12 March 2010

from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: The notion of crisis: what is a crisis?

Dear friends,

This Sunday we are discussing; The notion of crisis: what is a crisis?

Talking about crisis, it seems that there is a massive problem on the
internet this evening because I cannot get my mail nor link to any site.
I have even tried using my mobile.

I will try and post the email on the blog or send out emails sometime in
the evening on Friday.

In the meantime we have two very short essays one by Raul and an other
by me.

See you Sunday



+++++++++MEETING DETAILS+++++++++
SUNDAY 6.00pm – 8.30pm at Molly Malone's Pub, probably downstairs----
-Email: philomadrid@yahoo.co.uk
-Yahoo group >> philomadridgroup-subscribe@yahoogroups.co.uk <
-Old essays: www.geocities.com/philomadrid
- Blog: http://philomadrid.blogspot.com/
photos: http://picasaweb.google.com/photosphilo
tel 606081813
-metro: Bilbao : buses: 21, 149, 147

Tertulia with Ignacio and friends: Every Thursday, from 19:30 to 21h, at
Moore's Irish Pub, c/ Barceló 1 (metro Tribunal).

----------essay by Raul----------------

Hi Lawrence and peer debaters,

I barely had time to write this week. Very busy. Please, accept this
humble little essay for our brainstorming about the notion of crisis.

Thank you all in advance,


Embolon prided on being a Greek peasant. He bent down his wrinkled hump
to seize the copper coin from the little vaulted niche carved in the
womb of the goddess. Phidias the late sculptor gave it to him as
precious token. Now he was getting on for 89 years – the Morai whined at
him. No matter how hyaline his eyes were, he could still make out the
chasms of the hilly pinnacle around which his hamlet stood up. His
vision was impaired by glaucoma, but elevated intraocular pressure was
not the key reason for this condition. All happened when he was sifting
the wheat at the barned back in his forties. Some spikes impacted his
retina. Pain. Discombobulation. Unexpected, but real.

I dreamt of Embolon last night. When I woke up I thought to myself that
all had been a critical nightmare. Am I too critical? No, I am not. Am I
under crisis? Perhaps. I don't know. If so, what sort of crisis would I
be going through? A personal one, a social one or a systemic one?

Embolon told me that crises were reputed to be positive by the ancient
Greek farmers. Crisis in Greek means discernment, judgment. It is to
filter elements through a sieve, what a farmer threshes. For possessing
a critical insight is a howling gift as long as you are not besieged by
mediocre people.

Over the years the meaning mutated from the goodness into the badness.
Were bacterial lexicographers changing into forms resistant to their own
coinages? No, indeed. It was 1627 when crisis was transferred a
non-medical sense to convey the idea of a unconceivable change that
drives us on the verge of collapse.

Such is now. Everything switches over to a novelty whose contours are
blurred. Embolon still lingers on in our present, like a clot
obstructing our tendency not to look at things twice. A critical state
of many. Today.

Let's welcome crises! Thanks to them, we wonder who we are. Where our
coordinates lie on. What boundaries we have crossed in the pursuit of
knowledge and what else is still to be attained. When we take soundings
of now, we startle in disbelief. Gullible we are, we feel an untold
story is to be penned. Will you make it to this chronicle with Embolon
and me?

Raúl Martín-Díaz

--------------------essay by Lawrence------------------------------------

The notion of crisis: what is a crisis?

We are supposed to be in an economic crisis. And whilst we are at it
maybe even a political crisis, a moral crisis, a housing crisis. We also
have personal crisis, mid life crisis, growing up crisis, and even
crisis which we have not even heard about.

Maybe one of the ways to understand the notion of a crisis and discover
the fundamentals of a crisis is to look at the common features or
conditions that make up crises. Furthermore, we can then identify what
are the necessary and sufficient conditions of a crisis.

One other issue we might want to consider is whether a crisis is a
subjective phenomenon or an objective one. In other words, do crisis
happen to us because of something about us or because there are
conditions out there that create a crisis for us? In effect, how much
are we personally responsible for the crisis we experience and how much
do others or other things contribute to our crisis?

