. 71) Economic development, however, "is only one part 
of the total development of society ... its quantitative dimension is 
associated with economic accumulation ... and its qualitative di- 
mension is associated with technological and institutional change." 
(2, p. 101) 

Development, as in SD, implies the "total development of soci- 
ety." It "depends on the interaction of economic changes with so- 
cial, cultural, and ecological transformations ... its qualitative di- 
mension is multifaceted, and is associated with ensuring the 
long-term ecological, social, and cultural potential for supporting 
economic activity and structural change." (2, p. 103) For example, 
Edward Barbier includes in the objectives and goals of sustainable 

112 M. Spyrou: Redefining Economic Policy Goals 

economic development the reduction of poverty through the provi- 
sion of "lasting and secure livelihoods that minimize depletion, 
environmental degradation, cultural disruption, and social insta- 
bility." (2, p. 103) 

Beyond the broad goals of SD, as outlined above by Barbier, there 
exists no single and acceptable definition of SD. Young sees the 
attempt "to present a single definition" as being "counter-product- 
ive," because "the retention of a diverse range of approaches" and 
"definitions of the most appropriate ways to achieve sustainable 
development" will "continue to evolve and adapt." (26, p. 13) How- 
ever, the definition offered by Nobel Laureate Robert Solow seems 
to be clear and rigorous: 

If sustainability means anything more than a vague emo- 
tional commitment, it must require that something be con- 
served for the long-run. It is very important to understand what 
that something is: I think it has to be a generalized capacity to 
produce economic well-being. ... A sustainable path for the 
economy is thus not necessarily one that conserves every single 
thing or any single thing. It is one that replaces whatever it 
takes from its inherited natural and produced endowment, its 
material and intellectual endowment. (24, p. 29) 

In a similar manner, R. Repetto sets the goal of sustainable de- 
velopment as a development strategy that manages all assets, natu- 
ral resources, and human resources, as well as financial and physi- 
cal assets for increasing long-term wealth and well-being. (19, pp. 
10-12) What Solow and Repetto are saying is that economic 
well-being and the quality of life are derived and maintained 
through the existence of a capital stock. This capital stock is made 
up of both man-made capital (plant and equipment) and natural 
capital (natural resources). It is in the context of Solow's and 
Repetto' s discussions that we proceed to the following section of 
the paper. 

II. Basic Assumptions of Sustainable Development 

The preceding examination has indicated that we must rethink, 
and expand on the meaning and value attached to economic devel- 
opment. The analysis also suggests that we must add new indica- 
tors and ways of measuring well-being. In order to do this, concrete 
and well-defined assumptions or premises have to be made. These 

^Nest Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 113 

are essential for meaningful analyses leading to the formulation of 
policies and the setting up of instruments, which are required to 
make SD operational and successful. An acceptable set of assump- 
tions will facilitate in reaching a broad consensus on how to achieve 
sustainability. This set of assumptions is drawn from both the physi- 
cal and the human environment. 

A. Assumption One 

Human welfare depends on the availability of a capital stock 
derived from both a man-made capital stock and a natural capital 
stock. (6, p. 72; 16, p. 599; 24, p. 29) Man-made capital includes 
familiar items, such as machinery, factories, and the infrastructure. 
'Economists formalize this by saying that capital is contained in 
the production function which links inputs - capital, labor, technol- 
ogy - to the output of goods and services." (17, p. 599) The natural 
capital stock, usually ignored by many economists, is defined as 
the "the nonproduced means of producing a flow of natural re- 
sources and services." (6, p. 72) According to Pearce, the natural 
capital stock serves economic functions in four ways (17, p. 599): 

a) A supply of natural resource inputs to the economic 
production process - soil quality, forest and other bio- 
mass, water, genetic diversity, and so on. 

b) A means of assimilating waste products and residu- 
als from the economic process - oceans and rivers as 
waste receiving media, and so on. 

c) A source of direct human welfare through aesthetic 
and spiritual appreciation of nature, and 

d) A set of life support systems - biogeochemical cycles 
and generic ecosystem functioning. 

How we handle and manage this capital stock poses a crucial 
question. The answer might be found in the interpretations of in- 
come and capital, provided by Sir John Hicks. He said that "the 
purpose of income calculations is to give people an indication of 
the amount which they can consume without impoverishing them- 
selves," and that "the practical purpose of income is to serve as a 
guide for prudent conduct." (9, p. 172) 

As Daly and Cobb observed, the "central defining characteristic 
of income is sustainability" which serves as a guide to how much 

114 M. Spi/rou: Redefining Economic Policy Goals 

one can spend before impoverishing himself. The same concept of 
income holds true for communities, regions, countries, and the world 
community as a whole. In order to achieve the Hicksian income, it 
is necessary to "keep capital intact" - defined "as a stock that yields 
a flow of goods or services." As was mentioned above, it is made 
up of two categories, i.e., man-made and natural capital. (6, p. 72) 

Natural capital was ignored by many economists, believing that 
"humanly created capital is a near-perfect substitute for natural 
resources and, consequently, for the stock of natural capital that 
yields the flow of these natural resources." (6, p. 72) However, SD, 
especially strong sustainability, requires that both the humanly cre- 
ated capital stock and the natural capital stock be maintained "in- 
tact separately, on the assumption that they are complements rather 
than substitutes in most production functions." (6, p. 72) Also, Pearce 
sees an augmented or constant natural capital stock as "the only 
route to sustainability." (17, p. 604) 

These premises, advanced on the basis of assumptions made 
about the natural capital stock, are consistent with the themes of 
equity, efficiency, and resiliency, which underlie the concept of SD. 
They also justify the importance given to environmental consider- 
ations in formulating policies and instruments for achieving SD. 

B. Assumption Two 

The economic process is subject to the entropy law, the second 
law of thermodynamics. Entropy is called the process in which "ev- 
ery time energy is transformed from one state to another, some of 
its available energy to do work is lost." (23, p. 50) The recognition of 
the relationship between the entropy law and economic activity was 
discussed extensively by Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen in his work 
The Entropy Law and Economic Process. (8) Within the economic pro- 
cess of extraction, production, and consumption, low-entropy natu- 
ral resources flow into the production stage, where they are trans- 
formed into products by labor and equipment with the help of en- 
ergy. Thus, economic activity converts energy from a low entropy 
state (entropy that occurs at slow evolutionary rates in nature) to a 
high entropy state (entropy that occurs at very rapid rates of pro- 
duction processes). (23, p. 54) 

According to Georgescu-Roegen, the entropy law is a natural 
law "which recognizes that even the material universe is subject to 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 115 

m irreversible qualitative change." (8, p. 8) The fact remains that 
'man's economic struggle centers on environmental low entropy," 
:hat "environmental low entropy is scarce," and that the economic 
process is solidly anchored to a material base which is subject to 
lefinite constraints." (8, p. 56) This fact recognizes an important 
?oint in economics, namely that "the entropy law is the taproot of 
economic scarcity" (8, p. 8) It is estimated that the continuous stream 
3f consumer products and services depletes terrestrial energy 
jources "at a rate 100,000 times greater than they are being created 
n nature." (23, p. 54) 

Along this line of thinking, the "industrial metabolism" frame- 
tvork of analysis offers an 

understanding of the environmental impacts of the rapid use 
of energy employed by humankind's pursuit of economic 
well-being. ... Just as living organisms have metabolic processes 
for transforming the energy they import from their environ- 
ment into life maintaining processes, economies can also be 
viewed as metabolic because they extract large quantities of 
energy-rich matter from the environment and transform it into 
products. (23, p. 54) 

Whereas in the natural world the metabolic process is "balanced 
and self-sustaining, in the economic system it is grossly out of bal- 
ance with its environment." (23, p. 55) Energy is transformed into 
wastes at all points along the industrial metabolic process, with the 
greatest waste occurring at the point of consumption. Ayres is of 
the opinion that consumption is "naturally dissipative." (1, p. 26) 
"Most foods, fuels, paper, lubricants, solvents, fertilizers, pesticides, 
cosmetics" and other products "are discarded as waste after a single 
use. ... Many of these products are very difficult and expensive to 
recycle," so "people use too many of them," and, more often, they 
do not "use them again." (23, p. 55) 

Z. Assumption Three 

Kenneth Boulding sees the earth as a "system of systems," made 
Lip of a number of subsystems - the economic subsystem is only 
3ne of them. (3, p. 202) The "earth's subsystems should support 
'ather than supersede one another;" survival of the planet earth 
'depends on the delicate interaction between the various subsystems 
:hat compose it." (23, p. 44) This assumption implies that ecologi- 

116 M. Spyrou: Redefining Economic Policy Goals 

cal systems, such as land, and natural resources maintain economic 
ones. "It is dangerous to assume that economic activity does not 
influence the capacity of ecological systems to maintain that activ- 
ity." (26, p. 34) Sustainability, therefore, is determined by the earth's 
carrying capacity: the amount of economic activity it can withstand 
within the limits of the ecosystem." (23, p. 126) Because the earth 
has a limited carrying capacity, according to Milbrath: 

Maintaining the integrity and good function of its ecosystem 
should be the most fundamental value in the value structure 
of a sustainable society. Without a viable ecosystem, life can- 
not be sustained, society cannot function, and it will be impos- 
sible to realize quality in living. (13, p. 35) 

Ecological thinking provides the framework for developing an 
integrated and holistic view of the economic process. "Wholeness 
helps people to remember that survival depends on successfully 
interacting with other living subsystems on the planet, because the 
whole cannot survive if its parts are destroyed." Furthermore, whole- 
ness helps people understand, "perceive and attend to the relation- 
ships with other elements of the environment." (23, p. 130) 

D. Assumption Four 

"The maintenance of a livable global environment depends on the 
sustainable development of the entire human family." (21, p. 169) 
Environmental degradation is very often caused by poverty, because 
the poor - particularly the populations of Third World countries 
depend heavily on the natural resource base for their survival. For 
example, the dependence on fuelwood in many countries of Africa 
and Asia causes severe damage to this "natural capital stock," bring- 
ing about other environmental problems, such as deforestation, de- 
sertification, soil erosion, and pollution. "Poor people often have no 
choice but to opt for immediate economic benefits at the expense of 
the long-run sustainability of their livelihoods." (2, p. 103) 

Poor people in their struggle to survive are driven to doing 
environmental damage with long-term losses. Their herds over- 
graze; their shortening fallows on steep slopes and fragile soils 
induce erosion; their need for off-season income drives them 
to cut and sell firewood and make and sell charcoal; they are 
forced to cultivate and degrade marginal and unstable land." 
(5, p. 7) 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 117 

This eloquent description of the relationship between poverty, 
environmental degradation, and underdevelopment exemplifies a 
major concern of sustainable economic development. It suggests 
that it is imperative to ensure that basic human needs, such as food, 
shelter, health care, education, employment, as well as a clean envi- 
ronment, are met. 

III. Policy Goals and Tools 

As the above discussion points out, there is a need for a new 
economic paradigm and new goals to be formulated in order to make 
SD applicable and successful. A paradigm can be defined as a belief 
structure or ideology, composed of concepts, values and percep- 
tions, shared by the members of society. Goals encompass visions 
of what new paradigms mean and how they can be instituted. In 
this context, tools or strategies provide more concrete information 
about the implementation of new paradigms and goals. 

A. Policy One: ''Resource Accounting" 

The concept of a natural capital stock, as discussed above, has 
generated new avenues for addressing and assessing economic ac- 
tivity. The resulting new economic paradigms call for the proper 
"pricing" of the environmental costs of production (21; 24); re- 
source accounting (2; 19); and the development of a "Gross Ecologi- 
cal Product" (GEP) to replace the GDP (23, p. 90) 

According to Whitelaw and Niemi, the most powerful economic 
tool for instituting SD is "open market prices." The price of a prod- 
uct or service should reflect the value of everything we give up to 
produce it, i.e., "the value of our use of the item" or service - "the 
demand side," and "the value of what we had to give up to make 
the item" or service - "the supply side." (24, p. 29) For example, the 
cost of producing a truckload of logs needs to include not only the 
cost of labor, of chainsaws, of fuel, but it must also take into account 
the costs of preserving or maintaining forests and the watershed, 
the costs of losing commercial fishing, the increased costs of water 
filtration, the costs implied to the loss of the natural habitat for those 
who consider the owl, and the beauty of the mountain as a part of 
the overall quality of life, to mention some. 

Resource accounting necessitates adjustments in how national 
ncome accounts are set up. The traditional way is to record only 

118 M. Spyrou: Redefining Economic Policy Goals 

the income derived from the harvest of natural resources, such as 
from timber, minerals, and fishing. The declining natural resource 
capital stock and the deteriorating environmental quality are not 
yet incorporated in national income accounting, (2, p. 107) Hence, 
a new paradigm has to consider the costs inflicted by environmen- 
tal degradation and the "depreciation" of natural capital stock, to 
be reflected in a modified national income accounting system. This 
would provide a more realistic picture of national economic wel- 
fare and, in turn, give greater impetus for the formulation of pre- 
cise socioeconomic policies promoting SD. 

In support of resource accounting, Daly and Cobb (6) as well as 
Stead and Stead (23) advocate the development of a "Gross Eco- 
logical Product" (GEP) to replace the traditional GDP as an indica- 
tor of economic growth and development. Calculation of the GEP 
is to be based on the Hicksian income concept, described earlier. 
First, the net domestic product (NDP) is derived by subtracting from 
GDP standard depreciation costs for the man-made capital stock. 
However, NDP does not take into account the depreciation of the 
natural capital stock (DNC), or of defensive expenditures (DE), de- 
fined as the income to be spent for protection from the ecological 
side effects of production. The Hicksian income approach would 
subtract DNC and DE from NDP. Because of the technical and po- 
litical difficulties involved in instituting such an accounting sys- 
tem, few countries (e.g., Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Norway 
and Sweden) even consider the possibility of developing a GEP 

Certainly, the task of achieving the above mentioned objectives 
is by no means an easy one; it is a tremendous and daunting chal- 
lenge. Nevertheless, it is essential for a sustainable world economy. 
We must change, i.e., modify or replace existing socioeconomic in- 
stitutions with new ones; the aforementioned approaches facilitate 
this task. 

B. Policy Two: "Greening of Businesses" 

The term "green" implies ecological sustainability; for something 
to be considered "green" it must meet five basic criteria (7, p. 6) : 

a) It does not harm the health of people or animals. 

b) It does not harm the natural environment. 

c) It does not consume a disproportionate amount of energy 
or resources. 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 119 

d) It does not cause excessive amounts of unusable wastes. 

e) It does not harm endangered species. 

Of course, it is almost impossible to achieve perfection in all five 
criteria, thus "greening" should be understood as a process of reach- 
ing an ideal situation for developing a "green" economy. Already 
consumers, industries and other institutions have become involved 
in the "greening" process. The role of the business community is of 
paramount importance, especially that of industry. On the one hand, 
industry is a major force in promoting economic activity and wealth. 
On the other hand, it also generates significant environmental prob- 

The intention of the business community to be more environmen- 
tally sensitive and active is exemplified in the statement made by 
Edgar Woodland, chief executive of DuPont, who introduced the 
phrase "corporate environmentalism" in 1989. (20, p. 168) He pos- 
ited that businesses no longer consider environmental quality as a 
burden for business but rather view it as a "vital part of a company's 
competitive advantage." (20, p. 168) As a result, a number of pro- 
grams and instruments designed to promote the "greening" of busi- 
nesses have been developed and put into practice. Below is a sample 
of some of these programs and instruments: 

1. The emergence of green products and green consumers. Many com- 
panies began introducing products that meet many, if not all, of the 
requirements of being defined as "green," e.g., unbleached coffee 
filters, products made of recycled paper, and non-toxic household 
cleaners, to mention some. (7, p. 79) Major companies like Wall-Mart, 
MacDonalds, and Procter and Gamble are making concerted efforts 
to reduce waste in their retail practices. "Green consumers," inten- 
tionally buy green products, "use them as long as possible, and re- 
cycle the wastes." (23, p. 146) Moreover, green consumers tend to 
take an active role against non-green companies through boycotts 
and investment strategies. 

2. The introduction of the product life-cycle analysis. In order for prod- 
ucts to be identified as green they undergo a thorough analysis from 
"cradle to grave," - to test their recyclability, safe packaging, and 
absence of toxins, and so on. (23, p. 146) The results of such analy- 
ses encourage the full recycling of materials, the saving of energy, 
and the reduction of pollution. For example, steel produced from 

120 M. Spyrou: Redefining Economic Policy Goals 

scrap reduces air pollution by up to 85 percent, cuts water pollution 
by as much as 76 percent, may eliminate mining wastes, and con- 
serve about 1.5 barrels of oil for each ton of steel. (4, p. 182) Pro- 
grams for product life-cycle analysis and the "labelling of products 
as green" exist in many industrialized countries. For example, 
Germany's "Blue Angel Program" provides seals for products con- 
sidered to be "green." Canada has its "Environmental Choice Pro- 
gram," Japan the "Eco-Mark," and the "Green Seal" and "Green 
Cross" are promoted in the U.S. All of these programs certify envi- 
ronmentally safe products. 

3. The dematerialization of the production process. This process is 
designed to reduce the volume of raw materials and energy needed 
to produce added value. (20, p. 160) The purpose of this program 
is not only to increase efficiency in production but also to conserve 
resources and to lower pollution levels. 

4. The shift from a linear to a circular approach in the production and 
consumption cycle. Circular production is likened to an ecosystem. 
"In an ideal world, the flow of materials from extraction ... manu- 
facturing to use and disposal would ensure that the waste products 
could be reinserted into the system as raw materials" in some way 
or another. (20, p. 177) Today, the production /consumption cycle 
still tends to be linear in that products are produced and consumed 
without regard for environmental efficiency. 

5. The Polluter-pays principle (PPP). This concept has been devel- 
oped and implemented by the member countries of the OECD, in 
their attempt to introduce flexible, efficient, and cost-effective mea- 
sures to control pollution and environmental degradation. The PPP, 
as defined by OECD member countries, stresses that the "polluter 
should bear the cost of measures to reduce pollution ... to ensure 
that the environment is in an acceptable state." (15, p. 27) The PPP 
principle is consistent with the idea that sustainable development 
can be promoted and /or achieved if "prices carry information about 
the ecological and social truth of resource use and consumption." 
(26, p. 30) 

IV. Sustainable Development: Tendencies and Prospects 

The preceding analysis of SD is by no means complete. The dis- 
cussion rather tried to provide a framework in which the concept of 
SD is to be viewed and understood. The scope of SD was outlined 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 121 

in three parts. The first one outHned the Hnkage of the conservation 
movement and economic development. This Hnkage indicates that 
SD is part of the traditional anthropocentric environmentalism, 
which differs greatly from the views of the so-called "new ecolo- 
gists." These "new environmentalists" would like to supplant 
anthropocentrism with "ecocentrism." The latter views "the human 
as just another species in the natural web, having no special claim 
to the resources of the earth, certainly no claim to control or exploit 
them, and decidedly no right to threaten their very continuation ..." 
(22, pp. 288-89) The "new ecologists" derive their ideas and values 
from green politics, ecophilosophy, native spiritualism, and social 
ecology. (22, p. 288) How the traditional environmentalists and the 
new ecologists interact or confront each other will affect the future 
path of sustainable development (SD). 

The second part suggested that we need to broaden and rethink 
the way we view and measure the quantity and quality of natural 
resources. The linkage of economic activity to the entropy law, i.e., 
the need to incorporate aspects of the preservation of the natural 
capital stock into environmental costs and in the decision making 
process, represents both a challenge and a dilemma for reshaping 
socioeconomic policies and goals. 

Finally, the description of some of the new policies and instru- 
ments to implement SD, indicate that we have entered a new era in 
economic and environmental planning. We still need to develop 
new policies, refine existing ones, and further evaluate already de- 
veloped instruments, to make SD operational. Moreover, there are 
many obstacles to be overcome - political, social, cultural, and philo- 

However, there is some common ground emerging from all of 
the fuss and discussion on sustainable development. The fact is that 
"SD" has generated a dialogue of much greater depth than any other 
previous environmental concept. The legacy of SD probably will be 
o serve as a vehicle for leading the world into a new industrial/ 
economic revolution - the "eco-revolution." (20, p. 180) It will be a 
'evolution that will treat the environment not only as a factor of 
production (like labor and capital) in the economic production /con- 
jumption cycle but it will also enhance the prospects of all people 
■laving access to a secure and sustainable livelihood. 

122 M. Spyrou: Redefining Economic Policy Goals 


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talism - Readings in Conservation History. Ed. R. F. Nash. New York: 
McGraw-Hill Publishing Co., 1990. 

23. Stead, Edward W. and Stead, Jean Garner. Management for a Small Planet - 

Strategic Decision Making and the Environment. London: Sage Publication, 

24. Whitelaw, Ed and Niemi, Ernie. "After the Owl," Old Oregon, Winter 1993, 

pp. 26-29. 

25. World Commission on Environment and Development. Our Common Future. 

Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987. 

26. Young, Michael D. Sustainable Investment and Resource Use. Paris: Unesco and 

Park Ridge, NJ: The Parthenon Publishing Group, 1992. 

Humanizing the Workplace 
for Increased Productivity 
and Worker Satisfaction 

Cheryl Sink Rice and Donadrian L. Rice 

If all good people were clever 
And those that are clever were good, 
This world would he nicer than ever, 
]Ne dream that it possibly could. 
Alfred North Whitehead 

American business may well feel a gun has been put to its collec- 
tive temple in this day of rapidly changing technology, increased 
global competition and dramatic changes in the workplace. In Au- 
gust of 1993, the Associated Press issued a preliminary report of a 
five year study of American workers (national sample of 3,381), 
conducted by the "Families and Work Institute" and commissioned 
oy fifteen companies and foundations, to determine how workers 
feel about their jobs. Only 35 percent of this sample rated salary as 
the primary reason for taking their particular job. In contrast, 65 
percent stated that "open communications" attracted them to their 
:urrent positions. 

Society is experiencing increasing charges of sexual harassment 
as well as extreme and dramatic instances when dissatisfied em- 
ployees have returned to places of prior employment and murdered 
"ormer co-workers (as was the case with a 31 year old postal worker 
tvho in Royal Oak, Michigan, on November 14, 1991, killed five 
costal employees, wounded four others and then shot himself), 
rlence, it comes as no surprise that employers, managers, adminis- 
:rators and supervisors are behooved to create healthy, humane 
A^orkplaces where occupational stress will be eliminated or reduced. 

Psychologist Robert Hagan, director of the Tulsa Institute of Be- 
\avioral Sciences, following 25 years of survey research in indus- 
rial organizational psychology, found the tyrannical boss to be the 
najor cause of stress in the workplace - as experienced and ex- 

■ ■ • 


126 C.S. Rice and D.L. Rice: Humanizing the Workplace 

pressed by the workers he had studied. Hagan further observed 
that American productivity is significantly reduced due to this fac- 
tor. (9, p. 42) 

The relationship between worker and employer or supervisor has 
an interesting history and will be briefly outlined in this article as a 
preamble to the discussion of a unique blending of a psychological 
(Neurolinguistic Programming) and a sociological approach (using 
the Values and Life Style System). The authors propose this to be an 
effective means to better humanize the workplace and, thereby, to 
increase worker satisfaction and productivity. 

I. Overview of the History of Employer-Employee Relations 

Upon perusing the history of employer /employee or manager/ 
worker relations, we find this to be an ageless issue. We could begin 
earlier, but let's go back 1,500 years to St. Benedict and his Benedictine 
Rule, regarding the decision making structure of the monastery. He 
stated that: 

As often as any important business has to be done in the mon- 
astery let the abbot call together the whole community and 
himself set forth the matter. And, having heard the counsel of 
the brethren, let him take counsel with himself and then do 
what he shall judge to be most expedient. Now the reason we 
have said that all should be called to council, is that God often 
reveals what is better to the younger. Let the brethren give their 
advice with deference and humility, nor venture to defend their 
opinions obstinately; but let the decision depend rather on the 
abbot's judgement, so that when he has decided what is the 
better course, all may obey. (18, p. 25) 

One thousand years later, Machiavelli, known for his less than 
compassionate advice on how leaders should make and implement 
decisions, wrote: 

For there is no other way to guard oneself from flatterers than 
by letting men know that you will not be offended by being 
told the truth; but when everyone is able to tell you the truth, 
you lose their respect. Therefore a wise prince should adopt a 
third means, choosing wise men from his state, and only to 
those should he allow the freedom to speak truthfully to him, 
and only concerning those about which he asks, nothing else. 
But he should ask them about everything, and listen to their 
opinions, and afterward deliberate by himself, in his own way; 

YJest Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXIl, 1994 127 

and with these councils and with each one of his advisors he 
should act in such a way that everyone may see that the more 
freely he speaks, all the more he will be acceptable; aside from 
these he should not want to hear any others, he should carry 
' through what was decided and be firm in his decisions. (11, p. 

The righteous-minded monk (vs^ho founded an order of Catholic 
priesthood based on the "golden rule," a concept found in one form 
or another in all of the world's major religions) and the man whose 
principles of leadership are decidedly amoral, if not immoral (whose 
name is synonymous with the philosophy that craft, deceit and 
unscrupulous cunning are justified if they will get the policy imple- 
mented) - surprisingly, these two men agree that the process of 
policy making should be a social process with input from others to 
be solicited and to be considered. 

With such diametrically opposed positions agreeing on this one 
issue, how is it that we still have debates over the need for so-called 
"participative management" in today's society? Part of the answer 
may be found in a brief overview of the history of the relationship 
between workers and management during the later part of the nine- 
teenth century - the age of the craftsman. As Vroom and Jago note: 

Many [present day] managers would be shocked to learn that 
just about a century ago many workers had far more control 
and influence than they [the managers] have today. The pre- 
vailing issue in the journals of that time was not the nourish- 
ment of participative management but rather the reestablish- 
ment of management authority. (20, p. 8) 

The carpenters, glass blowers, typographers, and ironworkers, 
for example, often were highly skilled autonomous craftspersons 
who would hire their own apprentices and assume complete con- 
trol over the work process in their respective industries. "The 
craftsman-contractor was often more highly paid and possessed a 
degree of control vastly exceeding that of many higher-level man- 
agers in modern corporations." (20, p. 9) 

Although this form of industrial organization had some obvious 
benefits for the workers, managers and owners occasionally would 
find themselves in a less than advantageous situation. The 
craftsman's interests on occasion became more important than the 
company's. For example, the craftsman-contractor's hiring practice 

128 C.S. Rice and D.L. Rice: Humanizing the Workplace ' 

might have been limited by who in his family and circle of friends 
was available for work. Or, it would have been determined by the 
craftsman that the rate of work could never exceed so many pieces 
per hour, no matter that the crew was capable of producing more, 
or that the company needed more. 

The workers who worked under the craftsman-contractor sys- 
tem were essentially powerless and had little job security unless 
they were family members, of course. "The costs [of this type of 
organizational structure] were continued exploitation of the vast 
majority of workers and the obscuring of the lines between employ- 
ers and employees in the workplace." (20, p. 9) 

In 1911, the work of Frederick W. Taylor seemed to have the solu- 
tion to the challenges which managers and owners had been facing. 
In his book. Scientific Management, Taylor (19) devised methods to 
remedy the practice of workers restricting output for selfish inter- 
ests and also for setting realistic production levels. In addition, Tay- 
lor determined that a distinctive division of labor was needed (thus 
taking much of the omnipotent control from the crafts- 
man-contractor). Here we had the beginning of time-motion stud- 
ies, assembly line work, and the worker-manager-owner hierarchy 
of control. Thanks in part to Frederick Taylor and his "scientific 
management" concept, managers and owners were able to gain com- 
plete control of production. 

The problem with "Taylorism," i.e., with a time-motion, assem- 
bly line definition of work and the workplace, was and is the result- 
ing alienation of the worker. In his criticism of capitalism, Karl Marx 
(12) noted, as early as the mid 1800s, that the historical progression 
from a feudal to a capitalistic economy would and was resulting in 
a worker who was alienated from his or her work in a myriad of 
ways, some of which are: 1) Separation from the product, i.e., in no 
way is the product owned by the worker, and in the case of assem- 
bly line work, a worker does not have the satisfaction of creating 
the product from start to finish. 2) Workers are in competition with 
one another and, therefore, are deprived of a sense of community. 
3) Workers are seen as a commodity to be bought. 4) And, workers 
are alienated from the act of working in that they do not have a 
voice in how the production process is to be organized - work often 
has become too repetitive, tedious, and routine. (12, pp. 166-76) 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 129 

Although writing about worker aUenation more than sixty years 
before Taylor's "scientific management" method of organizing the 
workplace came into practice, Marx presented a credible descrip- 
tion of the malaise that can and does overtake workers if they are 
deprived of self-expression, creativity, initiative, and personal re- 
sponsibility in their places of work.^ 

It is not surprising then, that after a number of years of the prac- 
tice of time-motion analyzed work activities and divisions of labor 
in the workplaces of the United States and Western Europe, as pre- 
scribed by Taylor's concept of "scientific management," a new com- 
ponent in our brief overview of the social processes in the work- 
place received notoriety. The work of two social scientists refocused 
attention on the human element in the workplace. Elton Mayo, then 
on the faculty of the Harvard Business School, provided a philo- 
sophical basis for the necessity of worker participation. His books. 
The Social Problems of an Industrial Civilization (14) and The Human 
Problems of an Industrial Civilization (13), demonstrated not only the 
alienating potential but also the resulting social and human costs of 
this development. 

A second component to a humanizing counterbalance of Taylor's 
scientific management movement," supplementing Mayo's (and 
others) writings, is to be found in the psychological investigations 
of Kurt Lewin of the University of Berlin. (10) Lewin broke new 
ground by focusing his attention on motivation. His motivational 
concepts are concerned with the purposes that underlie behavior 
and the goals toward or away from which behavior is directed. As a 
result of the works of Mayo and Lewin, during the 1950s and 1960s, 
behavioral scientists began focusing attention on management's 
responsibility to involve workers in decision making processes. Since 
then, corporations, such as Westinghouse, General Motors, Xerox, 
and others, have recognized the value of employee input. (20) 

While the gains made in the area of participatory management 
have been admirable and have gone a long way toward humaniz- 
ing the work environment, an essential component, communica- 
tion, deserves additional attention. 

Lee lacocca, in his autobiography (5), says that motivation is ev- 
erything; the way to motivate people is to communicate with them 
in their own language. Interestingly enough, lacocca is intimating 
that communication is perhaps different for everyone. At the same 

130 C.S. Rice and D.L. Rice: Humanizing the Workplace 

time, it is at the nucleus of almost everything we do. Learning how 
to communicate effectively is a skill that can be learned by anyone 
willing to put forth the effort. 

In today's corporations, large and small, a different attitude pre- 
vails among employees that demands managers or leaders who are 
competent in the delicate process of understanding others. The 
one-dimensional approach to managing or giving orders and hav- 
ing workers blindly following them is, without a doubt, a thing of 
the past. Today, the most successful manager is one who recognizes 
the workers' own actualizing interests over blind loyalty to the firm. 
The challenge is to allow a working situation in which the employee 
feels a sense of productive personal autonomy. 

II. Neurolinguistic Programming 

Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) is the study of the struc- 
ture of subjective experiences. According to Dilts, Grinder, Bandler, 
and DeLozier, (3) it attempts to examine the correlates between what 
we experience as the external environment and our internal experi- 
ence, i.e., sensory representations of that experience at the neuro- 
logical level. Neurolinguistic Programming was created by Richard 
Bandler and John Grinder (1) as they studied human behavior and 
organized its components into specific patterns of behavior, based 
on the individual's naturalistic processes to generate behavioral 
change. Dilts, et. al., (3) view behavior as the result of neurological 
processes. They analyze behavioral change as entailing a three-point 
program involving one's representation of the present state of be- 
havior, desired outcome or target behavior, and the actions required 
to move the individual from the former to the latter. 

Likewise, business organizations face a present state, a desired 
state, and the necessary resources to take them from the present to 
the desired state. Each person or employee of the organization rep- 
resents a specific resource to the effective functioning of the organi- 
zation as a whole. At the same time, each person within the organi- 
zation has a specific set of resources that contributes to his or her 
own individual operation. 

At its most fundamental level, humanizing the workplace neces- 
sitates an effective mode of communication in order to tap these 
resources. Moreover, it requires an understanding that communi- 
cating is multimodal. That is, it needs to be recognized that body 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 131 

language, voice inflection, word selection, and content are all indi- 
cators of communication. NLP provides a conceptual framework 
and techniques that address these multimodal aspects of commu- 
nication. NLP techniques revolve around four basic attributes of all 

The first attribute is based on a presupposition of NLP that the 
meaning of any communication can be determined only by the re- 
sponse that is received. In other words, when you communicate 
with someone you expect a certain response. However, the person 
to whom you are communicating may not interpret your commu- 
nication in the way you intend it. If you determine that you are not 
getting the response you wanted based on your observations, then 
it is up to you to vary your behavior until your intended meaning is 

Realizing that the most important resources of any business are 
the people that run it, being able to organize and deal with people 
effectively becomes the principal task of almost every executive, 
supervisor, manager, administrator, etc. The way that the commu- 
nicator conveys the communication to each individual will influ- 
ence the course of the interaction. Part of this process is establishing 
rapport. Rapport, which is derived from the French verb "rapporter," 
meaning to bring back or refer, is translated in English to mean a 
relation of harmony, conformity, or accord. This meaning indicates 
the importance of rapport to communication. In fact, it is the most 
important aspect in any interaction. 

The greatest part of establishing rapport is often accomplished 
nonverbally. Techniques such as pacing the person's strategies and 
other behaviors, picking up his or her vocabulary, mirroring and 
feeding back his or her voice tonality and tempo, facial expressions, 
posture, and gestures all serve to help establish rapport more quickly 
which can be crucial in the workplace. As suggested by Hyler Bracey, 
in hi3 Managing from the Heart (2), people in leadership or manage- 
rial positions need to demonstrate caring and empathy as well as 
competence and confidence. NLP techniques, such as those de- 
scribed above, assist in developing that kind of empathy. 

The second attribute of NLP is flexibility; it means having choice 
in the communication interaction. In their book. Frogs into Princes, 
Bandler and Grinder (1) point out that if you have only one choice 
in responding, you are a robot. If you have two choices, you have a 

132 C.S. Rice and D.L. Rice: Humanizing the Workplace 

dilemma. If you have three choices, you have flexibiUty. The more 
flexible you are, the more you are able to adjust your behavior in 
order to get the desired response. Each time we use a tone of voice, 
make a gesture, or write a report, we are communicating in a selec- 
tive and directional way. The difference is that by using NLP we 
can become more aware of what we are doing in eliciting the re- 
sponse we are getting from others. 

Communication is a circular feedback system in which responses 
elicit responses. Behaviors elicit behaviors, and words elicit words. 
The manager or leader of an organization with the most flexibility 
will have the most influence. Being flexible means being respon- 
sive to change and being adaptable. In the communication process 
you can have flexibility in words, thinking, perception and behav- 
iors. Anyone involved in working directly with others will have 
more success in their interaction when they are able to exhibit flex- 
ibility. The potential for more powerful responses lies in increased 

A third attribute is sensory acuity. When communicating, how 
does one know that the communication was received as intended? 
Of course, if you elicit the desired response you would assume that 
the communication process was successful. But what if there was a 
different response? Would that imply a failed attempt at communi- 
cating? On the contrary, another principle of NLP is that there are 
no failures in communication, only responses that give you feed- 
back about your communication process. Sensory acuity allows you 
to become aware of changes in others so you can recognize how 
your communication is being received. The verbal portion of our 
communication constitutes only one aspect of the entire process of 
communication. Sensory acuity involves being aware of the non- 
verbal aspects of communication such as skin color changes, minute 
muscle changes, lower lip changes, changes in breathing, eye posi- 
tion, and tonal and tempo qualities of the voice. By paying atten- 
tion to the systematic and recurrent behaviors that people go through 
as they communicate, it is possible to index sensory specific re- 
sponses to any communication. 

The fourth attribute is an NLP premise that people tend to com- 
municate and process information through using at least one of the 
five senses: visual, auditory, kinesthetic, gustatory and olfactory. 
One of these senses is dominant in each individual. For effective 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 133 

communication, it is important to discover the other person's pri- 
mary sense modality. For instance, people who are visual tend to 
see the world in pictures and are inclined to speak in a visual meta- 
phor. Individuals who are auditory tend to be more selective about 
the words they use. They have more resonant voices and their speech 
is slower, more rhythmic and measured. People who are more ki- 
nesthetic react primarily to feelings. Their voices tend to be deep 
and their words often are slow which reflects a tendency toward 
contemplation while speaking. Gustatory and olfactory modalities 
are usually grouped with kinesthetic. 

Everyone has elements of all five modes, but most people have 
one system that dominates. Communication becomes easier when 
you translate your speech into the dominate sense modality of the 
person with whom you are talking. Hence the phrase, "I see what 
you mean," will be very meaningful to a visually oriented person, 
while "I hear you" or "that rings a bell" will be understood clearly 
by one who is auditory. "I grasp what you mean" or "I feel good 
about that" will let a kinesthetic individual know that his or her 
position is understood. 

The NLP techniques mentioned above are only a sampling of the 
communication skills managers and other leaders of organizations 
can develop in order not only to communicate more effectively, but 
to give individuals and groups the tools with which to develop per- 
sonal and interpersonal skills and to generate attitudes which are 
most productive in the particular circumstances. Other areas of NLP, 
not covered in this section, convey findings on the connection be- 
tween eye movement and thought processes, the use of metaphor 
in bringing about understanding and change, and its emphasis on 
modelling to enable the transfer of skills from outstandingly effec- 
tive performers to others not operating at the same level. 

III. Values and Life Style Typology 

The NLP approach offers techniques for workplace leaders to 
better relate to workers on a physical and psychological level. The 
situation in America's organizations may be as Daniel Kagan states: 

. . the biggest threat facing U.S. business today is the incompetent 
manager, most notably the one who displays narcissistic tenden- 
cies." (7, p. 42) This would be a manager who demonstrates inflex- 
ibility at several levels: inability to change when the situation calls 

134 C.S. Rice and D.L. Rice: Humanizing the Workplace 

for (even demands) change, unresponsitivity to the communicative 
style of others, and insensitivity to attitudes and values that may 
and will differ from her or his own attitudes and values. 

Since St. Benedict's and Machiavelli's times, many volumes have 
been written about management styles. The debate still seems to 
center over the question of whether it is best to assume that the 
worker should be treated as a recalcitrant child needing constant 
supervision and instruction or whether he or she should be treated 
as a responsible, creative, self motivated adult, needing no supervi- 
sion, capable of self direction. Stephen Jenks echoes the thoughts of 
many who have studied organizational management when he 
writes: "There is a growing consensus that no one management or 
leadership style is correct." (6, p. 447) The nature of the task (that is, 
whether it is routine or needs much creative thought), the expertise 
of the leader, the constraints of time and locality, and finally, the 
attitudes and needs of the subordinates - all of these should be con- 
sidered in determining the appropriate nature of the 
worker-manager relationship. The relationship between workplace 
and worker is reciprocal. Sociologist Melvin Kohn observed in an 
article entitled, "Unresolved Issues in the Relationship between 
Work and Personality," that "... the empirical evidence is that job 
conditions not only affect but also are affected by personality ..." (9, 
p. 43). 

An effective communicator not only will follow the techniques 
of NLP, but also will become sensitive to the attitudes and values 
that make up the personalities of the persons with whom he or she 
works, after initially becoming aware of his or her own fundamental 
values and beliefs. A means of understanding the values and lifestyle 
preferences of ourselves and others is offered by Arnold Mitchell in 
his Values and Life Style typology. (15) Adapting the "needs 
hierarchy" of the psychologist Abraham Maslow, Mitchell developed 
a sociological typology of Americans based on their values. Building 
on Maslow's five sequential stages of psychological needs - survival, 
security, belonging, esteem and self-actualization (this final stage 
denoting full psychological maturity), Mitchell proposed nine 
American profiles. In his book. The Nine American Lifestyles (15), he 
presents the Values and Life Styles (VALS) typology, a schema 
resulting from his work at the Stanford Research Institute. 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 135 

Also incorporating the "inner" and "outer" directed concept of 
social character/ described by David Riesman, Nathan Glazer and 
Revel Denney, in The Lonely Crowd (17), Mitchell divides adult Ameri- 
can values and attitudes into nine comprehensive categories. (The 
reader is referred to Tables 1 and 2 for details of the demographics 
and attitudes of theses nine subgroupings.) These nine "lifestyle" 
subgroupings and their four general groupings are as follows: 

Need-Driven Groups 

1. Survivor 

2. Sustainer 

Outer-Driven Groups 

3. Belonger 

4. Emulator 

5. Achiever 

Inner-Directed Groups 
6. 1-Am-Me 

7. Experiential 

8. Societally Conscious 

Combined Outer- and Inner-Directed Groups 

9. Integrated 

The VALS typology has received more consumer and advertis- 
ing oriented research than academic attention, having been widely 
applied in commercial and advertising settings since its publica- 
tion. "The impact of VALS has been widespread and dramatic ... 
Many companies have used VALS ... Among the many clients SRI 
International lists are the New York Times, Penthouse, Atlantic 
Richfield, Boeing Commercial Airplane Co., American Motors and 
Rainier National Bank." (8, pp. 404-5) It seems appropriate to as- 
sume that a typology which gives businesses and advertisers in- 
sight into the values and attitudes of people to whom they want to 
sell products, also is an effective typology from which a manager, 
supervisor, or administrator may gain insight into the personalities 
of workers whom he or she supervises, and, in doing so, may better 
communicate with them. 

The workplace is composed of people who are likely to incorpo- 
rate the values of one of these nine categories. Understanding the 


C.S. Rice and D.L. Rice: Humanizing the Workplace 

Demographics of Lifestyle 








Median Age 







(Percent) |j 





Democrats- 60 





and below 







Female~77 1 








Middle of the 











Female- 55 






Conservative - 


rural -51* 






Middle of the 









Married - 




Black -13 


1-3 yean 





Hispanic— 6 

Middle of die 













1-3 yean 








Hispanic- 1* 




















1-3 yean 





1-3 yean 





Hispanic- 1* 
























school" 39 












majority > 



see tert** 

1-3 ye»n 









Source : Summarized from Arnold Mitchell, The Nine American Lifestyle, (15, pp. 279-81) 
Notes : *Highest or Lowest (or tied) of all groups. 
**Not enough data available. 
••*While the rest of this table is based on Mitchell, this category is based on Kahle, et al. (8). 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 


Attitudes of Lifestyle 












Feel most people 
are honest 

54 » 









Am rebelling 
against things 

68 » 









Think greatest achieve- 
ments are ahead 










Feel things are changing 
too fast 










Family is most impor- 
tant thmg to me 










TV is my main 










Feel it is important to 
be a part of a group 










Agree social status 
is important 










Get great deal of satis- 
faction from job 










Strongly agree financial 
security is important 










Source : Summarized from Arnold Mitchell, The Nine American Lifestyles. (15, pp. 282-87) 
Notes : *Highest or lowest (or tied) of these lifestyle groups. 

values and attitudes specific to each of the VALS subcategories will 
enable people in positions of leadership to better understand those 
whom they are attempting to lead, particularly if those values and 
attitudes are different from their own. 

A. Need-Driven Groups 

Although the majority of the Survivor subgroup is unemployed 
Dr employed only sporadically, it is helpful to begin our discussion 
Df the Values and Life Style groupings here. The daily life of indi- 
i^iduals who are need-driven is focused on just getting through the 
lay with food and shelter. The television is a major focus of their 
ives. Poverty forces them into patterns that are quite different from 
he majority of Americans. They are of the opinion that life, in gen- 
eral, and people, in particular, are to be mistrusted. They feel in 
:onstant rebellion with society at large; it is a society that has not 

138 C.S. Rice and D.L. Rice: Humanizing the Workplace 

benefited them, yet they see others Uving a Ufestyle they beheve 
they are barred from. Many of the Survivors are born, Hve and die 
in what seems to them to be inescapable poverty. Their values may 
be called conservative and conventional, but for many this is para- 
doxically coupled with a tendency to rebel against traditional so- 
cial values. This is sometimes expressed in criminal behavior, drug 
use, and sexual behavior which disregards the natural consequences 
of that behavior. Television is an important aspect of daily life be- 
cause it offers an affordable means of escape. A large number of 
this group are elderly, often widows, or head of a single parent 
household. Many are from racial minority groups, particularly blacks 
and Hispanics. (Mitchell's statistics indicated 13% were Hispanic, 
21% were black.) In comparing the subgroups. Survivors and 
Sustainers, Mitchell writes: 

Psychologically, Sustainers are more advanced than Survivors 
in that they ask much more of their world. They do more plan- 
ning, are more self confident, and expect more of the future 
than Survivors. At the same time, like Survivors, they are not 
trusting of people, they are unhappy, and in particular they 
often feel left out. Although many are unemployed, it is clear 
that they seek work and place enormous importance on finan- 
cial security. Many Sustainers will move up to Belongers, or 
more likely. Emulator levels in the years ahead. (15, p. 8) 

B. Outer-Directed 

The Outer-Directeds compose the majority of middle America, 
about two thirds of the adult population of the United States, ac- 
cording to Mitchell's research (see Tables 1 and 2). This group is 
made up of Belongers, Emulators, and Achievers. The majority of 
American workers would fall in the Belonger category, while many 
of the managers, supervisors, or administrators would fall into the 
Achiever category. The majority of magazine, television and news- 
paper advertising is directed at these three subgroupings; they are 
the ones most frequently found in the workplace. 

The values of the Belongers can be equated with conventional, 
traditional middle class values. These folks are home and family 
oriented. They believe strongly in the notion that the more you work, 
the more you will be rewarded. Their loyalties are to church, fam- 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 139 

ily, employer and the nation. They are trusting, want to fit in, and 
long to do their duty to God, family, job, and country. 

Belongers are the people for whom soap operas and romance 
magazines are created to fill their emotional needs ... People 
brought up this way tend to be puritanical, conventional, de- 
pendent, sentimental, nostalgic, mass-oriented, outer-directed, 
xenophobic. [They are Archie Bunker types; denizens of K- and 
Wal-Marts Home Interiors, Amway, Avon, and TupperWare 
sellers; members of the bowling league, softball team, square 
dance club; Bud, Miller, and maybe Coors beer drinkers, but 
nothing foreign.] Belongers see safety in numbers; they think 
it is important to be an insider; alikeness, togetherness, and 
agreement are important measures ... Tolerance for ambiguity 
is low ... Prefer to follow rather than lead ... 'Should' and 'ought' 
are dominant words. (15, p. 10) 

Although Emulators are in the outer-driven category, their char- 
acteristics are markedly different from the Belongers. "Emulators 
are intensely striving people, seeking to be like those they consider 
richer and more successful than they are ... They are also 
hard-working, supportive of contemporary social trends, and fairly 
successful." (15, p. 11) 

One can imagine what a juicy focus they are of the advertising 
dollar. This group has completed college or technical school, is gen- 
erally in their twenties. Often the Emulator stage is a transitional 
stage between Belonger and Achiever, although some Emulators 
^et stuck in a lifestyle of deception - trying to look like a "success- 
iil" achiever, attempting to mislead others' perception of them by 
conspicuous consumption, following the whims of fashion with no 
anchor of self-respect or real self-confidence. Unlike the Belongers, 
they are not satisfied with the status quo. 

The final subgroup of the Outer-Directed category is the Achiever. 
In 1983, Mitchell had determined that a little less than one fourth of 
the U.S. adult population fits into this category, and more recently, 
in 1991, Novak and MacEvoy (16, p. 105) proposed that 27 percent 
of American adults were Achievers. It is a category characterized as 
a hard working, successful group, which includes professionals such 
is doctors, lawyers, CEO's, financially successful athletes, entertain- 
rs, and artists. An overview of their values would indicate an em- 

140 C.S. Rice and D.L. Rice: Humanizing the Workplace 

phasis on self-confidence, self -direction and self -fulfillment (finan- 
cial success being only one means of fulfillment). According to 
Mitchell's 1983 study (15), 94 percent rated themselves as "very 
happy,'' and, contrary to popular belief, this group had the fewest 
divorces (83 percent were married). Of all the subgroups, they were 
the most trusting of others (perhaps indicating that they were the 
most trustworthy?) and the most supportive of government and 
national issues. The demographics of this subgroup include: a me- 
dian age of early 40s, 2 percent black, 95 percent white, and 33 per- 
cent college graduates, many of whom had gone on to graduate 
school. Regionally, the majority were in the West with the fewest in 
the South.^ Achievers are socially and politically conservative, sec- 
ond only to Belongers. 

C. Inner-Directed Groups 

The Inner-Directed category includes the subgroupings I-Am-Me, 
Experientials, and the Societally Conscious. Perhaps most unlike 
the Emulators, as a group, the Inner-Directeds focus on internal 
forces, not external ones. 

This extends to attitudes toward job, personal relationships, 
spiritual matters, and the satisfactions to be derived from ev- 
eryday pursuits. Inner growth - some-times sought through 
the great Western religions or analytic [i.e., therapeutic] tech- 
niques, but often through transcendental meditation, yoga, 
Zen, or other Eastern spiritual practice [so called 'New Age' 
practices] - is central to many of the Inner-Directeds. Most seek 
intense involvement in whatever they are doing; the second- 
hand and vicarious are anathema. (15, p. 15) 

These may become involved in anti-nuclear plant demonstrations, 
or act as consumer advocates; they may join Green Peace or Am- 
nesty International. From their perspective, their social status comes 
from the degree of involvement in popular avenues of social and/ 
or personal change. The postwar baby boomer generation went 
through this stage as a group. Inner-Directeds usually are well edu- 
cated, come from comfortable middle class backgrounds, and are 
politically independent. They are neither necessarily Democrat and 
most likely not Republican, though many come from the typically 
Republican homes of their Achiever parents. It is the affluence of 

]Nest Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 141 

their upbringing that allows them the latitude of being 

The sub-category I-Am-Me represents a transitional stage from 
an outer-directed lifestyle to an inner-directed. This stage generally 
starts in the late teens and is completed by the early thirties. Most 
are students. It is a time of contradictions and excesses: "... I-Am-Mes 
are both contrite and aggressive, demure and exhibitionistic, 
self-effacing and narcissistic, conforming and wildly innovative." 
(15, p. 17) I-Am-Mes are less attuned to social issues than the Soci- 
etally Conscious, but they may take a strong stand on an issue. An 
enthusiastically active group, the I-Am-Mes take interest in going 
to cultural events, playing physically demanding games, joining 
health spas, and generally having an active social life.'' 

Experientials are so named because a major focus of their lifestyle 
is to "boldly go where no one has ever gone before," at least not 
many, anyway. This lifestyle contradicts most aspects of the 
Belonger's style of living. Personally independent, they are "... more 
activist and mission-oriented. But for now its not things that count, 
but emotion." (15, p. 19) 

Most are in their late twenties, willing to try about anything once. 
They are relatively well paid technical and professional workers, 
tending to be politically liberal. These are the organic food raisers 
and users, ecologically minded, open to the use of alternative meth- 
ods of healing and alternative religious practices (i.e., outside of the 
udeo-Christian tradition of the United States). They are the back- 
packers, well-to-do motorcycle riders, bungee jumpers, hang glider 
liers, and experimenters with drugs. Compared to the I-Am-Me, 
this subgroup is less self-centered, less self-indulgent, demonstra- 
bly more confident, and less sensitive to peer pressure. 

The Societally Conscious subgroup lifestyle puts emphasis on 
current social, national and international events and ideas. "The 
ocus of the inner-directedness drives of some 13 million Ameri- 
cans is not rejection of other lifestyles (as the I-Am-Mes) or intense 
personal experience (as in the Experientials) but concern with soci- 
etal issues, trends, and events." (15, p. 20) The average age is nearly 
forty. There is a high rate of political activism and involvement in 
ecological concerns for this middle and upper income 
"thirty-something-years-old" Societally Conscious subgroup. The 

142 C.S. Rice and D.L. Rice: Humanizing the Workplace 

traditional station wagon is replaced with a Jeep Cherokee, recy- 
cling is done at some financial and time expense, labels are read on 
food products, and excess salt, sugar, and fat in food products are 

Societally Conscious persons are serious and outspoken about 
their beliefs, perhaps ridiculing cigarette smokers or boycotting 
Exxon for what they see as Exxon's irresponsibility in cleaning up 
the Alaskan coastline after the Valdez catastrophe. 

D. Combined Outer and Inner Directed Group 

The Integrateds derive their name because they fuse the values of 
both the outer-directed and inner-directed groups. Few in number, 
usually over thirty-five years of age, they are able to see both sides of 
an issue. They exude a sense of inner calm, demonstrating no need to 
impress others, but nevertheless quietly impressing them. SRI Inter- 
national researchers had estimated Integrateds to make up about 2 
percent of the population. Because their number is small, Mitchell 
spoke of Integrateds in terms of assumptions of characteristics one 
would expect them to have by categorical definition; for example: 

Our sense is that Integrated people adapt easily to most con- 
ventions and mores but are powerfully mission-oriented on 
matters about which they feel strongly. They are people able 
to lead when action is required and able to follow when that 
seems appropriate. They usually possess a deep sense of what 
is fitting and appropriate. They tend to be open, self assured, 
self expressive, keenly aware of nuance and shadings, and of- 
ten possessed of a world perspective. (15, p. 23) 

Integrateds combine characteristics of Achievers and the Soci- 
etally Conscious, but are politically less conservative than Achiev- 
ers and less liberal than the Societally Conscious. They are socially 
appropriate in a vast variety of situations and make excellent diplo- 
mats, CEO's, teachers, professors, statesmen /women, lawyers and 

IV. Conclusion 

Psychologists and sociologists have well documented the need 
for more effective communication within the working environment. 
(2; 4; 8) From the disciplines of psychology and sociology come the 
means to implement effective communication practices. This paper 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 143 

has proposed that a basic understanding of NeuroHnguistic Pro- 
gramming (NLP) practices, coupled with an understanding of the 
values and attitudes of contemporary workers will enable an em- 
ployer and administrator to create a working environment in which 
employees experience a sense of being valued and concomitantly 
demonstrate a willingness to be as productive as possible. 

This is a better means to address racial, sexual, and ethnic diver- 
sity in the workplace than the currently popular methods of pre- 
scribing interactions based solely on stereotypic racial, sexual, eth- 
nic, or other characteristics. The strength of this perspective is that 
it combines the physical and psychological elements of ways people 
effectively communicate with an understanding of the individual 
life styles, attitudes and values of the people with whom one is com- 

By expressing an understanding of the individual life styles, atti- 
tudes, and values of the people one supervises, employees are more 
apt to behave like partners. This sense of partnership is financially, 
socially, and politically desirable for both the employer and the 
employee as well as for society as a whole. The current trend to- 
ward multiculturalism and diversity in the workplace can only lead 
to a Balkanization among employer and workers. However, devel- 
oping insight and skills in understanding the psychological and 
social factors that motivate and guide behavior, as discussed above, 
could lead to common interests not only among employees, but also 
between employers and employees. When there are commonalities 
among employer and employee, a sense of partnership prevails and 
productivity increases. 


1 More recently, Kai Erickson (1990) termed these conditions in the work- 
place "alienogenic." These are conditions in which a worker experiences a viola- 
tion of his or her humanity. 

2. Although Mitchell borrowed the expression "inner-directed" from Riesman, 
their uses differ. Riesman's use implies a degree of self-awareness. 

3. Remember Mitchell's findings were published in 1983 and have not been 
rephcated as extensively since then. 

4. In this way they are the opposite of the distrustful, withdrawn, 
just-making-it-from-one-day-to-the-next Survivor. 

144 C.S. Rice and D.L. Rice: Humanizing the Workplace 


1. Bandler, Richard and Grinder, John. Frogs into Princes. Moab, UT: Real People 

Press, 1979. 

2. Bracey, Hyler. Managing from the Heart. New York: Dell, 1990. 

3. Dilts, Robert; Grinder, John; Bandler, Richard and DeLozier, Judith. 

Neurolinquistic Programming.Vol 1. Cupertino, CA: Meta Publications, 

4. Erikson, Kai and Vallas, Steven Peter, eds. The Nature of Work: Sociological 

Perspectives. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990. 

5. lacocca, Lee. lacocca, An Autobiography. New York: Bantam Books, 1983. 

6. Jenks, Stephen. "Effective Settings for Making Organizations Humane and 

Productive," in Making Organizations Humane and Productive: A Hand- 
book for Practitioners. Eds. H. Meltzer and Walter R. Nord. New York: 
John Wiley & Sons, 1981, pp. 439-51. 

7. Kagan, Daniel. "Unmasking Incompetent Managers," Insight, 21 May 1990, 

pp. 42-44. 

8. Kahle, Lynn R.; Beatty, Sharon E. and Homer, Pamela. "Alternative Measure- 

ment Approaches to Consumer Values: The List of Values (LOV) and 
Values and Lifestyle (VALS)," Journal of Consumer Research, 13, Decem- 
ber 1986, pp. 405-9. 

9. Kohn, Melvin L. "Unresolved Issues in the Relationship Between Work and 

Personality," in The Nature of Work: Sociological Perspectives. Eds. Kai 
Erikson and Steven Peter Vallas. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 
1990, pp. 36-68. 

10. Lewin, Kurt. Resolving Social Conflicts, Selected Papers on Group Dynamics 

(1935-1946). New York: Harper, 1948. 

11. MachiavelU. The Prince. New York: Collier, 1938. 

12. Marx, Karl. Selected Writings in Sociology and Social Philosophy. Eds. J.B. 

Bottomore and Maximilien Ruel. London: Watts, 1963. 

13. Mayo, Elton. The Human Problems of an Industrial Civilization. New York: 

Macmillan, 1933. 

14 The Social Problems of an Industrial Civilization. Cambridge, MA: 

Harvard University Press, 1945. 

15. Mitchell, Arnold. The Nine American Lifestyles. New York: Macmillan Press, 


16. Novak, Thomas and MacEvoy, Bruce. "On Comparing Alternative Segmenta- 

tion Schemes: The List of Values (LOV) and Values and Life Styles 
(VALS)," Journal of Consumer Research, 17, June 1990, pp. 105-9. 

17. Riesman, David. The Lonely Crowd. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 


18. St.Benedict. The Rule of St. Benedict. Trans. Abbot J. McCann. Westminister, 

MD: Newman Press, 1952. 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences. XXXII, 1994 ,45 

19. Taylor, Frederick W. Priucipks of Scientific Mauagctent. New York: Harper's, 

'' 'Tren^ H^ mf!' ^"'"'- "" """" ''''''"'^^- ^"^'ewood Cliffs. N,: 


Income Taxation and Justice 

Richard F. Fryman 

One aspect of justice or humaneness in a society concerns fair- 
ness in taxation. A society cannot be considered just or humane if it 
is widely perceived that the tax system or important specific taxes 
are levied unfairly. 

In discussing justice in taxation, horizontal and vertical equity 
need to be considered. Horizontal equity, with respect to an income 
tax, is concerned with the fair treatment of taxpayers with equal 
incomes. A widely accepted "rule" is "equals should be treated 
equally." Vertical equity deals with the fair treatment of taxpayers 
with different incomes. The "rule" here is, "unequals should be 
treated unequally." 

This paper will consider certain aspects of vertical and horizon- 
tal equity of the federal personal income tax and how these two 
concepts of equity or humaneness are affected by the progressive 
or graduated rates of the tax. 

I. Progressive, Regressive, and Proportional Taxes 

A progressive tax may be defined as one where the tax rate rises 
as taxpayer income rises. That is, with a progressive tax high in- 
come taxpayers pay a higher rate than those with lower incomes. 
By contrast, with a regressive tax, the rate falls as income rises. A 

Tax as 


of Income 

Progressive Tax 

Proportional Tax 


Progressive, Regressive, and Proportional Taxes 


148 R.F. Fryman: Income Taxation and Justice 

proportional tax takes the same percentage of income from every- 
one regardless of income. Figure 1 illustrates a progressive, a re- 
gressive, and a proportional tax. 

With its rising or graduated marginal tax rates for higher taxable 
income brackets, the federal personal income tax is an example of a 
progressive tax. In contrast, most sales taxes are regressive when 
tax payments are compared to income. The reason is that high in- 
come consumers tend to save a higher percentage of their income 
than others. To the extent that a person saves his income, it is ex- 
empt from a sales tax. Thus high income consumers, by saving more, 
can exempt a higher percentage of their income, thereby making a 
sales tax regressive. An example of a proportional tax is the portion 
of the federal payroll tax (1.45 percent) for financing Medicare. All 
workers pay the same 1 .45 percent of their wages regardless of their 
total wages (effective 1994). 

From the point-of-view of vertical equity, which is more just or 
humane: a progressive, a regressive, or a proportional tax? This is a 
normative question for which there is no correct answer. As with all 
normative questions, the answer is a matter of opinion; it involves 
a value judgement. 

Although there is no correct answer, there has been much discus- 
sion and debate concerning the relative justice or humaneness of 
progressive, regressive, and proportional taxes. As discussed by 
Richard A. and Peggy B. Musgrave (2, pp. 228-31), in the 1940s and 
1950s the discussion centered around the satisfaction or "utility" a 
person gains from additional dollars of income. If additional dol- 
lars of income add less satisfaction or utility to a rich man than to a 
poor man, shouldn't an income tax take proportionately more dol- 
lars from the rich man so as to make his "sacrifice" or "hurt" from 
taxes the same as the poor man's? The problem is that there is no 
way to measure the satisfaction or utility of additional dollars or 
income to either taxpayer. 

Probably more important, unlike a specific product with one or a 
few uses, income is "infinitely versatile" in the sense that a person 
has a wide choice as to how additional dollars are to be used. Hence, 
a person's utility from an additional dollar may vary widely, de- 
pending on what he or she does with it. Even if the utility gained 
from additional dollars declines as a person's income rises, this does 
not necessarily imply that progression will bring about equal "sac- 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 149 

rifice" or "hurt/' If there is not a great difference in the added (mar- 
ginal) utility or satisfaction gained by added dollars from a high 
income vs. a lower income person, then equal "sacrifice" or "hurt" 
from a tax could be achieved by a proportional or even a regressive 
tax. Only if the last dollar of income gives "much" less satisfaction 
or utility to the high income than the lower income person is there a 
clear case for progression under the "equal-sacrifice" approach. 

Over the years, the prevailing opinion concerning equity in taxa- 
tion seems to have evolved that it is futile to try to prove something 
scientifically that is essentially a normative question, i.e., a matter 
of opinion or values. This is not to say that the debate concerning 
the justice or humaneness of progressive vs. regressive vs. propor- 
tional taxation is unimportant. Indeed, probably the most impor- 
tant policy questions are those concerning opinions and values; but 
it must be recognized that the latter are not subject to scientific proof. 

The controversy continues, to this day, concerning which is most 
just or humane: a progressive, a regressive or a proportional tax. 
There is especially a lot of discussion concerning the relative fair- 
ness of progressive vs. proportional taxes. For example, some ar- 
gue that if Ms. A's income is exactly double that of Mr. B's, her tax 
payment should also be exactly double his; this occurs with a pro- 
portional tax. Others take the position that tax rates should be pro- 
gressive so that Ms. A's taxes should be more than double Mr. B's. 

To settle the issue for a particular tax, a collective value judgement 
leading to a collective decision concerning tax rates must be made by 
the people directly or through their elected representatives. 

II. Brief History of the Personal Income Tax 

Although the U.S. temporarily levied a personal income tax dur- 
ing the Civil War and later in the 1890s, our present federal income 
tax system dates back to 1913. In that year, the 16th Amendment to 
the U.S. Constitution was ratified, allowing a federal income tax to 
be levied without apportioning the tax among the states by popula- 
tion. Hence, in 1913, under President Woodrow Wilson's Adminis- 
tration, a federal income tax was enacted. Congress' collective value 
udgement at that time was that the most humane or just way to 
:onfigure the tax would be to have a large personal exemption and 
graduated rates. The personal exemption for the 1913 income tax 
ame to $3,000, with rates ranging from one percent on the first 

150 R.F. Fryman: Income Taxation and Justice 

$20,000 of taxable income to seven percent on amounts exceeding 
$500,000. (1, pp. 2, 224) 

During the first year of the tax, less than one percent of the popula- 
tion had incomes high enough to be subject to any tax liability at all. 
Thus, the 1913 income tax was exclusively a "rich person's" tax; the 
$3,000 personal exemption was the primary factor in making the tax 
progressive by exempting all but those considered very "well to do." 

Although rates were raised, brackets added and exemptions re- 
duced during WWI, the federal personal income tax did not be- 
come a universal tax until WWII when Congress set the exemption 
at $400 and marginal rates at all time highs ranging from 23 to 94 
percent. In 1945, 98 percent of those employed were subject to the 
tax. (2, p. 320) 

Since WWII, the trend has been to reduce marginal tax rates and 
to increase personal exemptions and standard deductions. For ex- 
ample, the famous tax cut proposed by President Kennedy in 1963 
and passed in 1964 under President Johnson, reduced marginal rates 
to between 14 and 70 percent, with the exemption set at $600. The 
large tax cut in 1981, under President Reagan, further lowered rates 
to between 11 and 50 percent. 

In 1986, the top marginal rate was further cut and the exemption, 
standard deduction, and tax brackets were indexed for inflation. By 
1992, the personal exemption had risen to $2,300, the standard de- 
duction for a married couple came to $6,000, and the tax rates, for a 
married couple filing jointly, were as shown in Table 1 . 


Taxable Marginal 

Income Tax Rate 

$0 - $35,000 15 percent 

35,001 - 86,500 28 

over 86,500 31 

President Clinton's deficit reduction package, passed in 1993, 
reversed the downward movement in rates affecting high income 
taxpayers by adding two brackets. Thus, in 1993, including index- 
ing for inflation, the standard deduction for married couples and 
the personal exemption amounted to $6,200 and $2,350, respectively, 
with the tax brackets, as exhibited in Table 2. (3, p. 572) 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 151 





Tax Rates 

$0 - $36,900 

15 percent 

36,901 - 89,150 


89,151 - 140,000 


140,001 - 250,000 


over 250,000 


III. Horizontal Equity Problems Caused by Graduated Rates 

The federal personal income tax today contains five marginal tax 
brackets, as depicted in Table 2, making it a progressive tax. Whether 
or not this has achieved vertical equity or humaneness still is a matter 
of opinion. It appears, however, that the existence of graduated rates 
has created several "horizontal equity" problems. As noted, hori- 
zontal equity is concerned with the fair or humane treatment of dif- 
ferent taxpaying units having the same income, given the widely 
accepted "rule" that for the sake of fairness "equals should be treated 

With a graduated rate income tax there are several common cir- 
cumstances where horizontal equity appears to be violated. Hori- 
zontal equity problems of a graduated rate income tax include: 

1. Fair treatment of married couples vs. single individuals. 

2. Fluctuating incomes. 

3. Effects of inflation. 

A. Fair Treatment of Married Couples vs. Single Individuals 

Under the federal income tax, a single individual will pay more 
in taxes than a married couple with the same taxable income and, 
therefore, is subject to a "singles penalty." Ironically, there exists 
also a "marriage penalty" in that if an unmarried man and woman 
both earn about the same income, their combined income tax will 
be higher if they get married than if they stayed single. These situ- 
ations arise directly from the graduated rates under the federal in- 
come tax. An example can best illustrate the fairness problem. Sup- 
pose a hypothetical graduated rate income tax has the rate sched- 
ule as defined in Table 3. 


R.F. Fryman: Income Taxation and Justice 


Taxable Income 

$0- $20,000 

over 20,000 

Marginal Tax Rate 
15 percent 

Assume that there are three households as shown in Table 4. Each 
household has a taxable income of $40,000: $20,000 each for Mr. and 
Mrs. Wallace; $40,000 for Mr. Johnson and zero for his wife; and 
$40,000 for the unmarried Ms. Roberts. 

There are three basic ways to treat married couples vs. single in- 
dividuals under a graduated rate income tax, as depicted in Table 4. 


Methods of Taxing Married Couples vs. 

Single Individuals Under a Graduated Rate Income Tax 

Taxable Income 
Rate Schedule for Methods 1-3 $0 - $20,000 

over $20,000 

Marginal Tax Rate 
15 Percent 
20 Percent 

Taxable Income 
Methods of Taxation 

Mr. & Mrs. Wallace 

Mr. Mrs. Total 

$20,000 $20,000 $40,000 

Mr. & Mrs. lohnson 
Mr. Mrs. Total 

$40,000 $40,000 

Ms. Roberts 



1. Tax total income 
of taxpaying unit: 




2. Tax each indiv- 
idual separately: 

$3,000 $3,000 $6,000 




3. Tax couples as if in- 
come were earned 
equally (income 

$3,000 $3,000 $6,000 





4. Actual treatment 
under Federal 
Personal Income 

• Tax (1992 Rates): 




5. Flat rate tax 
(15 percent): 




West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 153 

With the first method, the total taxable income of each taxpaying 
unit would be taxed. Each unit, with a $40,000 total taxable income, 
would pay $7,000 (.15 x 20,000 + .20 x 20,000 = $7,000). At first look, 
this seems fair; each taxpaying unit has a total taxable income of 
$40,000 and each pays taxes of $7,000. However there is one im- 
portant problem. If Mr. and Mrs. Wallace had been single, each with 
a taxable income of $20,000, both of them would have been subject 
to the 15 percent marginal bracket for taxes of $3,000 each or for a 
total of $6,000. Upon marriage, their combined taxable income would 
be $40,000, placing them in the higher marginal bracket and mak- 
ing their total taxes $7,000 rather than $6,000 - a marriage penalty 
of $1,000. It can be argued that such a penalty is unjust. 

Under the second method in Table 4, each individual is taxed 
separately on his or her portion of the unit's total income. In this 
case the Wallaces would pay $3,000 each (.15 x $20,000) for a total of 
$6,000. The marriage penalty is eliminated since $6,000 would be 
their total tax, married or single. Therefore, the tax under this method 
would be "marriage neutral." But note that the Johnsons and Ms. 
Roberts would pay $7,000 rather than the Wallaces' $6,000. This is 
because with a total taxable income of $40,000, half is taxed at 15 
percent and half at 20 percent. Is it just that the Johnson's pay more 
than the Wallace's simply because Mr. Johnson earned all the 
couple's income whereas half was earned by each spouse for the 
Johnson's? Is it just for Ms. Roberts to pay more than the Wallaces? 
Many would say no. 

Under the third method in Table 4, the couples are taxed as though 
their income were earned equally by each spouse, regardless of how 
it was actually earned. Hence, Mr. and Mrs. Johnson's taxable in- 
come would be split among them and taxed accordingly even though 
Mr. Johnson actually earned it all. Under this method, each couple 
with, the same total taxable income would pay the same tax. This 
>eems fair so far, but look at Ms. Roberts. Since she is not married 
)he cannot split her income with anyone. As a result, half of her 
ncome is taxed in the lower and half in the higher tax bracket for a 
otal tax of $7,000 - a $1,000 singles penalty. Again, this can be ar- 
gued to be unfair. 
The U.S. essentially followed Method 2 until 1948 - tax each in- 
ividual separately on their actual income earned. Court rulings 
eld, however, that in states with "community property" laws. 

154 R.F. Fryman: Income Taxation and Justice 

couples could split their incomes for income tax purposes thereby 
reducing their federal income taxes. Rather than see many states 
overhaul their property laws solely for federal income tax reasons. 
Congress decided to make "income splitting" available to couples 
in all states. Thus, Method 3 of Table 1 was instituted. As shown, 
this results in significantly higher taxes for single individuals than 
married couples enjoying the same taxable income. 

To reduce this "singles penalty," Congress, in 1969, instituted a 
change which still permitted married couples to split their incomes 
for tax purposes, but single individuals were taxed under a sepa- 
rate rate schedule. Although this schedule, for single taxpayers, re- 
duced but did not eliminate the "singles penalty," it introduced a 
"marriage penalty." If two persons both earn income before mar- 
riage, their total taxes will rise upon marriage. 

Method 4 in Table 4 shows what the actual treatment of the three 
households would be under the federal income tax using 1992 rates. 
The two couples would pay the same amount of tax, $6,553. But 
note that Ms. Roberts, not being able to split her income with any- 
one, would pay $8,419 - $1,866 more than either couple, even though 
her $40,000 taxable income is the same as their's. Also observe that 
for the Wallace's, each spouse having a taxable income of $20,000, 
their taxes would have been $3,004 each for a combined total of 
$6,008 if they had not been maried. Upon marriage their total taxes 
would increase to $6,553, resulting in a "marriage penalty" of $545. 

Suppose we had a flat rate tax of, say, 15 percent. Method 5 in 
Table 4 indicates the results. Each of the three households would 
pay $6,000 in income taxes. Both the Wallaces and the Johnsons 
would pay the same tax whether they were married or not and re- 
gardless of the amount of income which each spouse earned. 

With only one tax bracket, the combining or splitting of income 
cannot place a household in a different bracket. Hence, there would 
be no marriage penalty Likewise, since all households - married or 
single - would be taxed at the same rate, there would be no singles 
penalty. Households with equal taxable incomes would pay equal 

B. Fluctuating Incomes 

Another horizontal equity problem, created by graduated rates 
under the federal personal income tax, concerns the amount of tax 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 155 

paid by people with fluctuating incomes vs. those with stable in- 
con\es. If two households have equal incomes over a three year pe- 
riod, for example, but one earns all or most of the three year total in 
one year, while the other earns the same amount in each of the three 
years, the household with the fluctuating income will pay a higher 
total tax. This is due to the fact that in high income years, the house- 
hold with a fluctuating income is taxed at a higher marginal tax 


Federal Income Tax Treatment of Households with 

Fluctuating vs. Stable Incomes 


Year 2 

Year 3 


Couple A 

Taxable Income 





Income Tax* 





Couple B 

Taxable Income 



Income Tax* 



* 1992 Rates 

Again, an example can best make the point. In Table 5, two mar- 
ried couples, A and B, have equal incomes of $90,000 over a three 
year period. Couple A has a stable taxable income of $30,000 per 
year and pays $4,504 in federal income taxes in each of the three 
years, or a total of $13,512. Couple B, on the other hand, with the 
same three year total taxable income of $90,000 pays total taxes of 
$20,659 all in one year - $7,147 more than Couple A. This is because 
all of B's taxable income is earned in one year, placing the couple in 
a higher marginal tax bracket than Couple A. It can be argued that 
it is unjust for these two couples to pay different total taxes over a 
three year period even though their taxable incomes are the same 
over that time span. Note that before its elimination in 1987, the 
federal income tax contained an averaging provision that would 
have reduced the taxes somewhat for Couple B in Table 5. With a 

Ilat rate income tax, the two couples would pay exactly the same 

156 R.F. Fryman: Income Taxation and Justice 

C. Effects of Inflation 

Suppose an individuars taxable income rises in one year by an 
amount just large enough to keep pace with inflation. Although this 
person's purchasing power or real income has not increased, he or 
she may And that his or her income tax as a percent of income has 
increased. This would occur with an "unindexed" income tax since 
the increase in nominal income would result in a higher percentage 
of that individual's taxable income being subject to his or her high- 
est marginal bracket. Many would argue that it is not fair for a 
person's tax rate to rise if his or her purchasing power has not. The 
federal personal income tax has been partially indexed for inflation 
by having income tax brackets widened each year by the same per- 
centage as the inflation rate and similarly applying the inflation fac- 
tor to the standard deduction and personal exemptions. This pre- 
vents a person from being pushed into a higher marginal tax bracket 
if his or her real income has not increased. There exists no index- 
ation, however, for capital gains or for interest earned or paid. 

IV. A More Humane Method of Making 
an Income Tax Progressive 

From the above discussion, it may be concluded that the gradu- 
ated rate federal personal income tax may or may not result in ver- 
tical equity, i.e., fair treatment of persons with different incomes, 
depending on one's value judgement. However, graduated rates 
create certain horizontal equity problems, including fair tax treat- 
ment of couples vs. single individuals, fluctuating incomes, and ef- 
fects of inflation. It is the author's value judgement that progres- 
sion is desirable in an income tax from an equity point of view. But 
due to significant horizontal equity problems, brought about by 
graduated rates, one can argue that it would be more equitable to 
bring about progression by a flat rate tax combined with a large 
personal exemption and standard deduction rather than by gradu- 
ated rates. A flat rate tax with an exemption and standard deduc- 
tion is progressive due to the fact that a given exemption and stan- 
dard deduction remove from taxation a larger portion of a low in- 
come family's income than that of a high income family. Again, an 
example can illustrates this. Consider four families, each consisting 
of two adults and two children: 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 157 

Family "A": Adjusted Gross Income (AGI - income before 
personal deductions and exemptions) is $14,000 
(approximately the poverty line in 1992). 

Family "B": AGI of $37,000 (approximately the median fam- 
ily income in 1992). 

Family "C": AGI of $74,000 (approximately double the me- 
dian family income in 1992). 

Family "D": AGI of $148,000 (approximately four times the 
median family income in 1992). 

Example of Progressivity of a Flat Rate Income Tax 

Family A 

Family B 

Family C 

Family D 

Adjusted Gross Income 
Less Standard Deductions 
Less personal Exemptions 






Taxable Income 
Tax Rate 





Income Tax 
Tax /Income 





Assume that a $2,000 personal exemption is provided for the tax- 
payer, his or her spouse, and for each dependent child. Also, as- 
sume that the standard deduction is $6,000, taken by all four fami- 
lies, and that a flat rate tax of 20 percent of taxable income exists. 
Table 6 shows the results. Each family deducts $6,000 for the stan- 
dard deduction and $8,000 ($2,000 x 4) for four personal exemp- 
tions, making total deductions of $14,000 from AGI. This $14,000 
represents a much larger percentage of AGI for a low income fam- 
ily than for a high income family. In fact, in this example, the $14,000 
deduction is 100 percent of Family A's AGI but only 9.46 percent of 
the $148,000 AGI for Family "D." This means that the flat rate tax of 
20 percent applies to none of Family A's AGI but to 90.54 percent of 
Family D's. Thus, the fixed deduction for all families makes the flat 
[rate tax in this example progressive. The family at the poverty line 
>ays percent of AGI in federal income taxes. Family B with a me- 
dian income pays 12.4 percent. Family C, 16.2 percent, and the "rich 
family," Family D, pays 18.1 percent. Using this method, a tax on a 

158 R.F. Fryman: Income Taxation and Justice 

family with a $1 million AGI would be $197,200 or 19.7 percent of 

Hence, as this example demonstrates, even though the tax is a 
flat rate of 20 percent, it is actually progressive, ranging from per- 
cent of AGI for families below the poverty line and approaching 20 
percent for high income tax payers. This is not as progressive as a 
steeply graduated rate income tax would be, but it is, nevertheless, 
progressive. And, of course, whether or not a moderately progres- 
sive tax is as fair or humane as a steeply progressive levy is a matter 
of opinion, as was the case with regard to the question of whether 
or not any progression at all is equitable. It should be noted that a 
flat rate income tax could be made more progressive by broadening 
the income base to include the now exempt interest income on state 
and local bonds, benefiting mostly high income taxpayers. Also, in 
the example of Table 6, phasing out the standard deduction and /or 
personal exemptions for high income families would make a flat 
rate tax even more progressive. 

