Monday, May 30, 2005

What if we weren't all geniuses?

Generosity works better than foresight damn near every time.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Friday, May 20, 2005

the cost of not educating

The slow abandonment of the underpriveleged does not reduce their numbers or keep the tide of woes in which they drown from splashing over onto our suburban lawns...quite the opposite. I don't write well enough to better condemn the screwed up priorities of our nation than Martin Luther King did 38 years ago:
A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military
defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
Martin Luther King, Jr., “Beyond Vietnam:
A Time to Break Silence” April 4, 1967"

I just wanted to mention this because the distractions of all the bush league's engineered crises-on-demand have shoved this ongoing need to re-examine our country's real values and priorities clear off the front page. After all, the money that should be spent on education and early intervention programs for at-risk children would pencil out to a bottom line that should please the greediest sort of investor. This was the "yield" for one such program run in Chicago:
  • "The preschool program provided a return to society of $7.14 per dollar invested by increasing economic well-being and tax revenues, and by reducing public expenditures for remedial education, criminal justice treatment, and crime victims. The extended intervention program (4 to 6 years of participation) provided a return to society of $6.11 per dollar invested while the school-age program yielded a return of $1.66 per dollar invested."
This post was going to be about the cost of the 2 million plus people we have to keep in prisons in the US...more per capita than Russia. But when you start digging into who these prisoners are and how they got there and all the other numbers, you are brought back to the short sighted selfishness of present policies. This could be a much longer post but the data is all out there.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

A test of faith

If the way someone else professes his faith in god is undermining
your faith in humanity, its not you thats messing up.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother

This is repeated commandment in Jewish and Christian scripture. The little I know of the relative merit of the many biblical injunctions puts this commandment near the top in repect and veneration by most sects. It seems reasonable at a glance: a child owes his very existance to and depends for material support and protection upon his parents. It seems reasonable in the psycho-spritual realm: ones relationship to a parent is typically held to be a close model of ones relationship to god.

But as a person who belives human roles and humanity's conditions in this world need improving and can be improved by my own efforts and as an observer who sees the need for some improvements arising from misapplication of our civilization's dominant model, i.e religion, I have to give even the best of commandments closer scrutiny.

Simple interpretations of "honor thy father" seem to me too much akin to a specification of dominance by the strong, curtailed freedom of the weak and a scheme for maintenance of status quo: the hand that rocked the childs cradle can harden into an iron fist in the grownups world. From a practical point of view, hard questions about this commandment pop up and want answers. How old can children be before this commandment is incumbent on them? A two year old, [I have raised three and managed not to kill them] does not read this commandment. Is my tempermental four year old going to hell for talking back to me?

Supposing you are stuck with the commandments, what can you do? What if we read it as instruction to the parents, instruction that could actually be understood? What if we have had it backwards and honoring of parents is not the means but rather the result of a proper way to live? We could read it this way:

Honor the children you raise so that they will honor you.

That would work for all of us.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Been there, get paid to do that

Engineer: one who applies a ton of knowledge where an ounce of wisdom would tell you the problem was not worth solving.

Monday, May 16, 2005

What difference does it make?

[With all due apologies to those who have done all that homework for their philosophy are about to see why I envy your accomplishment.]

Life is precious. Agreement on that sentiment is so nearly universal it is not often spoken of as a belief or treated as an arguable proposition. But strictly speaking, that life is precious is a belief and there are some: philosophers, the terminally ill, depressives, etc, who will question it or put conditions on it. Many are able to understand that principle on all its scales: the longevity of the individual, of a species or of a community of interdependent species is almost always held to be something worth prolonging.

But in this world, living as humans do, we promptly fold, spindle and mutilate even that simplest notion of a good thing into a knot about which there is persistent disagreement:

When is it permitted to take a life?

