Addenda to My First 2019 Conversation with Harold Channer

datePosted on 20 August 2019 by cjf

On 11 March 2019, Harold Channer again invited me to the studios of MNN (Manhattan Neighborhood Network) in New York City to record two one-hour editions of the TV program “Conversations with Harold Hudson Channer”. To expand on topics from the first interview, here are three addenda:

I included questions throughout to invite your feedback in the comment section at the end.


Linux: An Empowering Computer Operating System

Linux is the kernel of a computer operating system that works like the storied 1970s development out of Bell Labs called Unix which inspired the POSIX standard. There are many packaged distributions of Linux with core utilities mainly provided by the GNU Project and a lot of other free and open source software. My favorite Linux distribution is Debian GNU/Linux and my dad uses Linux Mint. Most people only need a browser, others might need LibreOffice for creating documents and presentations, others might want capable multimedia tools, others will need specialty software. In each case Linux Mint is worth trying: for almost everyone it can adequately replace their current computing environment.

Have you ever used Linux? What distributions have you tried? Which one do you like best?

There is no way to know how many Linux systems are deployed at any time. Since Linux is the kernel on all Android devices and there is evidence that Android is the world’s most popular platform for web browsing it is reasonable to argue that Linux is the world’s most popular operating system kernel.

I wish I had had the presence of mind to tell Harold during the show more of my biography which illustrates the power and benefits of Linux and free and open source software. In my early 20s I was poor with barely enough discretionary money to buy a computer. By choosing Linux I avoided both piracy and exclusivity in the gated communities of proprietary software. I volunteered to lead the Unix SIG (Special Interest Group) at the Philadelphia Area Computer Society and started writing articles for their monthly newsletter “the Data Bus”. The open, cooperative, and inclusive development model of the GNU Project, Linux, and Debian (and the challenge of writing articles and preparing presentations), combined to hone my expertise and within three years of installing the system, I earned my first successful career as a computer consultant specializing in Linux and free and open source software. In 1995, I helped organize The Philadelphia area Linux User Group (PLUG) which now organizes several meetings per month to help people learn more about the Linux ecosystem. In 1999, my consultancy matured into LinuxForce, Inc. which is still a going concern. That’s the empowering power of Linux with other free and open source software!

A key component of that power comes from the ungated nonproprietary access to the source code which allows the curious mind to see what is “under the hood”. Inspired and spurred by that dynamic software infrastructure, an enormous social movement has formed in support of this freely shareable and freely modifiable software ecosystem. One measure of its scope can be seen by these Debian GNU/Linux metrics: it includes more than 50,000 installable software packages with support for 10 hardware architectures and is installable in 75 languages!

How do you explain the benefits of the Linux and free software system that has come to thrive over nearly 40 years?

What do you think are the strengths and deficiencies of the Linux computing platform? And of the various Linux distributions?

Tux, the Linux mascotTux, the Linux mascot

Here is a sampling of some of my past writing on Linux (more is on the LinuxForce blog “Managing FOSS for Business Results”):

Martin Heidegger and The Challenge of Humanism

During the show, I referenced an event I organized in April 2019 “Should We Love and Value People Who Have Done Evil?” to help me better deal with the realization that while Martin Heidegger was one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century, he was also a Nazi. Heidegger is justifably famous for his insights on being in the world (Dasein), the nature of truth (disclosure/concealment), phenomenology and the hermeneutic circle, throwness, authenticity, conversation for possibility/conversation for action, ontological design, the nature of technology, and other insights (adapted from private correspondence with Christopher Zelov). However, he was a member of the Nazi party until the day it was dissolved, he never apologized for his politics, in a yearlong period of Nazi fanaticism (1933-1934) he helped legitimize the regime, and there is inconclusive but very uncomfortable evidence that he harmed the lives and careers of many Jews. To his credit, he became disenchanted with politics and largely ceased political activities in 1934 and some sources credit him as one of the most outspoken critics of the regime within Germany by the end of the war. He was punished for his Nazi activities with a five year suspension from teaching.

