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|Wednesday, December 27th, 2006|
|What Oneness Means for Us
This web is what make karma and reincarnation necessities because nothing lies outside of it. And that is also what the Bodhisattva’s reality: that idea that he doesn’t care to get off the ride until everyone’s karma is good enough for enlightenment. It is about realizing that one person’s success doesn’t really matter in the long run. It’s about doing what’s best for everyone. The palpable suffering so ubiquitous on this planet makes that all too clear. We need to change the way we live; we aren’t doing it right. There is a reality so deep out there most of us lack the imagination or the concentration to even consider looking for it. But, it’s there. Sometimes when you get to gaze deep enough you can catch a little glimpse. But that’s pretty rare. And bang, it’s gone in a second.
It is why our solutions won’t work. Specifically, why catching terrorists is a bullshit game. Because we are only erasing the marks. Our world is still traveling in the same direction that produced these types of people. What makes us think that they aren’t continually being produced? And perhaps even more quickly. We must change conditions that cause intolerable behavior. Simply using deterrents to plug the holes like you would with bubblegum on on leaks in the Hoover Dam, it's imperative to realize that reality is about relationships. (Sound familiar?) If we do not examine the cause-and-effect relationships very carefully, we will never learn what is causing what and then we will never be able to eradicate any negative patterns because we won’t know what caused them. Studying the past is absolutely integral to understanding the world.
This also begets the great reality that now things matter. By Thinking like this, you can tell all those Nihilistic shitheads to fuck off. Since what we do is connected to everything else, our actions spread out like waves from a rock thrown into the water. Some actions make larger splashes, sure, and some make smaller one. But they all affect the makeup of that pond and change it permanently. We don’t have to go around lamenting existence because we can’t bear what the obtuse call “The Unbearable Lightness of Being.” We know that being is ultimately heavy. So heavy that everything else is totally eclipsed under its shadow. Hence the unthinkableness of Nonbeing (and you might extend thsi to the mystery of death).
Particle physics even tells us the same thing, not-so-amazingly. Things function as both particles and waves. They have this singular existence but it really more nominal than it is actually accurate. Everything we experience is both a particle and a wave, meaning that they are both localized in some sense but are also expanding or shrinking, while they move through spacetime. They are cloudier more than they are solid. And they certainly bump up and affect those around them. Shit, many people claim that this Environmental Decoherence is what makes reality exist at all – that things are only solid and in place because they are constantly vibrating and rubbing against all these other minute particles that together constitute reality. So, you bet things matter.
And this means that we don’t need permanence to make us feel our actions matter. We don’t need to be threatened or rewarded with eternity. We know that our actions matter for the now and also for the future. No one said this experiment was going to last forever; there is no reason to believe it should. But realizing its transience makes it worth more; it means the clock is ticking and the game is on the line. Change is not something that is good or bad. It simply is. The sooner we recognize the impermanence of all things and stop grasping for a permanent reality, the faster we will become truly happy. Which is, as all things, good for one and good for the whole.
162. OK. I was watching Da Ali G show and here’s what happened. A woman was talking about fur coats and said, in the defense of animals, that she imagines they would prefer to die a natural death in the woods and therefore hunting them for fur was wrong. Fair enough; I’m down with that. But what I noticed was the reasoning of her decision. The “Why” we shouldn’t kill animals and I realized – well had known for quite some time now – that it is for the animals but it is not just for the animals. It is good for all animals. Good for all organisms, us included. Good for everything.
This is the interconnectedness of being; and I do not mean it in a collectivist way. I simply mean to say that Tat Tvam Asi. I saw it in a way like no other tonight. What is good for one…what is truly good for one of us is good for another. This is the intersection of Altruism and Self-Interest. It is the Nonduality Samkara was talking about. It is the same duality Svetaketu was told about in the Upanisads. It is the web of interdependence: the realization that there is not me and other; that I am you and you are me. Much the same as Nalatie Portman’s character does at the end of V for Vendetta. Very much what the Greeks meant when they said agape.
And, it is exactly what is implied in the ancient Sanskrit and current Nepalese greeting of good will: Namaste, which, so eloquently means, “the light in me recognizes the light in you, and if you see me, there are no longer two of us.”
|Wednesday, October 18th, 2006|
|John Lennon Once said:
God is a concept by which we measure our pain.
I'll say it again: God is a concept by which we measure our pain.
Can we get free from stimulus-induced well-being?
Can we efface all stimuli, internal and external, and still be happy?
Why not? What are we afraid of losing?
Why do we need such empty things to quell our anxieties of actually looking into ourself?
And why, is the most empty of all these things, the figment in which most people exhibit crass, unwaivering faith?
They are willing to fight and die, they are willing to kill and mame; ethnically cleanse and desciminate against everyone else...for who? for what?
Paul Simon once said: Faith, faith is an island in the setting sun. But Proof, yeah, proof is the bottom line for everyone.
Faith is simply a institutionally accepted term for the idea that: We aren't sceintifically positive about what is going on so let's instead pretend that we do know.
Is it just a coincidence that the more previously-unknown phenomena that science and reason have explained, the more our need for God (and even its sphere of influence) has diminished?
We say that tribes who danced in order to induce rainfall were foolish.
We OBVIOUSLY know what makes the rain fall.
Now we use God to explain stuff that we still can't figure out...like, say....How we can make ourselves happy?
|Thursday, October 12th, 2006|
|What to do with all this Consciousness?
Part of our inherent responsibility of the most conscious beings on the planet is to be exactly that: truly conscious. This means a few things for us.
It means realization is paramount. And by realization I am not talking about exclusively Buddhist enlightenment, because many people aren’t practicing Buddhists, but I do mean something somewhere else down that avenue.
If we claim freedom, in its most profound sense of course, as the ultimate goal of our existence, then we must take certain steps to achieve that goal.
Becoming conscious of what is really going on will not only set us free, it is the only thing that can set us free.
If we take technology as one example, we have an immediately compelling although perhaps not emotionally moving case. When, exactly, is it that we, as a species, are free to have things like cell-phones, computers, cars, airplanes, televisions, X-rays, chemotherapy, and a million other entirely useful and beneficial gadgets? When we understand how this particular section of the world works. We can say that, all other things being equal (which they are of course not, but stay with me for the sake of the argument) we are more free than a tribal warrior because we could call home on our cell and say start a fire, we caught some meat.
Science uses technology to make us more free. But we are not more free if we are unconscious of this. It is then, when we meander through life unaware of what is happening, that we once again become slaves to these prisons of materialism and the like.
This idea finds parallels in all areas of life: The more free we have the potential to be, the deeper and more pernicious the prisons become. Take, for example, a similar trend in morality: We have the ability to help people more now than ever before, but we also have the capacity to be more cruel.
Yes, the future is a beautiful thing full of endless possibilities. But we should not forget that half of these possibilities are bad; that a corollary to our increased capacity for everything human is the reality that our lives can be this much better, but also that much worse. How much more grave are the problems of today’s world then those of 2000 years ago? We are not too far from destroying all sentient life; we could create a nuclear winter tomorrow and destroy all life on this planet within an hour. No Ancient Greek could have come close to that. But we could (if anyone cared enough to!) also feed all the impoverished of Africa. We can rush people to hospitals, resuscitate them, and return them to their appreciative families. We should not and cannot say that our world is getting any more moral or any less moral than it has been in the past. This is so damn myopic and narrow.
Our world is no better or worse than it has been. It is just that our goods have gotten that much better and our bads have gotten that much worse.
And this is, in part, of what I am referring to when I talk about consciousness. It is easy to be conscious of the past, but can we actually see what is happening here before us?
So, we can talk about changing ourselves and leading more ethical lives. But does that really address my question. It does, in some way, nibble off a little chunk of my bigger qualm, but it doesn’t give it the ol’ Boa Constrictor gulp.
The first question we need to ask is “Do we really see what is going on here?” And then, once we do, we will not be able to help realizing how utterly important the present is.
People do not understand how grave this situation is. And, when I say grave, I do not mean totally dismal or lugubrious. I simply mean grave as important. I am even reluctant to say “serious” because seriousness implies a hostility towards whimsy and humor. And that is not the case at all: I think, once again, that if people realized how truly important the present was, there would be much more humor in the world, much more whimsy and goofiness. People wouldn’t be so staunch in their positions trying to sanctify the past or control the world now. If we realize what this world is – and a big part of it is surely dumb luck – than we could take the present as it comes, already feeling confident that we had done all we can to make the future a better time.
