Nov 30 2009

Fear and Indolence

God?

“Man’s inhumanity to man.” – Robert Burns, Man was Made to Mourn

The phrase itself is a cliché. But worse than that, it makes no sense. It implies that to be “humane” is to be human (i.e., infused with human-kindness). I would argue that history supports an opposite definition. As a species, our history is marked by murders, skirmishes, and wars. Recent centuries haven’t seen an emergence from this barbarity, it has instead handed us the tools to commit genocide. What does this say about us? Does it mean we’re “evil”? I don’t think so. I think it means that as a species we are afraid. We fear what we don’t understand. We fear those that are different from us. We fear for our children and our futures. These are reasonable feelings…to an extent. They cease being reasonable when intelligent people refuse to take the necessary steps to learn what they don’t understand. When people embrace fiction (and the institutions that support said fictions) instead of expending the necessary efforts to learn the truth, they set a course for disaster. So why does it happen over and over again? Because humans are not only fearful, they are lazy. I don’t mean to imply that people aren’t hard workers. To this day, farmers (or farmhands) get up before dawn every day to milk the cows. No, that’s not the problem (mostly). People are lazy in the sense that they are unwilling to think about problems when a simple (not necessarily accurate) answer is readily available (and supported by their community). A plausible fiction is often more appealing than a difficult truth, and definitely more desirable than no answer at all. Here then is the seed of most conflicts throughout history. One group creates an answer in lieu of learning the truth and another group invents a different answer. The arising institutions that  support these “findings” become entrenched and invested in their chosen fiction, and soon are willing to persecute and eventually kill non-believers to protect it. Look back across the pages of history. What you see are not wars over the truth; what you are seeing are thousands and millions of pointless deaths over competing fictions. Why would anyone be willing to give their life for stories told thousands of years ago by men who couldn’t take the time to learn: why the sun rose every morning, why the seasons changed, why there were countless species of animals, where we come from?

If that wasn’t bad enough, it gets worse. Over the centuries, reasonable people have emerged to challenge the fictions. Keep in mind, Ibn al-Haytham proposed the current scientific method in the 11th century, yet again and again, people willing to dispel the shadows of institutionalized disinformation have been persecuted and killed. Why? Fear. Not only are humans afraid but their institutions are as well. How corrupt must an institution be that places a higher value on fictions than taking the opportunity to move the world a little closer to illumination.

Fear and mental indolence are at the root of all these problems. If fear wasn’t so instinctual, it could even be argued that they are one in the same. Today, we are ruled by institutions that our forefathers erected to explain why we are here, why we are special, and how to get along with one another. The problem is that they are completely wrong. We will never shed light on any of those questions if we hold onto the old fictions. The sad part is that we’ve known what to do all along; we only have to think.

“The constant assertion of belief is an indication of fear.” – Jiddu Krishnamurti


Nov 26 2009

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving TurkeyThis blog gives me a venue to express my opinions, observations, convictions, &c. I don’t use it to talk about particulars of my private life (I do that elsewhere). I don’t use it to attack people (there’s plenty of other sites for that…you know who you are!). I don’t use it to make money (that’s never been a motivating force for me). I don’t use it to draw attention to myself (zero subscribers and counting). This is simply a place to put into words “things that matter to Dennis”.

Today is Thanksgiving. We’re supposed to use this day to celebrate the fall harvest (Silver Queen corn and pumpkins maybe, everything else comes from Mexico) and express gratitude for all the good things that make our lives tolerable (I think I’m supposed to say “enjoyable”…). The past couple years have been particularly hard but because of close friends and family (I toyed with the order there, but had to settle on one), I’m emerging from a trying and turbulent time. I’m thankful to them for that. I don’t know where I’d be if it wasn’t for the people around me (none of which read my blog apparently! damn them).

“We are here on earth to do good for others. What the others are here for, I don’t know.” – W. H. Auden


Nov 24 2009

A Town Like Alice

A Town Like AliceLast night I finished Nevil Shute‘s 1950 novel “A Town Like Alice“. I had very little idea what the story was about before opening the book, which is perhaps the best way to start any read. I’m not even certain how I found my way to this book. It might have been something as stupid as having heard the catchy 1982 The Jam song, “Town Called Malice” (which has nothing to do with the book). Whatever the reason, after seeing a great deal of positive reviews on Amazon.com, I got a copy and proceeded to read. I’m glad that I did.

The story revolves around a woman named Jean Paget, who comes into a large some of money when an uncle (that she met once as a child) dies alone in Scotland following WWII. The trustor, an older gentleman named Noel Strachan (who drapes a melancholy pall over the entire book), finds the sole heir and takes her under his wing. As the paperwork is settled, he befriends the young woman and learns about her harrowing past during the war, where she partook in a death-march around Japanese-occupied Malaya. It was during this period that she met an Australian prisoner-of-war named Joe Harmon, who did his best to steal food for the starving women and children on the march, but ultimately paid the price for his efforts.