This is a wicked hard question. Simplify it ruthlessly. Leave out the other species, even those that have done us no harm. Leave out any whose status as "living" is in question. Leave out all who have tired of their burdensome existance. Leave out accidents. Leave out Gary Gilmore.
[what! You thought I'd never get around to him?]. We are now down to ending the life of a person, conscious of life and death, who would prefer to continue living. Considering when it is acceptable to take a life in this narrow scope is still a terrible question to ponder. One million shades of gray still reamain for our discernment. Well, I am not about to write a pocket guide to replace millenia of judgment on so heavy a matter and you wouldn't read it anyway. What I do mean to illustrate is that there is a way to start from a point where common sense and common theology are still in agreement and wind up at some reasonable guidance without requiring or rejecting the text of any particular sect. [Thats how I spell progressive, dear reader: maintaining the hard-learned rules that would come closest to accommodating every member of society...just as they are]

Let's keep whittling: Self defense, capital punishment, waging war, too many mouths to feed and others are all yet on the table. War, to turn
Von Clausewitz slightly on his head, is failed politics...I leave it out for the sake of brevity and because politics should be fixed before wars happen...another way to spell progressive. I don't consider myself well informed about capital punishment and instead offer you this until I am read up:
Life is precious. We say so meaning that we would try to protect not just our own life but others as well. Since when is vengence or punishment precious?

My purpose being illustration, let me just pick one instance from the sagging shelf of justifiable homicide: Self defense. That is a knot. Life against life, take a life to save a life. What tips this balance? Here is how I work this out using only what I consider common sense. I apply the basic idea that life is to be spared while resisting a long as possible the selfish and blinding thought that some lives are more precious than others. I strive for practical judgement: what works best, what difference will the choices make? In general then, the fewest lives lost in the long run is a good basic goal. It is close to impossible to accurately project yourself into the life and death situations I will now categorize, though we inaccurately do so constantly thanks to lurid quality of local news. When the debris of these situations is put before our judgement, we are called upon to put ourselves in the place of the accused. Note that I describe these situations from the view of the person attacked.
First eliminate the unnecessary risk of taking life by seeking an outcome where no life is lost. Is escape an option? Could buying time help: will this assailant hunt me or am I just momentarily inconvenient or the object of a passing rage? If I have been party to provoking this hostility, my pride is a trifling thing and I should try to diffuse the situation. If physical restraint and deadly force are both possible, favor restraint: be the human where no one else will be. I don't know much about crime stats or criminal psychology but the presence of mind to run through those possibilties in the moment would save at least a few lives. "Stand your ground" legislation goes in the opposite direction. I hope such laws, if enacted, go under the microscope of well kept crime statistics. I expect the difference such laws will make will be how many more "lie in the ground".
When no peaceful option is available, our arithmetic increases from zero to one. You face an implacable personal foe. You are cornered, no one else is theatened. One is full of anger the other full of fear. I gather much domestic violence fits this case, the common tragedy of the unstable nucleus of the atomic family. What works best? I don't know. This is just sad and life gets wasted. All the ethics in the world are elsewhere and will come around later to mop up the blood. All the cases are particular. But if its just a fight, a slight hope of it being less than a fight to the death hangs on one of the combatants dropping pure anger for pure awareness...just try to be that combatant.
Reckoning lives taken is certain. Saving lives is the greatest good our civilization can manage but reckoning lives saved is speculation. That should temper how we think about the attacker with many targets and especially targets in the future for we only guess when we say "he'll kill again". But when the arithmetic must balance the lives of more than one victim against the one life of an attacker who has the means and the history to do fatal harm, the only question I would have is whether killing the attacker is the only option. Always: life is precious. So more lives are more precious.

There you have it, a worked ethical exercise, neither scholarly, religious nor complete and perhaps a strawman of an exercise.
I make no pretense of stumbling through such reasonigs in a vacuum and inventing answers: I grew up in a culture where law and custom have long traced many shared ideas that life is precious back to Judeo-Chrstian teachings. But neither would I buy anyone's pretense that those traditions have all the answers: I know many Jews and Christians, long confirmed in their faith and usually unified by it, yet falling out into a spectrum of opinions on issues like capital punishment. They are just people who have taken the guidance they received and reached their own conclusions. The main point I try to make here is that one can start from really basic and generally held values, advance by applying the practical constraint that extrapolations must make a positive difference for as many as possible and arrive at rules of guidance and judgement that could be used with benefit in particualar, even extreme, real life situations.

One other point of my discursion is that having labeled myself as progressive does not give anyone reason to label or attack me as opposing their religion and particularly not to claim I have no values or values antithetical to Judeo-Christian morality. It would be hard to say a progressive was a person with this or that particular issue or belief. It would be safer to say what progressives are not: they are not people who throw out the ethical baby with the mythical bath water. In my case at least, being progessive means I want to clean the baby we must all care for of any self serving myths so that one day, it will take care of all of us.