I’m way off in “I ate too many mushrooms land” now, though. Let’s see if I can’t get from here back to where I started from. If I can, I want a Nobel Prize.
One of the main forums that precipitates my thinking like this is the world of pluralism and diversity. How often do we miss out on things (which is easily understood as being ‘not free to do those things’) because we simply don’t know the reality about someone or someplace else? How many people have not seen the Pyramids of Egypt or a million other things because they were afraid to go? People can be afraid for a million reasons, but I think they all can be distilled down to this universal xenophobia – and I am not just referring to fear of unknown people.
We fear what we don’t know, and it is certainly cogent to claim that we are unconscious of what we don’t know. It is also valid to say that fear inhibits our freedom.
I am not brazenly supporting a careless life, however. Should we fear something legitimately, it is our fear that has set us free in this case. Should we fear grizzly bears or weapons cartels? Of course – but these fears are based on an accurate knowledge of the real reality of these two entities. And, in that sense, a well-calculated fear sets us free; it allows us to live into the future and have even more wonderful experiences.
I am not saying that fear is the antithesis of freedom; but I am saying that fearing for the wrong reasons is. So, if you are scared of something, you’d better have a good reason for it.
Add this to the increased capacity of mankind that I was discussing before. How easy is it for us to remain in our bubbles, our daily routines, where we do in fact know everything that is going on (besides maybe a completely unexpected twist here or there)? We acquiesce easily to this inertia for many reasons, but a big one is that it requires us to actually find out the reality about all these foreign things if we are to start thinking about them. And, in doing this there is always the possibility, perhaps even probability that our preconceptions will be proven wrong. Might we disdain to find out about Brazil or Islam or whatever because we know, deep down, that there is a reasonable possibility that all our premonitions and biases will be proven moronic? And what of us then? If all the structures and categories and stereotypes and walls we’ve erected in our minds were demolished by a single trip to Tunisia? What if we found out that I wasn’t Anti-Muslim anymore because I have been to a Muslim country and had learned that there is no reason to dislike them? How, then, would I identify myself? Who would I be?
I would be a no-self. I would be a person finally liberated from the borders and boundaries that I myself have erected and fortified in my own mind. I would have to admit that I am far closer to an ephemeral wisp than a rock-solid person. I would have to concede truths about the world that might demean my previous mode of living.
I would have to leave my bubble of security and admit that the real fear that exists in the world is the fear of the unknown. And not merely the unknown out there, no, no. I would have to admit the fear of the most egregious unknowing in the world: myself. I would be forced to admit that I do not know myself entirely, that I do not know exactly who I am or what I stand for because, simply, I have not placed myself in those positions yet.
There is this principal in quantum physics called Environmental Decoherence. In the quantum world, which I might add is not a figment or convenient mathematical construct but is in fact the world in which we live, there exists all these different types of elementary particles (electrons, photons, etc, etc. Nick Herbert simply calls them “quons,” a clever moniker for quantum particles.
Anyway, all parts of all things, indeed you and I, exist only ass probability waves. Heisenberg’s uncertainty principal requires that one can never measure both the position and momentum of a particle simultaneously, which indicates that we can never know everything about anything. We can only assume what we see and the probability of variegated futures. What does this mean to me?
Environmental Decoherence is what makes this bed solid and that apple crisp and my skin a plausible container for my organs. Environmental Decoherence is everything else. It is a description of the phenomena – crucial indeed – that all these particles are constantly rubbing up against and bouncing off one another. Mathematically and theoretically (equivalent to the world of our minds) everything in the universe is just a vague probability wave. But in physical reality, in actuality, all of these particles are defined against who and what they come into contact.
We exist only in a plural society. Alone, we are wisps of nebulous debris with neither a name nor a place. But, with the rest of the world banging into us, propping us up, we assume an identity. A completely real and totally realized position in life. Environmental Decoherence is unavoidable; but how many different people do we feel like rubbing up against? I suppose the answer to question is this question: how much do we really want to know about ourselves?
So how free can I really be if I don’t know all of these things about myself? If I am not conscious of who I actually am? I am not saying, of course, that we are never free until we know ourselves completely; but I am saying that the more we know ourselves the more free we have the potential to be.
But simply having the potential to be free does not make us so. We must act freely, and do it consciously. We must be aware of the decisions we are making, even when there is no ostensible decision being made. And we must be aware of when our limitations – either of discipline, intellect, or laziness – bar us from making decisions. To be conscious of the starving child and not do anything about it is hardly freedom; rather, it is the symptoms of a pervasive imprisonment of the mind: Enslaved by fear, shackled by laziness, frozen by complacency. We are only free when we act freely, and we can only do that when we are conscious of what is really going on.
Knowing ourselves is concomitant to knowing the world around us. The line between myself and the earth has become blurred. The line between myself and others is blurred still further. Freedom is consciousness.
|Tuesday, October 10th, 2006|
|The New World
This world is one of possibilities. Classical Physics is dependent on the idea that the probabilities for an electron being here or there when it comes to ordinary objects are so incredibly high that we might as well assume they really are totally there. But, as any scientist can tell you, this is not really the case. In the subatomic world of particles and quarks and in the astronomical world of galaxies and black holes, this physics breaks down. Classical physics, like our classical mind, fails to transcend our own reality: it cannot explain what we are experiencing; it can only explain what we think we are experiencing. Things are not nearly as certain as they present themselves to us on this ordinary scale of mid-sized objects. Our minds, like Newton’s physics, lags behind reality – clinging on to antiquated notions of truth and order, when, in reality, the world is not nearly as mechanical as we would like it to be. It is a chaotic world of vicissitudes and variegated potentials. Things only become actual when we make them so.
But this shouldn’t frighten or dehumanize us; we shouldn't detest this notion because it undermines God’s omnipotence or man’s place in the universe. Indeed, we should rejoice that the world is a maelstrom of myriad possibilities, that our own action is now the supreme progenitor of real reality. This new world is one of chances and probability clouds, of futures that are simultaneously nebulous and fixed. This world is one of uncertainty and paradox – where waves are particles and particles are waves, where the force holding you to the earth is truly the weakest force we have ever encountered, where forces are transmitted by quanta we’ve never even observed seen, where two sets of near-perfect equations are totally contradictory. This is the reality of the future - no, of the present: A world without barriers and borders and rules and restrictions and fatalism or predestination, without omnipotence or omniscience. This is the world we live in. And it is truly more interesting than anything we could have dreamt up on our own.
|Saturday, October 7th, 2006|
|The Salary Cap is Bullshit
133. The salary cap is a funny thing. Professional sports leagues have little reluctance to institute one – sure, some don’t (like baseball) but plenty of the fans still argue that having one would make the game better. Either way, though, the salary cap is not seen as something inherently bad. We have no problem putting limits on how much players can earn in an effort to make the league fair and promote good competition.
THIS IS SPORTS.
WHEN IT COMES TO REAL LIFE, when the penalty for losing out is not going 4-12 or losing your top star to a better team, rather starving and dying, we suddenly have a problem with a salary cap. Is this the most fucking absurd thing you’ve ever heard of or is it just me? When a trophy is on the line – “No, no, no. The league must be fair and equal…we don’t want one team dominating the whole time!” But when the issue is humans who need things like healthcare and childcare and education and a house and a job, then we suddenly have a huge problem with putting limits on how much the richest can make. I mean, what the hell is going on here? Has our existence become so deluded that we are more interested in fair chances when it comes to sports than when it comes to survival?
|Sunday, October 1st, 2006|
|Pain + Truth = Mollification
123. All that being said, I have often had the argument with myself about where the balance comes in then – that, without religion we have no meaning and that without science we have no truth. You know, it is a give and take type of thing because taken alone, neither provides a sturdy sidewalk on which to traverse life. But I am prodded to take that back now – after reading what I have on science, quantum, relativity and, albeit spurious, Superstring/M-Theory. Anyone who does not derive a profound sense a wonder, a deep notion of meaning, an awesome glimpse at the infinite, an appreciation for how truly complex our world is, and finally gratitude for it all, from science alone has simply not read enough science. I do not need mythologies or supernatural beings of dubious ontological origin to make my world full of mysteries and bewildering brilliance. It is often said that the truth is stranger than fiction; I can guarantee you that it is. But, more importantly, anyone with their eyes open needs nothing more than even an ephemeral glimpse at what the reality truly looks like, at how “The Fabric of the Cosmos” really functions, to cultivate an appreciation for the world that no religion alone could possibly provide.
|Thursday, September 28th, 2006|
|God, Pain and the Easter Bunny
122. Before children are mature, we disabuse them of the notions of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and all the other mythical and surreptitious visitors that have played such important roles in life up until this point. While I think this is quite acceptable (and have even happily entertained the idea of never lying to my children about Santa or the rest of that dubious posse) to dispel children’s notions of these fanciful and wholly imaginary characters, there are certain questions that must accompany this procedure. I will list them bluntly (sometimes rhetorically, sometimes providing my own hypothetical answers):
Why do children believe in this things? And eve better, told to believe in these things? If a child believed in spirits in the woods or monsters under his bed, those would be admonished and effaced by any respectable parents. So why are children encouraged to believe in comforting and joyful things and dissuaded for believing in scary or harmful things? Is it only a matter of comfort and security? Perhaps.