V. Conclusion 

The main advantage of a flat-rate personal income tax, from an 
equity or humaneness point-of-view, is the avoidance or minimiza- 
tion of horizontal equity problems which are encountered with 
graduated rate taxes. As noted above, the problem of how to fairly 
treat married couples and single individuals, having the same in- 
come, is caused by graduated rates. Income splitting may place a 
couple in a lower marginal tax bracket, while combining incomes 
can move it into a higher bracket. With a flat rate tax, combining or 
splitting incomes cannot move people into different brackets; there 
is only one bracket. 

Individuals with fluctuating incomes pay more taxes over a 
multi-year period with a graduated tax rate than persons with the 
same total income but evenly earned. Again, with a flat rate tax 
evenly earned or fluctuating income earners would pay the same 
amount in taxes if their incomes over any time span were equal. 
Furthermore, with a flat rate tax, inflation could not push a tax- 
payer into a higher marginal tax bracket since there would be only 
one bracket. 

A flat rate tax would also, very likely, be simpler than a gradu- 
ated rate tax. For one, there would be no need to have separate rate 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXIl, 1994 159 

schedules for couples, single individuals, and heads of households, 
as now is the case. Secondly, yearly adjustments in tax brackets 
would become redundant. Third, calls for complicated preferential 
treatment of long-term capital gains would be less justified. 

In conclusion, a graduated rate income tax may bring fairness or 
equity between people with different incomes (vertical equity), de- 
pending on the evaluator's opinion. However, such a tax also re- 
sults in various equity problems between persons with equal or 
nearly equal incomes (horizontal equity). A flat rate income tax 
avoids or at least minimizes horizontal equity problems and is ac- 
tually progressive, though not as progressive as a tax with steeply 
graduated rates. 

Which then is more fair or humane, a graduated rate income tax 
or a flat rate income tax? The answer is, of course, a matter of value 
judgement. However, it is evident that for the sake of equity or hu- 
maneness, one should consider very carefully both the horizontal 
and vertical equity aspects of an income tax. 


1. Goode, Richard. The Individual Income Tax. Washington, DC: The Brookings 

Institution, 1964. 

2. Musgrave, Richard A. and Musgrave, Peggy B. Public Finance In Theory and 

Practice. 5th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1989. 

3. U.S. House of Representatives. Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993, 

Conference Report of the Committee on the Budget. Washington, DC: 
U.S. Government Printing Office, 1993. 

Financial Institutions and Community 
Reinvestment: The Social Responsibility to 
Lend to the Nation's Poor Communities 

David Boldt 

During the 1970's, community activists accused banks and other 
financial institutions of engaging in discriminatory lending prac- 
tices. Many of these institutions were criticized for refusing to lend 
to or limiting the volume of loans to businesses and households in 
minority and poor neighborhoods (called "redlining"). Hoping to 
discourage such practices. Congress, with the strong support of the 
Carter Administration, enacted legislation in the late 1970s includ- 
ing the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) of 1977. The CRA re- 
quired Federal banking regulators to encourage banks and savings 
and loan associations to meet the credit needs of the local commu- 
nities in which they are chartered. This legislation was strength- 
ened in 1989 as a response to a perception of continued discrimina- 
tory lending practices by financial institutions and as a way to in- 
crease the credit flow to poor neighborhoods. The passage of the 
CRA, along with subsequent amendments, established a principle 
that banks and savings and loans have a social responsibility to serve 
the credit needs of local communities. The government's role, as 
regulator, was to "guide" these private depository institutions to- 
ward achieving the social goal of a "fairer" distribution of lending 
among various neighborhoods. 

Discussion continues today as to the effectiveness and burdens 

associated with the CRA. Banks, particularly smaller institutions, 

complain about the high economic cost associated with CRA 

compliance. In addition, many critics note that depository 

institutions are unfairly burdened relative to other less-regulated 

[financial institutions which do not have to be concerned about 

ommunity reinvestment objectives. CRA supporters would like the 

egulators to more rigorously enforce the Act and to push for more 

ctual lending by banks to low income communities. Responding 

o concerns of both bankers and community activists, the Clinton 

dministration has proposed that enforcement of the Act be 


162 D. Boldt: Financial Institutions and Community Reinvestment 

modified to increase the incentives for more lending by banks to 
low income communities. An additional goal of President Clinton's 
plan is to modify regulations to reduce the time and effort financial 
institutions have to devote to CRA compliance. During late 1993, 
Federal banking and thrift regulators conducted hearings around 
the country to elicit comments from financial institutions and 
community advocates concerning possible changes in the CRA. 

The Clinton Administration has also recommended that the Fed- 
eral Government directly increase funding for community economic 
development by establishing a nationwide system of community 
development banks. Such a proposal represents a sharp departure 
from government policy in the 1980s, a period marked by a decline 
in Federal support for cities and community economic development. 
In the President's view, achieving the goal of a higher standard of 
living in our inner cities and poor rural communities will require 
some sort of direct government funding. His proposal calls for us- 
ing government funds as a base for leveraging additional private 
financing to encourage "socially-based" investment. 

This paper will be divided into three main sections. Part I will 
provide a historical overview of the CRA. Part II examines current 
issues related to community reinvestment such as the recent evi- 
dence on discrimination in bank lending and the financial burden 
the CRA imposes on depository institutions. President Clinton's 
proposals for easing the burden of the CRA as well as creating a 
system of community development banks are also addressed in this 
section. In the final part of the paper, the CRA and other commu- 
nity investment initiatives will be discussed in light of the social 
goal of increasing the flow of credit to low income communities. 

I. Community Reinvestment Act: Historical Background 

A. Legislation and Regulations 

The passage of the CRA as part of the Housing and Community 
Development Act of 1977 formally established that regulated bank- 
ing institutions have a social responsibility to provide financial ser- 
vices to all the neighborhoods which are in their service communi- 
ties. Specifically, the CRA required that financial institutions serve 
the deposit and credit needs of the communities in which they are 
chartered to do business, consistent with their safe and sound op- 
eration. To encourage financial institutions to serve all neighbor- 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 163 

hoods, particularly low and moderate income areas, Federal regu- 
latory agencies were expected to take into account such activity when 
evaluating an institution's request for a new branch, a merger with 
another institution or any other expansion of its operation requir- 
ing regulatory approval. 

The legislation was vague in its details about the specific actions 
to be taken by depository institutions to ensure compliance with 
the CRA. No quotas requiring a minimum level of lending to low 
income communities were established. Financial institutions were 
not automatically sanctioned for failing to meet CRA obligations. 
The "requirements" of the Act were directed at regulatory agencies. 
These agencies were directed to "encourage" financial institutions 
to "meet the credit needs" of low income communities. Regulators 
were only required to take into account an institution's record of 
serving its entire community when reviewing an application for an 
expansion. On the basis of an unsatisfactory CRA evaluation, the 
regulator could deny such an application. 

After conducting public hearings in 1978, the four Federal agen- 
cies that were supervising institutions covered by the CRA - the 
Federal Reserve Board, the Federal Home Loan Bank Board (now 
the Office of Thrift Supervision), the Comptroller of the Currency 
and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation - adopted uniform 
regulations and examination procedures on CRA enforcement. (13, 
p. 252) The documentation requirements associated with the CRA 
were quite modest. Depository institutions were required to: 

1) Formulate a "CRA Statement" which among other things 
delineates the communities it serves and lists the principal 
types of credit it offers. 

2) Maintain a file of public comments on its CRA performance. 

3) Display a notice in the lobby of each of its offices indicat- 
ing the availability of the CRA statement and the public 
comment file. 

To evaluate an institution's performance in satisfying the CRA, 
le Federal agencies decided upon twelve criteria. These criteria 
iclude an institution's willingness to meet with community groups 

ascertain credit needs, to market its services to low income com- 
mnities, to participate in local economic development programs 

164 D. Boldt: Financial Institutions and Community Reinvestment 

and to make government subsidized loans to small businesses and 
households. In addition, the geographic distribution of credit ap- 
plications, extensions of credit and loan denials is also considered 
in the CRA evaluation. Upon completion of a CRA review, the ex- 
aminer from the regulatory agency is expected to discuss the writ- 
ten evaluation with management and to assign a performance grade 
to the institution. Neither the written evaluation nor the institution's 
CRA grade was made available to the public prior to July 1, 1990. 

B. Implementation of the CRA in the 1980s 

During the 1980s, the CRA evolved into a highly effective as well 
as controversial piece of legislation. Although the CRA did not elimi- 
nate redlining practices in lending, the Act made it increasingly 
important for depository institutions to direct attention to their low 
and moderate income neighborhood lending patterns. What made 
the CRA effective was not the specificity of the legislation nor the 
stringency with which the Federal regulatory agencies enforced the 
Act, but the impact the Act had in "empowering" community 
groups. Prior to the passage of this Act, community groups, such as 
the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now 
(ACORN), could do little to influence the credit decisions made by 
depository institutions. Over time, depository institutions, especially 
those anticipating any change in their charters, were required to 
enter into dialogue with community groups that expressed concern 
about the "fairness" of a financial institution's credit decisions. Vari- 
ous factors enhanced the bargaining position of community groups 
with regards to the CRA. For one, during the 1980s, interstate bank- 
ing activity accelerated as more and more states opened up their 
markets to out-of-state banks. In addition, many states made it easier 
for banks to open new branches. Requests for a new branch or a 
merger between financial institutions subjected the institutions to 
close regulatory scrutiny regarding their commitment to local lend- 
ing. The number of challenges raised by community groups to ac- 
tions based on poor CRA performance accelerated during this pe- 
riod as more institutions requested regulatory action. In one ex- 
ample, ACORN was able to hold up the purchase of Southwest 
Bancshares by New Orleans-based Hibernia Corporation for sev- 
eral months due to its challenge of Hibernia' s performance under 
the CRA. (12, p. 76) 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 165 

The availability of detailed home lending data, as required by 
the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMD A) of 1975, also greatly 
aided community groups in their attempt to document discrimina- 
tory lending behavior on the part of banking institutions. The 
HMD A, as amended in 1989, calls for lenders to record the race, sex 
and income of applicants for all mortgage loans including loans 
denied and withdrawn on a geographical basis. Such information 
is made available to the public and is widely used to assess the 
mortgage lending patterns of financial institutions. Over time, com- 
munity groups, such as ACORN, became much more sophisticated 
using this HMDA data as well as more effective in their campaigns 
in getting banks to agree to expand their lending to low or moder- 
ate income areas. 

The CRA was surprisingly "successful" in its first decade, con- 
sidering that the original legislation was vaguely written and that 
subsequent enforcement of the Act has generally been lax. As of 
early 1988, virtually all banks (about 97 per cent) were given satis- 
factory or better grades by regulators for their CRA performance. 
In addition, of the more than 40,000 applications for regulatory ac- 
tion submitted by depository institutions to Federal agencies from 
late 1979 to early 1988, only 8 were denied based on a poor CRA 
performance by the applicant. (10, p. 145) Robert C. Art (1, pp. 
1121-34) noted, in his review of the CRA's first decade, that the Fed- 
eral Reserve was particularly lax in its enforcement and retained a 
strong ideological resistance to the goals of the legislation. 

Although rarely effective in convincing Federal regulators to deny 
an application for an expansion, challenges by community groups 
did have a significant impact on depository institutions. Such chal- 
lenges generally resulted in some delay in the approval of an appli- 
cation for expansion or in some negotiated settlement between the 
financial institution and the community group. From its inception 
until mid 1990, an estimated $7.5 billion was committed by finan- 
cial institutions as part of these CRA negotiations to home mort- 
gages, small business and other loans to predominantly low income 
borrowers. (11, p. 3) 

C. CRA Amendments of 1989 

As Congressional hearings held in 1988 documented, many ad- 
vocacy groups and legislators concerned about community rein- 

166 D. Boldt: Financial Institutions and Community Reinvestment 

vestment, were quite critical of aspects of the CRA and its imple- 
mentation. Regulatory agencies were extensively criticized for what 
was perceived as generally lax enforcement of the original legisla- 
tion. (5, pp. 143-45; 6, pp. 307-9) Empirical evidence of mortgage 
lending practices in cities such as Atlanta, Boston and Cleveland 
also revealed a continuing pattern of differential lending based on 
the racial composition of neighborhoods. (2, p. 3) For example, white 
and high income neighborhoods received more mortgage loans per 
household than minority or low income neighborhoods. This gap 
narrowed, but was still present, when such factors as mortgage de- 
mand and lending risk were taken into account. In a study of mort- 
gage lending in Atlanta, banks and savings and loan associations 
extended 2 and 1 /2 times more loans to predominately white neigh- 
borhoods than to mainly black communities, even after controlling 
for income and property sales activity. (8) 

Concerns about weak enforcement of the CRA, along with em- 
pirical evidence supporting the view that discrimination in lending 
continued despite the CRA, helped convince the Congress of the 
need to strengthen this legislation. What also prompted action were 
solvency problems faced by financial institutions (particularly sav- 
ings and loans) which ultimately required action by Congress to 
"bail out" insured depositors. Thus in 1989, as part of the "Finan- 
cial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act," the CRA 
was amended. Legislation such as the CRA became increasingly 
viewed as a price which regulated financial institutions must pay 
for their public charter as well as for legislative support for using 
taxpayer dollars to protect insured depositors. 

The amendments to the CRA in 1989 were actually quite mini- 
mal, involving only two modifications of the original legislation. 
First, a summary of the written evaluations of an institution's CRA 
review were now required to be made available to the public. Sec- 
ondly, the amendments also established a new common system of 
grading to be used by regulators in evaluating an institution's CRA 
performance. After examination by a regulatory agency, one of the 
following grades would be assigned: "outstanding," "satisfactory," 
"needs to improve," or "substantial noncompliance." Like the writ- 
ten evaluations, these grades would also be made available to the 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 167 

Making public the CRA written evaluations and ratings was ex- 
pected to push financial institutions to take the goals of the Act more 
seriously. Now even a banking organization that had no expansion 
plans would have its CRA performance revealed to the public. Ulti- 
mately it was hoped that this change would give financial institu- 
tions the incentive to increase the amount of lending to low income 
communities. Making the evaluation process more public was also 
expected to put pressure on the regulatory agencies to be more thor- 
ough and stringent in their grading. 

II. Community Reinvestment: Current Issues 

A. Evidence of Discrimination in Lending in the 1990s 

Recently published studies by the Federal Reserve have provided 
strong evidence that discriminatory practices in lending continue 
to persist in the 1990s. Using data on home loans available as a re- 
sult of the 1989 amendments to the HMD A, the Federal Reserve 
found that black and Hispanic loan applicants were denied credit 
in greater proportion than white applicants, even within the same 
income class. For example, in 1991, 23.2 per cent of high income 
black applicants (120 per cent above the median family income in 
their metropolitan area) were denied conventional mortgage loans 
compared to a denial rate of 9.7 per cent for high income whites. 
For lower income blacks (less than 80 per cent of median family 
income), the loan denial rate of 48.2 per cent far exceeded the 31.5 
per cent rate for whites. (3, p. 812) These results were based on over 
6.5 million home loan applications processed in 1991. This pattern 
of higher rejection for minority home loan applications was similar 
to what the Federal Reserve uncovered using 1990 HMDA data. (4, 
p. 872) 

Federal Reserve researchers note the limitations associated with 
using HMDA data. For example, no information is collected on fi- 
nancial characteristics which also influence a lender's decision 
whether or not to approve a loan, such as an applicant's work his- 
tory, credit history or level of debt. In order to determine if leaving 
out these variables biased the results, the Federal Reserve Bank of 
Boston undertook an additional study of financial discrimination 
in the mortgage market. In this study, the Federal Reserve matched 
HMDA data with additional characteristics such as credit history, 
loan-to- value ratio, debt burden and census information for a sample 

168 D. Boldt: Financial Institutions and Community Reinvestment 

of home loan applications in the Boston area. This more complete 
model was employed to test whether race was a significant factor 
in the lending process once neighborhood and financial character- 
istics were taken into account. These researchers found that minor- 
ity applicants (blacks and Hispanics) have on average a 60 per cent 
higher denial rate than whites, controlling for financial and neigh- 
borhood differences. (16, p. 2) The overall impact of existing em- 
pirical research has been to convince the Federal Reserve and other 
regulatory agencies to shift their focus on the CRA from a debate 
about whether discriminatory practices are occurring to the devel- 
opment of initiatives that will help remedy the problem. (3, p. 812) 

B. Burden of the CRA 

Complaints about the CRA have accelerated since the passage of 
the amendments to the Act in 1989. A major reason for the increased 
controversy surrounding the CRA is that Federal regulators, par- 
ticularly the Federal Reserve, began to more aggressively enforce 
the CRA in the 1990s. For example, in 1992, 10 per cent of grades 
assigned to financial institutions were less than satisfactory ("needs 
to improve" or "substantial noncompliance"), up considerably from 
the proportion of unsatisfactory grades given prior to the 1989 
amendments. (13, p. 258) Making a portion of the examination re- 
port as well as the institution's overall CRA grade available to the 
public has strengthened this legislation and undoubtedly increased 
the time and effort regulators and financial institutions have de- 
voted to CRA issues. 

In a review of the CRA published in 1993, Jonathan R. Macey 
and Geoffrey R Miller discuss numerous criticisms of this legisla- 
tion and its subsequent implementation. According to these critics, 
community reinvestment legislation such as the CRA negatively 
impacts the "safety and soundness" of financial institutions (15, pp. 
318-22), encourages unproductive expenditures on public relations 
and documentation (15, pp. 330-33), places depository institutions 
at an unfair disadvantage relative to nonbank institutions (15, pp. 
312-13) and implicitly results in a form of government "credit allo- 
cation." (15, p. 295) 

Government agencies have also examined the impact regulations 
have on financial institutions. During 1992, the Federal Financial 
Institutions Examinations Council (FFIEC), a consortium of Fed- 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 169 

eral depository institution regulators, conducted hearings and re- 
viewed available evidence to determine whether regulations such 
as the CRA have imposed unnecessary costs on depository institu- 
tions. As indicated in their 1992 study on regulatory burden, the 
FFIEC found the CRA to be the most burdensome or costly con- 
sumer protection legislation imposed on depository institutions. (9, 
p. C-4) In addition, the CRA was the most often criticized regula- 
tion by representatives of financial institutions in the hearings held 
by the FFIEC. Specific complaints include the "excessive" documen- 
tation requirements, the "subjectivity" of the CRA examinations, 
the high cost of compliance especially for small banks and the fact 
that nondepository financial institutions such as mutual funds and 
insurance companies are not subject to the CRA. (9, p. III-42) 

Based on an extensive review of existing empirical studies, the 
FFIEC estimated that the cost of all regulations imposed on banks 
was between $7.5 and $17 billion in 1991. (9, p. C-15) This estimate 
does not include the opportunity cost associated with required re- 
serves held by the Federal Reserve. In a recent study funded by the 
Independent Bankers Association of America (IBAA), the account- 
ing firm Grant Thornton found that the CRA was the most expen- 
sive regulation imposed on the banking system (not counting re- 
serve requirements or deposit insurance). Grant Thornton estimated 
a multibillion dollar CRA-related cost for the entire banking sys- 
tem. In addition, results of this study indicate that smaller banks 
are burdened with a higher CRA cost to net income ratio relative to 
larger banks. (14, p. 21) 

Supporters of the CRA contend that banks and regulators have 
exaggerated the cost of compliance. In addition, representatives of 
community organizations have argued that the ratings given by 
regulators to institutions have been too lenient. Supporters of the 
CRA believe that left to their own initiative, depository institutions 
would continue to discriminate against low income and minority 
applicants. (9, p. III-42) For all of these reasons, community organi- 
sation groups want regulators to strictly enforce this act. 

Based on the empirical evidence and testimony presented in the 
992 hearings, the FFIEC recommended changes in the CRA and its 
enforcement. Suggested changes included: a) reviewing documen- 
ation requirements to demonstrate compliance with CRA, b) re- 
varding institutions with satisfactory ratings with less frequent 

170 D. Boldt: Financial Institutions and Community Reinvestment 

examinations and exemptions from challenges to expansions or 
mergers, and c) creating exemptions to the law for small rural insti- 
tutions or banks not specializing in consumer /mortgage loans. (9, 
p. III-41) Legislative attempts to exempt certain banks from CRA 
requirements have not been successful to date. (18) The Clinton 
Administration and Federal regulators are currently considering 
ways to ease the burden the CRA imposes on depository institu- 

C. The CRA and the Clinton Administration 

In the Summer of 1993, the Clinton Administration unveiled its 
own initiative concerning community lending. The President 's plan 
involves two main aspects. First, the Administration is proposing 
that regulators modify how they enforce the CRA. Secondly, the 
Administration is asking Congress to provide funding to support 
lending by financial institutions known as community development 
banks. (17, p. 1856) 

The regulatory changes President Clinton has proposed for the 
CRA are designed to increase the incentives for actual lending by 
banks as opposed to expenditures on public relations or documen- 
tation. As proposed, banks will be required to demonstrate compli- 
ance in three categories: lending in their service area, investment in 
community projects and providing bank services. Under current 
regulations, depository institutions must document their compli- 
ance with the CRA in twelve areas. During the Fall of 1993, bank 
and thrift regulators held public hearings to get input from the public 
on these proposed changes in the CRA. Mr. Clinton's goal is to imple- 
ment new CRA regulations by January 1, 1994. 

President Clinton's community development lending initiative 
represents an attempt to involve the Federal Government directly 
in increasing the availability of credit to low income communities. 
As detailed in July 1993, the Administration proposed providing 
$385 million as "seed money" for community lending organizations 
whose primary mission is community development. Such institu- 
tions include community development banks, minority-owned 
banks, credit unions and community development corporations. The 
Federal seed money is meant to provide the initial capital to help 
establish these institutions and as a base to attract other sources of 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 171 

The Administration's proposal agrees with the perspective that 
expanding banking services to low income communities will require 
some sort of government financing. Depository institutions (most 
of them at least) are profit-oriented businesses. For various reasons, 
lending to communities inadequately served by depository institu- 
tions is likely to be less profitable than other types of activity. (19, 
p. 4) The lack of a secondary market for community development 
loans means that these loans must be held by the lenders. Many of 
these loans are also smaller than conventional loans and must be 
accompanied by some sort of technical assistance such as market- 
ing research or bookkeeping training to increase the likelihood of 
repayment. Many borrowers in low income communities may also 
not have the collateral or credit history expected in conventional 
lending arrangements. The perceived high risk of lending in such 
situations limits the impact of mandates such as the CRA. Thus the 
Clinton Administration acknowledges that achieving the social goal 
of increasing the flow of funds to small businesses, home mortgages 
and community revitalization projects in low income neighborhoods 
will require some direct government support. 

III. Community Reinvestment: What Lies Ahead? 

The CRA passed in 1977 without much debate or opposition (13, 
p. 252); it has undoubtedly performed a valuable function. Many 
banks and savings and loan associations have initiated a number of 
creative outreach and lending programs to increase the flow of credit 
and supply of bank services to low income communities. (13, p. 262) 

Despite its successes, the CRA is highly controversial. Depository 
institutions (mainly community banks) have raised legitimate con- 
cerns about the costs associated with CRA compliance. A drawback 
of the CRA, which limits its effectiveness, is that it only applies to 
depository institutions. Historically, depository institutions have 
served local markets. Since the 1930s, the banks have also enjoyed 
the Federal Government's deposit insurance safety net. Legislators 
have felt that it is appropriate to impose community reinvestment 
requirements on these "protected" institutions. As a "payback" for 
savings and loan bailout legislation, the Congress attached amend- 
ments to the CRA in 1989 enhancing the impact of this Act. 

However, during the past 10 to 15 years the financial industry 
has changed significantly. More and more depositors are placing 

172 D. Boldt: Financial Institutions and Community Reinvestment 

their funds with mutual funds and other financial intermediaries. 
Banks are no longer exclusively "local" financial institutions. Merg- 
ers between banks have also become commonplace. Requiring only 
banks to be concerned about community reinvestment does place 
these institutions at a competitive disadvantage relative to other 
institutions. It does seem appropriate, based on a "level playing 
field" argument, that the CRA be expanded to cover other financial 
institutions such as mutual funds, pension funds, finance compa- 
nies and insurance companies. In addition, expanding the CRA to 
include a broader array of financial institutions will potentially in- 
crease the volume of credit channeled to low income communities. 
In a paper published in 1993 by the Economic Policy Institute, Jane 
W. D' Arista and Tom Schlesinger argue that nondepository finan- 
cial institutions should also be bound by the community invest- 
ment demands of the CRA. This recommendation is part of a broader 
proposal to standardize regulations for all financial institutions with 
a goal of reducing the cost advantages nondepository institutions 
currently enjoy over banks. (7, p. 3) 

The Clinton Administration believes that the CRA, as it now 
stands, imposes an unfair burden on depository institutions. Al- 
though there has been no official recommendation to broaden the 
CRA to cover non-depository institutions, the Administration has 
suggested that other changes be made to the CRA. Upon comple- 
tion of the public hearings held during the Fall of 1993, Federal regu- 
lators are expected to issue new regulations with the intent of eas- 
ing the burden of the CRA. A likely result is that banks will be able 
to reduce the effort devoted to public relations and documentation 
but will be expected to increase the actual lending to low or moder- 
ate income neighborhoods. 

The second aspect of President Clinton's plan, the creation of a 
system of community development banks, represents a significant 
change in government philosophy regarding the provision of credit 
to poor neighborhoods. During the 1980s, the executive and legisla- 
tive branches of government failed to support a direct Federal role 
in community lending programs. With the virtual withdrawal of 
Federal support, the 1980s witnessed a decline in funds for cities 
and community development. Many responsibilities have been 
shifted to lower levels of government or to business. Passage of the 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 173 

President's community banking plan will, in a modest way, help 
establish a private-public partnership in lending to low income com- 
munities. Details of the plan are still being worked out. A likely 
point of contention will be Mr. Clinton's proposal to create a new 
network of institutions whose exclusive focus will be on commu- 
nity development lending. Many established financial institutions 
object to this aspect of the plan arguing they can achieve commu- 
nity lending objectives more effectively than new institutions. 

Evidence of continued discriminatory lending practices on the part 
of banks suggests the continued need for community reinvestment 
regulations such as the CRA. The Clinton Administration's proposal 
for a system of community development banks reflects a belief that 
the CRA alone will not solve the problem of inadequate credit avail- 
ability in certain communities. Although the President's proposal is 
modest in financial terms, $385 million over the 1994-98 period, it is 
important symbolically as it represents a return of the Federal Gov- 
ernment to a direct involvement in community development. 

The financial support of the Federal Government for community 
economic development is essential if our social goal is to reduce 
poverty, create jobs and improve the housing stock in our low in- 
come communities. The Federal Government's role under this pro- 
gram is to provide seed capital to private community banking insti- 
tutions. The program appears to combine the advantages of deci- 
sion making at the local level with the realization that social goals, 
such as increasing the flow of capital to certain communities, can- 
not be achieved without a financial commitment on the part of gov- 
ernment. This complementary approach to stimulate lending in the 
nation's poorest communities, a less burdensome CRA plus Fed- 
eral financial support for community-based lending, represents a 
hopeful alternative to the current policy. 


1. Art, Robert C. "Social Responsibility in Bank Credit Decisions: The Commu- 

nity Reinvestment Act One Decade Later," Pacific Law Journal, 18, July 
1987, pp. 1071-1139. 

2. Avery, Robert B. "Making Judgments About Mortgage Lending Patterns," 

Economic Commentary, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, 15 December 

174 D. Boldt: Financial Institutions and Community Reinvestment 

3. Canner, Glenn B. and Smith, Dolores S. "Expanded HMDA Data on Residen- 
tial Lending: One Year Later," Federal Reserve Bulletin, 78, November 1992, 
pp. 801-24. 

4 "Home Mortgage Disclosure Act: Expanded Data on Residential 

Lending," Federal Reserve Bulletin, 77, November 1991, pp. 859-81. 

5. Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. Community Reinvest- 

ment Act, Senate Hearing 100-652, 22-23 March 1988. 

6. . Provisions Aimed at Strengthening the Community Reinvestment Act, 

Senate Hearing 100-905, 8-9 September 1988. 

7. D' Arista, Jane W. and Schlesinger, Tom. The Parallel Banking System. Wash- 

ington DC: Economic Policy Institute, 1993. 

8. Dedman, Bill. "The Color of Money," Atlanta Constitution, 1 May 1988, p. 


9. Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC). Study on Regula- 

tory Burden. Washington D.C.: 17 December 1992. 

10. Fishbein, Allen J. "Implementation and Enforcement of the Community Re- 

investment Act of 1977," Community Reinvestment Act, Hearings before 
the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs (Senate Hearing 
100-652), 22 March 1988, pp. 143-65. 

11. . "Satisfying Your Examiner & Satisfying Your Community Are 

Not Always the Same," ^46^4 Bank Compliance, Autumn 1990, pp. 2-5. 

12. Foust, Dean. "Leaning on Banks to Lend to the Poor," Business Week, 2 March 

1987, p. 76. 

13. Garwood, Griffin L. and Smith, Dolores S. "The Community Reinvestment 

Act," Federal Reserve Bulletin, 79, April 1993, pp. 251-67. 

14. Independent Bankers Association of America (IBAA). "The Cost to Commu- 

nity Banks," Independent Banker, 43, March 1993, pp. 20-22. 

15. Macey, Jonathan R. and Miller, Geoffrey P. "The Community Reinvestment 

Act: An Economic Analysis," Virginia Law Review, 79, March 1993, pp. 

16. Munnell, Alicia H.; Browne, Lynn E.; McEneaney, James and Tootell, Geoffrey 

M.B. Mortgage Lending in Boston: Interpreting HMDA Data, Working Pa- 
per No. 92-7, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, October 1992. 

17. Taylor, Andrew. "Clinton Plan Would Fund Community Lenders," Congres- 

sional Quarterly, 51, 17 July 1993, pp. 1856-58. 

18. Thomas, Paulette. "Bush's Plan to Relax Community Lending Law and Help 

Inner Cities Are on a Collision Course," Wall Street Journal, 21 July 1992, 

19. Wells, F. Jean and Jackson, William. Community Development Lenders: Policy 

Options and the Track Record, Report 93-483E. Washington D.C.: Congres- 
sional Research Service, 11 May 1993. 

Private Enterprise and Entrepreneurship 
in the Context of Social Market Economics 

Siegfried G. Karsten 

A socioeconomic system which integrates "free enterprise and 
entrepreneurship" within the framework of a "social market 
economy" has both meaning and vahdity in that it would address 
socioeconomic challenges facing society in general and the busi- 
ness sector in particular. The adoption of such a paradigm could 
result in broadening the middle class, rising standards of living, 
and a healthier entrepreneurial system by strengthening its com- 

The model of a social market economy provides for a "functional" 
free enterprise system, which not only accommodates economic 
growth and change but which also makes allowance for human dig- 
nity and freedom, integrating economic principles with concepts of 
order and justice. It specifies certain "general," "structural," and 
"regulating" principles to facilitate a competitive free enterprise 
system with a compatible social policy. 

This paradigm of a socially responsive market economy, i.e., of a 
free enterprise system, combines individual initiative with social 
progress. It provides for a framework within which entrepreneurs 
and citizens would be encouraged to coordinate their own interests 
with those of society. 

I. Meaning and Validity 

For a socioeconomic paradigm to possess meaning and validity, 
in Rogin's terms, it must focus on how people and businesses per- 
ceive and conduct their "ordinary business of life," as Alfred 
Marshall would say. (22, p. 1) Any valid and meaningful economic 
model must, therefore, reflect socioeconomic reality Furthermore, 
in order to remain viable, it continuously needs to adapt itself to 
changing socioeconomic conditions. (5, pp. 116, 130-31; 2, p. 222) 

The best available criteria for evaluating whether socioeconomic 
theories and policies are "meaningful" or "valid" were defined by 
Leo Rogin in terms of "strategic factors" and "implementation," re- 
spectively First of all, an economic paradigm must be relevant to 


178 S.G. Karsten: Private Enterprise and Entrepreneur ship 

the socioeconomic order in which it is appUed, i.e., it needs to reflect 
the conditions at the time and place in question. Therefore, for an 
economic model to have "meaning" it must address socioeconomic 
issues or challenges which are of concern to people and entrepre- 
neurs, as strategic factors. Its chances for implementation determine 
whether or not such a model possesses "vahdity." (31, pp. 1-13) 

Private enterprise and entrepreneurship are part of a wider cul- 
ture. They do not exist in a vacuum but are conditioned by human 
aspirations as well as by socioeconomic, cultural, political, and en- 
vironmental factors. A free enterprise system which sticks to pas- 
sive positions with regard to social challenges or rigidly insists on 
maintaining the status quo will find itself increasingly out of step 
with changing socioeconomic conditions. That is, in order to have 
long-term viability, a meaningful private enterprise system needs 
to take into consideration society's social interests and the interre- 
lationship between ethics, laws, government, and public policy. 

The ethical challenge of a contemporary free enterprise system 
and of entrepreneurship can be spelled out in terms of distortions 
between economic and ethical norms in the public and private sec- 
tors, ideological prejudice about common welfare, and imbalances 
in the principle that "government should govern as little as pos- 
sible but not do as little as possible." (26, pp. 336, 363) 

The paradigm of a "social market economy" postulates that eco- 
nomic disorder is not the inevitable result of the market system nor 
of the environment. It is caused primarily by people who attempt 
to manipulate the market for their own advantage but to the 
long-term disadvantage of society in general and of the business 
sector in particular - manifesting in interventionism and distor- 
tions of price relationships. For Eucken and the adherents to social 
market economics, the answer is to be found in a "functional" mar- 
ket economy which also responds to those problems for which the 
market mechanism does not provide satisfactory answers, as men- 
tioned above. (29, p. 266) 

II. Economic Record 

John Maynard Keynes' publication of his General Theory in 1936 had 
a similar impact on economics as Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations. 
Keynes took issue with the natural state assumption of 
"self-equilibrating, full-employment stability and social harmony" of 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 179 

the classical and neo-classical schools. Furthermore, as he demonstrated, 
income rather than the interest rate is the main economic parameter. 

In Keynes' perception, the major fault of the U.S. economy could 
be defined in terms of its inability to provide full employment and 
an equitable distribution of income. (18, pp. 254, 372-74) He thought 
that depressed economic conditions have a tendency to linger and 
to moderate only gradually An activist government economic policy, 
therefore, is called for to assist in mitigating, curing, and also in 
preventing economic downturns. This necessitates a proper balance 
between supply-side and demand-side policies. 

The general public, most politicians, and, perhaps even econo- 
mists tend to identify Keynes' suggested demand management of 
the economy primarily with increased government spending to 
supplement private expenditures for consumption and investment. 
Certainly, that has been the major manifestation of demand man- 
agement of the economy since World War II. However, another as- 
pect of Keynesian economics is that deficits should not be used as 
the main tool of economic policy, except during recessions. More- 
over, serious attempts should be made to balance the budget over 
the course of a business cycle. 

Misconceived political opinion in the U.S., however, has ignored 
the successful thrust of these policies. Real GDP, in 1987 dollars, 
increased from $1,419 billion in 1950 to $3,776 billion in 1980, i.e., 
by an average 5.54% per year. By 1992 real GDP had risen to $4,923 
billion, reflecting average annual increases of 2.53% from 1980 to 
1992. Table 1 exhibits a declining trend in the average annual rates 
of growth in real per capita GDP since the 1960s. (37) 

Real per capita disposable income (1987 dollars) grew from $6,190 
in 1950 to $12,005 in 1980, i.e., by 94% or by 3.13% per year on the 
average. By 1992 it had reached $14,221, showing average increases 
of 1.54% per year from 1980 to 1992. Similarly, real per capita con- 
sumption increased from $5,742 in 1950 to $10,746 by 1980, i.e., by 
2.90% per year, and to $12,974 in 1992 or by 1.73% per year during 
the 1980s and early 1990s. Whereas during the three decades from 
1950 to 1980 real per capita disposable income grew faster than con- 
sumption, e.g., 3.13% vs. 2.90% per year, this was not the case in the 
1980s and early 1990s: 1.54% vs. 1.73%, respectively, pointing to 
excess consumption during that period and insufficient investment 
n plant and equipment as well as in the infrastructure. 


S.G. Karsten: Private Enterprise and Entrepreneurship 

Selected Economic Statistics 






. Average Annual Ratios or Rates of Change 

Real Per Capita GDP -1987$ 





Nonresidential Net Investment 

as a Ratio of GDP 





Non-farm Business Productivity 





Ratio of After-Tax Profits 

to Stockholders' Equity 





Ratio of After-Tax Profits 

to Sales 





Personal Savings as a Ratio 
of After-Tax Personal Income 

Real Per Capita National Wealth 
(Net Worth) -1987$ 

Net Investment in Plant and 

After-Tax Profits 

Federal Education Expenditures 

Federal R&D Expenditures 










Annual Per 


Real Dollars 




















Sources: Data based on the 1991, 1994 Economic Reports of the President; Survey of Current Business, 
December 1992 and July 1993, and the Statistical Abstracts of the U.S. 1993. The above statis- 
tics are presented primarily as an indication of the direction of changes or trends. 

One of the Reagan Administration's basic assumptions, about 
producers' and consumers' basic behavior patterns, did not materi- 
aUze. It was beUeved that tax cuts would induce businesses and 
people to save and to invest more. As the President's Economic Re- 
port graphically illustrates (37, 1992, p. 263), and as Table 1 depicts, 
the economy has experienced a declining trend in real net fixed busi- 
ness investment as a ratio to GDP over the last twelve years. Real 
per capita net investment in plant and equipment was actually lower 
in the 1980s and early 1990s than in the 1970s. Average annual rates 
of change in non-farm business productivity also were lower in the 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 181 

1980s and early 1990s than in the previous three decades. Although 
average annual real per capita after-tax profits were somewhat higher 
in the 1970s, they were lower than in the 1960s - see Table 1. Simi- 
larly, the average annual ratio of after-tax profits to sales was lower 
during the 1980s and early 1990s than in the decades from 1950 to 
1980. Although the average annual ratio of after tax profits to stock- 
holders' equity was not too different from that of the 1950s and 1960s, 
it was significantly below that for the 1970s. 

The average percentages of disposable personal income saved 
were significantly smaller in the 1980s and early 1990s than in the 
preceding three decades. Another statistic, the rate of increase in 
real per capita national wealth, was lower during the last twelve 
years than in the 1960s and 1970s - see Table 1. 

As Table 2 reveals, the federal government's deficits and interest 
payments, as percentages of GDP, display a rising trend over the 
last three decades and were significantly higher in the 1980s than in 
the 1970s and 1960s. Despite the Reagan Administration's stated 
objective to downsize the federal government, the ratios of both 
federal revenues and expenditures to GDP were higher in the 1980s 
and early 1990s than in the 1970s and 1960s. 


Selected Federal Budg 

et Statistics 

(Average Annual Ratios) 




Real Federal Deficit as a Percent 
of GDP -1987$ 




Real Federal Interest Payments as 
1 Percent of GDP -1987$ 




'ederal Government Receipts as 
I Percent of GDP 

1960: 18.9% 
1965: 17.9% 

1970: 19.3% 
1975: 18.6% 

1980: 20.4% 
1985: 19.5% 
1990: 20.0% 
1992: 19.6% 

"ederal Government Outlays as 
Percent of GDP 

1960: 18.2% 
1965: 17.7% 

1970: 20.6% 
1975: 23.0% 

1980: 22.6% 
1985: 24.0% 
1990: 23.0% 
1992: 24.2% 

jjources: Data based on the 1991, 1992 Economic Reports of the President and the Survey of Current 
Business, August 1993. 

182 S.G. Karsten: Private Enterprise and Entrepreneurship 

Although compHcating factors come into play, which are beyond 
the scope of this article, the empirical evidence indicates that the 
American economy performed significantly better, on the average, 
from 1950 through 1980 than since 1980. Analysts at the Federal 
Reserve Bank of New York concluded that "on balance, changes in 
U.S. fiscal policy since the early 1980s have been detrimental to the 
growth potential and long-run economic performance of the 
economy." (1, p. 2) It appears that economic growth, business spend- 
ing for plant and equipment, and savings were greater with higher 
and not with lower tax rates for corporations as well as for indi- 
viduals. Contrary to the Reagan and Bush Administrations' assump- 
tions, government revenues, as a percent of GDP, had not increased 
as expected in response to lower tax rates, resulting in the largest 
peacetime deficits and buildup of the national debt. Hence, the U.S. 
could actually be operating below, and not above, its optimal tax 
rate that the Laffer Curve theory communicated in support of the 
tax cuts of the 1980s. 

The above statistics further lend credence to arguments that 
American society is rather under-taxed and that insufficient invest- 
ment in the nation's infrastructure as well as in its people nega- 
tively affects not only private investments in productive capacity 
but also government revenues. Moreover, as Herbert Stein observed, 
a higher tax rate, which would have reduced the government defi- 
cit, would have led to higher investment spending. Furthermore, 
assuming a given tax rate, reducing government spending does not 
necessarily increase the rate of economic growth. "Everything de- 
pends on what the government expenditures are for." (33, p. 15) 
David Stockman, then Director of the Office of Management and 
Budget, is now of the opinion that the root of the problem (struc- 
tural deficits) is to be found in the "July 1981 frenzy of excessive 
and imprudent tax cuts which shattered the nation's fiscal stabil- 
ity." In essence, the country had been left to handle expenditures of 
the 1980s with a revenue base of the 1940s. (34) 

Congressional Budget Office data (38, p. 52) indicate negative 
growth rates for average after-tax family incomes for the period 
from 1977 through 1989 for the first three quintiles of the income 
distribution: -10.4%, -10.0%, and -5.2%, respectively. Positive growth 
rates of 2.2% and 9.4% are registered for the top two quintiles. For 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 183 

the 91-95th and 96-99th percentiles, income rose by 14% and 24.4%, 
respectively; 102.2% for the top one percent of the distribution. 

Partly as a result of these developments, the distribution of in- 
come has become less equal since 1968, a trend which accelerated 
during the 1980s. For example, "the share [of income! received by 
the lowest quintile rose from 5.0 percent in 1947 to 5.7 percent in 
1968, and then fell to 4.6 percent in 1990. The share for the highest 
quintile fell from 43.0 percent in 1947 to 40.5 percent in 1968 before 
rising to 44.3 percent by 1990." (37, 1992, p. 124) 

One may get different numerical results depending on the types 
of data and adjustments made, which are beyond the scope of this 
paper. However, these and similar trends led the Census Bureau to 
conclude that whereas 71 percent of the people could be classified 
as living in middle-income class households in 1969, by 1989 that 
was only the case for 63 percent of Americans. (35) 

These developments point to a narrowing of the real income base 
for 60 to 80 percent of the population, on which the economy, the 
business sector, government, and people depend upon - for a bet- 
ter standard of living, for greater profits, and for greater govern- 
ment revenues and less government expenditures, especially in the 
area of income maintenance. 

When the distribution of income becomes more unequal, i.e., as 
a greater proportion of all incomes is concentrated in a smaller seg- 
ment of the population, the base of consumer demand is narrowed 
and economic growth is curtailed, as indicated above. U.S. News 
and World Report concluded in an article: 'Tt is time we faced up to 
the fact that something enormous and unattractive is happening to 
what we still imagine to be a middle-class nation." (4, p. 56) This is 
also of concern to the business sector. William Woodside, CEO of 
American Can Company, remarked: "... over the longer term, I don't 
think that democratic institutions can survive a two-tier economy 
comprising the very rich and very poor, and that's what we are rap- 
idly becoming." (32, p. 60) 

III. Underlying Premises 

The conventional U.S. socioeconomic model in essence assumes 
that an efficient socioeconomic system is not only brought about 
but also maintained by a more or less self-equilibrating enterpris- 
ing market mechanism. The latter is thought to assure a dynami- 

184 S.G. Karsten: Private Enterprise and Entrepreneurship 

cally growing economy by encouraging self-interest, entrepreneur- 
ial activity, inventions, and innovations. 

The principle of laissez faire or of the free enterprise system was 
essentially born out of the concern for people and the recognition 
that economic utility can never dispense with justice. The objec- 
tives of any socioeconomic paradigm are virtually the same and 
may best be stated in Marshall's words: "... the wellbeing of the 
whole people should be the ultimate goal of all private effort and 
public policy." (22, p. 47) Or, as Erhard Eppler observed, a socioeco- 
nomic system only possesses validity if it offers people as much 
freedom and self-determination as feasible, satisfies as many of their 
needs and wants as possible, and safeguards for future generations 
conditions for a high quality of life. (6, p. 128) Differences may arise 
in how to achieve these ends, not in the ends themselves. 

The desire for economic security, for protection from economic 
calamity which is beyond the individual's control, i.e., for a life in 
dignity is universal. The basic questions which any economic sys- 
tem must address are: (a) How can the socioeconomic system pro- 
vide humanizing work? And, (b) how well can society care for those 
who cannot help themselves? (25, p. 1) 

As is increasingly recognized, economic growth per se is neither 
sufficient nor does it alone bestow strength and vitality on the 
economy. A dynamic society grows through continuous experimen- 
tation - not only in terms of technological advancement and inno- 
vation but, most importantly, with regard to new socioeconomic 
and institutional processes. The lessons which the 1980s so far have 
taught us is that socioeconomic policies need to incorporate greater 
balance between private interests and public purpose. 

Walter Eucken, chief architect of the paradigm of a social market 
economy, believed that economic forces without the guide of a "func- 
tional" institutional framework do not evolve by themselves for the 
welfare of the people, except for those in positions of dominance. 
He recognized, as many others do, that monopoly power and spe- 
cial privileges are sought by the major participants in the economic 
process. Unrestrained laissez faire tends to evolve into economic 
power, concentrated in monopolies and oligopolies, threatening not 
only freedom but also the efficient allocation of resources. ( 9, pp. 
60-62; 10, pp. 3-7) 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 185 

Contemporary institutional arrangements, e.g., monopoly power 
exercised by business, industry, and labor, and the way fiscal and 
monetary policies are influenced by special interest groups, inter- 
fere with the market to effectively resolve questions of unemploy- 
ment, inflation, and economic growth. Hence, there is no assurance 
that prices continue to function as efficient allocation and rationing 
devices, encouraging greater intervention by the government in the 
economy Other issues, such as health care, education and training, 
the infrastructure, the environment, poverty, fairness in taxation, a 
more equal distribution of income, to mention some, are beyond 
the reach of the market. Therefore, according to Eucken, the evolu- 
tion of a functional market economy, as the guarantor of freedom, 
human dignity, and justice, cannot be left to chance but must be 
consciously guided. (8, p. 34) 

Ethical, economic, political, and social issues are all intercon- 
nected. People tend to favor a socioeconomic system which would 
provide for human freedom, justice, economic security, and efficient 
economic processes to the maximum extent possible, in terms of 
Rogin's "strategic factors." In other words, a healthy and dynamic 
free enterprise economy needs to be complemented by an efficient 
and humane public sector. Hence, a paradigm is called for which 
infuses social and normative values into a socially-blind market 
system in order to put a human face on a capitalistic socioeconomic 

These are in essence the underlying premises of a "social market 
economy" (8, pp. 123-32, 182; 9, pp. 76-77; 16, pp. 175-77) defined as 
a "functional" competitive market economy which approximates 
perfect competition, integrated with a sound legal and institutional 
framework. The essential characteristics of this model, as formu- 
lated by Walter Eucken, are a flexible price mechanism, stable so- 
cioeconomic policies, and a just order which enables man to live a 
life in dignity (7, pp. 239-42) 

IV. Fundamental Principles 

The fundamental question facing society is how to make the U.S. 
economy more competitive, i.e., how to bring about a better "func- 
tional" competitive economy, as defined above. Six basic criteria, 
I which are central to a successful social market economy, and which 
to some extent are already applied in the United States, may need 

186 S.G. Karsten: Private Enterprise and Entrepreneurship 

to be re-emphasized in her socioeconomic policies, as a framework 
for inter-personal and inter-institutional relations. 

The principle of individual responsibility, the first criterion, lies 
at the heart of both socioeconomic freedom and moral accountabil- 
ity. It implies that within limits, self-interest may be socially and 
economically beneficial. However, a narrowly practiced individu- 
alism, without social concerns, is becoming increasingly less accept- 
able. As pointed out above, unrestrained individualism may de- 
generate into market structures of imperfect competition, making 
the economy less competitive. Hence, individuals and institutions 
are to be held accountable for actions which are detrimental to com- 

The second principle, that of solidarity, expresses a reciprocal re- 
lationship between individualism, society, and the environment. As 
the U.S. Catholic Bishops indicate, the principle of subsidiarity calls 
for consensus-building between labor, management, and govern- 
ment, i.e., for solidarity. (25, pp. 145-46, 155-59) 

It is in this area that much work needs to be done in the United 
States to realize a greater degree of solidarity among the various 
participants in economic processes. Regulatory reform, elimination 
of special privileges, an incomes policy, industrial policy, and 
co-determination between labor and management, and labor unions, 
as long as these do not reduce the degree of competition, may be 
moves in the right direction. (40, pp. 11-23) 

The third criterion, that of self help, states that individuals need 
to be motivated to change things which are in their power to change. 
The aim is to wean people away from excessive reliance on the state 
with the intended purpose to foster a higher degree of personal in- 
centives and innovation. That is, policies are called for which stimu- 
late private initiative. This suggests significant action in the form of 
favorable regulation or substantive assistance for new entrepreneurs 
as well as welfare reform. 

Social welfare, i.e., the common weal, forms the fourth principle. 
As the Bishops posit: "The dignity of the human person, realized in 
community with others, is the criterion against which all aspects of 
human life must be measured." (25, p. 15) As Marshall had exhorted 
with his "economic chivalry," and Ted Turner suggested with his 
"Ted Commandments," self-interest should not be considered only 
in terms of profit maximization. The activities of business, labor. 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 187 

and government should be guided by what will improve the socio- 
economic setting in general, together with concerns for the com- 
mon good, notions of socially responsible behavior, and the idea of 
"stewardship." (39, p. 273; 41) 

More specifically, the common weal may be interpreted to en- 
compass all aspects affecting social welfare, including the infrastruc- 
ture, cultural policies, social security, public health, education, tech- 
nological developments, to mention a few. In terms of Alfred 
Marshall's redefinition of laissez faire, the "principle of common 
welfare" encourages government "to do that work which is vital, 
and which none but government can do effectively." That is, "the 
function of government is to govern as little as possible; but not to 
do as little as possible." (26, pp. 336, 363) However, the correct bal- 
ance between "governing as little as possible but not to do as little 
as possible" has not yet been found. Greater funding for the social 
infrastructure, education, health care, the environment, for techno- 
logical developments, etc. are needed to address that imbalance. 

The fifth principle, that of a socially-caring state, encourages the 
community to help those who cannot help themselves. Individuals 
are to be encouraged to change things which are in their power to 
change. However, social action is required to change causal factors 
which are beyond the individual's reach, justifying what is referred 
to as the social safety net. 

The imbalances referred to under the fourth principle also apply 
in this case which tend to manifest in homelessness, inadequate 
access to health care, and poverty in the U.S. But, as Popper argues, 
social institutions must protect the economically weak and, to safe- 
guard freedom, unrestrained capitalism must give way to respon- 
sible economic intervention." (28, p. 125) 

As a last criterion one may add "industrial policy," although it 
was included above under the second principle. Serious socioeco- 
nomic challenges need to be resolved in the United States, espe- 
cially with regard to international competitiveness. The long-term 
solution is to be found in policies which will strengthen the produc- 
tive potential of the economy A rational industrial policy, although 
controversial in nature, could muster majority support from the 
general public and the body poUtic. (17, pp. 155-64) 

I A meaningful industrial policy cannot be divorced from fiscal or 
monetary policies. According to Chalmers Johnson, it forms the third 

188 S.G. Karsten: Private Enterprise and Entrepreneurship 

leg in the triad consisting of fiscal, monetary, and industrial poli- 
cies. The objective of an industrial policy is to increase overall eco- 
nomic capacity and activity and not simply to rearrange the exist- 
ing economic pie. As Johnson points out: 

In a positive, explicit sense, industrial policy means the initia- 
tion and coordination of governmental activities to leverage 
upward the productivity and competitiveness of the whole 
economy and of particular industries in it. Above all, positive 
industrial policy means the infusion of goal-oriented, strate- 
gic thinking into public economic policy. It is the attempt by 
government to move beyond the broad aggregate and envi- 
ronmental concerns of monetary and fiscal policy of the mar- 
ket system. (15, pp. 7-8) 

V. Constitution of a Social Market Economy 

The paradigm of a social market economy shifts the emphasis 
from unrestricted laissez faire to guiding the economy towards so- 
cioeconomic goals. As Aba Lerner puts it, it is a change from quan- 
tity to quality, to assist policy makers to broaden the middle class, 
to maintain high employment, to control inflation, to restrict mo- 
nopolistic power, and to encourage (discourage) socially beneficial 
(harmful) activities. (20, p. 133) The mutation is from a pure 
laissez-faire economy to a socially responsive free-market economy, 
i.e., to capitalism with a conscience. Eucken and Ropke had at first 
referred to it as "Smithianismus." (12, p. 10) 

This paradigm encompasses both a doctrine of economic as well 
as social philosophy. It is molded by "competition policy," charac- 
terized by (a) individual freedom of action, from which efficiency is 
derived; (b) a strong role for the state to preserve the prerequisites I 
for a competitive system; and (c) to incorporate competition policy 
into the body of law of the economic order of a free and open soci- 
ety (24, p. 142) 

Social market economics, therefore, advocates a "right order" in 
economic relationships, in the interrelationship between capital, 
labor, and government. It is to be achieved through a neutral mon- 
etary policy, the elimination and control of monopolistic powers, a 
functional price mechanism, an incomes policy, and stable fiscal and 
monetary policies. This "order" is to facilitate solutions which are 
economically and ethically justifiable and which enhance man's 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 189 

opportunities for a "productive" and dignified life. (8, pp. 10, 21-22, 
179) Eucken's "economic constitution" for a competitive social mar- 
ket economy is defined in terms of eight "structural" and five "regu- 
lating" principles. (8, pp. 160-77; 10, pp. 32ff) 

A. The structural principles consist of : 

1) Commitment of socioeconomic policies towards a competitive 
social market economy. This principle, when narrowly applied to 
the "commitment to competition," receives widespread approval 
in the U.S. However, when it is considered in terms of 
"socially-responsive competition," or infusing questions of "eco- 
nomic justice" or the right to a "life in dignity" into a socially-blind 
market mechanism, substantial prejudice needs to be overcome. 

2) Primacy of monetary policy, to stabilize the value of money as 
a necessary condition for a functionally competitive economy is re- 
lated to the fifth regulating principle, calling for a "monetary 
numeraire" in order to depoliticize monetary policy. This has not 
been fully accepted or implemented in any country, including those 
which have adopted this model. The overriding concern is that fis- 
cal and monetary policies need to complement each other. 

3) Open competitive markets, i.e., the elimination of restraints on 
demand and supply, for both domestically and foreign produced 
goods. It is in this area that the U.S. economy faces many challenges. 
The greatest of these is to be found in reducing the political influ- 
ence of "special interest groups." The latter, only too often, are able 
to get laws passed and regulations instituted which reduce rather 
than enhance competition. This type of legislation also tends to 
encourage paper transactions for reasons of short-term profits in- 
stead of long-term investments in productive capacity, as Keynes 
lad warned when he contrasted "speculation" with "enterprise." 
(18, pp. 158-63) These factors also influence the third regulating prin- 
ciple, that "prices are to reflect all costs," in order to serve as effi- 
cient allocation devices of scarce resources. 

Possible remedies may be found in substantial tax reform. If cer- 
tain economic activities are to be encouraged in the national inter- 
est, then subsidies would address this more efficiently than tax ex- 
penditures. Another measure is to limit the duration of election cam- 
paigns and to substitute public for private financing. In the long 
"un, this would enhance efficiency in economic as well as in politi- 

190 S.G. Karsten: Private Enterprise and Entrepreneurship 

cal processes, contribute to more efficient resource allocations, 
greater competitiveness, and would cost businesses and the public 
less, both in prices and taxes, than present practices. 

4) Stable and predictable economic policies which are essential 
for long-term decisions. This case is more serious, especially when 
considered together with the fourth regulating principle of an "in- 
tegrated countercyclical policy approach to reflect the interrelation- 
ship of all problems." 

The problem manifests itself in the magnitudes of budget and 
trade deficits and the deceiving practices of moving budget items 
off budget, manipulation of payment schedules, rosy economic fore- 
casts, and using revenues collected under the trust funds to finance 
general government expenditures, hiding the true magnitude of 
these deficits. 

This dilemma is further aggravated by the inability to separate 
economic policy making from political processes. Politicians are not 
primarily motivated by long-term considerations but by the 
short-term pressures of the next election. As a result, all administra- 
tions and Congresses have manipulated fiscal policies and tried to 
influence monetary policies. 

One underlying problem is that administrations, as well as Con- 
gresses, have made forecasts with regard to the future performance 
of key economic variables, revenues, expenditures, and deficits, 
which are not objective but which are influenced by political goals. 
The U.S. needs to institute a similar set-up as in Germany, where 
analyses of economic conditions and forecasts is delegated to five 
independent private economic research institutes. A consensus of 
these analyses and forecasts is formed and serves as the basis for 
policy decisions. (3, pp. 26-30) For example, the National Bureau of 
Economic Research already performs a similar function as the offi- 
cial arbiter of defining recessions and recoveries. 

5) Private ownership of the means of production. Only a com- 
petitive social market economy can effectively control property as a 
basis of socioeconomic power and, therefore, make it tolerable. 

6) Defining the freedom to enter contracts to increase competi- 
tion and to restrict its abuses. This structural principle, and also the 
next one, were elaborated under the first general principle of the 
preceding section. 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 191 

7) Liability to be accountable for actions which are detrimental to 
perfect competition. 

8) Interdependence of all structural principles - applied in isola- 
tion they lose their basic purpose and effectiveness. 

B. The regulating principles address: 

1) Reduction and control of monopoly power. If the latter cannot 
be eliminated, the state is obligated to control and supervise mo- 
nopolistic industries in such a manner that their prices approximate 
those that would have existed under perfectly competitive condi- 
tions. Regulatory pricing of natural monopolies may serve as an 
example here. 

The wider problem is that the enforcement of the antitrust laws 
rests with the Justice Department and is, therefore, greatly influ- 
enced by political factors and special interest groups. For reasons of 
greater objectivity, better economic efficiency, and enhanced com- 
petition, an independent agency needs to be created and be removed 
as much as possible from political influence, as in Germany, to serve 
as a watchdog empowered to bring the necessary legal actions to 
eliminate or at least reduce monopoly power in the system. (24, pp. 

2) Incomes policy As was discussed above, a free market does 
not by itself resolve many problems, including but not limited to 
economic security, equity and justice in the distribution of income 
and wealth. 

Difficulties arise, however, with regard to ideological preconcep- 
tions involving the "safety net" and an "industrial policy" In con- 
trast to social market economists, conservatives, strengthened by 
socioeconomic policies manifesting in budget and trade deficits, tend 
to take the position that the market can be totally relied upon to 
satisfactorily deal with questions of unemployment, poverty, hu- 
man dignity, etc. Although no government has fully accepted such 
a position, questions of a proper magnitude of the social safety net 
have often been mired in prejudicial misconceptions. Recent debates 
about national health insurance may serve as an example. 

Instituting a national health insurance program would prove to 
be very beneficial not only to society in general but to the business 
sector in particular. Employers' costs for health benefits have risen 
from around $500 per worker early in the 1980s to $3,968 in 1992. It 

192 S.G. Karsten: Private Enterprise and Entrepreneurship 

is estimated that "the average amount companies spend on health 
care amounts to 45 percent of after-tax profits." Whereas the U.S. 
spends about 12.4 percent of its GDP on health care, its major com- 
petitors, Canada, Germany, and Japan, spend 9, 8.1, and 6.5 per- 
cent, respectively - with better results, utilizing national health care 
plans. Needless to say that our business and industry could invest 
more, and become more productive and competitive if that burden 
was reduced. (11; 13; 14) 

The problem is magnified in that, from 1982 to 1989, the percent- 
age of employees fully covered by employers' furnished insurance 
dropped from 75 to 48 percent, for those with family coverage from 
50 to 31 percent. At the same time employees' out of pocket ex- 
penses for health insurance increased. (27) The Children's Defense 
Fund reported that in 1990 more than 25 million children were not 
covered by any health insurance although their parents were in- 
sured by their employers. By the year 2000 about half of the chil- 
dren may not be insured through their parents if present trends con- 
tinue, if firms continue to exclude children from their health insur- 
ance coverage. (23) The long-term implications are that workers' 
productivity would tend to decline. It is not surprising that the U.S. 
Chamber of Commerce at one time reversed its position in favor of 
a national health insurance program, stating that all businesses 
should be required to provide health insurance for their workers. 

In the final analysis, free market rules need to be modified in that 
social problems, especially poverty and unemployment, could en- 
danger the so-called free enterprise system. Specific policies could 
take the form of tax and regulatory reform to abolish special privi- 
leges, which tend to distort market prices. The nation needs to set 
up a "consensus-seeking mechanism" involving business, indus- 
try, the financial community, labor, government, and consumers, to 
address the long-term goals of American society and how to achieve 
them - a form of incomes policy. It was practiced to a limited extent 
under the Kennedy /Johnson Administrations. (16, pp. 178-79) 

The ultimate solution to the policy-making process is to be found 
in formulating a broad consensus among business, industry, labor, 
the financial community, government, and consumers, with regard 
to the long-term goals of the American society and how to best pro- 
mote and achieve these goals. 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 193 

Other measures involve industrial policies as discussed above, 
educational reform including free college tuition, repair and mod- 
ernization of the social infrastructure, greater equality in the distri- 
bution of income, affordable housing policies, actions to combat 
poverty and homelessness, and better cooperation between labor 
and management - "do make employees feel secure, enlisting all in 
a search for better ways to get the job done," as W. Edward Deming 
promoted in his seminars. (21) 

The suggested actions would bring about a healthier, better edu- 
cated labor force, improve social harmony and economic security, 
increase labor productivity, and enhance the country's competi- 
tiveness in world markets. They are justifiable as long as they do 
not paralyze the "nerve centers of the price mechanism," according 
to Ropke, i.e., increase competitive conditions and do not discour- 
age long-term investment and productivity. (30, pp. 159-63) 

The above outlined measures were put to a test in Germany after 
World War II in varying degrees. Germany has to face many chal- 
lenges and problems, especially brought about by the unification 
with East Germany, which require substantive changes in her so- 
cioeconomic policies. However, the words of Hartrich still seem to 
hold that this experiment "has proven to be the greatest producer 
of wealth, modern technology, and womb-to-womb social security 
of any ideology or political system. ... It has produced capitalism's 
'finest hour' - and inflicted the decisive defeat of Marxian social- 
ism in the land of its birth." (12, pp. 4-5) 

3) Prices are to reflect all costs and are to serve as true allocators 
of scarce resources, discussed under the third structural principle. 

4) An integrated countercyclical policy approach to reflect the 
interrelatedness of all problems, e.g., unemployment, inflation, 
growth, investment, environment, poverty, etc. Pressures from spe- 
cial interest groups to deal with these in isolation are seen as the 
primary source of socioeconomic instability, as was elaborated un- 
der the fourth structural principle. 

5) Establishment of a monetary numeraire to depoliticize and to 
stabilize monetary policy (with the supply of money to be tied to a 
basket of commodities). As was mentioned with regard to the sec- 
ond structural principle, this has not been instituted in any eco- 
nomic system. 

194 S.G. Karsten: Private Enterprise and Entrepreneurship 

It was Eucken's position that the "structural" and "regulating" 
principles complement each other, and, therefore, need to be inte- 
grated in a unified approach. If that were not possible, then the sec- 
ond best solution would be found in increased state direction of 
economic activities, with reduced personal and economic freedom. 

V. Conclusion 

This analysis suggests that socioeconomic challenges cannot be 
satisfactorily resolved outside the framework of an efficiently func- 
tioning economy. The "general," "structural," and "regulating" prin- 
ciples of Eucken's "economic constitution" are oriented towards 
establishing an efficient functional market economy. It takes a ho- 
listic approach in treating the economy as an organic whole. Fur- 
thermore, it takes account of man's desire for a life in freedom, dig- 
nity, relative security, and for protection from circumstances beyond 
his control. According to Miiller-Armack, a realistic socioeconomic 
model has to consider not only economic but also social policy ob- 
jectives. (19, p. 262) 

The real economic factors which influence the well-being of people 
are to be found in their values and expectations, the social safety 
net, in socioeconomic structural changes, technological develop- 
ments, economic fluctuations, tax policies, the distribution of in- 
come and wealth, the magnitude and type of private and social in- 
vestments, foreign trade relations, fiscal and monetary policies, and 

These real economic factors are greatly affected by continuing 
discontinuities in socioeconomic policies. Short-term interests of 
politicians and special interest groups, imbalanced budgets, 
non-complementarity of economic and ethical principles, and an 
imbalance in the solidarity principle are critical contributing fac- 
tors. This is greatly magnified by changes in administrations, often 
times every four years. The challenge is how to depoliticize the eco- 
nomic process. 

Narrowly structured and ideologically tinted policies are becom- 
ing increasingly less acceptable. Present social and political trends 
call for vital economic growth through injecting new vitality into 
the market system. This essentially has three implications, namely 
greater equality in the distribution of income, the achievement and 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXII, 1994 195 

maintenance of satisfactory rates of economic growth, and reduc- 
tion of the federal budget deficit. 

As Dahrendorf points out, economies are still oriented primarily 
towards "stability" and "growth." If these do not materialize, all 
kinds of problems arise. Not only are individuals' well-being af- 
fected, but the social balance is called into question. (2, pp. 68-69) 


The author is indebted to West Georgia College for a research 
grant in support of this study. 



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•"•iR^. -'-'^^'^Ht^. '^aii^#^'-''^'^'^4S^ft^^^ 



Volume XXXII June 19 94 

The U.S. Economy in the Light of 
Justice, SoHdarity, and Complementarity 

An Interdisciplinary Perspective 

edited by 

Siegfried G. Karsten 


This volume represents a somewhat rare undertaking in that it com- 
piles varied efforts from distinct disciplines addressing a topic of com- 
mon concern. It recognizes that people are prosperous, not as indi- 
viduals, but as members of a prosperous society. This implies an in- 
terdisciplinary approach to socioeconomic challenges, integrating 
economics with other social and humanistic sciences in defining a 
paradigm which best addresses the needs and aspirations of society 
and of its people. The common theme that permeates the different 
papers in this volume is that a meaningful private enterprise system 
needs to take into consideration society's social interests, people's 
desire for a life in dignity and freedom, and the interrelationship be- 
tween ethics, law, government, and public policy, integrating economic 
principles with concepts of order and justice. This mandates, in es- 
sence, a socioeconomic system which offers people as much freedom 
and self-determination as feasible, satisfies as many of their needs 
and wants as possible, and safeguards for future generations condi- 
tions for a high quality of life. In this context, competition needs to 
take place within a framework of ethical economic behavior, of social 
and economic justice, of human dignity and decency, and of commu- 
nity and solidarity. 

ISBN: 1-883199-04-2 


+ZP 1637 995 33 













Marc J. LaFountain 

\m "S 199S 


Volume XXXIII November 1995 


Marc J. LaFountain 
(Volume Editor) 

Volume 33 of 
W(?sf Georgia College Studies In The Social Sciences 
n Francis P. Conner (Series Editor) 

j^ Copyright @ 1995 by: 

Y West Georgia College 

I Carrollton,GA 30118 

e ISBN: 1-883199-04-2 





All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any 

form - except for brief quotation in a review or professional work - 

F without permission from the publishers, 






a Printed in the United States of America 







[ntroduction: Predicaments of Ethics in 

^arc J. LaFountain .. 


:thics as Excess: Toward a "Postmodern" 

Approach to Social Ethics 
'arl L. Bankston III 


le Politics of Ecstacy: Postmodernity Ethics 

and Native American Culture in Oliver Stone's 
1 he Doors and Natural Born Killers 

iristopher Wise 



Destiny Without Destination(?): Un Coeur en 

Hiver, The Double Life of Veronique, and the 
Question of Postmodern Ethics 

Marc]. LaFountain 


New Directions in Crime, Law, and Social 
Change: On Psychoanalytic Semiotics, 
Chaos Theory, and Postmodern Ethics 

Bruce A. Arrigo 


Ethical Choice in a Postmodern World: 

Cognition, Consciousness, and Contact 
Tobin Hart 


Communication, Postmodernism, and 

Postmodern Ethics in Communication 
MarkG. R. McManus 




I would like to thank Pick Conner, who has unselfishly served as 
Series Editor of this journal for many years, for the support and the 
freedom he has given me to pursue and develop this project. In the 
publishing world, this is no small freedom. This is the last volume 
he will oversee, and the progress West Georgia College Studies in the 
Social Sciences has realized owes much to his dedication and forti- 
tude. Dean Richard Miller of the School of Arts and Sciences is to be 
commended for pledging to continue the commitment to make VSlest 
Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences a project the College com- 
munity will be proud to call its own. My gratitude to Kareen Malone, •;' 
Bruce DiChristina, and Ted Simons for reviewing manuscripts. A 
very special thank you to Christopher Wise, and a most special thank 
you to Sheila LaFountain, for encouragement, advice, and care. 

I The cover: Thank you Joan Kropf, Curator, and The Salvador 
pali Museum, for permission to reproduce Dali's image. The Broken 
Bridge and the Dream (1945), Oil on canvas (26 1 /4 x 34 3/ 16 inches), 
Zollection of Mr. & Mrs. A. Reynolds Morse on loan to The Salvador 
Dali Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida, Copyright 1995 Salvador Dali 
vluseum. Inc. 












Bruce A. Arrigo received his PhD from Pennsylvania State Uni- 
versity in 1993 and is Assistant Professor of Sociology at Duquesne 
University. He has authored some twenty-five monographs, articles, 
and book chapters. Among the topics explored in his work are criti- 
cal criminology, social theory, homelessness, feminist jurisprudence, 
law and mental illness, punishment, and social justice. His most 
recent book is The Contours of Psychiatric justice (1995). 

Carl L. Bankston III is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the 
University of Southwestern Louisiana where he teaches social theory, 
cross-cultural sociology, and the sociology of immigration. His work 
has appeared in International Migration Review, Sociology of Edu- 
cation, Sociological Quarterly, Humanity & Society, Knowledge and 
Policy, Deviant Behavior, and others. He is co-editor, with Wesley 
Shrum and D. Stephen Voss, of Science, Technology, and Society in the 
Third World: An Annotated Bibliography. 

Tobin Hart is Assistant Professor of Psychology at West Georgia 
College where he offers courses in the study of consciousness, hu- 
man development and psychotherapy. His background includes 
clinical, educational and transpersonal studies. An ongoing curios- 
ity and research project is the experience of inspiration. As expressed 
in his essay in this volume, issues of ethics, choice and cognition 
relate to the event of inspiration and find particular complexity in a 
postmodernist view. 


Marc J. LaFountain is Professor of Sociology at West Georgia 
College where he teaches courses on critical and postmodern theory, 
phenomenological sociology, visual sociology, environment, and art. 
His current interests focus on the body, the erotic, art, and ethics. 
His book. This is Not an Essence: Dali and Postmodernism, is being 
published by SUNY Press. 

Mark G. R. McManus is Librarian Associate Professor and Asso- 
ciate Director of Libraries, West Georgia College. He has worked in 
academic institutions in Georgia, Alabama, and Virginia. His cur- 
rent research interests include physical and cultural packaging of 
information and the rhetoric of social movements. 

Christopher Wise is Assistant Professor of English at West Geor- 
gia College. His areas of specialization include Third World Litera- 
ture /Postcolonial Studies, Literary Theory and Criticism, and Film. 
Wise is presently writing a book on the postcolonial African novel. 











And it is there - right in the depths of the human crucible, in this paradoxical 
region where the fusion of two beings who have really chosen each other ren- 
ders to all things the lost colors of the times of ancient suns, where however, 
loneliness rages..} 

Some Predicaments of Ethics in 

Postmodernity - Introduction 


Marc]. LaFountain 

In the 1920-30's Andre Breton's Manifestoes of Surrealism sparkled 
magically in the wake not only of Dada, but in that of what Robert 
Nisbet called, in Sociology as an Art Form, the "rust" of fin-de-siecle 
modernism. That rust, however, was only a prelude to what Adorno 
later, and Lyotard even later, called "Auschwitz," a prophetic name 
marking the time after which modernity would never again be viewed 
with the same positive regard that animated the philosophes of the 
Enlightenment. In a sense then that bridge to the future, constructed 
of notions like progress, evolution, liberal individualism, industrial- 
ism, the market, and instrumental reason, began to exhibit any num- 
ber of infirmities. It appeared that at the turn of the 20th century 
Toennies, Simmel, Durkheim, Weber and others' visions of the de- 
mise of both Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft were coming to pass. The 
derangement of the senses Rimbaud advocated as a tactic for per- 
sonal transformation seemed to be transpiring, at the communal and 
societal levels, as an unwanted and unstoppable consequence of rap- 
idly accelerating cultural differentiation. 

Breton proposed surrealist praxis as an antidote to the latter, and 
other, dissociations and discontents of modernity. Drawing upon vari- 
ous esoteric and hermetic traditions, Hegel, Marx, Freud, and aspects 
of contemporaneous poetry and art, Breton fashioned a bridge over 
and through the morass. This bridge - named differently a conduct- 
ing wire, a tissu capillaire, a communicating vessel, an ascendant sign, 
a dialectical lever - would make it possible for individuals to over- 
come the personal and collective failure of imagination and creative 
action engendered by modernity and thereby surmount all contradic- 












2 Mrtrr. /. LaFouniain: Some Predicaments of Ethics in Postmodernity - Introduction 

tions. In particular Breton argued that the mind's "savage eye" still 
retains an eidetic image of a time when individuals were not frag- 
mented and community served to secure their wholeness. Primitives 
and children naturally understand this "state of grace".- Near the 
end of Nadja, and in Mad Love and Arcane 1 7, he maintained it also 
arises in true love, which "restores to all things the lost colors of the 
time of the ancient suns". It is also possible to make oneself available 
to the irruption of this emancipatory experience via surrealist prac- 
tice. The performance of such practice was what Breton offered in 
service of various social and political revolutions during his time. For 
him, surrealism, more than just art, was a means to restore and in- 
vigorate subjective and communal agency and well-being. 

What Breton envisioned was nothing less than a reconstruction of 
Ariadne's thread and the renewal of the moral autonomy of the indi- 
vidual and the collective. A romantic optimist, at the very least, Breton 
recognized this lovely vision, this point supreme, would be ever so dif- 
ficult to attain, and impossible to sustain for any period of time. None- 
theless it was a message of hope. When Dali finished The Broken Bridge 
and the Dream in 1945, the possibilities for creating the bridge, a 
simulacrum for both emancipatory transcendence and community, 
seemed ever so slight. Popular interpretation has it that Dali, certainly 
by 1945, had long given up on Surrealism in favor of his own selfish 
and eccentric pursuits. The rupture of the bridge then would signify 
both his break with Breton, who had excommunicated him from the 
Surrealist movement in the late 1930s, and the specter of narcissistic, 
alienated, and excessive individualism chronicled by Heidegger, 
Sartre, Horkheimer and Adorno, and others of the period. It was clear 
to many that the subjectivization and disenchantment of the world 
predicted by the great social theorists of the later 1800s were engulf- 
ing Western culture and were rapidly being spread about the globe. 
Indeed indigenous communities were everywhere showing signs of 
rift and rust. 

The Broken Bridge and the Dream lends itself well to this scenario. 
The dream, for the Surrealists and modernists alike, insinuates growth, 
progress, metamorphosis and deliverance. For those not tied to 
Eurocentric world views, it suggests the unity of humans with nature 
and the gods, the sense of infinity and the sacredness of familial and 
communal life, eulogized so eloquently in Herzog and Tamahori's 
respective films, WJtere the Green Ants Dream and Once Were Warriors. 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 3 

For the dream is the sign of the future made in the image of the cre- 
ative agent (whether individual or group) securely situated in the 
habitus of a meaningful history and society. But something has hap- 
pened to this dream. No one is quite sure yet if it is a nightmare or an 
illusion. Or if it is now no longer possible to either dream or to build 
any bridge to any future, or even to a past. Or if the disappearance of 
the bridge is just a fleeting moment of rupture, and in the next frame, 
it will reappear, as it does in the Hegelian vision which undergirds 
the social thought of both Herbert Spencer and Marx. 

What is in question though is not the dream itself, but the very 
bridge by which the future is lived as the flesh and texture of history, 
community and intersubjective daily life. While "we" - a terribly per- 
plexing notion for late modernist and postmodernist thinkers - try to 
figure out now what and where the bridge is, and where or even if it 
goes anywhere, "we" also stand alone, we bump into each other, em- 
brace each other, and we find ourselves in curious and awkward alli- 
ances. There seem to be communities here, some based on the amo- 
rous and erotic intimacy recounted by Maguerite Duras, some on con- 
flict, some on the emotional contagion Gustave Le Bon described, some 
on the simple juxtaposition of individuals who may have nothing in 
common but their fate or juxtaposition, what Alphonso Lingis sug- 
gests, in The Community of Those Who Have Nothing in Common, is the 
community of the dying. It is difficult to tell if these individuals are 
passionate or indifferent or stoic or ecstatic. It is difficult to discern if 
their juxtaposition implies integration and community, or if, in Breton's 
words, there is a magnetic field which embraces them. 

