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Tuesday, December 8, 2015

There is no God, but

"There is no god but Allah." By this pronouncement, Islam forbids idolatry.

Yet, like Christianity, Hinduism, and other religions, Islam often practices and even promotes idolatry. Extreme fundamentalists or true believers worship human beliefs, human artifacts, and human leaders. They take many of their values, their words, their teachings, their rituals, out of context. They often even treat their priests, prophets, and rulers as though they are in full possession of Truth.

Idolatry is the act of worshipping symbols, that is, making gods of human artifacts. Idolatry treats objects as though they were absolute. Absolute means to stand alone, on its own, without need for anything outside itself, without condition, unrelated to space or time, separate from social or cultural influence. Absolutism is more than a philosophic illusion. It is a ethical and political decision.

Iconoclasm is the other side of idolatry. Iconoclasm also treats human symbols or artifacts as absolute--that is, absolute evils that must be wiped out. Extremist fanatics consider unbelieving humans or nations as evil incarnations to be massacred to please their gods. They also consider that the symbols of other religions and their incompatible beliefs and artifacts are idols that must be eradicated.

Whether they cry "Allah" or "Christ," "ISIS" or "USA," idolators are iconoclasts and iconoclasts are idolators. They make the claim of ultimacy for their religion or nation. The deluded couple who just massacred government workers in San Bernardino were Islamic idolators and iconoclasts just as the terrorists of ISIS are. But those US politicians, who stir up the hate of the fearful ignorant and call for war against Muslims, are American and/or Christian idolators and iconoclasts. They exhibit the apex of hypocrisy: the practice of idolatry in the name of faith in a transcendent God.

When the Taliban deface the sacred images of Buddha and the warriors of ISIS destroy Christian and Jewish mementos or ravage sites venerated by Shiites, they practice idolatry in their iconoclasm and break the main law of Islam. As do the KKK and other white supremacist groups when they set fire to black churches or attack muslim mosques. The jihad or crusade of the terrorist is to impose their absolutes on the world.

In authentic faith, there is nothing absolute; all things have existence and meaning in their relations to each other in a relational universe. No absolute good, no absolute evil. Nevertheless I believe in a supreme evil--the evil of idolatry/iconoclasm. It is the human choice to deny our contingency and the contingency of everything we create or articulate including our stories, our religions, our science, and our institutions. It is also the human choice to deny the sufferings of others and sharing in those sufferings.

And here is where I discover the supreme good. The opposite of idolatry and iconoclasm. It is companionship in the struggle to transcend our illusions of absolute beliefs. The solidarity of jihad for faith and justice. The joy of being in relation with others and experiencing their suffering. Compassion.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Truth in Politics

So in the postmodern era, what is truth? Since the postmodern mind recognizes that our concepts and our paradigms are fictions that are part of an imaginative order that shapes our worlds, does that mean we have no obligation to truth?

Indeed, if we read those who are fact-checking political candidates, we realize that many candidates are making statements and taking positions that they know are false. And some of the biggest liars are the most popular because they are saying things that fit well with a large section of the electorate who want to hear and believe what they are saying. Are these politicians postmoderns?

According to the postmodern insight, there is no absolute out there in some Big Mind or Supernatural Space or in the Thing-In-Itself. The absolute is an illusion created by the very act of using categories like words and formulas to grasp hold and make sense of stimuli from the environment. All the sound and light waves of the universe, all the atoms and molecules reaching our senses, are gathered by our brains into things and related to other things within a narrative, an imaginative fiction that we humans create together. When these models work, we call them beliefs or laws, but the postmodern mind realizes that they are contingent--belonging to a particular space-time. And therefore they must be doubted, questioned, and readied to be rejected for better ones.

So if there are no absolute truths, does that take liars off the hook? Can postmoderns say anything at all if it is in their interest? Is, as Ivan said, everything permitted when you take away the gods?

As was stated in an article in Scientific Mind: "The brain is not a laptop, but presumably it is an information processor of some kind, taking in inputs from the world and transforming them into models of the world and instructions to the motor systems that control our bodies and our voices." These models (categories, analogies, words, formulas) are true when we verify them: that is, when we connect them to experiments that can be repeated by others, when we put them out there for peer review, not to fool anybody or ourselves, but with honesty, that is, as part of a pure desire to know.

What makes our models true is our verification of them together in a relationship of discovery and community. Everything is not relative, just as nothing is absolute. Yes, of course there are realities in the world, we postmoderns believe. We put them there through our collective imagination and verify them together.