In the end justice is simple regardless what complexities accompany its attainment. Its simplicity is this: say all parties are equal, say today counts as much as seven generations hence but much more than yesterday and with the scales thus set, be practical. Try to make the balance of life work for all that live. If you feel you have a maker, do you imagine he wants things otherwise?

I admit, I have glossed over all the hot buttons; abortion, mindless life support, and of course capital punishment. When I have time and need attention enough to invite getting kicked around, I will tackle those using my farmboy methods...later.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Walking a mile in jackboots and sandals.

If you can only manage dread and disgust at the other side's pronouncements, if you can't for a minute fathom what life experience and human inclination could prompt one or a group of people to pursue some program or agenda, then you will never really engage them. Rather than a debate where you could at least make that peace we call agreeing to disagree, your political arena devolves to a neighborhood of drive by shoutings and flame warfare.

I speak here of how we, as a nation, "share" political thought. The matters of fact, the discovery, reporting and discussion of deeds done and harm done by the powerful is another matter. Only to the extent that we have a working democracy, do debates of ideology get any chance to change who is in power or to bear results in bombs or bullion brought to bear on the problems with established priorities.

Yeah, I'm worried.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Devaluation: Can we talk? Pt I

My brevity muse is on vacation this morning. Writing and the thinking that should precede it are not my strengths, so I am told. Longer essays are far enough beyond my power and patience that you won't have to worry about browsing here and finding yourself stuck reading my choplogic for ten minutes. I've been hatching this ramble about why I write the Executioners Thong for quite a while but others have echoed my concern so the time is right to join them and address the underplayed matter not so much of whether liberals and progressives have values, but why they don't clearly put them forth.

To stave off the chaos that stalks my paragraphs, an outline:
  1. intro
  2. why progressives might not be inclined to talk up values
  • we prefer action to words
  • we are cynical about overuse of words like morality
  • we are diverse, one message won't fit all
  • values are dynamite why touch a dangerous topic
  • we don't believe in absolutes
  • we don't like vague generalities
3. why we should
  • our silence is contrasted to the PR campaign of the right
  • our silence is a vacuum the right is happy to fill
4. how we should
  • avoid arrogance
  • avoid negative statements of value…we have plenty of bloggers saying what ISN'T right.
  • subtlety doesn't work well
  • sarcasm is mean fun but it is not communication.
  • rudeness:Civility itself is one of the values of a civilized people.
Sections 3 and 4 are still to drafty and I just gotta get something out for comment. Here are sections 1 and 2. I wish Bloggger's spellcheck worked for me, sorry.

Introduction: Yes, I do think there is a problem.
I've heard it said that liberals are inclined to avoid the V word. We think it is abused and steer clear. But others are using it. Most galling to me is that it is claimed that U.S. voters, tipped by the appeal of a "clearer message about values", gave the bush league its "mandate" to roll back years of progress and to mix religion with politics.

With a lifetime of ignoring politics and barely time to sample the
blogging at PBA and a little MSM, I am not really in a position to
accurately characterize the volume and themes of output that name or
espouse the "values" of progressives. My impression, FWIW, is that
there are implicit ethical views in most of what I read in the PBA and
my comfort with those views is WHY I write here. But our clearest
thoughts about values are expressed in the disgust at the abundance of
glaring ethical lapses of those in power and those grabbing for power.

Not good enough! Regarding clear simple statements of what behavior
is incumbent on any member of society and to a lesser extent, what
behavior a society should permit any member, I do sense a Silence
of the Left. I see a number of conditions that may all play into this

2. Some possible reasons why progressives don't spout value talk.

We prefer action to words.
When all gets said and done, what was said is remembered more
clearly than what was done.

I have heard it said progressives tend to focus more on action, on
pitching in more than on ideology. Thats a good thing but not a
completely effective mode [assuming its do I know?] to have
impact beyond your own neighborhood. When we talk, or write, we talk
about what to do more than what to say. Its true that doing is
the ultimate espousal of a value but it is not the same thing as
communication of that value.

We are cynical about overuse of words like morality
Far worse than stating a principle you uphold and being shown the
error in it would be to state a principle which, due to culture and
convention, people were afraid to call BS on, but which few actually did
or could live up to themselves. Gradually such tactics encumber all
discussion of principled living in a thick fog of cynicism.