My question was: can I read, study, embrace, and even love the ideas of someone with such connections to Nazism? It is a difficult question, reasonable people may disagree.

In college, I adopted as a working assumption Bucky Fuller’s great humanistic value from the Forward to his 1981 book “Critical Path”: “This book is written with the conviction that there are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ people, no matter how offensive or eccentric to society they may seem. I am confident that if I were born and reared under the same circumstances as any other known humans, I would have behaved much as they have.”

If you too adopted this conviction, what would change about your understanding of the behavior of other people?

This perspective has helped me realize that myself, Bucky, Heidegger, and everyone (including you!) are merely little mistake-making human beings who sometimes do things that are judged to be evil. This both helps me stay deeply humble in judging the inadequacies of myself and others AND it gives me a deeper appreciation of the difficult dynamics in trying to understand the socio-political-economic-technological-cultural determinates of human behavior. And it gives me access to penetrating thinking that would be off-limits to a less accommodating humanism.

Do you agree that adopting this humanistic perspective, gives deeper insights into understanding the complexity of human behavior?

Does it help us realize just how tenuous is the distinction between “good” and “bad”?

Would you read or study someone who you believe has done evil? Can and should we admire someone for their contributions while censuring their “bad” behavior?

Martin Heidegger and Buckminster Fuller: Connections between Two Visionary Thinkers about Technology

The very interesting course “Philosophy of Technology and Design” with Peter-Paul Verbeek of the University of Twente on FutureLearn emphasizes the importance of Heidegger’s thinking about technology. Inspired by that reference, I read Heidegger’s exquisite essay The Question Concerning Technology and was struck by how allied are Buckminster Fuller’s and Heidegger’s ideas about technology. Let me summarize my understanding of Heidegger’s thinking and point out connections to Bucky’s thinking.

Both Heidegger’s essay and my condensed summary are challenging to read, in part, because of extensive use of the gerund. The gerund structures nouns as verbs frequently using the -ing form. The unusual grammatical style of using the gerund as a predominate element, can be a powerful way to give a more dynamic systems perspective to the thinking evoked by a writing. However, for many readers, it will be a challenge to follow the intricate implications implicit in this style. In addition, Heidegger’s essay and my summary juxtapose sequences of these gerunds giving a dizzying sense of alluded to inter-implications.

I have come to find this type of writing profoundly illuminating and exciting. However, in organizing two group conversations on Heidegger’s essay (on 2019-01-12 and 2019-03-09), I learned that parsing gerunds strung together in this way is disorienting for many people possibly because they are more accustomed to the subject-verb-object style of declarative writing as is often found in newspapers, magazines, and science reports. I also find this kind of reading and thinking to be challenging: I read Heidegger’s essay at least four times before it fully coalesced into a realization of profound truth. The reward of the complex of insights produced are worth the effort.

My suggestion is to read my summary and/or Heidegger’s original essay multiple times: after at least one wholistic get-the-feeling overview reading (I sometimes start with a slow first reading: your choice), re-read it to parse each word and each phrase and try to re-build the whole from its parts, then re-read it wholistically again pausing to question each place your mind is resisting the ideas, imagine what kind of thinking would it be were it true, imagine what kind of thinking it would be if your resistance were the beginning of a valid refutation of part of the argument. With each new insight into the writing, re-read it continuously challenging yourself to alternative interpretions until you have integrated each piece and the whole into a consistent understanding: this is the hermeneutic circle. Here is my condensed summary of Heidegger’s essay:

Martin Heidegger (1889-1976)Martin Heidegger (1889-1976)

“The Question Concerning Technology” explores the essence of technology. Heidegger asserts: the essence of something is what it is. He starts with the common view that technology is a human activity and a means to an end. As such technology is about the responsibility of Aristotle’s fourfold causality (material, formal, final, and efficient causes) for a bringing into appearance of the end (the telos). As such technology is a coming forth into presencing, which is an occasioning, a bringing-forth (poiesis), an unconcealment (before technology is devised, it is first not-yet-imagined and then imagined but not-yet-existing and only later is it realized and unconcealed, even with serendipitous developments), and so technology is a revealing. A revealing is aletheia which is truth.