So, then, what happens as to us adults? Our puerile fantasies of imaginary personalities are not even replaced by but simply morphed into adult figments. Not only is there no time in our life when we can be considered to be ‘fantasy-free’ but our childhood notions of supernatural beings are essentially and banally transformed into more institutionally acceptable, sophisticatedly discussable, and socially admissible, but still entirely unevidenced and logically reprehensible imaginary manifestations.
Leaving the entire philosophical and religious argument out of this issue – because many, many things that do not exist in a scientific, external, empirical way can be argued to exist from a philosophical or rhetorical standpoint (e.g. justice, heaven) – I would like to posit this question: What more evidence is there for believing in any of these adult fantasies than the so-called childish ones we are beckoned to abandon upon our entrance into a conscious and mature state of being?
Posed another way – Why Jesus and not The Easter Bunny? Why Angels and a Virgin Mother but not ghosts, goblins, monsters under the bed and witches on broomsticks? Is it not true to say that in all of human experience we have exactly as much empirical evidence for monsters living under children’s beds than we do for a virgin not only becoming pregnant but having a successful birth? It should be obvious how much evidence we have for each of these.
So why is one of these forms labeled childish and the other sophisticated? Why is one of these mocked by adult society and the other accepted and even sometimes systematically enforced violently? Not only do they both have the same empirical credentials (read: Zilch), but they serve essentially the same basic functions: quell suffering, provide a sense of wonder, explain the unexplained, and revere certain rites or persons as holy and powerful?
Simply because one incarnation of fantasy is far more complex, cerebral, sophisticated, interesting, fulfilling and, in a word, better (I am not here arguing adult religion and childhood myths are identical) does that mean that ultimately it is actually any less unbelievable than its counterpart? I don’t think it does.
So now we end with the question at the crux of it all, which, coincidentally, has been the focal point of almost all my recent ruminations: Is it alright to believe something that is ostensibly void of any evidence, in a word, false, simply because it helps us deal with the pain of our daily lives and sleep better at night?
I don’t know. I don’t fucking know.
|Friday, September 22nd, 2006|
|Running down the mountain
121. I came upon this idea with Shroomster, running down a mountainside in Yosemite National Park. He brought up the idea that if you are actually running down the mountainside you don’t have to be that careful where you step (at least on every other step) because your momentum will just keep carrying you and so even if you don’t get a solid foothold in, the next step will be coming so soon that you can catch your weight easily without injuring yourself or falling. This got me thinking; I hope you can see where it’s going by now.
I will not stretch the truth and say that it does not matter where we put our feet. But, if one is moving fast enough down that mountainside, not every single step matters. If we have enough personal momentum pushing us forward, it doesn’t matter if we step on a loose rock because I next foot will be right behind us. Of course, we could walk more slowly down the mountain – putting more care into each step. In that case, we are less likely to fall, but should we take a misstep, our momentum is not moving fast enough and we will fall, and most likely hurt ourselves, because we have put so much pressure on that one foot to hold up all the body’s weight at that given time. The chances of falling though, while walking, are much lower. This is quite a balancing act.
Slipping is an issue, though: when we fall not because of a lose rock, but a rock that is wet, a rock that allows our foot to move too fast, a rock that doesn’t provide enough traction. In these cases, when we are propelled along – partly by our own blistering momentum along with the slick surface of the rock, we accelerate too quickly and are prone to injure ourselves more than we could have any other way.
So running down those rocky declivities from the top of Vernal Falls, in a mad dash against the setting sun to the bottom of the mountain, I was presented with this most crisp and cheeky of metaphors. Like the spectral rainbow that had just recently stolen my wind, just like cascading waterfall that had rapaciously plundered my speech, I was presented by the gods of Yosemite, yet again, another brilliant insight into the nucleus of life. Finding the microcosm in the macrocosm, the macro in the micro. Truth is more transcendental than we usually give it credit for.
|Wednesday, September 20th, 2006|
|Too much to Handle
This poem is now exactly 4 years old.
I wonder if it still sucks...
8. Too much
There’s too much to handle,
I’m falling short.
My livelihood packed with idiotic retorts
That get me no where.
The game’s completely fair and square,
I just don’t have what it takes;
There’s too much to handle.
Too much beauty in this sunlight streaked
Crystal snow-topped mountain peaked
World of Ours.
Far too many caves to be spelunked
Too many rose thorns to prick my finger
Too many ocean coast smells that linger
In my nose, and in my mind.
Wouldn’t you concur
It’s impossible to find
What it is you’re looking for?
I wish it were a needle in a haystack that I sought
That ought to be an easier thought to handle,
There’s too much to handle
Under the endless night illuminated by heaven’s candles
Strung together with ropes of black velvet.
Too many times we’ve been misled
There’s too many poems that need to be reread
Too many insecurities and inadequacies that need to be shed
Before our aching heart has bled
It’s last drop.
There’s too many twists and turns in this jagged mountainside
to possibly find my way to the top.
I’ve become smothered in this ravaging avalanche
Clinging to one last creaking branch
Struggling to hold on to everything I’ve struggled for
(I really don’t get why people go to war)
But I don’t expect to understand,
it’s very much more
than I can handle.
|Sunday, September 17th, 2006|
|To believe or not to believe
103. I write about this so goddamn much that it is becoming quite a routine. But, the question still plagues me like that fat girl I hooked up with in 10th grade, so I will revisit this pasture once again. I will try, however, to keep this one fresh and spare the turgid pontification for future events.
Earlier today I was walking when I passed a church about to celebrate (read: mourn) mass. I thought to myself “What a silly idea. They believe some absurd things.”
But then I was thinking to myself, “Maybe it works – you know, to believe these things whether they are real or not, who cares? As long as it solves the problem…because it’s really a lose-lose situation. Should we spend our whole lives being miserable, wallowing in the stark truth that reality bites the big one? I mean, if the goal is to curb suffering, who cares what you believe…if that suffering is held in abeyance, hey, problem solved. Right?
But then my thoughts continued – shouldn’t any reasonable person be able to tell that they are just professing to believe in these fake things to avoid suffering? Isn’t that suffering itself? Knowing that you are living in ignorance? But that qualm is still addressed by the original argument: if the suffering is dulled, who cares?
So, should we care? I mean, as humans cognizant (hopefully) of how we function, is this despair ever avoidable? Won’t we always be playing this stupid game of freeze-tag with ourselves…jumping rope on the playground, again, again, again. The rope goes around and around and we never get anywhere, the rope never changes; we just get more tired.
Now, I am leaving all of the other negative side-effects of religion out of this (mind control, discrimination, indoctrination, etc etc) so I do not even want to venture into that realm when deciding ‘is religion worth it?’
Just stick to the idea of believing in things. So this is just really a bunch of bullshit that’s been paddling away in my river for years and years. It’s only that it fucking rowing against the current and boy is it hard to get anywhere.
So what do you think? Should we believe the lies if they help us sleep better? Should we need these crutches to help ourselves stroll through reality?
|Saturday, August 26th, 2006|
|The best one in a while...but it's LONG: Realism, Relationality and Relativism
Alright, here I go.
Going into this essay I really feel like I’m on the edge of something big here, leering down at the precipice that expands below me. I also feel like I shouldn’t be spying this ominous abyss with a restrained jubilation (10 points to whoever can name where that phrase is from!) – it is a cavern of unknowns, a hall of hullabaloo, an anxious and apprehensive appendage adjacent to God’s armpit. But this is a new outlook of mine. Revel in uncertainty, find sense in the nonsensical. Walls are illusions, boundaries are artificial. Rules and regulations are specious restrictions that we need not heed! So here I will jump in. Attempting to explain the difference between a relative and relational reality, which, despite the alliteration, might seem like nonsense to my Western Realist friends, but, dear friends, I assure you the gap is as wide a hooker’s prized piece of pie; a mutually exclusive dichotomy where relativity (not Einstein’s!) and relationality duke it out like drunken Irishmen at an English football match.