One feature or condition of a crisis, any crisis, is a serious deviation
from expectations or planned expectations. In other words, a crisis is
something we experience that we perceive to be or might even be outside
what we consider normal. Something that is not normal maybe, and
usually, trigger our survival instincts. Which in itself is quite a
useful and important instinct.

If we take the present economic crisis we might describe this as a
crisis because our expectations of continuous economic growth simply
failed to materialise and continue after a few years. Thus, because
there are so many people who have lost their job and many others who are
not making profits by the truck load we can call the present situation
as an economic crisis. My opinion on this matter, which has nothing to
do with the philosophical debate, is that the so called economic crisis
is nothing but criminal irresponsibility by most governments on this
planet. But that's too big a subject to discuss here.

Another aspect of a crisis must surely be the time frame. For there to
be a crisis it has to take place over a period of time. Something that
can be solved overnight might not necessarily be described as a crisis.
However, although I will argue that time is a relevant factor to
describe some event as a crisis, it is also a factor that is context
drive. Having a desperate toothache during the night is a crisis, but a
bank having sluggish cash flow over night is a non event. If a bank has
a sluggish clash flow over a period of months than might qualify as a

But by virtue of introducing a time factor and a deviation from the
norm, we are also implying a problem of anticipating what the future
will be like, to start with, then how to achieve the desired future
state of affairs. But a necessary condition of a crisis, I would argue,
is that not only we don't know what the future will be like, but even
more, we don't know what to do to bring about the future and the state
of affairs in the future we would like.

If a crisis is a psychological problem, we have this experience and
maybe causing us stress and anxiety, a crisis is first and foremost an
epistemological problem. We just don't know what to do to fix the
present situation. And maybe it this epistemological deficit that
implies that a crisis my be a situation that happens over time.

Before we can fix a problem, we first have to discover what the problem
is, and more importantly, do we have the knowledge base to fix the
problem? If we don't have the knowledge base to solve the crisis we have
to actually accumulate that knowledge base before we can do anything.
And this takes time.

There is another, more subtle, epistemological issue that relates to a
crisis. I'll give an example that, at face value, seem to be legitimate
and a genuine crisis. These past few weeks two regions on the American
continent experienced huge and destructive earthquakes. Haiti and Chile,
we can argue, have been hit by such a massive quake that these two
countries are for practical purposes in a state of economic and social
crisis. Many and many people do not have basic services, basic staples,
governments and overseers of society are not functioning as before. And
this crisis stems from the fact that earthquakes tend to destroy
physical infrastructures: roads, buildings, water supplies, power cables
and so on. At the epistemological face value level this is a crisis.

But is it; could the situation in Haiti, especially, and Chile, maybe,
be described in other terms? The subtle epistemological issue is
introduced to help us identify what is outside the norm and what we
have, in effect, is because there was nothing normal in the first place.
Is the crisis in Haiti due to the earthquake or due to the lack of
social and political infrastructure in this Country in the first place?
Why did the houses in this country collapse like matchsticks, or worse?
Was the earthquake that serious, it was, but I would argue that the
crisis, is due to the lack of social responsibility of those in
authority in not making sure that housing complied with a standard that
might not collapse at the slightest whiff of an earthquake. It is bad
enough when buildings are built to the highest standards; what can we
expect from shoddy work?

Thus our state of epistemological frame of mind is not only responsible
for solving our crisis but also important to help us understand the
crisis in the first place. There is no doubt that today, as we read
these words, there are many people in Haiti that are experiencing hell
on earth. But it is also true that by attributing the crisis to the
earthquake we are misinterpreting the real nature and cause of the
crisis. The real cause of the situation in Haiti today is not the
earthquake but rather failings of the authorities in the past.

Therefore, what is a crisis depends very much on what we know, but a
crisis can also be created by what we want to believe. And if our
beliefs are not bad enough, we can go on and compound the situation by
making others believe what we want them to believe.

Take care



from Lawrence, Pub Philosophy Group, Sunday meeting: The notion of
crisis: what is a crisis?

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