Scientific knowledge requires a certain amount of disinterest on our part, an honesty in our search to understand, and a desire to demonstrate the truth based on the facts as we see them. And so does politics.

The postmodern insight (that may be as old as Socrates and the religious prohibition against idolatry) frees us from our fixed habits of thought and action. It frees us from the fictions we have created by criticizing and refining them and even tossing them away for better concepts in a new imaginative order. It allows us to create new models for understanding, ones that are more inclusive, that work better for all of us.

But such freedom carries the responsibility to be faithful to the data and responsible to each other.

The political candidates that spew positions that either cannot be falsified (such as bigotry and name-calling) or that are falsified by thoughtful investigative reporters, are not postmodern thinkers. They are sociopathic liars. They violate not only the canons of good science, but also that of good religion and good politics.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Future of Housing--Atlantic Conference

Yesterday I attended the Atlantic/AARP Future of Housing Conference. Some takeaway questions.

1) HUD Secretary Julian Castro discussed a San Antonio Leadership program for older, retired citizens to use their experience working with communities and nonprofits. Why doesn't HUD develop a volunteer program for former HUD workers to work in their regions with nonprofits and cities on affordable housing strategies? 

2) Many participants discussed the need to increase the supply of affordable housing especially through densification while avoiding and overcoming segregation. But we know that a new segregation is occurring, mainly economic, related to income inequality, but also having racial/ethnic characteristics. Instead of just focusing on developing new projects, how can we make the regional housing market work to achieve regional goals?

3) I agree with Bruce Katz that there can/should be a devolution of power to the cities, meaning metro regions. I disagree that the national government has no role in this development. It needs to a) stimulate regional planning and commitment, b) stimulate systemic housing market change, and c) monitor and intervene on inequalities within and among regions.  HUD, DOT, EPA, Commerce need to change their toolkit to focus less on specific projects and more on regional outcomes. This was begun in the first term of the Obama administration, but hardly carried to fruition. Also former Secretary Steven Preston developed a Field Advisory team that was very influential in getting HUD better focused in regions and less top-down. That should have been maintained in the Obama administration. 

4) I attended earlier Atlantic forums hosted by Steve Clemons with some excellent leaders in public and private sectors. But the dots are not yet connected. Steve asks great questions. Yesterday he asked the former HUD employees, like myself, what HUD should do differently, how they would design HUD to meet present problems and possibilities? There are good answers out there. 

How about the Atlantic through CityLab developing a team (Brookings, Urban Institute, EPI, HUD PD&R, and some folks in the Field to hash out a new more systemic strategy to answer Steve’s question? This might even have an impact on the presidential candidates. 

Monday, November 30, 2015

Old white gloomy men

So why do I think that the postmodern insight is important? (See past 2 blogs.)

I just finished A Peace to End all Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East by David Fromkins. I have also studied the "peace agreements" of World War Two, the Cold War that followed, and the role of the Dulles CIA. I studied and was very active in opposition to the War in Indochina.

I strongly opposed the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Afghanistan because it should have been merely a police action to bring the Al Qaida perpetrators of 9-11 to justice and Iraq because it was quite clear that it would cause tremendous blowback. Both I believe were stupid wars that brought more humiliation and cruelty on the globe. And I am now reading about the new War on ISIS that the Allies are about to wage.

All these positions make sense only in a worldview clinging to a worn-out paradigm.

I call it "the old white gloomy man paradigm"--even though there are some women and minorities who are caught in it as well. It is the mind-set of old gloomy white tough-guy males stuck in their principles and dogmas and fearing that the world is changing from how they remember the world back then when they made or hoped to make their fortunes.

My cousin Vinnie exemplifies this imagination (or really lack thereof) which dominates most of the candidates for president and certainly the fearful base that puts Donald Trump and Ben Carson on top in the polls. But I do not worry about him because he considers himself a victim and cannot act. The same for most of the gloomy white men pundits like Charles Krauthammer, George Will, and Sean Hannity. They are pitiful because they cannot even imagine that they are operating within a paradigm. They believe in some sort of objective truth out there--which they of course are privy to. While in fact they are choosing the world that they decry.

I am concerned more with opinion leaders with influential offices and big money. Though they may be cynics and skeptics, they control the true believers in the gloomy old white man realist paradigm that divides the world into us and them, insiders and outsiders, my side and your side. Cheney and Rumsfeld probably did believe in their own paradigm; but they could do real damage because they made a believer of George W. Bush, a man who had little capacity to think for himself, but had the office to foist a disastrous war on us and create the conditions for another.