I will try to explicate this flapdoodle as concisely as possible. Instead of employing my usual loquacious and pontificatory manner, I will just go for the proverbial jugular.
I realize that many of you avid readers out there will have qualms about the way I define relativism, so I will take the stock definition: it expresses the view that the meaning and value of human beliefs and behaviors have no absolute reference. Relativists claim that humans understand and evaluate beliefs and behaviours only in terms of, for example, their historical or cultural context, simply that no absolute truth exists.
This is something that I do not take immediate issue with, well not at quickly as realism or more so absolutism. Western Christians, especially, however, really find this pill tough to swallow.
A way I like to think about relativism is like a graphic equalizer on a stereo on which anyone can move any of the dials up and down independently. In Relationality, you can move the dials up or down but they are attached to each other by a taught rubber-band, making all of them move to adjust to the others. You can move anyone you want, but moving one necessarily affects others in this interdependent and coexistent realm. There will be an ‘equal and opposite’ reaction, but not in a unilateral way. Effects are dispersed among the other players in existence. This reality is social. In realism, they are connected by a stiff line, so all of them move identically – you shift one knob up five notches, they all move up five notches. And, worse yet, in absolutism, you simply can’t move them at all. Dials that can’t be dialed – some fucking stereo you got there.
We know realism isn’t true through two means of knowing. First, by simply by looking around us: People have different morals, value different things, speak different languages, define things differently. So that is the experiential example (which is the only real type of example to begin with). We also know it simply thought theoretical or rhetorical logic. Realism implies that there is a clear right and wrong to all situations and if this right and wrong exist and we simply haven’t perfected our understanding of it (most people’s rationalization of their realist ideas), it fails because a) we have no way of knowing that it is extant without proof and b) even if the previous sentence were true, that still does not explain where there is disagreement even among people that claim to understand. If they really did understand, wouldn’t they agree? And, moreover, the world presents us with myriad situations; what works in some does not work in others and a quick look at history will tell us that. And, finally, if there is a fixed realist reality, then where the hell does evolution fit in? Does that imply that there is an end to evolution? That can’t be true, but on the same token, you can’t say that we’ll never get there and evolution is an evolution toward a future – but yet never-achievable – goal. Here you get into that whole ends-and-means bullshit and well, that is just a road not worth exploring in this case. And besides, we can know things, so how could real reality be off in the distant future when we are manipulating it here and now?
Relativism is more appealing, but faulty none the less. The original logic I heard disproving it said that relativism says that no statements can ever be absolute, including this one. So, how could a theory that disproves itself be true? Wow. I thought that book was great at the time. Then I learned to think. Wahoo.
Relativism is dangerous to a lot of people because it places the power of labeling existence within the individual, and given how many stupid and fucked up people there are in the world (myself included no doubt!) this places an awful lot of responsibility with undeserving and undereducated folk. An important point here is that the individual does not label reality, but individuals do. Now, you might say that this is just a collective relativism – that even though a group of people think something is true, that doesn’t make it so, either (e.g. Nazism). That point is good, but it does not cleave the steak that I am here marinating. Not only is relativism impossible (at the most trite and rudimentary level, how could people create their reality using a language invented by others!...there would be no method of epistemology in a truly relative universe) it is undesirable. You can’t count on anything in a relative world. If you ordered a baseball bat online and a Tutu showed up in the mail, you’d be pissed. But what if the vendor simply said, “Reality is relative – you may call this a Tutu but I call it a bat. In fact, in my native language, this is called a bat, to boot!” Bat to boot. I like that.
Relativism is not only logically moronic, it is experientially exhausting and impossible. No one wants to live in a relative universe because nothing can make any sense. And, like I’ve disproved realism with, we can make sense of the universe. Things are not relative because we can count on them. We can count on the fact that an atom is made of a protons and neutrons surrounds by a whirling blade of electrons – if we couldn’t we would have this computer, you wouldn’t have eyes with which to read or a manufactured chair on which to sit. We can count on reality. Try to throw a baseball up to the moon or start your car without gas in it, then tell me that we live in a relative universe. In fact, the universe is so not relative that not only can people accurately tell you that neither option of yours is feasible, they can predict the exact result of your attempt. Try to throw that ball, and with the right information a mathematician or physicist could tell you exactly where that call will land and how fast it’ll be going. If the universe were relative, science would be impossible. And that is obviously not the case.
Finally we get to the good stuff. In the words of the Buddha, the Middle Way – and boy is he right. The universe is somewhere in the middle of these two. It is neither entirely pliable, nor entirely fixed. If it is totally flimsy, why are there constants? Not only in science, say, but how about with art? How can someone definitively say that X person is a better musician than Y person? Because there is a method to the madness – well, at least a little bit. How are DaVinci or Vermeer regarded as legends if all things are merely up to the individual interpretation? A relativist can’t claim that Mozart was better at the piano than I am. If relativism was true, then wouldn’t their enduring popularity simply be chalked up to the fact that “just a lot of people happen to like them?” We want to say that is wrong, though. We want to say that there is something inherent in the quality of work that makes it good painting no matter what anyone says about it.
Now we are veering towards realism, which is inevitable, of course. We now want to say that Bach was a musical genius even if no one happens to listen to him. We want to say that there is indisputable quality in Shakespeare’s words, no matter how many high school kids (or full-grown, voting adults!) think his prose or poetry is useless. And we should want to say this because it is the truth. But not the whole truth. Nothing ever is. And that points us back in the direction we need to go.
So, we know two things. A) that reality isn’t utterly static, fixed or real. B) we know that reality isn’t totally flimsy either. We can make critical judgments, we can evaluate and predict. We can know. So where does this leave us? Somewhere in the middle.
And now entering from stage left: Relationality.
I’ll state the meaning of relationality as concisely as I can (although it is the most complex concept [for lack of a better word] that I can think of because it is the grandest). Relationality is part relativism, part realism. It recognizes that things are knowable but we view them only through our perceptions and those are not fixed. Truth arises not exclusively out of the object over there (realism) or the person observing here (relativism) but at the point at which these two meet (the relation)…and for those of you who know me well out there will hearken back to the ol’ Tat Tvam Asi! Never knew how pervasive that truth was, did you? Neither did I.
Relationality explains it all. If realism were correct, then there would be no personality, no human influence, no preferences, no existentialism. Like, if realism were real (wry, isn’t it?) why isn’t Beethoven everyone’s favorite pianist (assuming he is the best – [and the fact that I had to add this little parenthetical explanation even further proves my point that we can’t even talk in realist terms])? Why isn’t everyone’s favorite painter DaVinci, followed by Michaelangelo, etc etc? Because there are preferences, which grow out of the human, not the object. If realism existed, there would be no disagreement because nothing of human production would matter – objects would be exactly what they are. But what are they? Humans give them names, label them, define them, make them and use them. There has to be human influence on reality. What we call a chair might have existed long ago, but it was not actually a chair until someone called it that.
This means a lot of great things. It means that truth is not so flimsy, so superficial, so devoid of profundity that it is found equally as valuable in all things. Some things are better than others. But it also means that things themselves do not possess all aspects of reality. It makes us humans an integral and necessary player in this game. It means that rocks may exist, but they are not rocks unless we call them rocks. Instead of demeaning humans (realism) or demeaning all things not human (relativism) it elevates both to a level in which they are utterly irreplaceable aspects of a greater reality. We haven’t even gotten to the best part, though – so here:
It means that truth – the punch-line of reality – is found in the experience. It is not in myself alone, nor is it in that object alone. Truth happens where the experience, the relation of myself and X object takes place.
This explains it all. Remember this takes into consideration what a person is: a really complicated conglomeration of millions – literally – of different influences. Genes, parents, childhood, (Freud wasn’t entirely wrong) environments, everything that comprises a person. Something like the Mona Lisa has a lot of inherent worth – certainly – so it does appeal to a large number of people, but not everyone because not everyone is wired (through their own input and the unavoidable and selected input of others) to like that painting. There is an ‘undeniable’ beauty to the painting, but that does not mean everyone is going to like it. The painting alone does not hold the truth of its beauty, but neither does the viewer alone. It is in the experience. Relationality explains how some things are popular among a lot of people – say Shakespeare. But it also takes the human’s role into account, realizing that it will not be the preference of everyone. The truth of sublimity is in the experience of Hamlet, not in Hamlet alone, nor in the reader alone.
