Solidarnosc, Roboti!

The Russian police arrested a robot that was collecting opinion data at a political rally. Given how little suffering corporations endured to obtain free speech rights in America, I think that soon enough it will be time to let robots vote. It’s not quite as bad as sending 18-year-olds to Vietnam when the voting age was twenty-one, but its getting there.

Okay, probably not.

Beyond Evil to Good

Miguel de Unamuno, considering the road from masculine frailty to faith, observed in Tragic Sense of Life that all men desire two things:

  • To live forever.
  • To rule the world.

The obvious paradox in these impulses is that most of us (myself being a man) attempt to accomplish the second by beating the crap out of other men – which tends to advance the interruption of our seeking after the first.

Work-arounds abound, the most obvious being to have a gun at the ready whenever an altercation arises. The subtlest is the use of psychological conditioning to get others to do the beating up for us. In totalitarian states, that conditioning takes the form of propaganda against imagined enemies, but is often joined with control over basic necessities. In democratic cultures, the conditioning is typically tied to unattainable visions of sexual conquest. When progeny ensue, hypersensitivity to their vulnerability often becomes the lever used to encourage financial exploitation of others.

Obviously in these systems there will be losers – a great many losers. The power of the impulses identified by Unamuno then manifests in a terrible perversion, expressed by a friend who asserted that the world would “know about him.” He testified ominously:

“Yeah, when a man has nothing to lose, there’s nothing he won’t do. And when the world learns about me, it will be nothing like anything that it’s ever seen before.”

I tried to lighten the air, offering that I knew what he meant, and that my sons were sometimes worried that I was going to just walk off and disappear. When he asked “You mean go live on the streets?” I replied, “No, probably they’d find me out someplace like the Amazon in Ecuador helping the indigenous people deal with the mess that Texaco left behind.”

Ah, the contradictory consequences revealed by Unamuno’s observation!

Some men lose everything, and seek to rule the lives of others by ending them, thus finding immortality in notoriety. I have nothing, and so claim this little piece of the blogosphere, writing about everything for almost nobody, and imagine conquering a little part of the world with a sponge and a squeegee. Some men fear the immigrant, and extrapolate our future against Europe’s tragedies where the Muslim population is ten times proportionately larger than ours. Accepting King’s dictum that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” I embrace Muslim America as an opportunity for Islamic scholarship to rediscover and reassert the original message of Mohammed (pbuh), and any acts of violence as a cross to be born in conquering fear.

Unamuno’s defense of Christian faith was that we “create this God of love and eternal life by believing in him.” I see that as heresy: we don’t create him; we rather allow his virtues to manifest in our lives. In doing so, we learn to love ourselves and accept love from others, thereby obtaining dominion over the only part of the world that really matters: ourselves. In focusing that strength to the service of loving others, we lessen the burden of their resistance to our survival, and so enter more deeply into their world.

And for those that cannot learn – either those that lash out in violence or those that consume the innocent? What do they become in the end? Not themselves any longer – they become a headline in a newspaper. The history implicit in the personal “why” is lost. They become simply a “what”: 18 in San Bernardino. 49 people dead in Orlando. 3000 dead on 9/11. 47 million during World War II. Their personal history is consumed by the violence they created.

But men like Buddha – who renounced violence to bring a system of self-control to his people – or Jesus – who died to expose the hypocrisy of the military-religious complex – their names are enshrined in the hearts of those they have liberated. They live on in us.

Coming Clean on Student Absenteeism

Daily Kos reports that allowing poor students access to washing machines at school decreased absenteeism in 90% of cases – as well as improving student enthusiasm and participation.

People facing challenges in life test the effectiveness and fairness of the systems designed by those granted opportunity. When something so basic as personal dignity can be addressed so simply, with such a profound impact, it’s hard to argue that we shouldn’t do what we can to understand their condition.

The Faceless Donor

Foreign Policy has published the results of a survey that demonstrates that the younger generation rejects their experience of capitalism. The methodology of the survey was not a simple “yes or no” on capitalism per se: respondents were actually asked to identify the favorability of a number of “isms.” At the top of the heap came “patriotism.”

