Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Giving tragedy a transcendent meaning

I think one of the powerful narratives of Christian theology is that it turns tragedy into triumph and suffering into salvation. It does not have to be true to be powerful. The crucifixion of a Jewish preacher and the destruction of the Jewish Temple were both tragic but the gospel writers were able to take that tragedy and that suffering and turn into a narrative of purpose, meaning, and salvation.
Christianity does a wonderful job in making the suffering of a Jewish preacher into a great transcendent triumph however all the suffering and tragedy before it seem to be glossed over and it makes one doubt the universal validity of that narrative. Christian theology traveled well for various reasons but one was the ability to reach the common man and woman at their point of suffering. Jesus is a god that not only suffered for you but can also suffer with you.
There are those who defend the previous millions of years of suffering and death as part of the story but it seems the response is either to ignore it, deny it, or justify it. All the answers seem like retro engineering based on a narrow unimaginative perspective, special pleading, and heartless doctrinal bureaucratic language that would impress Eichmann.
Assyrian art 650 B.C.E.
Jesus of Nazareth crucified around 30 AD

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Blaise Pascal - A Brilliant Christian Philosopher

“I’ll never forgive Christianity for what it did to Pascal.” Nietzsche
Blaise Pascal:
"The supreme function of reason is to show man that some things are beyond reason"
“The eternal silence of these infinite spaces frightens me.”
"In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don’t"
"Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature, but he is a thinking reed."
"Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction"

Saturday, December 13, 2014

America's Founders inspired by Classical Greece and Rome

The Birth of Classical Europe: Simon Price and Peter Thonemann:
James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, authors of the Federalist Papers, advocating ratification of the new US Constitution, signed themselves jointly as 'Publius', recalling Publius Valerius Poplicola, first consul of the Roman Republic.
Universities in that era placed enormous emphasis on reading Latin and Greek authors.
Women read classical books, Abigail Adams wrote regular letters to her husband, John Adams, signing herself as Portia, wife of Brutus.
The dialogue with the history of Antiquity helped to separate the new republics, the bastions of liberty, from the old feudal and monarchic regimes of Europe.
The Lycian League, which brought together twenty-three Greek city-states, was held up as a model of an excellent republic model.
Jefferson stated in 1795 on the American experiment that 'we have seen no instance of this since the days of the Roman republic.'
Dr. Joe Wolverton:
Classical training usually began at age eight, whether in a school or at home under the guidance of a private tutor. One remarkable teacher who inculcated his students with a love of the classics was Scotsman Donald Robertson. Many future luminaries were enrolled in his school: James Madison, John Taylor of Caroline, John Tyler and George Rogers Clark, among others. Robertson and teachers like him nourished their charges with a healthy diet of Greek and Latin, and required that they learn to master Virgil, Horace, Justinian, Tacitus, Herodotus, Plutarch, Lucretius and Thucydides. Further along in their education, students were required to translate Cicero’s Orations and Virgil’s Aeneid. Fortunately for the young Founding Fathers, the teachers of the day exercised their students in Greek and Latin, so that their pupils could meet the rigorous entrance requirements of colonial colleges. Those colleges stipulated that entering freshmen be able to read, translate and expound the Greco-Roman classical works. Students were taught lessons in virtue and liberty from the works of Herodotus, Xenophon, Plutarch, Livy, Sallust, Tacitus and Polybius. Thomas Jefferson’s classmates recalled that he studied at least 15 hours a day and carried his Greek grammar book with him wherever he went. Because of the formidable classical curricula at colonial colleges, the classics became a well from which the Founders drank deeply. In the classics, the Founding Fathers found their heroes and villains, and they also detected warning signs along the road of statecraft on which they would tread.
The Founders’ principal Greco-Roman heroes were Roman statesmen: Cato the Younger, Brutus, Cassius and Cicero — all of whom sacrificed their lives in unsuccessful attempts to save the republic — as well as the celebrated Greek lawgivers Lycurgus and Solon.
Classical influences on the Founders:
Men like John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Dickinson and James Wilson were superb classicists — they could read both Latin and Greek fairly well and knew Greek and Roman literature, history and philosophy rather thoroughly. Just as importantly, from the time they went to school, they saw ancient Greek and Roman statesmen as models to be emulated in their own careers as lawmakers, civic-minded leaders, public figures of responsibility. Most of these Americans actually learned how to speak publicly by channeling Greek and Roman orators; in fact, while in college, many of our founders gave public speeches in Latin as well as in English, and they engaged in debates using the personae of famous Greek and Roman orators and politicians.
John Adams thought of himself as an American Cicero, the great Roman lawyer and civic leader. George Washington portrayed himself as Cincinnatus, the Roman farmer-turned-general; he made his soldiers at Valley Forge watch his favorite play, Cato, about the Roman patriot who fought against Caesar’s attempt to take over Rome. James Madison looked upon Solon and Lycurgus, two Greek lawgivers, as models for his Constitution-making. Alexander Hamilton regularly and pointedly used pertinent Greek and Roman pseudonyms in publishing pamphlets arguing policy positions — the outstanding case was, of course, his choice of “Publius” for the Federalist Papers; Publius being Publius Valerius Publicola, a founder of the Roman Republic.
How ancient Greeks influenced America’s founding fathers
Historian and professor Carl J. Richard
"As you say of yourself, I too am an Epicurian. I consider the genuine (not the imputed) doctrines of Epicurus as containing everything rational in moral philosophy which Greece and Rome have left us." -Thomas Jefferson, letter to William Short, Oct. 31, 1819
Cincinnatus: George Washington and the Enlightenment by Gary Wills
Greeks & Romans Bearing Gifts: How the Ancients Inspired the Founding Fathers by Carl Richard
"He read Cicero, Tacitus, and others of his Roman heroes in Latin, and Plato and Thucydides in the original Greek, which he considered the supreme language. But in his need to fathom the "labyrinth" of human nature, as he said, he was drawn to Shakespeare and Swift, and likely to carry Cervantes or a volume of English poetry with him on his journeys. "You will never be alone with a poet in your pocket," he would tell his son Johnny." DAVID McCULLOUGH on John Adams
"A successful physician and progressive thinker, Joseph Warren became an outspoken advocate of inoculations to battle the smallpox plague sweeping colonial America and vaccinated his most famous patient, John Adams. But medicine was not his only passion. As the colonies clashed with Mother England, Warren was drawn to the red-hot center of patriot firebrands. He became a propagandist, spymaster and orator who modeled himself on Cicero, occasionally donning a toga to deliver incendiary speeches. It was Warren who led the men to the “party” where they tossed a shipload of British tea into Boston Harbor. And he was the crucial link between Boston’s upper crust patriots –who got most of the glory– and the workingmen and artisans who did most of the dirty work. But Warren was left out of our poems. And our schoolbooks. And that’s too bad." Historian Kenneth C Davis
"What Athens was in miniature America will be in magnitude. The one was the wonder of the ancient world; the other is becoming the admiration of the present." Thomas Paine, Rights of Man
From the Declaration of Independence to the Constitution, the Founding Fathers looked to classical history as a reliable guide to their successful experiment in building a lasting republic. Dr. Joe Wolverton II Cicero lived from approximately 106 B.C. to 43 B.C. John Adams, in his Defense of the Constitution, said of Cicero: “All of the ages of the world have not produced a greater statesman and philosopher united than Cicero…” First as a lawyer, then as a consul and senator, Cicero boldly defended the republic against the rise of dictators. John and Abigail Adams wrote over a thousand letters to each other during the months (sometimes years) that John was away from home helping found a new nation. As was the custom of the time, they adopted pen names: Abigail was Diana, after the Roman goddess of the moon and later she adopted the pen name, Portia, wife of the great Roman politician Brutus. John adopted the name, Lysander, after the Spartan war hero.
The Roman Classical Revival style was promoted and popularized by Thomas Jefferson, who found the impressively monumental architecture of ancient Rome a suitable model for the newly formed nation. This style was thus a political symbol as well, likening the young United States to the once powerful and influential Roman Republic. Jefferson designed his own home Monticello, the campus of the University of Virginia, and the Capitol of Virginia in this style, using ancient Roman temples as his guide. (Pennsylvania Historical Museum)
George Washington was sometimes called an American Cincinnatus because he too held his command only until the defeat of the British and, at a time when he could have chosen to exercise great political power, instead returned as soon as he could to cultivating his lands. After the end of the Revolutionary War, a group of former officers in the (now) American army formed The Society of the Cincinnati, taking the name from the Roman general. The city of Cincinnati was named after this organization, and a statue of Cincinnatus stands there today.
M.T. Cicero's Cato Major, Franklin's personal favorite from his press, is considered to be the finest example of the printing art in colonial America. Furthermore, this work by the Roman philosopher statesman Cicero is the first classic work translated and printed in North America.
Cicero and Franklin
There was one element of Antiquity that was not a good inspiration and that was slavery.
Thomas Paine stood tall among the founders in that he was against Slavery in the strongest terms, he wrote in 1774:
"To Americans: That some desperate wretches should be willing to steal and enslave men by violence and murder for gain, is rather lamentable than strange. But that many civilized, nay, Christianized people should approve, and be concerned in the savage practice, is surprising; and still persist, though it has been so often proved contrary to the light of nature, to every principle of Justice and Humanity. How shameful are all attempts to excuse it!"