Techne is an all-encomposing way of knowing including science, know-how, know-what, craft skills, and the creative arts. As a revealing, as a truth, technology as techne is an ordering of Nature as standing-reserve (its potential capability manifested through its revealing and its ordering) which Heidegger calls enframing (Gestell).

Technology as enframing (Gestell: the gathering together by ordering into presencing) is an ordaining of destining: a destining which by its presencing was ordained by its gathering together as a revealing. In this sense, technology is a setting-upon and a challenging-forth of Nature. As such it is the supreme danger. This danger has two aspects: 1) we may misconstrue or misinterpret any given revealing (aletheia) thereby missing a more important truth and its more incisive ordering with what may be a very different ordaining, and 2) we may become enslaved as standing-reserve ourselves. But by staring into this danger and apprehending the meaning of the great poet Hölderlin “But where danger is, grows / The saving power also”, we find the saving power which may even encompass the danger.

This reveals the deepest essence of technology which Heidegger was able to encompass in the essay: Technology is the granting of the destining of revealing. That is, we are given the choice to reveal by creating the kind of technology we intend for our on-going destiny, our on-going evolution, our destining.

How many times did you need to read that to process all those gerunds into a dawning understanding of Heidegger’s thinking? Does it make sense or are you still resisting part of it? Which part? Why? Do you agree that technology is the granting of destining as revealing? Have you always thought of technology like this or is this idea new to you?

Does that summary entice you to want to read Heidegger’s essay? If so, you can find a copy at http://www2.hawaii.edu/~freeman/courses/phil394/The%20Question%20Concerning%20Technology.pdf.

R. Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983)R. Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983)

In Bucky’s thinking about Utopia or Oblivion (see, in particular, his 1969 book with that title and his 1981 book “Critical Path”), he also sees oblivion as a supreme danger which he thinks, analogously to Heidegger, is matched by our option, our choice, for utopia (Heidegger’s saving power) which Bucky sees as eminently viable if only we choose it. Heidegger says we are granted this choice.

Bucky says “Whether it is to be Utopia or Oblivion will be a touch-and-go relay race right up to the final moment.” I interpret that to mean it will be touch-and-go forever. Bucky implied, for dramatic effect, that the danger might pass if humanity passes its final exam, but I believe he meant that our final exam takes place in the eternal now and that challenges to our very existence such as nuclear war, climate change, and environmental or societal disintegration are near term threats but many long term threats loom in the future: asteroid strikes, the supervolcano at Yellowstone obliterating much of North America, and the prospective heating of the Sun which is expected to warm Earth beyond safety thresholds over the next five billion years. So I see, and Bucky might also have seen, a continuous stream of cosmic final exams that each generation will have to resolve into the appropriate saving power of the moment. As evidence for my interpretation, I give this Bucky quote from Guinea Pig B: “We humans are manifestly here for problem-solving and, if we are any good at problem-solving, we don’t come to utopia, we come to more difficult problems to solve.”

Heidegger doesn’t have that kind of cosmic perspective. He writes from an existentialist tradition which is more concerned with human freedom, a preservation of important human values, and a concern for the integrity of the human spirit especially in contradistinction to what Karl Jaspers called “the demonism of technology” where humankind becomes enslaved to technology and loses its dynamic spirit, values, and freedom.

However, more or less, I see Bucky and Heidegger both saying: Inherent to our fundamental nature as designers who are granted destining through our technology (which includes our socio-cultural technologies: ideas, values, traditions of inquiry and action, our institutions and their rules, etc.), we have access to the saving power to achieve the utopia of an unending sequence of ever more difficult existential challenges to humanity’s freedom, to our very nature, to our spirituality, and even to our very continuance in Universe. That is, each of us and humanity as a whole is continuously balanced on the precipice between the omnipresent supreme danger of oblivion and its slightly encompassing but always elusive saving power of utopia.

