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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Carpe Diem

Robin Williams is dead. The news startled many, including me. Because he was so admired. Because he made us laugh. At ourselves. At the world. At everything.

But for those of us who have suffered clinical depression, this event was special because he killed himself--something many of us have contemplated. And perhaps even those of us who have been treated, take medication, practice positive thinking, exercise regularly, get plenty of light, keep learning new things, socialize with friends, and maintain a project in life, still do from time to time. When the dark matter and energy overcome our outward expansion and start compressing us inwards.

We understand why. It is simply to flee the insufferable pain. It is a useless, irrational, purposeless pain we know when we think about it. But thinking about it often doesn’t help, and may make it worse. We know how fragile we are but don't want to admit it for fear of using it to manipulate others which simply adds to our self-loathing.

Yes, self-loathing—a sense of self which is useless, incompetent, without value. A self that looks at others and grandizes their accomplishments, products and achievement we cannot even understand much less duplicate. A sense of self that is not a partner with or part of others, but a competitor in some sort of race to nothing. A sense that I am not God, in control. I'm not even Robin Williams or Barack Obama.

Stupid, of course. But whether caused by genes or memes, heredity or culture (and certainly both are related), there it is. I am what I yam, as Robin William’s Popeye says. And I am grateful.

So Robin died. And so will I. He died earlier than he had to. But don't too many of us do so?—the kids shot at Sandyhook, the kids in Gaza shelled while playing football on the beach, the kids without healthcare, the kids killed in a car crash or in a drone strike or terrorist attack. Suffering and dying--that's life. Unnecessary suffering and dying—stopping it should be our project.

I will keep up my regimen to overcome my tendency to ruminate in depression even when I see my depression as a heightened state of consciousness, an insight into reality.

But I will follow the greatest advice that Robin gave us from the dead poet: Carpe Diem!

Thanks, Robin. You were a gift to us all.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Faith in and Love of God

After I die I doubt that I will meet God face to face. He or She won't have one and neither will I.

Ah metaphors! let's not be literal, you say.

All words are metaphors, symbols, even these I write now. They do not mask things in our world or reality. They are our way to it. Our world, human reality, is constructed by metaphors, symbols, models of thought by which we adapt to our environment and adapt our environment to us collectively.

And God?

Well, that's a metaphor for which I have little use except historically. Ground of Being, Spirit of Love, Objective of the unlimited desire to know, Emerging Future, Infinite Love, Mystery of the Universe, Higher Power, Transcendent Meaning. All wonderful metaphors. What's the reality they contain or point to?

Not a superman in the sky, not a tribal warlord or god, not a supreme entity out-there controlling everything, not a feudal king, not the images in sacred scriptures--at least not anymore for me and I suspect for most of us.

Words, concepts, useful metaphors and models are grounded in personal and inter-personal experience. They move to discern and categorize our experience and are applied back to our experience for verification. This is so for ordinary language as well as science, art, religion, economy and all our ways of knowing the world and ourselves in the world.

So what is the experience that grounds the notion of God and all its surrogates?

It is the dynamic transcending experience of our very existence in the world. It is the background experience of every question we ask, of every risk we take or experiment we make, in our enjoyment of nature, in our commerce with each other, in our search for new learning, in our reading of a great book or participating in a work of art, and in our delight in family and friends. Yes, it is in the background--but then it often emerges in a feeling of wholeness, of worth and dignity, of respect along with a desire for more. More understanding, more meaning, more connection, more respect, more love.

So does that background transcending experience have an end. If by "end" I mean term, I think not, I hope not. If by "end" I mean meaning, well, yes, that is why I point to our transcending experience. But I realize that I will die, my body and brain will decompose, and I will no longer have the consciousness of my "self," including my transcending existence. I will not meet God face to face.

My faith in meaning however goes beyond my individual existence. I have no evidence that my meaning, our meaning, and the meaning of the universe will perdure. That's why it is a matter of faith. My faith keeps me going, learning, engaging, risking, loving, and happy. And my faith makes the meaning of it all so.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Mind Meld

I'm thinking more about the constructivist and realist minds and why the former belongs to the true revolutionary.  ("True" as defined by a constructivist, of course, i.e. authentic, integral, in accords with human existence or nature, not with the "real-outside-there-now" as Bernard Lonergan calls it.)

I have a common sense, likable cousin who calls himself a tea-party conservative.

I have an intelligent, likable colleague, a Democratic liberal, who writes on religious matters.

I find that both have "realist" minds. There is no arguing with their opinions because they are built into their intractable belief systems. Reality or truth for them is how it appears, how it conforms with the "reality as it really is," with "things and events as they really are," that is, apart from bias or prejudice or perspective or human intervention. When I do try to "reason" with them, I don't get arguments, I get names. They know the truth. I don't.

With my cousin, I have finally after many years come to the conclusion that it is not worth discussing matters of importance with him and especially not public policy. I am grateful to have learned more about the realist mind by interacting with him. But I don't believe I can learn much more from him.  I know he will not learn anything from me. The same became true when discussing religion and ethics with my colleague.