Monday, November 24, 2014

Rome and Jerusalem: Factions and Fanatics

Josephus wrote with blood and guts on his pen. Despite the propaganda element to Josephus you feel and sense the ancient realism and familiarity with disease, destruction, and death. It is an all too human drama of freedom, force, fanatics and tragic fate. Reading Josephus highlights the fact that religious fanaticism existed long before the Islamic extremists in the late 20th century or the Christian Crusaders and Inquisitors of the medieval period. It also reminds the reader that Imperial ambition has existed long before the present superpowers who seek greater security through greater power. Common elements of this Ancient and Modern Drama are: 1. Imperial intervention in the Middle East 2. Monotheistic Religious Zealots 3. Moderates stuck between imperialism and religious zealots 4. Terrorism 5. Factions and Fanatics/Force and Freedom 6. Rome’s inability or refusal to understand Monotheistic sensibilities along with the Fanaticism of certain elements within Monotheism.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Jihadism is not Nihilism

“Nihilism is the belief that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated. It is often associated with extreme pessimism and a radical skepticism that condemns existence. A true nihilist would believe in nothing, have no loyalties, and no purpose other than, perhaps, an impulse to destroy.” (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
"There has to be a clear rejection of this kind of nihilistic ideologies. One thing we can all agree on is that a group like ISIL has no place in the 21st century."
Barack Obama
"There is evil in this world, and we all have come face to face with it once again. Ugly, savage, inexplicable, nihilistic, and valueless evil.
John Kerry on ISIS
ISIS believes in many things not nothing. They believe in Theocracy. ISIS believes in militant political Islam. ISIS believes in Sharia Law. ISIS believes in God. ISIS believes in the Caliphate.
ISIS are religious extremists. Correctly identifying them is one thing but understanding what motivates their extremism is another thing. The motivation and the degrees of it vary. To blame it simply on religion is intellectually weak, to blame it on nihilism is intellectually dishonest. ISIS is more of a reaction to nihilism than it is nihilism.
The issue or topic of ISIS and Islam has been approached with intellectual laziness on both sides of the debate it seems to me. Those who simply claim ISIS is just a bunch of crazy people with a screw loose or those who claim ISIS represents Islamic thought are both simplifying a more complex reality. First ISIS are not nihilists or senseless anarchists as some at the State Department would like you to think. ISIS has an ideological basis and they are religious extremists. Some at the White House and State Department would like people to think of ISIS as nihilists because they feel it is the most outcast terminology they can use but it is a misdiagnosis and intellectually dishonest. They want to cut ISIS off the evolutionary ideological tree of Islam and that is a good goal but it is intellectually dishonest to call them nihilists or claim their ideology is based in nihilistic thought.
Did they forget about Salafism? Wahhabism? Jihadism? These are much more intellectually correct and honest words than what is coming from some government officials. There are to be sure bigots and racists that criticize the religion of Islam based on their prejudice but that does not nullify all legitimate criticism of Islam or strains of Islam.
It would be like if a Stalinist critiqued German Nationalism in the 1930’s and because of that you shied away from critiquing German Nationalism because you did not want to appear siding with Stalinism. It would open you up to being called a Stalinist by simply criticizing German Nationalism. George Orwell one of the most important thinkers of the 20th century was able to critique Fascism, Communism, and Western Imperialism all at the same time. No need to be caged in to one ideological critique. You could be a German Nationalist and not be a Nazi. You could be a critic of German Nationalism or Nazism and not be a Communist. These plain syllogisms must be clear when there is so much intellectual laziness coming from public commentators and government officials.
Most Muslims and religious people do not think like ISIS. The majority of Muslims just want to live in peace. During the Islamic golden age Baghdad was a place of philosophy and medicine (House of Wisdom). Now Baghdad seems far from the House of Wisdom and closer to the House of Horrors. But to call ISIS nihilists is intellectually dishonest. Religious extremism is a problem that needs to be acknowledged.
Jihadism is just a strain of Islam but it is clearly not the totality of Islam. Jihadism is on the evolutionary tree of Islam but it does not represent the essence or totality of Islam. Most Muslims in the world have other interpretations and ways of following their religion without resorting to violence and theocracy. There are other strains like Sufism that offer a broad spiritual experience. No one should claim that Sufism is the totality of Islam though and no one should claim that Jihadism is the totality of Islam either. These are ideological evolutionary strains. Like a benign virus in one being that suddenly becomes a vicious virus when it mutates in another being.
There are many mutations and variables of why one subscribes to Jihadism. Some of the variables are the search for identity, existential crisis, belief in the supernatural, psychological stressors, religious reward or punishment, injustice perceived or real, and so on. Depending on the individual one variable will be more dominant than the other and that you have to study by a case by case process. Now as far as the stated ideological foundation for those that are in ISIS it is clearly religious and it is clearly Jihadism. However their personal motivations may vary.