The elastic grid of dialectical conjunction has been questioned by 
writers such as Deleuze and Foucault, who speak of disjunctive con- 
junctions and multiple grids. Christopher Wise's essay (this volume) 
contests the latter notion that disjunction has displaced dialectical con- 
junction by offering a refigured utopic vision of liberatory practices 
which promise community and ethics. Mark McManus (this volume) 
interprets this elastic grid as a molten center, which, not unlike Lacan's 
Other which Bruce Arrigo (this volume) discusses, incessantly desta- 
bilizes itself in favor of continued renewals. 

We note in Dali's image that a number of individuals and groups 
are on the stairs and under the bridge. Still others, perhaps already 
over the bridge, or not yet near its elevating stairs, linger in the fore- 
ground. And still others, in the background, either approach the bridge, 
or have already gone across what there is of it to traverse. Or perhaps 

Marc. J. LaFountain: Some Predicaments of Ethics in Postmodernity - Introduction 


they are simply somewhere else? These others, in the distance, seem 
to move in all directions, belying the notion of the common move- 
ment of either an idiosyncratic or global community. At the precipice 
of the bridge is what appears to be a heroic figure on a horseback. 
This individual may be some charismatic leader, or some symbol of a 
polls, who will lead the way across the bridge, thus recreating and 
creating some set of resources for others. Or perhaps this individual 
is Liberalism's Individual? or Nietzsche's ubermensch? or Blanchot's 
"last man" who simply is on his or her own? Or maybe it is The Horse- 
man of Death, a figure appearing in one of Dali's paintings in 1935, 
who has arrived to say there is no longer a bridge, or that the dream is 
only humanity's melancholic hangover which de Chirico also had 
glimpsed before he retreated to the womb of classicism? On the 
"other" side of the bridge another figure on horse moves without 
discernable direction or intent. Those on the stairs, if at all they are 
cognizant of what lies in their future, at the precipice or on the other 
sides, seem exuberant and appear to move with abandon. At the bot- 
tom of the stairs, two figures embrace, perhaps a farewell to solidar- 
i ity, or maybe in a pact (not) to face the future. One in the middle of the 

^ stairs either backs away from or into the future. 

^ Who are these various individuals and communities scattered about 

t the dream and the bridge? Are they the throngs of feminists who 

e now assail each others' politics and aesthetics rather than those of 

r "the male"? Are they the factious generations of "Blacks" suppos- 

a edly united by the Pan-Africanism of Garvey, the Afrocentrism of 

Y Asante or the ANC? Are they Inuits or Chipkos or Nebraskans or 

Cherokees? Are they the various "natives" or the "whole man" of 
Fanon and Cesaire's "Negritude" or those whom Kwame Anthony 
Appiah has tried to gather in a "nationalist" project? Are they the 
"subalterns" of the world about whose ability to speak Gayatri 
f Chakravorty Sprivak wonders? Are they Sufis, Shi'ites, Bahai's, 

^ Sunnis, Zoroastrians, Jews? And when all of these groups, aside from 

3 their own intracommunal differences, are juxtaposed to countless oth- 

9 ers, each with its own subjectivities and narratives, where the hybrid- 

t ity and impurity Salman Rushdie described reign, what then of "the" 

t bridge and "the" dream? 

Acknowledging the demise of the bridge and the dream, Mark 
McManus, resuscitating Kenneth Burke's work on communication, 
attempts to salvage the possibility of community and ethics when such 
dissimilarities irrupt. The essays of LaFountain (this volume) and Wise 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 5 

suggest quite different communities and ethics that might arise in these 
encounters. Whereas McManus and Wise revitalize strains of mod- 
ernist thought to secure ethics and community, Bankston (this vol- 
ume) and LaFountain ponder the vitality of the unavowable, inop- 
erative community explored by Bataille, Blanchot, and Jean-Luc 

In considering the realities subsumed by the "postcolonial" men- 
tality, Anne McClintock suggests that the "angel of progress" has 
wrecked, and in order to creatively intervene in what is unacceptable, 
what "we" need is theories that do not harness singularities to singu- 
lar visions of history and memory.^ For the modernist there is the 
Incorrigible tendency to fear proliferation, thus the interest in Law 
(whether of Nature, Evolution, the Market, Science, Progress). Bruce 
Arrigo, drawing upon Lacan's psychoanalytic semiotics and chaos 
theory, seeks ways by which Law may be loosened to permit and re- 
spect a profusion of difference. Law, a name for the overdetermination 
of agreement, is a tangle of convictions that, like the library of knowl- 
edge in The Name of the Rose, go everywhere, yet are guided by prece- 
dent. When the sources of precedent are revealed, and the singularities 
they contain are released, "we" may well witness scenes similar to 
that of Dali's painting. Arrigo tackles the complex issue of envision- 
ing chaotic communities held together by law which is unstable and 
not totalizing. 

What does all this say of postmodemity and more particularly here, 
of ethics? Perhaps this is a misplaced question, which better framed, 
would ask about modernity, individuality and community? We al- 
ready know modernity's answers though. They come in the form of 
any number of structural configurations, among them liberal, social- 
ist, and conservative capitalism, socialism, communism, a blossom- 
ing variety of fascisms and nationalisms, imperialism, colonialism, 
guerillaism, and terrorism, which are supplemented by the Natoization 
of the New World Order, undeclared, "peace-keeping war," and tacti- 
:al, covert, "secret state" operations. Under the weight of the latter 
ormations, matched, if not outstripped by the speed of the multipli- 
:ation of difference at the global level, the possibility of any dialecti- 
:al process to stitch them together seems suspect. Without a (re)tuming 
some form of idealism or totalitarianism where raw power forces 
imilarity, it seems that there is little more than a profusion of an- 
swers. These answers are scattered about, as are the figures in Dali's 









6 Marc. J. LaFountain: Some Predicaments of Ethics in Postmodernity - Introduction 

painting, and the promise of some Utopia, or even more modestly, 
some moment of recompense and rest, seems unlikely. 

As differences open among and within relationships, groups, com- 
munities, tribes, and cultures, and as more and more of these differ- 
ences produce a surplus of particulars and singularities, the notion of 
communities and ethics becomes most problematic. For ethics depend 
upon and mark out communities. They are constituents of the tissue 
that grows community. The simple juxtaposition of individuals does 
not insure or even imply the existence of community, let alone caring 
or responsibility for others. Or, if it does, "we" must accustom our- 
selves to what that means. To design in advance a diverse community 
and /or to learn to live with immanent and contingent community 
demands a patient embracing of the difference between the event of 
ethnos/ethos and what falls out of the event that "we" then live with 
both radiantly and in affliction. Now "we" must endure the impossi- 
bility of difference instituted by difference itself. For the modernist 
subject who stakes his or her sense of community on an active, pro- 
ductive, sufficient sense of subjectivity and agency, this is a most cruel 
and ironic condition. Ethics become horribly unruly in these spaces. 
Postmodernity is one name for this space and event, and it exceeds 
the anomic modernity that worried Durkheim. 

Modernity's objective and hope, hke that of probably all premodem 
peoples and societies, was to dream the happy dream. Because, how- 
ever, the bridge is broken and the dream's fate somehow seems im- 
plicated in that rupture, it cannot be assumed that these individuals 
are lost, that their lives are meaningless, that there is no sense of com- 
munity or ethos in their midst. Where and what those meanings are 
and how that community can be understood though are indeed diffi- 
cult to figure. Contrary to the nihilism, pessimism, and cynicism typi- 
cally attributed to postmodernist thought, I suggest it confronts us 
anew with the enigma, irony and vexation, indeed the very impossi- 
bility of figuring the unfigurable. Postmodernist thought does not, 
however, simply free us from these difficulties. For as Bataille sug- 
gests in Inner Experience, we struggle to establish the essence of oui 
identity and being in community and exchange, but our essence is 
impossible. To arrive at this essence, however, requires that wc 
"emerge through the project from the realm of the project".^ At 
Bankston observes, ethics now seem to imply transgressiveness. Whei 
this is not understood properly, we find in America, for instance, tha 
Disneyworld, The Superbowl, and Madison Avenue are perhaps as 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 7 

much a problem as are drugs, violence, and sex: they are all perver- 
sions of the "sacred" exchanges between self and non-self that pro- 
mote ethics. In a related but quite different manner, Tobin Hart (this 
volume) cautiously approaches this notion by appealing to an experi- 
ence of the transpersonal whose deconstructive force in many ways 
promotes a similar posture of exchange between what can be ratio- 
nally constructed and what is beyond that reach. 

In articulating the necessity and impossibility of identity and com- 
munity, Bataille offered that the human "... is a particle inserted in 
unstable and tangled groups" (IE, p. 84). He further suggests that only 
the instability of relations permits the illusion of a being which is iso- 
lated and which exists without exchange. "Being is always a group of 
particles whose relative autonomies are maintained. These two prin- 
:iples - constitution transcending the constituent parts, relative au- 
tonomy of the constituents parts - orders the existence of each "be- 
ing" (IE, p. 85). In Bataille's view the transcendence of singularity and 
the resistance of singularity to transcendence are impossible to know 
3r identify as a unity. Yet "we" must try to find a way. Postmodernity 
may be taken as the event of that futile but obligatory attempt. The 
strange "communities" that will arise in these efforts require suppli- 
cation and patience, courage and fear of courage, an affirmation of 
passion, and a willingness to not know how they can be created until 
the event of their presence has already passed and "we" have only a 
trace of what they were to tell us what they are. Herein postmodern 
ethics, contrary to modernist ethics which tend to prefigure the event, 
can be discussed. 

Notions of movement, abandonment, perturbation, dislocation, hy- 
peractivity, passing, and the like conspire with other notions such as 
blindness, ignorance, contextlessness, and the like to produce a sense 
3f eventfulness rather than situatedness. Such considerations make 
Dther notions, such as subjectivity, agency and practice, highly prob- 
ematic. Feminist theorists have been particularly sensitive to the lat- 
:er, especially as they bear on considerations of the meanings of lo- 
:ale and subjectivity. Issues associated with standpoint, or lack thereof, 
lave given many theorists a means by which to critique and subvert 
I variety of constructions of woman. Feminists, like other critical theo- 
ists, acknowledge that living without location or identity can be both 
)eneficial and pernicious. As any questions of ethics necessarily im- 
)ly a notion of community and polis, positionality and locale become 

Marc. J. LnFoiiutain: Some Predicaments of Ethics in Postmodernity - Introduction 







Returning to Bataille's views of instability and constitution as a 
point of departure, feminists such as Irigaray, Kristeva, Cixous, and 
MacKinnon have labored to find undecidable and /or destabilized 
identity a beneficial condition. Agreeing perhaps more with Derrida 
than with Lacan, many poststructuralist or postmodernist feminists 
noted a strain among some feminists toward an essentializing of 
"woman," and like Derrida (though not necessarily agreeing with his 
politics), promoted the dream and desire for "innumerable ... [and] ... 
incalculable choreographies"*' which would multiply difference. Iris 
Young and Jane Flax's views that feminist practice should contribute 
to the unstable and disorderly nature of reality flows from these views. 
Donna Harraway's "cyborg" is one of the most well known celebra- 
tions of the latter. A subject-in-process is apparent in such formula- 
tions, and its absconding disposition renders it capable of avoiding 
being located too easily. As Paul Virilio observed in War and Cinema 
and The Aesthetics of Disappearance, taking up indeterminate positions 
foils the ocular machinery that fixes and thus destroys identity. It can 
be argued such feminist practices are a reversal or rejection of the war 
games of representation, a point advanced in Judith Butler's notion 
of gender as a contestable performance producing a field of 
undesignatable differences. 

Others have argued, however, that much of the 
abandonment-of-identity thinking stems from male writers who, hav- 
ing historically enjoyed a sense of identity and place, now find it stra- 
tegically exciting and worthwhile to live without identity and con- 
text. Among those highly resistant to the latter would be the cluster of 
feminists characterized by both Alice Echols and Hester Eisenstein as 
"cultural feminists". Writers such as Alcoff, Bordo and Probyn sug- 
gest that a sense of body and positionality are crucial to ethics and 
justice. Locale for such thinkers is not so much associated with fixity 
and identity, but with agency and the possibility of resistance, with a 
perspective on shifting practices and counter-practices, a view evi- 
dent in the works of Patricia Hill Collins, Audre Lorde, and Ynestra 
King. Suspicious of what Bordo named the "gender-scepticism" of 
postmodernists, Smith-Rosenberg's notion of the trickster, for instance, 
would be countered by Dorothy Smith, Patricia Williams, Seyla 
Benhabib or Nancy Eraser's concerns that there be a standpoint from 
which to counter fragmentation and the momentary politics of time 
and place. Who, LaFountain wonders in his essay, could Camille or 
Veronique be for these various writers? 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 9 

There is nothing about the name postmodernity that suggests that 
modernity is over or even that postmodernity has replaced it. Rather 
to use this name is to suggest that something compelling has irrupted 
and now stands in the vicinity of modernity. This something seems to 
be quite other than modernity, yet its enigmatic and paradoxical con- 
nections are complicit and insidiously complicated. To clearly demar- 
cate them is impossible. Rather than dedicate space and energy to a 
rehearsal of the differences between modernism and postmodernism, 
the focus here is on "postmodern ethics". The latter does include re- 
sponses to the postmodern "situation" from a modernist standpoint, 
that is, modernist ethical stances applied to postmodern issues. Yet 
the thinking and writing of postmodern ethics also requires attention 
to what can be named "postmodern" ethics. As the essays here 
struggle to demonstrate, modernist and postmodernist ethics are not j f 

one and the same. . ^;. 

Now we are surprised when we do understand each other rather 
than when we do not. We are also surprised now when "we" even 
question if "we" really do understand each other when we have sim- 
ply assumed we do. The latter may well be signs of postmodernity. 
This incredulity at mutual understanding is a reversal of modernity's 
assumption that as knowledge grew, so would mutual understand- 
ing. (The latter is well exemplified by the celebrated debate between 
Habermas and Gadamer who, despite their differences, have tried to 
reconstruct self and interpersonal understanding in the wake of 
modernity's ravages). The incredulity at mutual understanding, for 
sociology, of course, is a cruel twist. For, as Lemert has suggested in 
Sociology After the Crisis, sociologists have always posited mutual un- 
derstanding as the bedrock of all professional and "practical" sociolo- 
gies. That this ground is a question at all cannot be ignored, and the 
question will not disappear by simply reasserting a ground. 

The current tendency to celebrate the subjectivities and narratives 
of indigenous tribes, groups, communities, etc everywhere often is 
supported by appeal to Lyotard's notion of the petit recits which have 
flourished after the demise of the grand narratives of modernity. What 
is too often not considered though is that in The Dijferend he high- 
lighted another condition associated with postmodernity. That con- 
dition is that often when individuals or groups communicate, they 
assume they understand each other until a difficult situation arises, 
2.g., a question about what is ethical or just, when they are confronted 
^vith the utter undecidability of a means of settling what is in dispute. 



Marc. ]. LaFouiitain: Some Predicaments of Ethics in Postmodernity - Introduction 








It can be said that such situations have always arisen among and be- 
tween peoples. It perhaps also can be said of postmodernity that it is 
a scene where a profusion of undecidables multiplies. If postmodernity 
is a preponderance of the heterogenous and the different, then the 
decidability or sense of community, and ethics, is at stake. The prob- 
lem, however, is not to say there are no communities or ethics, but 
rather, to ask what sort of community can there be in the face of exor- 
bitant difference. Is there only, as Nancy and Lingis suggest, our im- 
pending death that binds us? Perhaps this was a subject of discussion 
near The Broken Bridge and the Dream? 

To contemplate questions of ethics requires attention to questions 
of how notions of agency and subjectivity, proximity and relation- 
ship, and meaning and reality can be constructed. While crucial to 
any possible ethos, constructing the latter does not per se generate 
ethos. For ethos is more than just the how and the substance of the 
construction. It is a sensitivity and dispensation, a benediction, which 
embraces and without whose embrace anything can happen even 
within a domain of mutual understanding. With ethos, of course, arise 
issues of justice. Justice itself is a dispensation of ethos, and as we 
witness almost daily, can rip apart ethos. Arrigo's essay critiques the 
sense of ethos that travels with modernity's versions of criminal Law. 

If then postmodernity is a scene where the ethical ground that trans- 
forms the proximity and juxtaposition of individuals into communi- 
ties by making them meaningful and coherent is in question, if not in 
utter disarray, what is to be done? Play with pieces, as some who 
miss his critical edge like to think Baudrillard advocates? In lost times 
the matter was not so difficult. It was taken care of by the gods, who 
Durkheim, Bataille, and others recognized as nothing less than the 
community sanctifying its own moral authority. If the gods have dis- 
appeared or died, rather than just having turned their backs, as sug- 
gested in Exodus, what is the fate of community? Tobin Hart's re- 
sponse to this question suggests that postmodernist thought, to be 
ethically viable, must acknowledge transpersonal experience as a con- 
stituent of revitalized moral authority. Not one inclined to defend 
modernity's version of ethics, he even maintains that the practice of 
deconstruction sustains transpersonal experience which carries with 
it an ethical demand. Hart draws on the traditions of Eastern and 
Western holistic psychologies, rather than on Levinas, as is common 
for many postmodernists, to argue for an experiential-epistemic ori- 
entation that doubles as ethical responsibility. 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 11 

Addressing the issue of postmodern sociality in light of what it 
means for ethics and for critical sociology, Zygmunt Bauman suggests, 
in Postmodern Ethics, that postmodernity is a time in which the moral- 
ization of social life may be enhanced. He suggests that postmodernity 
does not mean abandoning modernist ethical concerns (e.g., human 
rights, social justice), but it does mean rejecting modernity's means 
for dealing with those moral issues. Arrigo, Hart and Bankston 
squarely reject modernity's solutions. Hart's reliance on the teach- 
ings of holistic psychology and Bankston' s interest in Bataille's sense 
of the sacred, while as dramatically different as cognition and 
non-sauoir, nonetheless point in a parallel direction. For each leans on 
a sense of proximity and /or exchange, and articulates, each in his 
own fashion, a sense of the eventfulness of the unavowable commu- 
nity discussed in LaFountain's essay. 

Bauman's Postmodern Ethics is perhaps the first major sustained ■ j ^;, 

reflection on postmodern ethics put forward by a sociologist. Sug- 
gesting that postmodernity, though bleak, is an occasion for a renewal 
of community and moral action, it can be contrasted with John 
O'Neill's recent The Poverty of Postmodernism. O'Neill maintains that 
postmodernism is giddy, conceitedly bankrupt, and offers little but a 
distraction to moral decency. The essays in this volume take into ac- 
count issues raised by both authors, but dedicate themselves to nei- 
ther. For like modernity, postmodernity is multifaceted and cannot be 
placed in a neat economy. The tasks of the authors in this volume is 
thus to confront the problem of thinking about ethics in postmodernity. 
Such thinking does not center on democracy or socialism or other 
types of sociopolitical organization, but on issues of communion, car- 
ing, and responsibility. Modernity has already shown the ways it has 
promised and eroded the latter. Postmodern thinking arises in this 

The essays in this volume are not committed to an exclusive con- 
cern with the periodization or the philosophical status of 
postmodernism. Recognizing that both historical factors and philo- 
sophical issues are entwined, they acknowledge that aspects of ultra- 
modern, hyperreal society are as important as are philosophical no- 
tions found in the works of thinkers from Buddha to Plotinus to 
Nietzsche. It is obvious, as Drucilla Cornell, Jameson, and Baudrillard 
have pointed out, that hegemonic codes of imperial power have pro- 
foundly influenced social existence. To focus exclusively on advanced 


Marc. }. LaFountain: Some Predicaments of Ethics in Postmodernity - Introduction 

industrial society, mass consumption or patriarchal legalism though 
is to risk proposing a totalizing critique to a supposedly totalizing 
problem. The essays presented here thus are varied in their positive 
and negative appraisals of both modernity and postmodernity and 
each is guided by an effort to discern what "postmodern ethics" and/ 
or "ethics" in postmodernity might mean or signify. 


' Andre Breton, Mad Love, trans. Mary Ann Caws (Lincoln: University of Nebraska 
Press, 1987), p. 8. 

'Andre Breton, Point du jour (Paris: Gallimard, 1934), p. 250. 

^For instance, see Maurice Blanchot, The Unavowable Community, trans. Pierre Joris 
(Barrytown, NY: Station Hill Press, 1988) and Jean-Luc Nancy, The Inoperative Com- 
munity, trans. Peter Connor, L. Garbus, M. Holland, and S. Sawhney (Minneapolis: 
University of Minnesota Press, 1991). 

* Anne McClintock, "The Angel of Progress: Pitfalls of the Term Tost-colonialism,' in 
Colonial Discourse and Post-Colonial Theory, eds. Patrick Williams and L. Chrisman 
(New York: Columbia University Press, 1994). 

^Georges Bataille, Inner Experience, trans. Leslie Anne Boldt (Albany: State Univer- 
sity of New York, 1988), p. 46. Henceforth cited as IE. 

^Jacques Derrida and Christie V. McDonald, "Choreographies," Diacritics, 12:2 (1982), 
pp. 66-76. 

Ethics as Excess: Toward a 
''Postmodern'' Approach to Social 


Carl L. Bankston III 

This essay attempts to look at the primary strains of modernist 
thinking on ethics by discussing three classical thinkers who, it is ar- 
gued, embody fundamental tendencies in modernist ethics. Hobbes 
saw ethics in human behavior in terms of two forms of Nature, the 
State of Nature and Natural Reason. Ethical development, for Hobbes 
and his intellectual descendants, is a matter of the repression of the 
State of Nature by Natural Reason. Locke understood human nature 
as the product of external forces, but maintained the existence of ab- 
solute moral notions. In this view, ethics do not exist in human be- 
ings, but through experience humans somehow develop ethical stan- 
dards that conform to pre-existing eternal patterns. In the writings of 
Rousseau, we can find a "true self" in which ethical principles reside. 
The ethical development of human beings consists of the rediscovery 
of this "true self," which provides an ultimate code by which the world 
may be judged. 

The essay suggests that one solution to the problem of finding a 
"postmodern" ethics as an alternative to the centered, universal, posi- 
tivistic principles of modernism, may be found in a reading of Georges 
Bataille's ideas on excess and waste as wellsprings of human behav- 
ior. These ideas provide a basis for understanding ethical codes as 
emergent structures. 

Beyond this, the essay argues that the approach to ethics suggested 
3y Bataille's work can serve as a strategy for radical liberation, since 
it can be used to negate external and objective normative patterns 
imposed on self and others. Being aware of the provisional nature of 
normative structures can help us to approach the emptiness, or de- 
sire, that produces these normative structures. This can help to sub- 
v^ert the closed, subject-object dualism of rationalist ethics in favor of 
an ethics (or anti-ethics) of sustained negation and openness. 


Carl L. Bankston 111: Ethics as Excess: Toward a 'Postmodern' Approach to Social Ethics 









Introduction: Postmodernism and the Problem of Ethics 

Since roughly the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries, Western so- 
cial thought has been based on an image of "modem man" as a uni- 
tary, atomistic, and definable self operating through rationality in a 
world of objects that behave according to universal and deterministic 
rules^ This image developed from the Aristotelian tradition of West- 
ern European rationalism as modern capitalism began to take its clas- 
sical form in Western Europe, and we may see this image of the self in 
the cosmos as an expression of the social relations embedded in mod- 
ern capitalism, since as Durkheim and Mauss argued^ the logical re- 
lations expressed by a society are social relations "extended to the 

Domination, of objects and of other selves interpreted as objects, is 
essential to the modern image of the rational self. "Implicit in the no- 
tion of the rational individual is the idea of domination. To be rational 
is to exercise control, to effect, to produce" \ A knowing subject dis- 
solves itself into a smooth, hegemonic center from which all entities 
outside the subject radiate according to the rules of the eternal, that is, 
according to the instrumentalities of control. The epistemology de- 
duced from the modern image of the self is a matter of discovering 
the Laws of Nature, the cosmic mechanics of control. The system of 
ethics deduced from this image is a matter of discovering the Natural 
Law, the universal rules of behavior that are imposed from the infi- 
nite center (i.e., the realm of the pure subject) upon the objects in the 
social world. 

Classical capitalism reached its peak from the late nineteenth 
through the first half of the twentieth centuries. The static, hierarchi- 
cal perspective that developed along with classical ("factory") capi- 
talism and was projected by it onto the physical and social environ- 
ments was appropriate both to hierarchical relations within the 
nation-state and to hierarchical relations among nation-states. Since 
the mid-twentieth century, though, while factories and their patterns 
of social relations have not disappeared, they have increasingly come 
under challenge from new permutations of capitalism. The "repres- 
sive desublimation" of the consumerist society that has grown out of 
increasing surplus production^ has created a multiplicity of desires in 
place of the unitary asceticism of investment, production, and invest- 
ment. The corresponding technological sophistication of an 
information-based economy is, at the same time, unintentionally chal- 

West Georgia College Studies in Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 15 

lenging the older, modernist pattern of unified perspectival control 
(DPC p. 12). 

Changes in economy and technology create uncertainty and pro- 
duce the preconditions for an alternative to the paradigm of classical, 
modernist social relations. Earlier in the century, challenges to the ra- 
tionalization of social relations began to appear in forms of human 
endeavor that were heir to the historical tradition of the arts, in such 
practices as Dada^ and Surrealism^ "Postmodernism" is in some ways 
a successor to these practices, since the term has come to be used to 
describe a set of intellectual predispositions based on the search for 
"the abandonment of a center, privileged reference points, fixed sub- 
jects, first principles, and an origin" (DP, p. 20). In place of the mod- 
ern rational, unitary self dominating a coherent world of discover- 
able, systematic certainties, the postmodern perspective posits a self 
emerging from a confluence of diverse experiences, arbitrary forms 
of social relations, and systems of communication." 

By making possible the perception of an alternative to modernist 
rationality, these economic and technological changes have also made 
possible the perception of some of the destructive effects of instru- 
mental modernism. Within the realm of social relations, dominating 
rationality has been seen as leading to brutal and exploitative rela- 
tions among social actors (DPC; FRK). In the physical environment, it 
has been seen as a source of degradation and destruction.^ 

Thinkers associated with the postmodern program have generally 
concerned themselves primarily with issues related to epistemology 
with how social relations produce ways of knowing. The goal of this 
essay is focus on ethics, on the ideas that humans have about how 
they ought to behave. It attempts to look at the primary strains of 
modernist thinking on ethics by discussing three classical thinkers 
who, it is argued, embody fundamental tendencies in modernist eth- 
ics. Then, it will argue that one solution to the problem of finding a 
postmodern" ethics as an alternative to the centered, universal, posi- 
tivistic principles of modernism, may be found in a reading of Georges 
Bataille's ideas on excess and waste as wellsprings of human behav- 

I. Hobbes: Social Ethics as Tutelary Repression 

Writing in the seventeenth century, Thomas Hobbes was an ethical 
modernist in his emphasis on individual interests, in his belief in a 


Carl L. Bnnkston III: Ethics as Excess: Toumrd a 'Postmodern' Approach to Social Ethics 











universal moral order beyond those interests, and in his faith in con- 
tract and convention as means of reshaping individual interests in 
accordance with the moral order. It is too easy to look back at Hobbes 
from our historical distance and misinterpret him as arguing, along 
the lines of Foucault, that the principles underlying social relations 
are expressions of competing power relations. Hobbes did see the at- 
tempt to exercise power, at an individual level, as one of the elements 
in the production of a social order. Since every individual attempts to 
maximize self-interest, all individuals, ceteris paribus, engage in unre- 
stricted competition. "During the time men live without a common 
Power to keep them in awe, they are in that condition which is called 
Warre," a war "of every man against every man.""* 

The pursuit of self-interest is for Hobbes, though, only part of the 
story, and Hobbes was not the radical individualist that exclusive at- 
tention to this part of the story would suggest. For Hobbes posited, in 
addition to the anarchic "State of Nature," a pre-existing and abso- 
lute "Natural Reason," the realization of which provides a transition 
from anarchy to an ethical and orderly social existence. As Wrong^" 
has pointed out, it is questionable whether individuals have interests 
apart from those created by social ties, since even the striving for sta- 
tus, property, or control over other humans necessarily involves a 
shared valuation of status, property, or control. Even a "game theo- 
retic" interpretation of Hobbes" (see Hampton, 1986, for a discussion 
of approaches to Hobbes in terms of the Prisoner's Dilemma game) 
must take into account some underlying means of creating game rules 
and goals. Individuals can always simply refuse to participate in so- 
cial processes (PO, p. 56); the game must be set up, in other words, 
before they can play it, so that particular games cannot simply emerge 
from compromise on rational self-interests^-. 

Like a true modernist, Hobbes saw virtue among humans as a mat- 
ter of the gradual realization of Reason out of passion. Hobbes' fa- 
mous state of nature, R.E. Ewin has argued^\ was not so much a an 
actual pre-social condition as it was a heuristic concept. The state of 
nature is the state in which humans give full reign to their natural 
passions, and the more humans are controlled by their natural pas- 
sions, the closer they come to a complete state of nature, although this 
state is probably never perfectly realized, as families and other pat- 
terns of obligations and cooperation never completely disappear (VR, 
pp. 123-124). 

West Georgia College Studies in Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 17 

Why should humans establish social contracts? Surely those who 
are in a Hobbesian state of nature, that is, under the sway of irrational 
passions, are unsuited to compromises leading to the fearful creation 
of contractarian obligations. Rather, social cooperation was seen by 
Hobbes as an ongoing means and product of ethical tutelage. Human 
beings "play the game" of society, we might say, because a set of rules 
exist prior to any particular playing (GL, p. 68). Hobbes saw these 
rules as "laws of nature." "Laws of nature prescribe, among other 
things, that people be grateful, sociable, forgiving, and not vengeful, 
hateful, or proud. "^'* 

In the process of dealing with other humans, in this interpretation 
of Hobbes, people become rational and therefore virtuous: they do 
not create relativistic virtues out of selfish striving. In contemporary 
sociological terms, we might say that social ethics are produced by 
normative socialization, but the socialization is a matter of the culti- 
vation of a universal pattern for social interaction, rather than a mat- 
ter of the inculcation of arbitrary values. Reason represses passion; 
the Laws of Nature repress the State of Nature. 

Psychological repression and political repression in this moral phi- 
losophy are parallel clauses in the social contract. Humans do not 
establish a social contract because they automatically see it is in their 
interest to do so. Being part of a regulated (that is, "ruled") social 
order (covenant) means that they cultivate the habit of reason, take 
on a character different from that of people in the passion-guided state 
of nature, and behave in accordance with the social contract. Thus, 
Hobbes portrayed justice as carrying out contractual obligations and 
injustice as the violation of contractual obligations, as disrupting an 
order that is moral because it is rational and rational because it is 
moral (L, p. 202). 

Because the repression in this movement from the State of Nature 
to the Laws of Nature is psychological, ethics in the writings of Hobbes 
hearken back to the original, Greek sense of the word ethos: character. 
Becoming a just and rational person (a "civilized" person, as the nine- 
teenth century would have it) meant more than simply acting in a just 
manner; it meant developing a character that led one to desire justice, 
in the sense of fulfillment of social contractual obligations (SMV, p. 
112). The rule of reason is the rule of the sovereign. The former is the 
internal means of preventing the passions from erupting into the or- 
derly working of character, and the latter is the external means of 


Carl L. Bankston HI: Ethics as Excess: Toward a 'Postmodern' Approach to Social Ethics 

preventing the passions from erupting into the orderly working of 
social relations. 

This Hobbesian repressive dualism has continued to run through 
the thinking of a large segment of modernist social theory, but it may 
be most clearly identified in the classical Freudian model of humans 
in society. "He (Freud) conceives of the self not as an abstract entity, 
uniting experience and cognition, but as the source of a struggle be- 
tween two objective forces - unregenerate instincts and overbearing 
culture." ^^^ Like Hobbes, Freud tended to see instinct (or Trieb in the 
original German; "drive" would probably be a better translation) as 
innate and individualistic. Hobbes' passions perhaps emphasized 
domination, while Freud's instincts or drives emphasized sexuality, 
but there is no necessary inconsistency between these emphases. Both 
derive from a conviction that humans are innately moved toward 
antisocial self-satisfaction. Like Hobbes, Freud saw humans as mov- 
ing toward a social state by means of a tutelary process of repression 
that would develop a character capable of subordinating anarchic 
desires to the civilizing rule of reason. 

For Freud, as well as for Hobbes, the "natural" or "primitive" state 
was an allegorical historicizing, rather than a statement of actual an- 
thropological development. Totem and Taboo^'', for example, is mean- 
ingful only as an allegory of Freud's view of human nature. The kill- 
ing of the father (the introduction of guilt into human social relations) . 
and the establishment of a social contract among the murderous and 
rivalrous brothers is a Hobbesian tale of the creation of social order 
from the mutual repression of self-seeking passions. 

The "immoral man, moral society" tradition inherited from Hobbes 
continues to be influential in contemporary social thinking, often 
deeply colored by Freudian influences. One manifestation of this 
Hobbesian tradition among thinkers who have attracted attention in 
recent years is Camille Paglia. Paglia's writing, it is true, often lacks 
the precision of her great forbears, Hobbes and Freud, careening wildly 
among its subjects in amphetamine discursiveness, but that her ideas 
descend from the principles of Hobbes cannot be doubted. I mention 
her here because her popularity (notoriety?) shows how these prin- 
ciples continue to flourish. 

Paglia casts her basic ideas in the same historical mold that Hobbes 
and Freud used to give shape to their ideas: "In the beginning was 
nature. The background from which and against which our ideas of 
God were formed, nature remains the supreme moral problem ... So- 


West Georgia College Studies in Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 19 

ciety is an artificial construction, a defense against nature's power."^^ 
Nature for Paglia, which always has red claws and teeth, exists inside 
of human beings as sexuality (seen chiefly as sado-masochistic, a merg- 
ing of the emphases of Hobbes and Freud) and its violence is repressed, 
controlled, and shaped by the civilizing, tutelary influence of an ab- 
solute social order. 

II. Locke: the Contradictions of Moral Notions 

Locke has been characterized as a derivative thinker, a follower of 
Hobbes. "Although Locke, by virtue of his later position with respect 
to Hobbes, could give more explicit emphasis to individual rights, 
the fact remains that it was Hobbes's own brilliant sketching of the 
political environment of individualism that made the later system 
possible. "^^ Locke's debt to Hobbes may be revealing, suggesting the ■ i l'^ 

evolution of modern liberalism from modern conservatism and the 
continuing links between the two intellectual tendencies. Locke's so- 
cial ethics, though, represent an important deviation from Hobbes, 
and the fragmentary and contradictory nature of Locke's ideas about 
ethics continues to haunt the ethical notions of liberalism in the social 

We are accustomed to thinking of the modernist view of the uni- 
verse as a unified whole, a rational order, the undermining of which 
has left us lost in an epistemological and moral funhouse. But Locke's 
difficulties in putting together some of the key assumptions of mod- 
ernism, specifically positivism and universalism, suggest that these 
assumptions may not really fit together at all. Locke is best known for 
his image of human nature as tabula rasa. In his Essay Concerning Hu- 
man Understanding^'^, he argued against the idea that human beings 
are born with innate ideas. He maintained, instead, that the ideas of 
humans are created by experience. 

Moral notions are also, according to Locke, experiential in nature 
and character. Because many people can break moral precepts with- 
out feelings of guilt, he argued in Book I of the Essay, it is clear that the 
precepts are not written in the hearts of all, that they must be prod- 
ucts of experience and habit. This claim placed Locke's positivism at 
odds with the demands of universalism. Richard Hooker, in the first 
volume of his great work. Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity^^ had ar- 
gued that there is a Natural Law and that its rules can be known by 
all through reason because they are written in the conscience of each 


Carl L. Bankston III: Ethics as Excess: Toward a 'Postmodern' Approach to Social Ethics 

person. It is clear that Locke's positivism, his belief that ethical ideas 
are results of external causes, undermines this universalism. If ethical 
precepts are products of experience, then, since, experiences vary from 
individual to individual and from place to place, ethics will vary from 
place to place, just as billiard balls struck from different angles roll in 
different directions. 

Does this mean that Locke discarded ethics altogether as illusory, 
or that he regarded them as legalistic conventions in an essentially 
lawless universe? The philosopher John Colman has argued against 
this interpretation of Locke, maintaining that Locke saw moral no- 
tions as archetypes, in the same sense that mathematical concepts are 
archetypes: they are abstract principles that exist prior to and inde- 
pendently of human discovery of them.-^ A universal Natural Law, in 
other words, has been superimposed on atomistic and deterministic 
human experience. Even though we are born with no knowledge of 
the Law, and our ideas about laws and rules are derived from impres- 
sions from the physical world, these chance impressions somehow 
bring us into conformity with the absolute. It would appear that the 
structure of this physical world that creates our moral notions is such 
that we learn happiness is produced by acting in consonance with the 
Natural Law, which is completely external to us. 

Locke's ethical dualism is even stranger than that of Hobbes, but it 
is perhaps even more symptomatic of the complexities of modernist 
social ethics. The idea of unformed individuals being shaped by ex- 
perience into conformity with an external rational order continues to 
be a core assumption of much sociological thinking. In American so- 
ciology, Talcott Parsons has been one of the foremost exponents of a 
Lockean-style dualism consisting of abstract forms and the experien- 
tial shaping of individuals toward conformity with those forms. 

Social acts. Parsons tells us, "do not occur singly and discretely, 
they are organized in systems."--^ There is a normative order, a source 
of "standards of value-orientation" (including moral standards) that 
exists outside of any particular individual (thus constituting a socio- 
logical equivalent of Natural Law) (SS, p. 13). Conformity to these 
standards makes social interaction possible for Parsons, as the acqui- 
sition of pre-existing moral notions makes social interaction possible 
for Locke. 

The standards of social interaction are not genetic in character (SS, 
p. 205). They involve the shaping of individual minds by the process 
of experience. Socialization entails the shaping of the 

West Georgia College Studies in Social Sciences, XXXUI, 1995 21 

value-orientations of the individual along lines that reproduce the 
dominant values of the social system (SS. p. 227). 

If the code (the pattern of value-orientations) is not to be found 
inside of the individual (if they exist prior to and independently of 
individual discovery), however, where does it reside? In the social 
system, many sociologists would answer. But this turns "society" into 
a kind of absolute, an almost theological source of Law. This Law some- 
how comes into existence among social actors, even though it does 
not exist inside of any of them, and the actors come into conformity 
with it as a result of externally imposed experiences that somehow 
happen to provide the necessary combination of forces. 

III. Rousseau: The Rediscovery of the Inner Absolute 

Rousseau's image of human nature is often contrasted with that of 
Hobbes. Hobbes, it is said, saw humans as evil by nature, requiring 
restraint, while Rousseau saw humanity as fundamentally good, in 
need of liberation from the confinements of institutional artifice. This 
popular view is something of an oversimplification, but Rousseau did 
tend to see ties among human beings as existing inside of individu- 
als, rather than as externally imposed in a Hobbesian manner. At the 
core of human nature, Rousseau argues, are two "drives," "self-love" 
and "pity": "the one interests us deeply in our own preservation and 
welfare, the other inspires us with a natural aversion to seeing any 
other being, but especially any other being like ourselves, suffer or 
perish. "^^ 

It is clear that these two "drives," although they may come into 
conflict in specific instances (such as when one must "kill or be killed") 
are intimately linked: we identify ourselves with others and our in- 
terest in our own preservation is mingled with an interest in the pres- 
ervation of others. But these two fundamentals do not determine hu- 
man social action, because their quality and expression is shaped by 
Tee agency (DOF, p. 186). Human beings perfect (or corrupt) them- 
selves through the choices they make. 

The basis of ethical behavior, then, lies inside of human beings but 
it is not automatically expressed. Nor are choices made in a vacuum; 
choices, and therefore possibilities for perfection or corruption are pro- 
foundly affected by the environment and can be changed by changes 
in the environment. The greatest changes in the social environment, 
n Rousseau's view, resulted from technological change. As technolo- 


Cad L. Bankston 111: Ethics as Excess: Toward a 'Postmodern' Approach to Social Ethics 












gies of production became more sophisticated, particularly as the arts 
of agriculture and metallurgy came into being, surpluses came into 
existence. Since people had unequal abilities to take portions of the 
surplus, social inequality came into existence, bringing with it com- 
petition and also insincerity, dissimulation in order to achieve posi- 
tion (DOF). 

An advanced society, therefore, serves both to introduce conflicts 
of interest among human beings and to alienate humans from their 
"true selves." This leads people to make choices that lead away from 
their own perfection because it distances them from this "true self," 
the locus of ethical decision in which there is a unity of self-interest 
and altruism. Rousseau has reversed Hobbes and Locke, taking the 
ethical absolutes out of the heavens and placing them into the soul. 

The fact that ethical behavior is not automatically expressed, how- 
ever, means that learning occupies an important place in Rousseau's 
schema. But this learning is not a repressive imposition of universal 
absolutes, as it is for Hobbes, nor is it a fortuitous socialization of 
unformed individuals into pre-existing patterns, as it is in the Lockean 
tradition. Education, for Rousseau, entails the gradual and develop- 
mental rediscovery of the true self. 

Rousseau's philosophy of education is clearest, perhaps, in his 
Emile}^ There, he describes the ideal education of a hypothetical child 
in terms of a series of developmental stages, each of which are deter- 
mined by the stages of growth experienced by all children. The goal 
of this developmental cultivation has been described as "education," 
rather than "socialization": "the goals of education should be kept 
separate from the goals, values, and prejudices which prevail in the 
larger society. Emile is not going to be socialized into any role or set of 
social expectations, but will be educated to become an autonomous 
person."^^ Because the source of ethical judgement lies, in some sense, 
inside the person, a moral education entails the development of the 
capacity to understand and apply deductions from an inner absolute. 
"A good education implies, for Rousseau, that the child develops the 
ability, and the disposition, to submit all the received norms and ex- 
pectations to the scrutiny of his or her moral principle" (MA, p. 71). 

Ethical behavior, from this perspective, is a matter of the gradual 
and guided rediscovery of an inner absolute. Moral principles are 
pre-existing standards, but standards to "be drawn out of a natural 
conscience rather than found in a Nature outside of the individual. 
Rousseau's modernism, then, is a humanistic and in some ways radi- 

West Georgia College Studies in Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 23 

cal modernism, but it is within the boundaries of modernist thinking 
on self and society. There is a definite self in this model, and there is a 
center, albeit an internal center, from which moral principles are de- 
rived and imposed on an objective world. Ethical behavior is pro- 
duced by a developmental process of discovery of the true self. 

The model of Rousseau continues to be found in the contemporary 
social sciences, most conspicuously in several schools of psychology. 
Rousseau might be thought of as the father of developmental and 
life-cycle approaches to psychology, with his insistence that instruc- 
tion had to follow the stages that occur in the course of human life. 
Contemporary developmental approaches tend to share with 
Rousseau an optimism derived from the idea that people are evolv- 
ing toward some desirable state. ^^ 

However, it is among the humanistic and radical psychologists that 
Rousseau's ideas about the gradual unfolding of a true self, where 
self-interest and altruism exist in union, that Rousseau's ethical con- 
cepts continue to wax strongest. Humanistic psychology, most closely 
associated with the work of Carl Rogers, takes over the idea that hu- 
man beings are developing toward the realization of a true and ideal 
self. In Rogers' classic Client-Centered Therapy/'^ he portrays humans 
as having an ideal self, which is approached by the process of 

The radical Freudian revisionists have carried this idea of a true 
and ultimately ethical self even further. In much the same way that 
Rousseau stood Hobbes on his head by taking the Natural Law out of 
the heavens and placing it in the soul, the "Left Freudians" have up- 
ended the Hobbesian Freud, finding virtue in release, rather than in 
repression. Marcuse, for example, has found aggression (Thanatos) 
in the repression of the id and liberation in the id's free expression of 
sensuality (Eros) (EC). Norman O. Brown has expressed similar ideas 
in more eschatological terms, arguing that the human race must turn 
away from "the path of sublimation" and toward the return of re- 
pressed corporeal existence, the "Resurrection of the Body."^^ 

These last descendants of Rousseau have, perhaps, come closest to 
moving beyond the limits of modernism. Marcuse criticizes techno- 
logical and instrumental rationalization as forms of domination.^^ 
Brown challenges the idea of fixed personalities (LB, pp. 90-108). But 
the continuing idea that there is a repressed self, "the body of infancy" 

I LAD, p. 48), that can ultimately be rediscovered indicates that the 

24 Carl L. Bankston III: Ethics as Excess: Toivard a 'Postmodern' Approach to Social Ethics 

edge him or not) in the search for an absolute code that has been dis- 
placed from the ego /head /heavens to the id /body /soul. 

IV. Bataille: Ethics as Excess 

A. Surplus, Gift-Giving, and Ethical Relations 

Each of the tendencies expressed by the three modernist thinkers 
discussed above shows the attempt to impose a Lyotardian "totality" 
on an unruly social reality. Hobbes posited two "Natures," an anethical 
Nature of Human Nature and an ethically absolute Nature of Natural 
Law. In this approach, repression is the origin of ethics, through the 
imposition of Natural Law on Human Nature. Locke, also, fell into a 
dualistic image. The nature of the human is a matter of chance experi- 
ence. Through chance experiences, however, humans are led towards 
a pre-existing ethical absolute and meet the demands of this absolute, 
much as humans in the Parsonian model happen to be socialized to- 
ward the functional requirements of a society. For Rousseau, harken- 
^ ing back to an innate absolute, ethical principles are inborn, but these 

i principles have somehow been obscured by social institutions. Para- 

r doxically, in Rousseau's model, society has distorted social character. 

\ Rousseau's model manages to humanize ethics by bringing morality 

t out of an eternal Natural Law that lies beyond the human, but it re- 

g mains trapped in the modernist idea of a self that is the source of 

r absolute principles to which an external, objective world is subjected. 

Are social ethics only conceivable in absolute terms? Can there be 
^ a "postmodern" ethics, that is, an immanent, de-centered, emergent, 

contingent ethics that moves toward no pre-ordained end? In this 
final section of the essay, I would like to argue that such an approach 
to ethics in the social sciences is possible, and that its rudiments can 
perhaps be found in the writings of Georges Bataille. Furthermore, I 
i would like to maintain that such an approach, by dissolving images 

^ of human behavior as deriving from external and objective sources, 

3 can be seen as a strategy of radical liberation. 

3 At the core of Bataille's thinking on human behavior lie the con- 

t cepts of surplus and waste. "I will begin," Bataille writes in The Ac- 

t cursed Share, "with a basic fact: The living organism, in a situation 

a determined by the play of energy on. the surface of the globe, ordi- 

narily receives more energy than is necessary for maintaining life; the 
excess energy (wealth) can be used for the growth of a system (e.g., an 
organism); if the system can no longer grow, or if the excess cannot be 

West Georgia College Studies in Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 25 

completely absorbed in its growth, it must necessarily be lost without 
profit; it must be spent, willingly or not, gloriously or catastrophi- 
cally.'""^ The basic problem of humanity and, indeed, the basic prob- 
lem of living matter in general is the expenditure of excess energy, or 
waste, useless consumption. 

When consumption is described as useless, however, this does not 
mean the consumption is without results. War, catastrophic waste, 
certainly has effects beyond the human organisms who are casting off 
their surplus through violence. Literal destruction, however, is not 
the only way to dissipate a surplus. A surplus may also be displaced 
into activity that is, from the point of view of the individual, pure 
uselessness, luxury. Any externalizing of energy is waste from the 
perspective of the system, whether the energy is simply burned up 
(which is actually a transformation rather than a loss of energy) or 
dumped into activities outside the system. Thus, the growth of pyra- 
mids and stock exchanges occurs from the continual dumping of sur- 
plus by individuals into a collective pool, a sewer. "I insist that there 
is generally no growth, but only a luxurious squandering of energy in 
every form!" (ASI, p. 33). 

Bataille identifies three luxuries in nature: eating, death, and sexual 
reproduction. Each luxury is an establishment of relations between 
self and not-self. Eating wastes energy because through eating more 
efficient systems (simple plants, animals lower on the food chain) lose 
themselves to less efficient systems, the eaters and predators who im- 
pose heavier burdens on the environment, are further from 
self-sufficiency, and squander more life in each moment of existence. 

In death a system squanders all of its energy, yields up all of its 
energy to the surrounding environment. Destruction creates an abso- 
lute unity between self and not-self. 'Tn this respect, the luxury of 
death is regarded by us in the same way as that of sexuality, first as a 
negation of ourselves, then - in a sudden reversal - as the profound 
truth of that movement of which life is the manifestation" (ASI, pp. 

It is in sexuality, though, that the paradoxical nature of squander- 
ing becomes clearest. Through sexuality, individuals give up their own 
energies, their own possibilities for growth, and give their possibili- 
ties away to the species. Following Bataille's logic, we might say that 
sexual activity is the original gift. "If, with regard to the species, sexu- 
ality appears as growth, in principle it is nevertheless the luxury of 
individuals. This characteristic is more accentuated in sexual repro- 

26 Cnrl L. Bankston III: Ethics as Excess: Toumrd a 'Postmodern' Approach to Social Ethics 

duction, where the individuals engendered are clearly separate from 
those that engender them and give them life as one gives to others" 
(ASI, p. 35). 

Squandering, then, both gives birth to new life out of the waste of 
the old life and it links individual entities to other entities, thereby 
giving rise to new systems and to larger systems (meta-sy stems?) that 
contain and subsume the luxurious wasters that have brought them 
into existence. Bataille refers to the expenditures that create larger 
systems by producing ties among individuals as "the sacred."^' 

This idea of society, the union of individuals into a pattern of so- 
cial ties, as the sacred in human life is drawn, of course, from 
Durkheim."*^ But while Durkheim tended to see society as existing 
prior to individuals and shaping the normative development of indi- 
viduals, in this version of Bataille and his colleagues we can see hu- 
man society, and its normative underpinnings, emerging from the 
process of social interaction. This interaction is, echoing the later Freud, 
n erotic in character: "love expresses a need for sacrifice: Each unity 

must lose itself in some other that exceeds it."^-' 
^ Instead of portraying normative patterns among individuals as the 

imposition of an abstract code upon actors or as the shaping of actors 
^ in accordance with an external code or even as the realization and 

* manifestation of an internal code, the perspective offered by Bataille 

€ gives us a picture of normative patterns spinning out of the actors' 

{ abandonment of themselves because the creations of self have become 

a too much for them. Not only does this picture offer a contrast to the 

J universalism of the modernist mentality, it also subverts the latter 's 

r rationalism. Ethical behavior is not developed by learning to behave 

in accordance with Reason, it is produced by the internal impetus 
toward the Sacred. 

One is reminded, here, of Max Weber's description of the evolu- 
tion of ethics. Weber described ethics as evolving from a magical ethics 
to a religious ethic of norms to an ethic of principle (MA, pp. 122-133). 
Each of these types is associated with a particular type of society. The 
first, in which human behavior is guided by taboos enforced by spir- 
its, might be thought of asxiescribing tribal societies. The second, in 
which behavior is guided by moral prescriptions, might be thought 
of as characteristic of traditional, religiously based societies. The third, 
in which behavior is guided by internalization of principle (such as 
the "Protestant Ethic") can be understood as describing the capitalist, 
industrializing societies. The third type, as the type connected with 

West Georgia College Studies in Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 27 

the modernist mentality, is the ethic within which Hobbes, Locke, and 
Rousseau and their descendants have operated. 

Weber's system of ethical evolution is consistent with the earlier 
conceptions of ethical change of Hegel. Hegel conceived of ethical 
notions as developing from Sittlichkeit, or obedience to conventions 
and customs, to Moralitat, or conformity to abstract universal prin- 
ciples found in individual consciences.''^ This development, in Hegel's 
view, initially weakens the ties that bind human communities by sepa- 
rating the subjective realm of the reflective individual from the objec- 
tive realm of collective life. Eventually, however, moral principle and 
community needs are expected to reach a synthesis, a balance between 
subjective perception of right and wrong and the objective require- 
ments of shared life.^^ 

The "ethics as excess" approach that I am describing here fits into 
the Weberian and Hegelian schemata as additional categories, but it 
also undercuts the linear evolutionary assumptions of these schemata; 
although, as we will see, Hegelian notions of development continue 
to haunt Bataille's thinking. In its emphasis on the sacred character of 
normative patterns in human society and in its insistence on the con- 
creteness of social obligations, the Bataille perspective would seem to 
circle back, in many respects, to the magical ethics of Weber. This would 
suggest that the "evolution" of ethics only seems like an evolution 
when viewed from the standpoint of the third category: from the view- 
point of absolute principle, all movement is linear movement toward 
absolute principle. 

This view does not circle back completely, however. A spiral might 
be a more accurate geometric metaphor. While it moves away from 
abstract principle and toward the sacred, it also sees the sacred char- 
acter of normative ties as produced by social interactions, rather than 
as a pre-existing state into which social actors enter. Thus, festivals, 
ceremonies of expenditure, do not call the spirits back to the human 
world or repeat the eternal mythical time of the beginnings so much 
as they re-produce, through their intensity, the sacredness which is 
social interaction.^^ 

In place of the Hegelian model of "custom, principle, 
custom-enlightened-by-principle," an ethics as excess strategy would 
imply seeing both customs and principles as limitations on pure ex- 
penditure that lose sight of the primal nature of expenditure itself. At 
this point, it may be useful to recall Bataille's objections to 
Levi-Strauss's argument on the origins of the prohibition against in- 

28 Carl L. Bankston HI: Ethics as Excess: Toward a 'Postmodern' Approach to Social Ethics 

cest. Levi-Strauss maintained, according to Bataille, that this prohibi- 
tion came about as "a distributive system of exchange. "^^ To engage 
in sexual relations with one's own daughters would be a matter of 
hoarding the sexual wealth in one's own family. Establishing rules 
against this kind of extreme endogamy establishes reciprocal relations 
among groups of people, it creates avenues of exchange that make 
possible "the extension of alliances and of power" (ASH, p. 47). 

But the practical advantages of gift-giving, Bataille argues, are not 
sufficient to explain why people renounce things and bestow them 
on others. There is always an arbitrariness in definitions of what con- 
stitutes incest, and if we explain gift-giving by alliances, we must ex- 
plain why people choose one set of alliances over another. The act of 
giving itself is the motivation for renunciation; it is an act of pure 

Levi-Strauss's explanation (like the Hegelian obedience to custom 
or to conscience) concentrates on the prohibition, justified as a require- 
ment of community life or as a rational calculation for profit. But this 
^ explanation is really an act of bad faith. It involves taking the limita- 

i tions of self-abandonment, the results of squandering, as the 

r self-abandonment, the squandering, itself This kind of explanation, 

\ like the interpretation of normative patterns as obedience to social 

t givens or universal principles, is interpreting gift-giving simply as a 

g matter of not-keeping. 

r- Objective ethical systems, then, rationalized as taboos or customs 

or principles, offer ex post facto explanations of the forms arbitrarily 
produced by self-abandonment. Marriage ceremonies typically involve 
so much giving of gifts because they are occasions for moving across 
boundaries, not because they are designed to establish new bound- 
aries among actors through exchange."''* The normative patterns, such 
as marriage, as well as the theory (or "theory", for any view that de- 
I nies universality can claim only a contingent and metaphorical ap- 

S propriateness to the phenomena about which it theorizes) that de- 

3 scribes them, spiral^ out of the self-abandonment of actors. In accor- 

a dance with postmodern phenomenology, "mind, self, and society 

t emerge within an ever-changing symbolic envelope."^*^ The system 

t of normative meanings is not imposed on situations, as in the 

a Parsonian view SS, p. 11), but this system is exuded, as waste, from 

J. participants in social situations. 

An example of the process of generating social meanings through 
excess may be seen in the development of economic value and norms 

West Georgia College Studies in Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 29 

of behavior during the yearly Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans. 
During this celebration, Mardi Gras beads, plastic beads that are vir- 
tually worthless at other times of the year, take on enormous value. 
As the beads are thrown from floats in the parades or from the balco- 
nies of buildings in the French quarter, participants scramble to gather 
as many of these precious items as they can. 

It has become the custom in recent years for those standing in the 
streets beside the floats or below the balconies to offer a curious ex- 
change for the valuables. Mardi Gras celebrants, usually women but 
sometimes also men, will expose normally hidden parts of their bod- 
ies (breasts for women, penises for men) in order to receive beads, 
with the highly prized long white beads offer an especial inducement 
to disrobe."**^ 

This exchange of pointless gratuities can offer insights into human 
behavior and norms on other, non-ceremonial occasions. It should be 
noted that the absurdity of valuing plastic beads is obvious to us only 
because we do not value plastic beads elsewhere and at other times. 
In fact, we do normally value a substance that has just as little utility 
as plastic beads. Gold, a soft, shiny substance that serves only as a 
decoration, is not only valued, it has served as the standard of value 
and the basis of all economic transactions over most of the course of 
Western history. 

Wesley Shrum and John Kilbum have argued, brilliantly, that ritual 
disrobing at Mardi Gras in exchange for useless items both reflects 
and reinforces the moral order of the market system."*^ Their argu- 
ment can be extended by pointing out that a reflection is an image of 
the thing it reflects. This is to suggest that the moral order of non-festive 
days, produced by the urge to waste surplus, is just as pointless and 
just as arbitrary as the moral order of self-exposure on Mardi Gras. 
Forms of human relations (social systems), including the ethical cat- 
egorizations of those forms of relations, are spun out of the continual 
exchange of gratuities. 

One might object that the example I have offered here is mislead- 
ing because a festival is not so much a reflection of the day-to-day 
moral order as it is a parody. People who expose themselves at Mardi 
Gras are aware of the usual normative strictures on clothing and they 
are aware that they are violating these strictures. They are aware that 
plastic beads are normally considered worthless, and their striving 
for these items is defined as "play," instead of "work." The attitudes 
1 toward these shared activities on the festive occasion is ironic, which 

30 Carl L. Bankston IB: Ethics as Excess: Toward a 'Postmodern' Approach to Social Ethics 

means that the participants are conscious that their behavior and re- 
lations constitute a mockery of ordinary relations and behavior, and 
that their exchanges are otherwise meaningless. But this is precisely 
the value of the festival for the student of social relations: in the festi- 
val the creation of the system of social categories out of the exorbitant 
and wasteful urge to consume, which is latent in day-to-day life, be- 
comes manifest. 

Since the casting off of energy, useless from the point of view of the 
individual actor, creates larger systems from smaller systems by cre- 
ating a union among systems, understanding ethical codes as prod- 
ucts of the inner compulsion of surplus can, I think, help to address 
the basic concern of Lyman and Scott's "sociology of the absurd": "the 
puzzle, the mystery of how social order somehow emerges from the 
chaos and conflict predicated by the inherently meaningless is the 
motive for the study of social phenomena."''^ Grasping the forms that 
emerge from the purposeless interactions of individuals means that 
r, we need to look at the kinds of surplus (emotional, physical, finan- 

cial) that individuals have and need to squander under given situa- 

Forms, however, are only outlines, definitions of substances. Look- 
ing more closely at the sources of sacrificial surplus, the essence of 
human relations, we see that at the core of the surplus, the source of 
€ all sacrifice and giving, is emptiness. That is to say, the self is empti- 

J ness. Taking emptiness as the nature of the self, I will suggest that a 

a useful strategy for moving beyond the objective, universalist assump- 

r tions of modern ethics may be to affirm this emptiness and to take as 

J "ethical" all that allows humans to realize an identity as no-thing, as 

(• boundless subjectivity. 


B. The Absent Self 

s If we follow Bataille further and ask the nature of the selves from 

g which interactions and normative codes emerge, we find that each 

g self is, at its core, nothing. The self of Hobbes and his successors is 

. defined, given its ends (both in the senses of limits and purposes) by 

. the imposition of the external on the internal. Bataille denies the ends 

of the self (in both of those senses) and therefore arrives at a self that 
neither has contents nor is ultimately contained by anything outside 
of itself and is therefore empty. 

West Georgia College Studies in Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 31 

We have seen that luxury and expenditure underlie all forms of 
relations among humans. Desire, the urge toward communion, is the 
product of the progressive accumulation of energy that must be spilled 
over. It is clear that desire is to be understood not as what it is, but as 
what it is not: 

The object of sensual desire is by nature another de- 
sire. The desire of the senses is the desire, if not to de- 
stroy oneself, at least to be consumed and to lose one- 
self without reservation. Now, the object of my desire 
does not truly respond to it except on one condition: 
that I awaken in it a desire equal to mine. Love in its 
essence is so clearly the coincidence of two desires that 
there is nothing more meaningful in love, even in the 
purest love. But the other's desire is desirable insofar 
as it is not known as a profane object is, from the out- 
side (as an analyzed substance is known in a labora- 
tory). The two desires fully respond to each other only 
when perceived in the transparence of an intimate com- 
prehension (ASII, p. 113). ,1 

By desiring, for Bataille is using sensual desire here as an example of 
desiring in general, we do not seek a thing, we seek loss in another de- 
sire. The self, as pure subject, is nothing, or no-thing, it has no objective 
being. Since its seeking is ultimately another subject, another no-thing, 
the "objects" of desire are illusions (in the etymological sense of that 
word as "play" or "mockery"). We can take the central self, the pure 
subject, as emptiness and the goal of the self in outward movement as 
the attempt to realize this emptiness, to disappear in "a sovereign total- 
ity which is not divided by any abstraction and is commensurate with 
the entire universe" (ASII, p. 112). 

This social psychology of emptiness turns traditional social psychol- 
ogy on its head. Mead and Cooley, social psychologists in the Lockean 
tradition, described the creation of identity as the gradual domination 
of subjectivity by objectivity through experience. For Mead, the "I" within 
each person develops a "me" by objectifying the "other," and then imag- 
ining how that other might look back upon the original "l."^^ Cooley, 
along similar lines, described the development of the well-known "look- 
ing glass self"^ The social being is trapped in a hall of mirrors, with 
reflected images blocking every avenue of escape. The project we find 
in the social psychology of annihilation is the smashing of the mirrors. 

32 Carl L. Bankston III: Ethics as Excess: Toivard a 'Postmodern' Approach to Social Ethics 

Principles, the generalized repetitions of the selves seen in the 
Cooleyan hall of mirrors, turn all actions into stylized performances, 
into categories. Viewing categories as the arbitrary and illusory play 
of self-abandonment means accepting the groundlessness of the re- 
flective subject. The reflective subject, after all, is created, according 
to the model of socialization developed by Cooley and Mead, by the 
self's categorization and objectification of others and by the reflective 
categorization of self by analogy to others. It is this process of catego- 
rization and objectification that makes our social world a world of 

If our categories are our own creations, and not forms indepen- 
dent of us, then we must ask what it is that creates the forms and 
exists prior to them. Of course, what exists prior to form is formless- 
ness, and what exists prior to things is nothing. If we see principles or 
customs, then, as the arbitrary excess of an outward impulsion, we 
have not only dismissed the theistic and humanistic grounds for these 
„ ethical categories, we have identified the source of these categories as 

pure absence. "The murder of the first, great metonymy (theology as 
T a signifying practice) intimates that there never was a ground to West- 

^ ern experience, that absence was always the primal will to will."^'' 

^ The denial of the primacy of the objective and the assertion of the 

t primacy of absence, as the purely subjective, is to deny the external, 

€ since the external is all that is outside the subject. But the embrace of 

J subjectivity is also not, as might be suspected, an exercise in solip- 

s sism. Paradoxically, the interior life demands ex-stasis, it demands 

T goirig out of oneself ."^^ In the paragraph from Accursed Share quoted 

J- above, desire was identified as desire of desire. The completely inte- 

rior is a matter of shared subjectivity. Speaking of Heidegger's re- 
mark that our realite-humaine (the French translation of Heidegger's 
Dasein) as a community of seekers is determined by our knowing, 
^ Batille remarks, 'Tt is not possible to have knowledge {connaissance) 

of it without a community of seekers, nor to have interior experience 
without a community of those who live it" (EI, p. 37). 
The community of emptiness, then, blooms from the cultivation of 
^ pointlessness. By denying the objective, we deny "others" as varia- 

t tions on the category of "the other." What is called "interior experi- 

2 ence" is actually a demolition of the social construction of identity 

through reciprocal and reflexive objectification. 

West Georgia College Studies in Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 33 

C. Excess and the Problem of Fascism: Bataille's Incomplete 

Bataille, notably in his work on eroticism, often identifies destruc- 
tion too neatly with the return of discrete selves to the continuity of 
the undefined. If we accept his identification of eroticism as that which 
brings being into question for humans, then how can we accept his 
claim that "in eroticism, I lose myself?" (LE, pp. 35-37) Bringing into 
question is not a resolute and absolute act of denial. Rather, bringing 
into question is an ironic act, along the lines of the simultaneous affir- 
mation and rejection of market values displayed by our bead-grabbing 
Mardi Gras celebrants. Bringing into question involves the creation 
of a "doubleness," as Stoekl has noted.'*'' 

One may deal with "doubleness" in at least two ways, simulta- 
neous affirmation and rejection may serve as a means of embracing | '.-i 
the hollowness of a phenomenon. This is the strategy of irony. Alter- 
natively, "doubleness" may be approached in Hegelian fashion, as a 
dialectic to be resolved by an affirmation that subjects and contains 
the original affirmation and rejection. I want to argue that one of the 
ethical dilemmas with Bataille's thinking, its apparent links to fas- 
cism (PWM, pp. 6-21), may be a result of Hegel's continued haunting 
of Bataille's work. 

Bataille had an uncomfortable relationship with the thought of 
Hegel. He had regularly attended Kojeve's seminar on Hegel (AK, p. 
103), but his explicit writings on Hegel's "closed system" were gener- 
ally critical (EI, pp. 127-130; AK, pp. 109). "He (Bataille) has no inten- 
tion of seeking a reconciliation, a closure or an end" (AK, p. 109). De- 
spite, this suspicion of Hegel, however, Bataille's dualities often tend 
to be dialectical and developmental, rather than ironic. 

The type of eroticism known as "sado-masochism," a variety of 
especial interest to Bataille and his associates operates by posing the 
question of self-definition, thereby creating a tension between a pri- 
mordial continuity and the distinction of objective self and objective 
other, and ultimately resolving this tension in favor of a new, expanded 
objectification of identity. I lose myself only to gain myself again, with 
sharper, harder boundaries. Eroticism does not necessarily end, that 
is to say, with becoming an "open being," a being "lost in the infinite 
silence" (LE, pp. 299-300). One can always open oneself only to con- 
sume or be consumed and close oneself again in a new unity. Here, 
we must distinguish between death and fantasies of death, between 

34 Carl L. Banksion 111: Ethics as Excess: Toioard a 'Postmodern' Approach to Social Ethics 

dying (which is a true dissolution of self) and killing (which is an 
identification with the dissolving self of the other that ultimately 
reaches a new synthesis of self). The peculiarity of sado-masochism 
lies in the fact that it is a bounded, self-conscious reflection on trans- 
gression, rather than pure transgression. It involves a synthetic 
identity's voyeurism of its own death and ecstasy as an original iden- 

Bataille's version of eroticism, then, suggests an ethical difficulty 
that we can see running throughout his work: he suggests that inte- 
rior experience should be boundless, but too often he seeks only the 
fantasy of boundlessness within a bounded existence. One is reminded 
of Shadia Drury's remark on Bataille's politics: "initially, Bataille was 
attracted to the fascists because he thought that they were the new 
reincarnation of sovereignty (i.e., of human autonomy from the world 
of things); but later, he rejected them because their violence was not 
wasteful and purposeless enough - apparently it was a mere means to 
n power" (AK, p. 108). The excesses of the fascists, he came to see, were 

not pure waste, but investments, expenditures calculated to expand 
*^ the delimited self. 

We can see the initial plan to initiate the Acephale group with a 
human sacrifice (plans that, even if seriously intended, were never 
carried out)'*^ as a product of this failure to distinguish between the 
€ annihilation of self, which is pure expenditure of energy, and 

J assassination's fantasy of the annihilation of self, which is the expen- 

e diture of energy calculated to yield a metaphysical or erotic profit. 

T The assassin, like the voyeur and the sadist (PS, pp. 90-92), transgresses 

categories in order to produce a dissolution of categorical limitations 
within an intensifying category. Thus, the creation of the sacred in the 
modern world (the project of sacrifice) does not mean the disappear- 
ance of the world into the sacred, but the consumption of the sacred 
by the world. 

As approaches to the normative codes within behavior that we re- 
fer to as "ethics," then, the postmodernist strategies of Bataille suffer 
from their failure to be sufficiently apocalyptic in their nihilism. Too 
often he focuses only on moments of transgression, and therefore is 
often led dangerously close to embracing the results of excess, rather 
than the excess itself. 

r ^ 






West Georgia College Studies in Social Scieitces, XXXIII, 1995 35 

D. The Ethics of Excess: Implications for Application 

I have suggested above that the approach to the idea of social eth- 
ics yielded by my own reading of George Bataille can not only serve 
as a perspective on the nature of ethics in human relations, but can 
also serve as a radical strategy for liberation. To see how this is pos- 
sible, it is useful to pose the question: what would be "ethical" from 
the point of view of the set of intellectual ploys known as 
"postmodernism?" Is it possible to speak of "ethics" or of behavior 
as "ethical" once we have abandoned the center, set the compass free 
of privileged reference points, and discarded first principles? Certainly, 
we are no longer able to pass ready canonical judgements, free of all 
political and social biases. I think we can, however, still speak of "eth- 
ics" in the provisional sense of behavior or attitudes that are consis- 
tent with the epistemological ploys that we have chosen as desirable. 

The ploy chosen by Bataille and his associates seems to me to offer 
an appealing way of coping with the collapse of the idols and of pro- 
viding an alternative to the spiritual cul-de-sac of life in advanced 
market societies. If the logic of domination of modern Western civili- 
zation has a universal center and fixed points of reference as its pre- 
mises, and objectification as its process, and if the ethic of domination 
is an expression of the logic, then opposition to domination should 
choose the dissolution of the center and the destruction of objects as 
its preferred style, its "ethic." 

The "ethics as excess" approach that I have read in or into the work 
of Bataille and his colleagues can provide just such a style of thought 
and behavior, as well as a theoretical tack for conceptualization. I do 
not only argue here that normative patterns are provisional forms flow- 
ing from the urge to expend, from desire. I also argue that emptiness 
is at the heart of desire and that if we are to move away from reifying 
those provisional forms (the process of objectification), then we should 
continually negate the products of emptiness in order to move to- 
ward emptiness itself. 

I take this movement toward emptiness as the program that the 
short-lived College of Sociology referred to as "sacred sociology." This 
kind of sociology is not so much an analytical tool as it is a style of 
commitment. "This perspective (sacred sociology) seems to place the 
group on the other side of the world {aux antipodes) from the scientific 
method of Durkheim and Mauss. It seems oriented instead to the cre- 
ation of the sacred in the modern world" (OI, p. 11). 

36 Carl L. Bankston III: Ethics as Excess: Toward a 'Postmodern' Approach to Social Ethics 

I have argued above that social ethics, that is, patterns of norma- 
tive relations in existing societies, are to be understood as the emer- 
gence of larger systems (groups, societies) from the excesses of smaller 
systems (individuals). If we wish to affirm the sacred, the emptiness 
that underlies and yields all systems, then we would take as "ethical" 
those gestures that lead us away from the objectification of ourselves 
and others and toward the freedom to be nothing. 

Transgression, the violation of reified normative patterns, becomes 
an "ethical" strategy, then, because it is a means of revealing the sa- 
cred hidden inside those patterns. This transgression, given the rejec- 
tion of domination, should not be the violation of objective relation- 
ships at one level simply in order to affirm another objectivity ca- 
pable of taking voyeuristic pleasure in the experience of destruction. 
Transgression, instead, should be of an unceasing character. "The play 
of limits and transgression," Foucault has written, "seems to be regu- 
lated by a simple obstinacy: transgression constantly crosses and re- 
crosses a line which closes up behind it in a wave of extremely short 
duration, and thus it is made to turn once more right to the horizon of 
i the uncrossable."^'' Since we cannot simply abolish limits, our strat- 

r egy of transgression should be to maintain the play, to maintain all 

^ oppositions as ironic oppositions rather than reified oppositions, in 

t order to weaken the lines that surround nothingness and become more 

€ intimate with the nothingness inside ourselves and around us. 


3 Conclusion 

J This essay has sought to describe some of the fundamental traits 

r ' of modernist ethics and to draw on the works of George Bataille in 

c order to suggest how a "postmodernist" ethics might serve as an al- 

t ternative to the normative preconceptions of modernism's logic of 

r domination. 1 have delineated the approaches of three key thinkers of 

g the modern era and suggested that these approaches continue to in- 

g fluence contemporary social theory. I have argued that the ideas of 

absolute Self and absolute Principle are manifested in different man- 
. ners in these three. In the Hobbesian approach, we are faced with the 

dichotomy of the Law of Nature and Natural Law. Human beings 
become ethical creatures through the repressive imposition of the lat- 
ter on the former. 

In the Lockean approach, human beings are determined by experi- 
ence, but there is a pre-existing code that lies outside of experience. 

West Georgia College Studies in Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 37 

As humans are formed by experience, they come into conformity with 
this code. Rousseau and his intellectual allies do not abandon the ab- 
solute so much as they read it into the Natural Man, an absolute "true 
self" that contains the absolute code, which needs to be rediscovered 
and evoked in order to subject the world to its judgement. 

I have argued that we may find a response to these modernist ab- 
solutes in the writings of Georges Bataille. This theorist views social 
behavior as originating in surplus that creates social forms by neces- 
sitating expenditure of energy (a casting off of self into the non-self). 
Seeing social ethics as patterns ^of excess spinning out of local inter- 
actions means that we need to put aside universals, such as Natural 
Law or even the Natural Self, to interpret the moral obligations of 
humans toward other humans as situation-specific. When we look at 
the ethical attitudes assumed by social actors, these only make sense r- 

in terms of the kinds of excess generated by particular social and physi- 
cal circumstances. 

The value of this reading of Bataille, however, does not consist solely 
of developing a new conceptualization of how normative patterns 
arise in human relations. The modernist ethical schemata are means 
of orienting people in the rationalized and objectified world of the 
market system. If we want to subvert this system and its modes of 
operation, then we need to seek an "ethics" (or "anti-ethics," if this 
term is preferred) that can disorient people, and undercut and 
delegitimate the normative assumptions of rationalization. Further, if 
we accept the argument that the negation of rational forms is the quest 
for emptiness, then we need to seek a strategy of delegitimation, of 
denial, that will not lead to a new closure in a new system of domina- 
tion, but will foster sustained openness and sacred nihilism. I have 
tried to describe, therefore, how a "postmodernist" ^° approach offers 
a way of being "ethical" (or "anti-ethical"), as well as a sociological 
way of thinking about ethics. 


' Dragan Milovanovic, "Dueling Paradigms: Modernist versus Postmodernist 
Thought," Humanity and Society, Vol. 19 (1995), p. 20. Henceforth cited as DP. 

Stephan Pfohl, Death at the Parasite Cafe: Social Science (Fictions) and the Postmodern (St. 
Martin's Press, 1992). Henceforth cited as DPC. 

Jean Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (Minneapolis: Univer- 
sity of Minnesota Press, 1984). Henceforth cited as PC. 

38 Carl L. Bankston lU: Ethics as Excess: Toward a 'Postmodern' Approach to Social Ethics 

^ Emile Durkheim and Marcel Mauss, Primitive Classification, trans. Rodney Needham 
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963.) 

^ Marc J. LaFountain, "Foucault and Rodney King: The Rationality' of a Legal Beat- 
ing," Humanity and Society, Vol. 16 (1992), pp. 564-570. Henceforth cited as FRK. 

^ Herbert Marcuse, Eros and Civilization: A Philosophical Inquiry into Freud, (New York: 
Vintage Books, 1955). Henceforth cited as EC. 

"^ Jeffrey A. Halley, "Cultural Resistance to Rationalization: A Study of an Art 
Avant-Garde," in The Renascence of Sociological Theory: Classical & Contemporary, ed. 
Henry Etzkowitz and Ronald M. Classman (Itasca, Illinois: F.E. Peacock Publish- 
ers), pp. 227-228. 

*" Carl L. Bankston III, "Surrealism as Social Philosophy," American Book Review, Vol. 
16, no. 6 (1995), p. 11. 

" Carl L. Bankston 111, "Intentionally Excessive," American Book Reviezv, Vol. 15, no. 5 
(1994), p. 1. 

'^ On this point, see Michael Zimmerman, Contesting Earth's Future: Radical Ecology 
and Postmodernity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995). 

'' Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, ed. C.B. Macpherson (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books,- 
1968), p. 185. Henceforth cited as L. 

'" Dennis Wrong, The Problem of Order (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 
1 1995). Henceforth cited as PO. 

X " See Jean Hampton, Hobbes and the Social Contract Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge 

J. University Press, 1986) for a discussion of approaches to Hobbes in terms of the 

Prisoner's Dilemma game. 

'- Carl L. Bankston III, "Games and Language, Language and Games: An Essay on 
t the Nature and Use of Social Simulation," Humaiiity and Society, Vol. 19 (1995), pp. 

6 65-74. Henceforth cited as GL. 

'^ R.E. Ewin, Virtues and Rights: The Moral Philosophy of Thomas Hobbes (Boulder, 
Colorado: Westview Press, 1991). Henceforth cited as VR. 

'^ David Boonin-Vail, Thomas Hobbes and the Science of Moral Virtue (ambridge: Cam- 
r bridge University Press, 1994), p. 142. Henceforth cited as SMV. 

^■^ Philip Rieff, Freud: The Mind of the Moralist (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 
C 1979), p. 28. 

1 '•' Sigmund Freud, Totem and Taboo (New York: Macmillan, 1953). 
'^ Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson 

(New York: Vintage Books), p. 1. 
"* Robert A. Nisbet, The Quest for Community: A Study in the Ethics of Order and Free- 
dom (New York: Oxford University Press, 1953), p. 138. 

2 ^'' ]ohn Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding. The Works of ]ohn Locke, Vol I 
t (New York: Ward, Lock, & Co., 1899). 

f -° Richard Hooker, Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Vol. I (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap 

Press of Harvard University Press, 1977) 
-' John Colman, John Locke's Moral Philosophy (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University 
Press, 1991), pp. 105-106. 