There is a great deal more to the story, but I’d be doing readers unfamiliar with the book a disservice by revealing anything more. I will note however that the book wanders a bit. I guess this is inevitable since it follows a person’s life across a number of years but there are long sections (it’s not a very big book) that had me wondering “how does this add to the story?”. I can only assume that Shute included more than he needed as a testament to the real-life people that he’d met and modeled the characters after, e.g., Carry Geysel and Herbert Edwards. The hardships endured by the story’s main characters are impressive; the fact that they fall shy of the events that inspired them are astonishing.

“You won’t know if [your time] was wasted until you come to the end of your life,” I said. “Perhaps not then.”

4 out of 5


Nov 23 2009

2012

2012This weekend we went to see the mother-of-all-disaster-porn movies “2012“. If you’ve been living in a hermit’s cave the last few years, you may have missed the rumor that the Mayan Calendar ends in 2012 thereby signifying the end of the world! So what if it’s only the end of the Fourth World, we’ve got a movie to make!

I had no expectations that the movie would be good and in that regard, I wasn’t disappointed. This is not to say that the movie wasn’t entertaining! Conflict? Not really… Sometimes you just have to shut-off parts of your brain in order to enjoy yourself. With 2012, the part you need to switch-off is the thinking part (well, maybe everything except the occipital lobe). Just sit there in front of the large screen of your choice and wait for the world to break apart and its nameless inhabitants to fall into yawning crevices, burn in fiery explosions, and drown by the millions (billions?). What could be more entertaining? It also doesn’t hurt to continually remind yourself that shamelessly sampling other disaster flicks is okay these days (it’s like cinematic Hip Hop!)! It’s not like anybody remembers: “Miracle Mile“, “Independence Day“, “The Day After Tomorrow“, and “Earthquake” anyhow! Who needs original ideas as long as our memories are short and the CGI is good… More fluoride for me, thanks!

Oh… you’re looking for story, character development, plot twists, some mystery, chemistry between characters, maybe even some comedy? Well… There’s plenty of that in other movies, why waste time with that stuff when you could watch beautifully rendered images of California slipping into the sea, the Yellowstone super-volcano revisiting it’s 70,000 year old past, tectonic plates sliding around the earth (in observable- rather than geologic- time), floods crashing through every major city of the world (“How long can you tread water?” thanks Cos!), and a spirited John Cusack (who has come a long way since “Sixteen Candles“) jumping flaming canyons in a Winnebago!

So, I guess what I’m saying is before the movie starts, remove your brain and put it in a jar… and try to remember not to leave it under your seat when you leave. All points for effects!

Not worth quoting…

3 out of 5


Nov 10 2009

Religious Tolerance

God?Should we tolerate religion? The question itself is weighted toward the negative before the discussion even begins. Why would anyone feel that tolerance itself is a bad thing? The idea of tolerance is typically engaged when the majority decides to abide a minority opinion. Is it likewise incumbent on the minority to respect the general view? What if the majority view is wrong? What if that view is dangerous? What if that view represents a proliferate conspiracy whose purpose is to delude, direct, and deceive the masses? Is it not then in the best interest of concerned citizens to speak out against such institutions? Is it not the responsibility of friends and family, to (at the very least) try and help their misguided neighbors? Is the virtue of tolerance worth allowing others to waste their lives blindly pursuing illusory reward in lieu of more meaningful and tangible efforts here?

All religions benefit from tolerance. Tolerance creates an environment where the tenets of faith are protected from questions, from contrary evidence, from exposure. This allows religions to peddle their mysteries from one generation to the next, without censor, without criticism, without having to produce any answers other than: belief, faith, and tradition. They label non-believers as: heretics, heathens, pagans, because it has always been easiest to label your enemies rather than understand them. Labeled enemies are easily discredited as liars, troublemakers, or just plain ignorant. How simple it is to win a debate when no argument is allowed. Today’s religious and political discourse has been reduced to this. No one argues their points anymore. People simply vomit their positions, discredit their opponents’ opinions with labels (e.g., atheist, conservative, liberal, fascist), and call the argument won. Everyone remains unchallenged within their particular realm, before the ears and eyes of their particular flock, and no progress is made. Within politics, it is fair to engage the other side(s) to a large degree. If you’re lucky enough to find an intelligent opponent, this can even be rewarding. The questioning of religion however is not acceptable. We are taught to be tolerant of others’ beliefs. Why? Why are religious beliefs sacrosanct? Why must I respect someone who believes their god died and was resurrected any more than a man who believes his tennis-shoes are planning to swallow him whole from the ankles, up? Neither can prove that they are right. Both believe things that cannot be proven. But, because one of these people’s beliefs is part of their religion, it’s unacceptable for me to call them delusional. Why?

Tolerance itself is not a bad thing. We should, to some degree, tolerate each other’s faults. We should not however, encourage them. We cannot become better people, improve this world, and hope to achieve peace, if we continue to hold onto divisive and delusional beliefs. This is not to say that people will ever agree on everything, but why hold onto belief-systems that divide us more than is necessary?

“You have two qualities which God, the Most Exalted, likes and loves. One is mildness and the other is toleration.” Prophet Muhammad, Riyâd-us-Sâliheen Volume 1:632