This also explains morality and evils. Is killing someone wrong, for instance? Most would argue that “Well sometimes yes and sometimes no.” If the universe were relative then you could not answer this question. If it were a realist universe then one answer would have to be right all the time. But one answer is not right all the time. The answer depends on the relations of the killing. (That is, relations to who is doing the killing, who is being killed, for what reason, etc, etc).
Therefore, we eschew absolutism in a way that realism cannot. But we also circumvent the problem of moral relativism. The morality of an action is able to be judged, but not in such a way that the same judgment applies to all acts of the given type across the whole history of existence.
People often tend to gravitate towards realism or relativism, though. And why shouldn’t they – they have enormous gravity wells! They are full of innumerable adherents and they supply quick answers. Relationality, unlike most political, religious or cultural decrees, requires an open-minded, critical analysis. There are no short answers in relationality because everything must be taken as it is – there are no umbrellas in this world, no matter how hard it rains. Every situation must be judged on its own merits. That is not to say that others can’t be consulted for guidance or previous, similar situations can’t be examined for insight or education, but everything is, ultimately, what it is and not what anything else is. It takes a lot of time, a lot of mindfulness. It dispels prejudices, rash conclusions and biases. It disintegrates any mind-blocks we have. Think our minds as a section of a river and the world (experience) as the river itself. All of our biases, prejudices, concepts, ideas, notions, etc are like baggage, blockages. As the world, the river, flows through our pass – say a bottle-neck in the river – the more ‘person’ we have, there slower and more belabored the water’s flow through our mind. If we get rid of all this preconceived ideas, the water’s journey is easier and faster. When we have our biases – racism, etc – it is like having a big log caught in our section of the river. And blockages only precipitate more garbage getting caught (you may interpret this as either the tendency to adopt more biases or the tendency to get caught up on garbage – that is, unimportant shit – which people often do. I think it means both.) This is a tangential point, so I’ll stop with this one, but it’s not because it is unimportant.
Relationality requires mindfulness, and that is why most people don’t even want to venture into this canyon. Relationality, maybe more than anything else, destroys the categories and labels we have concocted in our minds (which are usually wholly inaccurate to begin with). It avers that reality exists only in experience…and all experiences are made of at least two players. Perhaps this implies some sort of necessarily social reality, I have not thought about that yet. But I don’t have a tough time buying it. There are no atoms that without a social network going on; no entity that is only electrons or only neutrons (and don’t get me started on quantum particles!) No useful molecules that are made of only type of element. Even within the nucleus of atoms there are relationships going on. The water we drink, the wood we burn, the snot we sneeze, and the nether regions we hope to titillate exist only because a truly complex relation that, should the relation cease to exist, there would be no entity. No where is there ever an absence of a relation, so why would we think the grand reality, that main course turkey dinner at the end of all the hors-d’ouvres and drinks, would be any different?
* * *
I have no reason to doubt that truth is an experience and in that experience a conscious being is a necessary participant, but not the only participant. For me, this elevates the conscious mind into an entirely precious position in reality: We are not expendable. But it does not demean the material universe, either. The universe is placed on a pedestal equally extolling. This way of viewing the world makes me feel more important, and not because it places us at the center of things. Just the opposite, it places us in relation to things – a necessary participant in this wild game. But it reminds me – pervasively, unavoidably reminding – that we are not the culmination of anything. But since we are not, since we are only a portion of the whole, it prevents us from taking ourselves and our beliefs too seriously. It prevents the egocentrism that plagues our species. It reminds me that we are all in this together: you, me and the tree. So, this, like all things, is just another supposal at how our universe might work. I realize that it’s not set in stone, or even on paper, but it does help me to make sense of the world and realize how truly important, and truly beautiful, this cockeyed experiment is.
Most people despise it; find it a nuissance, really.
I don't mind it. Of course, at the time I might claim otherwise, but it really is a function most brilliant of the human body.
Whiskey dick is nature's way of saying "Bad idea."
|Thursday, August 10th, 2006|
I know I write about this a lot, so for those of you that are opposed to thinking, I apologize. MTV is on channel 58, and I believe NEXT is on (which I saw earlier today and it was so incredibly asanine that I was so affected by it that I needed to reference it in this little piece of bullshit)
Anyway, remember that little puzzle you might do with your friends in 5th or 6th grade in which you had to draw the outline of a house with an X through the middle of it without retracing any lines?
Well, I hope you do because i am having a devil's time trying to somehow draw that with my pathetic ability with computer graphics, so I cannot. (It's a box, with a two-sided pointed roof, and an X connecting the four corners of the box...the object of the puzzle is to draw that without picking up the pencil or retracing any lines.)
Anyway, Free Will is like that puzzle.
At the beginning, before you put the pencil down, you are certainly free to draw that house properly. However, you must put that pencil down in order to draw that house (i.e. be free to draw that house). If you choose never to put your pencil down (i.e. act), you are not free to draw the house.
So you put the pencil down. Now, you are not free to pick it up (i.e. undo the action done). Already, your once unlimited options are now cut in half -- you can only perform an action that involves keeping the pencil on that paper.
Now, with every line you make, you are getting closer and closer to drawing that house (i.e. the original goal of exhibiting or exercising free will).
But, with every line you draw, your options become more and more limited simply by the fact that a) you cannot undo what is done and b) there are fewer and fewer directions in which you can now travel.
As you draw your line across the paper, and get closer to completing the house, you will realize that, at certain junctures, your 'being free' (i.e. completing the oringinal task of exercising freedom -- drawing the house) will REALLY limit your options. In fact, towards the end of the puzzle, you will realize that 'being free' entails the complete eradication of ANY choice whatsoever. By the final few lines, there is NO choice to be made; being free in this instance entails complete bondage. WOW
But, nevertheless, by following the rules of the puzzle (or the rules of life, which one might call logic, morality, mindfulness, etc) one is utterly NOT free in her quest to EXHIBIT freedom. Double Wow.
Now, for the real kicker: Those (haha, yeah right, like you exist elsewhere besides my head) who know my writing well, will say that "Andrew, in a previous essay didn't you say that freedom exists only within the confines of being not-free? But, my friend, here you are saying that being not-free necessarily exists within the confines of freedom! Which one is it you blathering idiot!?"
And, triple wow, i'll respond with a quote from Tom Robbins (I was never good at doing my own dirty-work):
Paradox goes unappreciated only by those who are obtuse. Quad-wow
|Monday, August 7th, 2006|
|The Perfection: Phish, Soccer, Seinfeld, Buddhism
I have figured out why I like the things that I do. Well, I should specify and state that the things I am heretofore referring are those things that I truly like and could find no replacement for in this world. I am not referring to things like chocolate or computers or any other sub-category of nonsense that happens to occupy my little hamster-wheel of neurotic activity from time to time. Here I am referring to my big 4 irreplaceables: Buddhism, Soccer, Seinfeld and Phish.
Of course anyone who knows me well might appendix this list with things like Curb Your Enthusiasm or Robert Pirsig books or a million other works that are surely worth my time. But, for the sake of the preposterous argument about to be made, let’s stick to these four.
I should first start by telling you, quite objectively in fact, that I like these 4 things because they are without doubt the best in their respective fields. I do not think they are best because I like them; rather I am drawn to them simply because of the unadulterated quality and brilliance they exude. This is fact, my friends. And you heard it from this quite credible source.
The reason for my insistence of the greatness of these 4 things is simple: they are all Zen. And here, translate Zen loosely: not as a very disciplined and brilliant school of Buddhism so eloquently espoused by Dogen in the 12th Century. Rather, maybe we should look at the term as through the lens of Dogen’s work. They are all institutions where practice and enlightenment are not only identical, but the same. And, in that sense, they are not ends, or even means and an end. Rather, they are entities where the ends are the means. Let me pontificate as I do so well:
In all four of these things, soccer, Buddhism, Phish and Seinfeld, there is no arbitrary, preconceived point one is trying to attain during the course of the action. I take that back. We can identify, in order, winning, enlightenment, ecstasy and laughter as the four goals of these four things. However, given their natures, there are no gimmicks that get us to these goals. With all four of these, there are no short-cuts or easy answers. There are no methods that work. They are not like accounting or quadratics where you can simply plug ingredients into a formula and the desired result will be attained. I could go into long treatises on each of these – as I know them all quite thoroughly – but for the sake of keeping it interesting, and to preserve my task of making the most absurd claims possible, I will explain the whole world here. Not it’s parts.