West Georgia College Studies in Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 39 

^Talcott Parsons, The Social System (New York: The Free Press, 1951), p. 7. Henceforth 
cited as SS. 

^^ Jean-Jacques Rousseau, "Discourse on the Origin and Foundation of Inequality 
Among Mankind." In Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract and the Discourse 
on the Origin of Inequality, ed. L. G. Crocker (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1967), 
p. 171. Henceforth cited as DOF. 

-* Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile, or, On Education, trans. Allan Bloom (New York: Ba- 
sic Books, 1979). 

-^ Alessandro Ferraro, Modernity and Authenticity: A Study of the Social and Ethical 
Thought ofjean-jacques Rousseau (Albany, New York: State University of New York 
Press, 1993), p. 71. Henceforth cited as MA. ' j 

^^ Wesley R. Burr, "Using Theories in Family Science," InResearch and Theory in Earn- ' 

ily Science, eds. Randal D. Day, Kathleen R. Gilbert, Barbara H. Settles, and Wesley 
R. Burr (Pacific Grove, Cal: Brooks /Cole Publishing Co., 1995), p. 81. 

'" Carl Rogers, Client-Centered Therapy (Boston: HoughtonMifflin, 1951). , 

r r' 
^^ Norman O. Brown, Eife Against Death: The Psychoanalytic Meaning of History (New J; ^i 

York: Vintage Books, 1959). Henceforth cited as LAD; Norman O. Brown, Eove's 

Body (New York, Vintage Books, 1966). Henceforth cited as LB. 

^'^ Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man (Boston: Beacon Press, 1964). 

^" Georges Bataille, The Accursed Share: An Essay on General Economy, Vol. I, trans. Rob- 
ert Hurley (New York: Zone Books, 1988, p. 21. Henceforth cited as ASI. 

'^' Georges Bataille, "The Moral Meaning of Sociology," in The Absence of Myth: YJrit- 
ings on Surrealism, ed. and trans. Michael Richardson (London: Verso, 1994), p. 110; 
George Bataille and Roger Caillois, "Sacred Sociology and the Relationships Be- 
tween 'Society' 'Organism,' and 'Being,'" in The College of Sociology (1937-39), ed. 
Denis HoUier, trans. Betsy Wing (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988), 
pp. 73-84. 

^- Denis HoUier, "Foreword: Collage," in The College of Sociology (1937-39), ed. Denis 
HoUier, trans. Betsy Wing (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988), p. 


^^ Georges BataiUe, "The College of Sociology," in The College of Sociology (1937-39), 
ed. Denis HoUier, trans. Betsy Wing (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 
1988), p. 337. 

^ G.W.F. Hegel, Eectures on the History of Philosophy, Vol. 1, trans, by E.S. Haldane 

(London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1955), p. 387. 
^^ See the discussion of Hegel's views on these two types of moraUty in Shadia B. 

Drury, Alexandre Kojeve: The Roots of Postmodern Politics (New York: St. Martin's 

Press, 1994), pp. 7-11. Henceforth cited as AK. 
^^ Roger Caillois, "Festival," in The College of Sociology (1937-39), ed. Denis HoUier, 

trans. Betsy Wing (Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1988), pp. 279- 


^^ Georges Bataille, The Accursed Share: An Essay on General Economy, Vol. II, trans, by 
Robert Hurley (New York: Zone Books, 1991), p. 37. Henceforth cited as ASH. 

^^ Georges Batailles, E'Erotisme (Paris: Les Editions de Minuit, 1978), p. 244. Hence- 
forth cited as LE. 

40 Carl L. Bankston III: Ethics as Excess: Toward a 'Postmodern' Approach to Social Ethics 

^■^ T.R. Young, "Chaos Theory and Human Agency: Humanist Sociology in a 
Postmodern Era," Humanity and Socieh/, Vol. 16 (1992), p. 446. 

^ Craig J. Forsyth, "Parade Strippers: A Note on Being Naked in Public" Deviant 
Behavior, Vol. 13 (1992), see esp. pp. 395-397 on the exposure-bead exchange. 

"" Wesley Shrum and John Kilbum, "Ceremonial Exchange and Moral Order: Three 
Ritual Paradigms of Mardi Gras." (Unpublished Manuscript, n.d.). 

''- Stanford M. Lyman and Marvin B. Scott, A Sociology of the Absurd (New York: Gen- 
eral Hall, 1989), p. 7. 

'^^ George Herbert Mead. Mind Self and Society: From the Standpoint of a Social Behavior- 
ist, ed. Charles W. Morris (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1934). 

** Charles Horton Cooley, Social Organization (New York: 
Scribner's, 1902). 

■•-^ Arthur Kroker and David Cook, The Postmodern Scene: Excremental Culture and 
Hy-peraesthetics (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1991), p. 89. Henceforth cited as PS. 

''* Georges Bataille, L'Experience Interieure (Paris, Gallimard), p. 137. Henceforth cited 
as EI. 

''^ Allen Stoekel. Politics, Writing, Mutilation: The Cases of Bataille, Blanchot, Roussel. 
Leiris, and Ponge (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985), p. 11. Hence- 
„ forth cited as PWM. 

*^ Daniel Hawley, L'CEvre Insolite de Georges Batailles: Une Hie'rophanie Moderne 
i (Geneva: Librairie M. Slatkine, 1978), p. 11. Henceforth cited as OI. 

"■^ Michel Foucault, Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews 
\ (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1977), p. 34. 

t ™ As I use this word, even in quotations, I wonder if it has already become fossilized 

^ within its encrustations of popular associations and connotations. If the word can 

only be used ironically, then perhaps its use in the title should suggest that this 
I essay itself might be read as an ironic intellectual ploy. 











The Politics of Ecstasy: 
Postmodemity, Ethics, and Native 
American Culture in Oliver Stone's 
The Doors and Natural Bom Killers 

by Christopher Wise 

"The dialectics of intoxication are indeed curious. Is 
not perhaps all ecstasy in one world humiliating sobri- 
ety in that complementary to it?" |j r< 

" 1 

—Walter Benjamin, "Surrealism 

"The Great Spirit raised both the white man and the 
Indian. I think he raised the Indian first. He raised me 
in this land and it belongs to me. The white man was 
raised over the great waters, and his land is over there. 
Since they crossed the sea, I have given them room. 
There are now white people all about me. I have but a 
small spot of land left. The Great Spirit told me to keep 

—Red Cloud, Chief of the Oglala Sioux ^ 


The title of my essay is taken from a poem by Jim Morrison, lead 
singer of The Doors, which was written shortly before his death of 
"heart failure" at the age of twenty-seven.^ Morrison was buried in 
Pere Lachaise cemetery near Mont Martre, and his tomb is now the 
fourth largest tourist attraction in Paris, ranking only behind the Eiffel 
Tower, the Louvre, and the Musee d'Orsay.^ There have been hun- 
dreds of articles written about Morrison since his death, and five sepa- 
rate biographies have also appeared, one of them topping the New 
York Times Best-Seller List, Danny Sugerman and Jerry Hopkins's No 

42 Christopher Wise: The Politics of Ecstasy: Postmodernity, Ethics, and Native American 

One Gets Out of Here Alive (1980). In 1982, Rolling Stone magazine also 
ran a special issue on Jim Morrison, with a cover photograph and 
caption reading, "He's hot, he's sexy, he's dead." Today, this issue 
remains one of Rolling Stone 's biggest all-time sellers.'^ Whatever the 
reason for Jim Morrison's appeal, he remains an enigmatic and se- 
ductive cult-hero for thousands of people, not unlike popular iconic 
figures such as Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, and Elvis Presley. In 
this context, Oliver Stone's filmed version of the life of Jim Morrison, 
The Doors (1991), represents only one more commentary on an al- 
ready complex and abundantly inscribed phenomenon. In the follow- 
ing essay, I will focus on Stone's reinterpretation of the poetry and life 
of Morrison, as well as Stone's depiction of Native American culture 
in the film. More specifically, I will explore Stone's wholesale packag- 
ing of Native American religion in The Doors , or his suggestion that 
60s rock star Jim Morrison somehow practiced an "authentic" form of 
shamanism during his brief career, defined by Mircea Eliade as a "tech- 
„ nique of ecstasy."^ 

In addition to The Doors , I will also analyze Stone's later and more 
i controversial film. Natural Born Killers (1994), which similarly em- 

phasizes the potentially redemptive character of Native American 
religion. In Stone's more recent film, which builds upon themes first 
introduced in The Doors , we are offered a more explicit critique of 
€ postmodern media culture. Not unlike Morrison of The Doors, Stone 

J himself suggests in Natural Born Killers that Native American culture 

a may provide an axiological basis from which a largely unethical 

r postmodern culture may be critiqued; that is, in appropriating Na- 

tive American culture. Stone seeks to transcend mainstream (i.e. white) 
culture to both chastise and renew it from a mythical "outside" van- 
tage point. Postcolonial critics as widely divergent as Anthony Appiah 
(Ghana), George Yudice (Brazil), and Sara Suleri (India) have warned 
against the dangers of encouraging postcolonial art /literature to per- 
form the task formerly assigned to the modern: namely, the manufac- 
turing of otherness.^ While Stone's films tend to exploit Native Ameri- 
^ can culture in precisely this way, I will argue here that there is also a 

^ sense in which Stone's appropriation of Native American religious 

t beliefs may engender a progressive and effective anti-capitalist poli- 

8 tics. Because Native Americans (and many other peripheral groups) 

desire to protect the sacred dimensions of their belief systems, the 
ethical dimensions of such popular appropriations of indigenous cul- 

West Georgia College Studies in Social Sciences, XXXUI, 1995 43 

tures must be negotiated in light of the nature of postmodern culture 
itself, especially as many "postmodernists" like Jameson, Baudrillard, 
and Lyotard have defined it, but also in light of the concerns of pe- 
ripheral groups who wish to preserve their distinct cultural systems. 
If the "cultural logic" of late capitalism necessitates that both the left 
and formerly colonized groups overcome their traditional disdain for 
popular media, as many Marxist and postcolonial critics have argued, 
there may be a point at which the agendas of peripheral groups (like 
Native Americans) and radical film-makers /artists merge. My essay 
will seek to mark out this domain by analyzing Stone's films. The Doors 
and Natural Born Killers . 

The Noble (and Invisible) Savage Revisited 

From the early days of colonization through the present. 
Euro- American novelists, journalists, and artists have portrayed Na- 
tive Americans in predictably racialist (and profitable) patterns, pro- 
jecting their highest spiritual aspirations, as well as their most loath- 
some fears and desires, upon a largely impenetrable and wordless 
object. From James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans through 
Kevin Costner's Dances With Wolves , the pattern has remained re- 
markably consistent: The Native American is effectively dehuman- 
ized by being reduced to a static type within an overwhelmingly com- 
plex (and already inscribed) system of representations. The opposi- 
tion created by Cooper between the good or Noble Savage (Uncas) 
and the demonic and miscegenistic Redskin (Magna), for example, 
perpetuates a stereotypical or racialist view of Native Americans be- 
cause it reduces them to mere cardboard figures, therefore denying 
them the possibility of historical process.^ However, if Cooper's The 
Last of the Mohicans builds upon Romantic attitudes about Native 
Americans, exploiting the binary opposition of the Noble /Demonic 
Savage, few Euro-American books and films since have fared any 
better at humanizing Native Americans, or at presenting Native Ameri- 
cans as complex, contradictory, and "ordinary" people in history. There 
are of course good economic reasons why this is so, namely because 
Romantic myths about Indians are now more lucrative than ever- 
which is why a film like Dances With Wolves can be tremendously 
profitable but a film like Jonathan Wacks' Powwow Highway, released 
in the same year but set on a contemporary reservation, failed miser- 
ably at the box-office. Because films like Dances With Wolves largely 

• 44 Christopher Wise: The Politics of Ecstasy: Postmodernity, Ethics, and Native American 

ignore the fact that Native Americans are alive and well today, and 
because they usurp the role of Native Americans in creating their own 
images of themselves, they often become part of the problem rather 
than the solution. In other words. Native Americans are neither dead 
nor invisible, and they are often resentful at the fact that their past is 
being colonized all over again by film-makers like Kevin Costner and 
Oliver Stone. To quote Alex Kuo, "For the dominant culture, 
self-representation is never an issue, it appears everywhere; but for 
people of color, however, self-representation is particularly important, 
not necessarily because what the white culture imagines us to be is 
not true, but because we want to be in control of our self-inventions.'"^ 
In Kwame Anthony Appiah's In My Father's House: Africa In The 
Philosophy of Culture (1992), many of these same problems are dis- 
cussed in the context of traditional African culture/ art and its appro- 
priation by postmodern (i.e. Western) society for purposes of finan- 
cial gain. Specifically, Appiah warns against the dangers inherent in 
peripheral cultures filling the void left by a now-defunct modernist 
1 aesthetic, crassly "manufacturing alterity" (356), or cynically produc- 

^ ing otherness for popular consumption in the First World. ^° For this 

r reason, Appiah applauds a scene from Yambo Ouologuem's Bound To 

Violence , in which a West African artist/ shyster mass-produces tribal 
masks that are aged by soaking for a few weeks in a nearby pond- 
and then sold in Europe and America. In the context of an encroach- 
ing and nearly total multinational or global capitalism, the dangers 
\ for peripheral groups seem clear: As George Yiidice has put it, how 

does one prevent one's culture from being "destabilized and overrun 
I by by centrifugal currents deriving from the metropolis"?" Or, how 

does one scale back the restructuring and resemioticizing of one's 
culture by a largely indifferent when not utterly hostile signifying 
system? In this context, films like Oliver Stone's The Doors and Natu- 
ral Born Killers , as well as Kevin Costner's Dances With Wolves , may 
seem deeply threatening and aggressive. Besides reinscribing popu- 
lar myths about Native Americans, such films may promote what AIM 
(the American Indian Movement) and Vine Deloria, Jr. have called an 
"Outsider-influenced Insider perception of self," making it increas- 
ingly difficult for indigenous peoples to differentiate between their 
own self-determined inventions of personal identity and those that 
have been imposed upon them by their Euro- American colonizers. ^^ 

West Georgia College Studies in Social Sciences, XXXIIl, 1995 45 

In the case of Stone's films, however, if the shamanic ceremonies 
reenacted are not "really" Native American, and if Stone is in fact 
offering us a wholesale, stereotypical, and packaged account of Na- 
tive American religion, as I have suggested so far, it does not make 
the task of analyzing The Doors or Natural Born Killers any less urgent 
or perplexing. In other words, the question nevertheless remains: if 
Stone is not really showing us an "authentic" form of Native Ameri- 
can Shamanism, what is it that he thinks he's showing us? I am there- 
fore proposing, in the phraseology of Marx, to reform Stone's reading 
of Native American culture through the analysis of that mystical con- 
sciousness-in this case Stone' s-which has not yet become clear to it- 
self.'^ In this sense, while the shamanic rites reenacted in his films 
may not be "really" Native American, they are obviously something 
else that calls itself Native American, and that may very well share 
certain affinities with "authentic" Native American objectives, despite 
the obvious limitations of Stone's political imagination. 

Vietnam and The Doors 

In his essay "Periodizing the 60s," Fredric Jameson has argued that 
the 60s may be defined as 

a moment when the enlargement of capitalism on a 
global scale simultaneously produced an immense free- 
ing or unbinding of social energies, a prodigious re- 
lease of untheorized new forces: the ethnic forces of 
black and "minority," or Third World, movements ev- 
erywhere, regionalisms, the development of new and 
militant bearers of "surplus consciousness" in the stu- 
dent and women's movements, as well as in a host of 
struggles of other kinds . 14 

Hence, Jameson argues that the political mission of the First World in 
the 60s hinged upon resistance to imperialist ventures in the Third 
World, like the wars in Algeria and Vietnam, which were directed at 
harnessing these "untheorized new forces" and "social energies" (P60s, 
p. 180). For Jameson then, as for Sartre, the 60s signaled an important 
historical moment when the various "natives" of the world, includ- 
ing minorities, marginals, and women, at last became "human be- 
ings," not literally, of course, but in the political imagination of the 
First World (P60s, p. 181). In this light, Jameson proposes a thematized 

46 Christopher Wise: The Politics of Ecstasy: Postmodernity, Ethics, and Native American 

reading of the 60s in terms of "the emergence of new 'subjects of his- 
tory' of a nonclass type (blacks, students. Third World peoples)" (P60s, 
p. 181).^^ The first portion of my essay will build upon Jameson's 
"periodization" of the 60s, especially insofar as I will seek to demon- 
strate the significance of the film The Doors as it pertains to popular 
resistance movements to the Vietnam War. 

By most accounts, what characterizes the films of Oliver Stone is 
his obsession with 60s political themes, especially the Vietnam War. 
In fact, Stone himself has often remarked that he primarily makes 
"Vietnamers," much as John Ford had once insisted that he primarily 
made Westerns. Though Stone was well-known in Hollywood as the 
writer of Midnight Express (1977), it was not until the success of Pla- 
toon (1986), an autobiographical account of the Vietnam War, that he 
became a significant figure in the public imagination. Following 
Sylvester Stallone's Rambo films. Stone's stark depictions of the 
graphic violence of day-to-day combat in Vietnam provided a healthy, 
if relatively moderate, palliative to the disturbing logic of many 80s 
Hollywood war films. As an actual Vietnam veteran. Stone also lended 
i a certain authority and aura of "reality" to his film, as opposed to 

r Stallone's mere posturing and machoistic war-fantasizing; in other 

^ words. Stone had actually done his time in Vietnam; he had earned 

t the right to show us how it really was, even if this meant enlisting the 

e generic conventions of Hollywood slasher-films to get his message 


Besides Stanley Kubrick's Full-Metal Jacket (1987), the only other 
Hollywood film that approaches the popular impact made by Platoon 
was, of course, Francis Coppola's Apocalypse Now (1979), which, not 
coincidentally, employed The Door's most famous song, "The End," 
on its soundtrack. Nor is it a coincidence that Stone himself was a 
Doors fan in Vietnam, along with many others in the military. Stone 
has also stated that, in filming the motion-picture The Doors , he at- 
^ tempted to capture something of "the way he felt about Jim [Morrison] 

^ in the jungle in Vietnam" (LK, p. 198). In fact. Stone has even stated 

c that the major theme of the film, which is "Morrison as shaman, the 

t tribe's medicine man, or priest," evolved from his experience with 

t The Doors' music while serving in Vietnam (LK, p. 197-198). Accord- 

c ing to Stone, this was the film's major "hook," the most crucial thing 

he wanted to get across to his audience (LK, p. 198). But whatever 
Stone's creative logic, there are many other reasons to consider the 

West Georgia College Studies in Social Sciences, XXXUI, 1995 47 

Vietnam War's function in The Doors , especially in relation to the film's 
"shamanic" theme. First, it is well-known that Morrison's father was 
one of the major American military figures of the Vietnam War, serv- 
ing both as an Admiral in the United States Navy and later as Deputy 
Chief of Operations at the Pentagon. Stone emphasizes this point in 
the film when Patricia Keneally, one of the minor characters, confronts 
Morrison about his father's role at the Gulf of Tonkin during the out- 
break of the war. Morrison himself avoided service by claiming he 
was homosexual,^*' and many of his songs reflect his emphatic anti-war 
views, especially "The Unknown Soldier." Because of his stance on 
the Vietnam War, there has even been a documentary made speculat- 
ing that Morrison was killed by the FBI, which kept an extensive file 
on him (BOT, p. 464). 

In any case, Morrison remained estranged from his family until 
his death, and there is a sense in which his most controversial lyrics in 
"The End," about a young boy who wants to kill his father and have 
sexual intercourse with his mother, may be understood not only in 
their obvious oedipal connotations but also in the context of Morrison's 
own father's role in the Vietnam War. Nor does Stone fail to empha- 
size the Vietnam War throughout the film The Doors , most notably 
through television news shots of bombing raids, combat scenes, burn- 
ing monks, and student protests, as well as through dramatic scenes 
emphasizing Morrison's own resentment towards his father. 

However, as we will explore below, the unifying thematic of the 
60s for both First and Third World societies, which is described by 
Jameson in terms of "the emergence of new 'subjects of history'" (P60s, 
p. 181), plays itself out in Stone's film, not only in relation to the Viet- 
nam War, but also in relation to Jim Morrison's appropriation of Na- 
tive American religious beliefs. In other words, if the 60s may be char- 
acterized by Jameson's proposed thematic of "the coming to 
self-consciousness" of culturally marginalized subjectivities, as well 
as by the various failed attempts to connect the experience of 
marginalized individuals within a larger context of "group" or "col- 
lective" experience (P60s, p. 181), we may now begin to clarify with 
more precision the cultural logic of Morrison's professed "shaman- 
ism" in Stone's The Doors . To repeat, 60s "liberation" movements in 
First World nations hinged largely on the emergence of a new 
"nonclass" subject: a subject found not only in remote Third World 
villages but also in places like Berkeley, Watts, and the Oglala Reser- 

48 Christopher Wise: The Politics of Ecstasy: Postmodernity, Ethics, and Native American 

vation. Hence, Stone rightly subordinates his film's narrative to the 
apparently obscure theme of Morrison's occult philosophy a popu- 
larized conflation of shamanic religion and Nietzschean aesthetics. In 
fact, without the formal structuring principle of Morrison's "shaman- 
ism"-Stone's chief "strategy of containment" in The Doors -his 
film-product itself would be incoherent; which is to say, unavailable 
for popular consumption. 

Far from coincidental then, the mythic logic of Native American 
shamanism constitutes The Doors's basic entelechy, its dynamic 
inner- forming principle. Not surprisingly, the same religio-mythic 
pattern recurs in nearly all published writings on Jim Morrison and 
The Doors. The dialectical theme of the historical simultaneity of "lib- 
eration" and domination that characterizes the 60s is operative in The 
Doors 's narrative both overtly and latently: First, Stone chooses to 
emphasize Morrison's belief that he was "possessed" by the dislo-^ 
cated spirit of a Native American shaman who literally spoke through 
the vehicle of Morrison's body. In this sense, the "native" at last be- 

1 comes a "human being," as Sartre originally theorized, but only at 
.T the price of giving up its own corporeality. Second, the ideologeme of 
X the Wordless Native American may also be said to function as a re- 
^ pressed cultural sign that both empowers and enables Stone's film 
1^ narrative. 

The Uses of Shamanism in The Doors 

2 When the film begins, we see an older, bearded Jim Morrison re- 

r cording his poetry into a studio microphone. Morrison, who is played 

by Val Kilmer, announces that "the ceremony is about to begin," as 
Stone immediately shifts the film's setting to a deserted road in New 
Mexico, the highway between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. From the 
backseat of his parents' car, the five-year old Jim Morrison witnesses 

^ a fatal car accident involving several Navahos who lay injured and 

dying on the roadside, one man in particular bleeding from his head. 
The man with the wounded head is strikingly bald, even reptilian. 

^ Later, we discover that he represents the dislocated spirit that Morrison 

believed "leapt into his body" after the accident. Another older man, 

t who seems to be dying, bleeds from his mouth as the Morrison's fam- 

c ily car passes by. In Stone's version of the "Morrison as shaman" myth, 

the older Native American will later become the guiding shamanic 
spirit which leads Morrison through the underworld, or through the 

]Nest Georgia College Studies in Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 49 

land of the dead, during his own initiation rites. The theme of 
Morrison's possession by the spirit of a Native American, a man who 
resembles a lizard, henceforth unifies the narrative until the film's 
conclusion when the "lizard spirit" literally discards Morrison's body 
before walking off into a spiraling abyss. Throughout the film the "liz- 
ard spirit" appears during the most crucial moments, particularly those 
moments fraught with chaos and Dionysian excess: He appears at 
Morrison's various concerts, at orgiastic parties in Manhattan, and at 
acid trips in the desert of California. Stone's contribution to the 
"Morrison as shaman" myth consists in his linking the actual 
Morrison's employment of lizards in his own concerts to his alleged 
demonic possession by a Native American spirit. 

However, Stone deviates from previous accounts in that he locates 
the spirit's "departure" at Morrison's actual death, whereas most bio- j f 

graphical versions have suggested Morrison's "possession" ended '/ 

during his final concert in 1970. According to band-member Ray 'i 

Manzarek, for example, during The Doors' s last show in New Or- i 

leans, he saw "all of Jim's psychic energy go out the top of his head" 
(BOT. p. 439). Biographers James Riordan and Jerry Prochnicky are 
even less subtle. They suggest that "the spirit that powered Jim 
Morrison, the spirit that changed him from a man to a shaman [and] 
hounded him incessantly every moment of his life. ..left him that night 
in New Orleans" (BOT, p. 438).^^ But, Stone also establishes Morrison's 
intellectual background to cornplement the more primary shamanic 
possession theme. First, Morrison's intellectualism is affirmed with 
long takes focusing on the books strewn about the floor of his apart- 
ment, including Rimbaud's A Season In Hell and Artaud's The Theater 
and Its Double . We are also informed that the name of the band comes 
from a poem by Blake about the "doors of perception," and that The 
Doors play Brecht compositions as a part of their nightly performances. 
In addition, Morrison in The Doors, like Rimbaud, tells us that he aims 
for a "'prolonged derangement of the senses' to attain the unknown"; 
and, like Nietzsche, he believes the world is a "'will to power' and 
nothing besides." The effect of Stone's emphasis on Morrison's intel- 
lectual prowess is to bolster the integrity of Morrison's vision, and it 
is a marker by which to judge Morrison's later fall into consumer cul- 

In particular. Stone emphasizes the dual influences of Native Ameri- 
can religion and Nietzschean aesthetics in shaping Morrison's own 

50 Christopher Wise: The Politics of Ecstasy: Postmodernity, Ethics, and Native American 

beliefs that an ordinary rock-and-roll concert could be transformed 
into a redemptive ceremonial communion, even a "Dionysian" shat- 
tering of individuality aimed at ecstatic fusion with being itself. In 
early scenes of The Doors , Morrison tells us that "in seance, the sha- 
' man leads a sensuous panic. He acts like a madman, a professional 

hysteric." We are also told that the shaman "gets into a peyote trance, 
deeper and deeper, and then he has a vision, and the whole tribe is 
healed." Nietzsche's theory of Greek tragedy is at once conflated with 
shamanic religion both in a film that Morrison makes as a student at 
UCLA and when he later remarks that "all cultures have a version of 
I [the shaman]. Greeks have theater, the gods. [And] the Indians... call 

; him the one who makes you crazy." Accordingly, Stone evokes the 

deus ex machina of the Native American "lizard spirit" which appears 
I during various Doors's concerts, often flanked by naked concert-goers 

j and other Dionysian revelers. As the shows progress, the concert stage 

! is often transformed into a tribal bonfire, a primordial riot presided 

over by Morrison as "Lizard King." In fact, Morrison in The Doors 
T thinks of himself as a kind of Dionysus whom the audience wants 

i "ripped to pieces." And, because he believes the audience wants his 

r death-his ritual dismemberment as atonement for the primordial trag- 

\ edy of human individuation-death itself becomes an obsessive theme 

t of his concerts and songs. 

However, Morrison's employment of Nietzschean aesthetics in The 
Doors is ultimately subordinated to Stone's more primary theme of 
"Morrison as shaman, the tribe's medicine man, or priest" (LK, p. 
197-198). While this is not the place to engage the complexity of "au- 
thentic" shamanism, especially as it has been practiced for unknown 
centuries in both Siberia and North America, it may nevertheless be 
worth noting that Stone correctly emphasizes a number of significant 
features of shamanism in The Doors : First, shamanism has been de- 

1 fined by western scholars as a "technique of ecstasy" often involving 
S the use of narcotics, ritual drumming, and bodily deprivation (SMN, 

2 p. xiii). Second, shamanic vocation is often construed in terms of a 
2 "demonic" possession, involving the ritual "death" of the candidate 
t and his subsequent rebirth (SMN, p. 85). Finally, the shaman's terri- 
t tory is indeed the mystical geography of the underworld, or the land 
2 of the dead, replete with mythical snakes lurking about in the pri- 
j mordial garden (SMN, p. 272-273). Stone draws upon many of these 
I elements in constructing The Doors 's narrative, both by contextualizing 

West Georgia College Studies in Social Sciences, XXXIU, 2995 51 

Morrison's frequent use of hallucinogenic drugs and by situating 
Morrison's imagined journeys to the underworld in a Navaho burial 

Yet, as Stone also demonstrates, Morrison later came to feel that 
his efforts were misguided at best, that rock performance could never 
hope to transcend its basis in consumer culture. In other words. Stone 
rightly perceives that Morrison's appeal consists largely in his ability 
to manufacture alterity, both through revitalizing an exhausted 
high-modernist aesthetic and through appropriating Native Ameri- 
can religious ritual for popular consumption. Morrison in Stone's The 
Doors therefore functions as a veritable "otherness machine," a First 
World hybrid of the modern and the postcolonial. But, Morrison's 
popular appeal has less to do with his own personal genius, as Stone 
seems to suggest,'^ than it does with the very real historical contradic- 
tions that existed within the specific situation of the 60s, a situation in 
which First World "liberation" is ultimately predicated upon "a whole 
new wave of American military and economic domination through- 
out the world." ^"^ Only within such a context is Morrison's gesture of 
"going native" comprehensible, especially in opposition to the 
ahistorical mystification offered to us by Stone in The Doors . Just as 
the character of Kurtz in Coppola's Apocalypse Now is unimaginable 
outside of its basis in imperialist ideology, or outside of the situational 
context of western colonialist ventures into new and "uncharted" re- 
gions, the character of Morrison in Stone's The Doors is finally un- 
imaginable outside of its basis in, what Jameson has defined as, the 
political mission of the First World in the 60s: namely, "resistance to 
wars aimed ... at stemming the new revolutionary forces in the Third 
World" (P60s, p. 180). 

Hence, Morrison is "the tribe's medicine man or priest" only inso- 
far as the tribe itself is renegade, a collection of alienated misfits from 
within the dominant ideology of late capitalist society. Additionally, 
Morrison's shamanic trips to the mystical realm of the dead, the final 
"undiscovered country," may at last escape their basis in occult fan- 
tasy only when dialectically estranged by acknowledging the central- 
ity of the economic in global or multinational terms. Morrison's sha- 
manism is therefore less a commentary on the demonic or supernatu- 
ral than it is on late capitalism in the 60s, especially as "a process in 
which ... the last vestiges of Nature which survived on into classical 

52 Christopher Wise: The Politics of Ecstasy: Postmodernity, Ethics, and Native American 

capitalism are at length eliminated: namely the Third World and the 
unconscious" (P60s, p. 207). 

The Return of the Economic in The Doors 

As Stone demonstrates, Morrison's professed aim to heal a 
wounded and dying culture through transforming rock performance 
into a religious ceremony was a failure on nearly all levels (not the 
least being Morrison's own psychic health). The subsequent 
commodification of Jim Morrison in the late 60s serves as an example 
of the greater economic process of the autonomization and reification 
of both the "sign"-in this instance, the sign being Jim Morrison-and 
of culture itself, as it occurred at this time. While Stone's illustration 
of the fall of Morrison into consumer culture does in fact dramatically 
reveal the way in which the advent of postmodern culture is experi- 
enced by Morrison as a "pissing away" of the revolutionary promise 
of the mid-60s,-^° Stone himself seems to understand the dynamic logic 
of this process, while remaining merely exploitational, as opposed to 
T Morrison who is "creatively" exploitational. In other words, I am sug- 

<{ gesting that Stone has in some ways been able to intuitively depict 

r the superstructural dynamics of economic expansionism in the 60s, 

^ the break signified by "postmodernity," without himself grasping its 

t internal logic. Nowhere is this more clear in The Doors than in the 

g opening sequences when we are shown a recreated excerpt from one 

^ of Morrison's own student films at UCLA, which is described by Kyle 

2 MacLachlan, who plays Doors organist Ray Manzarek, as "nonlinear, 

poetry, everything good art stands for." Manzarek and other students 
even compare Morrison's short student-film to the films of Godard 
and Warhol. However, as if apologizing for inflicting this nonlinear 
monstrosity upon his audience. Stone himself immediately follows 
Morrison's brief clip with the tritest montage of his film: a romantic 

1 stroll along the beach with Jim and girlfriend Pam, a sequence which 
might safely be inserted into any Redford-Streisand film. 

2 But before more fully cataloging the decline of Morrison in Stone's 
e film, it will be worthwhile to briefly clarify the central thematic of the 
t economic level in the 60s, as proposed by Jameson, in an effort to 
t more precisely delineate its material reverberations within the super- 
g structural realm of First World cultural production in the 60s. In 
J "Periodizing the 60s," Jameson borrows from Ernst Mandel's Late 

Capitalism (1976) to suggest that the central economic thematic of the 

]Nest Georgia College Studies in Social Sciences, XXXIU, 1995 53 

60s, alluded to above, may be characterized in terms of a wide-scale 
"mechanization of the superstructure," or even a "generalized univer- 
sal industrialization ."-^ In Jameson's formulation, the 60s are there- 
fore indicative of the beginnings of a "momentous transformational 
period when a systemic restructuring takes place on a global scale" 
(P60s, p. 207). As discussed in the previous section, for Jameson, this 
systemic restructuring signals the moment when "the last vestiges of 
Nature [especially] the Third World and the Unconscious" are at length 
penetrated by the capitalist mode of production in its multi-national 
form. Additionally, the phenomenon of the mechanization of the su- 
perstructure as it develops in the superstructural realm of cultural 
production is most clearly evident for Jameson by way of the prodi- 
gious growth of both the media apparatus and the culture of consum- 
erism (P60s, p. 190). It is here where the project of connecting previ- 
ously marginalized subjectivities within a larger context of group 
praxis, the old dream of unifying disparate alienated subjects within 
a larger "collective" subject position, is now crushed from "the shock 
of some new, hard, unconceptualized, resistant object... which thus 
gradually generates a whole new problematic" (P60s, p. 191). 

The level of the economic hereby asserts its priority but its sys- 
temic coherence is not, as Jameson reminds us, at first comprehen- 
sible in any existential sense to the bewildered individuals who find 
themselves at its mercy (P60s, p. 206). In Stone's The Doors , we are 
offered a privileged glimpse into the nature of this process, the 
so-called "the mechanization of the superstructure" in the 60s, through 
observing the documented failures of Morrison and The Doors. First, 
Stone shows us how Morrison in the beginning of his career attempted 
to manipulate the media but then fell victim to the autonomization of 
his own image in the realm of popular culture. In other words, 
Morrison's various attempts to deconstruct his own image were patent 
failures; hence, Morrison ends by lamenting in the film that he is a 
"clown" who goes on stage to "howl for people." The older Morrison, 
who in Stone's account deliberately grows overweight and slovenly 
to subvert his status as a sexual icon, states bitterly "I'm a joke the 
gods played on me, a fake hero." In fact, in the final concert scene of 
The Doors , a recreation of the Miami riot of 1968, Morrison exposes 
himself to the audience primarily as a means of ridiculing the Morrison 
public image. In the actual recorded text of the Miami concert, from 
which Stone borrows his dialogue in The Doors , Morrison even shouts 

54 Christopher Wise: The Politics of Ecstasy: Postmodernity, Ethics, and Native American 

to the audience: "Hitler is alive and well in Miami. I know, I fucked 
her last night"; and, even more astutely, he quips "You'd all eat my 
shit, wouldn't you?" 

By the end of the film, Morrison says simply that "Rock is death. 

There's no longer belief." But Morrison's disillusionment does not 

occur without the media first appropriating his image and music with 

his mostly naive participation and co-operation. In a scene borrowed 

from Antonioni's Blozv-Up , Stone has Morrison photographed by a 

young fashion photographer, played by actress Mimi Rogers, who 

aggressively "makes love" to Morrison with her camera. The Doors 

I also take advantage of press conferences, deliberately manipulating 

the media but with little awareness of the media's newfound power 

and cultural significance. Finally, Stone changes the biographical facts 

j of Morrison's life to have the Doors' s song "Light My Fire" bought by 

I Ford Motor Company for a television commercial, an offer which 

I Morrison actually vetoed in disgust. In the film, when Morrison sees 

the commercial, he hurls a television across the room in anger and 

1 tells the other band members that "something has been lost" in their 

I selling-out. 

r However, perhaps the clearest example of the impact of the eco- 

'^ nomic in the realm of cultural production occurs in The Doors when 

^ Stone positions Morrison at an Andy Warhol party in Manhattan. 

Warhol, who is played in the film by Crispin Glover, is introduced to 
Morrison by Truman Capote, who is played by Paul Williams. In op- 
position to Kilmer's Morrison, the characters of Warhol and Capote 
in The Doors approach both parody and the pastiche in their deliber- 

^ ate heavy-handedness: they are more cardboard figures than histori- 

cal representations. The contrast between Morrison and Warhol is strik- 
ing, and it is emblematic of the waning of the modern in the face of an 

^ encroaching postmodern aesthetic sensibility. For example, when 

1 Morrison goes to see Warhol, he must first walk down a corridor where 
s he encounters a Morrison look-alike or parody. Upon meeting Warhol, 

2 Morrison is given a gold telephone, so he can "talk to God." Warhol 
e himself tells Morrison that he doesn't have anything to say to God, 
t and then he promptly leaves Morrison to speak with a new guest, 
^ apparently Michel Foucault. In the film Morrison throws away the 

telephone and promptly receives a salute from the "lizard" spirit who 
^ rushes by him in a horse-drawn carriage. The implication, however, 

is that Warhol's postmodernity is also a post-theological aesthetic as 

West Georgia College Studies in Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 55 

Opposed to Morrison's essentialized modernist aesthetic. In other 
words, while Morrison laments the death of "faith," Warhol simply 
has nothing to say to God; in the postmodern, God has become a ci- 
pher, a redundancy. Warhol, whose paintings and films hinged on the 
manipulation of the media apparatus and the growing culture of con- 
sumerism, embodies the new order in the realm of cultural produc- 
tion, the avant-garde artist in the era of multinational capitalism, as 
opposed to Morrison's rear-garde modernism, the waning logic of 
the old-fashioned imperialist order. 

We may say then that while crassly appropriating Native Ameri- 
can religion for reasons that are far less "innocent" than those of Jim 
Morrison (whose use of Native American Shamanism in the late 60s 
was relatively well-intended though naive), Oliver Stone's The Doors 
paradoxically succeeds in recreating the historical situation of the 60s 
in a deliberately politicized and suggestive way, hence forefronting 
issues that few other mainstream film-makers in the U.S. are now 
willing to approach. Even more importantly. Stone suggests that op- 
positional politics in the late 60s /early 70s lost direction for clearly 
economic reasons rather than strictly cultural ones (i.e. burn-out, bad 
LSD trips, free-love gone bad, etc.). The problem of the modern, how- 
ever, which is to say the problem of life under monopoly capitalism, 
consists largely in the fact that individuals within it are commonly 
blind to the real or historical basis of their economic affluence: the 
oppression of the subaltern masses of the third world, but also ex- 
ploited labor down the street. The unsavory realities of empire, 
whether one chooses to speak of the systematic incarceration of in- 
digenous peoples in the United States or imperialist ventures in South- 
east Asia, are often unavailable in any existential or purely ontologi- 
cal sense to those who live within such a society. However, as we 
have seen, the human misery created by such a culture, both within 
and without, can generate "clearings" of the most unexpected sort, to 
borrow a Heideggerian term, wherein the struggles of oppressed 
peoples are revealed for what they really are: interdependent." For a 
brief moment, perhaps. Stone's film then enables us to see the direc- 
tion resistance must take: the forging of a practical, working alliance 
between peoples across the globe who are oppressed on the basis of 
their class, race, gender, or sexual orientation (though this list is not 
by any means exhaustive). Of course, this also means resistance to the 
false consciousness of contemporary, postmodern cynicism, to bor- 

56 Christopher Wise: The Politics of Ecstasy: Postmodernity, Ethics, and Native American 

row from Peter Sloterdijk, the smug assurance that surrounds us (and 
that is within us), promising us that such projects can be dismissed as 
"politically correct" or simply unrealistic-bad grooves from the 60s. 

Ethics and Media Culture in Natural Born Killers 

If Stone's The Doors demonstrates a universal or wide-scale mecha- 
nization of the superstructure (i.e. the startling growth of the media 
apparatus as well as the autonomization of the photographic sign in 
the domain of popular culture), which was historically commiserate 
with the demise of a now-dated form of monopoly (i.e. 
Euro- American) imperialism, as well as the advent of a more prop- 
erly global or multinational form of capitalism in the early 1970s, 
Stone's later film Natural Born Killers takes us to the mid 1990s wherein 
the tyranny of the media apparatus is now made more explicit for us, 
more unavoidable and repulsive. Most obviously, in the formal com- 
position of Natural Born Killers , Stone avoids the generic conventions 
] of classical Hollywood cinema, more closely approximating Morrison's 

r own film as a student at UCLA: that is, to quote the Manzarek charac- 

ter from The Doors , "non-linear, poetry, everything good art stands 
for." In fact. Stone even deliberately integrates clips from the film he 
imagines Morrison to have made as a student into the composition of 
his own film: specifically, black and white images of a Native Ameri- 
can shaman in the throes of religious ecstasy.-^ Natural Born Killers is 
I therefore more daring, even better art, than The Doors though it nev- 

ertheless refuses to adopt postmodern aesthetic strategies itself, opt- 

1 ing instead for the well-worn modernist and "homeopathic" approach 
r of imploding the simulacrum by injecting it with ever greater doses 
C of its own poison: in this case, popular media's glorification of mind- 
t less violence is "healed" through ruthlessly completing its own vague 
T and half-articulated logic. In short. Stone depicts postmodern media 
g culture (at least in its present form) as wholly deranged, pathological, 

2 evil . Following the lead of Morrison, Stone also relies upon Native 
g American shamanism to provide the axiological basis of his ethical 
. critique of popular American culture. However, despite its visual 
. powerfulness. Natural Born Killers flounders inasmuch as Stone him- 
self catechrestically violates Native American culture to facillate his 
own ethical— but, finally, narcissistic-critique of postmodernity. In 
other words. Stone seeks to "go outside"the vacuous logic of contem- 


West Georgia College Studies in Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 57 

porary American culture by appropriating a convenient Indian Other, 
which is a mere epistemological expedient for him. One problem with 
Stone's approach is that an "outside" of this sort is largely fictional-a 
romantic myth that tends to annihilate the very culture it seeks to 

The first image of Natural Born Killers is a rattlesnake, henceforth a 
symbol of Mickey and Mallory the film's anti-heroes (not unlike the 
"lizard king" of The Doors), whose rampage of murder, rape, and 
mayhem make Charles Merriweather and his baton-twirling girlfriend 
(of Badlands fame and Bruce Springsteen's album Nebraska ) seem 
almost benign. The snake symbolizes pure evil, born from an irre- 
sponsible media culture that glorifies violence for the cheap, voyeuris- 
tic thrills it provides-and of course for the high media ratings which 
may be translated into capital. In this regard. Stone makes abundantly 
clear that it is the postmodern media apparatus that summons forth 
the evil duo, Mickey and Mallory, who themselves realize that they 
are creations of the media-" Frankenstein monsters," they assert, who 
were invented by the media's own Dr. Frankenstein, Wayne Gale, a 
pop newsman and Geraldo Rivera look-alike. Throughout the film. 
Stone reiterates the theme that the media is the truly insane party- 
rather than killers Mickey and Mallory, who at least retain the ability 
to distinguish between good and evil, "but just don't give a damn" 
(as a pop psychologist informs us). During the final shoot-out at the 
federal penitentiary, for example, the killer Mickey even confiscates a 
gun from the reporter Wayne Gale, who at this point also shoots at 
prison guards but for no apparent reason: Mickey states to Wayne, 
"Give that to me. You're not sane." When Mickey and Mallory ex- 
ecute Wayne, the implication is clear: even psychotic killers and vio- 
lent criminals are able to make fundamental ethical distinctions that 
are wholly lacking in those who control the popular media appara- 
tus. For Stone then, if a Baudrillardian or anarchistic reign of the ob- 
ject characterizes postmodern media culture, the automated sign pre- 
vails not because the modernist subject has been imploded, but be- 
cause those who control the media have themselves abdicated their 
most basic ethical responsibilities to the communities that they serve. 
Like Morrison, Stone therefore remains a die-hard modernist, hence 
the resiliency of his own ethical stance, but he is only able to sustain 
this high moral position by appealing to a mythical outside, an 

58 Christopher Wise: The Politics of Ecstasy: Postmodernity, Ethics, and Native American 

Amerindian and Utopian form of subjectivity rather than a purely 
Kantian or bourgeois one. 

Perhaps the most repulsive character of the film is Mallory's fa- 
ther, played by Rodney Dangerfield, who not ironically cheers for his 
favorite professional wrestler by bellowing into the tv screen, "Kill 
the fucking Indian!" Like Mallory's father, Mickey initially has little 
respect for Native American culture. Driving through Monument 
Valley, Mickey yells to a reservation cop, "Cochise, Go eat some more 
fry bread!" Mickey, who butchers meat for a living, comes to revise 
his views about Indians later in the film. In fact, both Mickey and 
Mallory seem to be equally lacking in any ethical sensibility until their 
car breaks down, and they are taken in by a modern-day shaman. 
Red Cloud, who lives with his son in a primitive structure in the middle 
of the desert. Red Cloud (or Mahpiua Luta), it will be remembered, 
was one of the greatest Amerindian chiefs, specifically of the Oglala 
Sioux, who led one of the few successful Indian wars against the U.S. 
Army (directed at that time by General William T. Sherman, who had 
1 better luck in Atlanta). Like Mahiua Luta, for whom he was named, 

X Stone's Red Cloud firmly holds out against white American culture 

r by preserving a sacred space within which he can live, while sur- 

rounded on all sides by total insanity. When Mickey and Mallory 
stumble into his dwelling, a simple, open-air hut with no electricity, we 
see them through the eyes of Red Cloud (played in the film by AIM 
founder Russell Means), with clear dictionary labels attached: they 
are "demons" whose sickness Red Cloud reads as "too much tv." To 
further emphasize the way in which Red Cloud stands against the 
I values of popular American culture. Stone places an upside down 

^ U.S.A. flag in his home. As in The Doors , Stone again connects U.S. 

^ global imperialism and the Native American contexts by showing us 

t a framed letter indicating that Red Cloud's older son was killed in the 

1 Vietnam War. Red Cloud tells his younger son that Mickey and Mallory 
S have the "sad sickness," that they are "lost in a world of ghosts." When 
c the boy asks if they can be healed. Red Cloud states, "Maybe they 

2 don't want to be." 

|- Besides the obvious inversion of American values that Red Cloud's 

^ life represents, the simplicity and environmental harmony of his 

^ lifestyle, we see that rattlesnakes peacefully inhabit Red Cloud's dwell- 

ing. If the rattlesnake symbolizes pure evil, as we have seen, the im- 
plication then is that evil of this sort is an inevitable aspect of human 

YJest Georgia College Studies in Social Sciences, XXXIIl 1995 59 

existence, that Red Cloud can live comfortably with evil in a way that 
mainstream Americans cannot. In western culture, pure evil-that is, 
anything that opposes our own socially constructed belief system- 
must be cathartically eliminated, expulsed from the collective body- 
which inevitably leaves a "remainder" [le reste ], to quote Jacques 
Derrida. The existence of this remainder must be denied at all costs; 
that is, intolerable "evil" must be removed to the reservation, the con- 
centration camp, the gulag, the state or federal penitentiary (Mickey 
and Mallory's eventual fate). Czech author Milan Kundera, who him- 
self was expelled from a largely oppressive and totalitarian regime, 
similarly speaks of "the denial of shit" that is characteristic of west- 
ern ethics and politics today. Red Cloud can therefore live with "shit" 
(or "evil") in a way that white American culture cannot; he does not 
seek to totally banish it to the gulag, or to the reservation-where Na- 
tive Americans themselves are "set apart"-but he instead attempts to 
heal Mickey and Mallory's "sad sickness," despite his awareness of 
the near impossibility of this task. However, during Red Cloud's at- 
tempted exorcism of Mickey and Mallory, we find that the "tv sick- 
ness" runs too deep: believing that Red Cloud is his own abusive fa- 
ther, Mickey mistakenly kills the shaman during the healing ceremony. 
At this point, rattlesnakes attack the couple outside of Red Cloud's 
dwelling, evil consuming evil, which forms a kind of profane 
ouroboros, but also initiates a homeopathic pharmakos, pointing to- 
wards the ultimate success of Red Cloud's ceremony. 

In other words, Mickey and Mallory's healing, that is the recovery 
of their ethical sensibility, comes at the price of Red Cloud's death. 
Red Cloud is therefore a messianic figure but also a scapegoat. We 
may conclude then that the redemption of American media culture 
that Stone urges, most obviously in the lyrics of the final song of the 
film that call for "repentance," is predicated upon the pilfering of the 
values of indigenous culture to reinvigorate a largely bankrupt and 
ethic-less postmodern media culture. Now, for the first moment in 
the film, Mickey and Mallory are aware that they have done some- 
thing wrong, that they have committed an act of evil, a realization 
that never comes to Wayne Gayle. After Red Cloud is shot, Mallory 
calls Mickey, "bad, bad, bad, bad, bad!" She states, "You killed life! 
He fed us, took us in!" Mickey also is aware that he has done some- 
thing evil; later, he tells Wayne Gayle in a live interview that the only 
thing he regrets is that he killed the Indian, the person who "saw the 

60 Christopher Wise: The Politics of Ecstasy: Postmodernity, Ethics, and Native American 

demon." "The only thing that kills a demon is love," Mickey tells 
Wayne, and it is Red Cloud himself who gives this love by offering 
his life in an act of perfect charity. 

We may say then that, for Stone, the inherent or in-dwelling posi- 
tivity of Native American culture, especially its philosophical and re- 
ligious wisdom, but also its environmental awareness (voiced by 
Mickey in his criticism of corporate businessmen as "environmental 
predators"), offers the possibility of an ethical critique of postmodern 
or "mainstream" media culture. However, like Cooper's Noble Sav- 
age Uncas, Stone's messianic Red Cloud finally reveals next to noth- 
ing about "true" or "ordinary" Native American culture in the United 
States today, instead functioning as a convenient screen-icon upon 
which Stone can project his own Utopian ideals and fantasies. If Red 
Cloud is admirable, as opposed to the bad-guy savages of the early 
Hollywood Westerns, he is nevertheless more a racial and romantic 
type than a humanized or "real" person in history. He is an "outside" 
that never really ceases to be "inside" all the while. 

r Conclusion: Postmodern Ethics and the Damaged Subject 

r Earlier in this essay, I indicated that there may be a point at which 

\ the agendas of filmmakers like Oliver Stone and Native American 

t activists converge, despite the limitations of Stone's approach. In fact, 

g the Native American community in general, if one can speak so 

broadly, has been divided over recent Hollywood films such as Stone's, 
as well as Dances With Wolves , The Last of the Mohicans, and Pocohantas, 
some arguing, with Russell Means (of Natural Born Killers ), that tire- 
some "political correctness" debates, rather than authentic Indian 
concerns, have motivated much of the criticism of the above films 
and others. Other Native Americans have countered that Indians like 
Means, also the voice of Pocohantas' s father, have "sold out" their 

1 heritage for profit. While Means is surely correct that much critique 
^ of Native Americans in recent Hollywood film criticism tends to pro- 

2 mote a kind of vulgar ideological analysis, a neo-Stalinism of sorts 
2 that dogmatically mandates the proper criteria for "authenticity," the 
t fact remains that many deeply harmful and racist attitudes about 
t Native Americans have been fostered in U.S. society by Hollywood 
2 films throughout the last eighty years. For example, it is difficult even 
J today for many "white" Americans to understand how "heroic" fig- 
ures like Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and John Wayne, to cite but a few 

West Georgia College Studies in Social Sciences, XXXIU, 1995 61 

examples, can hardly be considered as appropriate role models for 
Native Americans. Additionally, many "mainstream" Americans com- 
pletely fail to understand how repulsive it is for Native Americans to 
encounter sporting teams with names like the Braves (or the Chiefs, 
the Indians, the Redskins). It is no wonder then that even moderately 
stereotypical films like The Doors and Natural Born Killers are often 
well-received by significant portions of the Native American popu- 
lace as "progressive": Many Native Americans, in fact, are simply re- 
lieved that the days of Roy Rogers are gone (at least for most of us). 
Still, it is irritating to have to celebrate one's cultural exploitation and 
misrepresentation as "affirmative." 

In the case of Stone's appropriation of Native American culture, 
the various shortcomings of his approach should nevertheless not 
blind us to the positive, even Utopian, dimensions of his films. If it is 
true, as Claude Levi-Strauss has argued, that all cultural artifacts con- 
tain significant Utopian, as well as ideological impulses-that is, all 
cultural artifacts function in the first instance as symbolic "questions" 
posed to history in a creative effort to resolve the dilemmas of mate- 
rial neccessity^^-even outright fascist film narratives, like Stallone's 
Rambo films or, say, the fatuous and Gingrichesque Forrest Gump , 
may teach us something about the direction an oppositional politics 
should take. We must therefore broaden our conception of ideology 
to mean something more than "false consciousness," or simply "wrong 
thinking," so that it may include, in a more properly Althusserian 
and neutral sense, our "imaginary relationship" to the real material 
environments that we inhabit. In other words, as long as oppositional 
filmmakers, critics, and theoreticians continue to endorse a strictly 
negative conception of contemporary Hollywood film as inherently 
ideological (in the bad sense), it is unlikely that an effective coalition 
or broad power base of support for socialist issues can be established 
within popular culture. As Douglas Kellner and Michael Ryan have 
asserted in Camera Politica (1988), "[t]o a certain extent, culture pre- 
cedes and determines politics. If this has clear implications for under- 
standing conservative ascendancy in the political realm, it also has 
implications for formulating a socialist alternative to that power."^^ 
KelLner and Ryan rightly urge that the Left must "overcome its tradi- 
tional distrust and disdain for popular culture"; or, as Jameson has 
similarly argued in Postmodernism , the Left must seek at present to 

62 Christopher Wise: The Politics of Ecstasy: Postmodernity, Ethics, and Native American 

develop a "positive conception of ideology as a necessary function in 
any form of social life" (PM, p. 416). 

Stone's films, I would assert here, offer a modest beginning in this 
direction. For example. Stone differs from Jim Morrison and other 
political modernists of the 1960s in at least one important sense: 
whereas Morrison was completely crushed by the media apparatus. 
Stone himself is a proven master at controlling the media to promote 
his own political ideals and agendas, some that are simply idiosyn- 
cratic when not a complete waste of time (i.e. the stillborn ]FK ). In 
this regard. Stone has much more in common with Andy Warhol than 
Jim Morrison, or Stone has inherited Morrison's modernist sensibil- 
ity (i.e. his ethical, political, and religious concerns), while learning 
important lessons from "postmodernists" like Warhol, Godard, and 
others. It must be emphasized then that, while Stone demonizes main- 
stream and postmodern media in both The Doors and Natural Born 
Killers , he himself never ceases to rely upon and deploy the tools of 
the "beast" in offering his own apocalyptic critique of postmodernity- 
all this in an effort not to miraculously "will" tv culture out of exist- 
ence, but rather to seek its ethical regeneration. Similarly, Stone's 
deployment of Native Americans in his films differs from previous 
racialist art and literary works (i.e. Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans , 
Hollywood Westerns, Beverely Doolittle's paintings) in that the pas- 
tiche Indians of Stone, especially in Natural Born Killers , are not only 
romanticized types, but they are also symbolic utterances (or indexic 
signs) in a complex social discourse that Stone himself "speaks" with 
great skill. In this sense, unlike Cooper's Uncas, Stone's Red Cloud is 
not simply homo Americanus (as opposed to homo Sinicus, homo 
Arabicus, homo Africanus ) in an elaborate racialist and Eurocentric 
typology, ^^ he is also, to quote from Edith Wyschogrod's Saints and 
Postmodernism , a more general "signifier ... that fills the discursive 
plane of ethics. "^^ Hence, Red Cloud and Stone's other Indians are 
interesting figures not necessarily because of their logocentric and his- 
torical actuality (which is questionable), but because of the ways in 
which they impose realizable and cogent ethical demands on Stone's 
film viewers (SP, p. 28-29). 

However, as we have already seen in our discussion of The Doors , 
this does not necessarily imply that the historical or the "real" should 
be "bracketed off" as simply undecidable, as Wychogrod herself ad- 
vocates (SP, p. 28), in favor of a "flattened out" or purely synchronic 

West Georgia College Studies in Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 63 

postmodernity, which, in properly Derridean fashion, tends to 
reinscribe the text itself as a new mastercode or ideology in its own 
right. In opposition to the anti-hermeneutic thrust of postmodernist 
ideology, one might instead assert that "the truth" of the postmodern 
situation is only available hermeneutically, that is by adopting inter- 
pretive tools that may enable us to uncover the traces left by history 
itself within the cultural documents that define us (like The Doors and 
Natural Born Killers ). History, in this sense, can only be recovered al- 
legorically: the reading of any cultural document is therefore, in 
Benjamin's phraseology, like a nightmarish "return to the scene of a 
crime" (REF, p. 226), wherein the overwhelming evidence of history's 
existence is everywhere present but nowhere visible; or, to borrow 
from Althusser, history is never available directly but only as an "ab- 
sent cause" that must be hermeneutically recovered in interpretive 
acts. Edith Wyschogrod, who has articulated the most coherent and 
systemized postmodern ethics to date, must then be challenged inas- 
much as she insists (with the neo-liberal American philosopher Rich- 
ard Rorty, but also with the "renegade" Frankfurt School theorist 
Jiirgen Habermas) that, in the realm of ethics, the spheres of the pri- 
vate and public are not related, and that to continue to insist upon 
this relationship is a "sentimental pretension."-*^ For this reason, 
Wyschogrod's postmodern ethics reject a "deontological moral prin- 
ciple" (SP, p. 42-43), instead relying heavily upon Emmanuel Levinas's 
hypostatized metaphysics of the human face. 

In opposition to Wyschogrod, whose ethics are imaginatively lim- 
ited to the realm of the ontological, a truly politicized "postmodern" 
ethics (that is an ethics that is "post" the postmodern) must therefore 
prioritize those unsavory historical realities that are rarely available 
in any purely existential sense to the inhabitants of postmodern (i.e. 
first world) culture. Wyschogrod's postmodern ethics, which purport 
to address the concerns of the "wretched of the earth," but with few 
references to Marx (who coined the phrase in "The Communist Mani- 
festo"), and without a single reference to Frantz Fanon (who wrote 
the renowned study of colonialism. The Wretched of the Earth ), may be 
effectively politicized by insisting upon what is neglected in her own 
ideologically motivated foreclosure of the "deontological" and the 
historical. In fact, the actuality of a "postmodern" ethics depends upon 
both, for as Fanon himself puts it, "in a very concrete way Europe 
[and the United States] have stuffed [themselves] inordinately with 

64 Christopher Wise: The Politics of Ecstasy: Postmodernity, Ethics, and Native American 

the gold and raw materials of the colonial countries: Latin America, 
China, and Africa .... [The first world] is literally the creation of the Third 
World. The wealth which smothers her is that which was stolen from 
underdeveloped peoples. "^'^ Obviously, the recovery of this "truth" 
of the postmodern situation depends upon not only a "deontological 
moral principle" and the category of the historical (which theorists 
like Baudrillard and Francis Fukiyama would have us believe is in its 
last throes), but it also depends upon a profoundly ethical identifica- 
tion with the struggles of the subaltern masses of the third world, as 
well as oppressed subjectivities here in the United States (i.e. ethnic 
minority, gay /lesbian, women, working class whites, and others). 

However, if Sloterdijk is correct in his suggestion that 
postmodernity may be characterized by a peculiar deafness to such 
"old-fashioned" ethical appeals (which is certainly true for 
Wyschogrod herself), or by a kind of neo-solipism, it may be more 
productive to insist upon the epistemological (rather than the ethical) 
priority of oppressed forms of subjectivity, which-according to the 
terms of Hegel's classical master-slave dialectic-have greater access 
to the totality of their distinct historical situations. "The view from 
the top is epistemologically crippling," as Jameson has reminded us, 
"for it reduces its subjects to the illusions of a host of fragmented 
subjectivities, to the poverty of the individual experience of isolated 
monads, to dying individual bodies without collective pasts or fu- 
tures bereft of any possibility of grasping the social totality."""^ An- 
other way to say this might be agree with Barbara Harlow, author of 
Resistance Literature, who has argued that "the First World is [now] 
being called upon to assume a certain responsibility-a responsibility 
not for others, for 'the other,' the 'Third World,' the 'oriental,' or how- 
ever it chooses to designate the unfamiliar, but for the limitations of its 
own perspective [my emphasis]. "^^ Whatever the problems in Stone's 
films, there can be no question that Stone himself insists upon the 
epistemological priority of Native American forms of subjectivity. 
Furthermore, Stone's Native American subject differs from past ro- 
mantic representations of the Indian as Noble Savage in that Stone's 
Indians, like the historical Red Cloud (quoted at the beginning of this 
essay), are besieged subjects who do not really exist in a state of pri- 
mordial "purity" and natural "innocence." 

It only remains to be said here that, whatever the epistemological 
and ethical advantages of oppressed forms of subjectivity like that of 


YJest Georgia College Studies in Social Sciences, XXXIIl, 1995 65 

Native Americans and others, or the variegated and distinct "views 
from below," to quote Jameson, no such identity standpoint approach 
can hope to realistically accomplish its political objectivities without 
some more general heuristic wherein the multifaceted and specific 
subjectivities in question can somehow be brought together into a 
practical, working alliance, which can effectively challenge the hege- 
monic structures of late capitalist society. What is needed at present is 
a reconstructed form of "proletarian" subjectivity, which is to say a 
reconstructed Marxism, in which the insufficiencies of previous left- 
ist theory are corrected, namely the workerism of more dogmatic and 
Eurocentric avatars of Marxism. The writings of Edward Said, Abdul 
JanMohammed, Gayatri Spivak, Benita Perry, and many other 
postcolonial (but also Marxist) theorists already offer significant ad- 
vances in this direction. While we must avoid overly vague, Hegelian 
(and outdated) syntheses which hearken to the concerns of another 
era, especially those that would deny the specificity of the oppression 
of each identity position, the possibility of a "collective subject," 
formed out of the emphatically historical experience of damage, to quote 
JanMohammed, may be said to offer us the hope for a collective eth- 
ics yet to come: an ethics that is truly inclusive, as opposed the ethics 
of Republican politicians such Bob Dole, Newt Gingrich, Pat 
Robertson, and so on. Among other reasons. Stone's films are impor- 
tant because they show us how badly such a collective ethics is needed 
in the United States today. Though Stone's Indians may not be "real" 
or "authentic," they are nevertheless Utopian figures that are located, 
like the "collective subject" of postcolonial theory, at the other end of 
historical time. 


^ Walter Benjamin, Reflections (New York: Schocken Books, 1986), p. 181. Henceforth 
cited as REF. 

^ Dee Brown, Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee (New York: Henry Holt and .Com- 
pany, 1970), p. 97. 

^ See Jim Morrison, Wilderness (New York: Villard Books, 1990), where he writes "The 
Politics of ecstasy are real / Can't you feel them working / thru you / Turning 
night into day / Mixing sun with the sea" p. 173. Hencefort cited as WDN. 

* Dylan Jones, Jim Morrison: Dark Star (New York: Viking, 1990), p. 185. 

^ Jerry Hopkins, The Lizard King (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1992), p. 192. 
Henceforth cited as LK. 

66 Christopher Wise: The Politics of Ecstasy: Postmodernity, Ethics, and Native American 

" Mircea Eliade, Shamanism (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1963). 
Henceforth cited as SMN. 

' It may be noted that I am hereby subsuming the obviously vague and homogeniz- 
ing category "Native American Culture"-which of course cannot do justice to the 
hetereogeneity of American Indian peoples and their widely divergent lifestyles- 
under the vaguer still (and even less satisfactory) concept of the "postcoloniaI,"or 
the problematic of global colonization (or imperialism) and its aftermath. My rea- 
sons for adopting this interpretive tact, it is hoped, should become clear by the 
conclusion of this paper. Briefly, however, I will note here that such a strategy may 
be justified inasmuch as the interpretive violence unavoidably committed in such 
theoretical acts may further the political objectives of those peripherial groups in 
question like Native Americans-but also African- Americans, Asian- Americans, ho- 
mosexuals, and others. Such, in any case, is the ideological motivation for my es- 
say, for which no apology shall be forthcoming. 

^ Cooper's inscription at the opening of his novel is taken from Shakespeare's The 
Merchant of Venice , in which the North African suitor Morocco pleads "mislike me 
not for the color of my skin." Morocco's plea for tolerance of racial difference is 
borrowed by Cooper to insure his readers' admiration of Uncas, "the last of the 
Mohicans." This strange transposition of orientalist discourse into the North Ameri- 
can context suggests obvious parallels between Edward Said's theses on orientalism 
and European writing about indigenous Americans. 

'Alex Kuo,"Beverly Doolittle: Trans-racial Re-invention of the Noble Savage: Danc- 
ing With Wohes and Reaganomics," 1993 Pacific Northwest American Studies Con- 
ference, Bend, Oregon, April 2, 1993. 

'" Kwame Anthony Appiah, In My Father's House: African In The Philosophy f Culture 
(New York /Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), p. 356. 

" George Yiidice is quoted from an as yet unpublished manuscript in John Beverely, 
Against Literature (Minneapohs/ London: University of Minnesota Press, 1993) p. 

'- 1 am indebted to Alex Kuo for this point. It may also be worth comparing AIM's 
position with Frantz Fanon's discussion of the manichean nature of the colonized 
world in The Wretched of the Earth . 

'^ See Marx's "Letter to Ruge" (1843), "So our campaign slogan must be: reform of 
consciousness, not through dogma, but through the analysis of that mystical con- 
sciousness which has not yet become clear to itself. It will then turn out that the 
world has long dreamt of that of which it had only to have a clear idea to possess it 
really. It will turn out that it is not a question of any conceptual rupture between 
past and future, but rather of the completion of the thoughts of the past." Quoted in 
Fredric Jameson Marxism and Form (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University 
Press, 1971), p. 116. Henceforth cited as MR 

'"* Fredric Jameson, "Periodizing the 60s," The Ideologies of Theory: Essays 1971-1986, 
Vol. 2: The Syntax of History . (Minneapolis /London: University of Minnesota Press, 
1988), p. 208. Henceforth cited as P60s. 

^^ Jameson's view, however, does not presuppose the 60s as an "organic unity at all 
levels," as he puts it, "but rather [as] a hypothesis about the rhythm and dynamics 
of the fundamental situation in which very different levels, develop according to 

West Georgia College Studies in Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 67 

their own internal laws" (P60s, p. 179). Jameson does not therefore abandon histo- 
riography as such, as much as he, like Althusser before him, attempts to "reorga- 
nize its traditional procedures on a different level" (P60s, p. 180). 

'^ Jerry Prochnicky and James Riordan, Break On Through: The Life and Death of Jim 
Morrison (New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1991) p. 69. Henceforth 
cited as BOT. 

'^ Given New Orleans's reputation as an anomalous North American site of cultural 
diversity, or as the United States' s gateway to the Afro-Caribbean world. Stone's 
deviation in this instance is not really coincidental, not if it is true that Morrison's 
"possession" has less to do with grotesque lizard-men than it does with the "pro- 
digious release of untheorized new forces" in world history (P60s, p. 208). 

'^ For example. Stone's film misguidely closes with dramatic takes at Pere Lachaise 
cemetery of the grave sites of other creative "genuises" such as Moliere, Honore de 
Balzac, Marcel Proust, Sarah Bernhardt, and—finally— James Douglass Morrison. 

'■^ Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism: or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism Durham, 
North Carolina: Duke University Press, 1990), p. 5. Henceforth cited as PM. 

^° I am quoting here from the following Morrison poem: "The horror of business / 
The Problem of Money / guilt / do I deserve it? / The meeting / Rid of managers 
& agents / After 4 yes. I'm left w/ a mind like a fuzzy hammer / regret for wasted 
nights & wasted years / I pissed it all away / American Music" (WDN, p. 208). 

2' Ernst Mandel, Late Capitalism (London: NLB Press, 1976), p. 387. 

^ One might also evoke Walter Benjamin's concept of "the profane illumination." 
For more in this regard, see Christopher Wise's "The Profane Illumination: Reflec- 
tions on the Benjamin-Adomo Debate," Arena Journal , New Series, No. 2 (1993/ 
1994): 195-214. 

^ It may be worth noting that, near the time of his death, Morrison himself was writ- 
ing and directing a film with a remarkably similar plot to Natural Born Killers . One 
might also compare Morrison's the lyrics of Morrison's "Riders On The Storm" 
with the events of Stone's film. 

^'^ Claude Levi-Strauss, Tristes Tropiques (New York /London: Penguin Books, 1992), 
p. 196-197. 

^^ Douglas Kellner and Michael Ryan, Camera Politica: The Politics and Ideology of Con- 
temporary Hollywood Film (Bloomington/ Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 
1988), p. 292. 

^^ See Edward Said's Orientalism (New York: Vintage Books, 1979) p. 96-97. Also see 
Anwar Abdel Malek's seminal essay "Orientalism in Crisis," Diogenes 44 (Winter 
1963): 107-108. 

^^ Edith Wyschogrod, Saints and Postmodernism (Chicago, Illinois: University of Chi- 
cago Press, 1990) p. 52. Henceforth cited as SP. 

^^ Jiirgen Habermas, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity (Cambridge, Massachu- 
setts, The MIT Press, 1991) p. 28-29. 

^' Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of The Earth (New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1991) p. 102. 

^° Fredric Jameson, "Third World Literature and The Era of Multinational Capital- 
ism/' Social Text 15 (1986) p. 85. 

68 Christopher Wise: The Politics of Ecstasy: Postmodernity, Ethics, and Native American 

^' Barbara Harlow, Resistance Literature (London/ New York: Methuen, Inc., 1987), p. 

3^ Abdul R. JanMohamed and David Lloyd, The Nature and Context of Minority Dis- 
course (Oxford /New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), p. 9-10. 

Destiny without Destination (?): Un 
Coeur en Hiver, The Double Life of 
Veronique, and the Question of 
Postmodern Ethics 

by Marc J. LaFountain 

... there where you would like to grasp your timeless 
substance, you encounter only a slipping, only the 
poorly coordinated play of your perishable elements.^ 

The infiniteness of abandonment, the community of 
those who have no community^ 

I. Introduction 

Living ethically is a burden and a riddle. Not only do ethics have 
to be lived up to, but they have to be lived to be known and con- 
structed in order for them to be lived up to. There is a reflexive rela- 
tionship between "living," "constructing," and "living up to," how- 
ever, that makes a distinction between them impossible. That is, to 
live up to ethics is to construct their reality, and to affirm their reality 
is to construct them. The latter reversibility requires some sense of 
resources upon which the living-up-to and constructing processes 
must draw. I suggest here that postmodern ethics must contend with 
a growing sense that now the latter reflexivity and reversibility are 
acutely troubled notions. 

What we draw on as resources in the process of living up to and 
constructing can be pursued as a way of approaching the problem of 
ethics from a modernist and a postmodernist stance. Both stances do 
not assume this reflexive process, and what exist as "resources" for 
living ethically differs drastically with each. The intent of this essay is 
to explore this difference. This inquiry requires an understanding of 
some of the peculiarities of modernist and postmodernist experience. 
To insinuate these experiences, I will offer a rendition of two contem- 
porary films, Un Coeur en Hiver (hereafter UCH) and The Double Life of 

70 Marc. J. LaFoimtain: Destiny without Destination (?): Un Coeiir en Hiver 

Veronique (hereafter DLV). Special attention will be given to the music 
which mediates and communicates the relations, moods, and expres- 
sions of the protagonists. Via the music we can approach the ways in 
which the protagonists are "in tune" with each other, and we can ac- 
cess the ethical implications of their attunement. Efforts to understand 
divergences between "modern" and "postmodern" can lead to an 
essentializing of those differences; that emphatically is not a goal here. 
Only against the backdrop of the musically mediated ethical relations 
of the films' performers will any effort be made to distinguish the 
context of modernist and postmodern ethics. I do not aim to establish 
the historical or cultural contingencies or factors associated with a 
distinction between modern and postmodern; the concern rather is 
with the philosophical and experiential aspects of the latter and what 
they tell of sociality and ethics. 

After a brief synopsis of the films a phenomenologically oriented 
interpretation of the protagonists' experiences will be developed. 
Drawing upon figures as diverse as Schutz, Merleau-Ponty, Levinas, 
Blanchot, and Bataille, among others, questions of the nature of com- 
munication, meaning, intersubjectivity, intimacy, proximity, and com- 
munity will be considered. Via the music questions about the pro- 
tagonists' singularity and communality will be raised along with other 
questions about the very possibility and viability of community and 
ethics and whether ethics are can be intentional or only accidental. 
My intent is not to treat UCH as a modernist film or DLV as a 
postmodernist film. Rather I aim to explore the sense of the ethical in 
each for clues about intersubjectivity, sociality and the problem of eth- 
ics in postmodernity. 

II. Synopsis 

The Double Life of Veronique and Un Coeur en Hiver are about con- 
temporary individuals struggling in contemporary times. DLV, di- 
rected by Krzysztof Kieslowski and released in 1991, is simultaneously 
set in Poland and France. DLV sketches the lives of two young women, 
one Polish and one French, under the assumption that they are in fact 
two different individuals living synchronously. DLV begins in Poland 
where the Polish Veronika and the French Veronique encounter each 
other in a square in Krakow. Veronique has boarded a bus and is shoot- 
ing photographs of a crowd of protestors. For a fleeting moment she 
and Veronika notice and even seem to recognize each other. Later it is 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXIIl, 1995 71 

revealed that Veronika shows up in one of the photographic images 
Veronique has taken. 

The film then moves to an enigmatically disjunctive series of 
glimpses of the individual and mysteriously intermingled lives of the 
two women. It begins with Veronika who is pursuing a career as a 
singer of classical music. She is a plain and simple young woman 
who, despite her lack of success, lives an apparently happy life. She is 
a gifted singer even though she is not well trained or technically skilled. 
It is uncertain whether or not a career will ever happen for her and 
her frustration is evident. Her relationship with her lover is discon- 
certing and seemingly not worth the effort. With regard to material 
comforts and possessions, she is a minimalist due more to lack of pros- 
perity than to choice. During the first performance which will hope- 
fully launch her career, she collapses and dies while singing an ex- 
quisitely haunting song. The music and the haunting persist through- 
out the film. 

At the very moment Veronika expires Veronique is overwhelmed 
with grief. It unclear to her why this is so even though she already 
knows she is unhappy. Her unhappiness is not at all due to lack of 
accomplishment or of being desired. She too is a gifted musician - 
though skilled and competent, unlike Veronika - and she supports 
herself as a teacher. She lives comfortably surrounded by art, a lovely 
city, and handsome suitors. Her lover is an acclaimed author of 
children's stories and a talented puppeteer. Nonetheless, Veronique 
experiences a void in her life, a lack she continually tries to overcome 
with all the things the successful and fortunate have at their disposal. 
Her obsession is for meaningful connection with an other. Her frivol- 
ity and aching search for passion and substance thus figure her exist- 
ence. Having given up her singing career, she is ultimately confronted 
point blank with the poverty of her existence when she sees herself 
caricatured in one of her lover's marionette plays. Throughout her 
days and nights she is afflicted and solicited by a shatteringly sweet 
muse, perhaps having something to do with the photo of Veronika 
she discovers among the traces of her trip to Poland. At the end of the 
film she seeks out her father for a sheltering we know will not end her 

Ostensibly the film is a exploration of the doppelganger motif - the 
idea that our double exists somewhere simultaneously, whether in 
this universe now or in some other in some strangely parallel place. 

72 Marc. }. LaFountain: Destiny without Destination (?): Un Coeur en Hiver 

Such themes are not unusual for Kieslowski, perhaps best known for 
the triptych WJtite, Blue, Red. In the latter, mood and music are the 
primary substance around which the tales are fashioned. Earlier films 
such as No End and The Dekalog, a ten hour version of the Ten Com- 
mandments, likewise explored life and interaction as an ambience 
through which pass any number of bodies, spirits, apparitions, and 
tonalities in vivid ambiguity. The invisible and the tenuously present, 
oddly juxtaposed and often coupled, fascinate Kieslowski much as 
they did de Chirico and Breton. That there is a puzzling visibility and 
familiarity to the veiled and the unintelligible also recalls Camera Buff, 
where a worker who purchases a camera to film his infant daughter 
ends up obsessed with snagging images of a world which will only 
bring him trouble. The visibility and invisibility of the subtle and the 
obscure which visit us in uncanny ways are Kieslowski' s fascination. 
For those who demand narrative clarity and plot, Kieslowski is trouble- 
some. For those for whom life is mysterious and poignantly opaque, 
his work is a gift. 

Un Coeur en Hiver, the story of a wintry or hibernating heart, di- 
rected by Claude Sautet and released in 1993, occurs in Paris where a 
threesome (Maxime, Stephane and Camille) struggle with love and 
friendship. Maxime, an elegantly handsome merchant, co-owns a 
business with Stephane, where violins are made and repaired by 
Stephane. As extroverted and exuberant as Maxime is, Stephane is 
equally an imperturbable loner. He lives in a small room in the rear of 
the repair shop. He lives a spartan life, as scant with items in his ward- 
robe as he is with words. He is a gifted craftsman with an extraordi- 
nary sensitivity to sound and music which makes possible his skill at 
rendering violins capable of delivering the passion their players wish 
to communicate. Maxime and Stephane say they are only partners 
and not friends, but Stephane never tries to best him at racquetball. 