Neither did the survey attempt to define the terms. This means that the respondents were indicating their favor of the terms as used in common social discourse, rather than as understood by those that originally coined them.

Instead, the survey probed with specific policy prescriptions, such as “Should government provide housing and food for those unable to obtain them?” This is obviously a socialist prescription. The answer from millennials was a resounding “yes.”

I wonder why the expectation is that the government should provide this support. What about family and friends? What is it about “government” that is so attractive as a source of support?

I have an unfortunate intuition that the desire to avoid obligation to others may be involved. Receiving something from government as a right means that we can chart our course independently from others. We don’t have to constrain our choices to sustain their good will.

Of course, that is impossible: the “government” is our family and friends. It is us. If the greed of the 1% should remind us of anything, it is of our dependency upon one another. The faceless “isms” don’t care about any of us individually, and our loyalty to them will always be betrayed. Ultimately, we survive only because others care for us, and that requires a reciprocal caring for them.

Disarming Incivility

Constitutional wrangling aside, as a Christian, my personal choice is to renounce violence as a means of conflict resolution. My experience is that a disciplined commitment to this choice overwhelms aggression in those that come into my personal space. This can manifest in two ways: either the aggressor realizes that I see them as a brother, causing their fear to melt away; or their aggression, finding no harbor in me, turns self-destructively inward.

I have many personal qualities that empower me to renounce fear: I am a man, tall without being imposing, and physically fit. I possess rare intellectual talents and traits of character that make me desirable as an employee. I have modest aspirations that I articulate clearly, and project good will that allows me to manifest my intentions where others might collide with bureaucratic restrictions. Last but not least, I have associations that bring patience and endurance gained through experience of the cycle of life and death that stretches over a billion years.

Recognizing the rareness of these assets, I sympathize greatly with those that crumble under the pressure of aggression. For me, the most powerful moment in the sit-in coverage was the testimony of a female representative describing the routine terror she suffered as a child when threatened by her gun-toting father. Listening to her summary of those events, I could hear the frightened girl crying out for aid.

So when someone touts their Second Amendment right to bear arms, I wonder why their protection against “infringement” must tread so heavily on the desire for others to renounce violence. I trust law enforcement, and see that our modern industrial economy provides financial levers to control governmental abuse of force that did not exist when the founders wrote the Constitution. These constraints are strengthened because mastery of military technology requires a focus that creates dependency upon civilian production of goods and services. On the other hand, I see the ready availability of weapons creating an arms race between police and criminals that tramples upon the peace of mind of the law-abiding citizen. Contradicting the claims that our freedom is secured only when a well-armed citizenry opposes the natural tyranny of governments, I believe that the greatest threat to my safety – and the safety of those I cherish – is the proliferation of arms.

On the whole, then, I am a citizen that would like to renounce his right to bear arms. I would like to be able to limit my associations to those of like mind. Why is it that Constitutional prohibitions against infringement of that right prohibit me from living that desire? Can I not form a community that requires people to leave their weapons outside our borders? But once formed, is that community not governed by laws, and does not the Second Amendment prohibit such laws?

Judgment in Self-Defense

In Matthew 7:1-2, Jesus offers:

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

The challenge of living this guidance is that people cause us pain. That may be as small as saying an unkind word to us, or as severe as murdering one that we love. Do we not have the right to decide that those that hurt us should be placed apart? Do we not have the right to protect ourselves?

This quandary reflects an understanding of “judgment” as part of a legal process. We take the evidence of our experience and then organize our lives to avoid harm. The futility of this strategy was summarized by Martin Luther King, Jr.:

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

Just because we push evil away from us doesn’t make it go away. It either shifts its focus to others, or bides its time until it has the strength to assault us again. This applies even beyond the grave: in a secular sense, punishing an offender heightens the stakes of wrong-doing, and so pushes the criminal to take ever greater risks. Spiritually, destruction of the body doesn’t destroy the spirit, which must return again and again until it finds a personality strong enough to heal it.