The worst conservatives, giving religion a bad name, shout about moral behavior and values from their pulpits and anchor desks until it is an empty, toxic caricature, a suit of armor from which the body of ethics has been removed.The term "family values" is about as vague as they come if you have no context. If it is honestly explained to you, you might say to yourself "oh, its just a code word for a policy that Leviticus was the last word that ever needed to be written on sexual behavior". The long history of abuse of high sounding phrases by many politicians of all stripes has left a nation jaded. A value should not be used like a politician's promise. The principls themselves have to be on the table for examination. It is easy to be skeptical when the moral backbone of some program or agenda is declared unassailable and left out of the discussion. I suspect that the already deep cynicism about values can only worsen with the degeneration of popular [i.e. not official] political discussion in to a bash-fest devoid of any respect for the other guy. In this atmosphere values are only up for attack, not discussion or analysis.

While we have far to go before principled public policy could be the promise of politics as an enterprise, we can move it in that direction. To the extent that reluctance of liberals and progressives to tout their own values may be collateral damage from cynicism about overblown value statements from the right wing, liberals are just going to have to take it upon themselves to reverse cynicism and restore the benefits of "standing for something". Make sure the principle is something real people could actually live up to and that it can be derived from common sense notions of right and wrong and put it out there.

We are diverse, one message won't fit all
If an army cannot hide behind one champion, then each warrior must fight.

Our blogging shows that a collection of interests need not be monolithic nor funded by corporations to have a voice. But the conservatives have shown how it helps in making messages that get an audience. Progressives don't much go for litmus tests and put out a lot of little messages rather than a few sledgehammer slogans. Our bumper stickers are clearest about what we are NOT. We are not bush supporters. Progressives are a diverse lot to say the least but we really are united by more than sharing a dismissive opponent. Our bumper stickers would paper the back of a bus. That is a drawback for a national campaign of one-way communications to a broad unknown audience. Remember you always have two messages. You each have some bumper sticker at the heart of YOUR issue and if you are a progressive person, a tolerant person, a liberal person, then that bumper sticker is not likely to be at odds with the messages of others who are also inclusive in their thinking about how to secure their needs and rights in a pluralistic world. So go ahead and do the embarrassingly obvious: state the relation of your cause to the more liberal mindset and then deliver your bumper sticker. You are leaning on the strength of our combined numbers and simple priorities when you do that and at the same time you add to them.

Values are dynamite. Why touch a dangerous topic
You are either in a community or you are in a brawl

Values have importance beyond their being literal statements of what
is important and guidance for personal choices. They define
communities. Just this business of having one root in community and
one in the personal makes values hard to teach and talk about. And
they inform life beyond the communities in which they are doctrine. I
could not set forth some notion of principles of common, decent
citizenship without, for instance, repackaging a fair number of the
better precepts and practices of Christian teaching...they have soaked
into the fraying fabric of American culture [well, the precepts
anyway] But "better" would be according to my judgment of what is
benign and enlightened or some generally accepted metric of societal
benefit. We live in a world of communities within overarching
community of a nation/society. Shared values of the overarching
community, particularly those calling for fairness and tolerance and
respect for persons and their privacy are the planks and nails of
which our social contract is constructed. They often go unarticulated
until breached or laws and jurisprudence bring a society's walk in
line with its talk. These bonds that keep pluralistic society from
falling to pieces with militias, pogroms and boycotts are frail. Its
ironic how that falling to pieces runs on incitement of one sect or
faction couched in terms of reducing the threat posed by the "wrong"
values of the other sects or factions: "values" and them/us identities
are readily and disastrously miscible. There is a fundamental
inconsistency in such a process of undoing the bonds of a pluralistic
society: appeal must be made to powers above the good of all to
justify breaking the truce between factional value schemes...but
those powers are only defined and declared sect by sect for the good
of a few and generally held to be above review, appeal or even logic.
A sectarian value scheme can only be advanced as an obligation on the
society as a whole at the cost of removing the primacy of "the good
of all" This undercuts the notion that tolerance protects ones
freedom to apply his particular sect's or group's values within the
sphere of ones own community. An individual must recognize they are
a member of a community and accept the burdens to deserve and maintain
the benefits. This parallels the status of constituent communities
within the larger community. So, yes, your instinct to tread
carefully in making value statements is valid. It /is/ playing with
dynamite. How else do you move mountains? Just be careful.

Individual and community are yin and yang. If there is one that can
only be defined in terms of the other, if you simply cannot have one
without the other, then seeing opposition between the two is an error,
an unbalanced focus.

We don't believe in absolutes
There are two ways you can constrain your path through life: use Values as guidance or use absolutes as leg irons.