*** Further reading: Is ISIS an army of nihilists? Just the opposite
"ISIS, however, recoils from such an encounter with doubt. Far from being nihilistic, the followers of ISIS are instead terrified by the empty vistas nihilism reveals. They parade a twisted version of Islam as truth, insisting that death and blood on earth are a necessary sacrifice for the paradise that awaits the religious warrior. Many of Al Qaeda’s and ISIS’s recruits are disaffected young men glad to turn to a thrilling new belief system that walls them off from the danger of nihilism. As George Orwell, among others, pointed out, a similar role has been played by other belief systems, like communism: No matter how violent the deed, it was done in the service of History, the brutal deity of the communist movement. The worldwide caliphate ISIS aims for is a vision just as galvanizing, and just as illusory, as the communist utopia...We know that ISIS scorns the principle of human justice, but by labeling them “nihilist,” comforting as that may be, we ourselves flout plain language."
By Robert Zaretsky and David Mikics

Male Birds Poison Themselves to Appear Sexier—a First

Male Birds Poison Themselves to Appear Sexier—a First

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Death is nothing to us

It was about a year ago I was directly reminded about the fragility of the human body. I was hit on the drivers side of my car by an SUV and my car was totaled. I don't remember being hit until after the impact. Unfortunately I did not have my seat belt on and I cracked my head against the front window. For a couple seconds there was nothing. No time. No space. Nothing. When I came to I did not know what happened but I was able to stumble out of the car and I caught a glimpse of the damage to the car. Not long after I saw the damage the blood starting coming down I was feeling weak and started to lose my strength to stand up. I walked over to the side of the road and laid down. The blood kept coming down. I was not able to open my eyes but a woman stopped and got out of her car and put her sweater around my head to slow down the bleeding.
It was a long night of blood, vomit, stitches, and drugs. Had to wear a neck brace for some time but eventually I recovered just fine. What struck me the most is how consciousness can disappear with a bit of force. How easily it can be extinguished. What a fragile thing consciousness is and when it goes it does not go anywhere from my experience. There is nowhere to go.
I know other people have claimed experiences of visions of light and seeing family members when they brush up against death but for me it was nothing. It was beyond dreams. Not even darkness could penetrate this nothing. For me when my head was thrown against the window hard enough to crack the glass there was nothing. There was no time and no space.
Human consciousness resides in an entanglement of nerves and flesh on a meat stick. If you pay attention nature will remind you of this fact from a stomach virus to blunt force trauma. If you are not killed by forces outside your body you can be sure you will be killed by forces inside your body. If the force from a car or a bullet does not end your consciousness the cells within or the complex web that holds you together will fall apart eventually.
It has been said that when one reads Montaigne’s essays the divide of 400 years of time just disappears. Montaigne is the accessible and human philosopher. No pretense or obfuscation. After my experience I was reading Sarah Bakewell’s book on Montaigne and the description of his loss of consciousness and injury due to falling off his horse particularly resonated with me. Montaigne described it as a loss of consciousness and that the primitive body took over and there was no self when the force impacted his body.
As Sarah Bakewell stated, “He realized, you do not encounter death at all, for you are gone before it gets there. Your existence is attached by a thread; it rests only on the tip of your lips. “
Montaigne wrote,“the fact is that I was not there at all.” He further went on to say “If you don’t know how to die, don’t worry; Nature will tell you what to do on the spot, fully and adequately."
Montaigne wrote, “It seemed to me that my life was hanging only by the tip of my lips; I closed my eyes in order, it seemed to me, to help push it out, and took pleasure in growing languid and letting myself go. It was an idea that was only floating on the surface of my soul, as delicate and feeble as all the rest, but in truth not only free from distress but mingled with that sweet feeling that people have who let themselves slide into sleep.”
Montaigne was knocked off his horse and experienced an Epicurean understanding, the Apostle Paul was knocked off his horse and experienced a Christian vision. After having my head slammed against the car windshield my experience was much closer to Montaigne's. Slipping away into the silent land seemed like a natural thing to do. Death was not a foreign supernatural substance or being but a natural event in this play we call life.
Despite the signs pointing to personal annihilation and extinction being the the most likely outcome many humans still refuse to read the signs and instead turn their heads toward the superstitious noises coming from other primates.
Epicurus - "Death is nothing to us, since when we are, death has not come, and when death has come, we are not."
Michel de Montaigne - Nature compels us to it. "Go out of this world," says she, "as you entered into it; the same pass you made from death to life, without passion or fear, the same, after the same manner, repeat from life to death. Your death is a part of the order of the universe, 'tis a part of the life of the world.
"Of all the world's wonders, which is the most wonderful? That no man, though he sees others dying all around him, believes that he himself will die." Yudhishtara answers Dharma, from "The Mahabharata"
CICERO says "that to study philosophy is nothing but to prepare one's self to die."

Friday, October 10, 2014


There are some beliefs that depend on keeping your view narrow and limited. The more it expands and encompasses...the less the belief seems reasonable and does not fit into a larger narrative.

Friday, October 3, 2014


There are some beliefs that depend on narrowing and confining your view. The more the view expands the belief fails to encompass the whole of reality. On policy makers who deal only in numbers and not the weight of human suffering: I am impressed by your bureaucratic indifference and borderline solipsism. I am not impressed by your lack of compassion and empathy.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

How community shapes ideology

It shouldn't be surprising that for a social primate relationships are more important in shaping ideology than reason or evidence. In Christianity it is impressed on the believers to meet and gather often. Koinonia in Greek -"Koinonia is a transliterated form of the Greek word, κοινωνία, which means communion, joint participation; the share which one has in anything, participation, a gift jointly contributed, a collection, a contribution, etc. It identifies the idealized state of fellowship and unity that should exist within the Christian church, the Body of Christ." (wikipedia)
In Islam there is a Hadith that states marriage is half of the Din. "When a man marries, he has fulfilled half of his religion."

Monday, September 15, 2014

Historical Tides

To paraphrase Ken Burns on people who do not understand the power and impact of history on their current fate..."Blissfully unaware of the historical tides that have carried them"

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Microbe Man

Words as a means of obfuscation instead of communication

"The inflated style itself is a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink."
- George Orwell

Monday, August 4, 2014

You are human like the rest of us

"King Alexander, each man can have only so much land as this on which we are standing. You are human like the rest of us...you will soon be dead and will have as much land as will suffice to bury your corpse."
Statement made to Alexander the Great by an Indian Sage.

War in the womb

A list of the reproductive ills that afflict our species might start with placental abruption, hyperemesis gravidarum, gestational diabetes, cholestasis and miscarriage, and carry on from there. In all, about 15 per cent of women suffer life-threatening complications during each pregnancy. Without medical assistance, more than 40 per cent of hunter-gatherer women never reach menopause. Even with the help of modern medicine, pregnancy still kills about 800 women every day worldwide.
How does an embryo convince its mother that it is healthy? By honestly displaying its vigour and lust for life, which is to say, by striving with all its strength to implant. And how does the mother test the embryo? By making the embryo’s task incredibly difficult. Just as the placenta has evolved to be aggressive and invasive, the endometrium has evolved to be tough and hostile. For humans, the result is that half of all human pregnancies fail, most at the implantation stage, so early that the mother may not even realise she was pregnant.
Suzanne Sadedin has a PhD in Zoology from Monash University, and has since held research positions at Monash University, the University of Tennessee, Harvard University and KU Leuven.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Indifferent as his God

"The sea had jeeringly kept his finite body up, but drowned the infinite of his soul. Not drowned entirely, though. Rather carried down alive to wondrous depths, where strange shapes of the unwarped primal world glided to and fro before his passive eyes; and the miser-merman, Wisdom, revealed his hoarded heaps; and among the joyous, heartless, ever-juvenile eternities, Pip saw the multitudinous, God-omnipresent, coral insects, that out of the firmament of waters heaved the colossal orbs. He saw God’s foot upon the treadle of the loom, and spoke it; and therefore his shipmates called him mad. So man’s insanity is heaven’s sense; and wandering from all mortal reason, man comes at last to that celestial thought, which, to reason, is absurd and frantic; and weal or woe, feels then uncompromised, indifferent as his God."
Herman Melville, Moby Dick

David Hume's pragmatism and pluralism (Simon Blackburn)

Perhaps the cultural situation of the West is sufficiently insecure, like that of Athens after the war with Sparta, for us to need the same defenses against the skeptical quote marks that were provided by Socrates and Plato.They taught us that we can respond to an eternal independent beacon, the heavenly structures of reason itself. The idea that down in our foundations there lie grubby creatures like desires, or passions, or needs, or culture, is like some nightmarish madwoman in the attic, and induces the same kind of reaction that met Darwin when he too drew attention to our proximity to animals rather than to angels. Surely we, the creatures of reason, are not in bondage to the horrible contingencies that go with being an animal? From their professorial eyries the mandarins fight back, reassuring each other that the Holy Grail is there to be seen, spilling into tomes and journals and conferences, e-mails, blogs and tweets, the torrents of what Wittgenstein nicely called the “slightly hysterical style of university talk.”
The pragmatist slogan that “meaning is use” directs us to look at the actual functioning of language. We then come at the nature of our thinking by understanding the ways we express ourselves. Meaning is important, as analytical philosophy always held. But it is a house with many mansions. It is not monolithically and myopically concerned with recording the passing show, as if all we can do is make public whichever aspect of reality has just beamed upon us. We are agents in our world, constantly doing things — so much so that perception, like reason, is itself an adaptation whose function is not to pick out the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, but only to foreground what is salient in the service of our goals and needs. Meaning, therefore, needs to look two ways: back to the environment within which our mental lives are situated, but also forward to the changes in that environment that our desires and goals determine. Fortunately these ideas have percolated widely into areas outside philosophy: it is widely understood, for instance, that animal signals are more like injunctions telling other animals what to do, than simple registrations of elements in the environment.
Hume was able to use his pragmatism and his pluralism about the many functions of the mind to avoid metaphysics. About that he was famously a pyromaniac, advocating that we commit to the flames most of what has passed as philosophy from Parmenides to Berkeley. But people need philosophy: we need defenses against the corrosive drips of skepticism. This need surely motivates the apostles of reason to persevere at metaphysics, exploring the world of being and becoming, delineating the true and ultimate nature of reality, finding what is truly there behind the superficial appearances of things. And combined with this image of what we should be doing there comes the inability to read or appreciate anyone who is doing something entirely different. So the stark, $64,000 question in much contemporary interpretation of Hume is whether he was a “realist” or not about values and causes, or even persons and ordinary things — questions that should actually be nowhere on the agenda, since it imports precisely the way of looking at things that Hume commits to the flames. Hume’s road is subtle, and too few philosophers dare take it. Yet the whirligig of time may bring in its revenges, as a new generation of pragmatists look at much contemporary writing with the same horror as Hume directed at Spinoza, Nietzsche at Kant, or Russell at Hegel. Meanwhile one soldiers on, hoping, as Hume himself did, for the downfall of some of the prevailing systems of superstition.
Of Hume and Bondage

Saturday, July 26, 2014

"nature is a streamers-and-all, non-stop, cork-popping party of death"

"nature is a streamers-and-all, non-stop, cork-popping party of death... This party of death is, of course, at the same time a cork-popping party of life. For all the tadpoles that perish, some still make it to become frogs, and have been doing so for at least 200 million years. Those that don’t are the stuff of life for countless other creatures, from the littlest insect larvae to grand old storks. Indeed, frogs are regarded as a keystone species, which means that the death of their multitudinous offspring, along with the death that they themselves deal out, is crucial to the flourishing of the community of life. In the language of ecology, life and death are obligate symbionts, each wholly dependent on the other."
Stephen Cave is an English philosopher and journalist. His latest book is Immortality: The Quest to Live Forever and How it Drives Civilisation (2012). He lives in Berlin.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Useful Memes vs. True Statements continued

There is a difference between useful provincial memes and universally valid statements. For instance the statement "hard work leads to success" is a good useful meme provincially but it is not universally valid. Success can come at different times for a variety of reasons but as a useful meme it is good to operate with a meme to program or trigger action. Another example "Fortune favors the brave" is a good useful meme to encourage or trigger action but again it is not universally valid because sometimes being brave is not enough for good fortune.
Benjamin Franklin who wrote many popular wisdom sayings stated "The early bird catches the worm." However when he was working successfully as an Ambassador to France for the United States government he would stay up late with his French network and sleep in. His diplomatic efforts in France required a different type of schedule and work than his particular meme about the early bird.
Self Esteem memes or motivational memes may be useful in a provincial and personal context but that does not mean they are universally valid and that it considers and encompasses every important fact and variable.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The mind is its own place

‘It would be more pardonable to believe in no god at all, than to blaspheme him by the atrocious attributes of Calvin.’ Thomas Jefferson
Kathryn Gin Lum: A 2013 Harris Poll found that while 74 per cent of US adults believe in God and 68 per cent believe in heaven, only 58 per cent believe in the devil and in hell, down four percentage points from 2005.Yet only 25 per cent of US adults polled actively do not believe in hell, while another 18 per cent are unsure.
"The mind is its own place and in itself, can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven." John Milton

Monday, July 7, 2014

Your Move

I had this series brought to my attention. Your Move. My initial thoughts regarding this Christian apologetics series:
I think this applies to people who are casual believers and casual unbelievers meaning people who have not really thought of why they believe or why they do not and just go on auto pilot with no real reflection. I would say sadly this is the majority because human life is so crushing with physical necessity(food and sleep) and social economic necessity(rent out your brain and time in exchange for resources) that it is rare that an individual can spend a great deal of time and resources on searching and studying in a careful and reflective manner the big questions of human existence.
I am sure many of you have heard of the following no matter your ideological point of view - You only think or believe that because ____. Fill in the blank. You have religious parents. You had a bad experience. You had a good experience. You are negative. You are optimistic. All can play this game. C.S. Lewis in his essay ""On Obstinacy in Belief" argued that wish thinking does not necessarily negate whether his faith is valid or not. On the opposite spectrum negative thinking or "sinful" thinking does not negate whether unbelief is valid or not. These pursuits of deconstruction may be good to discount the other or in the best light understand the other but if you are a sincere truth seeker you should not rest on deconstructing other mortal primates alone.
Christian apologists should remember that one of the most formidable Christians ever, the Apostle Paul, did not convert because of a mathematical equation or a rational argument but because of an emotional and physical experience on the road to Damascus.
I can speak for myself and state that whether I was a believer or a skeptic I tried to challenge (within my knowledge capacity at the time) what others thought within my group and out of it. All men can be deconstructed of course the believer and the unbeliever. You can say that one is religious because of their mate, their community, and so forth. You can also flip that and say the same thing for those that are not religious. The believer and the unbeliever are both human and prone to fragility and emotive responses. It was David Hume who stated that Reason is the slave of the passions. As one psychologist stated Man is not a rational animal but a rationalizing animal.
I could simply say they(persons who have converted due to their relationships) believe because of their relationships but again even if that is so it does not mean that therefor their religion is false. In the same way someone could deconvert from a religion for bad reasons or bad relationships but it does not mean that their conclusion of unbelief is invalid. Some people turn to faith out of convenience and some turn away from faith due to convenience but how do we find out what is true despite the inconsistent human psychology. Either way we all can be deconstructed. What matters in the end is what is true.
The intention may be good to understand where "the other" is coming from but it also can be used as a way to negate the other. To simply define them and deconstruct them as a way to ignore the actual ideas themselves. As Kierkegaard stated once you label me you negate me.
People can believe the right things for the wrong reasons. They can believe good things for bad reasons. A skeptic can be a skeptic for bad reasons and a believer can believe for bad reasons. Like it is too hard, go with the crowd, favor, community, friends, and so forth. At times religion is beneficial and at times it is not. At times unbelief is beneficial and at other times it is not. But again the question Pilate asked the Nazarene becomes paramount all else is political and tribal posturing. "What is Truth"
In the end what is true? What concepts and ideas are closer to reality?
Despite the smugness, mud slinging, ad hominem attacks and so forth that work in the political battle for ideas... when it comes to pure philosophy one should love wisdom above all else and try to seek it in humility if possible.
I appreciate all those who take these ideas serious and care to take time to engage in them.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Memo: From Nick Hanauer

So forget all that rhetoric about how America is great because of people like you and me and Steve Jobs. You know the truth even if you won’t admit it: If any of us had been born in Somalia or the Congo, all we’d be is some guy standing barefoot next to a dirt road selling fruit. It’s not that Somalia and Congo don’t have good entrepreneurs. It’s just that the best ones are selling their wares off crates by the side of the road because that’s all their customers can afford.
Nick Hanauer

This universe without a master

"This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night filled mountain, in itself forms a world."
Albert Camus

Quotes Archive

"Often Ideas are much more attractive than those who hold them."
"If you are not killed by forces outside your body you can be sure you will be killed by forces inside your body."
-Zachary Long
If the force from a car or a bullet does not end your consciousness the cells within or the complex web that holds you together will fall apart eventually.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Humans are Animals too

Yes, Humans Are Animals -- So Just Get Over Yourselves, Homo sapiens
The famous anthropologist Clifford Geertz once said that he believed "man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun." Ultimately, the only animals who buy the idea that humans aren't animals are humans themselves.
Annalee Newitz

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Quotes Archive

"The critics watch history, the realists rent history, and the radicals and idealists own history. For good or for ill."
"Cosmopolitanism and Pluralism need to be nurtured and nourished. Tribalism and solipsism can grow in famine and neglect."
-Zachary Long

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Human hubris, limits, and partialization

The individual human beings confidence and equilibrium depends on abiding in a very narrow slice of existence and blocking out for the most part the billions of other human beings and animals that operate with varied actual and virtual realities.(The Empiricists and Rationalists both have good points) The noise and experiences are deafening. For any human to claim absolute knowledge and understanding of existence with smug certainty reminds me of what Pliny stated that when it comes to mankind nothing is so frail and nothing is more arrogant. Pliny on Art and Society:
Pliny the Elder died studying Mt. Vesuvius in 70 AD.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Quote archive

"Stress is for those that think that they will live forever."
"In human language every thrust is made by a two edged sword."
- Zachary Long

Musings (Transcendent Representation and the Prideful Primate)

Humans need transcendence and identity to manage the world. Nation. Tribe. Gender. Ethnicity. Religion... and other identities give the individual a sense of greater significance than the limited mortal decaying being that they happen to be in a world and universe much larger and indifferent to their state of being. These identities are not necessarily problematic in themselves but they can be conduits of fanaticism that leads to the will to dominate others and the illusion of superiority to those who fail to fall in their identity category. Humans are fragile psychological reeds that can either bend or break with ease when faced with a world beyond their understanding and at times merciless to their well being. ***
The Chief, The King, The Priest, Royalty, Presidents, Senators and all other positions of status rest on "representation." To symbolically represent the State, the Church, the Kingdom, the Tribe, the Company. In truth these persons that represent the whole are merely decaying and defecating mortal flesh but in their representation the illusion is propagated and this transcendence of representation is given real weight in the minds of other mortals. It takes cognitive work to break this magical spell of representative transcendence and few would give it up because they too want to sit on the throne of transcendent representation or at the very least find significance in another primates position and status. Humans need something to hold on to conceptually for stability and significance. Imagine human beings in a great ocean(existence) floating around and all are headed to a gigantic waterfall(death), to keep afloat and distracted from the coming waterfall and the massive ocean one needs to grab on to something. There are lots of isms and symbols to grab hold of in the ocean to keep your head above water as you move toward the waterfall *** One can be arrogant and smart but it is harder for one to be arrogant and wise. Wisdom requires greater understanding and perspective and that greater context broadens the horizon of humility. Remember my mortal brothers and sisters that our confidence lies in a very narrow slice of human existence and experience and so much past history and future time lays beyond our reach. So much horror and wonder have been and will be beyond our reach. The best we can do is engage with as much current experience,knowledge, and personal imagination as possible to reach out to many realities and truths. Let this perspective temper the pride of the mammalian primate species homo sapiens***
A fanatic unlike water that adapts to new realities is like a stone that knocks against other substances different than itself and demands space. Fanatics have been very influential in human history (certainty is useful for political movements) because they demand space but often that demand eventually breaks them into pieces and creates unintended hybrid realities and space that they never intended ***Hitler's fanaticism unintentionally helped create a Soviet empire and a Jewish state. The apocalyptic Jewish prophet from Palestine unintentionally helped inspire a Roman Jew who spread a universal religion across the Roman empire. Imagine the shock of Jesus and Pilate if they could see the eventual changes that would come to the Jewish religion and Roman imperial religion hundreds of years later. History is full of unintended consequences and hybrid ideologies.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Colombia Bus fire Victims

Colombia bus fire victims

At least 33 children were killed when a bus caught fire in northern Colombia, trapping the young passengers aboard the burning vehicle as horrified onlookers stood by helplesslyThe bus was transporting 48 children between the ages of 2 and 13 to their homes after a Pentecostal church service when the tragedy happened Sunday in Fundacion, a sugar- and banana-growing town near the Caribbean coast.
Witnesses quoted by El Heraldo, the newspaper in nearby Barranquilla, said the bus stalled and that the driver tried to restart it by pouring gasoline over the carburetor. A spark caused an explosion, and flames quickly engulfed the vehicle, the report said. [Link in Spanish]
Residents said they heard screams for help but were unable to intervene due to the intense heat of the flames.
“I never saw anything so terrifying,” said taxi driver Alvaro del Valle.
“They came to speak with God and look what happened,” added Clara Lopez, a local resident.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Dinesh D'Souza's Political Christianity bears bad fruit

"The criminal charges, filed in U.S. District Court, allege that D’Souza in 2012 illegally reimbursed associates(mistress included) whom he asked to make donations valued at $20,000 to an unnamed Senate campaign. At the time, primary and general election campaign contributions to federal candidates were limited to $2,500 each from any individual to any single candidate."
The Washington Post

"Dinesh stayed at a hotel with Denise Odie Joseph II during an apologetics conference last month in South Carolina, according to World Magazine.
D'Souza told conference organizer Alex McFarland that nothing happened that night though they shared the same hotel room, the magazine reported"
The Christian Post

"No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit."
Jesus quoted in Luke 6:43

 For Dinesh D'Souza Christian tribal identity is more important than Christian personal integrity. Dinesh puts political ambition over personal character. Political Christianity is a tree of double standards and hypocrisy that bears bad fruit and bad faith.

Nothing like the combination of religion, politics, sex, and money. Dinesh has managed to combine all of them in this scandal.  The kingdom of Jesus is not of this world but Dinesh's certainly is. Dinesh's apologetics in delivery and substance reminded me of someone defending their own ego instead of the faith itself. 

In the kingdom of Political Christianity, power is more important than purity. Giving money to your mistress to fund your political friends is justified and easily forgiven on the altar of power. The overt hypocrisy is ignored because after all Dinesh belongs to the right political and religious tribe. In Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov "without God everything is permitted" but with tribal and political Christianity "with God everything is permitted."
Jesus of Nazareth was much more tough on his own tribe than those outside his tribe. Dinesh does the opposite - all things are permitted within the tribe and those outside the tribe are given no understanding or mercy only judgement.

The Apostle Paul had a different paradigm than Dinesh's Political Christianity.
"What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?"
 1 Corinthians 5:12

Other political and partisan movements are also part of this tribal hypocrisy where they go soft on their in-group but are merciless towards the out-group.

Whatever your political ideology one should remember what Kant and Madison stated:

The truth is that all men having power ought to be mistrusted."
James Madison

"Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made."
Immanuel Kant

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Epicurus - Intellectual Courage and Fortitude

For me Epicurus is a giant of intellectual courage and fortitude because he is like a man in a dark cave or a dark room with just a little light. And with that little light (with its shadows dancing on the wall and the mystery that ignites monsters and ghosts in the minds of the human animal) Epicurus would not be moved with the superstition of the darkness or the lack of scientific knowledge in his age. He had the intellectual courage to smile at the gods of man's imagination and their superstitious fears even with darkness and mystery all around him.
Meanwhile the modern human stands on the shoulders of the Scientific lights of knowledge like Copernicus, Newton, Darwin, Einstein and others and still the majority hides from death and jumps at superstitious noises coming from other primates. The modern human sits in a rather bright room of knowledge in comparison to Epicurus. With only a few closet spaces and corners of darkness of the unknown, modern man still fills those mysterious spaces with the likes of goblins, gods, and sophomoric superstitions. Is it too much to suspend judgement my mortal brothers and sisters where there is still mystery?
If Epicurus, Diogenes, and Lucretius can have that kind of courage in a metaphorical dark room how much more should Modern Man in a bright room? Perhaps it is too bright? Too much information? Has modern man been overwhelmed with the increasing knowledge? Are people trapped in a closet and have they not been exposed to the bright fires of knowledge through the ages? The flame may brighten the room but is it burning the foundations of human justification and meaning? Is a dark cave of Plato's shadows much safer than the bright light outside the cave? Staring at the Sun for too long can be dangerous. Is the exposure too much for an animal that wants absolute certainty and eternal life in a Universe that can give neither? Lack of knowledge demands courage but so does the increase of knowledge. The courage to not know and the courage to know.

“I have never wished to cater to the crowd; for what I know they do not approve, and what they approve I do not know.”
Epicurus (341—271 B.C.E.)

Friday, March 7, 2014

The World has failed the Syrian children

Like one who brings an important
letter to the counter after
office hours: the counter is already closed.
Like one who seeks to warn the
city of an impending flood,
but speaks another language. They do not understand him.
Like a beggar who knocks for the
fifth time at the door where he has four times been given
something: the fifth time he is hungry.
Like one whose blood flows from
a wound and who awaits
the doctor: his blood goes on flowing.
So do we come forward and report that evil has been done us.
The first time it was reported that our friends were being
butchered there was a cry of horror. Then a hundred
were butchered. But when a thousand were butchered
and there was no end to the butchery, a blanket of
silence spread.
When evil-doing comes like falling rain, no body calls out
When crimes begin to pile up they become invisible. When
sufferings become unendurable the cries are no longer
heard. The cries, too, fall like rain in summer.

by Bertolt Brecht


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Thoughts on a friend exiting the stage too early

"All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances."
- William Shakespeare

A friend died recently. We were not in touch the past couple of years besides the occasional social media contact. I wanted to reconnect with him but never did these last few years. He was a tough person and a compassionate person a combination that is rare and a welcome repose from the mediocre when you find it. His passing was a surprise for he was relatively young and physically a fighter and strong in body. I still do not know what took him from this life. His family faith was Islam. He liked the same movies I did in Braveheart and Gladiator and he appreciated my video "Waking From Dogmatic Slumber".
 I took notice because few people on my personal social media site appreciated that video but he did. He was the type of person that would be in the fox hole with you. Slow to judge quick to assist. I wish I would of reconnected with him.
And now his consciousness is no longer bundled together. Human life is fragile and passing. For the living it is an illusion of normalcy. Consciousness is the dream of the living. Eternal dreamless sleep awaits.
There is a quote from the movie "The Thin Red Line" that states: "If I never meet you in this life let me feel the lack."
I was glad to meet him in this life and now I feel the lack.

Rest in peace brother. A peace and rest that is beyond Dreams. Beyond Space and Time.  Not even darkness can penetrate it.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

"Man is not a rational animal, he is a rationalizing animal."

"Man is not a rational animal, he is a rationalizing animal." - Robert Heinlein

“I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge. That myth is more potent than history. That dreams are more powerful than facts. That hope always triumphs over experience. That laughter is the only cure for grief. And I believe that love is stronger than death.”   
Robert Fulghum

"Reason is poor propaganda."- Robert Heinlein

A Manageable World

It seems in society you have to pick sides to play the game. To be non tribal is difficult for the social primate.
And if you don't pick sides in this game of life you end up with little resources and community to draw support from. We are social animals par excellence. There is a group in Washington DC trying to bridge the partisan divide and I appreciate their desire to be more pragamatic and less dogmatic however they still have to label themselves. Their label is "No Labels". So there is the irony even when you are "no labels" you are condemned to be labeled by necessity. The limits of language and the necessity of labels is part of the human drama. I think a tragic and unfortunate part at times when you consider the impact of playing the tribal game has had on our species. To move nations you must give people a uniform and a target even if it is just in the language game.

"Once you label me you negate me." - Kierkegaard
I think that happens alot with partisanship and tribalism in politics and religion. Labels are necessary but they can be used to simplify a complex reality and simplify people different from you. The narcissism of small difference.  
"man cuts out for himself a manageable world" - Ernest Becker


Are Human Beings Determined?

Daniel Dennett - "the most difficult and the most important philosophical problem confronting us
today" (Daniel Dennett, Reflections on Free Will)

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Nature's indifference to Human Symbolic Status

A Man kisses a statue of the Soviet Dictator Joseph Stalin

Humans kiss statues, Birds defecate on them. (accumulated grime, algae and bird droppings)
Our symbols convey that we are central, paramount, and immortal but nature's message conveys that we are a part of , equal to, and mortal creatures of nature's system. When a chicken has its head cut off the world still spins and
when a man's is cut off the world still spins. It is not just the fact that a man's head was decapitated like a chicken that is the horror but that it is even possible that nature allows for such a sight, that physics allows for such an
outcome as higher consciousness on a fragile and vulnerable meat stick.

Whether it is the Adam and Eve myth or the Noah myth mankind is the central actor and God will destroy all of nature or change all of nature due to the actions of Men. Man is the center of the Cosmic drama in the Biblical message. But not only in the Biblical message does Man become the center but civilization itself is trying to free man from the decaying power of nature through its symbols of immortality and the will to technological immortality.

Nature's message paints a different picture where man is no longer the central actor but rather just another part of nature in the long evolutionary history of life on Earth.

Some Humans may deny they are a part of Nature but Nature denies Human superiority in the way it treats the Human body and the Human immortality symbols. Viruses and Bacteria will ravage Humans as they will other animals and a Human Body will provide nourishment to a Crocodile or a Big Cat just the same.

Man wants to be the central actor in the cosmos, on earth, in history. But nature's message runs something else in the ear if you pay attention. Nature may declare the glory of God...some God...but it does not declare the glory of man. Nature is indifferent to our self aggrandizing symbols whether they be secular or religious.

“Religious fundamentalists may deny that evolution exists, but in the natural world it is religion that does not exist.”
John Maisey of American Museum of Natural History

Doves which were freed by children flanked by Pope Francis are attacked by a Black Crow and a Seagull

"An animal who gets his feeling of worth symbolically...so openly express man's tragic destiny: he must des­perately justify himself as an object of primary value in the uni­verse; he must stand out, be a hero, make the biggest possible con­tribution to world life, show that he counts more than anything or anyone else. It doesn't matter whether the cultural hero-system is frankly magical, religious, and primitive or secular, scientific, and civilized.
It is still a mythical hero-system in which people serve in order to earn afeeling of primary value, of cosmic specialness, of ultimate usefulness to creation, of unshakable meaning."

Ernest Becker

"It's not the end of the world at all," he said. "It's only the end for us. The world will go on just the same, only we shan't be in it. I dare say it will get along all right without us.”
Nevil Shute, On the Beach