Jesus, as the healer of last resort for broken personalities, understood this with a terrible immediacy. He could feel the trapped goodness in the people that were judged by the Canaanite culture. Whether speaking to the adulteress or the thief on the cross, Jesus knew that they had been conditioned to the most vengeful judgment of all: the self-judgment that they were beyond redemption.

It is this spiritual consequence of judgment that I think Jesus is focusing on in this teaching. He speaks of other-judgment as like a “plank” or a “beam” in the eye of the one that judges. It is to say: “As we all sin, if you believe that your fellow sinner cannot be saved, then you also believe that you cannot be saved.”

Jesus is speaking from the knowledge that God can heal any wound in those that are willing to receive the gift. This is what he affirms again and again after healing transpires in his presence: “Your faith has healed you.”

What is most painful to me is reading the scripture of Matthew in light of the fact that Jesus did not write a gospel. He understood how the law had been manipulated by the priesthood to divide the people from God. In this case, those among us that have reason to fear direct contact with God use Jesus’ words to argue “You do not have the right to judge me.” They use the power of our minds to hold us in sway as they tear out of our hearts the love that we receive from God.

It is such that Jesus refers to when he calls those that judge “hypocrites.” One way of interpreting his inducement [Matt. 7:5]:

first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

is that the hypocrite will discover himself to be the speck in his brother’s eye! But just below Jesus also counsels [Matt. 7:6]:

Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.

So he clearly believes that those the love honestly must protect themselves. So how are we to do that?

First, we should not judge, because in judging those that attempt to tear apart our hearts we are affirming that they cannot go to God for what they need. They do have that power, and we need to let that responsibility rest with them.

Secondly, we should recognize that nothing that Jesus taught requires us to surrender our hearts to those that harm us. But we have a part to play there. We should not engage in argument of judgment because it diverts our attention from our heart, leaving it wide open to plunder.

Finally, then, we should love ourselves. When the plunderer comes into our hearts, we need simply to say: “No, that is mine. I will not relinquish it to you.” If we stop acting as their drip feed for God’s love, they’ll eventually conclude that they have to go to the source themselves, or allow their souls to wither and die.

This law of natural consequences is far more powerful and permanent than any punishment that we could organize.

Ideas, Ideally

I have been trying to reclaim (see 1 and 2) the philosophical tradition of ldealism that in the West was first articulated clearly by Plato. Idealism is one of two threads of discourse that attempt to explain the relationship between ideas and our experience of the world around us. The paradox for Plato was that the real world does not contain perfect representatives – no line is absolutely straight, and no horse manifests all the ideal characteristics of horses (fast and powerful, for example). Convinced that the world originated from a source of absolute good, Plato therefore held that the idea of a perfect line or perfect horse was the original, with the physical examples as imperfect manifestations.

To the scientific thinker, this assertion fails to satisfy because it does not specify a mechanism for the manifestation, and therefore cannot be disproved. The solution proposed by scriptural literalists is that the ideals did exist when the Holy will created the world, and were accessible for our appreciation during the inhabitation of Eden. It was through our selfishness and disobedience that the connection with the divine source was sundered. Not only human nature was corrupted in the Fall, but all of Creation.

Reacting against Plato’s idealism, Aristotle advanced the program of Empiricism. From our observation of the world around us, we intuitively recognize similarity between things. We might choose to call some things “dogs.” There is no ideal dog, but all dogs share certain characteristics. Through the mechanism of the syllogism, we can therefore transmit a great deal of understanding by simply designating the type of something. The most famous syllogism is “All men are mortal. Socrates is a man. Therefore, Socrates is mortal.” In general form, we might write “All A are B. If C is an instance of A, then C is B.”