Only the most basic notions of right and wrong even approach
"absolute" so don't back off from values because they offend
progressives when stated as absolute but also offend conservatives
when spoken of as relative. They are guidance, rules of thumb. A
progressive should know when to simply note that there are exceptions.
We confront fundamentalists and other self worshipers in godly robes
who are not interested in any analysis as such analysis is going to
place the analyzed in some greater context and that is
adimit that they are just one of a bunch of competing isms makes the
illusion of absolute rectitude and certainty blow away like so much
smoke...this is why they have to control their debate with us...with our
loose alegiences to isms...because for them, every cent is at
stake...its also why the debates must end up with the true believer
gloating at their triumph over reality even as they press their hands
over their ears.

We don't like vague generalities
You can never say exactly what you mean. But that's a dumb reason to play dumb.

Consider the following example of a value statement. It is one so
obvious that many would not feel the need to state it let alone
justify or elaborate it: Actions ranging from one person's choices
about a conflict of interest to a community imposing a regulation on
its members should always be weighed critically on the scale of "the
good of all". That's a bit vague, but general guidance is
necessarily so. Perhaps progressives are leery of generalities and
more trusting of the specific. Still, who would argue against that
statement? Don't you think that an attempt to apply it to particular
cases will, on the whole, be a benefit to the health and harmony of
the community in which the particular case arises and gets worked out?
Who would be put off if they knew that is where you were coming from,
so to speak?

Friday, May 13, 2005

Sounds logical to me.

If shouting matches are so unproductive, why don't we have more listening matches?

My apologies to all PBA, my thoughts on why progressives don't have a flash card deck of "value statements are still shuffling onto the page.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

We are still individuals

Not everyone in uniform is a conservative. The need for defense and a better national consensus on which uses of miltary overstep the definitions of defense are matters for wider and more informed debate than all the threat-reflex and gotta-get-elected posturing we have seen so far [from both major parties]. Debate is not often fostered by generalizations such as I am prone to offer but I just have to remind us all to free ourselves up a bit. I believe that inside of all that I and many others feel has gone wrong with US employment of military options lately we will find some misplaced values.

Before policies harden into military campaigns, individuals make speeches and individuals vote. After, individuals get other people's blood on their hands or get killed and wounded in body and mind. My hope and intention is that we, not just progressives, but all Americans, would be a little more individualistic in considering exactly what threatens us before the voting and demand apolitical and thorough information about what threats exist. After the belief is planted that we need to fight, the most amazing displays of courage ensue...we as a country really lucky that large numbers of men and women are willing to be led in front of bullets for the sake of the rest of us. These amazing people know they give up the luxury of thinking like individuals for the sake of the cause and the policy and still know that as individuals, a few of them will die. If we do have enemies, just knowing that willingness exists among thousands Americans must be a greater deterent to them than all bombs we have ever bought. That that willingness is content to be misinformed may, on the other hand, make enemies.

Not every liberal is pacifist, a few are in the military, more work directly or indirectly for the DOD. The ending of DARPA grants for basic reseach will reduce those numbers, perhaps not an unintended consequence. A few are even veterans decorated for courage and selflessness in battle. Within the political ghetto of the left, [behind walls the left did not erect], there is not one but a range of answers and opinions about alternatives to combat, about what conditions justify going to war and about what combination of aid, diplomacy and means of combat are most effective in bringing hostilities as humanely as possible to quick but lasting end. From what I can see, the greatest difference between the eager warriors of the right and the reluctant warriors of the left is that on the left, they recognize that

you need to know the difference between being the strongest kid on the block and being the neighborhood bully.

The US has faced and overcome many dictatorships which could not see that difference. The unjust wars we wage all begin with blinding ourselves to that difference. That distinction is hardest to maintain when individuals quit thinking as individuals. Don't just get in line.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Many theorems are first imagined to be laws.

When a creature becomes capable of knowing and contemplating that it will die, I will speak of it as having a soul. From then on until it loses that capability, in regard to rights and respect due a living thing, it is my equal and the equal of all such creatures, even the dangerous ones.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Father forgive me for I have questions

In dead earnest and with clearest awareness that nothing is gained by mere provocation, I would like to ask the religious absolutists a few questions. Speaking as an outsider to any sect that holds its positions on social and personal issues to be above challenge, I hope it would be understandable that the lack of reasonable answers stands between me and acceptance of the legislative agenda of such sects. Billboards and AM talk radio and the gentle coaxing of Pat Robertson have not reached me: I need answers to my questions if my mind is to change.