This is the danger of those who believe they know the absolute truth. They speak with confidence. They are convinced in their righteousness. They extol the destiny and exceptionalism of the United States that we all want to hear. They think they are tough and confuse power with might. Yes, they admit that mistakes were made, but generally God is on their side and will lead to victory over the infidels and atheists.

I do not think that I am totally right in my assessment; but I also do not think that they are. The right has to be chosen and negotiated. I choose a world devoid of their paradigm. I choose a world in which America does not dominate and in which no nation, organization, or person dominates. I choose a world in which unnecessary suffering, humiliation, and cruelty do not exist. I choose a world that does not operate on fear and terror, one in which all persons, no matter what they believe or do, have dignity and the capacity for change and forgiveness. It is a world without insiders and outsiders, righteous and infidels, good guys and bad guys.

My choice is not the result of some theology or philosophy, some universal truth, some divine revelation, some structure of reality, some scientific law, some absolute value--though I don't mind if you think so. It is just the world I would like to build with others who share my choice for whatever reason or none at all except they want it.

I repudiate the gloomy white old man realist tough guy paradigm. Yes, I know that I am getting old in years, that I am of European heritage, and that I am male. But I refuse to be old if that means to stop learning and changing. I denounce whiteness as a false category created by racism. And I deny maleness in favor of the feminine principle of nurture over domination. And I choose to be an optimist, to bet on our ability to survive, transform, and progress. I will not be gloomy.

Moreover, I am hopeful because I know that the gloomy old white realistic man paradigm will eventually and happily pass on with Cousin Vinnie, George Will, and Donald Trump, making room for a less mean, less fearful generation. In the meantime, I will do all I can to encourage this new generation to realize that they really can reject the paradigm of domination (that all of us are caught in) and fashion another more inclusive, empathic, and hopeful one.


This I contend is the insight that leads us into the postmodern world: We not only use the fictions and symbols of imagination to know our world--as did our premodern and modern ancestors. But we now know that we do. That gives us tremendous power and responsibility.

There are no absolutes out there. Although things, including us, are not absolute, neither are they relative. They are relational.

The world is neither determined, nor random. We construct it. The universe is not a choice between mind or matter, but rather of mind in matter.

The postmodern person realizes that there are paradigms--imaginative mindsets. Indeed the paradigm of paradigms is itself a paradigm. And none of them are true. Even the one that is now shaping my beliefs. And then the postmodern person goes on, as Donella Meadows says "to regard that whole realization as devastatingly funny." It is why the Buddha laughs.

"People who cling to paradigms (just about all of us) take one look at the spacious possibility that everything they think is guaranteed to be nonsense and pedal rapidly in the opposite direction. Surely there is no power, no control, no understanding, not even a reason for being, much less acting, in the notion or experience that there is no certainty in any worldview. But, in fact, everyone who has managed to entertain that idea, for a moment or for a lifetime, has found it to be the basis for radical empowerment. If no paradigm is right, you can choose whatever one will help you achieve your purpose."

We can ascribe that purpose to whatever deity we want, to a special intuition, to our upbringing and education, or to our experience with others. Whatever the reason we give, we choose our purpose and can modify the imaginative order that helps us achieve it.

Shall we go for it?

Sunday, November 29, 2015


Every now and then I have to check in with myself or whoever I happen to be at the time.

Why am I so interested in the mind? I inquire into the nature of mind (though I don't believe in natures) as a way to articulate and critique ethics and politics.

Mind is Shiva--the creator and the destroyer.
It's not a matter to control mind. It's not a mind to control matter. Grasp the tension.

Mind is imagination: making, assembling, changing, smashing, and worshiping images. Oral, visual, aural, tangible, odorous, savory images with our bodies. Words and statements, models and formulas, forms and compositions.

Knowing the world is creating it through our imagination. We are who, what, and how we imagine right here and now.

I am biased in favor of the survival of imagination which might be lost in the extinction of humanity. Intelligent life exists elsewhere in the cosmos. But imagination? We do not know.

Understanding imagination, its limits and possibilities, is a way to freedom which is taking the responsibility for what we are creating and changing. We can choose to create or destroy not only images, but also imagination. We choose our imagination even when it enslaves and destroys us. Unless we take responsibility for our personal and collective imagination, we are complicit in its destiny.

At this point in human evolution, imagination can only be saved if it accepts itself as imagination--story telling. The artist, the scientist, the philosopher, the religionist are all fictional characters in the story they are telling. I am my story. We are our story. A story of stories with many tellers, writers, illustrators, and actors. How will the story end? Will it?

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.