Aristotle employed this program to a comprehensive classification of the world around him. The power of classification becomes most obvious in the physical sciences, where saying “an electron is massive and charged” allows us to apply mathematical deduction to predict its behavior. But classification is also conditional: Linnaeus, the inventor of the phylogenic scheme for categorization of living creatures, recognized only plants and animals. Modern biochemistry has demanded the addition of three new phyla, with the consequence that things once considered to be “plants” have been reclassified as “fungi,” which recognizes that all along they actually lacked some of the characteristics of “plants.”

Aristotle recognized that all ideas are abstractions, and so that when applied to a specific instance, information is lost. This should be unsettling – it means that the world is populated by exceptions to our ideas. This is consequential: If a member of a tribe asks you to care for his dog, how do you know which among the dogs is his pet ‘Akela’?

Ultimately, the pragmatic successors to Aristotle re-introduced the concept of moral good to deal with this problem. What is important is whether ideas have practical utility. This has both good and bad consequences: Darwin’s theory of natural selection was used to justify ethnic prejudice in Nazi Germany and in certain parts of America. Against that, we have housing codes that ensure that disasters do not displace entire populations, such as occurred after the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco or the great urban fires of the 19th century.

So let us now return to the larger umbrella: I hold that philosophy is the study of the operation of the intellect, which manifests as the capacity to synthesize mental states. Among the sources of mental states, I listed sensation, emotion, thoughts and spirits. Where are ideas in this categorization? They seemed to be related to thoughts, but thoughts can also be random associations without plausible manifestations, such as – Kia Soul advertising not-with-standing – “my hamster is break-dancing.”

As might be expected, the exclusion of ideas from the list of mental states is not an oversight.

I have asserted elsewhere that Idealism reflects an affinity in its adherents for soul-relation. This manifests most powerfully to the mystic as a gift of energy that suffuses moral good with joy. This is the experience that I believe informed Plato’s affiliation of ideas with “The Good.”

Where I depart from Plato is in the belief that all ideas originate from The Good, only to be expressed in corrupt form in the world around us. To me, this is the terrible deficiency of scriptural literalism. It denies us agency in moral progress in the world. In The Soul Comes First, I take this head-on, using paleontology and evolutionary biology to demonstrate that the seven days of creation and the trumpets in Revelation actually correspond to a process of uplift from primitive forms of life towards an intelligent integration that will heal the spiritual wound of selfishness.

The role offered to humanity in this process is to sort through our thoughts to identify those that empower the expression of moral good. This is “the Knowledge of Good and Evil,” and the serpent’s characterization of the Fall in Genesis is a political posture that seeks to delay the perfection of our discernment.

In re-interpreting scripture through the lens of science, I show obvious affinity for Aristotle’s empiricism. Where I depart from his formulation is in the belief that ideas are merely abstractions of experience. Thoughts are those abstractions.

In the model of physics I have offered, I understand the human mind as the interaction of soul with the empirical world through the interface of the brain. In that interaction, our thoughts are temporary modifications of our soul. An idea is a thought reinforced by multiple successful episodes that instills energy that causes the thought to bloom into the world of spirit. An important consequence of this penetration is that the thought becomes accessible to other thinkers. In other words, Plato’s Ideas do not originate from The Good, but rise into the realm of spirit most readily when they serve a moral purpose, increasing the life-time of their subscribers, and therefore gathering ever greater energy through continued application to the survival of living things.

In terms of the framework I have established, with stimulation and combination as the two types of intellectual synthesis: ideas arise from the intellect’s capacity to stimulate thoughts from sensation, and then to combine thought and spirit. Ideas do not originate from The Good, but the strength of an idea is ultimately determined by the degree to which it allows us to improve our moral discernment. When mature discernment is realized in a personality such as Jesus of Nazareth, The Good that seeks to facilitate our healing actually touches the material world, shattering all of our categorizations with consequences unimaginable to the empiricist.

I hope that in this formulation that faith and science recognize the shape of a reconciliation that can organize collaboration that will speed the development of moral discernment, fundamentally changing our relationship with reality, and liberating Life in general from our vicious cycle of angry and ineffectual claims to authority defended by reference to incompatible and ultimately meaningless standards of “truth.”