Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Layer 325 . . . Empathy, Social and Spiritual Intelligence, Saving the World, Enlightenment, Matt Harvey and Ben Howard

Matt Harvey
's a poet who used to be a regular on Radio 4's Saturday Live. The poems he's written for the programme can still be seen on its website:


It's difficult to choose favourites - all of them are gems.

I saw Matt performing live for the first time on Saturday evening, and he was well worth missing the England game for. For me the best part of the show was his performance of Empath Man - a contemporary superhero he's created who tackles crimes and emergencies by using his "advanced listening skills and his ability to stay open and vulnerable in tight situations . . ."

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LkUGS2Hj1i0 - Empath Man

Website - http://www.mattharvey.co.uk/

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9zyu6-_qCvo&feature=related - Torquay Boys

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0q90_phxAOk&NR=1 - on Transition Towns


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZjt5NnDe7A&feature=related  -  Buying Curtains


The point of mentioning the above, before I got carried away by memories of Matt's performance, is the importance of empathy and social intelligence. It's something Oxzen has gone into previously, over a year ago -


http://oxzen.blogspot.com/2009/08/layer-183-grace-character-basics-all.html  -  A Force To Be Reckoned With

In yesterday's Guardian Madeleine Bunting wrote another excellent article on Big Issues - Empathy and Enlightenment:


Can empathy save us?

We need to live very differently, argues a bold new text. And that calls for nothing less than a revolution of the mind

Hail the 21st-century Enlightenment. Ideas don't come much bigger

It makes a change to lift eyes from the detail of coalition agreements or the chances in the World Cup and take on board an analysis of the grand sweep of human history, new scientific insights into human nature, and how we can ensure our survival. This is the territory explored in a pamphlet calling for a "21st-century Enlightenment" to be published this week.


[As I write this I'm half-listening to a programme I'm recording from BBC-HD called 'Wild China', part of which  focuses on Tibetan Buddhism and its concern with enlightenment . . . ]

It's an intriguing set of ideas pulled together by Matthew Taylor, in part to sketch out what an institution founded in the 18th-century Enlightenment [the RSA] ought to be doing – the answer being to generate the 21st-century Enlightenment, and this is now the new strapline for the Royal Society of Arts. No small ambition here.

The questions that underlie Taylor's pamphlet are echoed in the soul-searching around Labour's defeat: what do words such as liberal or progressive mean, and what kind of politics do they require?

"Progress in human knowledge and culture" is the slogan emblazoned round the RSA's auditorium. But can we still have faith in an idea of progress when the very inventions and ways of life that were thought would bring it about – market capitalism and individual freedom – are wreaking unprecedented environmental destruction?

We need to live very differently, and that requires thinking very differently. What's required is another revolution of the mind, a paradigm shift in human consciousness.

This is where [Taylor] becomes quietly optimistic. He believes this is possible to achieve – though not easy. The first source of his optimism lies in the research emerging from fields such as neuroscience and evolutionary psychology, showing how deeply social our brains are. The perception of us as sovereign individuals, making independent and rational decisions, is a delusion; we are profoundly influenced by those around us, and prey to emotions which we only partly understand.

Just as the scientific insights of the 17th century led to the Enlightenment's profound shifts in the understanding of the individual, and the idea that the social order could and should be changed, so Taylor hopes science can prompt dramatic shifts in self-awareness, in how we understand human behaviour so that we replace individualism with more socially connected relationships of solidarity.

The second source of his optimism relies on heavy borrowing from the recently published The Empathic Civilisation, in which Jeremy Rifkin argued that history is marked by human beings' increasing empathy for others – which can be briefly summarised as from family to tribe to nation. The question is whether our capacity for empathy can expand to the human species, the globe and the biosphere in time to prevent the destruction of the environmental resources on which we depend. Empathy can save us, believes Taylor; it is vital to negotiations on how we share out natural resources, and vital to ensure harmonious co-existence on a crowded planet. But he acknowledges: "There are reasons to ask whether the process of widening human empathy has stalled, and just at the time we need to accelerate it."

If it has stalled in Britain, and it clearly has, it's in no small measure due to the changes in classroom practice in places like England, where teaching, in many of our schools, has again become a business of teacher-centred cramming for tests instead of a child-centred process which allows pupils to interact and collaborate in their learning so that their social and emotional intelligences are allowed and encouraged to develop.

But what of spiritual intelligence? Bunting goes on to say this:

The third element essential to the 21st-century Enlightenment is a "reassertion of the fundamentally ethical dimension of humanism", argues Taylor. What kind of human beings we want to be, what kind of society we want, are always ethical questions, he insists. Again, he cites scientific research that shows how deeply rooted ethical understanding is in the human brain.

Ethical reasoning and debate need to be resurrected. We need an ethics that challenges the dominant logics of market, bureaucracy, and scientific and technological development. Just because something will sell doesn't mean it should be sold; just because something can be discovered and developed doesn't mean it should be – now so painfully evident in the Gulf of Mexico disaster. It's a powerful, urgent argument.

Does this amount to a credible account of the possibility of future human progress? Although intrigued, I'm sceptical of the claims made for empathy, and anxious that arguments for ethics may fail to gain traction.

"Intrigued"? I find this conclusion very strange, and out of keeping with the whole tone of this piece. You have to wonder whether Madeleine has actually read Daniel Goleman's books on social intelligence and emotional intelligence? If so, what the hell is there to disagree with there? It's not a question of "making claims" for empathy. It exists. Without it we can't begin to develop what Buddhists call lovingkindness.

Has she read anything by the Dalai Lama, or anything on Buddhist Ethics? Is she even aware of the concept of spiritual intelligence? If even our leading journalists and intellectuals are lacking in such fundamental forms of understanding, then what hope is there for us becoming a more enlightened society?

Without emotional, social and spiritual intelligence there can be no enlightenment. Without enlightenment there can be little human progress. Without an education system that enables young people to develop these key intelligences, as well as creativity and imagination, we have no prospect of becoming a more enlightened society.


Ben Howard

Ben Howard apparently dropped out of a journalism degree in order to pursue a career as a singer, musician and composer. He shared a gig last weekend with fellow Totnesian Matt Harvey, and played a great acoustic set in Dartmouth in company with a double bass player and a cellist (India Bourne) who also sang backing vocals.

Ben's a young guy who's rapidly maturing as an artist, as can be seen by a number of videos and audios on sites like YouTube. The quality of the vocal harmonies and musical arrangements, as well as the playing, seems to go up in leaps and bounds. None of what's currently on the Internet is as good as what he's currently doing, but it's worth checking out all the same, and it's well worth trying to see him play live.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uPfhqTUkPgU&feature=related - These Waters




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