I will be pleasant with my cousin and talk about sports and vacation experiences and of course family. I will simply delete his diatribes and name-calling from FOX News, Limbaugh, Savage, and tea party sources) that he passes on through emails--just as I do with many of the base-rallying, money-making attacks from so-called progressives. His mind is made up. He knows the truth and nothing I say will have him question it.

I have told him often that the reason we see things so differently is that we have different values which gives us different perspectives and interests. I don't think he understands what I am talking about. It's either true or it isn't. This is so with my colleague who writes on religious matters. That's the realist mind.

So I simply won't talk politics or religion with them any more. Civility is more important to me than righteousness.

The realist mind can be very dangerous in persons with power. True belief is associated with mass movements that encourage fear of the "other," practice genocide, wage religious wars, purge unbelievers, export ideology, use violence, control markets, and build empires. "Realpolitik," as practiced by those who are called "neo-cons" or sometimes "neo-liberals," is often a product of the realist mind. Making the world safe for democracy, winning the cold war against communism, manifest destiny, America for Americans, are often slogans of this realpolitik.

But usually persons with a realist mind, like my cousin and colleague, are harmless--though often fearful of newcomers, focused on deficiency over abundance, very wary of new science, and wanting back that "old time religion" and things the way they were. I understand where they are coming from and why they see me as "unrealistic" and even "kooky." They are so focused on the objective that they neglect how the subjective influences it. They believe there is an absolute real to which our minds should conform. Ideas are true if they conform to an outside the mind reality. False if they do not.

My "constructivist" mind is never settled. No belief is unquestionable to me. Truth, like freedom, is a process of engagement. Engagement with the constantly changing environment and with each other through words, images, and other symbols. We are always in process of acquiring truth, freedom, justice. 

And that I think is the way of the true revolutionary. 

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Violence Breeds

Violence is in the realm of necessity, i.e. economy and household affairs--what we need to survive. Justice and Peace are in the realm of freedom, i.e. politics and public affairs--where we are fully human. The question for humankind is whether economy trumps freedom or politics trumps necessity.

A democratic republic is a place of freedom over necessity. It is open to all and engages the participants in the actions that form the republic. But when the republic is brought under the control of those few who make laws to increase their ability to produce/consume by not providing the means for all to live in dignity, freedom is overcome by the violence of necessity.

The United States of America is dedicated to the ideals of a free democratic republic within its borders, but uses massive force to control certain citizens within the borders as is evidenced by one of the highest rates of incarceration in the world and outside its borders evidenced by the largest spending on and maintenance of military might and spying. 

Our military spending is estimated at $620 billion in 2014. That does not include foreign military support, e.g. $3.7 billion to Israel or $8.5 million a day. Nor does it include the cost of military intelligence. The cost of incarceration is about $40 billion a year. 

Except for those who have been killed or maimed in war and those who are or have been incarcerated (primarily through Americans' insatiable appetite for illegal drugs), this violence has benefitted most US citizens by providing defense jobs, prison jobs, foreign resources, and generally increasing the Gross National Product. This huge government spending has of course benefited some a lot more than others; and those who have most benefitted are usually the ones who claim they got their wealth solely by their own individual actions.

Violence breeds violence, the saying goes. Or biblically, those who rule by the sword perish by the sword. Today we are suffering the fruits of our national and patriotic violence. Let me cite three instances of this.

1. The nation was built on slavery followed by Jim Crow laws supporting a new type of slavery, and now a new Jim Crow as well as urban and housing policies that supported segregating housing and education. The legacy of these policies is the disparity in racial and social equity that fragments our social unity, encourages crime, and fosters unnecessary suffering.

2. The defense of United Fruit and large corporations in Latin America and especially Central America including the deposing of elected leadership, trade policies that work to the advantage of owners and managers rather than workers, and military intervention to assure United States dominance of the area and the war on drugs is now bringing refugees by the thousands to our borders.

3. Our war on Communism, including Korea, Vietnam, and Latin America and our intervention in the middle east has brought terrorism to our shores. Many have traced the blowback, including 9/11, directly to our actions to defend and dominate. 

It is not simple. Defense of our borders, our culture, our people is legitimate if not justified. But we are fools if we think we Americans are always right and always with God in our actions. Our focus should be on reducing force and violence and creating a space of freedom for all even if it means lowering our expectations for material wealth. 

We humans are caught in a cycle of entropy where our energies are dissipated; and force and violence adds to the disorganization of our neighborhoods, cities, nations, and world. Some dare say that the American way in which we achieve our goals through force, including the domination and destruction of the natural order, will cause the sixth massive extinction in this anthropocene age. 

But there are others, and I am one of them, who bet on empathy over entropy. I have faith and hope that we can overcome our dominating, realistic, forceful ways in which we accept the inevitability of violence by experiencing our most intimate connection with others. All others--not just those of my tribe and nation and culture. But there is no evidence for this position and that is what makes it a matter of faith. In fact there is just as much evidence that we humans will undo ourselves and self-destruct like so many other species have done. It is the faith in ourselves and our future that will make the difference.

(The new Pascal's wager!)