Maxime has fallen in love and is leaving his wife for a ascending 
young virtuoso, Camille. Camille appears to be committed to Maxime, 
but when she meets Stephane she falls in love with him. Stephane at 
first seems attracted, which we only know from the music modulat- 
ing their encounters. Stephane's response to Camille's throwing her- 
self at him is reticent and even frigid, but it is not clear if he has cho- 
sen not to seek her, or is incapable of feeling (we know he has given 
up playing music in favor of creating the objects which make it), or if 
there is some other secret. Camille's advances spumed, she angrily 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 73 

retreats from Stephane. Maxime becomes aware of Camille's attrac- 
tion to Stephane and even encourages him to pursue her. Stephane 
silently refuses. Upon witnessing an encounter where Camille is irate 
with Stephane for refusing her, Maxime slaps Stephane's face. 
Stephane later tries to explain himself to Camille, but now she rejects 

Stephane breaks his partnership with Maxime and begins a busi- 
ness of his own. When apparently lonely, he goes to the country house 
of Lachaume, the great teacher who taught the three protagonists to 
play violin. When Lachaume is near death, it is only Stephane who is 
capable of performing the euthanasia Lachaume desires. Stephane 
reveals it is love that makes this possible. Maxime goes to Stephane's 
atelier and their "friendship" picks up again as if it had never been 
broken. At the close of the film, Camille still pursues her career, Maxime 
is with her, and Stephane continues to prefer the instrument to the 
music, a seeming broodiness to passion's entanglements, the secrecy 
of spaces within communication to their evocative effects. 

The vicissitudes of friendship and love are themes revisited in 
Claude Sautet's previous films. People move in and out of each oth- 
ers' lives, become unexpectedly and profoundly entwined with each 
other, and then remain friends or lovers when everything would seem 
to indicate they shouldn't, or they split when everything would seem 
to indicate they should be together. In particular he seems intrigued 
with romantic love and threesomes. In Les Choses de la Vie Sautet ex- 
plores how a man's relationship with his wife and a mistress forces 
him to reckon with himself, and in A Simple Story, a woman chooses 
to make dramatic changes in a life that already is very comfortable 
and secure. In Cesar and Rosalie two men having separate affairs with 
the same woman become friends as the years pass. Vincent, Francois, 
Paul and the Others explores the consoling delight of friendship shared 
by three middle-aged, bourgeois men who are exemplary in the de- 
grees of disillusionment and failure in their lives. Sautet seems fasci- 
nated with the notion that c'est la vie! is all that can be discerned at the 
core of relationships. Romance, love, infatuation, friendship, and com- 
panionship are haphazard and fickle, without reason. Whether we 
are thrown into situations, or arrive there by our own devices, life is 
arbitrary, and remaining in tune with each other is a slippery and 
unpredictable matter. The social world is no more ruled completely 

74 Marc. J. LaFountain: Destiny without Destination (?): Un Coeur en Hiver 

by chance than by amity or enmity, and the most unusual entangle- 
ments are, without being bizarre or eerie, the most mundane. 

III. The films via phenomenology 

Erving Goffman's distinction between focussed and unfocussed 
interactions offers an opening through which to approach these films. 
His perspective permits us to raise phenomenologically related is- 
sues even though such issues are not his concern. Focussed interac- 
tion occurs in encounters "when people effectively agree to sustain 
for a time a single focus of cognitive and visual attention.. .sustained 
by a close face-to-face circle of contributors".^ Focussed interaction, 
also possessing a concerted flow of emotion and affect, produces an 
emergent "we" feeling marked by a permeable "membrane". This 
membrane, or "frame," defines a space where ritual and ceremony 
are acted out by both drawing upon and creating a reserve of rules 
and resources. When the rules operate effectively, "emotional energy' 
and "cultural capital" are produced which permit "interaction ritual 
chains"^ to stretch over time and space to be used as resources for 
negotiating successive encounters. Unfocussed encounters, on the 
other hand, "consist[s] of interpersonal communications that result 
solely by virtue of persons being in one another's presence" (E, p. 7) 
where each other's presence forces modifications of the other's activ- 
ity. Unfocussed interactions are fleeting, spontaneous, and lack clo- 
sure, that is, there is no membrane which emerges and is sustained. 
Nonetheless, unfocussed interaction is pervaded by normative orien- 
tations governing demeanor and deference. For Goffman both realms 
of interaction require and generate mutuality, trust and integration, 
however tenuous. A perusal of the phenomenological aspects of these 
interactional spaces yields a glimpse of their implications for ethics, 
at least as configured in these films. I shall argue that these consider- 
ations assist us in appreciating the question of ethics when 
"postmodernity" is approached as an experiential, interactional event. 

The dramatic space of DLV is generally unfocussed interaction 
given the transient, fragmented scenes occurring in Veronique's life. 
Each film, especially UCH, is presented almost as if a stage play, so 
tightly defined are the interactional sites. Even in the briefest of en- 
counters clear shared meaning seems to emerge. It is interesting to 
note, however, that UCH, arguably the less puzzling of the two films, 
more curtly defines its scenes. The effect is that even though the scenes' 

lest Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 


revity conveys the unfathomable, e.g., Stephane's heart, the interac- 
ons that transpire still permit a context in which coherent sense of 
thical sensibilities can emerge. DLV's scenes, however, are both brief 
nd protracted, and infinitely more indefinite, as are the contours of 
s ethical context. 

For instance, Stephane and Maxime are business partners, and 
espite disclaimers, they seem also to be friends who honor each other, 
/hen Stephane tells Maxime he is having an affair and will soon be 
laving his wife for Camille, Stephane exhibits no concern to chide 
laxime or to alert his wife. Stephane realizes he is attracted to Camille, 
nd even when he is encouraged by a confidant to pursue her, he 
laintains an aloofness that belies the heat between himself and 
amille. Of course, it is difficult to know whether he is compelled by 
?ar or emotional impotence or a sense of honor. Likewise when 
laxime himself urges Stephane to seek out Camille, he refuses. And 
^hen Stephane spurns Camille in view of Maxime, Maxime slaps him 
) preserve both his own honor and that of Camille. Stephane's re- 
house is to remove himself from their situation. However difficult it 
light be to accept, from the viewer's point of view, it is understand- 
ble that Maxime and Camille would remain together. 

Numerous other scenes reveal similar moral or ethical constraints. 
lS the story unfolds and Stephane and Maxime resume their friend- 
lip and come to know each other even more deeply and idiosyn- 
ratically, it is clear each respects the other and acts as if he needs the 
ther. Camille, who lives with Regine, her agent, who is at least jeal- 
us of Camille, if not erotically interested in her, maintains a carefully 
leasured though respectful relation with Regine, and she with 
'amille. Lachaume is treated with great reverence by Stephane, 
laxime, and Camille, and even the quirky, strained relation between 
achaume and his housekeeper is obviously bound by mutually sup- 
ortive tissue. When it is necessary Lachaume be given the fatal injec- 
on, it is clear there is a consensus among all involved that both the 
me and the one who will do it are the only and appropriate ones. 

Whatever the particularities of the relationships between the vari- 
us individuals, however difficult to figure the motivations and rea- 
Dns behind their actions and talk, one thing is very clear - they share 
/^hat Schutz referred to as a "communicative common environment".^ 
he peculiarities of each person's biography have lent themselves to 
"we". While the viewer is left to decipher why this or that is chosen 

76 Marc. J. LaFoimtain: Destiny without Destination (?): Un Coeur en Hiver 

in the passion of various situations, or is left to decide if in fact certain 
events were not inevitable, it is still obvious that Stephane, Maxime, 
and Camille were in tune with each other. 

When the viewer considers the ethical nature of the relationships 
between the various characters there is a sense that the world they 
inhabit is an ordered world whose order is predicated on a mutual 
and reciprocal embodying. While each of them may do things the 
viewer would not expect or hope for in a given scenario, that does not 
detract from the sense that their intersubjective space is as understand- 
able to them as it is to the viewer. If asked for an account of the tacitly 
held "practical knowledge" each deploys, each could easily discur- 
sively articulate it despite the fact that the more occluded domain of 
their "cohesion" to each other and the world might remain vague. To 
say UCH's characters are in tune with each other suggests that there 
is a complementarity to each character's action which, when juxta- 
posed to others' actions, permits what Schutz referred to as a "typi- 
cal" thematic framework which organizes their actions continuously 
and consistently. That they share a common communicative space 
implies that the particularity and anonymity of each character are 
woven together as a common sense of space and time ("here and now") 
and in the "vivid present" [they] grow older together". *" The latter, 
for Schutz, as for Weber and Mead before him, is the foundation of 
what we take for granted as "society". Giddens, echoing the latter, 
suggests that as individuals interact they engage in a "structuration" 
process which both produces and reproduces the sedimented stocks 
of knowledge and coherent meanings which comprise "society".^ 

The typically interpreted thematic space that individuals share, 
however, does not make completely visible the more primitive to- 
getherness they share. The intersubjective reality that Schutz describes 
is a thematically, reflectively constructed set of meanings which de- 
pend on the intentional acts of consciousness which are situated within 
everyday "projects". This intersubjectivity, according to 
Merleau-Ponty, is grounded in a more primordial relatedness indi- 
viduals share when in each other's copresence. By virtue of their open- 
ing onto and sharing the same "here and now" their immediate expe- 
rience of each other and their own world is already preobjectivley 
intersubjective and meaningful. Such relatedness for Merleau-Ponty 
is an intercorporeal intertwining that is prereflectively lived, and this 
'lived-world" is the lush matrix of meaning out of which thematic 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 77 

meaning arises. For Merleau-Ponty, however, unlike Schutz, for whom 
meaning arises only in the reflective acts of consciousness, the 
lived-world is a nascent logos whose medium is the lived-body. That 
is, it is already meaningful; it is already intersubjective "flesh" and it 
is dependent only upon the dialectic of time and proximity for its 
meanings to be more fully built up. Ostrow suggests that "society" is 
embodied or resides in the "social sensitivity" lived prior to differen- 
tiations between subjects and objects. Retrieving the sense of social 
sensitivity reveals that we are "inextricably interwoven"^ with each 
other long before "we" is articulated as "a relationship". We are 
complicit at a level of meaning that precedes knowledge. 
Merleau-Ponty, Sartre and others have taught us that reflection can 
only go so far in recovering the full immediacy of immediacy. UCH 
plays on this later notion, for the ambiguity we experience vis-a-vis 
our thematic knowledge of Stephane and Camille, as well as Camille's 
of Stephane, and Stephane and Maxime's of each other, is perplexed 
by its immersion in the thickness of lived-experience. Yet we do, 
though not fully and not ironically, sense what things mean to them. 

Despite the unity of the embodied world that Stephane and Camille 
each inhabits, which simultaneously is intercorporeal and embryoni- 
cally intersubjective, it is clear that as time progresses she will go on 
without Stephane - he will not be hers and their cohesion will wither. 
She returns to Maxime, but why if she did not really love him? Is 
comfort more desirable than unfulfillable passion? There are other 
nagging questions: were Stephane and Maxime really friends? Just 
what is Stephane' s problem or secret, or does he really even have a 
problem? Maybe he is wise enough to know that only a fool licks 
honey from a sharp blade? 

While these questions do arise, they nonetheless arise against the 
backdrop of what Merleau-Ponty termed a "presumptive unity," or a 
"cohesion without a concept". That is, we viewers, like Stephane and 
Camille, understand that while the primordial world they intensely 
inhabit together will never fully thematize itself, that world never- 
theless is already in motion as a world. Returning to Schutz, as each 
moves into other projects in other here / nows the cohesiveness of their 
vividly shared present moves from zones of relevance to irrelevance. 
Their "we" relationship fades, they no longer grow older together, 
but this does not erase the fact that for a particular expanse of time 
they were one, intercorporeally and thematically. It is this very one- 

78 Marc. }. LaFotmtain: Destiny ivithout Destination (?): Un Coeur en Hiver 

ness, especially at its most original moment, as well as its ethical im- 
plications, that UHC explores. It is this very original moment, and 
thus ethics, that will later be seen as problematic in our consideration 

The music of UCH is particularly poignant. It is not just background 
or a story-enabling subtext - it is the very substance of the tuning-in 
Stephane and Camille share. In "Making Music Together: A Study in 
Social Relationship" and "Mozart and the Philosophers," Schutz dis- 
cusses how it is that making music together describes the "paramount 
situation"'^ of face-to-face communication. In UCH music not only 
punctuates Stephane and Camille' s encounters, it is the "polythetic" 
medium (CPU, p. 172) in which they grow older together. Phenom- 
enologically, they grow older together in that the inner stream of con- 
sciousness of each synchronizes with that of the other. This "sharing 
of the other's flux of experiences in inner time, this living through a 
vivid presence in common, constitutes. ..the mutual tuning-in relation- 
ship, the experience of the "We"" (CPU, p. 173). The We is actually a 
"pure We" in that each experiences the other as a consciousness like 
itself, and out of this milieu the We-relation as a concrete social rela- 
tion in face-to-face situations makes sense. Schutz tells us that when 
individuals tune-in to each other the meaning structures or "thematic 
kernel" (CPU, p. 169) experienced are not capable of being expressed 
in conceptual terms while they are lived in the vivid present (CPU, p 
159). Nonetheless these meanings assume a primitive communica- 
tion and indicate a community of time and space (CPU, p. 26). 

Schutz suggests that the pure features or "vivid phases" (CPU, p. 
27; CPI, p. 173) of relations can only be grasped in reflection. This is so 
because even though the We-relation is the most "direct" experience 
individuals can have of the other, it is through and through a "medi- 
ate" experience. That is, the other is apprehended though an interpre- 
tation of various expressions given off by the other which are indica- 
tive of their subjective states. These expressions, grasped within the 
inner flow of the I's experience as perception, have their fuller mean- 
ings fleshed out only in reflection. It is via reflection that I define and 
assess the other in terms of the stocks of knowledge I bring to the 
situation and the typifications I draw upon. While there is a richness 
to the perceptions of the other which makes this experience the para- 
mount template against which relations with all others (ancestors, 
successors, contemporaries) are understood, Schutz is quite clear that 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 79 

what is available to us in direct, immediate experience only makes 
sense retrospectively. While his phenomenological account concedes 
that meaning that is lived is fertile, what he suggests is that for the 
"typical" individual meaning is only accessible via schemes of typifi- 
cation and objectification. Merleau-Ponty's view of the typical 
individual's immediate experience, on the other hand, suggests that 
prior to reflection this meaning is much more available. The distinc- 
tion here is subtle but crucial. For Merleau-Ponty does not require 
that the line between immediate experience and reflection be drawn 
so sharply for individuals to know just what is happening. The full 
subtlety of Merleau-Ponty's notion of "reflection" is couched within 
his studies of embodied "perception".^" 

For Schutz, the I is that which immediately and reflectively per- 
ceives the world. Such a view gives the I a certain autonomy and sig- 
nificance in the constitution of meaning despite its immersion in im- 
mediacy. For Merleau-Ponty, the I is being-in-the-world, an incorrigi- 
bly more ambiguous situation, even in the most clarified reflective 
moments. Like Schutz, Merleau-Ponty turns to art, especially to paint- 
ing and music, to grasp the birth of meaning in "perception". Percep- 
tion for Merleau-Ponty is not a relation between a subject and an ob- 
ject. It is a primitive experiential field, an opening onto the world where 
embodied being stands out against the world. It is "the background 
from which all acts stand out, and is presupposed by them" (PP, p. 
xi). Here the body, simultaneously an embodied world, is also an "ex- 
pressive unity" better thought of as a work of art than as an object. 
For Merleau-Ponty existence is synonymous with expression (PP, p. 

The particular aspect of expression relevant to our discussion here 
is that of "authentic" expression - that which "formulates for the first 
time" (PP, p. 178, n. 1; p. 179, n. 1). There is a creativity and spontane- 
ity in this expression akin to art, which is nothing less, according to 
Merleau-Ponty, than our very being-in-the-world at its most primor- 
dial moments. It is this original expression which makes of percep- 
tion and expression art. It is also what artists do - attend to and par- 
ticipate in the birth of meaning - "the joy of art lies in its showing how 
something takes on meaning... by the temporal and spatial arrange- 
ment of elements"." Merleau-Ponty suggests that modern painters, 
and the same could be said for musicians, "have introduced the allu- 
sive logic of the world". ^^ Thus, when he offers existence involves a 

80 Marc. J. LaFonntain: Destiny loithont Destination (?): Un Coeur en Hiver 

"singing" of the world (PP, p. 187) he suggests, as does Sautet about 
Stephane and Camille, that music is their very life and intercorporeal 
attunement. That additional symbolic structures accrue around their 
connectedness, for them like the irritation that produces the pearl, 
only makes possible Sautet's rendition of their personal and interper- 
sonal lives. The music's skitterish flitting aptly reveals the din and 
turbulence between Stephane and Camille, just as it expresses the tran- 
quility and harmony of moments of mutual affection and consonance. 

Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology of intersubjectivity makes the 
prethematic nature of their interconnectedness available to us in a 
way that Schutz's does not. Schutz's reflections, however, lend the- 
matic context to the more primal couplings of Stephane and Camille, 
and Stephane and Maxime. Sautet reveals both the primordial and 
grown-older dimensions of their relationships; music elegantly brings 
these to us. We also note how, both in the space and time of 
vivid-presence and in the growing older process, a backdrop of 
intersubjective resources is habitually secreted and drawn up. These 
resources double as a community whose tissue and texture form their 
ethical milieu. 

Beyond their mutual pragmatic interest in and need for each other, 
it is clear Maxime does not truly understand Camille, nor she him. 
There is little music between them, or what there is is uninspired. 
Camille and Stephane, however, understand each other intensely. We 
only know this though via the music and the materiality of the violins 
and piano. Camille is intrigued by Stephane's hands and drawn by 
the gentle care and strength he brings to tuning or repairing a violin. 
She respects his acute ear. Stephane is keenly attentive to Camille's 
every victory and fault when practicing or recording. He is as sensi- 
tive to the wood and strings as to the music they facilitate. The vari- 
ous selections from Ravel are thus telling. Whether pleading, aching 
sweetly or agonizingly, flowing effortlessly and joyfully, agitated, or 
just out of tune, at every moment it is evident what is happening with 
Camille and Stephane. They know it better than everyone even though 
neither is terribly adept at conventional communication. We witness 
two people who, because of their shyness or caution, remain distant 
to each other even though their primordial intimacy is ever so sensu- 
ously palpable. 

UCH is about music, or life, and what happens when cacophony 
and accord happen. For music to be possible, its grammar and syntax 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 81 

must lend the original pregnancy of various combinations of singular 
and conjoined gestures, sounds, juxtapositions, etc, a coherence and 
sense over space and time. When music happens, despite what or 
how it communicates, it conveys that something is being shared. Such 
shared meaning and sensibility can be named intersubjectivity and 
sociality. The music of UCH is more though than a language or me- 
dium of communication. It more profoundly reveals Camille and 
Stephane's mutual embodiment. That is to say, as they embody the 
music, and the music them, a world, a nascent logos, comes to pres- 
ence which they inhabit and know. Entwined, they "sing the world," 
they become the very world that makes sense of their individual 
worlds. They open onto the same world at the same time and have an 
occult knowledge of each other and that world. And that is the very 
point - their singing the world together, their making music together, 
is their intersubjectivity. It is against this intersubjectivity, this being 
tuned-in, that their morals and ethics are worked out. They are the 
"flesh" of the world that they can later be said to "flesh out" with 
their ethics and other activities. 

In considering the unity of meaning and knowledge, Luckmann 
suggested that as subjects or agents individuals are not just "froth" ^'' 
on the sedimented structures of society or history. Rather we both 
sense and constitute the latter; we are not just puppets or what Schutz 
called "homunculi". Here, however, is just where DLV enters to con- 
found understandings of sense and meaning, and significance and 
knowledge. For DLV presents us to ourselves as the froth of some 
thing other than what can be safely herded into a scheme of knowl- 
edge. DLV confronts us with ourselves as being summoned by some- 
thing ever so familiar and proximate, yet infinitely remote, something 
whose rupturing anonymity cannot be transformed into something 
typical. Whatever that alterity it escapes our best efforts to locate it as 
even a primordial cohesion or presumptive unity prior to reflective 
schematization. The "habitus" Bourdieu describes^"^ as our location in 
space /time and society /history, however well rehabilitated by flesh- 
ing out its prethematic features, which Ostrow has begun, is never 
able to make sense of the alterity which torments Veronique. DLV's 
ambiguity is different than that of UHC, so different as to almost be 
incoherent. But "almost" here is deeply perplexing. For in DLV we 
witness a rending of the reciprocity or reversibility (of agents and re- 
sources) which forms intersubjectivity, and thus society. 

82 Marc. J. LaFountain: Destiny without Destination (?): Un Coeur en Hiver 

For Schutz and Merleau-Ponty, what is initially anonymous and 
obscure is viewed as in some fashion coming to light, to presence. 
What comes to light in DLV is that the hidden throws itself toward 
light without becoming signification.^'^ DLV presents us with the trou- 
bling notion that the cohesion or belonging to the world Merleau-Ponty 
described (and Schutz assumed) does not exist, or if it does, perhaps 
only as an accident, a fiction, or even opening void. The lived-world 
of Veronique is unstable, accidental, unruly. Unlike Schutz' individual, 
the polythetic interweaving of consciousness she experiences never 
permits their original anonymity to rise to the typically familiar. The 
perceived world Merleau-Ponty described as an "ensemble of [the] 
body's routes," ^^ where the various levels and particularities of those 
routes are intertwined, does not appear to Veronique to be governed 
by a presumed unity. The allusive logic of the intertwining of world 
and body as the flesh of invisibility - the "mirror of Being" ^^ - be- 
comes an illusive "logic" of becoming without being. This irrepress- 
ible event is taken by many now to be the postmodern condition. 

The habitus Veronique experiences, and thus her self/ body, does 
not resemble a community of space and time. More like Pilgrim in 
Slaughterhouse Five, she is unstuck in time. Bataille articulated a simi- 
lar idea as part of his notion of "communication," where communica- 
tion is an intimacy with the other where time "slips" and becomes 
"unhinged," plunging the I into an abyss where it and the other, ironi- 
cally, become "one".^^ Likewise, as Blanchot offers in Death Sentence, 
When the Time Comes, The Space of Literature, and other works, when 
Veronique arrives where she thinks she wants to arrive, and there 
where she thinks she is, she finds herself in a somewhere named 
"here," which is nowhere yet is intimately familiar. When Blanchot 
suggests, counter to what Schutz and Merleau-Ponty assume, that the 
self, representing the law of the Same, is "fractured in advance,"'^ he 
alludes to the effect of the law of the eternal return, which "will never 
allow you, except through a misunderstanding, to leave yourself a 
place in a possible present, not to let any presence come as far as you' 
(SN, p. 11). Veronique is indeed nowhere, for she never finds herself 
"here" in a present she is able to know or control - it is always in 
excess of her. She is but a trace of something else she can not know. 
We grapple with this notion simplistically by assuming that Veronique 
has a "double". 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 83 

The "here" Veronique is unable to inhabit does not persist as an 
unfathomable enigma for either Schutz or Merleau-Ponty. For both 
music and sociality have a metaphysical nature that is experienced 
by humans as an ensemble - unified - the visibility of some invisibil- 
ity available to us via some form of remembrance and transcendence 
which overcomes raw, perpetual immanence. "Quality light, color, 
depth, which are there before us, are there only because they awaken 
an echo in our body and because the body welcomes them," offers 
Merleau-Ponty in "Eye and Mind,"^° his meditation on Cezanne and 
painting, a theme also worked out in The Visible and the Invisible. The 
intertwining of the latter allows Merleau-Ponty to posit that the em- 
bodied world is the expression of Being, that being-in-the-world per- 
mits a glimpse of the "mirrors of Being". The event of Being seems 
too to be governed by sort of primal oneness, for it is that unity which 
echoes in being-in-the-world which embodies it in perception. Schutz 
too, in his essay on "Mozart and the Philosophers," submits that 
Mozart's brilliance was his ability to generate an ecstacy that tran- 
scends the practical consciousness of the "everyday" and returns us 
to that inner flow where the polythetic intertwining that makes We 
possible occurs. Schutz argues that Mozart's main concern was "the 
metaphysical mystery of the existence of a human universe of pure 
sociality" (CPU, p. 199). In further suggesting that Mozart's world 
"remains the human world even if the transcendental irrupts into it" 
(CP, p. 199), Schutz advances that music is a communal expression of 
the inner life of the spirit. Here the fusion of inner flows of time per- 
forms in such a way as to make intersubjectivity a "mirror of Being". 

It is this very ensemble, and all that flow from it, that is in question 
in DLV. Through a consideration of Levinas' phenomenology of "the 
face of the other" and Blanchot's notions of desouvrement, we can ap- 
proach Veronique's social world. Levinas' work stands in stark relief 
against the views deployed by Schutz and Merleau-Ponty. For Levinas' 
phenomenology presents human experience as impossible to under- 
stand either as being or as having an essence. Rather experience is 
turned toward an "elsewhere" and "otherwise" and unsettlingly finds 
itself inhabited by a "metaphysical desire" that is not motivated by 
lack or a movement toward some telos which arises in some archaic 
condition (TI, p. 33). Unlike Odysseus, there is no return home - there 
is no habitus or chez-soi in which one can find oneself situated so as to 
make sense of what happens. This is Veronique's world, one that has 

84 Marc. J. LaFountain: Destiny without Destination (?): Un Coeur en Hiver 

much more in common with that of Abraham or de Chirico's 
Hebdomeros or Aragon's Telemachus in The Adventures ofTelemachus. It 
is not that Veronique's world is absolutely random or accidental. Her 
world is instead the event of journeying which emanates from no 
home, has no home to return to, and which never leaves time for rec- 
ollection or self-knowledge. 

Veronique's experience is an-archic; she inhabits a world of traces. 
Traces, according to Levinas, are all we can encounter on the way 
toward meaning and knowledge, and traces continually unsettle 
knowledge and meaning. Veronique's story is the story of what it is 
to be summoned toward a yonder by an alien yet intimately familiar 
"out-side-oneself" {hors-de-soi) (TI, p. 33). Once one is summoned, the 
summoning itself is a troublingly pleasant affliction. For being sum- 
moned requires that one abandon chez-soi, that domain of meaning 
and comfort described by Schutz and Merleau-Ponty as one's self and 
world. Chez-soi (also "the Same") is the environment or structure where 
the body is localized and intentions and projects are realized. It is the 
world the I moves in, feeds upon, enjoys, and uses. The I, or subjec- 
tivity, moves into the world from chez-soi and returns to it, seeing its 
destiny unfolding from itself. Even though the I here requires satis- 
faction and completion, its needy and dependent nature does not 
thwart its capacity to see itself as autonomous. Veronique initially 
seems to dwell comfortably in chez-soi and has the world comfortably 
arranged around her in what Schutz referred to as "zones of relevance" 
capable of being dominated. She begins, however, to experience her- 
self as lacking, incomplete. She seeks out others who might permit 
her to fulfill herself, others she might appropriate. Levinas suggests 
there is an imperialism and totalitarianism to such acts of the I which 
we witness as Veronique's efforts to control her world. It is in her 
encounters with others though that this very activity falters, for in the 
face of the other she finds she is drawn outside herself, outside the 
totality she so carefully attempts to orchestrate. She is summoned by 
an infinity resistant to totalizing, and thus comprehension. The music 
she hears renders her capacity to listen moot. It is in listening that we 
make sense of what we hear. Veronique, though, forever hears the 
music without gathering what it expresses. The infinity of the saying 
undoes the said. 

What Veronique experiences is metaphysical desire, which is not 
the desire of the I situated in chez-soi. Metaphysical desire happens 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 85 

when the I encounters the other. Because metaphysical desire is not 
based in the neediness of the I it craves no completion or satiation. 
But it does incite the I to evacuate chez-soi. Upon vacating itself the I 
finds it is not the foundation or origin of its acts or meanings. All that 
can be found are "traces" - that which has passed and which exceeds 
the present. The trace is the an-archic movement of the Infinite, of the 
Other, which surpasses all initiatives of the I to structure it. The most 
profound and moving encounter with the alterity and exteriority of 
the Other occurs in the "face" of the other person (TI, pp. 177-178, 
187-193). The face of the other is, of course, the naked face of the other 
in my presence, but it is more. It is also the excess that destroys the 
ideas I have of the other. For instance, Veronique has numerous af- 
fairs and amorous encounters. They cannot quell the metaphysical 
desire that summons her. It is this desire that DLV explores, not the 
desire of lack which always accompanies the incorporation of others 
into each others' lives and communities (what Sartre named "useless 
passion"). In these affairs we feel Veronique's craving and torment, 
for we recognize too that only in turning to others can we make our 
worlds meaningful. Yet such turning also sets us on this endless jour- 

Erotic intimacy and voluptuousness, Veronique seems to sense, and 
Levinas suggests (TI, pp. 256-266), are not scenes where the alien 
nature of the other is tamed or that which haunts from a distance is 
grasped so as to satisfy the I's need to know. They are not the site 
where being is secured; they are where the I abandons itself. Lingis 
notes, "it is on the contrary a presence of what is irreducibly remote, 
:ontact with what can never be present or represented, tangency to 
the other without intermediaries".^^ The intimacy of lovers is not then 
a community of time and space. Instead it is the experience of "fecun- 
dity" (TI, p. 267), of being thrust into infinity without return to a place 
A^ithin which one can gather oneself. Again Lingis, "The approach of 
:he other is dismemberment of the natural body, fragmentation of the 
phenomenal field, derangement of the physical order, breakdown in 
iniversal industry" (L, p. 72). It would be a mistake then to consider 
/eronique as Sartre's sadist or masochist, or as one whose hands and 
:aresses are those of an assassin (L, p. 27), one whose passion is futile, 
lather, her "caress opens upon a future different from an approach to 
he other's skin in the here and now," and thus her facing the other 
turtles her into "the mystery of relations between lovers [that] is more 

86 Marc. J. LaFountain: Destiny without Destination (?): Un Coeur en Hiver 

terrible, but infinitely less deadly, than the destruction of submission 
to sameness".-^ Such is Veronique's world, a world she cannot man- 
age because she insists upon the succor of chez-soi, embodied in her 
ultimate return to her father and some semblance of "home," i.e., a 
place where a sense of Law or the Same prevails. 

Perhaps then Veronique is not driven by nostalgia or melancholy? 
Perhaps instead it is Kieslowski's own sense of the latter which likely 
arises from his sense that the viewer is uncomfortable with such mys- 
tery and enigma and thus instead insists upon a conventional love 
story, which he will not offer, where love, sex, and relationships are 
projects rather than voluptuous experiences of the excess which sur- 
passes the need to know and control? 

In such intimate encounters the I advances upon what is impos- 
sible: it's very essence as well as the possibility of knowledge. Its ca- 
resses - tactile, auditory, visual - do not grasp possibility. For the I - 
the subject - is wholly passion. The I here is voluptuous, but its desire 
never becomes a matter of gratification - just interminable desire. That 
this voluptuosity demands that the I abandon itself amounts to a "pro- 
fanation," for the I, having evacuated itself, "discovers the hidden as 
hidden" (TI, p. 260), and can only dissipate in response to the sum- 
moning of the other. Bataille articulated the latter as a strange dialec- 
tic of savoir and non-savoir (IE, pp. 51-60), a "profound complicity" of 
law and transgression.-^^ Blanchot, echoing Bataille and Levinas, fur- 
ther introduces us to Veronique's world, one where Veronique's ef- 
facement is presented as desouvrement. 

Desouvrement is an idleness or inertness which irrupts when the 
passion of fascination and obsession sets in upon the I as it desires to 
make something, someone, accessible, graspable or knowable. "Fas- 
cination is the relation the gaze entertains - a relation which is itself 
neutral and impersonal - with sightless, shapeless depth, the absence 
one sees because it is blinding".^'* Desouvrement is an arresting pas- 
sivity that happens when one finds oneself in close proximity with 
what seems to be ever so near and intimate but yet remains at an 
immense, untraversable distance. The space of intimacy and proxim- 
ity, which is "here," but nowhere, is a space where autonomy dis- 
solves into le dehors - a void which is strangely within - which forever 
holds the I at a remote distance from that to which it seems to be ever 
so close. It occurs when meaning escapes "into the other of all 
meaning... [where] nothing has meaning, but everything seems mean- 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXIU, 1995 87 

ngful" (SL, p. 263). In the various scenes of her intimacies with oth- 
ers, Veronique creates an endless stream of images of what she hopes 
night be possible. Images sometimes do give us the power to control 
hings, but as Blanchot notes, "the image intimately designates the 
evel where personal intimacy is destroyed and... it indicates in this 
novement the menacing proximity of a vague and empty outside, 
he deep, sordid basis upon which it continues to affirm things in 
heir disappearance" (SL, p. 254). 

What Veronique encounters in the events she sets in motion is not 
vhat she imagines or phantasizes, but rather the "perpetuity of that 
vhich admits of neither beginning nor end" (SL, p. 261). Veronique, 
)till consumed by the notion that the I is sufficient and efficacious, 
levertheless witnesses her own insufficiency. Her struggle is not to 
wercome this insufficiency, but to contend with the fact that affirm- 
ng life demands that one commit oneself to encountering the immo- 
bility and insouciance that arise in proximity to what is "absolutely 
lear" (DS, p. 67) yet forever distant. The proximity that "hollows [the 
] out from within"^^ is akin to the other of Levinas which summons 
he I to vacate chez-soi. Bataille suggested that such evacuation is an 
'acrobatics" and "ridiculousness" (IE, p. 66-67) which is unavoidable 
f one is to live a life that is fervent and not servile. Thus, while 
/eronique seems to be one who is lost and wandering, she is one who, 
jecause of her passion, is unavoidably thrust into the void by her 
/ery own projects which are never realizable, except in the realm of 
he image. For images open onto a great murmuring; they are but 
imits at the edge of the indefinite. Much like Blanchot's writer, the 
everyday actor's project makes "oneself the echo of what cannot cease 
)peaking," for what murmurs is interminably distant and only a si- 
ent solitude is possible, though it itself is even impossible. It is im- 
possible because "solitude has begun to speak, and I must in turn 
jpeak about this speaking solitude, not in derision, but because a 
greater solitude hovers above it, and above that solitude, another still 
greater, and each, taking the spoken word in order to smother it and 
ilence it, instead echoes it to infinity, and infinity becomes its echo" 
DS, p. 33). What returns on these echoes' however, is "everything, 
ave the present, the possibility of presence" (SN, p. 16). Veronique 
:an never bring her world to presence, and thus cannot represent it, 
!xcept in image and project, which never arrive, or when they do, 
hey never resemble themselves. It is this that undercuts her identity. 

88 Marc. J. LaFonntain: Destiny without Destination (?): Un Coeur en Hiver 

her solace in her success, her things, her lovers. And so it will be when 
she returns to her father. Veronique has encountered the "eternal re- 
turn" of the Same which is forever different. 

So it is that Veronique, afflicted and tormented, encumbered by 
her constant recommencing self, which is perpetually young, with- 
out history, identity or community, is endlessly on the way to else- 
where. She experiences terrible moments of fragility and vulnerabil- 
ity, fear and immobility, "weakness [and] miserable impotence" (DS, 
p. 75). Yet her singularity and solitude are not just endless suffering 
and supplication, nor are they signs of an alienated or anomic exist- 
ence. She is also inspired. Without an I to reflect, it long having dissi- 
pated, she is nonetheless haunted by the immense immediacy of that 
to which she cannot be present, she is overwhelmed with exorbitant 
intensity. It is not a passion she can own or direct though, it is "the 
passion of the outside" (EI, p. 64). Such passion Levinas named "in- 
spiration", and it is "incarnation" and "deliverance".^^ It is how "I" 
becomes a subject even though that subjectivity is an exile or foreigner. 
Inspiration is how "I" is saved from its boredom and self-absorption, 
its tautological, suffocating immersion in distractions, games, and 
sleep. Inspiration is having "the other in me," "the other in the same,' 
"the other-in-one' s-skin" (OB, pp. 125, 111, 115, emphases Levinas). 

The profuse returning of the other and of passion, which beckon 
the I to vanish, in favor of its self, is thus a moment of both affliction 
and radiant immensity. Veronique is a "torch lit to illuminate a single 
instant... turning [days] into a pure dissipation and each event into 
the image of a displaced episode. ..wandering among images and 
drawn along with them in the monotony of a movement that appears 
to have no conclusion just as it had no beginning" .^^ Then again, "such 
days are not devoted to an unknown misfortune, they don't confirm 
the distress of a moribund decision;... they are traversed by joyful im- 
mensity, a radiant authority, luminescence, pure frivolity..." (WT, p. 

The music of DLV dramatically conveys Veronique' s life as that 
"infinite movement" through which expression and action are "al- 
ways ready to unfold in the multiple exigencies of a simultaneous 
series [which] contests itself, exalts itself, challenges or obliterates it- 
self. ..".^'^ Bataille noted in Death and Sensuality that such expenditure, 
which happens in both erotic and religious intimacy, has a sacred 
quality. It opens the individual to a realm of "interior experience' 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 89 

which is in excess of his/her ability to know or use it. Such expendi- 
ture, or "waste," is what makes us whole, but to be whole, to have 
that anguishing and sublime intimacy which ends in nothing (yet 
everything), demands destruction of the self and its projects. The music 
of DLV portends this experience. The music seems a nostalgic and 
melancholic longing, but it is also an epiphany: the entrance of some- 
thing whose proximity cannot be overcome, which exists as a trace of 
something already long gone and never ascertainably here. 
Veronique's "double" is not an identical other whom she cannot con- 
nect with; it is her experience of this very proximity and trace. She 
does experience and imagine this other, but as Blanchot suggests, the 
image, produced in desire's passion, can help us grasp something ide- 
ally Yet "at the level to which its particular weight drags us, it also 
threatens constantly to relegate us, not to the absent thing, but to its 
absence as presence, to the neutral double of the object in which all 
belonging to the world is dissipated" (SL, p. 263, emphasis mine). 
Thus the photograph Veronique finds of Veronika is only a hedge 
against the inescapable flood of the obscure and the opaque. 

DLV's music is that of solitude - plaintiff and evanescent. It is the 
music of the evocative. The murmuring of something veiled steals 
away from Veronique, opens on to a neutral space, and in this space - 
here and home - she is immobile despite her wandering. She oscil- 
lates strangely between herself, the other, and no one - she in neuter, 
neutralized. Compelled, she suffers patiently and ecstatically, with- 
out hesitation, and in fascination, enters a radiant darkness. Veronique 
experiences her essence - her utter impossibility. 

DLV's music is then haunted by an essential solitude, an impos- 
sible sovereignty. Weiss notes, reprising Bataille and Blanchot, that in 
the space of solitude one is utterly solitary yet excessively full.-^*^ It is 
an experience where nothing happens yet ruinous everything hap- 
pens. Veronique's experience of others is doubly empty and effusively 
fecund. This strange intimacy and communion with the other - ironi- 
cally unsayable - is expressed in Veronique's tears, laughter, and si- 
lence. The metaphysical quality of music Schutz and Merleau-Ponty 
alluded to, which expresses the mystery of sociality, thus sings the 
songs of elsewhere and nothing, which are all that can be said of "here". 
This music, like Blanchot's images, is a "murmuring" at the edge of 
the indefinite. The present which Veronique strives to figure, and thus 
grasp, escapes, leaving her nowhere to arrive, yet infinitely in mo- 

90 Marc. J. LaFountain: Destiny without Destination (?): Un Coeur en Hiver 

tion. Her destiny is an exorbitant, inclusive totality that is impossible 
and which doubles as her self/ world. "Whirl, the celestial canopy 
spreads its milky rivers, 1 succumb, I roll a long, long time numb in 
the waves of my own flesh unfurling over the earth". ^'■ 

It is important to recognize, following Schutz and Merleau-Ponty, 
that all social relationships are made possible (at least minimally) by 
the musical features described above. What makes these films and 
their music interesting is that by focussing on the phenomenological 
aspects of Stephane and Veronique's prethematc, lived-worlds, they 
take us to the most subtle and intricate ways they, and we, experience 
others, our selves and the world. The ambiguous and enigmatic na- 
ture of the characters and plots arises from this exploration of 
lived-experience. Of course, greater transparency and thematic detail 
could be provided. Given what the films chose to explore, however, 
the detail is exquisite. It is also from this level of immersion in life that 
the issue of postmodern ethics can be approached, for through these 
films we are presented differing experiences of what it means to find 
oneself alive and with others. 

IV. Postmodern Ethics? 

When Merleau-Ponty said, "The social is already there when we 
know it or judge it ..." (PP, p. 362), he, like Schutz, posited an emerg- 
ing, yet nonetheless unified, social world. While that world can be 
endlessly elaborated, there is still something there which permits such 
elaboration, something which acts as a ground, even though it is am- 
biguous and anonymous. For others such as Bataille, Levinas, and 
Blanchot, it is difficult to say that there is a world with some 
self-referential intactness "here". What can be said though is that there 
is something here whose proximity and familiarity I /we take as "so- 
cial" connectedness, something which permits images to be con- 
structed so as to function as simulacra of that opaqueness and thereby 
make it useful and amenable to articulation. Yet because of the enor- 
mous remoteness and obscurity of this proximity, in which the I ef- 
faces and dissipates itself as a condition of being social, it is a vexed 
sociality. So what then can be said of ethics when sociality is vexed, 
when at its very "core" sociality is traversed by traces, saturated with 
excess, and immobilized by fascination and expenditure, all of which 
serve to highlight only the insufficiency and disappearance of the I 
and intersubjectivity? 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 91 

UCH and DLV both explore how sociality, as love and friendship, 
are taken to express a apparent primordial undividedness with the 
Dther, even though there can be cacophony in that order. As we have 
jeen though, DLV forces us to question this sociality due to the incur- 
sion of incompleteness advancing from the impasses of proximity, 
ntimacy, and passion. DLV raises the question of whether or not, from 
J stance here called "postmodern," it can be said that "we" in fact are 
zonnected. Sartre, who identified consciousness as nothingness, of- 
fered that the social can only be conflict ("the essence of the relations 
between consciousnesses is not the Mitsein; it is conflict" .^^^ Such con- 
flict, however, is itself predicated on connectedness wherein one must 
appropriate the other for the sake of one's own identity. Thus, strapped 
:o dialectical reality, the I is always in conflict with others and this 
relation is nonetheless a form of intersubjectivity. But in DLV the dia- 
ectic which strings moments and spaces together to make them sen- 
sible has collapsed in impossibility. Veronique's world, unlike Stephane 
and Camille's, is not a world of conflict, despite the fact it has those 

Several closely related ideas arise here vis-a-vis postmodern eth- 
ics. One is that ethics are accidental, and two, we are always in search 
di the ethical. These together suggest ethics are impossible. Care must 
3e taken, however, in establishing what it is meant by their impossi- 
bility. To begin, let us consider ethics as a modernist might view them. 

Much of modernist thinking on ethics derives from strains of 
Kantian and analytic philosophy where a search for universal or gen- 
sralizable principles, maxims, or rules prevails. Habermas' commu- 
nicative ethics arises out of and in reaction to the latter, as does the 
work of Rawls. John O'Neill's privileging of common-sense, mutual 
knowledge has in turn arisen as a reaction to the rationalist approaches 
Df both scientific and Frankfurt School constructions of ethics. Mod- 
2rnist ethics also derive from certain Neitzschean and existentialist 
perspectives which highlight the situational and individualistic qual- 
ity of social action, as well as from variants of Hegelian dialectical 
thought where history and reason are crucial to the determination of 
what it means to live ethically. There are also strains of neo- Aristotelian 
thought, such as Gadamer's hermeneutics or Maclntyre's 
contextualism which accentuate tradition and local practices. While 
the latter is terribly abbreviated, modernist ethics spans thinking that 
stresses universalism, historicism, individualism, and radical relativ- 

92 Marc. J. LaFonntain: Destiny without Destination (?): Un Coeur en Hiver 

ism. What is crucial, however, is that all draw upon some 
self-referential framework which is variously situated in some sense 
of history, tradition, large or local intersubjectivity or community, or 
individual consciousness. In each of the latter scenarios there is a pre- 
vailing relational or reflexive framework which makes possible dis- 
cussion of goodness, happiness, rightness, and the like whether that 
discussion originates in body, emotion, consciousness, or language. 
That is, all lean upon some structure or process whose primary fea- 
ture is feedback, reciprocity, or reversibility where a doubling hap- 
pens which ties fragments and particulars to each other in some 
self-referential scheme. 

What is striking about the ethics DLV implicates is that the very 
notion of referentiality or reflexivity no longer holds. Whether ethics 
are situated in the realm of legalist or general principles, or are his- 
torical, local and particular, or highly individual and circumstantial, 
that very situating lends them a materiality and an end. Regardless of 
how they are identified, they are nonetheless identified as rules, prin- 
ciples, modalities, practices or resources. Out of the latter emerge ways 
of contemplating the classic sociological question about how social 
order is established. Rules and resources are something which can be 
represented, identified, and thus known, however problematic that 
knowledge might be. Debates about that knowledge, and how those 
debates are to be resolved, are, of course, emblematic of the modern- 
ist ethical demise. It appears now, however, no one is quite sure any- 
more what is to be done, or how. From the latter condition, an "ab- 
sence" of the ethical is described. To seek assurance and insurance of 
an ethical environment in (post)modernity would be to implicate the 
untenable condition of a totalitarian enforcement of a particular view. 
In such a scenario the reflexivity of ethics, rules, and power would be 
terribly disturbing. 

The absence DLV insinuates, however, is bom of a dissipation of 
reflexivity. Here the question of the autonomy of the I (including the I 
as either a subjective or intersubjective space), whether positioned in 
large historical traditions or local communal practices, is seen to have 
wilted in the inadequacy and futility of its ability to be productive, 
useful, efficacious, practical, heroic. Veronique's ethical situation, un- 
like that of Camille, Stephane, and Maxime, is not a matter of com- 
munal determination or individual desire or selfishness. Her demise 
does not derive from a highly subjective or narcissistic relativism or 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 93 

solipsism or even from the typical postmodernist notion of exhaus- 
tion. It stems rather from the ironic insufficiency and impossibility of 
such a project of sovereignty. For such sovereignty demands a 
transgressiveness in which the self and community must disappear 
as a condition of establishing themselves. It would be a mistake though 
to think the latter means that only cynicism or nihilism is possible or 
that the self is relieved of the necessity of attempting to be sovereign. 
To be ethical in postmodemity is to expend what is considered "ethi- 
cal" in favor of an ethics yet to arrive, which likely can never and will 
never arrive. In this sense, ethics are ironic and impossible. 

Following the lead of Blanchot and Levinas, and especially Bataille, 
postmodernist ethics figure as a site for and event of sacrifice. 
Postmodern ethics are not just an altar where this happens, they are 
also the sacrificial victim. The consequence of such a practice is to 
give death, expenditure, and transgression a place in everyday life - a 
place they once prominently held but for various historical reasons, 
which are not the subject of this essay, have been lost and misunder- 
stood. Bataille's studies of simple and archaic cultures have revealed 
the significant relationships between death, the erotic, and the sacred. 
The intimacy and communication that transpire in scenes of sacrifi- 
cial death, in the "little death" of erotic abandon, both assure the con- 
tinuity of those societies while at the very same time affirming their 
impossibility. There is a need, of course, for productivity in human 
affairs, but Bataille also asserted the "fundamental right of [humans] signify nothing. ^^ 

The perplexing juxtaposition of production and the signification 
of nothing ("waste"), a problem Bataille and Blanchot both struggled 
with and elegantly articulated, has revealed terrible consequences in 
modernity. Among them glare Auschwitz, the Gulag, and Hiroshima, 
along with assorted instances such as lustmord (sexual murder) in the 
Weimar Republic and its current incarnations in literature, film and 
music video, contemporary urban youths' gang violence, ethnic cleans- 
ing, and the demise of Utopian communities (e.g., Jonestown, the 
•Coresh family). The latter atrocities are now being complemented by 
nuch less violent conflagrations of community and intersubjectivity. 
Though less violent, I suggest the sacrifice of ethics falls into the same 
pace where production and expenditure are juxtaposed. 

These days, where the place of religion and sexuality in daily life is 
lifficult to figure, ethics have unwittingly become a sacrificial victim. 

94 Marc. J. LaFountain: Destiny without Destination (?): Un Coeur en Hiver 

In one sense they are not sacrificed with the same intention as the 
Mayans sacrificed a human victim or Blanchot sacrificed writing. Yet 
they are sacrificed in that they are used up and expended in pursuit 
of establishing their very being and meanings. The postmodern ethi- 
cal scene is one where social interaction does not end by depositing 
an intersubjective sensibility as a corpus of resources for subsequent 
action. It ends rather by trying to establish that corpus as it goes along. 
It espouses what Bataille referred to as a "general" rather than a "re- 
stricted economy/' one where expenditure and loss are essential to 
determining cultural life. If modernity has in fact succeeded in prolif- 
erating a surplus of rules and resources, postmodernity is that which 
takes them not as a supply to be increased, but one to be expended. 
The postmodern ethical scene is thus somewhat of a potlatch in which 
rules and resources are wasted. Postmodernity thus requires and can- 
not escape loss, dissipation - an enigmatic uselessness. One conse- 
quence of this is that we are in search of our resources but our very 
effort to establish them mutilates and consumes them prior to sedi- 
mentation, leaving both the meaning of the present and the future in 
question. We no longer know whether or not, however, such a prodi- 
gal existence is useful or useless. In Veronique's life we experience 
this movement, but we also experience something sacred and erotic 
which recedes in advance of us. Like Veronique, we too greet this 
movement, both in viewing the film and in daily life, with laughter, 
tears, and silence. 

The condition of this impossibility is an endless wandering. Such 
wandering only dissimulates community and identity. So what com- 
munity and identity then can be spoken of here? When Bataille sug- 
gested in both Inner Experience and Death and Sensuality that "commu- 
nication" and "intimacy," and thus community and communion, are 
the site where the I and other tumble into an abyss - unknowable and 
unusable - he suggested that the self must be thought of as loss. While 
in a way this means the self must be lost, expended, more fundamen- 
tally it suggests the self is loss. When it is not loss, it is not sovereign, 
and it becomes stupid and servile given its dedication to utility's "des- 
picable destiny" (IE, p. 40). Essence, Bataille notes, is impossible, and 
I and we expend ourselves in establishing it. Herein ethics, established 
and taken for granted as productive resources, whether erotic, reli- 
gious, or literary, become both an extreme limit to be exceeded and an 
impossibility. Levinas, echoing the latter, suggests the self, caught up 

]Nest Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 95 

in its project of knowledge and self-persistence, becomes "totalitar- 
ian". Only by going to the extreme limit, or being summoned there, 
does one achieve an ironic "totality" which is impossible but which 
also doubles as community and as identity. Again this is the double 
Veronique experiences. 

Because the self can only "slip" (IE, p. 97), community, as well as 
identity, is "only a stopping point favoring a resurgence" which 
"reflect[s] for an instant the flash of those universes in the heart of 
which you never cease to be lost" (IE, p. 95). Veronique's life is lived 
as a surplus or plentitude in excess of any totality capable of being 
known through community or identity. Her transcendence of herself 
is immediate and infinite, and offers no respite where meaning can 
establish itself against the flood of an inaccessible though proximate 
present. Her experience is thus an-archic - without even a ground in a 
present, and without an telos or end. Veronique's life is the event in 
advance of "Veronique". In such a scene Veronique never arrives de- 
spite her opaque nearness - she is desoeuvre. Veronique is the absence 
(or double) of Veronique as she "produces" herself. Much like writ- 
ing for Blanchot passes through the book, where the book is not the 
destiny of the writing, Veronique's identity and relationships with 
others are not the destiny of her passing through. The voluptuous- 
ness of this experience engulfs those with whom she interacts. We can 
then speak of an "intersubjectivity" here. DLV's music - the accom- 
plice of voluptuousness - is a "benediction and malediction in the 
night" (WT, p. 60). 

The relationships and intimacy individuals share in such scenes 
are what Blanchot named an "unavowable community". An 
unavowable community is community that disappears into infinity 
in advance of itself. Despite endless commotion, it is idle, as is 
Veronique, whose motion is heated but sterile. Community disappears 
in the relentless movement that is the event of it coming to presence, 
which never arrives. Time and space are irrelevant as threads capable 
of yielding Schutz's community of here and now. Similarly, 
postmodernity's ethical production is a heated but sterile commotion 
in which community and belonging disappear, yet are displaced by 
an unnameable and unavowable intimacy. 

The community that does form in the vicinity of Veronique's ac- 
ivities, as that of individuals in postmodernity, is an interrupted com- 
nunity. Its fragmentation is the inevitable consequence of singularities 
it the limit of their singularity. At this limit they cannot secure or 

96 Marc. ]. LaFountam: Destiny without Destination (?): Un Coeur en Hiver 

deposit themselves in a work, i.e., community, capable of assembling 
them. When they do interact, "community" is a word that assembles 
their actions even though the work of producing community is not 
commensurate with the word. The solitude each experiences is never 
overcome. If the latter interactions can be named community, then 
such community is accidental and incidental, enigmatic and ironic. 
The accidental nature of community and communication does not 
demand that interaction be conflict, as Sartre would have it, any more 
than it demands that it be a nascent logos, as Merleau-Ponty and Schutz 
would have it. The accidental character of community inclines it to- 
ward incompletion and insufficiency. Its evanescence disposes it to 
disappear in the very event which supposedly brings it into being. 
The unavowable community is beyond being, without essence. 

The condition of being without essence is synonymous with an 
absence of the reversibility of resources and agency. When the latter 
transpires, intersubjectivity doubles as solitude and proximity. And 
when that happens, "working ... the most important form of sponta- 
neity [which] constitutes the reality of the world of daily life ... [where 
the self] integrates a specific dimension of time ... realizes itself as a 
totality.. .communicates with others ... [and] organizes different spa- 
tial perspectives" (CPU, p. 212) becomes depletion and vanishes. Such 
efforts at integration, communication, spatialization, etc., falter in cre- 
ating the "cognitive" and "social mapping" Jameson offered as a cor- 
rective to the fragmentation and turbulence of postmodernity.'*^ For 
being without essence Levinas named "no man's land" (TI, p. 259). 
Veronique suggests such a condition is no woman's land, either. 

Those who inhabit the unavowable community do not wander aim- 
lessly in a state of alienation or pessimism or exhaustion. Nor are they 
extensions of modernist liberalism which makes of them relativists or 
radical individualists. They fervently seek the impossible. Impossible 
because community, conventionally understood, requires the use of 
resources which can be drawn upon to generate community. Such 
resources, or practical knowledge, typically located in a conscious- 
ness (or unconsciousness) of culture (or in some semiotic code or lan- 
guage), and transmitted via socialization and social or semiotic con- 
struction, are the stuff out of which sociality is formed. But when that 
formative process is traversed by the event of production, which de- 
lays and distracts production, resources are not resources. Instead they 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 97 

are something incommunicable and heterogenous, something none- 
theless sought for so as to then function as resources. 

Resources in these scenes thus are ex post facto, or better, belong to 
the "paradox of the future (post) anterior (modo),"^ where the status 
of the post is taken to be antecedent when in fact it is not. As an event 
in advance of itself, postmodern ethics are taken to be those resources 
that would lend what appear to be ethically governed actions that 
which would make them "ethical". Individuals and groups invoking 
or producing postmodern ethics are, as Lyotard suggests of 
postmodern writers and artists, "working without rules in order to 
formulate the rules of what will have been done" (PM, p. 81, emphasis 
Lyotard). The strange and perplexing condition of such ethics is that 
their unpresentability resides in the fact that they are consumed and 
expended as a condition of their presentation. 

Typically ethics are seen as residing in some sense of community, 
or polls, which may be local or universal depending on the viewer's 
stance. The ethical, as a practical knowledge of what to do and how to 
act when, and why, is itself considered to be situated in some larger 
pasturage. For the Greeks, for instance, this was nomos. Nomos referred 
to a space of convention and custom. Akin to nomos was nomas, which 
referred to a dwelling place. Nomas, however, also carried a sense of 
wandering and searching for."*^ Thus modernist ethics could be fig- 
ured as stressing the sedimented practices which are available and 
can be brought to bear to produce meanings in situations. 
Postmodernist (or poststructuralist) ethics, however, may be taken to 
arise in a infinite wandering within this pasturage, a wandering where 
what is sought absconds just when it appears to be available, and no 
amount of conjuring or production brings it to pass. It passes and 
elapses on its own leaving only traces. Traces double as resources. 
When drawn upon, they are found to be furtive, intransitive, insuffi- 

The full problem of the riddle of living ethically is not contained in 
the reflexivity of resources and construction leaned upon by Schutz 
or Merleau-Ponty. Perhaps the more problematic issue is the desire to 
make ethics synonymous with rules. Undoubtedly this tendency has 
been intensified by modernity's desire to represent and define "what 
is," "the real," "reality," etc., which itself is doubly defined by taking 
reality or meaning or even being as a thing or object, and by situating 
knowledge within a dialectical framework persistently underwritten 
simultaneously by lack and teleologically prefigured becoming. Typi- 

98 Marc. J. LaFountain: Destiny without Destination (?): Un Coeiir en Hiver 

cally this tendency takes the form of specifying the methods or rules 
or practices (the "how to") by which reality is constructed in such a 
way as to give to agency an accent of usefulness and productivity. 
Perhaps one of the most extreme forms of the latter is the obsession of 
the social sciences, especially political science, with "rational choice" 
theory. Such an fixation on practices and technology substitutes the 
rules for, or takes them as synonymous with, "reality". Here, the epis- 
temological intertwines with the ontological, for rules and practices 
are reality. The conflation of rule and reality was perhaps first expressed 
sociologically (Durkheim's concern with rules and rituals notwith- 
standing) in Peter Winch's The Idea of a Social Science (1958), and more 
recently, and radically, in the work of the ethnomethodologists. Re- 
lated views offered by Goffman, and more recently by Giddens, pre- 
sume constructed appearances are synonymous with reality. The nomi- 
nalism in the latter microsociologically oriented perspectives is rivalled 
by Foucault's interest in discourses and practices. All, including Schutz 
and Merleau-Ponty, assume that "practical knowledge" is a resource 
situated in or inscribed upon flesh, bodies, and minds. Some thinkers 
attribute more to flesh or mind than others do, but nevertheless, the 
latter are "the real" where social "reality" is considered to reside. 

The story of Veronique suggests that the latter disclosures are 
shrouded and opaque and their core is impossible to say. Yet there is a 
saying, and that saying is not synonymous with what is said, just as a 
book is not synonymous with writing, and rules are not synonymous 
with ethics. Veronique lives her life, and in the pure passion of days, 
she experiences only her passage toward her world. The event of this 
passage, which elaborates itself in distraction and risk, doubles as her 
world. The situation of postmodernity also is one where its ethics 
double as a risky passing and wandering in search of what to do and 
how to do it, often with accident and incident as the only clue to what 
could have been right or wrong or what could even double as a world 
in which such issues could become problematic. 

It seem.s as if the latter is what is inevitable now. From whence this 
demand, and why now the weight of its inscription? What of its con- 
sequences? Can "we" act any other way but in advance of ourselves, 
trying all the while to establish that "we" in fact have destiny as an 

]Nest Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 99 


' Georges Bataille, Inner Experience, trans. Leslie Anne Boldt (Albany: State Univer- 
sity of New York, 1988), p. 94. Henceforth cited as IE. 
^Maurice Blanchot, The Unavowable Community, trans. Pierre Joris (Barrytown, NY: 

Station Hill Press, 1988), p. 25. 
^Erving Goffman, Encounters: Tzvo Studies in the Sociology of Interaction (Indianapolis: 

Bobbs-Merrill, 1961), p. 7. Henceforth cited as E. 
^Randall Collins, "On the Micro-foundations of Macro-sociology," American Journal 

of Sociology, no. (1981), pp. 984-1014; Theoretical Sociology (New York: Harcourt Brace 

Jovanovich, 1988), p. 402. 
^Alfred Schutz, Collected Papers, Volume HI, ed. Use Schutz (The Hague: Martinus 

Nijhoff, 1970), p. 29. 
^Alfred Schutz, Collected Papers, Volume I, ed. Maurice Natanson (The Hague: Martinus 

Nijhoff, 1971, pp. 173-174. Henceforth cited as CPI. 
^Anthony Giddens, The Constitution of Society (Cambridge: Polity, 1984). 
^ James M. Ostrow, Social Sensitivity: A Study of Habit and Experience (Albany: SUNY 

Press), p. 19. 
^ Alfred Schutz, Collected Papers, Volume 11, ed. Arvid Broderson (The Hague: Martinus 

Nijhoff, 1964), p. 178. Henceforth cited as CPU. 
^° Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, trans. Colin Smith (London: 

Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1962). Henceforth cited as PP. 
" Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Sense and Non-Sense, trans. Hubert L. Dreyfus and P. A. 

Dreyfus (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1964), p. 58. 
'^ Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Prose of the World, trans. John O'Neill (London: 

Heineman, 1974), p. 65. 
'^ Thomas Luckmann, "Remarks on Personal Identity: Inner, Social and Historical 

Time," in Identity: Personal ami Socio-Cultural, ed. A. Jacobson-Widding (Uppsala, 

Sweden: Uppsala Studies in Cultural Anthropology 5, 1983), p. 67. 
"Pierre Bourdieu, Outline of a Theory of Practice, trans. R. Nice (Cambridge: Cam- 
bridge University Press, 1977). 
^^ Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority, trans. Alphonso 

Lingis (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1969), p. 256. Henceforth cited as 


'^Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Visible and the Invisible, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Evanston: 

Northwestern University Press, 1968), p. 247. 
'^ Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Themes from the Lectures, trans. John O'Neill (Evanston: 

Northwestern University Press, 1970), p. 112. 
^^ Georges Bataille, Inner Experience, trans. Leslie Anne Boldt (Albany: SUNY Press, 

1988, pp. 37, 59, 73-74, 97-98. Henceforth cited as IE. 
^'Maurice Blanchot, The Step Not Beyond, trans. L. Nelson (Albany: SUNY Press, 1992), 

p. 6. Henceforth cited as SN. 

Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Primacy of Perception, ed. James M. Edie (Evanston: 

Northwestern University Press, 1964), p. 164. 

100 Marc. J. LaFountain: Destiny without Destination (?): Un Coeur en Hiver 

'^ Alphonso Lingis, Libido - The French Existential Theories (Bloomington: Indiana Uni- 
versity Press, 1985), p. 67. Henceforth cited as L. 

^Luce Irigaray, "The Fecundity of the Caress," in Face to Face with Levinas, ed. Rich- 
ard A. Cohen (Albany: SUNY Press, 1986), pp. 234-235. 

'^^ Georges Bataille, Death and Sensuality, trans. Mary Dalwood (San Francisco: City 
Lights Books, 1986), pp. 17, 36. Henceforth cited as DS; also see Allan Stoekl, Poli- 
tics, Writing Mutilation: The Cases of Bataille, Blanchot, Roussel, Leiris, and Ponge (Min- 
neapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985), p. 131. 

^'' Maurice Blanchot, The Space of Literature, trans. Ann Smock (Lincoln: University of 
Nebraska Press, 1992), p. 33. Henceforth cited as SL. 

^^ Steven Shaviro, Passion and Excess: Blanchot, Bataille and Literary Theory (Tallahassee: 
University of Florida Press, 1990), p. 119. 

^"Emmanuel Levinas, Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence, trans. Alphonso Lingis 
(The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1981), pp. 114, 121, 138 respectively. Henceforth cited 
as OB. 

^^ Maurice Blanchot, When the Time Comes, trans. Lydia Davis (Barrytown, NY: Station 
Hill Press, 1985), pp. 63, 69-71 . Henceforth cited as WT. 

^* Maurice Blanchot, The Infinite Conversation, trans. Susan Hanson (Minneapolis: 
University of Minnesota Press, 1993), p. 338. 

-''Allen S. Weiss, "Impossible Sovereignty," in The Aesthetics of Excess (Albany: SUNY 
Press, 1989), pp. 12-28. 

3°Helene Cb(Ous, Souffles (Paris: Des femmes, 1975), pp. 21-22. 

^' Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness, trans. Hazel E. Barnes (New York: Wash- 
ington Square Press, 1956, p. 555. 

^^ Georges Bataille, Oeuvres completes, Vol VL La Somme atheologique IL Sur Nietzsche. 
Memorandum. Annexes, ed. Henri Ronse and J-M. Rey (Paris: Gallimard, 1973), p. 

''^Fredric Jameson, "Postmodernism, of the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism," New 
Left Review, no. 146 (1984), pp. 53-93. 

^Jean-Francois Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition, trans. Geoff Bennington and Brian 
Massvmii (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), p. 81. Henceforth dted 
as PC. 

^^For a detailed discussion see Marc LaFountain, "Play and Ethics in Culturus Inter- 
ruptus: Gadamer's Hermeneutics in Postmodemity," in The Specter of Relativism: 
Truth, Dialogue and Phronesis in Philosophical Hermeneutics, ed. Lawrence K. Schmidt 
(Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1995), pp. 206-223. 

New Directions in Crime, Law, and 
Social Change: On Psychoanalytic 
Semiotics, Chaos Theory, and 
Postmodern Ethics 

By Bruce A. Arrigo, Ph.D. 

Recent interdisciplinary scholarship has drawn considerable atten- 
:ion to the theoretical and methodological contributions of the 
postmodern sciences to interpret diverse social phenomena. Although 
Tiore slow in developing, this brand of critical conceptual analysis 
low finds increasing legitimacy within the intersecting domains of 
aw and criminology. An important, though vastly under-examined, 
iimension of postmodern criminal justice research is the question of 
Bthics and how crime, law, and social change might be envisioned in 
ight of this more deracinating perspective. Accordingly, this essay 
xoadly develops several insights found in the seminal work of Jacques 
Lacan. In the context of his psychoanalytic semiotics, the role that 
discourse assumes in constituting our appreciation for (criminal jus- 
ice) ethics is specifically discussed. Where appropriate, some treat- 
nent of Lacan's corresponding notions of subjectivity and knowledge 
s also integrated into the analysis. We conclude by speculating upon 
eplacement vistas for social change in law and criminology and how 
uch change might reconfigure justice and morality in light of our 
>ostmodem investigation. On these matters, several linkages between 

"laos theory and Lacanian thought are outlined which suggest trans- 
ormative possibilities. 


Exploring the ethical dimensions of law and crime has long been a 
ubject of considerable scrutiny by philosophers, theologians, soci- 
logists, jurisprudes, political scientists, journalists, media analysts, 
nd even the occasional barfly. It is not surprising, then, that the bur- 
eoning discipline of criminal justice has seized upon such momen- 
im and has endeavored to offer its own version of police, court, and 

102 Bruce A. Arrigo: New Directions in Crime, Law and Social Change 

correctional accountability. The plethora of academy scholarship bears 
witness to this trend.' In further support of this commitment to re- 
search in ethics, morality, and justice is the popular semi-annual peri- 
odical. Criminal Justice Ethics. Its mission statement identifies as its 
goal the "systematic and normative analysis of moral choice con- 
fronted by all agents of the criminal justice system,"^ 

The scholarship identified above offers much of interest for the 
traditional criminal justician. Regrettably, much of it fails to offer any- 
thing approximating critically-inspired analysis. The previous com- 
ment is less a virulent attack and more a well-meaning observation 
on the nature of current research addressing ethics in criminal justice. 
For example, conspicuously absent from this literature is any refer- 
ence to the postmodern agenda. This is disappointing especially since 
it is this very perspective which increasingly finds itself at the fore- 
front of conceptual and applied criminological and legal scholarship 
in the academy. For example, a selected cataloging of recent contribu- 
tions have considered such diverse themes as policing;^ mental ill- 
ness and criminal insanity;^ crime and social control;^ feminism and 
the sociology of law;*' organizational behavior/ psychoanalysis and 
legal semiotics;'^ legal theory and legal narratives;'^ criminal justice 
education;'" rape and social violence." I 

Advancing the topical trend to interpret social life beyond conven- 
tional modes of scientific inquiry, this essay will sketch the meaning(s) 
of criminal justice ethics by incorporating important contributions 
from one emerging, though under studied, postmodern tradition. The 
heterodox approach we consider encompasses the rich, varied, and 
idiosyncratic formalizations of Jacques Lacan's psychoanalytic 
semiotics.''^ Of particular interest will be his regard for discourse and 
the interdependent processes through which it structures thought. 
Where relevant to our assessment, the related Lacanian concerns of 
subjectivity as linked to desire, and knowledge as linked to power 
will be examined. This essay will conclude by considering what steps 
are necessary to re-constitute ethics in crime and justice;'"* steps which 
point to a new direction for social change in the age of postmodernity. 
Here, contributions from the new science of chaos theory or orderly dis- 
order will be integrated with Lacan's description of both the discourse 
of the analyst and the discourse of the hysteric}'^ 

Before proceeding, a few comments are warranted about the os- 
tensibly mechanistic and deterministic forces at work in Lacan's 

Nest Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 103 

lemiotics and our emphasis on discoursing in the postmodern. In part, 
he thesis of this essay rests on the iterative closures or the anchor- 
iges {capitonnages) valorized and legitimated in the constitution of 
:rime and justice and the intersections upon which ethics is fashioned, 
vloreover, underpinning this operation is the recognition that linguistic 
ieterminism governs the process. Extending Marx's critique of the 
ogic of capital, use versus exchange value theory, and commodity 
etishism, several semioticians have advanced the proposition that 
anguage is itself a fetishized commodity. ^^ By invoking the distinc- 
ion between instrumental (hard) and structural (soft) determinism, 
he central issue is the extent to which language defines our interper- 
lonal relationships and events in the world. With hard determinism 
anguage is the vehicle by which the life-world is constituted. With 
;oft determinism language contributes to the structuration of human 
iffairs but there is open-endedness; that is, some room for other inter- 
vening variables to co-constitute reality (e.g., education, religion, the 
amily, personal attitudes /beliefs) is ascertainable. 

Focusing upon the process by which discourse is conceived, the 
psychoanalytic semiotics of Lacan traverse this delicate balance of po- 
sitions. A close reading of his algebraic conceptualizations discloses 
)oth a rigid commitment to a deterministic, reductionistic science of 
inguistics, as well as a rejection of such absolutism and positivism. 
Consider the juxtaposition of the following: "mathematic formaliza- 
ion is our goal, is our ideal" '^ and "psychoanalysis is not a science." ^^ 
\s several scholars have noted, Lacan must be read descriptively rather 
han prescriptively.^^ His contributions, then, rest in their capacity to 
uel debate and reveal questions rather than to settle disputes or de- 
initively offer solutions to queries in the sociology of knowledge. In 
his regard, Lacan seems to be suggesting that there are both orderly 
nd disorderly processes at work in the formation of discourse, sub- 
jctivity, and knowledge. Indeed, while he utilizes mobius strips, 
orromean knots, feedback loops, neologisms, topological maps, and 
ther non-conventional social scientific conceptualizations as the hall- 
lark of his psychoanalytic semiotics, he invites the reader to adopt a 
tore intuitive, a more serendipitous, grasp of what his discursive 
zhematizations signify.^^ In short, Lacan adopts mathematical orga- 
izing principles to construct a theory of discourse situated in mythic 
wwledge}^ Thus, the matter of linguistic determinism must be re- 
arded as a more plurisignificant and ambiguous dispute; one which 
?sists paradigmatic responses or certifiable formulas. 

104 Bruce A. Arrigo: New Directions in Crime, Law and Social Change 

Our treatment and application of Lacanian thought also straddles 
a similar modernist/ postmodernist divide. We accept his mathemati- 
cal principles as a point of departure for interpreting human behavior 
and social interaction and not as a point of arrival for establishing 
ultimate Truths or even the definitive word on a particular truth. Thus, 
we reject the application of Lacan's sundry schematizations in any 
authoritative or dictatorial fashion. Instead, we utilize sc veral "tools" 
contained within his social theory for purposes of generating ideas 
and cultivating a narrative relevant to law and criminology and the 
tentative illumination of criminal justice ethics. 

Psychoanalytic Semiotics and Discourse Construction 

The birth and evolution of psychoanalytic semiotics can be traced 
to the writings of Jacques Lacan.-^^ Much of what Lacan offers us is^ in 
many ways, a reconceptualization of the voluminous writings of 
Sigmund Freud.-' Similar to Freud, Lacan was interested in exploring 
the deep and murky waters of the unconscious. Unlike Freud, how- 
ever, Lacan devoted much of his career to demonstrating how the 
unconscious was structured like a language.^^ It was this unconscious 
or Other (Autre), which was understood to be the untapped reposi- 
tory of language, agency, power, and desire. 

For Lacan the careful elucidation of the unconscious and its dis- 
course required the application of the postmodern sciences. The meth- 
odological tools upon which he relied most especially included the 
logic of semiotics.-'* For our purposes, semiotics is the study of lan- 
guage as signs and the evolving meanings communicated in and 
through these signs and through their unique language systems.^'' To 
clarify the matter, all speech, whether verbal, non-verbal, or 
extra- verbal always and already occurs from within a language (i.e, sign) 
system. For example: there is a specialized grammar in law termed 
legalese. The same may be said of other communication markets such 
as those found in and among science, sports, and prison inmates. As 
subsequent sections will describe, these sign systems are distil guish- 
able on the basis of their dominant, pluralistic, and oppositional us- 
age governed both by the prevailing culture and the politica 

Language systems are coordinated so that meaning, subjecti'^dty 
reason, and rationality can only occur when one inserts oneself and/ 
or is situated within the bounded and signifying sphere of that dis- 

/esf Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 


ourse in operation.-^ Thus, for example, explaining Baseball's 'in- 
leld fly rule' occurs by invoking that speech which reflects the en- 
oded, sedimented, and systematized logic of this sport. All accurate 
ense-making, regardless of speech code, is contingent upon this 

The sign begins as a concept through its connection to an acoustic 
sound) ima^e.-^'^ This sound image is a trace or representation of the 
ign. It is a signifier for the image. The concept itself, however, is the 
ign's signified. Peirce has correctly pointed out how the sign-concept 
stands to somebody for something in some respect or capacity."^'* 
'hus, the sign creates in the mind of the interpreter an "equivalent 
ign".''" Figure 1 depicts these relationships. Semiotic production 
semiosis) is understood, then, as the interactive effects of signifier/ 
ignified (sign) anchorings, mediated by an interpreter, forming the 
lasis of a system of communication. 


IGN = 

acoustic image ' 

,, signified 



Adapted from Milovanovic RSL p. 33) 

The sign (and its signification), however, does not appear in a ran- 
lom arrangement. To reiterate, users of unique grammars are predis- 
)Osed to borrowing from the available, pre-structured linguistic forms 
>f that language. This is a reference to the systemic or structural level 
tf semiotic production. Thus, before we can describe how, according 
Lacan, language structures thought, some preliminary observations 
elevant to this first sphere of semiotic activity is pivotal to our analy- 

^.. Sphere of Structural Semiotic Production and Circulation 

n order to delineate the systemic level of semiosis and its operation 
vithin a particular sign system (such as criminal justice and its rela- 
ionship to ethics), we rely upon Marx and his distinction between 

106 Bruce A. Arrigo: New Directions in Crime, Law and Social Change 

commodity production and circulation. In the case of law, for example, 
linguistic production originates in higher courts (including state ap- 
peals courts, state supreme courts, U.S. appeals courts, and the U.S. 
Supreme court). It is in such arenas that the ideological sign is reduced 
from multi-accentuality to uni-accentuality.^^ In other words, all the 
possible contents for the signifier find expression in the articulation 
(production) of one precise meaning.''^ The signifieds for such ex- 
pressions as "wrongful," "willingly," "mens rea," "duress," etc., are 
compatible with the capitalist and repressive mode of production. 
Alternative constructions which may resonate deeply within the psy- 
chic apparatus of one's unconscious are silenced, are denied affirma- 
tive codification, in the juridical sphere. As we have shown in the 
context of mental illness,'*'' criminal insanity, '*'* and punishment^^ the 
dominant hegemonic group will exercise linguistic control to stave 
off crisis tendencies,''^ ensuring the stabilization of the signified as 
"consistent with the internal dynamics of capital logic.^^ 

To illustrate the matter, the signified for the signifier "mental ill- 
ness" borrows from the available linguistic forms compatible within 
psychiatric medicine.''*^ Typical meanings include words or phrases 
such as "diseased" "in need of treatment" "dysfunctional," to convey the 
concept. These characterizations arguably suggest that the mentally 
ill can only be understood as objects of scientific and dispassionate 
inquiry, as an assortment of maladies, or as the sum of their fallibilities. 
De-stabilizing accentuations such as "consumers of psychiatric services" 
"mental health citizens" and "the differently abled" although infused in 
the formation of the sign, slumber in despair and await legitimation 
in a battery of signifieds outside the hierarchical realm of juridic pro- 
duction. Such codifications borrow from the lexicon of medicine but 
envision the mentally ill as active, empowered participants in the psy 
chiatric marketplace. Thus, these linguistic forms challenge the pre 
vailing power differential in mental health law and must be quickly 
neutralized through semiotic cleansing. In order to avoid a legitima- 
tion crisis, these latter terms or phrases do not appear in the pertinent 
case and statutory law describing the mentally ill.'''^ 

Once the ideological sign and its precise codification has under 
gone linguistic structuration in the higher courts, such meanings cir- 
culate to lower courts, to administrative tribunals, to classrooms, and 
to the public. Thus, we have the fetishism of the (linguistic) commod- 
ity. We are surprised and uncertain by such depictions of the men- 

Yesf Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 107 

ally ill as consumers or citizens because they fail to reflect the estab- 
ished and sedimented relationship between law, medicine, and the 
)sychiatrically disordered. Again, ossified signifieds are constituted 
n such ways so as to be beneficial to hegemonic group interests (e.g., 
aw, medicine). We are left with the appearance of equality, individu- 
ility, proprietorship, etc., emanating from the sphere of circulation, 
rhe hierarchical and repressive dimensions found in the sphere of 
production are unconsciously understood to be beyond incrimina- 

The preliminary implications for ethics in a criminal justice con- 
ext at this structural level of semiotic production are quite profound, 
f ethical principles flow from the overlapping effects of crime, law, 
md justice, and if the meaning of such constructs is pre-structured to 
;ustain the demands of advanced capitalism, then it follows that cir- 
cumscribed ethics are endorsed and enforced! Put another way, the sys- 
emic sphere of semiotic production and circulation embodies prin- 
:iples of (ethical) accountability which linguistically (and therefore 
:ulturally) sustain the prevailing political economy and social order. 
Ml other discursive constructions in law and criminology, all other 
)ystem-destabilizing configurations of normative behavior, are alto- 
gether dismissed or re-languaged and made compatible with the co- 
)rdinates representing the (dominant) language system in use. 