If god made up the words, who makes up the meanings?

Many of those words are in a dialect of Hebrew not spoken for 2000 years and known to pose numerous ambiguities and uncertain meanngs for modern, archaeologically informed translators so how on earth does one use a mideval English translation as authoritative?

Fierce and sometimes bloody claim is made by a dozen or so different sects that god made up different words for their flavor of the religion meme. This tells me much about people but what does this tell about god?

For those of you who think god hears your wishes and wants to win my stuborn heart and is so handy with the strong and weak nuclear forces that he can manipulate decay rates for unstable isotopes just to make it seem to scientists that the earth is billions of years old, I'd like you to take a chunk of granite and pray for it to appear on my Geiger counter to age from 2 billion years old to say 6 billion. I understand that up to 6 days are required for this to take place. No hurry. If god wants me to know he is in charge and I want to be sure his self appointed interpreters are not in charge, why can't this demonstration be arranged?

Among these words god gave you, even I know you have choices. You may emphasize harsh punishments, destruction of sinful cities, unnaturally narrow restrictions defining what behavior is natural and acceptable. Or you may emphasize tolerance and forgiveness. For instance, the old testament, with slight variations, admonishes "do not oppress the stranger who lives among you. Remember you were once strangers in the land of Pharoh" in thirty six different verses. No dictate of the decalog gets this kind of scriptural emphasis. Why then do you not emphasize tolerance of others?

That should do for now. I actually hate writing this. Most of the people I work with and grew up with are nominally Christian. Most of the people I study with are nominally Jewish. Most of them voted, perhaps reluctantly, for Kerry. Many of them honor the obligations they take with their measure of faith by being hopeful, helpful and often charitable but not by being in my face about litmus test issues. They make good neighbors, they seem to be good citizens. I am not afraid of them nor they of me.

Those sects which mean what they preach about forgiveness may forgive my confusion and curiostity and attempt to answer. If that answer leads to some point where they must say "this is something you just have to accept and believe to go on", thats OK, it may not be an answer for me but I will have to trust my judgement...I don't have anyone elses to use.

Those sects that permit the thought "well, god told them X but he told us Y" please talk among yourselves and get back to me when you have sorted it out. I do listen but not for long if its making me crazy.

To those sects which require of their adherents the thought that all are damned and dispensable who question or deviate from the meanings and words picked and put forth as the only reality, please put the gun down, back slowly away from us into your church and no one will get hurt.

[NOTE: I can go googling around for fundie blogs where my commenting can be deleted. I don't expect, being only in the PBA, to get many fundamentalist readers. Any one have suggestions about places to ask my questions where constructive or at least informative engagment is possible? ]

Sunday, May 08, 2005

The oldest preoccupation

The power of love has battled the love of power for all of human history...that battle is most of human history.

The hopeful see no winner. A few local cease fires are holding.

When the cause is a lie, lies cause wars

Words like honesty and truth only exist because we crave a moral scale on which to measure error. We crave because we embrace their antonyms so readily in the face of adversity: error with a purpose, knowingly made, seldom has a purely good purpose.

If honesty and truth were the only kind of expressed information, we wouldn't have those words or understand their meaning.

And what then of the word "peace"?

Saturday, May 07, 2005

What a peculiarly seductive pit

I pulled my original post because bashing shows more weakness than it benefits anyone to expose.

Reaching, reaching everywhere for the strength of being is not right, it is not strong.

Stronger than what? More right than what? myself?

Thursday, May 05, 2005

A prayer

Grant me that deeper faith that lets me test my faith in the crucible of experience and lets me sail in the winds of change rather than hug the harbor of the familiar. I would not lodge in some narrow dry dock of beliefs for fear of rudderless anarchy. Man makes dry docks. Let me go see who made the wide ocean.

The anarchy we fear most in the world is apt to be a projection of a chaos that is within us.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The name of the game, choices and no choice

Living is a process of relinquishing possibilities one by one until, in a final paroxysm of letting go, we die. This yielding up of potential ALWAYS hurts, is mostly necessary and engages our will only in the choosing, when we are awake to the choice, of whether or not to slow the losses through restraint and exertion, through swimming upstream from the roaring waterfall. If you seek contentment, learn to get joy out of being a strong, smart swimmer. Only in stories has anyone come back to tell you what is over and beyond the falls. The "truth" of such stories is irrelevant. The multiplicity of such stories is the fact I deal with. But fear of death and the will to self preservation both function badly when we get them mixed up. What is there to be afraid of? You cannot possibly know!