Baseball, for instance, while a great sport is not like soccer whatsoever. It is a much more calculated game. There are strategies, of course, (and one might argue that there are in soccer, too) but not in the same vein of baseball or football or even hockey or basketball. Soccer is a fluid game where one strategy will not suffice for a whole season. The point is to ‘read the game’ and let the game itself be the strategy. It is to find whatever works and do that at any given point. The most unsuccessful teams in soccer are often those who stick to their particular strategy or game-plan when its uselessness is palpable. Adapting to the game, changing with every rotation of the ball is the key there.
Seinfeld may be my easiest argument to make here simply because it has been fondly labeled as the “show about nothing.” Could a more Zen title have been chosen? The show used no gimmicks (perhaps Kramer’s entrances might have to be ignored here). The show found humor in the very conversations we have. There were no absurdities and recurring themes like one finds in Friends or Simpsons or a million other shows (many of which are good). In fact, the show was so much about nothing that it became about everything. This is what makes the Buddhist realize how precious everything is: because everything is an endless world. Just like soccer, there are no predetermined recipes for success.
Phish is the same way as well. Night after night they played different songs. They never relied on one “go-to” song to make there show like NSync, Tim McGraw or even Dave Matthews Band did. They let the energy flow out of whatever was there. Phish might be the only band that could have David Bowie be the best song of the night one show and have it be the worst song in a different show. That is because they circumvented the nagging mouse-traps of repetition and reliance. In the same way Seinfeld or Soccer functions, Phish is a dynamic entity: there were no short-cuts to success. True, songs like Hood or Divided Sky might predispose the band to entering into these realms of ecstasy, but it was never a given. It was not like everyone came to hear these one or two songs. The fact that every show was different, that there was nothing inherent in Phish’s playing (just like there is never one single thing that you could say about any soccer game or any Seinfeld episode that would engender success) that made it so good. It was about choosing the right thing to play at that time. With DMB, for instance, that simple D to G (Ants Marching) was a recipe for success. With Phish, one riff might be the perfect note to hit in one song while in another Trey would get criticized about it for months.
Buddhism, more than any of these, is like this, too. Perhaps because it is the religion devoted to this business. In Buddhism, there are no saviors, no wins and losses, no doctrines like there are in Western religions. There is never any single thing that is absolutely good or absolutely bad. Things are contingent. We are all contingent. It is doing what is right at the time that matters. There are no short-cuts in Buddhism. There is no John 3:16 Bullshit about simply having faith will earn someone eternal salvation. Nope. Sorry. It’s not that easy here in the world of supreme quality. In this world, everything is about earning it. There are no gimmicks, no short-cuts, no absolutes, no “go-to” strategies that will win the game for you. Buddhism is simply this concept applied to life.
Soccer is the sport, Seinfeld is the art, Phish is the music and Buddhism is the religion: they all embody, in fact thrive, off this very specific idea that things are changing and that there are no easy answers. In baseball, home-run hitters get it done, period. Without a good one, you won’t win. Have two or three good ones, you’ll be in the World Series. In soccer, no single position will win a team championships – they are all dependent, contingent on what the game demands. Seinfeld is simply a show about how things work, not the things themselves. Why do you think Phish’s albums pale in comparison to hearing it live? Because repeated listenings doesn’t work for Phish. Their tunes aren’t about the catchy hook that you hear on 92.3 and get stuck in your head for 3 days. The more Phish can erase the walls in their/our minds, the better their shows. The more they can breakdown these structures we’ve built up of what is ‘good’ to hear and what is ‘bad’ to hear, the better the show gets.
And Buddhism, well, I’ve already dealt with Buddhism. It is the religion of this, indeed the science of this. As the days pass, I am more inclined to think that very little is inherent in the structure of things. People who are good at math might just as well be good at writing or art if they spent the same amount of time with the same amount of care. Maybe not. But the point still remains that for these Big 4, they are the best because they are some of the only “open fields” out there. They refuse short-cuts and in fact usually punish their use; not in a punitive way but simply in a way where their use won’t really work. You can’t hope your way to enlightenment. Even if Phish played your ideal setlist, it does not mean whatsoever that it would be your favorite show they’ve ever played. It’s about how they play it.
So that is why I like these 4 things – because are the only ones for the scrutinizers, the ones who discover the science within the science, the ones who refuse to stop looking deeper and deeper. They take long attention spans and a willingness to be disappointed. There is no question about that. Americans usually shy away from these things because they tend not to yield immediate results; you can’t join a Seinfeld in the middle of the episode and get the jokes. You can’t see the last 3 minutes of a soccer game and understand what’s going on. There are no elevators to the 30th floor in these disciplines. They are only for the most intense, most obsessive for those of us out there.
But, when Italy finally lifted that Cup on July 9th, when the cast of Seinfeld was incarcerated at the end of the last episode, when Phish rolls home with the A-D-G at the end of 15 minutes of Harry Hood, when the lightening flashes in the dark night: it is all so much better, that much better because it was the long route, the only route. And those four experiences are things that nothing else could produce.
The Four things I learned in college: Phish, Soccer, Seinfeld, Buddhism.
|The end of violence
“When will the fighting stop? When will it end? Why are they acting like this?”
I can’t remember how many times I’ve heard these questions asked, even posed by myself. The answers, coming from us privileged pontifi-crats, are always the same monotonous bullshit: when they stop attacking, when they start employing a proper government, when they curb their production of nuclear weapons, when they conform. Maybe the smarter ones among us have quipped it’s when we start changing our foreign policy, when we elect the proper president, when we get back to what this country truly stands for…etc, etc, etc. Bullshit, misinformed lies, and more bullshit. Even from the smart ones.
No amount of political, military, or whatever nonsensical, vague beaureaucratic term you care to throw in here strategy is going to change anything. If one lesson should be apparent from history is it is that one cannot crush anything into submission. Even if desired effect of victory is palpable, the evils inherent in both the crime and the victory will be pushed out elsewhere, manifested through a new, perhaps even more dangerous, vent. Much like a weed or cockroach that keeps developing new mutations to exist under whatever conditions it finds itself. Nothing can be crushed and destroyed; the second law of thermodynamics tells us that. Perhaps science and philosophy are not so opposed after all.
What the law tells us is that things only can change form, but the nature of that entity is still the same, willing to emerge whenever and wherever possible.
So when will the fighting stop? When will the bloodshed cease? Well, if we look at where it has ceased for the most part, we come up with one relatively universal characteristic. No, you champions of democracy out there, you ethnocentric and political carpet-baggers, fighting will not cease once all places have adopted a free and liberal government that prizes the free market and open elections (although they might be a step in a (notice the use of ‘a’ and not ‘the’) right direction. Thomas Friedman can drink water infested with parasites for all I care – tell me how great Americanization is for those who don’t have a white-boy, retro-mustache like a 70’s porn-star. Fuck off.
Where has the bloodshed ceased? Simply: in places where they deem it is no longer ‘worth it’ to fight. No one with a nice house and three kids who play the flute and go to tennis lessons is signing up to fight in a war (unless, of course, like the lovely people in this country who were so brainwashed by their dubious government that they actually believed they were helping the situation). But let’s talk about the people doing the brainwashing. How many congressmen have fought? How many of them had kids in these new wars? Throw whatever patriotic, idealistic bullshit you want at me: the point I’m making is that wars don’t start between people who have something to lose, between people who are comfortable.
They start among people with nothing to lose. Whose fate would be not much worse if they were impaled by an allied tank than if they sat at home and were killed two days later by an allied “smart-bomb.” People fight because fighting and dying is not much worse than living like they do. I think the same is true with crime. Only the biggest fuckers of the fucks commit crimes as millionaires with yachts. The poorest of the poor commit crimes because the crime is worth it: Hell, they might get away with it, and the prospect of that, even if they get caught and sent to jail, is not much worse than being homeless during a Boston winter.
Inequality breeds contempt and violence. Not communism or the Taliban or terrorists or fascists or whatever you think. These ‘evildoers’ are only the end results of the original problem: inequality. You cannot cure a symptom, only the disease. We take aspirin when we need chemotherapy.
We must ask what causes people to fly planes into buildings. What makes people believe a suicide bombing is an acceptable alternative? Again, you may say that these things are engendered by communist or fundamentalist societies. But no one is so stupid to believe these things unless they see no alternatives. The bloodshed will cease when people deem it is no longer worth it to fight.
Not when Iraq has successful elections or when Osama is caught or when the Nazis are defeated. WWII is a great example, in fact. Even reasonable people cite WWII as a good example of when force was utterly necessary. Well, who am I to say that it wasn’t. But simply look at the shit-storm that has been left in its wake, namely the placement of Israel as a nation-state. Man, good thing we crushed the Nazis and saved those Jews; now the world is a safe place!
No. You want to stop wars and crimes and whatever other practices you deem to be so evil, drain their causes! You may kill a terrorist but you cannot kill terrorism. You cannot kill symptoms and effects. Causality is the only science to study.
If we asked ourselves “why” a bit more frequently, a truly genuine, honest, critical and self-evaluative “why,” we might not find ourselves in the mess we tend to just about every twenty years.
|Why Bob Marley is so Dangerous
“Singing don’t worry, about a thing. ‘Cause every little thing’s goin’ to be alright”
-- Bob Marley
“Whos in a bunker? Whos in a bunker?
Women and children first.
And the children first
And the children
Ill laugh until my head comes off
Ill swallow till I burst
Until I burst
Whos in a bunker?
Whos in a bunker?
I have seen too much
I havent seen enough
You havent seen it
Ill laugh until my head comes off
Women and children first
And children first
Here Im allowed
Everything all of the time
Here Im allowed
Everything all of the time
Ice age coming
Ice age coming
Let me hear both sides
Let me hear both sides
Let me hear both
Ice age coming
Ice age coming
Throw it in the fire
Throw it in the fire
Throw it on the
Were not scaremongering
This is really happening
Were not scaremongering
This is really happening
Take the money run
Take the money run
Take the money
Here Im allowed
Everything all of the time
Here Im allowed
Everything all of the time
The first of the children”
I chose to write this because conventional wisdom is often wrong – or at least presented to us in paradoxical ways. I find both aforementioned quotes to be true. The second, perhaps, more than the first. However, recently I have noticed a harrowing development in humanity; I suppose it is possible that it’s been there all along and I have only noticed this acutely within the recent past. Doesn’t matter. What I think does matter, though, is this point: What if everything isn’t going to be alright? What if the world really is that bad?
It certainly seems this way. Idioteque articulates this point like a soldiers bayonette slices through the stomach of a civilian after she’s raped and beaten. I look outside, I see a world that is, most certainly, that bad. What is going to be alright? Ourselves, our friends, the world? Certainly not. “This is really happening.” Ubiquitous destruction, devastation wreak havoc on dignity everywhere. And even should we kill all humans, the problem is still worse. We are fucking up the environment beyond repair. We will be lucky if it is only us humans that die and not all known life as a whole. We are a precious experiment and I know the world at large does not view us as such. We live in a delicate balance and it is being destroyed. The Ozone, collateral damage, tyranny, nuclear weapons: it is that bad.
Marley was wrong. Everything is not going to be alright, especially if we continue on this path. And it is only getting worse. The capacity for human evil has reached such a pervasive level that we must be scared of everything. Of subways and planes and letters and post-offices and Olympic games and poltical hearings. Sometimes I sit and sob, knowing that this is not how it was supposed to be. How it could have been. How it could be. What are we waiting for to change?
“We’re not scare mongering, this is really happening.” “Who’s in a bunker?” We’ve traded in everything. How can I escape this? Where can I go?
It is the elixir, opiate of Marley and others’ songs that trick us into believing that we are all OK. That it will all work out in the end. Christianity is the major culprit. Religion in general isn’t remotely innocent. We must live here and now. This is the world we are preparing for our children, for our grandchildren: Where we are suspicious of those that speak other languages instead of reveling in the possibility to see the world through different eyes. We have taken the excitement of the unknown and transformed into an excuse to rob the poor and build ultimately powerful weapons with the loot.
It takes little more than a cursory look at our society to see that we will “Take the money and run.” We’ve called it quits for our world, our society, our environment. It is all about us now, and that wave is so truly momentous that anyone who dares swim against it will be pull under by the rip of stigmatization or insurgency. There is no more society. Take the money and run, child. Take the money.
We watch the news, night after night, witnessing the iceberg tip of the horror that rages constantly in places that we can’t even pronounce. We do not see ourselves in them. And why should we? They do not share our perfect values. They are not fit for society. I saw a young boy get carried from the rubble by a family member ranting wildly. I had no idea what he was saying; I did see however that the boy of 11 years had wet himself before he was blown to pieces. This is the world we are preparing for our futures, our children, our humanity. And don’t think it can’t happen to us. No amount of armor can protect against the invincible truth. “I have seen too much.” No. “You haven’t seen enough.”
Ice Age Coming. Ice Age Coming. Ice Age Coming. Religious zealots who speak of Armageddon and the Apocalypse are labeled as lunatics. And insofar as they present their ideas as scientific, they are. But what other conclusion am I suppose to reach when I look at this world. The only world. This one cherished experiment – the only one of it’s kind according to our knowledge – is ruined more and more with each day. WHAT ARE WE WAITING FOR! I have a vision of mayhem, war, madness. A dark, ominous horizon spurred from Orwell’s novels. No, that is not a fantasy or figment. That is the world in which we live. We have one chance to make this project work and we are letting slip away. No, fuck that. We are not letting it slip away. We are the ones throwing it away. “Throw it in the fire, throw it in the fire.” The more we add to this fire, the hotter it will burn. I need shelter.
“Who’s in a bunker, who’s in a bunker?”
If you can’t see that we all are, you haven’t been watching.
|Sunday, April 23rd, 2006|
|On Human Free Will -- AGAIN
dont worry..this one is shorter, different, and the best thing i've written on free will yet.
96. Free Will – again
This time, however, I have come to some solid conclusions that I’d like to list here as concisely as possible.
1. We are not entirely free, nor entirely not-free.
2. One must realize first that there is no-self. We are open systems, both mentally and physically. We are replacing our own bodies constantly, we are impermanent and always fluctuating. There is no difference between our physical and mental selves, and that ‘self’ is always dynamic.
3. Since all of our genes come from our parents we cannot be said to be free because we are simply a combination of them.
4. More accurately, we are about half genes and half environment. During our most important years, the formative ones, we have very little to no control whatsoever over our environments. We are told what we’ll eat, where we’ll go and to what we’ll be exposed. From the moment of conception to the first sparks of self-consciousness (which I’d say happen around 8-10 yrs old) our whole lives are basically decided for us. And we cannot escape this conditioning/upbringing.
5. So, we are really very limited in our capacity. We have our parents and most of our environments decided for us.
6. Within this realm of contingency, though, we can find freedom. Realizing that we are not-free makes us free.
7. Any of us can, while reading this, demonstrate free will. You can raise your hand, scratch your neck, speak, whatever. So, it seems stupid to say that we are not-free.
8. Indeed, we are a bit of both. We are ultimately free inside the confines of our lives.
9. What we must realize is that every action in our lives, effected both by us and not by us, has a consequence. It is in realizing this chain of action, this cause and effect relationship, the consequentiality of all things, that we are free to see the truth – i.e. that actions matter, bigtime.
10. It is when we fail to see that our actions truly matter that we are no longer free, because, if anything is a necessary component of free will it is the ability to have our actions matter. If nothing matters than we are as not-free as one could possibly be.
11. So, to get more free, we not only must see that our actions matter but also take the emphasis off of our ‘selves’ our ‘lives’ and put it on the actions themselves. For instance, our life is full of patterns, habits, tendencies, etc. Perhaps for one little boy, say Johnny, has really racist parents and was brought up from 0-7 years old being taught this. When he finally achieves some sort of self-conscious state, he will be bound by this restriction, pattern, imprinted on his life. He is less free. It is when he can rid himself of his ‘crutches,’ his life’s patterns and tendencies – and become mindful – that he is now free to be free. When we are not mindful of all that is us, we are not free. It is by breaking through ourselves – into that abyss where there is no characterized self – only the action-centered self, that we can be more free than we are now. And this is not an either/or situation. It is a constant struggle that even the wisest of monks confront every minute of every day. Be Mindful.
12. Going further, we can now say that it is these attachments to these ‘safety nets’ in our lives that make us less free. When we can rid ourselves of these things, we are free to act. An addiction is the quintessential example of this. If there was a self, a soul, could that soul possibly have an inherent addiction to something? Most would say no. So then this addiction that humans experience every day is a pattern that we ourselves superimpose on our life, we are not free from that addiction. The less bound we are by addictions and attachments, the more free we can be.
13. To be truly free is to be dependent on nothing. Of course, this is impossible to a large extent, so the best case scenario is to be honest and mindful of our dependencies. We should not brush them aside simply as parts or traits of ourselves. We must know ourselves. And I think that, without exception, the more sincerely and meticulously one looks for a self, the more she will realize that there is not one there.
14. We are fluctuating, dynamic open systems. A transcendental cloth fabric, if you will. We are constantly being weaved and weaving ourselves. We are weaving what we experience into our fabric. It is not as if we are here and the object is there. We can exercise control over the weaving of our fabric, but not always. Freedom lies in realizing that your fabric is dynamically weaving and every single stitch makes a difference for the future stitches. Not the smallest one can be overlooked.
15. This is why there is no fate, no destiny, no soul, no self, no immortality, no grace, no absolution from sin. This is why there is impermanence, change, action, differences, time, space, life, death and inescapable consequence. If the existence of any concept in the first sentence was real -- or if you could find a single instance in all of existence that wasn't marked by any idea in the second sentence -- there would be no free will. And therefore, no us.
16. We know we are here; perhaps that’s all we know empirically. But it is not as if the road ends there.
95. What I learned on April 17, 2006
Think before you speak.
Do not believe that your life
Is fixed. That is the
EASY WAY OUT.
Take care of others.
Have a look around.
You can act. The
POSSIBILITIES ARE ENDLESS.
The only foundation of the self
Is the self.
We must look inside. And
If we are scared, standing
Atop the stone pillar rising
Above the cavern, the abyss – really
That is our selves and our life,
That is a GOOD thing.
We need to ask ourselves.
We need to question ourselves.
All the time. Every time.
The world is happening around us,
And if our eyes are open…
BAM. There it is.
Truth is most certainly
Not a statement. Don’t search for words.
Don’t grasp. Don’t desire.
|Monday, April 10th, 2006|
I have been thinking about the most recent writings that I’ve completed. At first, well, years ago now I suppose, I started out with
an idea of human empowerment and capacity, even proclivity, for real action. This temple deteriorated. increasingly rapidly, to where I was for the majority of the middle of my senior year -- ruins. That is where I am coming from now.
Most recently, in my senior year, i had been doing extensive thinking about the nature of the human person – or, more accurately, my nature,
my person. In my freshman and sophomore years, i was thinking in this dualist, absolutist fashion. I was a realist –or more accurately an anti-relativist. I was convinced that there was a right and a wrong side to everything; absolutes became my crutches.
Then my experience suggested otherwise. After dismal conversations with myself for almost a year, i began to aver, at the
beginning of this year, that we might be living in an amoral universe. I thought: How is it possible for there to be a me? Granted,
i’ll admit that a lot of these premonitions stemmed from my interest and reading in Buddhism. However, i’ll concede, as well, that i was
learning these things with no teacher, no arhat for a guide, and therefore i may have royally fucked up all i’ve learned.
anyway, starting this past year i began thinking about the place of the human person. I thought i had proven – as best one can prove i suppose
– that there was no soul. There is no eternal, intangible aspect to humans. We are half our parents’ chromosomes and half environmental forces. We cannot
control who are parents are – and therefore a large part of who we are. And, in many cases, we likewise cannot control in what our environments we find outselves. Though there is room for occasional exceptions, we cannot control where where we are for the majority of our formative and all-important formative years: our mind is nearly formed before we even realize its existence.
So then i started proscribing to this school of nihilism. I was convinced that all we are is a giant heap of miserably stupid and
pliably conditioned beings. We are brainwashed everyday; we have our lives decided for us. We are simply an amalgamation of the date that makes its way, deliberately or not, onto our cognitive radar screen.
I was convinced that we had no soul, and that there was no afterlife, and that we are not in control of our own lives. How could we be? look
at all the evil that occurs to humans and the environment? no one could argue that a human that was in control of his life would subject himself to the starvation or oppression that most people on this world face. I was an adamant advocate of human inadequacy and insignificance and an even bigger proponent of the human tendency to fail and fail miserably.
Then I read Sartre. It had no affect on me prima facie. It lurked in the periphery of my mind, like most other things I read for class. I give
it a look, learn enough to pass the test, and push it to the side. But, then, Sartre spoke to me in ways that some would probably describe as
religious. And then Buddhism spoke to me in ways that you can only describe as religious.
This is where I am now:
No, we still have no soul. There is no reason to think this. It is simply a method for humans to deal with the gravity of death. Death is
the most miserable experience humans can fathom; the soul is the most fantastical invention humans could construct to curb this misery. I think
if we ruminate on it, we’ll realize we have no eternal soul. If you disagree, ask yourself: When does this soul enter us? At conception, at birth, at the beginning of time? Most people would say one of the first two answers, but the third one is really the only consistent option because of the answer to the
next question. When does sthe soul enter humanity? of course, few people would claim that bacteria have souls, so where along the line of
evolution did this soul magically show up? Furthermore, why do things we do and places we go change who we are if there is an eternal, pre-existent soul?
I think i have gone back and forth between the issue of significance/meaninglessness so many times that i’ve finally come out
the other side – somewhere.
Even though i went on this tirade of nihilism – demonstrating how this conept most cogently explains the illogical phenomena of the world -- i am now unable to even consider this same question of meaningfullness without using the works of Sartre of Buddhism.
Thinking this nihilistic way doesn’t do anything for humans! It makes us miserable, apathetic and lazy. So, i recognize that humans may not
be in control of our lives the way most people might think we are. There are forces, real forces acting on our lives that we dont see or
perceive. This is a huge and scary world and that is one of the reasons humans do religion: we are scared and feel the urgent need to make sense of it all.
There is a lot we wish we could control but we cant. All these natural disasters and evil things over which we have no power...they make me
lean towards nihilism...like this is all just one crazy peculiarity of a quantum physical experiment and here we are. no morals, no meaning,
no afterlife, no nothing. Just life and death. That outlook, while possible – maybe even probable – is devoid of meaning.
This is where i am now:
Buddhism adn sartre say something like that, but hardly identical. They would say that yes – there are a lot of crazy things in this universe
that we cannot control. It is big and scary and full of evil and suffering. There is a literally overwhelming presence of chaos and evil
in the world that is virtually inexplicable.
What this should do, and what it has finally done in me, is not coerce us to purport the existence of a god, or heaven or a soul or grace or
any of that bullshit. What it should do is compel us to take control over the one thing we can: OURSELVES
The world, for me, has become useless in a lot of ways. I know i cant fix a lot of things out there...but what happens out there does change
the way i conceive myself and my place in teh world. i CAN change myself, and this is the only thing that keeps me alive. I know that i
DO and CAN exercise control and will over myself. That was one of the original intentions of going vegetarian for me. i had lost that spirit
recently, sinking into a world of neurotic depression that would hardly be palpable superficially. I had become an unbeliever in humanity. Going vege
had become a fallacy; it was now for all the wrong reasons. I justified my laziness and apathy by saying that nohting matters and nothing counts. But that is not true.
Because I count. I count to myself. Lunging after eternal life or any of that nonsense is really just a diversion that people have created
for themselves so they can transfer the focus and responsibility off themselves to another...usually God. I have realized that I alone am
responsible for myself. This is the frustration, agony and despair that JPS was referring to. At first, it really is a world of despair when we
realize that there is no one running the ship...no one behind the wheel driving this careening world in which we live. But that is the beauty
of it as well. If there was someone behind the wheel, we would no longer be behind our own wheel. And our own wheel is the only thing
with which we must concern ourselves. The sooner we realize that it is ourselves that is the subject AND object of change, the sooner we will
But, Who wants someone behind the wheel? That would be no fun. Buddhism, JPS and everyone else worth listening to all say this. Yes,
there are A LOT of terrible things in teh world that we can’t immediately change, but ourselves are not one of them. But the self is
not even a self. There is no soul, because a soul, a self, an atman, would mean that change is impossible. We are whatever we are at a given
moment and that is all we are. We are not more than this.
This is the light that has just made my world worthwhile again. It’s that brilliant idea that says i do matter – not to the world so much,
but to myself. That my life is unwritten, that my life is whatever i choose it to be. That i am dynamic and variable. I am not constant, but
who would want to be?