Do you see the connection between Bucky’s utopia or oblivion and Heidegger’s supreme danger and his saving power? Which approach to humanity’s existential crises do you prefer? Or would you rather integrate the two to identify an even more clear-eyed perspective on the plight and opportunity of human existence? Do you agree with Heidegger and Bucky that technology is at the center of our existential crises?

Another important connection between Bucky and Heidegger is attempting to move beyond the distinction of subjectivity and objectivity. Although Heidegger only occassionally references the subject-object distinction in his essay on technology, it is implicit throughout. He sees technology as a revealing which suggests, if you think about it, that science as the revealing aspect of technology is, in fact, nothing but an application of technology! In Peter-Paul Verbeek’s course, I got the sense that this idea is attributed to philosophers after Heidegger, but I see it clearly in Heidegger.

So is science applied technology or is technology applied science? I think Tom Miller provides the answer with his construct “both/neither” which invites consideration of the complex paradoxes that are part of all our most profound truths. Do you agree?

Bucky writes “The subjective and objective always and only coexist” which clearly transcends the subject-object distinction. I will not elaborate on that further as I wrote a whole essay on “The Objective, The Subjective, and The Nature of Design Science”.

Do you agree that the subjective-objective distinction is effectively transcended by both Heidegger and Fuller? Do you agree that the subjective-objective distinction ought to be blurred and transcended?

Finally, perhaps the most profound connection I identified between these two great thinkers was seeing how Heidegger anticipated Buckminster Fuller’s design science with his granting of the destining of revealing. I read Heidegger to mean that though we must recognize that technology is the supreme danger, it also grants us a powerful design capability, our saving power, allowing us to create a better future that enhances our vitality, our humanity, and our freedom.

Bucky’s design science reveals through coexisting subjectivity and objectivity (the both/neither of science and technology) what is needed to create “local evolutionary transformation events” (Heidegger’s destining) in support of our highest aspirational values. Both approaches emphasize morality and the revealing aspect of science. Both see design as the option to make the world work for humanity as our saving power. I see Bucky’s approach is that of an inspirational humanistic technologist whereas Heidegger’s is in the tradition of continental philosophy.

Do you see the parallelism between Heidegger’s granting of destining as revealing and Bucky’s design science? Are they essentially the same notion of technology? Why? Why not? What are the strengths and weaknesses in the two approaches? How do you understand technology and the complex of dangers and opportunities associated with it?

Share |
Related Posts:

2 Responses to “Addenda to My First 2019 Conversation with Harold Channer”

  1. cjf on 21 August 2019 at 9:33 pm

    A wide-ranging conversation has developed on this essay on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/cj.fearnley/posts/10219170140339981

  2. cjf on 25 August 2019 at 7:44 am

    My essay might have been stronger if it had more strongly connected Heidegger’s essay on “The Question Concerning Technology” to Karl Jaspers. Peter-Paul Verbeek makes clear in his course, that before Heidegger, the older Karl Jaspers, was a prominent and leading voice in the philosophy of technology. Heidegger’s essay on technology was, to a significant degree, a response to Jaspers’ thinking.

    As Verbeek makes clear in the course, Heidegger strongly disagrees with Jaspers’ mature assessment that technology is neutral. Heidegger agrees with Jaspers that technology is a significant danger. But instead of technology being merely neutral, Heidegger sees it both as the supreme danger as well as our saving power: fraught with both danger and opportunity.

    I summarized Jaspers’ thinking embodied by his expression “the demonism of technology” in this event description: https://www.meetup.com/thinkingsociety/events/wpwcfqyxpbnb/

    So while Jaspers is largely a critic of technology demanding that we regulate it to prevent its worst effects, Heidegger, it seems to me, is basicly pro-technology with the big caveat that we must be extremely careful with this double-edged sword that affords both opportunity and danger.

    I want to emphasize one more point from Verbeek’s course: Martin Heidegger’s thinking about technology has been very influential in the philosophy of technology. Here are three encyclopedic surveys on the philosophy of technology so that you can put Heidegger in context (he is prominently mentioned in each):

Leave a Reply

Name: (required)
Email: (required) (will not be published)
Website:
Comment: