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Thursday, November 26, 2015


On my last run, a bunch of ironies and paradoxes popped into my head. Here are some off them:

Realizing that the self is an illusion fosters respect for the selves of others.

The self may be a valuable concept. But it sure gets in the way.

Getting lost in others is the way to find your self.

Understanding the soul as the body-in-motion doesn’t deny soul; it constitutes it.

Matter (and materialism) isn’t opposed to spirit (and spirituality); it’s the condition for it.

An authentic theist is a nontheist.

The weak build walls.

Knowledge is the obstacle to thinking.

Fearing strangers makes fearless enemies.

Patriotism weakens love of country.

I am most conscious when engaged in the world.

Righteousness is contrary to an ethical life.

An ethical life contradicts morality.

The greatest warrior is the one who never must war.

Fighting a war is usually an admission of defeat.

Theism terminates transcendence.

Want order? Appreciate chaos.

Ardent belief is the loss of faith.

The best teacher remains a student.

The ugly is the frame of beauty.

To hold on to loved-ones, we let them go.

Keeping others outside puts us in prison.

Open boundaries make better neighbors.

A disaster is never unprecedented.

Exaggerate evil and you reinforce it.

Exceptionalism makes us less than ordinary.

Accepting limits is the beginning of infinity.

Want beauty? Wallow in dirt.

When you think about them, all truths are false.

To exist we need to believe in others.

When we know everything, we know nothing.

Common sense is mostly nonsense.

All is fiction, even nonfiction.

Authentic experts are amateurs.

Myth is the path to reality.

Most that matters is invisible.

The real is the relational.

Only God knows truth. The rest of us make it happen.

Expectation breeds disappointment. Hope calls to action.

To affirm is to deny.

To posit we have to negate.

The positive is found only in the negative.

Thinking is putting out majorana particles—where matter and anti-matter meet.

Happiness is the pause in suffering.

Suffering is source of solidarity.

The supernatural is nothing around everything.

Empathy suffers. Compassion acts.

When you say yes to someone, you say no to something.

Belief makes gods human. Thinking makes humans divine.

To know the gods, I must deny them.

The future is now and never then.

Theists are too serious about their beliefs. Atheists are too believing in their seriousness.

When we vigorously affirm the gods, we deny them.

The objective world is mass illusion.

Only the imperfect can reach for perfection.

Discontent is the secret of contentment.

Starting at the end is the beginning.

Reconstructing the past is planning the future.

What we are getting at is always between the lines.

Artists depict what cannot be depicted.

The obvious is the unknown.

All tall tales are short.

Wholly out there is holy in here

When I am absorbed in the present, I transcend it.

To become human, seek the divine. To seek the divine, be human.

Only an empty vessel can be full.

To never give up, give up.

Slavery is the road to freedom.

A liberated mind thinks everything and knows nothing.

A horizontal mind hits walls. A vertical mind is infinite.

Every point is an entry to infinity.

Zero makes everything count.

When I touch some body, I feel my own.

Bodies in love have no bounds.

Giving away my body is the essence of love

You don’t need feet to dance.

To enter another’s soul, flow in her style.

Appreciating the canvas is painting with the artist.

Criticism is the height of praise.

You only respect those with whom you can disagree.

Odor is in the nose of the smeller. Do I stink if there is no one there to smell.

The best of games keeps changing the rules.

Without rules you don’t need rulers.

To be thoughtful, give away your thoughts. To be thoughtless, hold on to them.

To have love, give it away. To have everything, give way to everything.

To create things is to abandon them.

Only the random is certain.

Order is overrated.

The wager itself makes the bet pay off.

There are no natures in nature unless we put them there.

Never let a god get in the way of the divine.

Playful gods are more fun than a Mighty One.

Use rules to subvert them.

A friend is always there when she isn’t.

Keeping rules dulls the game.

Only when I am right am I wrong.

Uncertainty is the acme of life.

The only absolute is contingency.

Relativity is just a new absolute. All absolutes are relative.

We are created in the image of friends.

To discover reality, imagine it!

The way to truth is error.

Magic and mystery leave when we know it all.

A good friend is one I don’t have to hang on to.

Playing the game is winning enough.

A fence, like violence, is sometimes necessary but always bad.

When passion leads, bliss follows.

Accepting the finality of death is the pinnacle of life.

Being careful reduces care. Curiosity requires carelessness.

The Mind of God is a tabula raza. So go write on it!

Can’t know beauty without ugly. Can’t know evil without good. Can’t know light without dark. Can’t no without yes.

To know is to mix a no with a yes. Consciousness is nothing put to being.

The universe runs on alternating current.
Consciousness is a cookie-cutter. It cuts the world into bite sizes. In a cut something stays and something goes.

A concept is a category cutting the flow. It cannot be without the flow. It cannot be at all.

Mind is concept cutting. Mind is image making. Mind is fictionalizing.

Not all valuable concepts are true. Indeed, none of them are. They are products of imagination.

Mind is thingifying. There is nothing to something and something to nothing.

If you know consciousness, you’ve missed it.

When you solve the mystery, the book ends.

If you have solved the mystery, you have closed your mind.

Irony is the humor of contradiction, the silliness of logic.

Physics, including neuroscience, is contemporary alchemy. If alchemy turns gold into lead, so what?

A sincere leader is a crazed animal. Keep your distance.

The one who shouts the most has the smallest stick.

Beware the man who keeps his principles,

Clear immovable principles make a serial killer.

Evangelists are terrorists. They scare the hell into people.

If education isn’t fun, it isn’t education.

Creation is just letting nothing out to play.

We can make something out of nothing, that's creative art.

We can't make nothing out of something, only God does that.

Entropy and syntropy are always at play.

When we make too much of things, we belittle everything.

Playing with ideas is the ultimate sport. Taking them seriously kills the game.

Enjoy today. Its all there is right now.

True believers are a danger to faith.

Keeping faith is letting go of beliefs.

Know your illusions and you know most everything.

Share your illusions; they are probably better than mine.

Gravity is a force that isn’t. It’s the fabric that brings us together.

Force is compulsive motion. Energy is voluntary motion.

May the Force be not with you!

Every stance I take is a step in an ultra marathon.

When I am running from my self, it is sure to catch me.

When I run toward nothing, I will never be caught.

If you hear gods’ voices, enjoy the trip. If you believe in them, please pass by.

They, who idolize their prophets, make them lower than animals.

To root out an evil, change the system. To change a system, change the rules. To change the rules, change the paradigm. To change the paradigm, create a new one. To create a new one, use imagination.

The problem is usually how we are identifying it.

Attacking it directly seldom solves a problem.

The problem isn’t what we think it is until we think about it.

The last thing I need is another thing.

Infidels are those who attack infidels.

Violence is often caused by pacifiers. War is usually waged by peace-makers.

He who humiliates another dehumanizes himself.

There is no such thing as universal love. Love is always specific and personal.

Solidarity comes from shared suffering.

Cruelty is a product of those who believe god is on their side.

Those who claim that the US is a Christian nation have a bad opinion of Christianity.

Authentically religious people resist religion.

All these sayings are meaningful unless you think about them.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The End of the Nation-State

The nation-state is a modern concept fashioned in Europe and spread to the Americas and former colonies and throughout the world. It stems from divine right monarchies gathering fiefdoms to republics in the age of revolution and on to territorial countries with national identities that became nation-states chartering corporations in the industrial age.  It is a concept that shaped the modern social order and still shapes the modern mind. The divisions of Europe and the Mideast after WW1 and of the whole world after WW2 were based on the nation-state idea.

As we transition from modernity, nation-state is still a potent concept that guides the behavior of the Islamic State, the Jewish State of Israel, and former colonial territories of Africa and India. This modern concept is a fiction, as are all concepts. And fictions need to be changed to meet current times, desires, and hopes. The fiction of nation-state, I contend, is one that needs modification as we move into our postmodern age. That is if we choose to create a world without violence and cruelty and a world of general peace, prosperity, and happiness.

The state was invented in ancient times, after the agricultural revolution, as a means of governing areas by monopolizing the means of violence and thus reining in tribal conflicts. Max Weber identified two kinds of states: the patrimonial which is essentially an extension of the property of the ruler and the impersonal whereby a relatively efficient bureaucracy is established to carry out governance of the ruled. China was the first such state. Francis Fukuyama (Political Order and Political Decay) adds two other elements to a successful impersonal state: 1) the rule of law under which everyone is equal, and 2) institutions of accountability to and feedback from the governed.

The governed in the great states established by the Roman, Persian, and Islamic Empires were made up of diverse tribal, ethnic, and nationality groups and socio-economic classes, i.e. nations. Nation is a cultural idea that relates to language, art, tradition, myth, religion, values, and social identity. State is a political-economic idea that relates to governance of the many and the order by which the governed create and share in the wealth of the state.

The modern invention of nation-state would have states carved up by cultural identity and enforcing a  national identity. This cultural identity with its heroes, myths, and rituals is sometimes called the civil or public religion. This is different from the traditional religions, which we in modern times privatize into denominations separate from the secular state though they are often entries into and provide symbols for the public religion of the nation-state. In the US for instance, one can usually adhere to the American public religion by being a mainline Protestant, a Baptist, an Evangelical, a Catholic, a Jew, and a Mormon, though not yet in most places as a Muslim or an Atheist.

The industrial revolution and the invention of the corporation chartered by the state gave tremendous impetus to the nation-state concept. The subsequent globalization of the economy, the rise of transnational private, nonprofit, and public corporations, and the world wide net are pushing us to rethink it.  I suggest that we need to revisit and revise this concept, not to return to some premodern tribalism or imperialism, but to shape a world order in which people can find a source of meaning in their diverse cultures while enjoying a fair share in the wealth of the global economy under generally accepted rules.

The new book, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Nations of North America, by Colin Woodward advances the notion that while North America has three states (US, Canada, Mexico), it has eleven nations, each with its own history, tradition, values, or culture which he describes. And though Woodward assigns these nations to territories, he admits that their boundaries are fuzzy. And he acknowledges that all persons within the territories designated do not have exactly the same culture. Yet he claims that in each of the eleven nations there is a predominant culture and narrative that everyone needs to come to terms with.

Global governance through some world federation of openly bounded nations seems possible only  well into the Star Trekian future. Perhaps only in a century when earthlings see the necessity of developing a Galactic Federation of Worlds. Today the United Nations is but a voluntary association of autonomous, independent states. The UN does not control the means of violence in order to end conflict among nations as a global political order for the common good. But it is a step in that direction.

My main point, however, is that the modern concept of nation-state with its chauvinist patriotism, its arrogant exceptionalism, its exclusion of aliens, its rigid boundaries, and its idolatry of flag should be reexamined. It is presently a dangerous concept that divides insiders from outsiders, incites misunderstanding and conflict, and masks brutality and violence. Can we design a political economic order that will respect diverse national cultures coexisting and interacting within that order? Our recent struggles and suffering seem to be calling for some thinking about that.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Roots of Violence--and Peace

We just finished our class on Religion and Violence. It was an excellent class not because of the teachers, but because of all the participants who really engaged in the topic. The last days of this bright class were shaded by the atrocities of the "Islamic State" in Beirut and Paris

Most of the class substantially agreed with Karen Armstrong that religion in itself is not a cause of violence or of the evil of cruelty and humiliation of others, but is often used to rationalize or justify violence and evil behavior. Some recognized that the cause of violence was usually the desire for power through control of others and property by force or by wealth. Still others referred, as did Karen Armstrong, to the reptilian brain that is uncontrolled by the rational brain of the prefrontal cortex.

A recent New Scientist article which I provide here "Is evil a disease? ISIS and the neuroscience of brutality," cites experiments that turn upside down the notion of the animal primitive flight-or-fight emotional brain overcoming the higher rule-making rational brain.

The experiments indicated that when brains were mapped of people inflicting harm on others, their rule-making brains took precedence over their personal preferences to do no harm. Also noted was that they rapidly became desensitized the more they followed the rule to do harm by an authority figure.

The conclusion is that, if we want to reduce violence and brutality, don't pathologize evil "by supposing that only people with flawed minds are capable of evil, when in fact everyone is, given the right (or wrong) context. If we want to make the world a less violent place, ... we have to consider that context. And that requires us to step back from the individual and look at the group." Another neuroscientist is quoted as saying: "The key question is how the perpetrators of massacres define themselves--the group they identify with and who, as a non-member, they perceive as a threat."

This ties with what we know about group behavior, how homo sapiens evolved to rely on group membership to survive, how belonging to even a small group determines how we see outsiders. We feel less empathy for them and easily write them out of the human species. "What is truly toxic is a construction of in-group and out-group which makes genocide an act of virtue and construes the killers as the most noble among us."

What these finding say to me is that, pace Armstrong, group culture and religion can be a source of evil when it is exclusive and identifies out-groups. In Unitarian-Universalist principles, the first principle is the inherent dignity of every person and UU sermons often use the metaphor of the divine spark in every person (baptized or not, divorced or not, male or female, etc). The Catholic social teaching in which I was raised speaks of every person as a child of God which makes us all siblings.

I don't believe in the "spark of the divine" or the "child of God" literally. But then I do not believe in anything literally if that means outside of metaphor, analogy, and symbolism. Nor do I believe in some dignity belonging to human nature--when there is so much evidence to contradict that. (Just read the books of Cormac McCarthy).

Nevertheless, I choose to act for a Universal Ecclesia, People, Church, Umma, Sangha, Community and for the dignity of all human persons--and all living beings and the earth. And I declare solidarity with all of you who so act no matter what language you use and what cultural tradition you represent.

This is why, even though I do not believe in supernatural entities, I refuse atheism because even that creates an illusion of believers and infidels. I do not consider myself a non-believer and always take communion when I sometimes attend Catholic celebrations with my family and friends even though I detach myself from the institutional, hierarchical, male-dominated Roman Church and many of their teachings of exclusion. The same for my Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, and First Nation friends and family.

I affirm my presence in the Universal Church, Umma, Sangha, and People. (As did the Prophets--blessed be their names.) Lots of groups, but no out-groups.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

ISIS Attack on DC

The Paris, Beirut, and other attacks by ISIS make me realize that it is quite likely that such an attack will occur here. The leaders of ISIS are choosing soft targets in capitals. And DC, the center of governmental and of corporate power with all its lobbyists determining the policies that will be chosen to stabilize their playgrounds, will probably be targeted.

I often work, worship, and play in DC. I ride the Metro and the busses. I could easily be caught up in such an attack and be killed, as could many of my friends and family.  So just in case that happens, I want to reflect on my death now.

The purpose of terror is to incite fear and reaction. As we organizers learned in our work to support those left behind in organizing themselves: “The action is in the reaction.” First you must polarize in order to get respect to negotiate solutions to common problems. But we taught to do this nonviolently because we were acting to remove coercion from the system and believed like Ghandi, King, Malcolm X, Mandela, and Aung San Suu Kyi that we need to model what we want to achieve.

Yes, it is the duty of government to protect its citizens from the harm of foreign and domestic enemies, of criminals who want to take our means of livelihood, of epidemics and other illnesses, and of starvation and poverty. It is the duty of government to create the conditions where citizens can thrive in safety. But I believe that those of you who would have government react by stereotyping Muslims, by blocking refugees and immigrants, and by invading countries and leaving behind failed states are also perpetrators of terror.

It is you I blame for my death now. You, like ISIS, are polarizing the world into “my side, your side” simpleminded thinking and creating an atmosphere of hate and fear.

I beg my descendants to think. Please read the history of how the Middle East got to where it is with the cutting up of the Ottoman Empire and the creation of Israel, not as a homeland for the Jews, but as an Apartheid State that displaced existing residents.

I do want Israel to survive as a homeland for the displaced Jews of the world. And I would like to see the Middle East develop as a homeland for all peoples: Jews, Christians, Shia, and Sunni, and free from Western control.

But I believe this will only happen when all people feel respected and have the power to shape their environments. To do that we must remove the causes of violence and this will only happen when diverse groups understand each other and their interests and quit the demonizing along with the humiliation and cruelty.

I do not see this coming from ISIS. ISIS has declared war. It is to their advantage that Europe and America see this as war and especially a war of civilizations or religions. But I hope that we can be great-souled enough to change the metaphor. I hope that, while containing ISIS and their violence and brutality, we will work to build the structure for a lasting peace built on justice. I know that will take time--maybe decades. I would be happy to know I was dying for that.  

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Statement on Religion and Violence

Cultures are make-believe worlds. Cultures are useful fictions founded on myths that give meaning to human enterprises. The mythic foundation of meaning with its shared stories and rituals is religion. Religion, therefore, is the dimension of all cultures and their imagined orders that gives them meaning. [There is an experiential psychological component of religion, e.g. sense of transcendence, and a bureaucratic institutional component of religion; but I pass on that here.]

Cultures arrived when humans began to use their evolved ability to imagine and fashion symbolic forms to deal with their environments. By sharing these forms through language, art, and science, humans are able to cooperate with one another in tribes, civilizations, and nations in order to meet their needs for biological life (economy) and for associative power (politics). 

Conflict, including force and violence, is the result of one social order in competition with another for livelihood and power. Culture including religion, art, and science rationalizes the force and violence by imaging the other social order as inhuman, and a danger to the human way of life and association.

Religion, therefore, is always connected through culture to both cooperation and conflict. Religion is intricately connected to a tribe’s or a nation’s economic and political order. When times and spaces change, humans change their imagined order. But the only way out of one imagined order is by building another.

My personal hope is that we humans in our coming postmodern world can together create an imaginative global order, respecting the diverse cultures of our premodern and modern worlds, while building in the possibility of continued self-critique, revision, and transcendence. I think this can only happen by contact between persons, communities, and cultures where and when we can participate the others' stories and feel their sufferings.