5. Sphere of Intra-psychic and Intersubjective Semiotic 

According to classical Lacanian theory, the language of the uncon- 
scious is over-determined and polyphonic, much like the poetic dis- 
:ourse of the novelist.'*' Thus, all discourse is laden with metaphori- 
:al, paradoxical, hyperbolic, etc., allusions awaiting symbolization and 
egitimation through the sign process. In the Lacanian topography, 
:he construction of discourse can best be conceptualized as a semiotic 
^rid. Figure 2 depicts the grid. It reflects the descriptive dimension 
oy and through which internal (intra-psychic) and interpersonal 
^intersubjective) thought processes are re-presented in the act of speech. 
Re-presentation is a reference to the structural level of semiotic pro- 
duction which first accents the sign consistent with the logic of capi- 


Bruce A. Arrigo: New Directions in Crime, Laiv and Social Change 


Plane of More 


Paradigm Syntagm 

Metaphor Metonymy 

Condensation Displacement 

Plane of More 

(Adapted from B. Arrigo {DCJE, p. 117); D. Milovanovic (RSL, p. 39). 

In the psychic apparatus of the unconscious, three different, though 
interpenetrating, axes (also called tropes) coordinate language in us- 
age and sedimentation. The inter-workings of these tropes produce 
certain signifier-signified relationships, embodying subjectivity or 
one's desire in language.^- In Lacanian theory the desiring subject as- 
sumes an essential role in re-creating discourse and thereby structur- 
ing thought. Briefly stated, the Lacanian version of subjectivity chal- 
lenges the mainstream Cartesian notion which claims that individual 
subjects are purposeful, rational, stable, active. Thus, as autonomous 
agents, we are at the center of all human affairs and architects of all 
human events. This position is summarily contained in Descartes' 
famous dictum: "Cogito ergo sum." Contrarily Lacan claims that the 
subject is de-centered; that is, the plenary and unitary "I" or cogito is 
divided or slashed ($).'*^ As we have suggested, individual actors sub- 
mit to and are situated within a floating stream of signifying practices 
located within the repository of one's unconscious. These signifying 
practices preliminarily coordinate or "accent" the desiring subject's 
linguistic reality, resulting in the articulation of a specialized code 
conveying preferred meanings. Thus, following a Lacanian reading, 
individual subjects are more determined than determining, more un- 
stable than stable, more disunified than unified. 

Returning to the three tropes, it is this very (subjective and re- 
pressed) desire which seeks expression and affirmation in the sphere 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 109 

of linguistic production and circulation. Accordingly, these axes must 
be seen as organizing what we say and ordering the meaning(s) we 
communicate, intended or otherwise, by our selection of language. In 
what follows we sketch the operation of each paired axis, discuss the 
interactive effects of the semiotic grid, and then comment upon the 
application of the grid to the constitution of ethics in matters of law 
and criminology. 

1. Paradigm-syntagm semiotic axis - In order for speech to occur, 
certain linguistic forms must be selected from an available inventory, 
subsequently coordinated in some coherent pattern. In his posthu- 
mously published work. Course de Linguistique Generale (1966), 
Ferdinand de Saussure originally conceived of the 
paradigmatic-syntagmatic axis in terms of "selection" and "combina- 
tion." Discourse (realm of parole) is chosen from a community of lan- 
guage (domain of la langue). On the paradigmatic level (vertical axis) 
words are grouped together by their "comparability."'" Comparabil- 
ity refers to the homologous relationship words share. This relation- 
ship includes degrees of similarity or dissimilarity (e.g., procedural 
standards of proof in law such as beyond a reasonable doubt, clear 
and convincing evidence, preponderance of evidence, scintilla of proof; 
substantive guidelines for involuntary civil commitment such as clear 
and present danger, dangerous, obviously ill, in distress or deterio- 
rating). Hence, the paradigmatic level delimits a range of options from 
which we may select. 

The syntagmatic axis represents the horizontal plane in this paired 
trope. The syntagm is the actual speech chain and reflects the signify- 
ing process of word placement in a sentence. Thus, in conversational 
speech we find that the speaking subject (Lacan's letre parlant or 
parletre) chooses words (paradigms) and arranges or orders them into 
a particular phrase or series of sentences (syntagms). The interactive 
effects of the axis creates an ephemeral and imaginary space where 
meaning (much like a picture or slow moving film) is constructed 
and conveyed to the receiver of the message. 

In law (particularly the construction of the "what happened" in a 
trial) the inter-workings of the paradigm-syntagm are most evident. 
Milovanovid^ and Arrigo*^ have each described this process in the 
context of how the "what happened" in a criminal case is created. 
During direct examination a prosecutor seeks to elicit testimony from 
a witness, consistent with the attorney's version of the defendant's 

110 Bruce A. Arrigo: New Directions in Crime, Law and Social Change 

culpability. The careful selection of words and their ordering produces 
a flow of questions which leads to anticipated witness responses. The 
prosecutor hopes that the questioning coupled with the direct testi- 
mony will foster that imaginary and temporary space, filled in by 
jurors, establishing "a plausible flow of events that ostensibly or 
self-evidently" identifies the defendant's motive, means, and oppor- 
tunity for committing the crime. ^^ 

On cross-examination the "what happened" is once again 
semiotically constructed. Much like direct examination where the 
prosecutor endeavors to elicit the appropriate response without op- 
posing counsel's objection, previously introduced information is 
re-assembled. The chosen paradigms (words selected) and ordered 
syntagms (chains of speech) are now shaded, ever so slightly or 
broadly, to be consistent with defense counsel's version of the case. 
Once again, the attorney attempts to arouse in the minds of jurors a 
picture. In this instance, doubt as to the defendant's complicity in the 
crime is the essential goal. Verbal cues such as changing the position 
of words in previously elicited testimony, non-verbal cues such as 
facial or bodily gestures, and extra-verbal cues, including expressions 
such as, "Hmmm", "Ah", "Oh", are intended to shatter^^ the previous 
image created during direct testimony, without invoking prosecutorial 
objection. At the same time, the defense advocate transmits another 
picture to the jury; one that re-assembles the events in the case. Thus, 
following the paradigm-syntagm dimension of intrapsychic and 
intersubjective semiotic production, we see how courtroom 
storytelling is a process in which the fact-finding process is semiotically 
re-constructed again and anew through the use of semantical dis- 

2. Condensation-displacement semiotic axis - In the Lacanian to- 
pography, this second axis is not examined in detail. Notwithstand- 
ing, Lacan, once again reconceptualizing Freud, is essentially con- 
cerned with the psycho-linguistic process by and through which the 
desiring subject communicates plenitude (meaning). Condensation 
represents that psychical mechanism whereby unconscious but deeply 
felt wishes (desires), denied expression during one's ego formation, 
receive articulated legitimation through manifest signifiers. These 
stated utterances are clues to one's unconscious longing and, when 
decoded, identify latent signifieds. Displacement entails the shifting 
of internalized energy from unacceptable objects or persons to accept- 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 111 

able objects or persons. The following statement is illustrative of this 
axis's interactive effects: 'I would characterize his testimony as 
relaughable'-- an obvious case for condensation formed by the words 
laughable and reliable in which a latent perception about an other is 
made manifest in an assessment of testimonial evidence. The speaker's 
seemingly harmless comment concerning the quality of the witness's 
information can more appropriately be identified with a signified in- 
volving some humorous or ludicrous dimension. 

3. Metaphor-metonymy semiotic axis - Metaphor is that creative, 
structural device establishing a linguistic equivalence (the same sig- 
nifier) by invoking two entirely different signifieds.'*'^ As Morgan tells 
us, "metaphor creates meaning by understanding one phenomenon 
through another in a way that encourages us to understand what is 
common in both."^° Consider this statement used by an employer, 
evaluating the performance of a worker: 'She's running on empty' 
Here we have reference to a machine (more particularly the technol- 
ogy of an engine) as well as the enervated performance habits of an 
employee. Although these signifieds are different, they are brought 
under one signifier. Through the use of metaphor as a "constructive 
falsehood"^^^ the signifier harnesses thought and, when uttered, tele- 
graphs one's regard for people and events in the world. The machine 
image conveys the message that people are valued more for how much 
they can produce and for how long they can last, and less for who 
they or what they have already accomplished. 

Metonymy is the substitution of an object with the constituents of 
that object. Put another way, the meaning of a thing is communicated 
by reducing the thing to the naming of its parts or attributes. Con- 
sider the following: our country's flag, a box of Kleenex, reference to 
the "King". In each instance, the things identified (the signifiers "flag", 
Kleenex", and the "King") are elements/ attributes of something else. 
In the case of the "flag" one more than likely associates it with the 
United States or "Old Glory" (the signified) than with the cloth by 
which it is made. In the instance of "Kleenex" one probably thinks of 
tissues (the signified) rather than the Paper Company which produces 
them. In the example of the "King" one is apt to link it to the Rock'n 
Roll legend Elvis Presley (the signified) than with any person of sov- 
ereign nobility from a foreign land. 

In the Lacanian schema, the metaphoric-metonymic trope is situ- 
ated within the Symbolic Order. This is the saturated linguistic realm 

112 Bruce A. Arrigo: New Directions in Crime, Law and Social Change 

in which culture, particularly the political economy as phallocratically 
conceived, is given ideologically-derived and materialistically-based 
form and substance (see endnote 42). In other words, figurative speech 
reflects the means and relations of production consistent with the pre- 
vailing culture. Thus, this axis mediates and facilitates between the 
paired semiotic tropes of paradigm-syntagm and 
condensation-displacement. Metaphorical and metonymical images 
anchor discourse, signifying the parameters of a society's existent his- 
tory and technology. 

4. The semiotic grid and its interactive effects - Returning to Fig- 
ure 2, we see the interplay of the semiotic grid. The paired trope of 
the paradigm-syntagm is governed by every day speech (i.e., gram- 
mar). The metaphor-metonymy axis is outside of everyday discourse. 
It is anchored by the preconfigured linguistic coordinates represent- 
ing a given epoch or culture. The condensation-displacement trope is 
constitutive of speech (articulated desire) expressed symptomatically 
(e.g., parapraxis, neurotic communication). 

In Lacanian psychoanalytic semiotics, the construction of reality 
originates in the language of the unconscious. This Other contains a 
stream of signifiers awaiting the release of excitatory energy. Within 
an imaginary space, this psychical force, radiating from the uncon- 
scious (the Other), produces images. These images laced with the 
Other's metaphorical-metonymical constraints, receive temporary 
psychical clarity delimited within particular spatio-temporal bound- 
aries. Through this process, a view of reality (desire) is given birth. 
The act of paradigmatic-syntagmatic speech re-presents the structured 
and languaged thoughts originally conceived in and residing among 
the floating signifiers inhabiting the primary process region (the place 
of the unconscious or Other). 

The interpenetrating effects of the grid can also be understood on 
the basis of narrative coherence and knowledge construction.-^-^ All 
discourse is about storytelling. Thus, when speaking or writing we 
communicate certain (scripted) meanings, intended or otherwise, 
through our selection of language or through our interpretation of 
the text. Here, meaning refers to the constitution of knowledge as sub- 
jective desire. Lacan was to make considerable reference to this no- 
tion of subjectivity or desire in discourse in both static form in his 
famous Schema V^ and dynamic form in his Graphs of Desire or Schema 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 113 

The Lacanian notion of subjectivity situates the person into a quad- 
rilateral depiction of human agency. For Lacan, rather than a subject, 
le offered the idea of a "speaking being" {parletre, or letre parlant). The 
speaking being is constituted by three Orders: the Real, Imaginary, 
md Symbolic. The Real Order is the domain of felt but inarticulable 
experience; it is beyond symbolization or speech. The Imaginary is 
the domain of images (imagos). These are specular constructions of 
self and others. The Symbolic Order is the domain of language, cul- 
ture, and the unconscious. It is through this Order that the subject 

As children, following inauguration into the masculine encoded 
[ogic of the Symbolic Order, we search for completeness (plenitude). 
rhe speaking being "sutures" what is perceived to be existential gaps 
in one's being. Objects of desire {objet petit a) offer the possibility for 
experiencing this sense of identity fulfillment. Words, speech, language 
are the very mechanisms by and through which this longing may be 
realized. In order to suture, the subject, once again, is situated into or 
inserts her /himself into some relatively stable, though circumscribed, 
:oordinated language system. The encoded logic of this discursive 
process embodies a limited form of knowledge which, when ex- 
pressed, reflects the desiring voice (storytelling) of only certain col- 

In law narrative coherence is a function of subjects embodying 
desire within legal categories of reason and within acceptable seman- 
tic and syntagmatic structures.^^ In psychiatric medicine when hospi- 
tals determine the need to involuntary hospitalize a person because 
of an acute or chronic disorder, narrative coherence relates to patients 
embodying or failing to embody desire within psychiatric categories 
of acceptable language-thought-behavior patterns. ^^ In gang cultures 
khere membership and allegiance are often in question, narrative co- 
herence is embodied in the use of a specialized language known most 
especially to the indoctrinated faithful. Those who fail to rely upon 
:his code may be subjected to ostracism, banishment, or death. In these 
and other) scripted dialogues, many stories (ways of knowing) are 
ilenced (e.g., minorities, the disenfranchised, those engaged in alter- 
lative styles of living). It is in such instances as these that linguistic 
)ppression is made manifest. 

5. The semiotic grid and ethics in crime, law, and justice - Follow- 
ng our preliminary reading in which the barest essentials of Lacanian 

114 Bruce A. Arrigo: New Directions in Crime, Laiv and Social Change 

psychoanalytic semiotics were outlined, the question is how might 
the sphere of intra-psychic and intersubjective semiotic production 
operate in the context of criminal justice ethics. In other words, what 
contributions, if any, can Lacan make to our understanding of "the 
what happens" (the storytelling) in law and criminology? The posi- 
tion taken is that the sequencing of normative accountability in crime, 
law, and justice unfolds much like the construction of any story. ^^ Thus, 
much like any narrative, the assessment of professional conduct en- 
gaged in by police, court, and correctional personnel requires that the 
audience (e.g., the public) recognize, indeed embrace, certain 
knowledge-truth claims. 

Recalling the structural level of semiotic production, the linguistic 
parameters of this story are always and already pre-arranged. This is a 
reference to the encoded and circumscribed logic constituting the 
criminal justice paradigm. Further, at the level of intra-psychic and 
intersubjective semiotic production, participants (agents of the crimi- 
nal justice system) unconsciously contemplate a number of interre- 
lated questions. Integrating all that has been said thus far, the ques- 
tions are as follows. 

a) paradigm- What words present themselves to police officers, law- 
yers, judges, jurors, prison guards, etc. (from a limited inventory with 
uniaccentuated signifieds), to support the criminal justice strategy or 
intervention taken? Put another way, when the subject situates her/ 
himself and / or is inserted within the linguistic coordinates defining 
police, court, or correctional practice, what words announce them- 
selves to the subject such that the person's speech acts are compatible 
with those coordinates defining ethical (criminal justice) behavior? 

b) syntagm- What sequences of thought speak through the individual 
such that s/he can articulate a normative position or raise (ethical) 
questions (again, in support of the prevailing sign system in crime, 
law, and justice) without challenges or scrutiny levied against such 
analysis from the press, the public, or from congressional, religious, 
and civic leaders? Moreover, what additional lines of thought (com- 
bination of words) reveal themselves to the criminal justice profes- 
sional, allowing this agent to neutralize oppositional discourse? 

c) metaphor- What desiring images appear before the unconscious of 
litigators, officers, wardens, or judges, etc., which, when articulated 
through such individuals, unwittingly situate others (the public most 
especially) into the story (adopting the intervention or strategy) so 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 115 

that they regard its logic as compelUng, true, and ethical (i.e., a con- 
vincing narrative)? 

d) metonymy- what lines of thought announce themselves to crimi- 
nal justice professionals and when uttered arguably re-direct the pub- 
lic, the press, and others to an element of police, court, and correc- 
tional institutional practice thereby deductively linking said element 
to the efficacy of a larger ethical principle? For example: the O.J. 
Simpson double murder case is a constitutive element of the trial pro- 
cess which is itself a feature of the criminal justice system. When de- 
bating the broader issue of whether the overall system is ethically 
bankrupt, proponents rely upon the illustration of the O.J. Simpson 
trial. To amplify their position they cite the star-struck behavior of 
several jurors (and witnesses); the legal chicanery and jockeying by 
defense and prosecuting attorneys; the exorbitant (and extraordinary) 
cost of litigation paid for by Mr. Simpson and the state respectively; 
the lack of a "gag" rule issued by the judge as contributing to inces- 
sant media coverage exploiting the drama of violence, death, and 
human tragedy; and the protracted duration of the case billed as the 
"trial of the century." The stated example assumes a metonymical func- 
tion in that the whole (the lack of ethics in criminal justice) is under- 
stood through the function of" the illustrative part (the O.J. Simpson 
double murder case). 

Social Change and Replacement Discourse(s): Toward a 
Transformative (Criminal Justice) Ethics 

Thus far we have shown how discourse is constituted at both the 
systemic and intra-psychic/intersubjective spheres of semiotic pro- 
duction. Further, we have considered the implications for such semiotic 
activity in the context of criminal justice ethics. Notions of law, crime, 
md justice are (unconsciously) coordinated within a language sys- 
:em embodying that desire compatible with the knowledge aims of 
:hose who regulate the criminal justice apparatus. All other expres- 
sions of desire, all other ways of knowing, are repressed or are denied 
affirmative codification through the logic of police, court, and correc- 
ional categories. Thus, attempts at semiotic resistance are quickly 
leutralized; linguistic control and repressive practices perpetuate 
hemselves, the moral ascendancy of that sub-sign system in opera- 
ion are unwittingly validated as above reproach. 

116 Bruce A. Arrigo: New Directions in Crime, Laiv and Social Change 

In this section we outline what postmodern (Lacanian) steps exist 
which, when implemented, suggest the possibility for transcending 
the imposed parameters of conventional (criminal justice) ethics. In 
other words, we explore the necessary conceptual steps which ready 
the way for a more inclusive, more participatory, form of social jus- 
tice. We contend that such postmodern theoretical work is essential 
for establishing a more honest construction of ethics in law and crimi- 
nology as well as a more complete vision from within which to acti- 
vate social change. Accordingly, we briefly examine chaos theory and 
its "orderly disorder" theorems as well as the combinatory effects of 
Lacan's discourse of the analyst and hysteric.^^ The former suggests a 
new basis for cultivating being while the latter creates new pathways 
for engendering change. 

A. Chaos Theory 

Chaos theory is a challenge to all over-arching and totalizing prin- 
ciples of reason, rationality, judgment, and intellect.'''' The theory fun- 
damentally questions the veracity of Newtonian physics, Euclidean 
geometry, Aristotelian logic and all approaches guided by principles 
of deterministic and positivistic science. The essence of chaos theory 
can be conceptualized on the basis of several interdependent propo- 
sitions. The most relevant of these propositions are outlined below. 

1. Non-linearity - There are no essential structures, no permanent 
stabilities governing space-time mapping.^° Thus, the social order is 
situated in unpredictability and natural systems are understood to 
stably perpetuate themselves "precisely because they are 'unprin- 
cipled,' i.e., they behave nonlinearily.^^ Thus, minor or incremental 
changes (inputs) can produce major or substantial results (outputs). 
For example,a young boy (Ryan White) contracts AIDS, and an entire 
nation, ensconced in denial, instantly realizes the devastation of a dis- 
ease which refuses to discriminate on the basis of age, gender, race, or 

2. Fractal space - According to conventional science and philoso- 
phy, space is understood on the basis of whole integers (e.g., 1, 2, 3, 
4...). Chaologists recognize the fractional dimension of space (e.g., 1 
1/8, 2 1/4, 3 1/2, 4 3/4...). Extending this rationale to (criminal jus- 
tice) ethics, normative accountability is measured in degrees. In other 
words, contrary to the binary formula found in Aristotelian logic, chaos 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Scie?tces, XXXIII, 1995 117 

theory posits that ethics is more appropriately about fractal values; it 
is not an all or nothing equation.^- 

The televised beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles County po- 
lice officers illustrates the previous notion. Despite the repeated and 
incessant media display of Mr. King's trouncing, we still question the 
ethics of the situation (e.g., was Rodney King resisting arrest? Did he 
have a right to resist? Did the officers follow customary law enforce- 
ment practices? If so, were (are) such practices inherently unjust? If 
not, what role, if any, did race play in the use of force?, etc.). 

3. Attractors - Chaologists envision the mapping of dynamic sys- 
tems (e.g., law, criminology) in a non-linear fashion.''^ Attractors are 
cumulative patterns of behavior or trajectories that plot out and point 
to where a system through movement ("phase space") tends. There 
are maps which depict linear trajectories. These are called limit or point 
attractors. Other maps portray non-linear movements. These are called 
torus or strange attractors. These latter trajectories behave in ways con- 
trary to Newtonian physics. They represent both order and disorder; 
predictability and unpredictability. Consider, for example: the sun- 
dry designs of windblown snowscapes; the pattern of waves wash- 
ing up against a coastal shoreline; the symmetry of brain activity dur- 
ing bouts of dissociation. In other words, there is structuration (pre- 
dictability) at the macro (global) level, stemming from conditions of 

ux (unpredictability) at the micro (local) level. Thus, order emerges 
out of chaos. 

4. The torus and iteration - Figure 3 depicts the tube-like nature of 
the torus attractor. Cross-gaps of the torus are called Poincare sec- 
ions. They represent events isolated at a particular time. At the macro 
evel or in terms of global phase-space there is overall order. This pre- 
iictability is the tube-like torus itself. However, at the micro level or 
n terms of local, positional phase-space, there is indeterminability. In 
)ther words, "pinpointing specific occurrences within this slice with 


118 Bruce A. Arrigo: New Directions in Crime, Law and Social Change 

exactness is an illusory exercise."*''^ In speech we can appreciate this 
process through iteration}''^ Every signifier has a multitude of signifieds. 
Meaning explodes and scatters. It is not fixed, static, or closed. At best 
there are only approximations. There is no -precise fit. 

Assigning (criminal) blameworthiness following illegal or ques- 
tionable conduct illustrates the effects of the torus and iteration. At 
the macro level stealing is a crime in which one is subject to prosecu- 
tion, conviction, and sanction. However, the signified for "criminal 
theft" is unstable; it depends upon the age, mental state, race, gender, 
and class of the defendant, as well as the situation, position, and con- 
text in and out of which the behavior is perpetrated. The same may be 
said regarding the ethics of stealing. There are a range of possible 
meanings for "criminal theft." The slightest variation in factual cir- 
cumstances alters the iterations (signifieds) given preferred meaning. 
This is an instance of non-linear dynamics at work. 

5. Far-from-equilibrium conditions - According to chaologists, dy- 
namic systems continually break down but are spontaneously 
re-constituted. Chaologists term such conditions dissipative structures.^ 
These structures are characterized by their sensitivity and responsive- 
ness to variation, contingency, perturbation. Dissipative structures are 
receptive to change, chance, indeterminacy, and flux. The generating 
mechanisms for such fluid systems are far-from-equilibrium conditions.^^ 
These conditions make possible the establishment of new master 
signifiers, embodying replacement narratives (ways of knowing) 
wherein the de-centered subject's desire finds greater expression and 

Systems which tend toward stasis (including the criminal justice 
apparatus), promote predictable paradigmatic/ syntagmatic 
anchorings, restrictive and unilateral discourse, and circumscribed 
knowledge forms within which desire finds embodiment. Impeded 
in such repressive practices is the establishment of new master 
signifiers, alternative bodies of knowledge, replacement expressions 
of desire through which to consider social change, multiple ways of 
being, and intersubjectively verifiable ethics in law and criminology. 
However, systems governed more by randomness, continuous varia- 
tion, and unpredictability suggest the birth of new consciousness; a 
replacement discourse compatible with the spontaneities, ironies, fan- 
tasies, and absurdities of social life and being human. Such a system 
would embody multiple discourses; desire(s) understood as provi- 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 119 

lional, positional, and relational, and standpoint epistemologies sub- 
ect to iterative variation. 

3. On the Discourse Of the Hysteric and Analyst 

Elsewhere we have shown haw Lacan's discourse of the hysteric in 
:ombination with the discourse of the analyst may collaborate with the 
)ppressed (e.g., those subjected to the constraints of a unilateral eth- 
cs) in fostering social change).^^ The thrust of this analysis is that dif- 
erent forms of desire (jouissance) can find embodiment in the struc- 
ure of alternative grammars. Recalling our description of the four 
elements constituting each of Lacan's four discourses (see endnote 
)2) we can outline the discursive formation of the hysteric discourse 
md that of the analyst. 

The hysteric represents the oppositional subject (e.g., the rebel 
idvocate assisting the poor and disenfranchised, the social /commu- 
lity activist addressing political injustices) as well as the more acutely 
'ill" subject (e.g., the paranoid schizophrenic, the sociopathic devi- 
mt). This discursive structure for this discourse is symbolized as fol- 

$ >S1 

a < S2 

rhe despairing subject as slashed or divided endeavors to convey his/ 
"ler suffering to the other. This other, in the position of agent, 
nterpellates the repressed subject in customary ways or offers only 
fonventional master signifiers to the divided individual's longing, 
hus, that which is left out {pous tout) represents both the source and 
)roduct of the subject's unfulfilled and disembodied desire. For Lacan, 
le potential for overcoming the dictatorial hold of language experi- 
nced by the hysteric exists within the discourse of the analyst: 

a > S 

S2 < SI 

he analyst as a "cultural revolutionary"'''' legitimates the discourse 
f the divided subject. S/he develops and seeks to articulate new or 
virgin" master signifiers embodying the subject's desire, producing 
lythic knowledgeJ^ This product symbolizes the hysteric's truth which 
I turn supports what is left out and the process sustains itself in a 
/^clical fashion. Thus, following the postmodern prescription of Lacan, 

120 Bruce A. Arrigo: New Directions in Crime, Law and Social Change 

desire in language can foster multiple discourses, can embody 
multiaccentuated desire, can be reflective of different expressions of 

The combinatory effects of Lacan's discourse of the hysteric and ana- 
lyst suggest that social change is rooted in the identification and le- 
gitimation of new master signifiers, forming the basis of new (mythic) 
knowledge. This is similar to the torus or strange attractor in chaos 
theory. In the psychoanalytic semiotics of Lacan, replacement 
signifiers, embodying multi-accentuated desire, are iterated in differ- 
ent contexts yet remain sensitive to "the trace of the past.""' It is here 
that we see how far-from-equilibrium conditions (and the strange 
attractor) resonate with Lacan's discourse of the hysteric and analyst. 
We can also appreciate their relationship to (criminal justice) ethics. 

Figure 4 depicts the manner in which the strange attractor 
functions. The most celebrated of these is the butterfly attractor ap- 
pearing with two wings. These two wings are outcomes basins. The 
strange attractor is much more sensitive to contingencies than is the 
torus. At the macro level order and predictability prevail; however, 


at the micro level disorder is pervasive. In other words, within each 
basin accurate, precise prediction is impossible. Notwithstanding, with 
repeated iterations (multiple signifieds) a pattern emerges; that is, the 
butterfly wings appear. Ethical disputes in law and criminology op- 
erate in this manner.''- The police use of deadly force, the sentencing 
decision of judges, the correctional practice of paroling inmates, etc., 
are all illustrations of this (ethical) notion. In each instance a decision 
is made. Although in some instances only transitory, the subject lin- 
gers within the logic of one wing then within the logic of the other. 
The phase-space within which undecidability and indeterminacy pre- 
vail are moments of open-endedness and receptiveness; that is, they 
are periods in which stasis and closure are resisted. These are crucial 
points of decision-making! They are not identically fixed even in cases 
reflecting similar circumstances. 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 121 

This activity of continuous iteration (assigning manifold meaning) 
and of dis-identifying with established master signifiers, is what the 
joint effects of Lacan's two discourses endeavor to fashion. The col- 
laboration of the hysteric and analyst indicate a path toward the devel- 
opment of new expressions of desire saturated with the subject's 
uniquely encoded sense-making. Again, this is contingent, local, and 
relational ethics; one which makes possible social change constituted 
by disenfranchised citizens. This is a far cry from the conventional 
normative accountability of those who manipulate the (criminal) jus- 
tice apparatus, regulating the system as they do through hierarchical, 
exploitative, and repressive linguistic control. Instead, we are con- 
"ronted with the possibility of replacement discourses and a transfor- 
mative ethics. Discursive systems of communication (multiple 
knowledges) would prevail so that those whose voices (stories) suf- 
fered marginalization would no longer surrender to the desperation 
of their silence. 


Much of what we have attempted here has been a journey, albeit 

provisional, into unchartered territory. We have considered what con- 

ributions, if any, a Lacanian-informed psychoanalytic semiotics of- 

ers to further our appreciation for criminal justice ethics. Our 

jostmodern enterprise examined several of Lacan's postulates on dis- 

ourse and their relationship to re-presenting thought. Where perti- 

lent, several of Lacan's conceptualizations on subjectivity and knowl- 

dge were also examined. In an effort to move beyond the sedimented 

mguage of law and criminology, we addressed how social change 

light by envisioned. Here we considered some relevant contribu- 

Lons contained in chaos theory and integrated them with additional 

acanian insights. Postmodern criminal justice ethics is about estab- 

shing a new vocabulary within which multiple expressions of desire 

lay find unencumbered expression and legitimacy. We are not sug- 

esting ours is the path which must be traversed; rather, we offer 

3me alternative theoretical vistas by and through which to recon- 

der the direction discourse can take as our society debates ethical 

ilemmas in crime, law, and justice. 

122 Bruce A. Arrigo: New Directions in Crime, Law and Social Change 


' See. e.g., J. Braswell, T. McCarthy, and F. McCarthy, Justice, Crime and Ethics 2 Ed 
(Cincinnati, OH: Anderson Publishing Co., 1995); D. Close, N. Meier, Morality in 
Criminal Justice: An Introduction to Ethics (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1995). P. Jenkins, 
Crime and Justice: Issues and Ideas (Pacific Grove CA.: Brooks /Cole, 1984); J. 
Pollock-Byrne, Ethics in Crime and Justice: Dilemmas and Decisions (Pacific Grove, 
CA: Brooks /Cole, 1989); S. Souryal, Ethics in Criminal Justice: In Search of The Truth 
(Cincinnati, OH: Anderson Publishing Co., 1992). 

- Institute for Criminal Justice Ethics, Criminal Justice Ethics (New York, NY: John Jay 
College of Criminal Justice, CUNY, 1995), p. 2. 

"* P. Manning, Symbolic Communication: Signifying Calls and the Police Response (Cam- 
bridge, Mass: The MIT Press, 1988). 

■* B. Arrigo, Madness, Language and the Law (New York: Harrow and Heston, 1993). 
Henceforth cited as MLL, The Contours of Psychiatric Justice: A Postmodern Critique of 
Mental Illness, Criminal Insanity and the Law (New York: Garland, 1995). Henceforth 
cited as CPJ. 

'' S. Henry and D. Milovanovic, Constitutive Criminology (London, UK: Sage, 1995), 
"Constitutive Criminology: The Maturation of Critical Theory," Criminology, Vol. 
29 (1991), pp. 293-315. Henceforth cited as CC. 

'' C. Smart, Law, Crime, and Sexuality: Essays in Feminism (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 
1995), Feminism and the Power of the Law (London and New York: Routledge, 1989); 

C. MacKinnon, Feminism Unmodified: Discourses on Life and Law (London: Harvard 
University Press, 1987). 

^ P. Manning, Organizational Communication (New York: Aldine de Gruyter, 1992). 

^ D. Milovanovic, Postmodern Law and Disorder: Psychoanalytic Semiotics and Juridic 
Exegesis (Liverpool, UK: Deborah Charles, 1992). Henceforth cited as PLD, "The 
Decentered Subject in Law: Contributions of Topology, Psychoanalytic Semiotics, 
and Chaos Theory," Studies in Psychoanalytic Theory, Vol. 3 (1994), pp. 93-127, 
"Borromean Knots and the Constitution of Sense in Juridico-Discursive Produc- 
tion," Legal Studies Forum, Vol. 17 (1993), pp. 171-192. Henceforth cited as BKCS, 
"Lacan, Chaos, and Practical Discourse in Law," in Flux, Complexity and Illusion in 
Law, ed. R. Kevelson (New York: Lang, 1993), pp. 311-337. Henceforth cited as LCPD, 
"Postmodern Law and Subjectivity: Lacan and the Linguistic Turn," in Radical Phi- 
losophy of Law: Contemporary Challenges to Mainstream Legal Theory and Practice, eds. 

D. Caudill and S. Gold (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1995), pp. 38-44, 
"Rethinking Subjectivity in Law and Ideology: A Semitic Perspective," Journal of 
Human Justice, Vol. 4 (1992), pp. 31-53. Henceforth cited as RSL. 

^ B. Jackson, Law, Fact, and Narrative Coherence (Merseyside, UK: Deborah Charles, 
1991); P. Goodrich, Languages of Law: From Logics of Memory to Nomadic Masks (Lon- 
don: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1990). Henceforth cited as LL, Legal Discourse (New 
York: St. Martin's Press, 1987). 

'° B. Arrigo, "[De]constructing Criminal Justice Education: Theoretical and Method- 
ological Contributions from the Postmodern Sciences," Social Pathology, Vol. 1 (1995), 
pp. 115-148. Henceforth cited as DCJE. 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 123 

" B. Arrigo, "An Experientially-Informed Feminist Jurisprudence: Rape and the Move 
Toward Praxis," Humanity and Society, Vol. 17 (1993), pp. 28-47; V. Bell, "Beyond the 
'Thorny Question'": Feminism, Foucault and the Desexualization of Rape," Inter- 
national Journal of the Sociology of Law, Vol. 19 (1991), pp. 83-100. 

'^ The emphasis on Lacan and his psychoanalytic semiotics stems from our assess- 
ment of the leading postmodern scholarship developed in Western culture and 
thought. Many of the luminaries of Lacan's era, including: Derrida, Foucault, 
Irigaray, Baudrillard, Lyotard, and Kristeva attended Lacan's lectures delivered in 
seminar fashion during the 1950s through the 1970s in Paris, France. Further, these 
same notables integrated several Lacanian conceptualizations into their own cri- 
tiques. Thus, it is especially worthwhile to canvass Lacanian thought in the context 
of a postmodern reading of crime, law, and ethics. Although more typically the source 
of polemical criticism within literary studies, cultural criticism, and feminist thought, 
Lacan's postmodern contributions to law and criminology are receiving noticeable 
support within these circles. See, for example, D. Cornell, Transformations: Recollective 
Imagination and Sexual Difference (New York: Routledge, 1993). Henceforth cited as 
TRI, Beyond Accommodation: Ethical Feminism, Deconstruction and the Law (New York: 
Routledge, 1991). Henceforth cited as BA; D. Caudill, "'Name of the Father' and 
the Logic of Psychosis: Lacan's Law and Ours," Legal Studies Forum, Vol. 16 (1993). 
Henceforth cited as NOF; D Caudill, "Lacan and Law: Networking With the Big 
[0]ther," Studies in Psychoanalytic Theory, Vol. 1 (1992); D. Milovanovic, PLD; B. 
Arrigo, CPJ, "Toward A Theory of Punishment in the Psychiatric Courtroom: On 
Language, Law, and Lacan," Journal of Crime and Justice, Vol. 29 (1995). Henceforth 
cited as TTP; P. Goodrich, LL. 

'^ The phrase "ethics in crime and justice" is used broadly here. More than an adher- 
ence (or lack thereof) to police, court, and correctional rules and procedures, the 
expression refers to how on both an individual and component system basis a unique 
grammar is articulated and esteemed, embodying a circumscribed knowledge and, 
therefore, yielding a specialized understanding of normative accountability. Thus, 
the discourse of systemic criminal justice ethics, and the values it affirms, is the 
only articulated version which the apparatus and its sub-systems legitimize. This 
paper speculates on the constitution of systemic criminal justice ethics as well as its 
reconstitution in non-authoritarian, non-sedimented terms. 

'* Elsewhere we have explored how chaos theory shares several affinities with Lacan's 
formalizations on discourse, subjectivity, and knowledge thereby contributing to a 
postmodern appreciation for the social order See, e.g., B. Arrigo (CPJ); (TTP); (DPC). 
We intend to investigate several of these linkages. According to chaos theory's un- 
derstanding of dynamic systems, order lurks within apparent randomness. This 
randomness itself represents a set range of results, an underlying but not predict- 
able order; that is, chaos. Chaos theory therefore resists all linear interpretations of 
how systems function because they are based upon predictability and permanence. 
A key feature of the postmodern agenda is a deliberate debimking of discourse as a 
way of preventing the oppression or marginalization of people. Postmodernists 
contend that embedded in stable, structured, and ossified speech is the possibility 
of devaluing and de-legitimizing other grammars constitutive of different ways of 
knowing and languaging the world of experience. See, A. Giddens. The Consequences 

124 Bruce A. Arrigo: New Directions in Crime, Law and Social Change 

of Modernity (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1990); The Constitution of So- 
ciety (Oxford: Polity Press, 1984). 

'^ See, e.g., F. Rossi-Landi Linguistics and Economics (Netherlands: Mouton, 1977);D. 
Milovanovic, "Juridico-linguistic Communicative Markets: Toward a Semiotic 
Analysis," Contemporary Crises, Vol. 10 (1986), pp. 281-304; B. Arrigo, "Desire in the 
Psychiatric Courtroom: On Lacan and the Dialectics of Linguistic Oppression," 
Current Perspectives in Social Theory, (forthcoming, 1996). Henceforth cited as DPC. 

^^ As cited in S. Melville, "Psychoanalysis and the Place of Jouissance." Critical In- 
quiry, Vol. 13 (1987), p. 365. Henceforth cited as PPD. 

^^ As cited in J.S. Lee, Jacques Lacan (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1990), 
p. 195. Henceforth cited as JL. 

'^ See, e.g., D. Cornell, (TRI); D. Milovanovic, (PLD); B, Arrigo, (CPJ). 

'" D. Milovanovic (LPD, pp. 313-4). 

'^° J. Lacan, Feminine Sexuality. (New York: Norton, 1985) pp. 143-147. Henceforth 
cited as FS; J.S. Lee (JL, pp. 191-195); M. Bracher, "Lacan's Theory in the Four Dis- 
courses," Prose Studies, Vol. 11 (1988), p. 47. Henceforth cited as LTFD, Lacan, Dis- 
course, and Social Change: A Psychoanalytic Cultural Criticism. (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell 
University Press, 1993). 

^' See, e.g., J. Lacan, L'envers de la Psychanalyse (Paris, France: Editions du Seuil, 1991). 
Henceforth cited as LEP, The Seminars of Jacques Lacan, Book II, The Ego in Freud's 
Theory and the Technique of Psychoanalysis 1954-1955 (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni- 
versity Press, 1988). Henceforth cited as SJL, Lacan, FS, The Four Fundamental Con- 
cepts of Psycho- Analysis (New York: Norton, 1981). Henceforth cited as FFC, Ecrits: 
A Selection, trans. A Sheridan (New York: W.W. Norton, 1977). Henceforth cited as 
EAS, Encore (Paris, France: Edition du Seuil, 1975). Henceforth cited as JLE. 

^ The early Freudian model extended to about 1920. It was much more fluid, dy- 
namic, and process-oriented than his subsequent formalizations. We identify the 
early Freudian model as consonant with Lacanian thought. The most semiotically 
relevant of Freud's works include: S. Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams (New York: 
Avon, 1965); Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious (New York: Brentano's, 1916), 
and The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (New York: MacMillan, 1914). Lacan's re- 
vision of Freud reconceptualizes his mechanistic and deterministic schema regard- 
ing the psyche and subjectivity. For example: rather than identifying, as did Freud, 
the centrality of the biological penis as that instrument which forms the basis of 
sexuality in society, Lacan invokes the emblematic phallus as the ubiquitous and 
privileged signifier of desire. For Lacan, this emblematic sign forms the basis of all 
relationships and experiences. 

23 J. Lacan (EAS, pp. 303-316). 

2'* Although Lacan himself never described his work as an application of semiotics, 
others have positioned him within this school of thought. (For an application to 
law and psychoanalytic semiotics see, D. Milovanovic (PLD). For a critique in femi- 
nist theory, law, and psychoanalytic semiotics see, D. Cornell (TRI). For a reading 
in the overlapping domains of criminal justice and psychology see, B. Arrigo, (CPJ). 
The fusion of semiotics and psychoanalysis we intend is both post-Saussurean and 
post-Freudian. As was intimated previously, our reading of Lacan incorporates sev- 
eral of his more modernist formalizations on discourse, subjectivity, and knowl- 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 125 

edge to advance a more postmodern regard for (criminal justice) ethics. Thus it 
follows that our description of Lacan's psychoanalytic semiotics necessarily includes 
this same level of differentiation. 

^^ B. Arrigo (MLL, pp. 27-58); R.W. Benson, "Semiotics, Modernism and the Law," 
Semiotica, Vol. 73 (1989), pp. 171-178. 

^^ E. Laclau and C. Mouffe Hegemony and Socialist Strategy (New York: Verso, 1985); V. 
Volosinov, Marxism and the Philosophy of Language (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Uni- 
versity Press, 1986). Henceforth cited as MPL. 

^'' D. Milovanovic Webarian and Marxian Analysis of Law: Structure and Function of Law 
in a Capitalist Mode of Production (Aldershot, England: Gower Publishers , 1989) pp. 
141-163; B. Arrigo (CPJ, Chapter 5). 

^* F. de Saussure, Course in General Linguistics (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966); J. Lacan 
(EAS, pp. 149-154); M. Borch-Jakobsen Lacan: The Absolute Master (Stanford: Stanford 
University Press, 1991), pp. 169-196. 

^' C.S. Peirce The Philosophy ofPeirce: Selected Writings, ed. J. Buchler (London: Routledge 
and Keagan Paul, 1956), pp. 98-119. 

^ For accessible applications to legal semiotics see, R. Kevelson, The Law as a System of 
Signs (New York: Plenum), pp. 3-12, Peirce and Law: Issues in Pragmatism, Legal Real- 
ism, and Semiotics, ed. R. Kevelson (New York: Lang, 1991). 

" V. Volosinov (MPL, p. 23). 

^^ We recognize that there are multiple meanings for various signs in the criminal 
justice arena. However, within the legal sphere, judges and advocates actively work 
to limit the multiaccentuality of signs to interpellations consistent with precise 
uniaccentuated meaning. In all such cases we contend that these meanings ema- 
nate from the lexicon of the juridical code and are therefore always and already a 
reduction. Any non-juridical expressions are quickly objected to by opposing counsel 
and declared non-justiciable by the bench. 

^ B. Arrigo (DPC), B. Arrigo (MLL). 

^ B. Arrigo (CPJ), "Legal Discourse and the Disordered Criminal Defendant," Legal 
Studies Forum, Vol. 18 (1994), pp. 93-112. Henceforth cited as (LDD). 
B. Arrigo, (TTP), "Subjectivity in Law, Medicine, and Science: A Semiotic Perspec- 
tive on Punishment," in Punishment: Social Control and Coercion, ed. C. Sistare (New 
York: Lang, 1995), pp. 21-45. 

J. Habermas, The Theory of Communicative Action. Vol. 2: Lifeworld and System: A 
Critique of Functionalist Reason (Boston: Beacon Press, 1987), pp. 343-73, Legitimation 
Crises (Boston: Beacon Press, 1975). 
D. Milovanovic (RSL, p. 33). 
B. Arrigo (CPJ). 
B. Arrigo, (MLL). 
D. Milovanovic (RSL, p. 34). 

S.W. Tiefenbrun, "Legal Semiotics," Cordozo Arts and Entertainment Law Journal, 
Vol. 5 (1986), p. 152. 

Desire in language announces itself through the act of naming (dormer nom). Lacan 
was to refer to this process as the name-of-the-father. See, G. Pomnvier "Psychosis 


126 Bruce A. Arrigo: New Directions in Crime, Law and Social Change 

and the Signifier," PsychCrititque, Vol. 2 (1987) p. 143; D. Caudill, (NOF, p. 421). This 
is a reference to the male-centered or phallocratic dimension of discourse which 
has been the source for much debate among postmodern feminist scholars. See, for 
example, L. Irigaray, This Sex Which Is Not One, trans. C. Porter (Ithaca, New York: 
Cornell Press, 1985; E. Ragland-Sullivan, Jacques Lacan and the Philosophy of Psycho- 
analysis (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1986); E. Grosz, Jacques Lacan: A Femi- 
nist Introduction (New York: Routledge, 1990); S. Sellers, Language and Sexual Differ- 
ence (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1991). In the area of postmodern feminist crimi- 
nology and critical jurisprudence see: D. Cornell (TRI) and (BA); C. Smart, FPL); B. 
Arrigo "Deconstructing Jurisprudence: An Experiential Feminist Critique," Journal 
of Human Justice Vol. 4 (1992), "Rethinking the Language of Law, Justice, and Com- 
munity: Postmodern Feminist Jurisprudence," in Radical Philosophy of Law: Contem- 
porary Challenges to Mainstream Legal Theory and Practice, eds. D. Caudill and S. Gold 
(Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1995), pp. 88-110, "Feminist Jurispru- 
dence and Imaginative Discourse: Toward Praxis and Critique," In Legality and Ille- 
gality: Posmodernism, Semiotics, and Law, eds. I.R. Janikowski and D. Milovanovic 
(New York: Lang, 1995), pp. 23-46. 

The desiring voice of the subject finds expression in Lacan's Symbolic Order. This 
is the saturated realm of language and culture. Thus, naming (discoursing) symbol- 
izes that speech consistent with masculine meanings and ways of knowing. Lacan, 
endeavoring to explore the formation of an uncultivated feminine discourse (an 
ecriture feminine), suggests that women have access to a supplimentary desire 
(jouissance) awaiting discovery in a battery of signifier-signified anchors outside 
the coordinates which define male-speak. J. Lacan, (FS, p. 144). 

«J. Lacan(EAS,p. 166). 

^ C. Metz, The Imaginary Signifier (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1982), 
pp. 188-189. 

'^ D. Milovanovic (PLD). 

^ B. Arrigo (MLL). 

'' D. Milovanovic (RSL, p. 36). 

^ Ricoeur, commenting on the significance of figurative discourse, has argued that 
the aim of language is to "shatter and increase our sense of reality by shattering 
and increasing our language." P. Ricoeur "Creativity of Language," Philosophy To- 
day, Vol 17 (1973), p. Ill The attorney assimies a similar position in the courtroom, 
especially in the context of constructing a story that both denies the plausibility of 
opposing counsel's case yet affirms the believability of his/her own narrative. In 
the legal sphere, this is the semiotic construction of reality. 

'''^ A. Lemaire, Jacques Lacan, trans. D. Macey (New York: Routledge and Keagan Paul, 
1977), pp. 199-205; R. Jakobson, "Two Aspects of Language and Two Types of Aphasic 
Disorders," in Fundamentals of Language, ed. R. Jakobson (Paris, France: Mouton, 
1971), pp. 113-163. 

^° G. Morgan, "More on Metaphor: Why We Cannot Control Tropes in Administra- 
tive Science," Administrative Science Quarterly, Vol. 28 (1983), p. 602. Henceforth cited 
as MOM, Images of Organizations (Beverley Hills: Sage, 1986) pp. 321-344. 

5' G. Morgan (MOM, p. 612) 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 127 

^^ This is a reference to Lacan's 1969-1970 seminar in which he was to describe the 
four discourses: those of the master, university, hysteric, and analyst. See J. Lacan, 
(LEP). For works of application, see: B. Arrigo. (LDD); M. Bracher, (LTFD, pp. 32-49); 
J.S. Lee, JL; S. Melville, PPJ; D. Milovanovic, LCPD. The four discourses are in- 
tended to explain how relatively stable systems of communication (e.g., law, medi- 
cine, science) maintain their (linguistic) dominance in society as well as their dis- 
cursive power over other sign systems. 

For our purposes the most relevant of these discourses is that of master. It is the most 
repressive and hierarchical of the four schematizations. It signifies that privileged 
and discursive form of intersubjective communication representing dominant modes 
of speech. The structure for the discourse of the master may be depicted as follows: 

SI > S2 

In each of the four discourses the speaker and listener are subjected to the interde- 
pendent, though changing, dynamics of four elements. These elements constitute 
each discursive structure. The four elements include: SI, the master signifier, S2, 
knowledge, $, the divided subject; and a, le-plus-de-jouir. In each discourse, what is 
above the bar is more conscious. What is below the bar is more unconscious. The 
formation on the left represents the sender of the message while the right hand 
formation represents the receiver of the message. The upper left hand position is 
the initiator of the message. The upper right hand position is the enactor of the 
message. The lower right hand position is the effect(s) produced in the unconscious 
of the receiver. The lower left hand position is what functions to support the sender's 
message as truth. 

In the discourse of the master SI sends (imposes) on the other (S2) a message (story) 
which the other receives and accepts, thereby subjecting the other to the circum- 
scribed knowledge claims of SI. These narratives fail to include the stories (ways of 
knowing) of the other and, thus, there is something left out; a lack (or a) seeking 
affirmation and embodiment through discourse; speech not yet valorized in the 
linguistic coordinates of SI. Thus, that which acts as the truth of the sender's mes- 
sage, is only a partial fulfillment of desire. Accordingly, subjects who turn to and 
embrace such narrative constructions are divided ($). The effect is a semiotic cleans- 
ing of sorts in which the cultivation of alternative or replacement discourses, de- 
sires, and ways of knowing are repressed. 
3J. Lacan (EAS, pp. 193-4), (SJL, p. 243). 
5* J. Lacan (EAS, pp. 310-316). 

^ B. Jackson, Law, Fact, and Narrative Coherence (Merseyside, UK: Deborah Charles 
Publications, 1991). 
' B. Arrigo (CPJ). 
' B. Arrigo (MLL, pp. 66-74). 

^ There are other postmodern strains of thought relevant to our enterprise not spe- 
cifically consider here. These include contributions from: postmodern feminists, 
especially their reading of standpoint epistemology and the construction of gendered 
roles, J. Grant, Fundamental Feminism: Contesting the Core of Feminist Theory (New 
York: Routiedge, 1993), pp. 385-9; K. Bartlett, "Feminist Legal Methods," in Femi- 
nist Legal Theory, eds. K. Bartiett and R. Kennedy (Oxford: Westview Press, 1991); D. 

128 Bruce A. Arrigo: New Directions in Crime, Law and Social Change 

Currie, "Unhiding the Hidden: Race, Class, and Gender in the Construction of 
Knowledge," Humanity and Society, Vol. 17 (1993), pp. 3- 27; 2) constitutive theo- 
rists, particularly their notion of the coterminous dynamics inherent in the formation 
of institutional regimes of domination, A. Hunt, "The Big Fear: Law Confronts 
Postmodernism," McGill Law Journal, Vol. 35 (1990), p. 539; 3) S. Henry and D. 
Milovanovic, "Constitutive Criminology," Criminology, Vol. 29 (1991), pp. 295-9; P. 
Fitzpatrick, Law and Societies," Osgoode Hall Law Journal, Vol. 22 (1984), p. 539; 
Lacan's work in topology theory and borromean knots, J. Lacan, JLE, see also }. 
Granon-LaFont, La Topologie Ordinaire de Jacques Lacan (Paris, France: Point Hors 
Ligne, 1985, Topologie Lacanienne et Clinique Analytique (Paris, France: Point Hors 
Ligne, 1990); A. Juranville, Lacan et la Philosophic (Paris, France: Presses Universitaires 
de France, 1984); P. Skriabine "Clinique et Topologie," (Unpublished manuscript, 
December, 1989); and 4) Lacan's work on the Fourth Order or the Symptom (le 
synthome) as restoring (suturing) a fault in the knot, D. Milovanovic, (BKCS); E. 
Ragland-Sullivan, "Counting From O to 6: Lacan, Suture, and the Imaginary Or- 
der," in Criticism and Lacan, eds. P. Hogan and L. Pandit (London: University of 
Georgia Press, 1990), pp. 31-63, "Lacan's Seminar on James Joyce: Writing as Symp- 
tom and 'Singular Solutions'," in Psychoanalysis and..., eds. R. Feldstein and H. 
Sussman (New York: Routledge, 1990), pp.67-86. 
^'' J.F. Lyotard The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (Minneapolis: Univer- 
sity of Minnesota Press, 1984) pp. 53-67. 

^° See. e.g., J. Briggs and F.D. Peat, Turbulent Mirror: An Illustration Guide to Chaos 
Theory and the Science of Wholeness (New York: Harper & Row, 1989). Henceforth 
cited as (TM); J. Gleick, Chaos: Making a New Science (New York: Penguin Books, 
1987). Henceforth cited as CMNS; B. Mandelbrot, The Fractal Geometry of Nature 
(New York: W. H. Freeman, 1983). 

"'^ T.R. Young, "Chaos Theory and Human Agency: Humanist Sociology in a 
Postmodern Age," Humanity and Society, Vol. 16 (1992), p. 445. For applications to 
law and criminology see, B. Arrigo (LDD, p. 92-105). 

^^ For applications to crime and deviance, see; T.R. Young, "Chaos and Crime: 
Non-linear and Fractal Forms of Crime," The Critical Criminologist, Vol 3 (1991), pp. 
3-4, 10-11, "The ABC of Crime: Attractors, Bifurcations, Basins, and Chaos," The 
Critical Criminologist, Vol. 3 (1991), pp. 2-3; D. Milovanovic, "Critical Criminology 
and the Challenge of Post Modernism," The Critical Criminologist, Vol. 1 (1990), pp. 
9-10, 17. 

^^ J. Gleick, (CMNS, pp. 119-153). 

" D. Milovanovic, (LCPD, p. 324). 

''^ J. M. Balkin, "Deconstructive Practices and Legal Theory," Yale Law Journal, Vol 96 
(1987), pp. 743-786. 

^^ I. Prigogine, I. Stengers, Order Out of Chaos (New York: Bantam Books. Hence- 
forth cited as (OOC); J. Briggs and F.D. Peat (TM). 

^'' I. Prigogine and I. Stengers (OOC, pp. 12-14). 

*'^ For applications to the intersecting categories of law, criminology, and psychiatry 
see, B. Arrigo (DPC), (TTP), (CPJ), (LDD, pp.102-106). 

^' D. Milovanovic, (LCPD, pp. 327-330). 

VJest Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 129 

^° J. Lacan, (FS, pp. 143-147); J.S. Lee, (JL, pp. 190-195); M. Bracher, (LTFD, p. 47). 
'^ D. Milovanovic, (LCPD, p. 329). 

^^ D. Brion, "The Chaotic Law of Tort: Legal Formalism and the Problem of Indeter- 
minacy," in Peirce and Law, ed. R. Kevelson (New York: Lang) pp. 70-71. 


Ethical choice in a postmodern world: 
cognition, consciousness and contact. 

Tobin Hart, Ph.D. 

Nihilism or fundamentalism, paralysis or cavalier relativism... 
Given the indeterminacy of post-modern "truth" and the authority of 
modernism how do we navigate through our day-to-day ethical deci- 
sions without falling to the extremes? While conceptions of the self 
and identity have been altered by postmodern thought, if we look 
beyond the products of story, role and action to the process in which 
they are realized choice and responsibility remain central to the 
postmodern individual.^ 

Choices emerge, in large part, from what we know. Some go so far 
as to say that "All successful human action proceeds from valid knowl- 
edge."l At least there might be agreement that the quality of our choice 
is affected by the quality of our knowledge, whether in purchasing a 
used car or deciding on whom to marry. However, like Nietzsche and 
Heidegger postmodernists remain suspicious of valid knowledge as 
Truth, and of the moral universals that may stem from it. As such we 
no longer need look for definitive, timeless Truth, the search for which 
has contributed to the pressure, paralysis, and neurotic at-all-cost 
defense of our choices along with a disempowering authority struc- 
ture. Without such universals the stage is set for the rise of personal, 
decentralized knowing; with it the responsibility of the individual for 
his or her ethical choices or actions is heightened. In such a position 
we rely on the authority of experience rather than the authority of 
form or theory or "other" for our choices (although subjective author- 
ity has it's pitfalls as will be discussed below). In this way ethics be- 
comes a lived experience, an on-going process rather than an object 
or a product. 

We also recognize that what we know emerges from how we know; 
that is, the cognitive or perceptual tools we use effect how we see and 
understand. At present the quality of our knowing may be dulled by 
a hangover of the modernist cognitive style. The changes in how we 
look at the emerging postmodern world may not have kept pace with 
what there is to see. Said another way, there has been insufficient ar- 

132 Tobin Hart: Ethical Choice in a Postmodern World: Cognition, Consciousness and Contact 

ticulation of the development of postmodern knowing (conscious- 
ness and cognition) to support postmodern ethics. What is suggested 
is that we move the center of cognition and epistemology further from 
a modernist bias in order to embody postmodern understanding and 
in so doing set the stage to stretch beyond it. As we look at the con- 
temporary landscape our cognitive and epistemic styles will delimit 
what and how we are able to perceive. As we deconstruct and recon- 
struct the contents of our thoughts we too can deconstruct and ex- 
pand the tools of thinking. This is a consideration of perceptual and 
cognitive processes or the shift in consciousness and thinking that 
occurs along with the postmodern situation - our minds change along 
with our thoughts. If they do not we may regress into ideological fun- 
damentalism of one sort or another or may simply be paralyzed by 
multiplicity of perspectives. Our current situation challenges not just 
our thoughts but our means of knowing. While postmodernists re- 
main suspicious, even dismissive of epistemological and developmen- 
tal projects, the incorporation of postmodernism with epistemic - de- 
velopmental perspectives may be valuable in forming ethical choices. 

Finally, we see that how we know effects our choices. Evidence 
about moral decision making implies that cognitive-developmental 
style shapes how choices are formed. Kohlberg suggests that we (some 
of us) may progress from making ethical choices based simply on 
avoidance of punishment to the developmental apex of recognizing 
self-chosen universal ethical principles (e.g. justice) that largely defy 
context.^ Gilligan's powerful challenge to Kohlberg's universals sug- 
gest an ethics and psychology which elevates the importance of rela- 
tionships to ethical action.^ Kegan proposes an integrative map that 
anchors moral meaning making in the cognitive development elabo- 
rated by Piaget.'' Cross-culturally, we find that Buddhist psychology, 
for one example, suggests that ethical "positions" such as compas- 
sion arise spontaneously from the development of an expanded con- 
sciousness or base of knowing cultivated through awareness prac- 

Postmodernism offers technologies for knowing - deconstruction 
is predominant, and is joined by fragmentaion, effacement, multipli- 
cation among other practices. (I will mainly consider deconstructive 
postmodernism in general, and in so doing, run the risk of generaliz- 
ing, something deconstructivists warn against.) These technologies 
enable us to reconsider and reconfigure what we perceive and con- 

Mest Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 133 

:eive. The same can be said of modernist epistemic "technology" - 
he scientific method- although unlike postmodernism its goal is to 
ook beneath the surface to the presumed more fundamental levels of 
eality. Postmodernism most often rejects the assumption of this depth 
n favor of equivalently valuable narratives. 

Science can be lively, personal, even deeply touching; at its best its 
)rocess begins with curiosity and leads to awe. Yet mostly we see 
his manifest in only the youngest children and the most remarkable 
dentists. This technology has become sterilized and objectified, made 
listant and lifeless - the deeply personal search for empirical contact 
las been replaced by the valueless search for facts. How it was sup- 
)0sed to function become wildly different from how it actually 
vorked.^ Like science, the methods of postmodern knowing (and 
inknowing) have the possibility for creating insight, inviting contact 
md even awe. Uncovering unchecked assumptions, unseen motiva- 
ions, or cultural and personal oppression can be riveting, a moment 
)f world collapse when the assumptions we have been living by are 
:hallenged and exposed as incomplete or fictitous. These can be deeply 
)ersonal experiences, ones that challenge the ground of our values 
ind choice, often leaving us off-balance and looking for ethical direc- 
ion. However, satisfactory ethical direction seems to be hard to find 
hrough postmodern method alone. That is, these confusions are main- 
ained by an inadequate technology of knowing. 

Formal operational thinking, the cognitive motor behind 
leconstruction, limits its range and therefore its ethical ground. As 
uch, deconstruction provides some means to unpack the roots of 
Tiowledge that serve as the foundation for ethical values but, by it- 
elf may not necessarily provide sufficient means for informing ethi- 
al action. There is little wonder why we have such confusion, regres- 
ion , and a sense of incompleteness in holding postmodern perspec- 
ive. Like the child who has just dismantled the prized family clock, 
^e learn that we can take "it" apart but we don't know what to do 
/ith it when its on the table in front of us. 

Modernist materialism and reductionism became a philosophy of 
fe, a guide for choices, however incomplete, although it did not 
^cognize its own incompleteness. Harmon tells us that: "Experienced 
Bality does not conform to the 'reality' they taught us in science class; 
"le 'scientific world view' is not an adequate guide for living life or 
)r managing a society."^ Postmodernism challenges the scientific 

134 Tobin Hart: Ethical Choice in a Postmodern World: Cognition, Consciousness and Contact 

worldview and its epistemology, inviting us to recognize the construc- 
tion and discourse of living. In so doing, it challenges assumptions 
about the amalgam of authority, power, economics, sexuality, language 
and so forth. However, generally postmodern thinking attempts to 
avoid offering replacement master narratives - moral direction. 
Lyotard, for example, emphasizes local or "petit" narratives over to- 
talizing master narratives.^ (Although some reactions to modernist 
values begin to take the form of ideological metanarrative) As earnest 
postmodern thinkers we might feel some uncertainty, even existen- 
tial guilt, in taking a moral stand, for we can deconstruct our position 
and betray its incompleteness. Even with respect to self-definition, 
which has been considered a center of moral decision making, we are 
encouraged toward maintaining "a multiplicity of self-accounts... but 
a commitment to none." (BN p. 180) If we do take a position we might 
be accused of being dogmatic, or worse yet, unsophisticated. At times 
our postmodern sensibilities seem to need suspension in order to jus- 
tify our actions. Some deeply felt ideological perspectives e.g., femi- 
nism, environmentalism, or various religious doctrines may provide 
an organizing principle, a new moral ground. And while they may be 
extremely valuable corrections to environmental degradation, gen- 
der oppression, and so forth, they remain other fictions in light of 
postmodern conceptions of truth and run the risk of becoming new 
imperialistic - ideological doctrines. On the other hand, if we stay true 
to a postmodern consciousness we may be paralyzed with the rela- 
tivity of any choice, not being convinced in radical relativism or nihil- 
ism as a solution, but not being certain about what is left. "The 
...poststructuralists have gone from saying that no context, no per- 
spective, is final, to saying that no perspective has any advantage over 
any other ...".^ We may be left spinning in endless spirals of 

As a way out of this impasse I suggest five interrelated shifts that 
may cultivate cognition and consciousness in service of postmodern 
knowing and as such, cultivate a process for postmodern ethics. They 
are: from theory to experience, from category to contact, from logic to 
the body, from external content to internal process, and from the known 
to mystery. These continue to nudge us beyond an exclusive modern- 
ist rational empiricism and beyond the current range of the knife of 
deconstruction while including both, and in so doing they shift the 

Vest Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 135 

)rocess of knowledge and ultimately the process in which we make 
ithical choices. 

From the authority of forms to the 
authority of experience 

The starting point begins with the assumption that our ethical 
:hoices can best be guided by the authority of our experience. Such 
!xperience includes consideration of ideology doctrine, theory and 
10 forth, but brings responsibility to the experience of the chooser. It 
s not that we discard theories and experts, it is simply that we have 
lialogue with them rather than rely on fiats from them. 

There is meaningful challenge to institutionalized authority. We 
:ome to recognize the disproportional influences of 
)Ower-knowledge-economic-discursive amalgams on our ideas and, 
ve could say, our choices. ^° Yet we may not have overcome the habit 
)f looking primarily outside ourselves for authority - to the church, 
icience, leaders, (or postmodern theorists). While this habit is initially 
iseful for infants and children, who are shaped by the modeling and 
iirection of parents and others (and it is difficult to overemphasize 
he role such modeling plays in shaping behavior), it seems less ap- 
propriate as the main strategy for mature adults. And unless children 
ire weaned from this suckling of decision making their skills do not 
nature. Obedience is expected at the cost of insight. "Being as little 
:hildren" comes to mean compliance rather than openness to experi- 
ence. When our discourse perpetuates this external authority we re- 
nain developmentally delayed with respect to our abilities to form 
ethical choices. 

A culprit (there are others, e.g. poverty.) in our contemporary moral 
iifficulties is not the lack of moral guidance or the over-stimulation 
)f the information age. It is instead, in part, our practice of reliance 
m external moral or intellectual authority that has caused us, as a 
lulture, to lose our skill in making up our own minds from the broad- 
est and deepest of information. The flood of options and images, of 
iiversity and dialogue, that come with the postmodern era has not 
:aused this difficulty but has exposed our weakness. The solution, 
herefore, is not the imposition of new layers of rules or doctrine, this 
vill only exacerbate the problem. Such solutions offer, at best, a moral 
un screen that provides some superficial and temporary solution but 
loes not address the underlying difficulty, the cause of the hole in the 

136 Tobin Hart: Ethical Choice in a Postmodern World: Cognition, Consciousness and Contact 

moral ozone. We find an analogous process in the classroom in the 
difference between memorizing an answer (which generally has 
short-term and very circumscribed value - i.e. getting a grade on a 
test) as opposed to being able to think critically and creatively in or- 
der to problem solve. In the former the answer comes prepackaged 
from the outside, in the latter answers and often more questions 
emerge from interaction, from experience that can then be used to 
solve other problems; both have their place. 

Since the 1930s Korzybski's dictum: "The map is not the territory 
cautions us about relying on "maps" by themselves. However, as our 
ability to make all kinds of maps improved and our faith in an objec- 
tive, scientifically knowable world grew, we came to rely increasingly 
on the maps or theories as our guiding truths and less dependent on 
creating our own views through experience with the aid of such con 
ceptions. The concept or map was elevated from its position as me 
diator or representation of experience to the experience itself. We be- 
came enamored with our concepts and discounted direct experience, 
and in so doing lost the sensitivity and trust of experience as a valid 
way of knowing. 

As we seek to identify and understand various people(s), ideas 
and options, new concepts emerge, gather momentum and become 
part of our language and culture. They can also become concretized 
as a theory, a map or moral prescription. In other words, "Dogmatism 
ensues where hypothesis hardens into ideology." (TP p. 59) When our 
theory becomes preeminent we lose the chance to experience diver- 
sity and consequently pre-judge individuals and ideas. This seems as 
true in psychotherapy (e.g. a Borderline is a Borderline is a Border 
line) as it is in international politics (e.g. a Jew is a Jew is a Jew). Witli 
respect to ideology (e.g. science, Christianity, secular humanism, etc. 
postmodernism helps to disrupt these "transcendental totalizing 
meta-narratives that anticipate all questions and provide predeter- 
mined answers."" 

As the process of reliance on external authority becomes person 
ally internalized it takes the form of a dependence on theories or doc 
trine as opposed to dynamic experience - the authority of form rathe 
than the authority of experience. We learn to look for one right an 
swer rather than to ask good questions and develop a habit of attach 
ing ourselves to and depending on theories or externally generatec 
forms which then shape our perceptions and our experiences. Th 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXIU, 1995 137 

trouble comes when we replace our openness to experience with these 
maps or theories of what we expect them to be. We can forget to en- 
counter the other in a way that continually keeps our maps open ended 
and dynamic, the contact is instead used to reinforce our theory. 
Merleau-Ponty suggests that rigid determined forms of behavior, of 
the type implied here, are the reflections of a sick organism. ^-^ 

We know in therapy or in any other intimate relationship, that if 
we are open to experiencing another, our assumptions or first im- 
pressions of a person often give way to meeting a rich, complex indi- 
vidual who is much more intriguing than our initial assumptions or 
categorizations betrayed. Unconditional positive regard, non - judg- 
mental acceptance or compassion, dialogue, even a sense of commun- 
ion with one another may spring spontaneously when we allow our- 
selves to experience the other that exists beyond our assumptions and 
theories. If we stop at the level of theory (form) then the person is 
merely an alcoholic or a Fundamentalist Christian, a Humanistic Psy- 
chologist, or whatever. When we are not confirmed by others but 
merely categorized we lose our sense of connection, of embodiment; 
this is the experience of the schizophrenic in Laing's view.'^ When we 
move beyond the mutually exclusive conceptions of observer and 
observed toward recognition of relational, constructed knowing then 
we learn something about ourselves too; this may be most important 
in our evolving multi-sensory, multi-cultural perspective. 

We may not get significantly better in making moral choices un- 
less we change the way in which the choices are made. The calls for 
family values, a return to shame, Victorian ethics and moral funda- 
mentals is an attempt to plug the hole. While exposure to a doctrinal 
solution may be useful in shaping behavior by discussing and teach- 
ing values that are important to the community, it does not provide a 
i^iable self-sustaining solution and when imposed as Truth becomes 
m act of imperialism which in time breeds repression and revolution 
3f one sort or another. Teaching a person how to consider ethical 
:hoices, like teaching a person to fish, enables ethical decision mak- 
ng to be an on-going growth process. When we rely on the authority 
)f some form or theory or person we give away an intimate experi- 
ence and responsibility of choosing. Shame, moral values, rules are 
lot in short supply, what we lack is encouragement and guidance to 
iiscuss, deconstruct, experiment and play with these ideas, evaluat- 
ng them through our experience. Postmodernism provides encour- 

138 Tobin Hart: Ethical Choice in a Postmodern World: Cognition, Consciousness and Contact 

agement and tools to challenge moral doctrine. When we are forced 
to swallow these ideas whole, without question, we end up doing 
just that, or spit them out entirely. When this occurs the rift between 
the "moral" and the "amoral", us and them, the smart and the dumb, 
the obedient and the trouble makers will grow wider. It is ironic that 
in a society that prizes democratic values and self direction we have 
not developed a democratic-experiential approach to values. The calls 
from our democratically elected leaders are for imperialistic solutions. 
The reliance on subjective experience can be misconstrued as nar- 
cissistic radical relativism - "This is right because I choose it to be." - 
and clearly this does not provide a viable solution to moral decision 
making. However, the difference lies in the honing of experiential 
awareness as will be discussed below along with a balance between 
conception and experience. It is not merely a pendulum shift from 
theory to experience that is suggested; experiential strategies are no 
more foolproof than conceptual ones as deWit explains." Dynamic 
interplay, rather than replacement is encouraged. 

From category to contact 

Modernism has skewed our cognitive style. We could say that our 
thinking process has been dominated by what Piaget called assimila- 
tion at the expense of accommodation, and the cost has been to our 
understanding, our meaning-making and our empathy. In assimila- 
tion new information is evaluated in relation to previously determined 
categories of meaning (e.g. me - not me, good - bad, animals - plants, 
etc.). This Aristotelian pigeon-holing is efficient for quickly discern- 
ing the potential relevance of new information: "Is this dangerous?" 
"Do I enjoy things like this?" It enables evaluation of a potential expe- 
rience or a piece of information without having the experience. The 
trouble comes when those categories become rigid and unyielding 
and new information only reinforces the old categories. When some- 
thing does not fit, it is marginalized or simply is not seen. If a person's 
spiritual or scientific epiphany does not fit the modernist categories 
of understanding they are dismissed as pathological, ignored or their 
experience is reduced to some regressive psychological phenomena 
or neurophysiological aberration. We come to see the world largely 
as we expect to see it, as a projection of our categories. Deconstruction 
and other postmodern practices help to reconsider and break down 
some of those compartments (e.g. gender, power, etc.,) and distinc- 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 139 

ions between knowledge domains (e.g. academic disciplines) and, if 
;ucessful, we come away feeling groundless. 

Tied to assimilative style are the particular assumptions about per- 
:eption that have dominated the modernist era. The notion of objec- 
ive knowing led to a new level of understanding and control of the 
latural world. Cartesian subject-object division provided its corner- 
itone - our science - "(G)reek science - is based on objectification."^^^ 
iowever, the maintenance of this separation is reinforced by a cogni- 
ive repression. Piaget tells us that an action which "cannot be inte- 
grated into the system of conscious concepts ... is repressed from con- 
icious territory before it has penetrated there in any conceptualized 
orm."^^. Without a recognition of the interplay between knower and 
oiown and the distance between theory and phenomenon we remain 
leparate from (above or outside) the world we are perceiving. With 
iistance maintained through the objectification of the world, assimi- 
ation takes the form of a kind of consumerism of objects, whether 
hese objects are ideas, persons or the natural world. While some psy- 
:hologies have made strides in recognizing inter-relationship, in many 
:ases the understanding has remained limited by conceptual or cog- 
utive style. Self psychology and Object Relations, for example, draw 
rom a Cartesian distinction between self and other, the body and 
nind, self and the world, and from this perspective our knowing of 
he other becomes dependent on self-centered assimilation. From this 
dew "Our understanding of others is ... an inference based on our 
oiowledge of ourselves." ^^ Through vicarious introspection we are 
ible to know the other person empathically because they are given to 
IS in terms of the storehouse of images and memories that we have 

Accommodation reminds us of the importance of our being situ- 
ited in the world amidst others. Hegel, among others, has argued for 
he shift from isolated self to self dependent on interaction with the 
)ther. The kind of self, and with it the values or ethical choices we 
nake, depend on the kind of relations we have with others.^'' In con- 
emporary psychology, relational theorists like Gilligan (DV) empha- 
iize the self-in-relation and its significance in the development of val- 
les. In this work we see evidence that constricted relations, for ex- 
ample, what Miller refers to as "non-relational" family settings may 
ead to isolation and self blame.^" We can make a link between the 
ion-relational setting and the lack of "basic security" that is consid- 

140 Tobin Hart: Ethical Choice in a Postmodern World: Cognition, Consciousness and Contact 

ered essential by Karen Homey.^^ Without this solid relational ground, 
"basic anxiety" develops and is manifest into personality strategies 
that include "moving away", "moving toward" or "moving against" 
others. Much of our social concern these days is about the level of 
violence, the "moving against" another. We recognize more clearly 
how violence may result from failures of early relation. To what ex- 
tent does the modernist milieu of hyper-autonomy and objectifica- 
tion of the other, including the natural world (environment and body), 
contribute to these early experiences and later ethical failures? Such 
a climate might cultivate a lived solipsism, in which we never experi- 
ence the other or their subjectivity; they remain merely objects for our 
consumer scrutiny and as such violence of one sort or another is more 
easily perpetrated. (SH, p. 267) 

Along with an assimilative bias, modernism has maintained a de- 
sire for stability rather than fluidity. Newtonian mechanics, our sense 
of the world as a variety of combinations of simple building blocks 
and the assumed know-ability of the world and its laws fostered nar- 
ratives of stability and predictability. This has lead to corresponding 
stories about the self, knowledge and values. We seek stable beliefs 
about the world and our person and are enculturated into this 
world-view as we learn rules, church doctrine, the laws of etiquette 
and of physics. Our process of assimilation, of fitting new informa- 
tion into existing patterns and categories helps to maintain our self - 
other distinction and sense of stability. However, thanks to postmodern 
floods of information, challenges to scientific and moral assumptions, 
and the resulting dissolution of categories of understanding, our safe 
haven of self and knowledge is rattled.^^ Do we dig our heels in deeper 
and marginalize the other, or do we experience the new material? 
Accommodation implies destabilizing our existing catagories of 
uderstanding and moving our thinking, our consciousness toward 
the other, be it person, thing or idea. From this we may reconfigure 
our understanding and our self along with it. The self remains less 
rigid, more fluid through a strategy of accommodation and like any 
organic process, we find spirals of dynamic stability and instability. 
In this way every accommodation becomes a potential revision of iden- 
tity. In other words, when we no longer are able, or insist on, translat- 
ing something into our schema then we are open to the possibility of 

Nest Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXIIl, 1995 141 

As accommodation changes our personal boundaries some anxi- 
ety may emerge. Since safety and psychological health or maturity 
lave been associated with stability the process of accommodation 
nay be perceived as undesirable, as opening us to a threats that need 
:o be defended against. However, we may come to see accommoda- 
ion as particularly desirable for our postmodern situation. Its effects, 
^exibility openness, opportunities for new balance, understanding, 
lave at times has been cast as weakness when they might be better 
zonstrued as courageous empathy. For example, in therapy or any 
ntimate relationship, when we move beyond mere diagnosis toward 
understanding and appreciating the other from their perspective we 
nove toward empathy and in so doing have practiced accommoda- 
ion. We move from observation to participation. 

The pressure toward assimilation and the stable self that goes with 
t has been maintained in part by a confusion. We have mistaken sta- 
sis for balance. Dynamic balance in our cognitive style involves flux 
md interplay between assimilation and accommodation. Along with 
t we can find comfort in the balance and fluidity of identity rather 
:han needing to define and defend an unchanging sense of self and 
:he world. This opens us to contact; experience becomes fuel for our 
inderstanding rather than a threat to our identity. New information 
zontinues to reframe our categories of understanding, maintaining a 
dynamic process in which we continually reinvent our ethics. In this 
tvay ethics is not an object to be revealed, possessed or created but a 
process whose outcome is action. Rules and values may emerge but 
such concretizations are not ethics but temporary objects or forms that, 
ivhile having value to societies, are nearly an anathema to the 
iynamicism of ethics. 

Contact as implied here is not only relevant with respect to other 
persons but it represents an epistemic style that works as well in the 
sciences as in interpersonal relations or mystical revelation. Geneti- 
:ist and Nobel laureate Barbara McClintock describes a less detached 
empiricism: "a feeling for the organism", that requires "the openness 
o let it come to you", and "patience to hear what the material has to 
ay to you."^^ She makes the modernist object, subject. Einstein hints 
it something similar when he suggests that "...only intuition, resting 
m sympathetic understanding, can lead to these laws, the daily effort 
:omes from no deliberate intention or program, but straight from the 
leart." (AF, p. 201) The distinction of subject and object is unhinged 

142 Tobin Hart: Ethical Choice in a Postmodern World: Cognition, Consciousness and Contact 

in this view. No longer can an the "science of objectivity" be exclu- 
sively maintained; knowing is expanded through contact and partici- 

The experience of inspiration provides a particularly salient ex- 
ample of accommodation. The phenomenology of inspiration is cap- 
tured by its etymological definition, to be filled or infused with breath 
(of spirit, God, Muse, etc.) Our inspiration depends on contact with 
an other, this may be through witnessing some act of courage or com- 
passion, through reading about an experience or triggered by a rela- 
tionship with an idea or some beauty as in nature or art. When we are 
touched by such contact we may feel elevated. We are changed, at 
least for that moment and sometimes for a lifetime, and may feel im- 
pelled to act in accordance with this enlarged perspective. Our ac- 
commodation to the new view is instantaneous and energizing and 
informs the basis for relevant values and choices, athough it does not 
provide an ethics or answer in itself . While inspiration cannot be willed 
into existence it can be wooed or invited; the fundamental require- 
ment is an openness or listening to experience as McClintock and 
Einstein hint at above. 