To live in denial of the inevitable or be obsessed by it is to waste all the moments leading up to the inevitable.

Between those two extremes of reaction is the slowest place in the current, swim there or at least don't be swept away so fast.

Actually, denial is just obsession in the form of a burdensome lie.

Denial frees obsession from challenges, letting the object of dread hold court just out of consciousness. A portion of the mind is devoted, seeing yet not seeing, much like a rabbit hypnotized by wide jaws of the tiger.

Balance in between. To be mindful that you wrestle with the angel of death one doughnut at a time is only as morose and hobbling as life itself: not at all.

Whereas you could still have fun using will and wits to swim a few extra miles into the current, your cardiologist, oncologist and pharmacist get no joy out of patching what you have neglected. They just get your money. They'd be tickled to coach you and happier still if you needed no benefit they can offer. When they took their oath to do no harm, they did not say under their breath "Let the patient do the harm". You won't seek their best help until you know the name of the game is neither "living" nor "dying".

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Looking for peace in all the wrong places

Effort to figure out how the conflict began is a strangely effective way to ensure it does not end.

Monday, May 02, 2005

The slumbering market forces

Much obliged to Cat's Dream for pointing out the world water rights treaty article that riled me up about this:

We also once thought that people have a right to breath. However the world's greatest democracy claims [we can only guess what our leaders and their sponsors actually think] market forces will give us clean air and the Kyoto accords are unnecessary and restrictive. What chance is there then that common sense or fairness would get a voice in protecting and distributing water? The average man sees only his immediate problem, the farsighted realize we are already in a "rationing" circumstance and the greedy don't know there is such a thing as "we" but see a chance to mark up their Perrier again.

But who exactly is "we"? You, dear readers are not just angels looking in on a sorry planet and shaking your heads. We are also consumers. The Americans reading this are hyperactive marathon consumers. We tune out the climate with our mighty thermostats and go to the market and the gas station every few days and vote with our dollars telling the companies who bought us such nice politicians that they are right: they have what we won't do without and therefore the power is theirs.
Golfers and those who must have a broad green lawn can just leave now because you are deluded hypocrites unless you are raising sheep on that grass. The rest of us also need to take a hard look at what we really support vs what we complain can't have it both ways. Is it inconceivable that we at the bottom of the economic food chain could organize or individually base our purchasing on socially responsible outcomes? Now THAT would be a market force. This thinking is taking hold in pockets of resistance. But as corporations solidify their grip on the US government, their power to profit at the expense of ever broader segments of the population while distributing or wasting resources that are not actually theirs is ever increasing. If all who stand to lose from this selfishness would act, if the money is the all there is to the corporation's motives and actions, "we" could force the market.

A better world is a whole world and you cannot buy a better world by paying someone to break off little pieces of it for you.

Footnote: If you have the time to read a wonky analytical paper that might help you get your radical mojo working, wade through this by John Fonte.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Building immunity

Cul put me to the test of my own brave words a while back by asking me how, if selfish behaviour reinforces negative expectations and negative expectations work as excuses for selfish behavior, might we break the cycle.

I am repeatedly shocked to find that I do not have the answer to some questions. None the less, I answered. I post that non-answer because its a stab at how we can prevent the cycle altoghether rather than the much harder task of getting adults out of ruts long laid down and well worn in. This puts me on record as owing a better answer but for starters condisider how important it is to immunize children from some of the self perpetuating diseases that are out there.

It should be taken as our most profound and least avoidable duty to resolutely love our children:
  1. not to raise them with lessons of reprisal for wrong doings,
  2. always to show them how we ourselves struggle with our selfish impulses
  3. to take every opportunity to teach them, when they are hurt, how much of the hurt comes from their own expectation of others
  4. for the outright wrongs of others, be they punished or profitiable, to diagram the upstream and downstream chain of failures to sense connection that attend these wrongs.
  5. lead them to be alert but do not leave them hungry for praise, security or even companionship. Try to leave them whole and satisfied as what they are,who they are and where they are for so they were when born.
  6. have the presence of mind, when conflict comes into their lives, to show them how balance can be reached in the ever present contention between connection(4) and self sufficiency(5)
The entitlements of childhood are a peg on which I mean to hang a great deal...stay tuned.