Confusion in Exchanging “Something” for “Nothing”
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 6 Jul 2015
Cognitive Implication in the Asymmetrical Processes of Begging and Its Surrogates
There is no lack of references to begging as a problem, supported by academic studies of the phenomenon — and with consideration of the policy implications, notably at the European level (Report for the Study on Typology and Policy Responses to Child Begging in the EU, European Commission, 2012; Bob Cox, Even in socialist Sweden, begging is a problem, Winnipeg Free Press, 1 August 2015) . Such concerns increasingly extend to the dimensions of the problem long-recognized in developing countries.
Typically missing from such references is any discussion of the nature of the encounter with beggars in terms of the internal dialogue — in the case of both parties. Also missing is any indication of how begging is a rather particular instance of a larger set of phenomena which may be caricatured as begging but are not seen as similarly problematic. Any such implication may even be highly controversial. Thus instances of collective “begging” can be currently recognized in the dramatic engagement of European politics with the refugee influx and with the indebtedness of Greece. The term figures in reported claims by Mohammad Reza Naghdi regarding nuclear negotiations with Iran (Adam Kredo, Iran: The ‘Americans Are Begging Us for a Deal’. Washington Free Beacon, 5 February 2015). The concern here is with the confusion in the individual case and its implications for understanding the dynamics in the more general collective case.
It is extraordinary to note the proportion of references to begging as being a phenomenon characteristic of the very young in begging attention from their parents (especially food and other satisfiers) — whether human young or those of other animals (most notably nestling birds). This could well be considered as indicative of insights to be obtained from begging by the impoverished or disadvantaged. The association with birds is all the more extraordinary given the explosive global preoccupation with “tweeting” through Twitter. Understood as begging for attention, this is consistent with the recognized emergence of a “begging culture” in many developing countries. This suggests that the future emergence of a global “begging civilization” merits exploration (especially if “begging” is understood more generically).
Also remarkable is the extensive philosophical literature on “begging the question“, namely on assuming the conclusion of an argument — as a form of circular reasoning. This too might be of relevance to the exploration of beggary — as with “begging to differ” and its implications for styles of discourse on the matter..
The concern here is to move beyond the pejorative framing of begging, perceived as an objectionable dynamic to be avoided. The focus is on how many find it necessary to engage in variants of this process under other labels, most notably through “soliciting”, as with the “begging letters” on which charitable fund raising is dependent. The tendency to avoid such matters can be usefully tempered by a conclusion of the UN Habitat Global Report on Human Settlements: the challenge of slums (2003), as noted by John Vidal (Every third person will be a slum dweller within 30 years, UN agency warns. The Guardian, 3 October 2003). Many may then be dependent on the capacity of civil society to complement the safety-net responsibilities of overwhelmed authorities — through soliciting funds.
Any such notion of “slums”, and the association of begging with poverty and homelessness, highlights the more generic sense of impoverished lives in terms of the quality of life to which people aspire as a possibility. Begging in its more generic sense is then an indicator of “homelessness” — with respect to a place where one could “feel at home”. This sense of “home” is the “quality without a name” identified by Christopher Alexander as the quality of “a place to be” (The Timeless Way of Building, 1979).
Of interest in the more generic approach to “begging”, and the existential confusion it engenders, is the nature of the seemingly asymmetric process of negotiation between parties, recalling the strategic challenges of asymmetric warfare. For the “beggar” it can be notably considered as a form of marketing, involving the exchange of valued tangibles (monetary units, resources) against valued intangibles whose nature eludes conventional definition. For the party solicited, it is a question of how the challenge to give is managed in relation to principles upheld and the cultivation of self-image. The art of the “beggar” could then be to “wrong-foot” the potential donor, placing the latter at a tactical disadvantage to enable fruitful conclusion of the agreement.
In an increasingly materialist society, there is a strange irony to the exchange of “something” (namely funds), themselves a token of “nothing” (namely confidence), for “nothing”, variously associated with values (including self-confidence). This occurs under socio-economic conditions in which many are faced with “nothing”, possibly including both parties to the exchange. The irony has much to do with the paradoxical nature of the experiental confusion in the begging moment. Rather than assumptions of linearity in description of an exchange process, this now merits exploration in terms of nonlinearity and entanglement, as suggested here with respect to the relation between chaotic strange attractors, the Möbius strip, and the challenge to conventional conceptualization as understood in the recent work of Diederik Aerts: on the quantum characteristics of conceptual entities.
At the time of writing these ambiguities have been brought into particular focus with respect to the final negotiations between the Eurogroup and Greece regarding the latter’s indebtedness and the loan required for its existential survival. With respect to the dignity of the Greek people, a posture of “begging” is fundamentally questionable — as it may well be for any group in quest of resources in highly straightened circumstances, and faced with immediate challenges of survival. As explored in this argument, the Eurogroup is fundamentally challenged by its assessment of confidence in the Greek commitment to use the funds appropriately — rather than squander them, as is a factor in any tangible response to need. For the Greeks, as with any soliciting aid, the precautious attitude of any donor elicits a pattern of negative responses engendered by the inequality. The tangibles, as “something” required for survival, are significantly reframed by the intangibles (confidence, commitment, self-respect, blame), readily deprecated as “nothing”. However, faced with a future of “nothing” — as is the condition of increasing proportions of the population — “nothing” is acquiring ever-increasing significance (Emerging Significance of Nothing, 2012; Configuring the Varieties of Experiential Nothingness, 2012)
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 6 Jul 2015.
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