This kind of knowing through deep contact is often met with ec- 
stasy, appreciation and reverence. Mystics have described the joy that 
serves as a by-product or marker of this knowing and recently 
transpersonal psychology has brought this to the social sciences. (This 
knowing is not limited to those we call mystics.) Intense contact leads 
to empathy and is often described as communion, implying sacred- 
ness of experience. From this, ethical choices do not pop out, instead 
the perspective on a question, be it a particular concern or about the 
cosmos, is expanded. The issue comes into view in a new light. Ethi- 
cal choices can then be explored with aid of this light (perspective). 
We begin to see how helpful this ecstasy can be in gaining knowledge 
that informs ethical action, but without the interpretive, analyzing 
skills of intellect and the breadth of lived experience the ecstasy does 
not provide sufficient information to form ethical choice. 

There are at least two imitations that genuine accommodation can 
be mistaken for. One is narcissism in which projection is mistaken for 
contact. In this situation intimate awareness of a process or person is 
presumed when we actually have only a self-generated, self-referential 
knowing, and we assume the other thinks as we do or that we know 
what the other thinks. In this experience others are seen as the exten- 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 143 

sion of the self .^^ The second immitation is what has come to be called 
a Borderline Personality in which there is not so much contact with as 
invasion by and into others. For the Borderline personality safety or a 
reduction of anxiety is achieved by "immersion" in the other or of the 
other in us. While oversimplified, these two immitations highlight 
the subtle difficulties with this process. Boundaries are required for 
contact.^^ -^ Without boundaries there is amorphous interpenetration 
that is difficult to distinguish and make sense of - an overwhelming 
flood. Developmentally it would seem that both self differentiation 
and relation are crucial for accommodation and deep contact. With- 
out appropriate boundaries, confusion and susceptibility reign rather 
than informed and open-minded discernment. The point of contact 
provides a medium where choice is practiced. 

From logic to the bodymind 

Modernist narrative has maintained the body as object, as a ma- 
chine to be controlled, fueled, repaired, possessed and so forth. The 
body as a source of knowing has been dismissed and reduced through 
the ascension of "technical reason" based on a Cartesian split.-^^ The 
goal of Western scientific discourse has been to measure and control 
nature, including the body. The goal of Western spirituality has been, 
in large part, to transcend nature and the flesh. Postmodernism has 
helped to expand the understanding of the body with respect to gen- 
der, sexuality, and subjugation but for some postmodern conceptions 
the body remains subtly the other or is elevated to the all. 

As the other, we still see the body being acted upon through dis- 
course in a Newtonian billiard ball sense of singular linear causality. 
It is not partnered with the intellect but is the object of absorption of 
its ideas about beauty, strength, gender, sex, and so on. "Our bodies 
(are seen as) mere docile recipients of power laden discourse.-" "... the 
body is at best a compromised concept"... "the body ... has no inher- 
ent right to proclaim a truth." "The body is constructed in the articu- 
lations of discursive and affective relations of power, as they are ex- 
pressed in and through gender, sexuality, race and class". ^° Desexual- 
ization or homogenization of bodily experience is an example of the 
psychological distance maintained between thought and body. For 
example, Foucault proposed that rape be classified as mere physical 
assault since our ideas of sexuality are discursive constructions. What 
O'Hara refers to as Strong Form constructivists ..."take the position 

144 Tobin Hart: Ethical Choice in a Postmodern World: Cognition, Consciousness and Cojitact 

that there is no reality either beyond or beneath our linguistic con- 
structions".^^ Derrida pronounces that there is nothing outside the 
text. From this perspective the body becomes merely an object of lin- 
guistic manipulation. The text replaces molecules as the center and 
source of meaning and organization. Logico-empirical knowing has 
been replaced with logico-linguistic or at least linguistic. This offers a 
partial alteration, but not an integrative development and, as such, 
presents a significant liability as we come to recognize that "certain 
forms of knowledge canonically exclude others". ^^^ 

On the other extreme are the postmodern positions which do rec- 
ognize the body as a source of legitimate knowing, even going so far 
as to suggest this is virtually the only source, (e.g. Cixous, Irigaray) 
While a corrective to hyper-rationality, this pedulum shift elevates 
the sensual and erotic as the preeminent source of value and mean- 
ing. As such it runs the risk of being reductionistic, excluding other 
viable sources. 

Shifting to include the body, (without surrendering to it) along with 
the intellect as legitimate sources of meaning and knowledge, offers a 
broader range of tools through which to sense the landscape. We can 
appreciate "the body" as formed by communication within, through 
and beyond the physical entity, in this sense we do see it as a "discur- 
sive formation" in which meaningful lived experience is central.^^^ 
"(This is) a body of meaningful experience, a body of significant in- 
telligence, inherently informed about itself; ... (one that can be) pro- 
foundly changed by sensitivity and embodied awareness".^^** This 
middle way begins by entering into partnership and dialogue rather 
than opposition or devotion to our human body and the larger body 
of the natural world. In so doing our source of knowing, and with it 
our perspective, grows wider. We move from body as machine, to 
body as the shell of discourse or as ultimate authority, to body as 
partnered or unified with mind. We become "embodied" - the mythic 
centaur - as our identity shifts from having a body to being a body 
and mind.^^"" 

Two paths developed in parallel in this country, one the "high road" 
of language in the form of deconstructive postmodernism which found 
home in the academy, the other is the "low road" of the body in the 
form of body-centered psychotherapy and alternatives to conven- 
tional allopathic medicine and theory which generally found itself in 
the marginal offices of private, alternative therapies. Reich was one 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 145 

pivotal figure in the reconsideration of the body and demonstrates 
the attempt to synthesize Western psychology, Eastern concepts of 
energy, sexuality, social theory and Western medical science - he was 
essentially an early articulator of postmodern medicine.^^ (As a result 
oi his practice Reich's last home was prison.) This reinvigoration of 
the body as more than machine, as partnered with mind and of pos- 
sessing its own forms of knowing and intelligence (e.g. Grof's "Inner 
Radar", Chopra's "cellular communication", Kurtz's "Organicity", 
Gendlin's "Felt Sense") has been expressed in hundreds of therapeu- 
tic forms and continues to develop into emerging mind-body medi- 
cine including current interests in psychoneuroimmunology, 
Kolopathic medicine, even the empirical study of the effect of prayer 
on bodily healing.^^ 

As postmodern deconstruction seeks to extend the intellect through 
unpacking metanarrative and the social construction of "facts" and 
"truths", body-centered knowing attempts to cultivate and expand 
the sense of the body. Levin frames a valuable integration of these 
ideas in his articulation of a postmodern medicine in which meaning 
along with finely tuned self-awareness are critical to health and heal- 
ing. (MH) 

Given the limits of this paper we will briefly consider one dimen- 
sion of body knowing. Just as our range of social perception is con- 
structed by cultural conditioning so too is our sensory perception. 
Enculturation solicits our membership in a shared construction of what 
is real and valuable and what is not. The detached objectivism of 
modernism prized seeing as the prefered mode of knowing; the sense 
of sight was most highly valued as it was thought to be less contami- 
nated or entangled with the "prison house" of the body. (SG, p. 150) 
Postmodernism adds to sight, voices, intonations, multivocality. Nar- 
rative replaces measurement as the currency of this knowing; inter- 
views or ethnographies replace controlled experiments in postmodern 
social science. But why stop with either sight or voice? What would 
the world sound like if our focus and metaphors were musical rather 
than visual and spatial or felt senses were respected as much as logi- 
cal deductions and controlled observations? Synesthestic perception 
may provide a path better suited to knowing in the multiplicity of the 
postmodern world and encouraging of the fine-tuned awareness men- 
ioned above. 

146 Tobin Hart: Ethical Choice in a Postmodern World: Cognition, Consciousness and Contact 

Recently a new "disorder" was "rediscovered" (categorized) in 
neuroscience - synesthesia.'*^ When listening to music a "sufferer" 
will not only hear the music but might also see images - gold balls 
dropping or sparkles of light, depending on the music. Others, while 
tasting something, will sense shapes and colors beyond those obvi- 
ous visual cues of the food itself. These are described as rich, vivid 
experiences, ones which those afflicted could not imagine being with- 
out. The neuroscientific interpretation explains these events as a neu- 
rological throwback, an abnormal experience of the "old brain" cen- 
ters. The contention is that evolution has helped differentiate sensa- 
tion from murky confusion to discrete senses. This explanation is a 
good example of assimilative - Aristotelian bias. This reduction, sepa- 
ration and differentiation, or sensory individuation, parallels the val- 
ues of the scientific process, our ideas about personality, boundary 
style and personal agency. That is, modernist science reduces and sepa- 
rates out variables - takes things apart to understand them; personal- 
ity theory suggests healthy development involves a highly differenti- 
ated, individuated autonomous self; in this country "good fences make 
good neighbors", and rugged individualism and independence have 
been among the dominant values. If we move to a synthesizing style 
of science or knowing we may conceive of these ideas differently. 

According to Cytowic, there is a functional disconnection between 
the language and association regions of the cortex from parts of the 
limbic brain during an experience of synesthesia. (SM) This is inter- 
preted as a "cognitive fossil", an operational throwback to the ways 
we may have perceived before (evolutionarily) the development of 
sophisticated representational (language) abilities and the differen- 
tiation of senses. But this is merely one interpretation and one that 
remains within the master narrative of contemporary science. It is 
plausible that synesthesia emerges as an evolutionary advantage rather 
than a developmental artifact. (It may also have nothing to do with 
evolution which Lyotard, for example, sees as merely another master 
narrative.) This interpretation gains some support from the evidence 
that synesthetes are generally highly intelligent and describe their 
perception as entirely rich, full and life enhancing. We understand 
perception as a complex interaction between the outside and the in- 
side, that is, environmental stimuli and mind. Therefore, it can not be 
concluded that synesthetes' perception is inaccurate as compared to 
our clear representation of reality. It may be just as reasonable that it 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 147 

represents a sophisticated constellation of personalized perception. 
Validity need not be reduced to corroboration by shared experience. 
In a postmodern frame which comes to appreciate diversity multi- 
plicity difference, and variety synesthetic perception adds informa- 
tion and richness - color, sounds, tastes, and so forth - that are appar- 
ently less bound by linguistic compartmentalization. 

The apparent functional disconnection of perception from language 
function mentioned above may separate, to some extent, or tease apart 
perception from interpretive representation; in so doing perhaps we 
are able to "stay in" the experience longer before the translation to 
representation or language is performed. It is presumed that some- 
thing is always lost or changed in a translation. Many technologies of 
consciousness attempt to achieve something like this, that is, experi- 
ence less mediated by language through stopping the internal dia- 
logue and shifting consciousness in an attempt to reach a more imme- 
diate perception. We discover that vividness and multiplicity of senses, 
not unlike the synesthete's, are described in consciousness altering 
practices of some indigenous religious rituals, psychedelic drug ex- 
perimentation, meditative traditions and transpersonal experiences 
in which perception is cultivated over language and interpretation. 

But how might the experience of synesthesia, of multisensory 
knowing, correspond to the postmodern situation of floods of infor- 
mation, options, sensory and cultural possibilities? If we evolved ei- 
ther cognitively or through social constructions toward a differentia- 
tion of senses in a modernist perspective what would postmodern 
sense-ability look like? Again we recognize language or voice as a 
dominant medium but might a multisensory mode be even more 
inclusive, participatory? 

Merleau-Ponty maintains that synesthetic perception is the rule 
and that "we are unaware of it only because scientific knowledge shifts 
the center of gravity of experience, so that we have unlearned how to 
see, hear, and generally speaking feel, in order to deduce... (what we 
sense)" .^"^ As Blake wrote: "If the doors of perception were cleansed 
everything would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed 
himself up, till he sees all things thro' narrow chinks of his cavem."'^° 

Does our body serve as prison house or launching pad? It is not 
presumed to offer superior or ultimate guidance in comparison to the 
intellect, but as an equally valid and as an undernourished source of 
knowing. The rejection and repression of the body has simply placed 

148 Tobin Hart: Ethical Choice in a Postmodern World: Cognition, Consciousness and Contact 

US out of touch with its wisdom and perception. When it is embraced 
we value it not only as partner but as us. 

Fritz Perls' invocation to "lose your mind and come to your senses" 
represents a potential pendulum shift in epistemic orientation rather 
than an integrative move. While Perls' apparently intended this invi- 
tation as necessary correction to the over-dependence on rational ab- 
straction (e.g. talking about an experience instead of being in the ex- 
perience) the risk is in elevating one form of knowing over another, 
just as has been the situation with modernist technical reason. If we 
are guided merely by impulse or surface feeling the results may be 
regressive and lack discrimination. Our feelings, instincts and intui- 
tions are sometimes wrong or incomplete; they may form from defi- 
cits, cravings for early connections, and so on. If we simply replace 
mind with senses, however sophisticated, we leave out the other forms 
of knowing. St. Bonaventure, for example, suggests a tripartite 
epistemic map that includes the senses, rational intellect and also con- 
templation. (EE) Depending on one alone simply limits our under- 
standing. We can see one way of knowing providing check and bal- 
ance for another. Theory is tested through experience which then forms 
new models for testing and so on in spiraling interplay. The concepts 
lay out the level or domain by asking the questions, providing the 
focus and frame for our attention while multisensory knowing in- 
forms the answer, always being filtered back through our concepts in 
a steady interplay. Without the conceptual consciousness, sensory in- 
put is indiscriminate and may be confusing or difficult to channel 
into informed choices. "A body uniformed by mind and spirit may be 
given over to instinctual life or callous imitations, but a mind uni- 
formed by the body losses its judgment and, in unforeseen and criti- 
cal ways, blunders and retreats. "^^ While these distinctions of 
conceptualization, sensation, and so forth may provide some simple 
model, in higher order functions the distinctions between these styles 
become less clear. Accommodative sensory experience seems to look 
like contemplative knowing and visa versa; mindful awareness of our 
thinking patterns may look like all three of St. Bonaventure's "eyes". 
And in postmodern style we might intentionally cross these "eyes", 
finding new ways to see, not being limited by a static style of know- 

From external content to internal process: 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 149 

mindfulness/ awareness 

Modernism has been dominated by philosophical realism - what 
we perceive of the material world is real and the task is to perceive (in 
part though developing ways to look upon it) as much as we can. We 
value that which we can see and touch, and as a logical extension of 
assimilation and realism, we seek safety and satisfaction in possess- 
ing or accumulating (either through literal ownership or mentally 
through organizing / categorizing knowledge) as much of the world 
as we can. The shift toward accommodation gives a better chance for 
what James Joyce has described as epiphany, that is, to behold (in- 
stead of holding on to) the other and with this, awe, ecstasy, apprecia- 
tion, and inspiration are possible. Deconstructive postmodernism in- 
vites us to look away from the concrete external back in the direction 
of the perceiver to consider how the content of our thinking and do- 
ing is shaped by social context. It offers an interruption of master nar- 
ratives and "unchecked assumptions" that guide our responses and 
our choice.'*^ But where deconstruction considers how content is 
shaped by context, and Foucault and Lyotard among others have ar- 
ticulated some means to consider the thinking process, deconstruction 
itself is not deconstructed; it's context remains obscure. (PN) (PC) 

Deconstruction (e.g. Derrida's use of it, among others) uses ratio- 
nal abstraction to deconstruct rational abstraction - Piagetian formal 
operational cognition. There seems to be an inherent limit to this 
mechanism. We see examples of this through repeated scientific re- 
ductionism or endless cascades of deconstruction without perspec- 
tive to evaluate the relative merits of one position over another. The 
ethical consequence of this may be radical relativism. Or we may find 
lissociation from the pain of the world and with it a lack of willing- 
less to move the status quo since any perspective is as good as any 
Dther. Another possibility is simply ethical paralysis since there is no 
position from which to take an ethical stand. For some, the anxiety of 
his situation leads to regression into some ideological fundamental- 
sm as an unchanging point of reference. 

The way we have been working on a problem often helps to keep 
t a problem, when we change our process - in this case our style of 
:ognition or the ceiling of thinking - we may move the problem. Two 
inalogies may give some feel for this. There is an old story of an in- 
ligenous community that gathers together and talks about a prob- 
em , when they have talked enough they then dance the problem. 

150 Tobin Hart: Ethical Choice in a Postmodern World: Cognition, Consciousness and Contact 

then draw, then sing, and on until the way in which the problem is 
sensed is changed by having stepped out of the way that the problem 
had been held. Similarly, the "fact" of woman's inferior capacity for 
moral reasoning, supported by discourse from the Bible, through St. 
Augustine and Freud to Lawrence Kohlberg, evaporates when women 
ask the questions and have access to publications. (DV, p. 6) When 
technical reason, or any single source or cognitive style alone asks the 
question and interprets the answer we do not step outside and evalu- 
ate the context that is our mode of cognition. 

A synthetic mode of knowing that integrates other modes has been 
proposed by several sources (e.g. Aurobindo, Bruner, Arieti, Flavel) 
and summarized by Wilber. (SE) Referred to as Vision Logic or Net- 
work Logic, this mode of knowing is said to integrate the body and 
formal operational cognition and in so doing goes beyond either and 
provides a perspective on them. That is, it is transparent to itself and 
thus capable of looking at the mind and it's processes. (Both the terms 
vision and logic may be misleading in light of what has been said so 
far. The use of "vision" may represent the grounding in a visualist 
bias as opposed to multisensory perceiving. Logic may imply a nar- 
row analytic, deductive capacity as opposed to the synthetic, 
multiplicitous knowing more charactoristic of the claims of Vision 

The depth and breadth of perspective as well as the flexibility and 
integration of knowing emerge with the development of bodymind 
consciousness. Such development can be encouraged through what 
Varela et al refer to as "awareness /mindfulness" practices that move 
the focus from external content to internal process.^^ 

Awareness practice involves "... a mindful reflection that includes 
in the reflection on a question, the asker of the question and the pro- 
cess of asking itself." (TE, p. 30) In so doing we extend the view of 
most of postmodern deconstruction and as we do "... we can begin to 
sense and interrupt automatic patterns of conditioned thinking, sen- 
sation and behavior" to an even greater depth.(TE, p. 122) Varela clari- 
fies this practice as follows: "... (T)he practices involved in the devel- 
opment of mindfulness / awareness are virtually never described as 
the training of meditative virtuosity (and certainly not as the devel- 
opment of a higher, more evolved spirituality) but rather, as the let- 
ting go of habits of mindlessness, as an unlearning rather than a learn- 
ing." (TE, p. 29) 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 151 

Instead of finding ourselves more self-conscious and ego-centered 
through awareness practices we find that we are more aware and less 
narcissistic. We begin development with a fused, largely undifferenti- 
ated consciousness and through subject - object dichotomizing - "This 
is me this isn't me" - we differentiate. As we reach formal opera- 
tional thought we are able to step outside and look back within at the 
thinker. As we continue to cultivate this potentiality we can look even 
deeper into the process of thinking, recognizing ourselves both as the 
object and the subject - an integration or union of opposites as men- 
tioned above. Washburn has described this as conscious or mindful 
reunion with the Dynamic Ground."*^ We are both differentiated and 
unified in this perspective, and conscious of both. 

As to our ethical choices, the dilemma of groundlessness uncov- 
ered in postmodernism is not replaced with new ideological ground 
n this perspective but instead there is an expansion of our conscious- 
less and cognition and a coming to terms with the groundlessness, 
rhe shift does not disengage the mind from the phenomenal world; it 
mables the mind to be fully present within the world. As Varela writes, 
t is "... not to avoid action but to become fully present in one's ac- 
ion". (TE, p. 122) This is not the self-consciousness often characteris- 
ic of early formal operational thought (the bane of many adolescents) 
)ut a more developed awareness that involves being present, mind 
nd body, in the experience. In addition, Varella is careful not to re- 
lace the receding ground of the environment with the ground of the 
nind. That is, cognition is not reduced to being molded and shaped 
y an independent environment or solely the internal generation of 
[\ind, it is instead the result of interaction, or what Varella calls "en- 
cted" - a constant interplay that does not posit an absolute ground 
1 either environment or the self. 

As awareness develops something else happens. The new degree 
f openness to experience encompasses not only one's own immedi- 
te sphere of perception but also enables one to appreciate others and 
evelop compassionate insight into their predicament. An open heart, 
wareness of suffering and deep compassion are regularly described 
arising naturally out of the process of mindfulness. 
Additionally, as we become mindful - that is, as we are able "... to 
<perience what one's mind is doing as it does it, to be present with 

Iie's mind." (TE, p. 23) - we can see the roots that a choice may stem 

152 Tobin Hart: Ethical Choice in a Postmodern World: Cognition, Consciousness and Contact 

choices from those roots so they may be more fully conscious and 

Buddhist meditative practice, or "mindscience" which is the most 
well elaborated practice of mindfulness /awareness, implies that di- 
rect knowing unmediated by conceptions is possible and can be culti- 
vated through awareness strategies. But how is the immediacy or di- 
rectness of such knowing to be assessed, let alone to claim that such 
transrepresentational knowing is valid? We have only our own aware- 
ness tools and experimentation to evaluate the degree or quality of 
our awareness. If we apply the same principles that we have been 
using to evaluate the limits of formal operational logic, then we must 
hold the position formed by Vision-Logic and cultivated through 
awareness strategies lightly. That is, deconstruction and mindful ex- 
perimentation must be applied at every step and we can use the aware- 
ness practices themselves as a radically deconstructive process. Aware- 
ness practice is in principle incapable of producing any kind of narra- 
tives. Narratives involve conceptualizing and construction, awareness 
does not produce truths or stories in and of itself. Of course, people 
who engage in awareness strategies also engage in conceptual con- 

We often conclude that the fresh and newly realized level of per- 
ception represents the final truth and as such becomes concretized as 
ideology, only to discover a new truth down the road. Transpersonal 
dimensions of consciousness have been proposed beyond this cogni- 
tive level and as is the case with previous levels, this foundation may 
enable the embodiment of other developments of consciousness. While 
awareness practices help to reveal the process of our questioning, 
narratives or conceptualizations formed from them become poten- 
tially replacement master narrative if we assume them as the source 
of Truth. The Dalai Lama reminds us that "... the ultimate authority 
must always rest with the individual's reason (We will assume he 
refers to reason in the broad sense conceived of in this section.) and 
critical analysis. This is why we find various conceptions of reality in 
Buddhist literature. Each is based on a different level of understand- 
ing of the ultimate nature.""*^ 

From known to mystery 

The last interrelated shift, and one that serves the others, involves 
maintaining a dynamic openness to experience that is fostered by 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 153 

moving the center of our intentions from the known to mystery. 
Through modernism we came to expect that our world was eventu- 
ally entirely measurable and potentially controllable. It was only a 
question of when we would penetrate, through rational-empiricism, 
into the not-yet-known. Our lived experience may become centered 
on the knowledge we have accumulated. We protect and defend that 
knowledge and build our house of self and values around it. It often 
becomes our fortress. But both the history of science and the 
postmodern perspective remind us that the known is inevitably in- 
complete, that there remains mystery outside and within the known. 
A house built on the known is built on shifting sands and therefore 
temporary. If we shift our center of gravity to mystery we become a 
transient guest, a traveler of sorts, looking for, and remaining open to 
experiences, relationships, and ideas. This does not preclude respite 
in the predictability of the known such as it is, but invites us to re- 
main attentive to difference, always ready and willing to move be- 
yond these boundaries toward loving more deeply, or looking in fresh 
ways or in whatever emerges. This enables us to participate in our 
own changes. If we remain centered on the known, any invasion of 
mystery requires a structural rebuilding or even a change of location. 
In short order we may get weary of this constant rebuilding and turn 
away from mystery assuming we have all knowledge that we need. 
Even the traveler may grow arrogant and turn away from mystery 
when the focus is on accumulated knowledge. Dante's Ulysses shows 
us this: "Ulysses' illusion of omnipotence founded on the success of 
his previous journey's of exploration, closes his access to inspiration 
and to further exploration of knowledge ..."^^ The existentialists re- 
mind us of our transient nature through the recognition of our im- 
pending death, a mystery. They suggest that when we can acknowl- 
edge this we may begin to live more authentically, less fear-bound 
and less confined by the fortress of the known and, we could say, 
centered in the anticipation of mystery. 

When we use the tools of modernism or postmodernism we are 
active, penetrating and teasing apart the world, be it one of language 
or of atoms. For modernism this search is to make the unknown known 
and in so doing we accumulate or possess knowledge. Rather than 
revealing and possessing knowledge, postmodernism acknowledges 
:he unknowability of the world. In it's more optimistic forms this takes 
:he form of celebration, at its most pessimistic is a kind of skeptical 

154 Tobin Hart: Ethical Choice in a Postmodern World: Cognition, Consciousness and Contact 

relativistic fatalism. However, what this view does is open the door 
for remaining aware of mystery, recognizing that the unknown never 
fully recedes; we remain in relationship to knowledge rather than in 
the illusion of possession of it. As with most relationships there is a 
certain degree of receiving and taking. This is a case in which we do 
not just possess knowledge or celebrate it (divine or otherwise) but 
we are possessed by it."*^ We already have a language from the 
premodern world that can invigorate the shift towards mystery and 
our relationship with knowledge. For example, "enthusiasm" means 
literally possession by some form of knowledge (a god, muse, idea); 
"... the state of man in whom a god dwells."; "inspiration" implies 
infusion (breathing in) of some idea into us; Ecstasy is understood as 
entering into a relationship with or being unified with a deity, or we 
could say, some idea."*^ 

Assuming a posture of willingness as opposed to exclusive will- 
fulness, as May has said so well, involves a certain degree of surren- 
der that opens the relationship to mystery."*^ And an openness to mys- 
tery invites an expansion of awareness on the physical or sensory, the 
mental and the contemplative.^" Openness may be thought of as prac- 
ticed through listening. "When Michaelangelo did the Sistine Chapel 
he painted both the major and minor prophets. They can be told apart 
because, though there are cherubin at the ears of all, only the major 
prophets are listening. "^^ The reason they are listening, we could as- 
sume, is because they believe there is still much to hear - the mystery. 
Imagine the freshness of a classroom with such an attitude of open- 
ness and willingness. We get some glimpse of this difference by con- 
sidering the pleasure, fascination and sustained flexibility of an in- 
fant as it discovers its world and how soon that sponge-like quality 
and joy becomes to discovering one right answer, or trying to please 
the teacher, or otherwise restricting awareness. When we assume 
mystery abounds we are open to the possibility of learning; if we as- 
sume there is no mystery or only small portals or troughs of the 
not-yet-known, the range and depth of our experience and hence the 
dynamic quality of our knowledge which informs ethical choice, is 
constricted. Moving from the goal of trying to possess the world 
through "accumulating" the known to beholding the mystery (which 
can certainly include celebration) may help keep our ethical choices 
fresh and growing. 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciejtces, XXXIII, 1995 155 

As we gain the epistemic richness that may be provided through 
these shifts, we may recognize interconnection or sacredness. This is 
what is described in the expansion of consciousness or the mystic ex- 
perience - love, compassion, connection, reverence, caring, etc. This 
insight provides perspective without necessarily providing moral 
answers. We can see how perspective informs actions without pro- 
viding any specifics. The multiplicity and dynamicism of ethical re- 
sponses as opposed to simply rules or doctrine make sense in this 
perspective. Insight, intuition, vision, provides the process or back- 
drop through which application to daily experience is made. The in- 
sight does not provide ethical ground as in moral principles but light, 
we might say. Ethical choice and principles emerge from little stories 
(in the style of Lyotard) of interpretation of insight in a living (experi- 
ential) context. The power of postmodern multiplicity and diversity 
permit breadth of consideration, variety, and evaluation of the per- 
spective (illumination) which help to avoid the traps of imperialistic 
dogma and intolerance. This is the power of postmodern ethics. With 
respect to ethical choices, illumined perspective without application 
remains disconnected with concerns of daily living. When interpreted 
in a modernist framework it may take the form of moral prescriptions 
and absolutes. At the same time the postmodern breadth without the 
complexity of perspective provided through contact and beheld as 
ecstasy and mystery remains two dimensional and without adequate 
means to inform morality. Without the expanded consciousness we 
are left with biological pleasure, social agreement, or sheer intellect 
as the source for ethics. Each are revealed as myopic. While we might 
derive an ethical response from a biological necessity, for example 
(e.g. food), the offering of expanded perspective (cognition and con- 
sciousness) places these in a larger context. Together the breadth of 
postmodern consideration and the "height" of expanding conscious- 
ness provide handholds for ethical action. As such ethics is not a static 
object to be revealed or even constructed but a lived experience. 


^ K. J. Gergen and John Kaye, "Beyond Narrative in the Negotiation of Therapeutic 
Meaning," inTherapy as Social Construction, eds. K. Gergen and S, McNamee, (Lon- 
don and Newbury Park, California: Sage, 1992) p. 180. Henceforth cited as BN. 

^ Robert Thurman, "Tibetian Psychology: Sophisticated Software for the Human 
Brain", in MindScience: an East-West Dialogue., Daruel Goleman and Robert Thurman, 
Eds., (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1991) p. 53. Henceforth referrred to as TP. 

156 Tobin Hart: Ethical Choice in a Postmodern World: Cognition, Consciousness and Contact 

''Lawrence Kohlberg, Collected Papers on Moral Development and Moral Education, (Cam- 
bridge, Mass.: Center for Moral Education, 1976). 

■* Carol Gilligan, In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women's Development, 
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1982) Henceforth referred to as DV. 

^Robert Kegan, The Evolving Self, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1982). 

''Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, (Chicago: University of Chi- 
cago Press. 1970). 

' Willis Harman, "The Postmodern Heresy: Consciousness as Causal" in The 
Reenchantrnent of Scie77ce: Postmodern proposals, D. R. Griffen, ed. (Albany: SUNY 
Press, 1988) p. 122. 

'^Jean-Francois Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, trans. Geoff 
Bennington and Brian Massumi, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 1984) 
Henceforth referred to as PC. 

■ Ken Wilber, Sex, Ecology, Spirituality: The Evolution of Consciousness, (Boston: 
Shambhala, 1995) p. 188 Henceforth referred to SE. 

^"M. Foucault, Power/Knowledge, (New York: Pantheon, 1980) Henceforth referrredto 

" Pauline Marie Rosenau, Post-Modernism and the Social Scieijces: Insights, Inroads and 
Intrusions, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992) p. 6. 

'^Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Structure of Behavior, trans. A. L. Fisher, (Boston: Bea- 
con Press, 1945/1963). 

'^Ronald D. Laing, The Devided Self, (Baltimore: Penguin Press, 1965). 

'"•Han F. deWit, Contemplative Psychology, (Pittsburgh, Pa.: Duquesne University Press, 

'^Erwin Schrodinger, WJtat is Life? Mind and Matter, (London: Cambridge University 
Press: 1945) p. 140 

'*' as cited in Evelyn Fox Keller, Reflections on Gender and Science, (New Haven: Yale 
University Press, 1985) p. 140. 

'^H. Guntrip, Schizoid Phenomena: Object Relations and the Self, (New York: Interna- 
tional Universities Press, 1969), pp. 370-371. 

"^ H. Kohut, The Resoration of the Self (New York: International Universities Press, 
1977), p. 458. 

'''William Ralph Schroeder, Sartre and his Predecessors: The Self and the Other, (Boston: 
Routledge and Kagan Paul, 1984) p. 267. Henceforth referrred to as SH. 

^"Jean Baker Miller, "Connections, Disconnections, and Violations". Work in Progress, 
No. 33 (Wellesley Ma.: The Stone Center, 1988. 

-' Karen Homey, Neurosis and Human Growth: The Struggle Toward Self -Realization. (New 
York: W.W. Norton, 1950). 

^Kermeth J. Gergen, The Saturated Self Dilemmas of Identity in Contemporary Life, (New 
York: Basic Books, 1991). 

^^Ken, Wilber Eye to Eye: The Quest for the New Paradigm (Boston: Shambhala, 1983/ 
1990). Henceforth referred to as EE. 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 157 

^* Evelyn Fox Keller, A Feeling for the Organism: The Life and Work of Barbara McClintock, 

(New York: W. H. Freeman and Company, 1983) p. 198. Henceforth referred to as 

^^H. Kohut, "Two Letters", in Advances in Self Psychology, ed. A. Goldberg, (New York 

: International Universities Press, 1980) pp. 449-469 
^^F. S. Perls, Gestalt Therapy Verbatim, (Moab, Utah: Real People Press, 1969), p. 19 
^''E. Polster and M. Polster, Gestalt Therapy Integrated, (New York: Random House, 

^^ Wendy Brown, "Feminist Hesitations, Postmodern Exposures". Differences: A Jour- 
nal of Feminist Cultural Studies, (3.1, 1991)p. 65-66. 
^'Charlene Spretnak, States of Grace: The Recovery of Meaning in the Postmodern Age, 

(New York: Harper Collins, 1991) p. 124, Henceforth referred to as SG. 
^Elspeth Probyn, "The Body Which is Not One: Speaking an Embodied Self," Hypatia, 

vol.6,no.3, Fall(1991)p. 116. 
^^ Maureen O'Hara, Is it Time for Clinical Psychology to Deconstruct Constructivism?, (La 

JoUa, Ca.: Center for the study of the Person, 1995) p. 6 
^^ Jerome Bruner, On Knowing: Essays for the Left Hand, (New York: Antheum Press, 

1965) p. 162. 
^^M. Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of Human Science, (Pantheon, 1971) 
^David Michael Levin, "Meaning and the History of the Body; Toward a Postmodern 

Medicine", Noetic Sciences Review, (Spring, 1995)p. 12. Henceforth referred to as MH. 
^^Ken Wilber, The Spectrum of Consciousness, (Wheaton, II.: Quest, 1977). 
^^Wilhelm Reich, The Function of the Organism: Discovery of the Orgone, (New York: 

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1986). 
^^ Larry Dossey, Healing words: The Power of Prayer and the Practice of Medicine, (New 

York: Harper Collins, 1993). 
^* Richard E. Cytowic, "Synesthesia and mapping of subjective sensory dimension." 

Neurology, June, 1989, vol. 39 (6) pp. 849-850. Henceforth referred to as SM. 
''Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Phenomenology of Perception, trans. C. Smith, (New York: 

Humanities Press, 1945/1962) p. 229. 
'° William Blake, "A Memorable Fancy", In Poems and Letters, J. Bronowski, Ed. 

(Middlesex, England: Penguin, 1986) p.lOl. 

John P. Conger, Jung and Reich: The Body as Shadow, (Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 

1988) p. 183. 

Wendell Johnson, People in Quandaries, (New York: Harper and Row, 1946). 
Francisco Varela, Evan Thompson, Eleanor Rosch, The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Sci- 
ence and Human Experience, (Cambridge, MA: The M.I.T Press, 1993) Henceforth 
referred to as TE. 

'Michael Washburn, The Ego and the Dynamic Ground, (Albany: SUNY Press, 1988) 
' The Dalai Lama, The Buddhist Concept of Mind in Mind Science : an East -West 
Dialogue, eds. Daniel Goleman, Robert Thurman (Boston, MA: Wisdom Publica- 
tions, 1991) p. 14. 

158 Tobin Hart: Ethical Choice in a Postmodern World: Cognition, Consciousness and Contact 

*^M. E. Williams, Inspiration in Milton and Keats, (Totowa: N.J.: Barnes and Noble 

Books, 1982). p. 9-10. 
''^M. P. Pandt, The Yoga of Knowledge, (Pomona, Ca.: Auromere, 1979) p. 225. 
^Abraham J. Heschel, The Prophets, (New York: Harper and Row, 1962) p. 326. 
^^ Gerald May, Will and Spirit: A contemplative Psychology, (San Francisco: Harper S. F. 

™Tarthang Tulku, Gesture of Balance, (Berkeley, Ca. : Dharma Publishing, 1977) p. 51. 
'^'J. C. Gowan as cited in W. Harman and H. Rheingold, Higher Creativity: Liberating 

the Unconscious for Breakthrough Insights. (Los Angeles: ]. P. Tarcher, 1984) p. 8. 

Communication, Postmodernism, and 
Postmodern Ethics in Communication 

by Mark G.R. McManus 

In spite of any misgivings over (or disregard for) such constructs 
as deconstruction, postmodernism is rapidly informing practice as 
well as theoretical concerns in the most mundane of social sciences.^ 
Communications scholars today continue a self- reflexive discussion 
concerning the relationship of rhetoric and social, critical theory. This 
discussion takes a variety of forms, with proponents taking opposing 
sides on a variety of issues. The issues addressed primarily center 
around the advisability of opening rhetorical theory to broader ques- 
tions facing social theorists in general. The debate has become cen- 
tered around the utility /disutility of "critical theory" (derived from 
the Frankfurt School) and "postmodernism". 

A number of social theorists continue to attract communication 
scholars. Included are Anthony Giddens, Paul Ricoeur, Renato 
Resaldo, Clifford Geertz, and particularly Michel Foucault and Jiirgen 
Habermas. The discussion is not new: Whalen and Cheney suggest 
that it began at least twenty years ago^; they suggest that the debate 
has, however, taken on new life and intensity as both sociology and 
communications studies seek to work themselves out of an "'identity 
crisis'" (RE, p. 474). 

As postmodernism enters the arcanity of more applied practice, it 
is only natural that social and communication theorists work toward 
a more mature iteration of postmodernism, one that includes practi- 
cal, ethical considerations. It is no longer sufficient to prove that an 
opponent is wrong or mistaken; nor can rhetoric be adequately re- 
garded simply as a strategy to advance one's own arguments. 

Starting from a point of definition, I am not certain that 
postmodernism is yet here. I am more inclined to agree with Anthony 
Giddens that Western society is engaged in the throes of late modern- 
ism, with key characteristics that may well provide a close view as to 
what postmodern society may entail. 

Giddens helps provide a broader, non-rhetorical definition of what 
current (post /modem) society is, and how it differs from other con- 

160 Mark G. R. McManus: Communication, Postmodernism, and Postmodern Ethics 

ceptions. In Consequences of Modernity he suggests three defining char- 
acteristics of Western society: 

A. distantiation of time and place 

B. disembedding of social institutions, and 

C. self-reflexivity.^ 

Ultimately, whether these characteristics represent vestiges of a mod- 
ernist culture or harbingers of an emerging postmodern society is less 
problematic than their value in providing an adequate critique of cur- 
rent sociality. Their value lies in that they are characteristic of a con- 
temporary. Western society that contains elements of both modern 
and postmodern culture. Each of these features is addressed in some 
way by most contemporary rhetoricians. Each rhetorician views these 
features differently: they do not agree which are the most important 
or which are problematic. Each places ethical constraints and respon- 
sibilities on rhetoricians and communicators that are different, how- 
ever, than those historically presumed under a traditionally conceived, 
modern culture. 

Distantiation of time and place, for example, is reflected in the no- 
tions of progress, of the relationship between permanence and change, 
of the use of language to create rather than to describe or reflect his- 
tory. Disembedding of social institutions occurs in two ways: the erec- 
tion, maintenance, and changing of symbol systems, a symbolic trans- 
formation of physical reality (money being a paradigmatic instance); 
the other is the importance of expert systems (the transference of so- 
cial relationships into systems of coping with Nature), including tech- 
nology, social expertise, politics, etc. Current examples include the 
perceived transference of civil discourse into institutionalized mass 
media; the determination of cultural issues by public opinion poll; or 
the sets of laws, rules and physical features that are gathered under 
the notion of transportation, or traffic (CM, p. 28). Self-reflexivity is, 1 
believe, one of the most important features of modernity that con- 
cerns contemporary rhetoric. It is addressed in the epistemic construc- 
tion of reality all along the political and theoretical spectrum from 
Weaver's "metaphysical dream'"* to Foucault's episteme/ discourse 
constructs. It closely follows postmodernism' s insistence on theory/ 
-praxis as a lived life, with each changing the other. 

The point I propose is that contemporary life, whether because of 
a recognizable social transition process or because of simple 
incoherencies, contains contradictory elements of sociality that pose 
particular ethical questions to communication scholars, whether they 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 161 

try to describe, predict, or change the course of society. These features 
of current sociality (whether modem or postmodern) can be addressed 
through focal points of the rhetorical theory of Kenneth Burke. 

Contemporary Rhetoric 

Kenneth Burke remains one of the most durable and enduring of 
theorists for communication /rhetorical studies. Since his writing be- 
came available in book form in the 1930s, his work has been studied 
and used by rhetorical scholars, particularly those of a literary, politi- 
cal, or sociological bent. Beginning in the 1950s, particularly after pub- 
lication of A Grammar of Motives (1945) and A Rhetoric of Motives (1950), 
his work has been primarily mined for methodological approaches to 
rhetorical studies. As in the dialogue among rhetorical scholars about 
postmodernism, critical, postmodernist theorists themselves are di- 
vided in their receptivity to Burke. He is compared unfavorably as an 
"abstruse theorist"^ a literary theorist moved into the realm of cul- 
tural theory by the more advanced work of Clifford Geertz"; and more 
favorably as a theorist who long ago satisfactorily addressed key so- 
cial factors raised by Durkheim and recently debilitated by such theo- 
rists as Anthony Giddens^, and as a "critical structuralist" who opens 
to us "a more detailed and heterogeneous level of history than we 
lave been accustomed to knowing".^ 

I am not suggesting that Burke provides a common corpus that 
allows communications scholars to more easily integrate 
postmodernism into the study of rhetoric. First, I don't believe that 
Burke's work has been integrated with any unanimity into rhetorical 
theory. As I suggest above, much of the rhetorical reception of Burke 
remains at the strictly methodological level.'* Secondly, Burke is hardly 
central to the social theorists most studied by communications schol- 
ars, Jiirgen Habermas or Michel Foucault. Much of the work done by 
major social theorists is singularly insular.^° Although rhetorical theo- 
rists and critics have begun serious work in postmodern theory", 
Burke is familiar territory for many communications scholars. In re- 
cent years, also, research has used Burkeian rhetorical theory as a 
springboard to postmodern theory.^^ In electronic data communica- 
tions, a bridge is a hardware /software mechanism that allows two 
similar networks to converse with one another. This is not the role I 
would assign to Burke's theory. A router, however, is a hardware/ 
software mechanism that allows dissimilar networks to communicate. 

162 Mark G. R. McManns: Communication, Postmodernism, and Postmodern Ethics 

This is the potential role I see for Burkeian theory: it provides a cen- 
tral nexus for issues that communication scholars and postmodern 
social theorists have in common. 

Contemporary Rhetoric and Postmodernism 

Several key themes in Burke's rhetorical theory address issues in 
common with postmodern theorists. The contemporary dialogue 
among communications scholars also addresses such themes. Al- 
though each participant utilizes a particular vocabulary, Burke's dis- 
cussion is particularly rhetorical, and based on language-in-use. He 
may well, therefore, provide a satisfactory router role between rheto- 
ric and postmodern theory. Any number of themes may be chosen: 
the dialectic of structure /agency; discursive practices; cultural con- 
straints in everyday life-practices versus historicity; praxis /theory 
issues; dominance versus emancipatory interests. This paper will ex- 
amine three of Burke's major constructs in view of the dialogue by 
communications scholars over the role of postmodernism in the de- 
velopment of a postmodern rhetoric. 

Burke's rhetorical theory interpenetrates critical theory and mod- 
ernist/postmodernist questions in several key areas. Three constructs 
that remain central to a Burkeian rhetorical theory, and that have ana- 
logs in modernist/ postmodernist theory are symbolic action, the iden- 
tify /^identification^ dialectic, and the notion of language as equip- 
ment for living (pragmatic emancipatory). In any discussion of Burke, 
these constructs overlap and merge. They can be discussed as sepa- 
rate entities, however, in their relationship to some of the terms nec- 
essary to postmodern theory. 

Symbolic Action 

Use of language in a creative, generative mode, for Burke, consti- 
tutes symbolic action. For Burke, there is no human "praxis" that does 
not have from the beginning a symbolic dimension. . ." (Ricoeur, LIU, 
p. 81). Language itself is constitutive of action. For Burke, language is 
representative of human responses to physical situations. Burke makes 
a clear distinction between human (symbolic) action and physicalist 
motion. As he notes, "Whatever may be the character of existence in 
the physical realm, this realm functions but as a scenic background 
when considered from the standpoint of the human realm'\ Ricoeur 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 163 

attempts to clarify this issue when he suggests that, for Burke, "sym- 
bolic action is not an action which we take but one which we replace 
by signs" (Ricoeur, LIU, p. 256). Yet, I think Ricoeur has still not quite 
gotten Burke correctly here. A closer approximation can be gotten from 
Ricoeur 's discussion of consciousness. Quoting Marx's The German 
Ideology, he notes that 

we find that man also possesses 'consciousness,' but, 
even so, not inherent, not 'pure' consciousness. From 
the start the 'spirit' is afflicted with the curse of 
being 'burdened' with matter, which here makes its 
appearance in the form of agitated layers of air, 
sound, in short, of language. (LIU, p. 83) 

Such a notion is closer to Burke, (although Ricoeur disagrees with it) 
in that it makes explicit the fundamental anthropological facticity of 
language in humans.^** Again, however, this feel for Burke's construct 
is not entirely clear, and is certainly not complete. Although Burke is 
amenable to the notion that the structure and use of language has 
physiological manifestations and analogs, he is not actually sympa- 
thetic to a behaviorist interpretation. When Burke asserts that human 
discourse employs symbolic action he places particular burdens on 
the differences between action and motion. He notes that 

We have the drama and the scene of the drama The 
description of the scene is the role of the physical sci- 
ences; the description of the drama is the role of the 
social sciences. The physical sciences are a calculus of 
events; the social sciences are a calculus of acts. (PLF, 
p. 114) 

Additionally, "The error of the social sciences has usually resided in 
the attempt to appropriate the scenic calculus [of physical events] for 
a charting of the [social] act" (PLF, p. 114). The use of language, sym- 
bolic action, "being, like biology, in an indeterminate realm between 
vital assertions and lifeless properties, the realm ... is neither physi- 
calist nor anti-physicalist, but physicalist-plus" (PLF, p. 116). Burke 
relies on the concreteness of events. Despite any proposal explaining 
or determining the quality of events (which can only be justified by 
its adequacy, by its "collective revelation", the event itself is true. Burke 
here does something very interesting by placing the reality of the event 
partially outside the realm of analysis. That is, "the description of the 

164 Mark G. R. McManus: Communication, Postmodernism, and Postmodern Ethics 

scene is the role of the physical sciences. . .(PLF, p. 114). Its utility lies 
in its provision of strands and textures for determination of quality. 
This, I think is also the basis for Burke's distinction between act and 
motion. Motion is the physicality of man's action. Motion becomes 
part of the scene, and is not susceptible to analysis except as it con- 
tributes to the quality of actions. Burke privileges language as the 
activity that creates action out of motion (that is, motion + "talk 

What Burke means by this is that language is used to describe or 
react to physical reality ("to encompass it"). Although the situation in 
which language takes place is a realm of motion, 

action is not reducible to terms of motion. For instance, 
the 'essence' or 'meaning' of a sentence is not reduc- 
ible to its sheer physical existence as sounds in the air 
or marks on the page, although material motions of 
some sort are necessary for the production, transmis- 
sion and reception of the sentence.^"* 

That is, 

language referring to the realm of the nonverbal is nec- 
essarily talk about things in terms of what they are not 
And, even accuracy does not get around the fact that 
such terms [labels for reality] are sheer emptiness, as 
compared with the substance of things they name.^*' 

Here, Burke agrees with critical and postmodern theorists in rejecting 
the sanctity of the Cartesian mind-body dichotomy that led to logical 
positivism and behaviorism. He would agree with Habermas (who 
attempts to redeem or revive the critical theory of the Frankfurt school) 
when the latter posits that 

the social scientist cannot 'use' this language 'found' 
in the object domain as a neutral instrument. He can- 
not 'enter into' this language without having recourse 
to the pretheoretical knowledge of a member of a life 
world . . . which he has intuitively mastered as a lay- 
man and now brings unanalyzed into every process of 
achieving understanding^^. 

For Habermas, the resolution of this dilemma requires a renovation 
of rationality that retransforms the 'public sphere' into an arena 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 165 

wherein "communicative" action is based on the ability of actors to 
"harmonize their plans of action on the basis of common situation 
definitions" in an effort to reach "understanding" rather than per- 
sonal success. ^^ 

For Burke, such renovation is not necessary. He assumes a suffi- 
ciency of universality in human biological, psychological, and socio- 
logical motives of language use. Such human commonality means 
that it is adequate to realize that a transcendence {i.e., 
"physicality-plus") is explicit in the application of language to the 
human world. ^'' Language use, symbolic action, the interplay between 
positive, dialectical, and ultimate terms and the transcendence that 
results from the juxtaposition of the human and physical realms is 
the focus of analysis, and human motivation its object.-^^ 

Contrarily for Foucault (the prototypical postmodernist currently 
studied by communication scholars), the modern shift to the "will to 
knowledge about" from the classical "will to truth" represents an ac- 
cumulation of historical and institutional baggage that cannot be sur- 
mounted. This will to knowledge is so culturally constrained that it 

upon the knowing subject - in some ways taking pre- 
cedence over all experience - a certain position, a cer- 
tain viewpoint, a certain function. . . a will to knowl- 
edge which prescribe[s]. . . the technological level at 
which knowledge [can] be employed in order to 
be verifiable and useful. . . .^^ 

For Foucault, cultural domination so constrains individual attempts 
to discover either truth or knowledge, that recourse can be found only 
tn the "positivity" of discursive acts. An adequate, emancipatory cri- 
tique can only be obtained by the analysis of the structural systemicity 
3f language functions (AK, p. 125, 86-87). 

For Burke, this is an unnecessary move, and indeed, a dangerous 
Dne. Recall that the realm of the physical world cannot be neutrally 
iescribed in language use. Language use, for Burke, is not truly ca- 
pable of objectification. A transcendence is present precisely at the 
3oint where human relations (language use) becomes tangent to the 
'real" world. It is enough to realize that cultural domination affects 
ill people. Any language use is to some extent a meta-symbolic activ- 
ty, since it is exhortative, is activity that is primarily exercise of and 

166 Mark G. R. McMamis: Communication, Postmodernism, and Postmodern Ethics 

invitation to share the will to create. The form that cultural domina- 
tion or intrusion takes, he views as a product of an individual's oppo- 
sition in the dialectic of the identity /identification. 

Identity / Identification 

Burke is quite aware of the constraints that the social nature of 
language places on human actors. In a letter to Malcolm Cowley, he 

Terms are interrelated; once you select a few, you are 
no longer free simply to apply them like labels to ex- 
ternal situations, but must follow through all sorts of 
internal battles, as the terms bring up obligations with 
relations to one another. ^- 

John Brenkman provides an example from Lacanian psychology 
that illustrates the peculiar nature of the identify /identification dia- 
lectic in symbolic action. A child's relationship with its parents is one 
of total dependency. The "Other" (either parents specifically, or par- 
ents as representative of community in general) satisfies all physical 
and psychological requirements of the child. Additionally, in relation 
to the child, the "other's" exclusive hold on discourse represents his/ 
her "omnipotence." The child's first bid for independence and au- 
tonomy, therefore, is through becoming a "speaking being." This bid, 
however, contains elements of both independence and constraint. Even 
as the child establishes a new relationship to its parents, it is sprung 
into the social nature of language and has its "first experience in par- 
ticipation in the concrete discourse of the community").^'' To partici- 
pate, the child must respond to the concrete sociality of language rules 
of the community it is joining. 

Burke's identity /identification dialectic is of just such a nature. As 
he notes, "the individual's identity is formed by reference to his mem- 
bership in a group" (PLF, p. 306); or "in forming ideas of our personal 
identity, we spontaneously identify ourselves with family, nation, 
political or cultural causes, church, and so on" (LAS A, p. 301). Indi- 
viduality, therefore, arises as a personal distinction from human soci 
ality. But Burke reminds us that 

Distinctions, we might say, arise out of a great central 
moltenness, where all is merged. They have been 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 167 

thrown from a liquid center to the surface, where they 

;: have congealed. Let one of these crusted distinctions 

I return to its source, and in this alchemic center it may 

; be remade, again becoming molten liquid, and may 

i enter into new combinations, whereat it may again be 

thrown forth as a new crust, a different distinction. So 

that A may become non-A. But not merely by a leap 

from one state to the other. Rather, we must take Aback 

into the ground of its existence,the logical substance 

that is its causal ancestor, and on to a point where it is 

consubstantial with non-A; then we may return, this 

time emerging with non-A instead.-'* 

For Burke, the great molten center of human interaction is to be found 
in the facticity of humans as symbolic actors, as users of language. 
Creation of an identity is possible only through its acceptance or re- 
jection of identification with. 

Burke's construction of such a dialectic directly contravenes 
Foucault's notion of identity. For Foucault, cultural domination is such 
a factor of language use, that humans are unable to be self-reflexive 
enough to create a meaningful identity. Although his later projects 
tended to emphasize the "exercises of self upon self" rather than domi- 
nation, he felt that people must gain a purchase on a position outside 
cultural dominance before a meaningful identity was possible. A mean- 
ingful "return of the subject" to the critique of society suggests that 
the human problem is for the 

individual soul to turn its gaze on itself in order to rec- 
ognize itself in what it is and recognizing itself in what 
it is, to recall the truths to which it is related and on 
which it could have reflected. ^^ 

Dnly the liberated self can practice "care for the self," could become 
m "absolutizing self" (FF, p. 5). This takes Foucault back to the project 
18 outlined in "The Discourse on Language". He seeks there to reject 
le domination of a sociated striving for "knowledge about" in favor 
)f a "will to truth" he identifies with or locates in classical Greece, 
^here, "true discourse" was 

spoken by men of right, according to ritual. . . . The 
highest truth lay in what discourse was. . .in what it 

168 Mark G. R. McManus: Communication, Postmodernism, and Postmodern Ethics 

did. ... It prophesied the future, not merely announc- 
ing what was going to occur, but contributing to its 
actual event, carrying men along with it and thus weav- 
ing itself into the fabric of fate. (AK, p. 218) 

This, for Foucault, is what is lost by the objectification imposed on the 
actor by modernism. He remains skeptical of the ability of critics/ 
historians /social theorists to escape the linguistic and cultural bag- 
gage with which they address analysis. His skepticism derives from a 
shift he perceives from classical times in which truth lay in what dis- 
course was to an emphasis on what discourse did, to a current em- 
phasis on what discourse says (AK, p. 218, emphases added). True 
discourse therefore became disconnected from the instantiation of 
power and right, and became infused with institutionally determined 
concepts of knowledge. 

This shift is reflected in the erection of a conflicting "will to truth' 
and a "will to knowledge". Will to truth is a concept about "being", 
while will to knowledge is a concept directed toward "being about." 
Foucault here introduces a very Burkeian notion, with the will to 
knowledge being essentially an attitude toward an institutional situ- 
ation {i.e., a situation determined by cultural rules). Foucault differs 
from Burke, however, in that he feels that only by exploring the dis- 
cursive practice / knowledge (s^i^ozr)/ science axis can subjectivity be 
escaped (AK, p. 183). For Burke, the subjectivity (even institutional 
aspects of it) are a given. Foucault believes that they must be over- 

Foucault's postmodernist solution toward a classical analysis of 
truth is to strip the content of discursive practice down to its constitu- 
ent functionality. He is adamant about the independence of statements, 
the constituents of discursive actions. They are not like sentences or 
propositions, that rely on representational relationships or structures. 

one should not be surprised, then, if one has failed to 
find structural criteria for the statement; this is because 
it is not in itself a unit, but a function that cuts across a 
domain of structures and possible unities, and which 
reveals them, with concrete contents, in time and space 
(AK, p. 87). 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 169 

The statement is, however, a function of a particular type: "it is a 
function of existence that properly belongs to signs and on the basis 
of which one may then decide, through analysis or intuition, whether 
or not they 'make sense'" (AK, p. 86, emphases added). Statements 
are, then, analogical elements of "being" that allow resolution of the 
"will to truth" rather than to the institutionally derived "will to knowl- 
edge." Foucault's concern with stripping away the content of state- 
ments derives, it seems, from his determination to circumscribe, as 
completely as possible, subjectivity under the guise of rationality or 
scientificity from the contextual event. Only the exterior, dispersive, 
independence of statements provides the primary assurance that the 
critic is not being fooled by himself and his relationship to his culture. 
Foucault proposes a "true" scientificity of discursive practices. His 
solution resides in the functional attributes of statements in the con- 
stitution of discourse. The functional regularities and regulations that 
"group" statements together contain and describe "objects" of analy- 
sis, that reveal those accorded the right to use languages, and identify 
sites from which discourse derives its source and its points of appli- 
cation (AK, p. 40-43, 50-52). Specific groupings contain their own con- 
ceptual structures and their own strategic possibilities. Analysis of 
statements reveals the building blocks (the what must have been or 
must be said) of cultural knowledge, without being impinged upon 
by the exercise of power that is inherent in knowledge. 

This stripping down of discourse, to elemental positivities, does 
not entirely resolve Foucault's problems, it seems to me. An element 
of tautology remains in his solution: it seems that statements and 
discursive practices perform these functions, and these functions there- 
fore provide definitions for "group figures". Yet, surely Foucault would 
not suggest that the most stringent objectifications of data have as- 
sured the removal of subjectivity from analysis (whether scientific or 
otherwise). The only way provided out of this tautology lies in 
Foucault's insistence that discursive practices are continuously active 
(amenable to and capable of change), reflexive, and instantiating. 

Foucault rejects the charge that his critique is structural, because 
le wishes to retain the "introduction of chance as a category in the 
production of events" albeit as an explicable occurrence, and to reject 
the "mechanically causal links" as the explanation for their 
Jistantiation (AK, p. 231). His interest in the new history of ideas de- 
rives from its application to discontinuities and its analysis of rup- 

170 Mark G. R. McManus: Communication, Postmodernism, and Postmodern Ethics 

tures. His rejection of structuralism derives, also, from his rejection of 
the event as "the domain of 'absolute contingency'", from his rejec- 
tion of analysis as the project to completely "evacuate the event" .^^ 
The event must remain indeterminate, but determinable. 

If statements remain functional, and discursive practices are de- 
termined by functional rules that objective statements "fall into", 
Foucault's archaeological projects remains intransigently structural. 
"Archaeology - and this is one of its principal themes - may thus 
constitute the tree of derivation of a discourse (AK, p. 147). Even by 
its allegorical nature, archaeology retains just that structurality that 
Foucault strives so hard to escape. This does not necessarily present 
for me the difficulty that it presents to Foucault. It does, however, 
place severe limits on his ability to recognize the determinacy of dis- 
cursive practice. That he is at least partially structuralist is not so dam- 
aging as his believing that he is not. I think that the reason for this lies 
in his fundamental critique of power in sociality. Foucault strives 
mightily to restrain valuation in his critique, yet relationships of power 
are so inherent in social knowledge, that to reject the charge of relativ- 
ity requires him to establish a methodology for deriving truth. To the 
extent that his truth is capable of generalization, we may be left with 
knowledge, in spite of his best efforts. 

Foucault's postmodernist project is an attempt to regenerate a clas- 
sical analysis of truth. Alisdair Maclntyre provides a fairly simple re- 
ality check on Foucault's project. Maclntyre, in After Virtue-'^, comes 
to nearly the same conclusions as Foucault. But, as a creator of theo- 
retical underpinnings of neoconservative social theory and philoso- 
phy, Maclntyre comes to his conclusion through a reactionary desire 
to return to premodernism (to negate modernism), not through any 
attempt to transcend the limits of modernism.^'' Here, indeed, is an 
example of Burke's identity /identification dialectic subsuming both 
theorists (A and not- A), as neither can subsume the other. A Burkeian 
transformation of language (or, rather, symbolic action) almost always 
assumes that sense of transformation that takes the form of "yes, and' 
or "no, but, and." 

Habermas, too, would find the identity /identification dialectic 
problematic. For him, the institutionalization of the public sphere into 
state and economic bureaucracies has transformed the arena of pub- 
lic discourse into a place where public discourse is consumed, rather 
than created (ST, p. 79-88, 181-195). Renovation of the public sphere 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 171 

with the "public" rationality necessary for communicative action re- 
mains the solution that can replace the structural constraints of lan- 
guage use. And, for Habermas, "only those analytic theories of mean- 
ing are instructive that start from the structure of linguistic expres- 
sion rather than from speakers' intentions (TCA, p. 275). 

For Burke, such a critical theory has little meaning, because of the 
integral nature of language-as-used as a determinant of human be- 
havior. He certainly recognizes the changes that take place in people's 
lives when language constitutes the terms of sociality. Burke would 
suggest that the fact that Habermas can analyze the structural changes 
of "public-icity" is a linguistic move in at least two ways. First, 
Habermas can only make his analysis through language use. Secondly, 
the changes themselves can only occur through language use, be- 
cause they are expressions of human sociality. For Burke, this is al- 
ways a given. Language is never without an adequate rationality, since 
for him "language" is always "equipment for living" (PLF, p. 293). 
Since language is that invitation toward a will to participate in cre- 
ation/definition of the world, rationalities are always assumed to be 
adequate, even if conflicting. Sometimes the conflict is insurmount- 
able, but the Burkeian notion of rhetoric places the ethical burden on 
humans to seek an adequate conciliation between an identification of 
with an identification with. 

Equipment for Living 

Burke proposes that a "sociological criticism" is concerned with 
the "various strategies which artists have developed with relation to 
the naming of situations" (PLF, p. 301). "These strategies size up the 
situations, name their structure and outstanding ingredients and name 
them in a way that contains an attitude toward them" (PLF, p. 1). For 
Burke, critical analysis of symbolic action can provide keys to the kinds 
of choices that people make to live in-the-world, and to the linguistic 
transformations people make to constitute their world. As a critic, 
Burke refuses to seek a reconstructed, ideal rationality (like Habermas) 
as the appropriate strategy to the human situation. The human world 
is created by the unique symbolicity of humans as they live in it; and 
people must use what is human about themselves to strategically en- 
compass that world. 

As an element of the acceptance /rejection of individual identifica- 
tion with, Burke finally sees criticism as a method to improve coop- 

172 Mark G. R. McManus: Communication, Postmodernism, and Postmodern Ethics 

eration in human relations. When conflict occurs, we have the option 
of responding to it materially or symbolically. Burke proposes that if 
a symbolic solution of possible, it is better than a material solution, 
because it is more humane (PLF, p. 312-313). Burke would not neces- 
sarily disagree with Foucault when the latter argues that "speech is 
no verbalization of conflicts and systems of domination, but that it is 
the very object of man's conflicts" (AK, p. 216). But for Burke, unlike 
Foucault, humans by constitution, live in interaction with each other, 
and with the institutions that they create together. A resolution of the 
situations that men and women find themselves in may occur through 
either cooperation or conflict, and humans can only cooperate through 
linguistic actions that they share with one another. Burke dedicates A 
Grammar of Motives "to the purification of war." To Burke this is the 
highest order of human activity: should identification with others be 
linguistically successful, material war might not prove necessary. Sym- 
bolic action as enunciated by Burke truly emancipates because it pro- 
vides adequate responses to the world. 

Ethics and Rhetoric 

There surely can be no surprise that communication (and rhetoric 
in particular) is mightily concerned with ethics. From the time that 
Isocrates made oratory a literary form and rhetoric the basis of classi- 
cal education-^'', to charges that media companies pander to their au- 
diences' basest interests, to the most recent politician's speech "on the 
issues" dismissed as "mere rhetoric", people communicating in a 
modernist mode have been charged with a readily discernable ab- 
sence of ethics. Isocrates had to defend himself against the charges of 
corrupting young men "by teaching them to speak and gain their own 
advantage in the courts contrary to justice. . ." and that he was "able 
to make the weaker cause appear the stronger. . . ."^° It may seem 
surprising as we near the 21st century, but Isocrates' rebuttals can 
point to concerns of ethical practices in postmodern communication. 
Part of his defense was that speaking well was an ethical requirement 
since, "it is not in the nature of man to attain a science by the posses- 
sion of which we can know positively what we should do or what 
we should say, in the next resort I hold that man to be wise who is 
able by his powers of conjecture to arrive generally at the best course. 
. . (A, p. 335 emphases added). Questions about truth and knowledge 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 173 

that concern postmodern theorists were being posited and defended 
2500 years ago. 

To look for ethical requirements of and guidelines for rhetorical 
practice in contemporary society, it is useful to return to Giddens' 
three characteristics of late modernism introduced above. A rhetori- 
cian or communicator that even vaguely recognizes these features must 
realize that they describe processes of sociality, rather than descrip- 
tions of society. As processes, they continually open up the arena of 
discourse to greater inclusiveness, as competing rationalities come 
into conflict. 

Increasing distantiation of time and place requires that the com- 
municator or the rhetorician look at discourse that surrounds these 
displacements. They point to, or reveal, content which analyzed, 
should offer insight to social processes that impact cultures in which 
they occur. How do we talk about and what happens when people 
telecommute? What are the differences in expressed value for differ- 
ent groups of societies? What social consequences occur in the eco- 
nomic merger and expansion of industrial and financial institutions 
into global, rather than local or national organizations? What values 
conflict? What is happening, for example, when different discourses 
conflict? The speeches of Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton, or the dis- 
course around the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) 
and the General Agreement on Tariff and Trade (GATT) provide seams 
of distantiation that illustrate dynamic cultural interests at work. Com- 
Imunicators/ rhetoricians must examine those seams of time-space 
distantiation to identify different pictures of social and cultural op- 
erations likely to emerge. They also bear the responsibility to realize 
that their own critiques continue the discourse in a meta-discursive 
way that further define and change the context in which they occur. 

The disembedding of social institutions by either symbolic tokens 
or expert systems also provides postmodern communicators with ethi- 
cal considerations. What are (to use Burke's phrases) the "god terms" 
or "devil terms" currently applied to institutional constructs? How 
io they change, and how are they challenged? What are family val- 
ues? What is the American dream, or environmentalism? How are 
positive or negative values ascribed to these symbolic tokens, and 
/vhy are they worth arguing about? What expert systems are taken 
or granted, or are under strain? What, for example, is the "criminal 
ustice" system? What is it supposed to do and why? What is educa- 

174 Mark G. R. McManus: Communication, Postmodernism, and Postmodern Ethics 

tion, and what should be its result? The ways these tokens and sys- 
tems are whipsawed by society offer both moments and structures of 
discursive activity that are important and illuminating to communi- 
cators and rhetorical critics alike. 

Finally a postmodernist recogrution of self-reflexivity should force 
both communicators and critics to examine the interpenetration of 
discourse in the creation of both society and individuals. 

The question becomes one of understanding the posi- 
tioning of the individual in the given language pattern 
and the relative change of altering that pattern, rather 
than one of a search for an absolute, universal beyond 
the given order, one that would somehow allow an al- 
ready defined human creature to emerge as if from its 
tutelage, or chains.^^ 

Self-reflexivity should force discourse into an arena where it is recog- 
nizably part of the creation of individuals and their cultures. 

Finally, ethical communications in contemporary society demands 
more than that we not lie to each other or always assume the superi- 
ority of our arguments. Our discourse and critique represent our con- 
tributions to the expansive plasticity of society, rather than simply a 
reflection of how society must or ought be. 


' Two recent examples include Fox, Charles J. and Hugh T. Miller, Postmodern Public 
Administration; Toward Discourse, (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, cl995) 
and Postmodern School Leadership, ed. Spencer J. Maxcy, (Westport CT: Praeger, 1994). 

^ Whalen, Susan, and George Cheney, "Review Essay: Contemporary Social Theory 
and Its Implications for Rhetorical and Communication Theory," Quarterly Journal 
of Speech, Vol. 77 (1991), 461-479. Henceforth cited as RE. 

^ Giddens, Anthony, The Consequences of Modernity, (Stanford: Stanford University 
Press, 1990), p.16-29. Henceforth cited as CM. 

* as in, e. g.. Weaver, Richard M., Language is Sermonic: Richard M. Weaver on the Na- 
ture of Rhetoric, ed. Richard L. Johannesen, Rennard Strickland, Ralph T. Eubanks, 
(Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Uruversity Press, 1970), p. 212-213; or Ideas Have 
Consequences, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948), p. 148-149. 

^ Baird, James, "Jungian Psychology in Criticism: Theoretical Problems," in Literary 
Criticism and Psychology, Ed. Joseph P. Strelka. Yearbook of Comparative Criticism, 
7, (University Park: Pennsylvania State Uruversity Press, 1976), p. 25. 

/^est Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 175 

^ Ricoeur, Paul, Lectures on Ideology and Utopia, ed. George H. Taylor, (New York: 
Columbia University Press, 1986), p. 11, 82, 256. Henceforth cited as LIU. 

'' Rosaldo, Renato, Culture & Truth: The Remaking of Social Analysis, (Boston: Beacon, 
1989), 104-105, 237. 

' Lentricchia, Frank, Criticism and Social Change, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 
1983), p. 70, 75. 

^ The first major methodological use of Burke's work with which I am familiar is 
Holland, Virginia L., "Kenneth Burke's Dramatistic Approach in Speech Criticism," 
Quarterly Journal of Speech, Vol. 41 (1955), p. 352-358. In many instances, her sugges- 
tions that Burke might be useful for the codification of rhetoric have remained the 
fullest use of Burke by rhetorical scholars. Frequently, conceptual constructs devel- 
oped by Burke have been used in particularly a mechanistic, methodological fash- 

" This insularity is peculiarly common. The major continental philosophers provid- 
ing the base for critical theory or postmodernism have taken little or no notice of 
Burke. Even Stephen Toulmin, who has been appropriated by rhetorical scholars 
makes no mention of Burke, although his recent work Cosmopolis: The Hidden Agenda 
of Modernity, (New York: Free Press, 1990), deals specifically with questions Burke 
dealt with in the 1940s and 1950s. Foucault and Habermas are apparently unaware 
of Burke, and, indeed, rarely address each other. Appropriations of communica- 
tions scholars is as insular. Whalen and Cheney recognize a major trend in 
postmodern rhetorical theory as a "'return of the actor'" (RE, p. 469). They seem 
unaware of a monograph of that title published by the French theorist Alain Touraine 
in 1984, available in English in 1988 {Return of the Actor: Social Theory in Postindustrial 
Society, trans. Myma Godzich, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988)). 
Such myopia is not new. Although in the U.S., Daniel Bell is credited with the con- 
cept of the "post-industrial society", Richard Sennett names Touraine as the origi- 
nator of both the term and the concept ("Foreward", The Voice and the Eye: An Analysis 
of Social Movements, by Alain Touraine, trans. Alan Duff (New York: Cambridge 
University Press, 1981), p. ix. 

^ e. g., Slagle, R. Anthony, "Ln Defense of Queer Nation: From Identity Politics to a 
Politics of Difference" , Western Journal of Communication, Vol. 59 (1995), p. 85-102. 

'^e. g. Chesebro, James W., ed. Extensions of the Burkeian System, Studies in Rhetoric 
and Communication, (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1993), and Brock, 
Bernard L., ed., Kenneth Burke and Contemporary European Thought: Rhetoric in Tran- 

j sition. Studies in Rhetoric and Communication, (Tusacaloosa: University of Ala- 
bama Press, 1995). 

Burke, Kermeth, The Philosophy of Literary Form: Studies in Symbolic Action, 3d ed., 
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973), p. 115. Henceforth cited as PLF. 
Indeed, even the physical nature of language noted here by Marx is most congenial 
to Burke's earliest formulations of symbolic action. In The Philosophy of Literary Form, 
Burke makes a motion (an action?) towards rank behaviorism in suggesting that 
bodily motions become correlated with critical, human attitudes. He cites Paget's 
theory of gesture speech in which "the origins of linguistic action" are correlated 
"with bodily action and posture", p. 103. 

176 Mark G. R. McManns: Communication, Postmodernism, and Postmodern Ethics 

'■^ Burke, Kenneth, On Symbols and Society, ed. Joseph R. Gusfield, The Heritage of 
Sociology, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), p. 54. 

'^^ Burke, Kenneth, Language As Symbolic Action: Essays on Life, Literature, and Method, 
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1966), p. 5. Henceforth cited as LASA. A 
useful analog here to natural sciences might be among the distinctions that Pepper 
draws of data, danda, and dubitanda (Pepper, Stephen C, World Hypotheses: A Study 
in Evidence, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1961, cl942), p. 47-70; or the 
distinctions among nondiscursive and extradiscursive practices (intervention) and 
cerebration drawn by Kitching (Kitching, Gavin N., Marxism and Science: An Analy- 
sis of an Obsession, (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994), p. 

'^ Habermas, Jiirgen, The Theory of Communicative Action: v. 1: Reason and the Rational- 
ization of Society, trans. Thomas McCarthy, (Boston: Beacon, 1984), p. 110. Hence- 
forth cited as TCA. 

"^ Habermas, Jiirgen, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into 
a Category of Bourgeois Society, trans. Thomas Berger, (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1989), 
p. 285-287. Henceforth cited as ST. 

''' Somewhere Burke notes that all living creatures are critics. What is implied here 
includes the values and functions I have of transcendence, and specific notions of 
"communication". We can assume, with Burke, that communication "means" a shar- 
ing of intersubjective signification. This is true only in a minimalist sense, however. 
In addition to this "adequate sharing", however, the communication scholar / rheto- 
rician ought not underestimate the importance of the transforming meaning that 
communication "consumers" bring to their participation (again that action + talk 
about that makes discourse a social practice). While meaning is shared, it is never 
entire, and never correct. Example: a network newscast about foreign affairs, which 
carries a film clip of Russian politicians, speaking in Russian, shares differing mean- 
ings, dependent on who hears it. A Serbian/ American in Chicago, an 
African- American in Mississippi, a journalism class in California derive meaning 
that bears differing relationship to intentions of any voice-over translator, the net- 
work, or the speaker. 

-" Burke, Kenneth, A Rhetoric of Motives, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 
1969), p. 10, 183-189. Henceforth cited as RM. 

-' Foucault, Michel, The Archaeology of Knowledge; and The Discourse on Language, trans. 
A.M. Sheridan Smith, (New York: Pantheon, 1972), p. 218. Henceforth cited as AK. 

" Burke, Kenneth, and Malcolm Cowley, The Selected Correspondence of Kenneth Burke 
and Malcobn Coivley, 1915-1981, ed. Paul Jay, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 
1990), p. 237. 

^"^ Brenkman, John, Culture and Domination, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1987), p. 

-'' Burke, Kenneth, A Grammar of Motives, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 
1969) p. xix. Henceforth cited as CM. 

^^ Foucault, Michel, Tinal Foucault, ed. James Bernauer and David Rasmussen, (Cam 
bridge: MIT Press, 1988), p. 2-5. Henceforth cited as FF. 

^•^ Foucault, Michel, Power/knowledge: Selected Interviews and other Writings, ed. C. Gor 
don, (New York: Pantheon, 1980), p. 113-114. 

West Georgia College Studies in the Social Sciences, XXXIII, 1995 177 

^^ Maclntyre, Alisdair, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, (Notre Dame: University 
of Notre Dame Press, 1981), p. 114-153. ' 

^^ Maclntyre, Alisdair, WJtose Justice? Wltose Rationality?, (Notre Dame: University of 
Notre Dame Press, 1988). 

^' Kennedy, George A., Classical Rhetoric and Its Christian and Secular Tradition from 
Ancient to Modern Times, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1980), p. 
31. Isocrates, 436-338 B.C., left at least two works, Antidosis, and Against the Soph- 
ists, that reveal the classical view of language held by both Foucault and Maclntyre 
had by his time been seriously challenged and severely eroded. 

^° Isocrates, Antidosis, in vol. 3, Isocrates, in three vohunes, trans. George Norlin, (Cam- 
bridge: Harvard University Press, 1957-1968), 203, 193. 

^' Poster, Mark, "The Mode of Information and Postmodernity" in Communication 
Theory Today, ed. David Crowley and David Mitchell, (Stanford: Stanford Univer- 
sity Press, 1994), p. 190. 


+ZP 1637 997 34 



Tohin Hart • Peter L. Nelson • Kaisa Puhakka 


spiritual Knowing^an ir^g:af?j:«!>!^fv 
Alternative Epistemic Perspectives' 

Tobin Hart 
Peter L. Nelson 

Kaisa Puhakka 


State University of West Georgia 

Studies in the Social Sciences 

Volume XXXIV 

January 1997 

spiritual Knowing 
Alternative Epistemic Perspectives 

Tobin Hart 
Peter L. Nelson 
Kaisa Puhakka 


Volume 34 of 
the State University of West Georgia Studies in the Social Sciences 

Copyright 1997 

State University of West Georgia 

CarroUton, GA30118 

ISBN: 1-883199'07'7 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may he reproduced in any form - except for a brief 
quotation in a review or professional work - without permission. 


Introduction 1 

An Invitation to Authentic Knowing 5 

Kaisa Puhakka 

Spiritual Inquiry 25 

Donald Rothberg 

Inspiration 49 

Tobin Hart 

Mystical Experience and Radical Deconstruction: 

Through the Ontological Looking Glass 72 

Peter L. Nelson 

Revolution at Centerpoint: 

Divesting the Mind, Dismantling the Self 98 

Fred J. Hanna 

Transpersonal Psychotherapy: 

The Clinical Importance of Beginner's Mind and Compassion 124 


Spiritual Knowing in Psychotherapy: 

A Holistic Perspective 142 

Gary F. Kelly 

Divination: Pathway to Intuition 160 

Kenneth E. Fletcher 

Runic Knowing: Revisioning the Oracle 180 

Joyce C. Gibb 

I Know the Heather Song: 

Exploring a Gaelic Epistemic 204 

Jessica Syme 

Contributors 221 


Special thanks to Richard Miller, Dean of the College of Arts and Sci- 
ences at West Georgia, Glen Novak, Assistant Dean, and to Don Rice, Chair 
of the Department of Psychology for their support of this project. Their con- 
tinuing support for this series helps to maintain a clearing where fresh ideas in 
the social sciences can find expression. 

Cover Art: Gary Lichtenstein and SOMA International Galleries in San Fran- 
cisco graciously provided the cover art. The painting is entitled From time to 
time (oil on canvas, 56" x 90"). Sincere thanks. We find common resonance 
in the art and the ideas expressed in this volume and look forward to continu- 
ing collaboration. 


The preeminence oi a narrow form of rational empiricism as the highest 
form of knowing has been a pervasive influence on Western thought causing a 
skewing of modernist epistemic style. This has served to reinforce the view 
that the normal waking state is the ground from which all "legitimate" know- 
ing must emerge. Ultimately this leads to a myopic view of the world; one 
that, at its best, may penetrate deeply but also very narrowly. It only serves to 
confirm a priori ontological beliefs. The rational empirical knife can cut through 
to the level of the atom and beyond, but it only discloses the material struc- 
ture. Other, complementary ways of knowing are needed to gain a full picture 
of what is before us and what is inside us. Rational empiricism can never re- 
veal the experience of consciousness (although it may identify corresponding 
neurological phenomena), it can not disclose the nature of being human, of 
love, deep empathy, of God or emptiness. 

The emergence of transpersonal psychology has fostered renewed interest 
in altered states of consciousness and peak experiences, as well as a redrawing 
of the developmental maps upward to include the sage, saint, artist, and hero. 
At the center of these considerations is the question of how we know what we 
know. Despite the long tradition of mystic knowing and of indigenous rituals 
and various practices for shifting consciousness and awareness, alternative forms 
of knowing are often dismissed as fantasy or pathology. They have also often 
remained private or disowned for fear of ridicule precluding clear, open and 
critical exploration of various ways of knowing. This occlusion has resulted in 
a culture that is developmentally delayed in its capacity to know. 

In this volume spiritual knowing is most frequently described as a more 
direct encounter than the view through the lens of objectivism and conven- 
tional science. It is an experience that is often invited by a shift in the normal 
waking state or through an expansion in awareness. The subject-object dis- 
tinction often becomes blurred or disappears entirely, and new worlds and 
understandings emerge as our awareness grows. This occurrence may come 
about through the practice of meditation, in a moment of inspiration, through 
the cultivation of a witness consciousness, through a divinatory process, or in 
radical deconstruction. 

With this volume we bring together scholarly commentary on various forms 
of alternative epistemics that we are referring to as spiritual knowing. It is 
intended to articulate, with as much precision as possible, several different 
epistemic means. Each author's direct knowing is the ground from which these 

articles are written. The nuances of the epistemic are described from the in- 
side and many are quite personal. 

Our goal is to bring these ideas into the light of open-minded yet intellec- 
tually discriminating dialogue. The hope is to invite continuing development 
of ways of knowing so that we might better contact and recognize the depths 
of our relationship with matter, mind, culture and spirit. 

We begin this volume with the idea of Authentic Knowing, defined as 
"knowing by and for oneself," which involves a direct contact between knower 
and known in which the usual self experience and its intentional structure 
changes and may dissolve altogether. In this first chapter Kaisa Puhakka ex- 
plores the nature of authentic knowing as well as some cultural and psycho- 
logical defenses against it. She then provides a phenomenological analysis of 
the shift from intentionally structured consciousness to direct knowing as 
awareness and offers a brief experiential journey through this shift. Finally, 
she suggests that bliss, perfection and love are not the exclusive qualities of 
mystical experiences but are present in any moment of knowing. 

Donald Rothberg then considers ancient methods (those used by Plato 
and Buddha, among others) of systematic spiritual inquiry or knowing and 
explores their value to contemporary culture. He suggests that there are meth- 
ods that seem to be similar to what we might call deep questioning, systematic 
observation, and critical analysis that focus on spiritual questions. He then 
explores the complexities of relating these mainly premodem approaches to 
contemporary natural and human sciences and then asks whether new meth- 
ods of inquiry are needed to explore and express spiritual knowing in a con- 
temporary fashion. 

Tobin Hart explores the experience of inspiration as a form of knowing, 
one that has significance not only for the great artist or mystic but for any one 
of us. The evidence of inspiration challenges the baseline of our normal wak- 
ing state and with it the norms of how we know the world. Descriptions oi 
contemporary mental health concerns are revealed as similar, if not the same, 
as descriptions of the lack of inspiration. He argues that our epistemic style 
may have a direct bearing on the quality of our overall psychological-spiritual 

In the transpersonal literature mystical experience is most often consid- 
ered as the sine qua non of spiritual experience and is believed to lead to a 
unique epistemic frame from which ultimate reality is known. Peter Nelson 
examines his own mystical experience in order to raise a fundamental ques- 
tion about the onticity implied by such knowing. To accomplish this task he 
examines the mechanism through which spiritual knowing arises and then 
reframes this process with the aid of William James' Radical Empiricism and 
the critical process known as Deconstruction. He concludes that spiritual know- 

ing and the ongoing process of deconstmcting our epistemic frames of refer- 
ence are one and the same. 

Fred Hanna describes the scope and limits of centeredness in the context 
of his own experience of three decades of meditative practice. His descrip- 
tions are of the interior landscape of his consciousness through the various 
rhythms and stages of his growth. The focus is on the changes at the center of 
consciousness or at the core level of self that is the result of his meditation. He 
regards the center as a pivotal point in the progression of consciousness. 

The traditional approach of the psychotherapy profession to altered states 
of consciousness and spiritual awareness has been to diagnose their dysfunc- 
tional dimension and to generate treatment plans intended to return clients 
to conventional forms of waking consciousness. In his chapter on transpersonal 
psychotherapy, Greg Jemsek proposes that certain altered states — beginner's 
mind and compassion — serve to link client and therapist to a transpersonal 
perspective significantly more useful in addressing client issues than the ego- 
based perspectives normally employed by clinicians. The author proposes that 
the non-dualistic nature of these two altered states increases the likelihood 
that therapist and client will act with a spiritual authenticity rather than in 
accordance with the norms and typical behaviors usually manifest in the pro- 
fessional setting. 

Gary Kelly then explores the many different levels of spiritual knowing 
that may be manifested in psychotherapeutic process. He emphasizes the sig- 
nificance of the shared experience of growth and development for both client 
and therapist, and examines the common characteristics of spirituality and 
psychotherapy. Using a series of case examples, a four-level model is presented 
that can increase the likelihood of spiritual knowing as a psychotherapeutic 
interaction unfolds. The model assumes a holistic perspective of human na- 
ture and healing, and offers a sequential approach for balancing and stabiliz- 
ing the body, strengthening the sense of personal identity; developing inner 
control mechanisms for energy use; opening the heart; increasing the abilities 
to detach from ego entanglements; and accessing intuitive wisdom. 

Ken Fletcher suggests that intuition and divination operate in strikingly 
similar ways. Both provide information about how present circumstances have 
come to be and how they are likely to develop in the future. This chapter 
argues that when properly practiced, divination can help the practitioner de- 
liberately evoke personally meaningful intuitive knowledge — a basis for spiri- 
tual knowing. It also argues that the ability of divination to access intuitive 
knowledge is easily tested. However, because it is in the nature of intuitive 
knowledge that it must be experienced to be believed, the test depends upon 
a sincere effort to practice a system of divination. How the interested reader 

might carry out such an experiment is explained and illustrated with the tran- 
script of an actual Tarot card reading. 

Joyce Gibb explores the epistemic framework of oracular knowing, with 
specific reference to the Runes as an oracle o{ choice for spiritual seekers in 
our Western culture. A working model for Runecasting in the context of psy- 
chotherapy is presented. Connections with the Jungian construct of 
synchronicity are explored, and attention is given to the importance of con- 
ducting oracular work within the expectation of a self-chosen future. Implica- 
tions of retrodictive vs. predictive use of the oracle are outlined along with 
validation of the oracular process as found in a number of postmodern natural 
science disciplines. She suggests a reconciliation between the polarized posi- 
tions of modern and postmodern thinkers regarding such concepts as Magical 
Thinking and the phenomenon of spiritual knowing. 

Jessica Syme ends the volume in mythic-poetic style as she introduces the 
reader to a painted stage which sits behind the Scottish Gaelic play of life. 
She brings together the perspective of medical anthropology and a deep ap- 
preciation of the subtleties of ancient spiritual knowing in the Gaelic culture. 
It is a play in which the audience, the reader, is invited to participate. She 
presumes to hold a mirror up to some of that ancient wisdom hoping it will 
reflect a little of what was lost back onto the tradition it was lost to, namely 
Western medicine. 

An Invitation to Authentic Knowing 

Kaisa Puhakka 

A Taste of Knowing 

Like many children, I often dreamed of God, and Heaven seemed near — 
perhaps just on the other side of the sunlit crowns of the tall pine trees that 
towered over the playground. I longed to know God directly and without in- 
termediaries. Faith did not satisfy me; I wanted to know authentically, by myself, 
for myself. At age 1 1 while saying my evening prayers, such knowing opened 
up to me — or rather I opened up to it. In this knowing, all that could be said 
in a prayer had already been said and heard, and the One to whom 1 would 
have directed my prayer was already where my prayer originated. 1 stopped in 
my tracks, was thrown off all tracks, into an openness to what was always, 
already everywhere present. The sense of knowing that came with it was noth- 
ing like what I had learned in Sunday school. I could have asked my elders for 
explanations, so I could go on praying as before. But I did not do so, for this 
knowing was somehow more enlivening than any explanation they could have 
given me and more satisfying than the praying I had done in the past. 

Later, 1 delved deeply into the spiritual and religious traditions both East- 
em and Western, and found ways of knowing there. Though the ways as well 
as objectives varied vastly among the traditions, the knowing itself was always 
the same, a direct contact between knower and known that obliterates their 
distinction altogether, if only for a split second. The discovery of this was 
itself an act of knowing. Through meditative practice, I learned to enter into 
altered states that were sometimes quite sublime and similar to those described 
by mystics. Needless to say, these experiences were the major mileposts on my 
spiritual journey. 

Knowing and States of Consciousness 

Eventually, I made a discovery that had an even greater impact on my life 
and work than did the mystical experiences. 1 came to see that this direct 
knowing was not the same as an altered state. Certain states of consciousness 
facilitate knowing (just as others hinder it), but the coming together of knower 
and known is not itself a state of consciousness. Some altered states are ex- 
traordinary and have an intense emotional impact, yet little knowing occurs 
in them. For example, certain states of yogic absorption described in Hindu 
and Buddhist literature (Aranya, 1981; Rahula, 1974) are associated with heav- 

An Invitation to Authentic Knowing 

enly, blissful vistas quite unlike anything found in this world. Yet afterwards 
one may be left with just a vague longing for a paradise lost without any gain 
in knowing or connectedness to the world in which one lives. Some altered 
states, on the other hand, are associated with moments of knowing profound 
enough to change the person's life. 

From the descriptions of such states, provided by religous saints, mystics 
and ordinary people, it is impossible to tell whether the experience did nor did 
not have a transformative effect on the person. Consider, for example, the 
experience of a 17 year old youth in which he, without any physical reason, 
suddenly found himself in a most palpable and terrifying encounter with death, 
only to realize within the inert silence of his body that he was Spirit tran- 
scending the body, a deathless "I." The description continues in his own words 
as follows: "All this was not dull thought; it flashed through me vividly as 
living truth which I perceived directly, almost without thought-process. T 
was something very real, the only real thing about my present state, and all 
the conscious activity connected with my body was centered on that 'I'." 
(Osborne, 1971, p. 10) 

As far as mystical experiences go, there is nothing extraordinary about this 
description. What is extraordinary is that the knowing accessed in this expe- 
rience stayed with the youth for the rest of his life., "Absorption in the Self 
continued unbroken from that time on," he reports (Osborne, 1971, p. 10). 
The youth was Ramana Maharshi, who, after that experience, became one of 
the greatest spiritual teachers of this century . 

Often enough, however, the experience fades away in a matter of hours or 
days, and with it the insights and illuminations, however vivid and profound 
at the time, fade as well. Alterations in states of consciousness are associated 
with (not necessarily caused by) changes in physiological arousal patterns. 
They may be minor variations within normal consciousness or major shifts 
into and out of drastically altered states. What we remember, or know about, 
can depend on the state of consciousness. Information learned while intoxi- 
cated is often forgotten in a subsequent state of sobriety, only to be remem- 
bered the next time when the person gets intoxicated. Some researchers (e.g., 
Fischer, 1980; Tart, 1975) theorize that everything about mental and psychic 
functioning may be state-dependent, so that one moves 

from one waking state to another waking state; from one dream 
to the next; one amobarbital narcoanalysis session to the next; 
from LSD to LSD; from epileptic aura to aura; from one creative, 
artistic, religious, or psychotic inspiration or possession to an- 
other creative, artistic, religious, or psychotic experience; from 
trance to trance; and from reverie to reverie. (Fischer, 1980, p. 

Kaisa Puhakka 

Everything that can be known or represented as a content of experience 
may indeed be subject to the influence of states. Knowing, however, is not 
state-dependent. This is because the act of knowing is not a state of con- 
sciousness. It is not a structure but rather an activity that can provide con- 
nectedness across states and effect transformations more substantial and last- 
ing than fluctuations in states of consciousness (Aranya, 1981 ; Puhakka, 1995 ). 
For most people, authentic knowing, by which 1 mean knowing by direct con- 
tact, is fleeting and sporadic, if it happens at all. But for some, such knowing is 
a way of being. Ram Dass' guru, Baba Neem Karolie, is a rare example of the 
latter. When Ram Dass gave him some LSD, it apparently had no effect on 
him. The amount of LSD Ram Dass reports witnessing his guru ingest was 
thrice the usual dose. (Ram Dass, 1971). In this volume, Hanna describes 
moving out of a mescaline-induced state of consciousness into awareness un- 
affected by the drug. A less spectacular feat that many people are able to 
perform is to pay mindful attention to their state, for example, while drinking 
alcohol, thereby increasing the degree of continuity between the intoxicated 
and sober states. An unexpected calamity or accident sometimes forces a per- 
son to suddenly become very attentive and "sober up." Knowing is thus not a 
state of consciousness but an activity of awareness that can integrate states of 

Openness and Discernment 

Recognizing the difference between knowing and states of consciousness 
helped demystify the subject for me and opened up possibilities of knowing in 
contexts other than those in which altered states are deliberately induced, 
such as ingestion of drugs or certain kinds of formal meditative practice. Later 
on, as a psychotherapist and supervisor, 1 witnessed and participated in the 
coming together of knower and known in the precious moments of insight 
that sometimes shifted the lives of clients and students. These moments var- 
ied greatly in profundity and transformative capacity, but they all involved, 
lowever fleetingly, a melting away of a barrier either within one of the person's 
psyche or within the interpersonal ambiance between the two persons. 

In psychotherapy and other interpersonal contexts, it became obvious that 
knowing has much to do with empathy. Empathy is the capacity to under- 
stand another person's experience (or one's own) with such intimacy as to be 
able to touch the interiority of this person's psyche and, from the viewpoint of 
that interiority, "feel with" him or her. Empathy thus understood is very differ- 
ent from narcissistic identification in which the other's viewpoint is assimi- 
lated into one's own and also different from projection in which one imposes 
one's own viewpoint upon the other. There are conditions that facilitate em- 
pathy, such as emotional responsiveness to the other and resonance with his 

An Invitation to Authentic Knowing 

or her cultural and idiosyncratic meanings. What is essential to empathy, how- 
ever, is a direct contact that is nonverbal and mutually recognized, even if not 
always verbally acknowledged. 

Thinking of knowing as empathy and contact helps highlight something 
that is very important about it; namely, it does not seize or possess its object. 
Like a bird in flight that leaves no trace, the touch of knowing does not grab 
but leaves things as they are. Contact is openness, or an opening. This point 
bears emphasizing, as the more common understanding of contact is that it 
closes upon and seizes its object, as when a fist closes upon a coin to hold it. 
Holding, however, arrests and controls. Whether done lovingly or harshly, 
holding is not the same as making contact. Holding arrests by creating a bar- 
rier, whereas contact occurs to the degree that there is openness or freedom 
from barriers. For the less than fully enlightened beings that most of us are, 
the openness is a matter of degree. We could envision regions^ of openness 
that come into existence when contact occurs and disappear when contact is 
not there. The regions vary in size depending on the depth of contact. Within 
such a region, freedom from barriers of all kind, internal as well as external, 
creates an unbounded opening; something that appears close to, if not identi- 
cal with, Heidegger's (1962) notion of "clearing." Contact is a clearing for 
awareness to discern what is there. 

Discernment is essential to knowing, just as contact is. Let me clarify what 
I mean by discernment and how discernment differs from discrimination. Dis- 
crimination presupposes distinctions already operative in thinking and per- 
ception, whereas discernment is intrinsic to awareness. We could say that 
discernment is the " light" of awareness that "shows" or "reveals." For ex- 
ample, in the context of a mystical experience, one could conceivably "dis- 
cern" the Ground of Being that is intrinsic to All, but one could not "dis- 
criminate" it since there is nothing with which it contrasts. Discernment is an 
activity of awareness that may be present not just in extraordinary and mysti- 
cal experiences but in perfectly "ordinary," everyday experiences as well. 

The presence of discernment is evident whenever fresh insights occur, 
when one notices what goes unnoticed by others in one's field of expertise, 
perhaps in one's entire culture, or within one's own or another person's psyche. 
William James's (1890/1983) description of the stream of consciousness exem- 
plifies such freshness of insight, of seeing what others had missed. Other psy- 
chologists of the time who took themselves to be empirical scientists (e.g., 
Wundt and Titchener) had described the data of the senses and their associa- 
tions — these were the basic "elements" from which complex experience were 
built. James, was able to turn his attention to what had been assumed to be 
empty space between the elements and saw the "fringes" and "transitory parts" 
(p. 236) between the elements, saw that whatever one focused on, even the 

Kaisa Puhakka 

fringes themselves had further fringes. Thus he came to reject the atomistic 
paradigm of his colleagues that viewed consciousness as an empty container of 
discontinuous bits and pieces of sensation in favor of a holistic paradigm in 
which consciousness is a continuous stream. 

What enabled James to turn his attention to what others had not noticed? 
Where others had settled for assumptions about elements and empty space, 
James (1967), true to his radical empiricism, was willing to make contact afresh, 
to hold himself out to an openness where novelty could be discerned. Con- 
tact, which we now understand to be openness, and discernment, are insepa- 
rable as the two sides of knowing. 

"Knowing" and "Having Knowledge" 

I have talked about "knowing" as an act or activity. Others who have ap- 
preciated the active mode in knowing, most notably Brentano, Husserl and 
later phenomenologists, have taken intentionality to be essential to this act. 
Knowing (or "consciousness"), for these thinkers, is "of something. The trouble 
with taking intentionality to be essential is that it shifts the focus to the in- 
tended object or content, no matter how much one wishes to stay with the 
intentional act itself. It appears to me that the moment of knowing is already 
gone by the time one becomes aware of an object as object, as something that 
presents itself to a subject and is capable of being described and reflected upon. 
The "knowing" investigated in this chapter happens prior to its forming into 
an intention, prior to there being anything of which one could " have knowl- 

"Knowing" and "having knowledge" may be distinguished as follows. 
"Knowing" is a moment of awareness in which contact occurs between the 
knower and the known. This contact is nonconceptual, nonimaginal, 
nondiscursive, and often extremely brief. "Having knowledge," on the other 
hand consists of descriptive or interpretive claims to the effect that "such- 
and-such is the case." The distinction between knowing and knowledge is not 
merely conceptual or logical; it is empirical and temporal. That is, the mo- 
ment of contact is an actual event, however brief in duration, that precedes 
making knowledge claims. This moment may be accompanied by mental im- 
ages, impressions or thoughts. But whether or not such mental contents are 
present, these are not what is being contacted in knowing. Rather, what is 
contacted are, to borrow Husserl's terms, "things themselves." The act of con- 
tact breaks out of our solipsistic representational world of images and mean- 
ings, and also out of the collective solipsism of socially determined meanings, 
into genuine, empathic interconnectedness'. 

One of the most valuable contributions of postmodern thought is to em- 
phasize that "knowledge" is necessarily contextual. The knower is immersed 

An Invitation to Authentic Knowing 

within the context that separates him or her from the content. The con- 
text can never be completely turned into content, and so it remains the un- 
knowable horizon that leaves knowledge necessarily incomplete and fragmen- 
tary. A state of consciousness, including beliefs and feelings that one is aware 
of as well as others buried in the subconscious, forms such a context." Con- 
text" is simply an extension of "state of consciousness." Knowledge is always 
"had" in some state of consciousness or other, and its content is bound by the 
context formed by that state and its psychological, social, cultural etc. con- 
tingencies. The boundaries between states form the limits of what is known at 
any given time. Shifts from one state (and context) to another introduce 
discontinuities and fragmentation of experience. These discontinuities are 
subtle enough to pass unnoticed when one is immersed in the content of ex- 
perience, but they become evident when one pays close attention to the mo- 
ment to moment flow of experience through the shifting contexts 

Knowing, on the other hand, provides connectedness and integration of 
experience across contexts. Even though it occurs in a context, being devoid 
of content, it is free of contextual influence. But because it has no content 
knowing is extremely subtle and so tends to pass unnoticed. What is typically 
noticed are the content of mental images and thoughts that accompany or 
follow it. When the entire experience during the moment of contact is taken 
to be "about" this content, a shift from knowing to having knowledge occurs. 
A handshake provides a palpable illustration. The actual contact between 
the hands may be missed under a deluge of images and thoughts propelled by 
desires or fears and various personal agendas the participants may have con- 
cerning their meeting. Yet something in the moment of contact between the 
hands may inform these thoughts and images as well, even when the actual 
contact was barely noticed. For discernment naturally and spontaneously 
operates in the openness of contact, however fleeting it may be. 

Dimensions of Contact and Discernment 

The quality of contact and of discernment varies along three dimensions. 
First, there are degrees o{ contactfulness or depth. These are associated with a 
shift from discernment of the exteriors or surfaces of things to an awareness 
that reaches increasingly to the interior of things. Second, the permeability of 
the participants in the contact varies from "solid" or impermeable to increas- 
ingly "porous" or permeable. The quality of discernment likewise changes from 
"opaque" to increasingly "transparent" and "spacious." Third, there are vary- 
ing degrees of aliveness, wakefulness or presence, associated with contact. Pres- 
ence, depth and permeability in turn are associated with a subtle but increas- 
ingly discernible sense of wellbeing or even bliss that seems intrinsic to aware- 
ness itself. 


Kaisa Puhakka 

The three dimensions of contact and discernment are mutually depen- 
dent. For example, the greater the depth of contactfulness, the more perme- 
able and less solid are the things that come into contact. Also, the more 
presence, aliveness, and wakefulness the greater the experienced contactfulness. 
The handshake, though a relatively crude example of knowing, again serves 
to illustrate the interplay of these features. Thus the depth or contactfulness 
of a handshake can vary from a perfunctory act that barely touches the sur- 
faces of flesh to an electrified comingling of the interiors of living bodies and 
minds. The perfunctory shake tends to be experienced as a contact between 
the surfaces of two solid objects, whereas a firm, inviting handshake that mu- 
tually engages the participants tends to be experienced as a much more per- 
meable contact, perhaps even as a momentary entry into a shared space. The 
latter type of handshake is also likely to be accompanied by an awakening 
that enlivens the participants' minds and bodies for minutes or perhaps hours 
afterwards (and, of course, may also stir up mental images and fantasies — not 
to be mistaken for knowing). 

Let me pause for a moment here to clarify the meanings of some words used 
above. The words "permeable," "solid," "surface," and "interior" are meant to 
be taken in as precise and nonmetaphorical sense as language allows. We are 
accustomed to reserving these words for physical things. But they are just as 
applicable to what we usually take to be mental phenomena (Tulku, 1977, 
1987). Thus, there is a kind of "solidity" that mental images and thoughts 
possess that is similar to the solidity of physical objects. Like physical objects, 
mental images are in varying degrees permeable. When they are solid, they 
tend to clash with other images and thoughts, and deflect attempts to make 
contact. The more permeable they are, the more they reveal their interiors 
and interconnections. Generally speaking, immersion in the content of men- 
tal images and thoughts lends them solidity. For these contents only manifest 
surface meanings while their interiors remain occluded, hidden within the 
contextual (cultural, linguistic, intrapsychic, etc.) underpinnings that give 
rise to them. On the other hand, a detached obervation of mental activity, 
such as is cultivated in certain meditative practices (see e.g., Thera, 1988; 
Young, 1993), reveals the contours of the objects as changing and more per- 
meable, and as continuous with their interiors and contextual bases. 

Appreciating the qualities of relative permeability in both physial and psy- 
chical phenomena helps soften the dualism of body and psyche. It becomes 
easy to see that a handshake is not just a physical analogy but an actual in- 
stance of knowing. Body is capable of knowing, and so is psyche. The do- 
mains of knowing may differ, but the knowing in both cases involve direct 
:ontact. An empathic touch that involves no physical contact can be subtler 
ind deeper and involve greater permeability of the participants. In some in- 


An Invitation to Authentic Knowing 

Stances, their boundaries may altogether dissolve into a moment of radical 
openness of a shared space of awareness. 

Another dualism that begins to loosen is that of "subjective" vs. "objec- 
tive." The coming together of the subject and object, or the knower and the 
known, in the act of knowing obliterates their distinction in the moment of 
contact. To be sure, the coming together may not be complete but rather a 
matter of degree, depending on the depth of the contact or the permeability of 
the participants in the contact. To the degree that contact occurs, it involves 
an ontological shift — it is not a matter of the subject "viewing" the object but 
rather the subject is now "being" the object. But note: the subject is not being 
the object "in" his or her subjective experience or viewpoint. By "ontological 
shift" 1 mean a shift not just from one viewpoint to another by the "same" 
subject but a shift in the constitution of the viewing subject. In other words, a 
transformation of the subject takes place. As contact deepens and permeabil- 
ity increases, the isolated "subject" is transformed into a connected 
"intersubject." Knowing is not merely a subjective experience of assimilating 
the object. In interpersonal contexts, the mutuality of the contact in em- 
pathic knowing attests to the fact that the knowing transcends the boundaries 
of subjectivity and is genuinely intersubjective. But even to call this way of 
being "intersubjective" is a bit misleading for it is not something that happens 
between distinct "subjects." Thich Nhat Hanh's (1995) term "interbeing" cap- 
tures the ontological shift better. It refers to the mutual connectedness of all 
things, human and nonhuman, living and nonliving. Knowing, then, is aware- 
ness of interbeing even as one is interbeing. 

The Taboo Against Knowing 

Anyone who has tried to be aware is likely to have discovered that this is 
quite tricky — now awareness is there, now it is gone, and when it is gone, we 
don't know that it's gone, until it's there again. The attempt to take hold of 
awareness launches a strange hide-and-seek game — thinking tries to capture 
awareness, and awareness, being devoid of qualities or form through which it 
could be identified, eludes capture. When thinking has its way, the unthink- 
ability of awareness suffices as proof of the latter's nonexistence, and the game 
ends right there. But awareness can sometimes tempt the curiosity of think- 
ing, and another round of the game then ensues — thinking now attempts to 
hold on to awareness but, unable to grab hold of any form or quality that 
would sustain it in this activity, thinking begins to disappear. It may, for a 
moment, fizzle out of existence altogether. To see how this happens, just try to 
think of awareness — not thoughts, images, or memories o{ awareness, but 
awareness itself! Much like a snake swallowing its own tail, thinking now 
becomes an utterly self-defeating project. So in an act of self-preservation, 


Kaisa Puhakka 

thinking quickly recoils from awareness. The familiar preoccupations of think- 
ing return, and the open horizons that for a moment had surrounded, per- 
vaded and undermined its usually solid basis are soon closed off. But perhaps 
not before it glimpsed what is most alarming of all — the insubstantiality of 
the self, the very thinker who undertook this project in the first place (Loy, 

Thinking, understood as mental-cognitive activity in the broadest sense, 
affirms the existence of the subjective self in an act of reflection. But more 
than affirm, thinking and reflecting create and recreate the sense of self in 
endless mental activity. The self has no existence apart from such activity, 
and this activity in turn is traceable to the workings of language, culture and 
social environment.The existence of the subjective self is thus precariously 
dependent on the constructive activity of thinking. But the reverse also seems 
to be the case — the sense of self, or of subject, appears to be essential to 
thinking. Without a center of subjectivity, thinking would seem impossible 
— at the very least, the lack of center raises the frightening specter of being 
lost in a schizophrenic-like confusion and disorganization. 

Not surprisingly, thinking is deeply disdainful of the prospect of awareness 
operating free of its control. For in such a prospect thinking contemplates its 
own demise. And in so far as our self-identity is vitally dependent on think- 
ing, we contemplate the annihilation of our selves. So we, as thinking selves, 
regard awareness with unease and suspicion, perhaps contempt and derision, 
that belie a fear of madness worse than death — a fear that the self already is 
and always has been nonexistent (Loy, 1992), and that we are capable of know- 
ing this, perhaps already know, if only we let ourselves. For every act of know- 
ing, however fleeting and mundane, dissolves the self in the moment of con- 

Knowing, then, is extremely dangerous from the point of view of the self 
we think we are. Foucault (1980) has called attention to the danger authentic 
knowing poses to the power elite in the dynamics of social oppression. The 
danger we are exploring here intrudes into the intimacy of our psyche, threat- 
ening not only the power role of the self as the owner of our being but expos- 
ing its very existence as ephemeral and hollow to the core. Only when the 
threat that knowing poses to the self's very existence is fully appreciated can 
we understand why the moments of knowing are so rare and when they do 
occur, why they tend to be instantly forgotten. There is a taboo against know- 
ing buried deep within the human psyche that is more powerful, more pro- 
found than the taboo against sex or even against death.' All good parents 
want their children to grow into responsible adults, well informed and capable 
of love and work, capable of taking responsibility for their lives, making deci- 
sions for themselves. But do parents want their children to be capable of 


An Invitation to Authentic Knowing 

knowing for themselves? Probably it does not even occur to them that they 
could want such a thing, or that their children (or themselves) could have the 
capacity for knowing. This is how a taboo works — what is forbidden is not 
even known to be forbidden (Laing, 1972). 

Perversions of Knowing 

Rather than knowing, many children grow up coping. Coping perverts 
knowing by aborting the aspiration for contact inherent in a genuine desire to 
know. Coping refers to the ways in which people seek to reduce anxiety and 
satisfy their needs. Astute observers of human nature (e.g.. Homey, 1950; Laing, 
1965, 1972; Miller, 1981) have noted the mixed blessing that our mechanisms 
of coping bring to our lives — the gifts of security and satisfaction are bought 
at the price of one's own authentic experience and truth. This being so, cop- 
ing can never deliver full satisfaction, and the anxiety never goes away com- 
pletely. In its subtler manifestations, coping refers to our very personality and 
"styles" of knowing and being. Usually we think of "personality style" as some- 
thing that makes a person who he or she is and accounts for the unique flavor 
and patterns of creativity as well as of stagnation in his or her life. A personal- 
ity style is, indeed, all of these. It provides form and containment to creative 
expression. The more flexible the style, the more accommodating of creativ- 
ity it is. However, the agenda of minimizing anxiety or warding off threat that 
is inherent in a "style" aborts knowing even as the person reaches out in the 
attempt to know. The project of knowing then remains incomplete, unfin- 
ished, to be continued in a repetition of the same pattern that titillates yet 
frustrates the need to know. In this way, a style is a self-feeding pattern that, 
with self-identification and growing attachment, tends to solidify into "who I 
am" or "personality." 

All styles are designed to abort contact. Some do it by pulling back from 
openness, others from discernment. Most people manifest a capacity for either 
openness or discernment, but rarely for both. Some seem very open, always 
willing to be surprised, awed, astonished by what is happening around them. 
Yet these same people often are impressionistic and forgetful and tend not to 
pay attention to detail or be concerned about clarity. On the other hand, 
others seem to have a remarkable capacity for discernment; they have excel- 
lent concentration and their attention catches the subtlest of detail with great 
clarity. Yet these people often do not seem very open and don't like to be 
surprised by the unexpected. I have sketched here the familiar "hysterical" 
and "obsessive-compulsive" styles described by Shapiro (1965). In their more 
flexible manifestations, these styles represent normal, healthy functioning. 
These two styles do not exhaust all possibilities, but they are common enough 
that most people will recognize features of one or the other or both in their 


Kaisa Puhakka 

own habitual ways of thinking and behaving. Let us take a closer look at how 
these styles pervert authentic knowing. 

People who manifest the hysterical style are drawn to things in wonder 
and excitement. Yet, they do not "see" what is around them very clearly, they 
are forgetful and prone to excessive fantasy. They can be lively and engaging, 
yet at the same time, emotionally shallow. "The hysterical person does not 
feel like a very substantial being with a real and factual history," observes 
Shapiro (1965, p. 120). People who manifest the obsessive-compulsive style, 
on the other hand, tend to be realistic in a down to earth and rather unimagi- 
native manner. They can be remarkably effective working with rules and or- 
ganizational schemes. With a narrow focus of concentration, they are ready to 
grasp the object that is already intended before it is perceived. "These people 
not only concentrate; they seem always to be concentrating" (Shapiro, 1965, 
p. 27). 

Both styles are defenses against contact even as they masquerade as ways 
of knowing. The obsessive-compulsive "already knows" and thus closes off 
openness to contact before it occurs. This provides a sense of security and 
control. But it also prevents discernment from operating freely in the clearing 
of awareness. Instead, discernment is co-opted into the service of rigid thought 
constructions. This is how discernment becomes perverted in the obsessive- 
compulsive style. The hysterical style copes with contact by retreating into 
sentimental wonder and fantasy. Imagination and fantasy take the place of 
discerning awareness, but, being everpresent, fantasy muddies the clarity of 
the hysteric's openness; and herein lies the perversion manifested in this style. 
When the levels of anxiety or deprivation are intolerable, these and other 
styles usually (in the "normal" or "well-adjusted" case) work. The hysteric is 
rescued from the nastiness and dangers of the world by fantasy and often in 
real life by another person more willing to deal with the world. The obsessive- 
compulsive is protected against the surprises of an unpredictable, chaotic world 
by well-organized strategies of thinking and action. Yet at a subtle level, the 
lysteric will remain anxious, scared of a world never squarely met, hungry for 
he satisfactions that excitement and wonder promise but never quite deliver. 
Similarly, anxiety remains the constant companion for the obsessive-compul- 
ive, propelling him or her to devise more and more strategies to hold at bay 
he source of anxiety that never allows itself to be fully controlled by such 

Thus at levels that we are used to tolerating and perhaps no longer notice, 
oping styles perpetuate the very anxiety and lack of satisfaction they are de- 
igned to alleviate. In this way there is always more "work" for them to do, and 
he staying power of our coping styles is ensured — so long as we cooperate by 
emaining unaware of what is happening. 


An Invitation to Authentic Knowing 

Knowing Is Natural 

But few people exist in a constant, unmitigated state of unawareness. In- 
deed, only in extreme cases (the so-called "personality disorders") is the person's 
being so fully and exhaustively controlled by automatic coping mechanisms 
that there is almost no free awareness. For most people, moments of awaken- 
ing and connecting occur spontaneously now and then, playfully rattling cop- 
ing mechanisms and loosening up personality styles. Knowing is natural, and 
those who have tasted it like it, in spite of the dread it may arouse. They reach 
for it even while retreating behind their coping and yearn for it even when it 
has been virtually snuffed out of existence by a taboo. 

How to access the knowing that is our birthright? An obvious and tempt- 
ing answer is, by geting rid of the gate-keeper that prevents access. The gate- 
keeper is, of course, the self that our coping mechanisms are designed to 
protect. Through the ages, spiritually engaged people have found the narrowly 
focused, egoic self a burden on their quest. Nowadays, increasing numbers 
find the self and its sufferings a burden in daily life. So for various reasons, 
both psychological and spiritual, many people are drawn to spiritual practices 
that encourage them to "let go" of the self, sometimes with disastrous conse- 
quences (Engler, 1986). Even in the best of cases, the intent to let go of the self 
can lead to endless and unproductive self-torment, for obviously there is nothing 
to let go, and no one to do the letting go (Epstein, 1988; Beck, 1993). The 
project of letting go of the self is conceived and pursued by the very mind that 
creates and maintains the self by its thinking activity. So the project is doomec 
to fail — until it is let go. And how does one do this? The answer is, one 
doesn't. For once again, there is no one to do and nothing to be done. This is 
another way of saying that knowing is natural — it cannot be manufactured, 
much less forced. But perhaps it can be cultivated. 

Shifting to Awareness 

There are numerous well-tried methods and practices that facilitate the 
shift from thinking to awareness. Stilling the mind and bringing the incessant 
thinking process to rest is a preliminary practice for making the shift, and 
methods for such a practice have been developed in contemplative traditions 
both Eastern and Western. There is a growing recognition that psychotherapy, 
geared toward insight into and release of subconscious emotionally charged 
sources of psychological turbulence, confusion and tension can be valuable 
and in some cases indispensable as an adjunct to a contemplative practice 
(e.g., Epstein, 1995; Grof, 1985, Grof & Grof, 1990; Vaughan, 1986;). The meth- 
ods of Buddhism (Goldstein, 1976, Khantipalo, 1987, Sayadaw, 1984; Young, 
1994) and also of the Yoga-Sutras (Aranyaka, 1982; Coster, 1972; Taimni, 1981) 
are particularly well suited for cultivating contact and discernment. In these 


Kaisa Puhakka 

traditions the importance of removing psychological obstacles to awareness 
that are often deeply buried within the subconscious is well recognized (see 
Hanna, 1994, also in this volume; Puhakka, 1995). With the help of all these 
methods one can develop one's capacity and tolerance for prolonged moments 
of awareness and also increase their frequency. However, no method or proce- 
dure is guaranteed to take one from thinking to awareness; the shift happens 
spontaneously when it does. And on occasion, it happens to people who have 
not taken up any formal awareness practice. 

Few people, however, are accustomed to dwelling in bare, naked awareness 
for any length of time without much practice. As soon as one awakens to bare 
awareness, there is a tendency to quickly wrap oneself in thinking again and 
tightly clutch the familiar fabric of mental noises and pictures for comfort and 
a sense of identity. Thus, contact with awareness tends to be limited, sporadic, 
and full of gaps. Thinking fills the gaps and creates a sense of continuity and 
purpose that accompanies everyday consciousness. Intentionality is at the basis 
of this sense — even if the objects change, the directedness towards an object 
is almost always there. This characteristic of consciousness was known to 
Husserl as well as to the Buddha (Hanh, 1996). In Buddhist literature one 
finds descriptions of subtle jhanic states that occur in advanced concentrative 
meditation practice. In such states the activity of the senses that produces 
objects for consciousness ceases, and with this, consciousness itself ceases 
(Rahula, 1974). Intentional consciousness, then, is clearly not the same as 
awareness. Unlike consciousness, awareness has no direction, no center of 
subjectivity, and no intentionality or purpose. It has no form and no qualities 
through which it could be defined, and it is presupposed by any epistemologi- 
cal category that would attempt to define it. 

So how does one discourse about awareness, let alone describe the shift 
from thinking to awareness? Just as the question was raised a moment ago for 
one who would make the shift from thinking to awareness, it must now be 
raised for the writer presuming to describe it. No doubt such a project is doomed 
to a fate similar to that of thinking when it tries to capture awareness. Never- 
theless, I will attempt to trace the disappearing contours of the shift as far as 
they are still discernible. 

Several writers have recognized that the shift from thinking to awareness 
involves a subtle but radical change in the structure of eonsciousness. Heidegger 
(1966) hints at this change when he talks about a kind of meditative thinking 
that is simply waiting without waiting for anything. Transpersonal psycholo- 
3;ists (Walsh & Vaughan, 1993; Wilber, 1990) talk about a move from a men- 
ial-reflective to contemplative modes of knowing and being. The contempla- 
:ive modes of knowing have been associated with an expanded sense of self 


An Invitation to Authentic Knowing 

that seems to imply a change in the structure of subjectivity. Let us examine 
this change more closely . 

With the shift from thinking (intentional consciousness) to awareness, 
the sense of self as the center of subjectivity and owner of experiences gives 
way to a subjectivity that spreads throughout awareness, as in three-dimen- 
sional space. In this space wherever there is objectivity, or "something to see," 
there is simultaneously and coextensively the "seeing" as well. Subject and 
object coincide fully and their disctinction collapses altogether. But note, this 
is not reductionism into either a subjective or an objective "Oneness." It is 
not that subject collapses into object, or object into subject. Only their dis- 
tinction disappears, and with it their confinement to separate domains. 

To intentional consciousness, things (whether mental images or physical 
objects), appear "in front", as it were, so that only one side is directly seen. 
Subject and object remain polarized. To awareness in which subjectivity is 
distributed throughout, everything that appears is seen from all directions^ at 
once; there is no "backside" of things hidden from view. Phenomenologists 
such as Husserl and Merleau-Ponty also maintain that the "backside" is not 
hidden from view but is given directly in perception. However, for these 
phenomenologists it is given "as backside," which means that the perception 
to which it is given is still perspectival, still involves a subject viewing from a 
particular location and direction. When subjectivity spreads out in three di- 
mensions, it becomes capable of simultaneously accommodating all possible 
perspectives within the region of its spread. There is then no "front" as op- 
posed to "back" side at all; this kind of seeing is truly aperspectival. It could 
also be characterized as "three-dimensional," in contrast to the "two-dimen- 
sional" seeing of intentional consciousness. 

Experiential Inquiry into Awareness 

The meanings of words like "two-dimensional," "three-dimensional," and 
"distributed subjectivity" may seem stretched beyond intelligibility here. At 
the very least, they run the risk of remaining abstract and elusive unless they 
can be grounded in experiential observation. But how is such an observation 
to be carried out? Awareness, beng as much subject as it is object, cannot 
observe itself simply as an object. It somehow must also observe itself as sub- 
ject. When thought through logically, subject observing subject seems an im- 
possibility. However, when carried out experientially, such a self-reflexive act 
of observation effects profound changes in its own structure in the very pro- 
cess of the act. Varela, Thompson and Rosch (1991) have described the posi- 
tive feedback and open-endedness that is inescapable in any inquiry that takes 
the inquirer (mind, consciousness, or awareness) as its object. An inquiry into 
awareness feeds back into itself to alter the most fundamental structures of the 


Kaisa Puhakka 

observing consciousnes, eventually to reveal awareness as it is, divested of all 

How does one carry out such an inquiry? As with any fresh inquiry into 
what is hitherto unknown and undefined, we must not begin by asking "what 
is it?" but rather, we must begin with the resolution to put ourselves into an 
encounter with awareness that is prior to any question, or answer, as to its 
"whatness." As Merleau-Ponty (1968) noted, such an encounter is "indubi- 
table since without it we would ask no question." (p. 159) So we must begin 
by situating ourselves in an encounter with awareness. And "where" does this 
encounter take place? Of course, it takes place wherever we happen to be at 
the present moment — that is, right "here." Let us then begin the inquiry. Is 
this "here" an extensionless point or an extended space? Most of us would be 
inclined to consider the "here" to be an area vaguely extending around our- 
selves in all three dimensions. But how far does the "here" extend out before it 
becomes "there"? We might extend our arms to draw an imaginary line in 
front and say, "Here! This is how far it extends." The lamp on my desk falls on 
this side, the flower vase on the bookshelf on that side. Yet this imaginary line 
is arbitrary; the "here" could be extended indefinitely to include the flower 
vase and beyond. How, then, does the "there" become "here"? And how does 
the "here" become "there"? The answer, (again confirmable by direct experi- 
ential inquiry) is that when continuity of awareness is broken, then objects 
appear across a gap "over there" and are presented to the subject "in here." 
Our experiential inquiry into the location of awareness reveals only "here," 
extending out indefinitely in unbroken continuity, spreading and embracing 
the lamp, the flowervase, and other things in all directions — until we stop 
the process of inquiry, perhaps because of being distracted, feeling exhausted, 
or perhaps simply because we are not used to being so fully present for pro- 
longed periods of time. Suddenly, I am "back here" in a smaller, denser, more 
familiar space. Glancing "over there," I see the lamp, and "over there," the 
flowervase. There is now a gap between myself and those objects. 

Resuming our inquiry, we focus attention once again on the location of 
awareness "here." But this time, let us ask, how far does the "here" of our 
present situation extend "inward" toward the subject I take to be my self? The 
answer, ascertained by actual experimentation, is that the "here" extends all 
the way in, all the way through, so long as I let myself be truly present. There 
is then nothing left of myself outside of what's here, to have a perspective on 
it. This is the amazing, perhaps a bit disorienting, revelation that comes with 
carrying out the inquiry — there is no subjective center located somewhere 
in" here, and no distance that would hint at the subject or the self as being at 
one end of the distance and the world at the other. There is just continuous 


An Invitation to Authentic Knowing 

awareness pervading all, softening and making transparent the distinctions 
between inner and outer, here and there, self and no self. 

Proceeding with the inquiry further, we let awareness freely expand in all 
directions, unhindered by any distinction between "here" and "there,", "in- 
ner" and "outer." This last phase of the inquiry is extremely subtle and easily 
eludes attempts to sustain it long enough to note what happens. But if we are 
able to do it, we may find that the lamp, the flowervase and other things are 
embraced by awareness not only from all sides simultaneously, but pervaded 
from within as well. Things that are bathed in such boundless awareness be- 
come vibrant and in a way ephemeral. Yet the materiality and form of the 
lamp or flowervase do not disappear. Rather, they become transparent, reveal- 
ing themselves as patterns of energy and a dynamic interplay of activities and 
mutual dependencies that constitute their manifestation at this moment as 
this particular lamp and that flowervase. These patterns of energy and dy- 
namic interplays may include qualities of the artistry, craft or manufacturing 
process, or of the chemical composition of the materials. Thus everything 
remains just as it is, only now seen with astonishing richness and perspicuity. 

Perfection, Bliss and Love 

The foregoing investigation of awareness, carried out experientially by 
awareness, is likely to yield its conclusions gently and inoffensively, perhaps 
even with a subtle taste of bliss. The moment of boundlessness in which there 
is no distinct self may be experienced as relaxing and revitalizing, indeed as 
liberating. There is none of the horror and dread with which reflective think- 
ing contemplates the absence of the self. 

When distributed throughout the "space" of awareness in which objects 
appear, subjectivity contacts not only the exterior surfaces of the objects but 
pervades their interiors as well. They become transparent, luminous and, be- 
cause they are seen so fully and completely, perfect in being just the way they 
are. Ephemeral visions of luminosity and perfection are described in the mys- 
tical literature of various spiritual traditions. These visions are not about a 
reality beyond the one in which we live or about a Heaven that is not found 
here on earth. As our experiential inquiry into awareness may have intimated, 
they are about the ten thousand things of this very earth, of the coming to- 
gether of Heaven and earth when thinking gives way to simple, naked aware- 
ness. As the Third Zen Patriarch put it, "If the mind makes no discrimina- 
tions, the ten thousand things are as they are, of single essence. "(Sengstan, 

Meister Eckhart, the 13th century Christian mystic said it thus: 

For the person who has learned letting go and letting be/ 


Kaisa Puhakka 

no creature can any longer hinder./ Rather/ each creature points 
you toward 

God/ and toward new birth/ and toward seeing the world as God 
sees it:/ transparently. (Fox, 1983, p. 55) 

And here is my favorite from the Tibetan Vajrayana tradition: 

Since everything is but an apparition, perfect in being what it is, 
having nothing to do with good or bad, acceptance or rejection, 
one may well burst into laughter. (Long Chen Pa) 

Everything is up for laughter? Indeed, it is. The transparency with which 
everything reveals itself to awareness lights up both mind and heart. The mys- 
tics of ancient India knew that bliss (ananda) is an essential quality of aware- 
ness in which object (sat) and subject (chit) come together . 

The coming together of object and subject is an act of love that involves 
an ontological shift from isolated being to expanded interbeing. Though the 
intimate connection between knowing and love has on occasion been noted 
(e.g., by Laing, 1970) the effortless, relaxed, blissful quality of this act is virtu- 
ally unrecognized by Western philosophers and psychologists [William James 
(1948) is a rare exception]. Yet everyday experience manifest this subtle bliss 
from time to time, for example, in the unselfconscious smile that spontane- 
ously spreads on a person's face in a moment of awakening and contact, per- 
haps while watching a bird in flight, lifting a fallen child, or just sitting. In 
such a moment the self's boundaries melt away, and just for an instant, the 
person is in Heaven with all things of this earth. 


Authentic knowing is not a privilege of the elect but is within the reach of 
every human being. It is not something extraordinary that requires special 
setting or circumstances. Rather, it is natural and could be active any time, 
anywhere, once the barriers to it are removed. This is a point I have empha- 
sized throughout the chapter. The other point is that authentic knowing nev- 
ertheless occurs very rarely. The precious moments of such knowing are for- 
gotten with a thoroughness reminiscent of altered states. Our coping mecha- 
nisms isolate these moments and build fences around them and indeed turn 
them into veritable altered states. Fear is responsible for this, and I have ex- 
plored the vicissitudes of fear also in this chapter. 

Every person short of enlightenment stands poised between love and fear, 
3eing pulled at each moment toward one or the other depending on his or her 
inique dynamics and life predicament. However, no one freely and naturally 
ispires to the isolation and compressed subjectivity that are associated with 
ear. On the other hand, who would not savor the taste of freedom and fulfill- 


An Invitation to Authentic Knowing 

ment of a moment of knowing when subjectivity spreads out boundlessly and 
connects seamlessly in a perfect act of love? My own experience suggests that 
there is a tilt in the delicate balance between love and fear, and that once one 
gives in to this tilt, the various methods of psychotherapy and meditative 
practices available today can greatly accelerate the removal of obstacles to 
authentic knowing, interbeing and love. 


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Kaisa Puhakka 

James, W. (1948). Essays in pragmatism. New York, N.Y.: Macmillan Publishing Co. 

Khantipalo, B. (1987). Calm and insight: A Buddhist manual for meditators. London: 
Curzon Press. 

Laing, R. (1972). The politics of the family. New York, N.Y. : Vintage Books. 
Laing, R. (1970). The divided self. Middlesex, England: Penguin Books. 
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Merleau-Ponty, M. (1968). The visible and the invisible. Evanston, 111.: Northwestern 
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Miller, A. (1981). The drama of the gifted child. New York, N.Y: Basic Books. 

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Puhakka, K. (1995). Religious Experience: Hinduism. In R. Hood (Ed.), Handbook 
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Shapiro, D. (1965). Neurotic styles. New York, N.Y.: Basic Books. 
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Tulku, Tarthang (1987). Love of knowledge. Berkeley, CA.: Dharma Publishing. 

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md human experience. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. 

Vaughan, F. (1986) The I'nu^ard arc. Boston: Shambhala. 

Walsh, R. &. Vaughan, F. (1993) Paths beyond ego. Putnam: Jeremy P. Tarcher. 

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An Invitation to Authentic Knowing 

' Heidegger's (1966) notion of "region" or "regioning" as a nonrepresentational, 
nondual "expanse" that is at the same time an "abiding" (p. 65-67) appears very close 
to the meaning of "region" used here. 

- For Husserl also, the way out of solipsism is through "transcendental intersubjectivity 
and what he calls "transcendental empathy" (1970, p. 34). 

^Michael Washburn's (1996) notion of "primal repression," which is completed around 
age five, elucidates the intra-psychic underpinnings of the anthropological notion of 
"taboo." According to Washburn, primal repression is necessary for the protection of 
the ego and the development of rationality. Such a repression, he argues, closes direct 
access to the source of our libidinal energies as well as spiritual aspirations. 


Spiritual Inquiry 

Donald Rothberg 

I have pursued my apprenticeship for sixty-four years. During these 
years, many, many times I have gone to the mountains alone. 
Yes, I have endured much suffering during my Ufe. Yet to learn to 
see, to learn to hear, you must do this — go into the wilderness 

[ alone. For it is not I who can teach you the ways of the gods. 

Such things are learned only in solitude. 

I Matsuwa, Huichol shaman Mexico (Halifax, 1979, p. 250) 

Yes, Kalamas, it is proper that you have doubt, that you have 
perplexity, for a doubt has arisen in a matter which is doubtful. 
Now, look you Kalamas, do not be led by reports, or tradition, or 
hearsay. Be not led by the authority of religious texts, nor by mere 
logic or inference, nor by considering appearances, nor by the 
delight in speculative opinions, nor by seeming possibilities, nor 
by the idea: "this is our teacher." But, O Kalamas, when you know 
for yourselves that certain things are unwholesome and wrong, 
and bad, then give them up . . . And when you know for your- 
selves that certain things are wholesome and good, then accept 
them and follow them. 
Gautama Buddha (Rahula, 1974, pp. 2-3) 

It is as if it were not possible to turn the eye from darkness to 
light without turning the whole body; so one must turn one's 
whole soul from the world of becoming until it can endure to 
contemplate reality, and the brightest of realities, which we say is 
the Good.... Education then is the art of doing this very thing, 
this turning around, the knowledge of how the soul can most 
easily and most effectively be turned around. 
Plato, Republic, Bk. 7, 518c (Grube, 1974, p. 171) 

When I think of the faces of that squad of armed, green-uni- 
formed guards — my God, those faces! I looked at them, each in 
turn, from behind the safety of a window, and I have never been 
so frightened of anything in my life as I was of those faces. I sank 
to my knees with the words that preside over human life: And 

This article originally appeared in ReVision, Vol. 17. No. 2 J 995 

I I 

Spiritual Inquiry 

God made man after His likeness. That passage spent a difficult 

morning with me. 

Etty Hillesum Netherlands 1943 (1985, p. 258) 

What would contemporary culture look like if the insights and methods of 
spiritual approaches to knowledge and inquiry, such as those of Matsuwa, the 
Buddha, Plato, and Etty Hillesum, among others, were taken seriously? How 
might educational institutions and practices, in which the ways of knowing 
and inquiring of a culture are developed and passed on, be transformed? How 
would contemporary understandings of science be changed if such ways of 
knowing and inquiry were recognized as legitimate and integrated? 

My intention in this essay is to lay some of the groundwork for responding 
to these questions by exploring the idea that there are forms of systematic 
"spiritual inquiry." I want, in the first part of this essay, to establish a provi- 
sional plausibility for this idea on the basis both of a review of contemporary 
literature concerning the idea of a "spiritual science," and the examination of 
practices and texts drawn from many cultures and historical periods. These 
practices and texts seem to give evidence of ways of inquiry leading to resolu- 
tions of spiritual questions. There seem to be methods involving something 
like what we contemporary Westerners would call systematic observation, deep 
questioning, and/or critical analysis, qualities that are at the heart of what we 
generally mean by the terms "science" and "inquiry." 

In the second part of the essay, however, I want to step back and question 
a premature assimilation of these approaches through the contemporary West- 
ern categories of "science" and "inquiry." I want to consider critically some of 
the complexities and difficulties of relating these mostly premodern, and of- 
ten non- Western approaches to the two main forms of contemporary Western 
inquiry, namely the natural and human sciences. How should we explore the 
idea of spiritual inquiry? Can we do this simply within the context of contem- 
porary scholarly institutions and practices? Are new modes of inquiry neces- 
sary to explore and express spiritual inquiry in a contemporary way? 

Before proceeding further, however, it is helpful to give some initial clarifi- 
cation of the terms "spirituality" (and "spiritual"), "religion" (and "religious"), 
and "inquiry." A deeper discussion of these terms, particularly of the concept 
of "inquiry," can only occur through following the questions in the second 
part of the essay. Furthermore, it is important to say at this point that I use 
these terms with some reservations. They are rooted in Western traditions, 
have been used in very different ways historically and in contemporary dis- 
course, and do not translate easily (or sometimes at all) into non-Western or 
premodern traditions. 


Donald Rothberg 

I take spiritviality to involve the lived transformation of self and community 
toward fuller alignment with or expression of what is understood, within a 
given cultural context, to be "sacred." This transformation may be supported 
by doctrines, practices, and social organization. However, 1 do not mean to 
suggest with the term that there is a separate spiritual realm, even if belief in 
such a realm is found in some spiritual teachings. I use the term religion as a 
broader term signifying the organized forms of doctrine, ritual, myth, experi- 
ence, practice, spirituality, ethics, and social structure that together consti- 
tute a world in relation to what is known as sacred (Rothberg, 1993, pp. 105- 
106; Smart, 1976, pp. 6-12). 

It is important to note, following these definitions, that there can be both 
nonreligious (i.e. nonorganized) spirituality and nonspiritual religiosity. Fur- 
thermore, neither spirituality nor religion as such is inherently good or bad. 
Spirituality and religion can make possible love and wisdom as well as great 
brutality. Religions, of course, have long been criticized for the many horrors ' 

for which they have been in large part responsible. Nazism, to give a less- , 

obvious example, can be interpreted as involving spiritual dimensions, as a . j 

number ofcommentators have pointed out (e.g., Berman, 1989, pp. 253-293). : | 

By inquiry, I understand most generally (and minimally) a response to an 
existential and/or intellectual question through the search for insight, knowl- 
edge, or understanding.^ The question may be a deeply practical one concern- 
ing how to solve a problem or resolve an existential dilemma. The question 
may be very abstract, seemingly purely theoretical. It may be motivated mainly 
by inquisitiveness, curiosity, wonder, or a sense of mystery. The inquiry may be ' 

highly personal and idiosyncratic, or it may be organized within a given cul- 
ture and carried out through particular practices. , } 

To use the concept of inquiry rather than that of "knowledge" as a focus is 
to stress the activity and process that lead to knowledge, rather than the com- , 

pleted and abstracted result. Furthermore, inquiry is a much less ideologically | 

loaded term than science, much less wedded to particular Western interpreta- 
tions of knowledge (especially positivist and empiricist interpretations of knowl- 
edge as exclusively empirical). In these senses, the concept of inquiry seems 
more neutral and potentially useful for the kind of cross-cultural exploration 
required in investigating spiritual approaches. 

I. The Idea of Spiritual Inquiry 

It is not surprising that many contemporary Westerners exploring spiritu- 
ality, especially in an experiential way, should be attracted to interpreting a 
number of spiritual practices and traditions in part through the categories of 
science and inquiry. These categories are of course the hallmark, in contem- 
porary culture, of what is cognitively significant, and it is the cognitive that in 


Spiritual Inquiry 

modem times usually provides the way to "truth" and "reality." But even though 
such categories have been central to the (Western) Enlightenment critiques 
of religion (as superstitious, dogmatic, irrational, etc.), they have also seemed 
initially very applicable to many spiritual approaches, particularly those deemed 
mystical and contemplative. 

Indeed, many recent writers have attempted to make sense of something 
like a "spiritual science." Some, focusing on contemplative disciplines, have 
spoken variously of a "science of self- investigation" (Needleman, 1976, p. 159), 
an "inner empiricism" (Weber, 1986, p. 7), the "inner sciences" (Thurman, 
1991, pp. 53-73), "state-specific sciences" (Tart, 1972), and "mysticism as a 
science" (Deikman, 1982). Some have attempted to reconstruct traditional 
Greek, Jewish, Christian, and Islamic metaphysical systems, interpreting them 
in their mature forms as examples of the most fundamental "sacred science" 
(e.g., Nasr, 1981, 1993), and also applying the term "sacred science" to tradi- 
tional interpretations of disciplines such as cosmology, linguistics, mathemat- 
ics, astronomy, medicine, and architecture (e.g., Bamford, 1994; Nasr, 1993, 
pp. 95-118). Some have begun to write about "native" or "indigenous" sci- 
ence (Colorado, 1988; Deloria, 1993). A number of authors have employed 
something like the term "spiritual science" as a synonym for a systematic ap- 
proach to spiritual training (e.g., Steiner, 1947), in ways similar to the ways 
that cognates of "science" have been used historically in many mystical texts. 

Others have attempted to connect spiritual approaches more explicitly with 
the contemporary natural and human sciences. Several authors have, in light 
of "postempiricist" philosophy of science, pointed out the strong parallels be- 
tween natural scientific and religious ways of knowing (Barbour, 1974; Rolston, 
1987). Others have shown the similarities between empirical and more ex- 
plicitly mystical ways of knowing (e.g.. Smith, 1976, pp. 96-117). More con- 
troversial has been the attempt to explore apparent commonalities between 
the findings of contemporary science, particularly physics and various mysti- 
cal traditions, and to interpret the practice of natural science as a possible 
spiritual path (Capra, 1975; Weber, 1986; Wilber, 1985). 

A number of authors have examined the connections between contempla- 
tion, particularly Buddhist forms, and the cognitive sciences. De Wit (1991) 
has given the outlines of a pioneering crosscultural "contemplative psychol- 
ogy." Hayward (1987, pp. 189-201) has argued that the practice of Buddhist 
mindfulness meditation "can be regarded as a form of scientific method" (p. 
193), in that it is essentially naturalistic, universalistic, and intersubjectively 
testable. Rosch (1992, pp. 84-106) has distinguished the rejected project of 
introspection in modern psychology from the method of mindfulness medita- 
tion. Varela, Thompson, and Rosch (1991) have claimed that mindfulness 
meditation is preferable to the current methods in the human sciences, such 


Donald Rothberg 

as phenomenology, for the systematic examination of human experience, in 
large part because it combines both theoretical and practical dimensions. 
Thurman (1991, pp. 51-73) has maintained that Tibetan Buddhist "inner sci- 
ence" shares the core qualities of Western science; it is theoretically flexible 
and nondogmatic, open to empirical experience, critical, rational, systematic, 
and analytical. Yet it is also highly practical, oriented to the achievement of 
the deepest possible human happiness. 

Wilber ( 1983, pp. 1-81 ), following and expanding on the work of Habermas 
(1971), has given perhaps the most comprehensive (although preliminary and 
simplified) philosophical treatment of the idea of spiritual science. He has 
outlined a very general model of three distinct and paradigmatic types of sci- 
ences: 1 ) the "empirical-analytic" sciences of the world known through the 
senses; 2) the "mental-phenomenological" sciences of the human symbolic 
world of meanings; and, finally, 3) the "transcendental" or "transpersonal" 
sciences. These latter sciences, in turn, comprise what Wilber calls the 
"mandalic sciences," involving use of the mental-phenomenological mode in 
order to understand spiritual experiences and realities, and the 
"noumenological" or "gnostic" sciences, with methodologies designed to fa- 
cilitate direct spiritual insight. These three types of sciences share a basic struc- 
ture. Every science is injunctive (to know, one must carry out this or that 
inquiry), leads to concrete apprehensions of reality, and has its results com- 
munally confirmed. 

I use the concept of spiritual inquiry in a way generally continuous with 
the above literature, referring to a number of spiritual approaches, outlined 
below, which seem to have many of the qualities of inquiry found in the natu- 
ral and human sciences. On this basis, it seems plausible to hypothesize that 
there are general qualities of inquiry and science shared by both the contem- 
porary sciences and forms of spiritual inquiry. That is, these spiritual approaches 
seem in many ways relatively open and nondogmatic, rooted in rigorous ob- 
servation, methodical, systematic, critical, and/or intersubjective. Yet these 
inquiries also seem to go considerably beyond the contemporary sciences, in 
that they have to do with ways of knowing, access to domains of reality, and 
transformative practices not currently understood as scientific. They suggest 
the possibility of a significantly expanded understanding of inquiry and knowl- 

Methods of Spiritual Inquiry 

1 want, then, to offer a very preliminary typology of five interrelated ways 
or "ideal types" of spiritual inquiry: 1) systematic contemplation, 2) radical 
questioning, 3) metaphysical thinking, 4) the critical "deconstruction" of 
metaphysical and other views, and 5) the cultivation of visions and dreams. 1 


Spiritual Inquiry 

will give several examples of each type, generally presented from the perspec- 
tives of the approaches cited. 

1 . Systematic Contemplation, The form of spiritual inquiry that is prob- 
ably best known today involves training to develop a relatively open and re- 
ceptive contemplative or meditative awareness. The inquirer cultivates the 
ability to be "present" with the phenomena of human experience in their 
breadth and depth, often in a primarily nondiscursive way, and commonly 
uses exercises and conceptual models to help initially access particular dimen- 
sions of experience. This contemplative process purportedly gives insight into 
the surface patterns and deeper nature of these phenomena and potentially 
opens up awareness to the most fundamental spiritual insight, however this is 

Forms of contemplative inquiry can be located as particular approaches or 
schools particularly within Asian and Western metaphysical and religious tra- 
ditions. I want to discuss two examples of living traditions, Buddhist mindful- 
ness meditation and Christian contemplation, while recognizing the large range 
of similar examples that might be drawn from Hindu, neo-Confucian, Taoist, 
Greek, Jewish, and Islamic sources, among others. 

The basic method of mindfulness meditation has been developed in a vari- 
ety of forms in Theravada and Mahayana Buddhist traditions (e.g., King, 1980; 
Komfield, 1977; Nhat Hanh, 1976; Nyanaponika, 1965). A number of con- 
temporary practitioners have applied this method oi inquiry to, for example, 
death and dying (Levine, 1982); stress, pain, and illness (Kabat-Zinn, 1990); 
social transfommation (Macy 1983, Nhat Hanh, 1987); and intimate rela- 
tionships (Welwood, 1990). 

The mindfulness meditator generally begins in a communal context, guided 
by a teacher, and with a basic grounding in ethical behavior and understand- 
ing of Buddhist teachings. One typical sequence in the Theravada tradition is 
first to train the meditator's attentional abilities by cultivating the ability to 
concentrate on one object, often initially on the sensations of breathing, 
through practice of a formal exercise. The meditator then is urged, in both 
formal meditation and everyday activity (as, for instance, a monk or nun), to 
be aware o{ any content o( consciousness, as much as possible from the atti- 
tude oi a present-centered, nonjudgmental, "bare attention." The stance is 
that of a radical openness to whatever content presents itself, pleasant or un- 
pleasant, wanted or unwanted; thoughts about Buddhist teachings and expe- 
riences of qualities such as compassion, equanimity, and even mindfulness 
itself have, strictly speaking, no privileged status. 

From this basic contemplative stance, the Buddhist meditator is initially 
aware of a wide range of ordinary experiences — bodily sensations and sensory 


Donald Rothberg 

lata, and mental and emotional states — and may discern habitual patterns of 
hese experiences. If the meditator continues to "progress," there are further 
general developmental shifts, both in the way of knowing and in the contents 
)f consciousness. The meditator experiences in an immediate way insights 
nto the nature of ordinary experience and phenomena as anicca, dukkha, anattd: 
IS impermanent, unsatisfactory, and selfless. As concentration increases, tem- 
poral and gross cognitive constructions decrease significantly. The gap de- 
;reases between knower and known, between consciousness and its content, 
rhe lived experience may be more and more that of a continually changing 
lux, without an active and independent knower. The "experience" of nibbana 
Sanskrit: nirvana) provides the final, liberating insight into the nature of all 

Christian contemplation, according to the work of Thomas Merton (1959; 
[978; Shannon, 1981), perhaps the most prominent Western Christian con- 
:emplative of this century, can be classified, following the teachings of the 
;arly Greek fathers, into three types: active contemplation, natural contem- 
plation, and mystical theology, sometimes called "infused" contemplation. 
\ctive contemplation, the mode of contemplation most accessible to 
lonmonastics, is an inquiry through which the contemplative aims to dis- 
:over and be aligned with the will of God in everyday life. For Merton (1959), 
t means being in touch with several dimensions of life: with the essential 
pouter) events and movements of one's epoch; with one's own (inner) life and 
leeper intentions, activated particularly through liturgy, reading, and medita- 
:ion on important themes; and with reality as a whole, contemplated with a 
sense of awe. Such contemplation is practiced with some effort, and with the 
lid of conceptual models, discriminating judgments, and acts of faith. The 
ntention of active contemplation is, as in infused or "passive" contempla- 
ion, union with God in love; indeed active contemplation may at times be- 
;ome infused. 

Natural contemplation {theoria physike) is the "intuition of divine things 
n and through the reflections of God in nature and in the symbols of revela- 
ion" (Merton, 1959, p. 66). It presumes considerable ascetic training, so that 
le contemplative is no longer attached to objects and nature, but can instead 
iscern their essential natures, and their symbolic relation to God. 

The third form of contemplation, mystical theology (theologia), is defined 
s "pure contemplation" and understood by Merton to culminate in the direct 
experimental" knowledge of God, without thoughts, concepts, or images. Such 
ontemplation is central to the long line of Christian apophatic mystics, such 
s Pseudo-Dionysus, Eckhart, the author of the Cloud of Unknowing, St. John 
f the Cross, and Teresa of Avila. Merton, following this tradition, identifies 
ch infused contemplation as a kind of "dark knowing" that is also an un- 


Spiritual Inquiry 

knowing. It demands, therefore, considerable openness. Merton (1959, p. Ill) 
writes: "The great obstacle to contemplation is rigidity and prejudice. He who 
thinks he knows what it is beforehand prevents himself from finding out the 
true nature of contemplation." 

The path of infused contemplation proceeds through a number of stages of 
"purification" through which love develops most fruitfully, believes Merton, 
in the monastic climate of silence and solitude. One crucial initial stage is the 
experience of aridity and darkness, and sometimes intense conflict, in which 
prayer, meditation, liturgy, and contemplation lose much of their meaning; 
this period is interpreted as the clearer surfacing of selfishness and sin. At 
some point, there comes initial illumination, a sense of contact with God. 
This may be followed by the continued attempt to purify one's love through 
all of one's experiences, cultivating the kind of apatheia or "holy indifference" 
recommended, for example, by St. John of the Cross: 

Even as the bee extracts from all plants the honey that is in them 
. . . even so the soul with great facility extracts the sweetness of 
love that is in all things that pass through it. It loves God in each 
of them, whether pleasant or unpleasant. (Merton, 1978, pp. 64- 

As infused contemplation continues, the purified inmost self may be touchec 
by God in a "dark knowing" free of all concepts (even the concept of God, as 
Eckhart once suggested). In such intuitive knowledge and purity of love for 
God, the split between subject and God is healed. 

2. Radical Questioning. Whereas contemplative inquiries of the kinds 
described above are carried out in large part nondiscursively, especially in their 
more advanced stages, other modes of spiritual inquiry proceed primarily 
through language and concepts, even if language and concepts are eventually 
left behind. For example, the art of asking fundamental and often unusual and 
unexpected questions as a path of ethical and spiritual learning leading to the 
deepest spiritual insights has been developed widely in both Western and Asian 

For Socrates and Plato, questions, particularly in the setting of dialogue, 
are the main means by which to arrive at the knowledge of fundamental reali- 
ties and to prepare for intuition of ultimate reality. As McGinn (1991, p. 29) 
suggests, there is no separation between such questioning and spirituality, for, 
contrary to most contemporary philosophical scholarship on Plato, philoso- 
phy is always spiritual practice for Plato and most ancient philosophers. Ini- 
tially, questions might reveal our perhaps unexpected ignorance, thereby lib- 
erating our wonder and curiosity if we are not too prideful. It was apparently at 
this open and agnostic state that Socrates both began and frequently arrived, 


Donald Rothberg 

a State that was in Socrates' case sometimes connected with visions and other 
spiritual experiences. 

For Plato, however, questioning could go further. As we follow the way of 
questions, especially as guided by a mentor like Socrates and in the context of 
ongoing moral purification, we move away from the overlays of ignorance 
toward the knowledge which is always already present in the depths of the 
soul and only needs to be uncovered. In this sense, we do not arrive at new 
answers with our questions, but rather at the universal innate and archetypal 
knowledge of self and cosmos. At first, such knowledge is of patterned and 
ordered realities, the Forms or eide of the "intelligible region," and is a knowl- 
edge articulable in language. Following such intellectual preparation and 
knowledge may come the sudden and "unspeakable" (arrheton) insight {noe- 
sis) into the Form of Forms, into what Plato variously calls the Good, the 
Beautiful, or the One. 

Western ways of asking radical questions have especially been preserved 
since Plato and Socrates in the philosophical traditions, even as the confi- 
dence that such questions would yield sacred knowledge has often wavered 
and been lost, especially in modern times. The energy of radical questioning 
has instead often been used to criticize religious and philosophical claims to 
knowledge of the sacred. There have, nonetheless, been a number of modem 
exemplars, such as Kierkegaard and Heidegger, of deep philosophical ques- 
tioning as a kind of spiritual inquiry. 

Examination of Asian traditions also reveals a number of modes of deep 
questioning. For example, the Buddha's address to the Kalama people (cited 
at the beginning of this essay), in which he urged them to question deeply 
their usual beliefs based on authority, tradition, or popularity and instead seek 
confirmation in their own experiences, stands parallel with Socrates' exalta- 
tion of the examined life. In later Buddhist traditions, the factor of "inquiry" 
[vicara (Pali)] was highlighted as one of the Seven Factors of Enlightenment 
and sometimes developed in a concentrated way as a spiritual method. Stephen 
Batchelor (1990) writes of the tradition of radical questioning in the Chinese, 
Korean, and Japanese Zen traditions. Those practicing such questioning are 
guided in developing a "great doubt," a doubt to be cultivated in and out of 
the meditation hall through focusing continually on words like "What is it?" 
or "What is this?" or "Why is it?" or simply "What?" The seventeenth century 
apanese Zen master Takasui advised his students: 

You must doubt deeply, again and again, asking yourself what the 
subject of hearing could be. Pay no attention to the various illu- 
sory thoughts and ideas that may occur to you. Only doubt more 
and more deeply, gathering together in yourself all the strength 


Spiritual Inquiry 

that is in you, without aiming at anything or expecting anything 
in advance, without intending to be enUghtened and without 
even intending not to be enlightened; become hke a child within 
your own breast (Batchelor, 1990, p. 15). 

The twentieth-century Indian sage Ramana Maharsi developed a well- 
known method of questioning, with roots especially in the Hindu traditions 
o{inana yoga and Advaita ("nondual") Vedanta, that he called "Self-inquiry" 
[also vichara (here in Sanskrit)]. Ramana Maharsi advised the seeker continu- 
ally to ask the question, "Who am 1?" examining the supposed sources of the 
self, until the more conditioned aspects of self disappear and the deeper "Self 
is known: 

Trace, then, the ultimate cause of "1" or personality... From where 
does this "1" arise? Seek for it within; it then vanishes. This is the 
pursuit of wisdom. When the mind unceasingly investigates its 
own nature ... [t]his is the direct path for all. (Godman, 1985, p. 


3. Metaphysical Thinking. In the various traditions of spiritual inquiry 
examined, we can note a certain tension between those who claim that con- 
templation or questioning can reach determinate "answers," articulable in lan- 
guage, and those who claim that no methods can produce and no language 
can adequately express the core spiritual understanding; for the latter, in an 
important sense, there are no answers (Fenner, 1994). This tension between 
spiritual inquiry as a path of knowing and spiritual inquiry as unknowing also 
appears when we consider (in this and the next section) two further methods 
of spiritual inquiry: metaphysical thinking, and the "deconstruction" or sus- 
pension of metaphysical thinking. 

In the world's religions and in Western philosophy, there have been at- 
tempts to further spiritual understanding through intellectual analysis, syn- 
thesis, and speculation concerning the nature of human experience, the na- 
ture of the mind and knowing, the structure of reality, and spiritual develop- 
ment; I speak of such inquiry generally as "metaphysical thinking." Thinking 
of this sort is typically the attempt to understand and systematize earlier spiri- 
tual insights, in the interest of guiding future spiritual development. Platonic 
contemplation, questioning, and intuition of Forms, for example, led to rich 
traditions of further speculation and spiritual experience. Jewish, Christian, 
and Islamic philosophers and theologians have taken the founding religious 
revelations of their traditions as starting points and articulated, in Christian 
terms, "faith seeking understanding" {fides quaerens intellectum) . 

Metaphysical exploration is often a starting point for further contempla- 
tive inquiry, as the seeker receives and studies a kind of "road map" of the 


Donald Rothberg 

spiritual path. For Ibn al-'Arabi (Chittick, 1989), metaphysical reflection and 
reason typically help make possible the deeper insights of "gnosis" (kashf) and 
"the heart" (qalb). In Jewish mysticism, study of the Torah and of the struc- 
tures of the higher worlds, as outlined in the Kabbalah, may not only facilitate 
further contemplative practice, but may sometimes in itself lead to mystical 
ecstasy. For Aquinas, inquiry through the "natural" intellect brings the indi- 
vidual to many truths, although "supernatural" truths are revealed through 
other modes of knowledge. Study of the Abhidhamma "psychology," and of 
other epistemological and metaphysical models, often precedes Buddhist con- 
templative practice. 

Metaphysical thinking may also be used coupled with contemplation or 
radical questioning, as a guide to illuminate everyday experience and deepen 
understanding. A Hindu jnana yogi might reflect on his or her assumptions 
about the nature of the self, considering the thesis found in the Upanishads, 
that the deepest aspect of the self, the dtman, is being or ultimate reality itself. 
A Buddhist might use the teaching of "dependent origination" (paticca 
samuppada) to help structure mindfulness meditation, examining how that 
teaching can be observed as operative in moment-to-moment experience. A 
Jew might reflect on a given passage of the Bible in relation to some aspect of 
daily life, as, in an extreme example, Etty Hillesum, in the passage given at 
the beginning of the essay, brought scriptural understanding to bear on her 
experience in the Nazi camps. 

4. The Critical "Deconstruction" of }Aetaphysical and Other Views. 

We can also speak of methodical inquiries in which the focus is on an 
undoing of established metaphysical and other belief systems, in the interests 
of making possible the deepest spiritual insights. In these (in Christian termi- 
nology) apophatic inquiries of a via negadva, there is an openness to question- 
ing or suspending even those core principles or teachings of the very tradition 
of the inquirer. The inquirer leaves behind the familiar and safe territory in 
order to know in a different way. In Christian theology and practice, methods 
of systematically suspending core beliefs have been developed in the tradition 
of "negative theology" that dates from the work of Pseudo-Dionysus, and have 
been linked with the claim of infused contemplation that concepts are absent 
in the most profound knowing. 

In Asian traditions, it is the Buddhist Madhyamika method of 
"deconstructing" core concepts (Buddhist concepts included) that is perhaps 
paradigmatic as a path of spiritual inquiry in this mode. In that approach 
(Fenner, 1991, 1994; Sprung, 1979; Thurman, 1984), the inquirer examines 
thoroughly, in a formal way, every logically possible alternative on a given 
issue or topic, ultimately finding that none of the alternatives meets the an- 


Spiritual Inquiry 

ticipated requirement of noncontradiction (i.e. that a statement and its con- 
tradiction cannot both be true). All possible metaphysical views (drsti), in- 
cluding the most central Buddhist tenets about causality