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.”

Flirting with Trust

Since Friday I’ve been working on my relationship, sharing visualizations of inconceivably precious forms of intimacy. The organizing principles are healing and celebration, involving us in a powerful whirlpool of emotions, running the gamut from grief to dizzying passion. Underneath that runs a steady flow that guides us into deeper and broader connections. So we found ourselves kneeling on the floor, I catching her long hair from behind and stretching her will out into the world where it caught whales and trees and birds, and then her pushing me down on the bed and slowly dragging those long strands over my face so that understanding and love can bring order to life.

And then she stops and wonders what she is doing in the midst of this process, not conscious of the powers she possesses and so uncertain of her ability to manage the dangers she perceives. As I struggle to formulate an assurance, we spin apart. My last clear communication from her ended with her disappearance into a vortex of female faces, creating a cocoon in which she could incubate, but also from which others offered themselves as alternatives. I simply re-iterated my commitment to the self-discovery of my lady, and let her depart with the assurance that I would meet her on the other side to be certain that nothing had been lost.

In the pauses in this work, I’ve been re-reading Santayana’s Three Philosophical Poets. Santayana, philosopher and Christian apologist, combines a deep knowledge of culture and beautiful literary style in the service of revealing the choices we face as we struggle to find meaning and purpose in life. Santayana offers the works of Goethe, Lucretius and Dante as a progression that illuminates the submission of our animal nature to moral discernment, unfortunately with the growing risk of detachment from the joys and perils of human experience. Due to this tension, Santayana finds no superior voice among the three, instead celebrating each as a trustworthy illuminator of the power found in choosing either to do (Goethe), to create (Lucretius) or to serve a higher purpose (Dante).

To do is exemplary because it protects us from nihilism, the conclusion that any single life is insignificant and useless. In exploring this path, Goethe’s anti-hero Faust learns to discard self-judgment for personal wrongs committed against others, and so becomes capable of ruling an entire nation, granting purpose to his people by immersing them in struggle. Upon his death at one hundred years, Faust vanquishes Mephistopheles, demonic grantor of mystical power, who predicted that Faust would eventually learn to surrender purpose and be content with any experience at all, even to lick the dust. Instead, having demonstrated that each individual can find purpose in creating struggle against the world, Faust’s soul is received by angels and carried up to heaven.

Against this idea that we are glorified by struggle, Lucretius celebrates the orderly structure of the world, filled with creative forces that reclaim resources liberated by death. The philosophy of materialism stretches even further, propelling scientific study that allows the rational mind creative opportunities that would never be revealed in nature, and so to engage in an orderly process of improving the human condition. Among the virtues of Lucretius’s program, Santayana heralds self-control, and the defeat of superstition – the latter often abused by religious illusionists to steal the power of an adherent’s natural urge to improve his lot. Chief among the defects is timidity that arises from an awareness of life’s fragility, timidity heightened by the view that we had best live as though this is the only life we have – timidity that would be scorned by Goethe.

Of course, most of history is the story of how those characterized by Goethe twist the power liberating by understanding to subdue ever larger populations. Dante, following Aristotle, celebrates adherence to moral codes that sustain social order. Even more, in an era of deep Christian faith, Dante heralded the possibility of human perfection, of a rising into another realm in which all struggle would cease, each individual recognizing the benefits of submission to the will of a God that loved them without reservation. Dante’s ambition is for every person to be freed from constraints, excepting only the constraint to submit to the dictates of being guided by God’s love for others. Notwithstanding Dante’s outraged prosecution of the authorities of his era, Santayana follows Lucretius in decrying the passivity consequent to subscription to any externally imposed morality.

After his comparative analysis of the three works, Santayana proposes that a fourth poet must be sought to resolve the contradictions between the three philosophies, a poet whose celebration of vitality yet proves that self-control and other-service lead us into our most powerful and satisfying experiences. Incongruously in the context of his analysis, my reaction was “That would have to be a woman.”

But as I sat and pondered my experiences since Friday, I couldn’t escape the feeling that there was a thread that tied all of this together. Santayana brings us the writing of three iconoclasts, men who felt a strong need to assert themselves against the society they inhabited, each with a dour view of the fairness of life. And in my relationship, we have this expansion into ever greater realms of experience that recoils against fear of personal insufficiency. In both cases, the problem is other-trust. Faust trusts only in himself; Lucretius trusts only in personal discernment; Dante trusts only in God; and my lady does not trust that others will support our relationship.

What does it take, to lay mistrust to rest? We have the evidence of Good Friday services, in which multitudes gather to celebrate the worthiness of a man that was willing to die to redeem others of their faults, followed by Easter in which the resurrection proves the overwhelming power committed by God to the realization of that redemption. How can we not be discouraged by this standard of loving, a standard that cannot possibly be sustained in relationships between lesser beings?

Enough: it was done. The powers that stood behind Jesus did so because he arose in confrontation with sin, and in surrendering to its power became capable of diagnosing it. The era to come will be the era of healing in which those that suffer obtain the power to send sin on its way.

Lucretius, in elaborating the dynamic between creativity and destruction, chose the mythical figure of Venus to represent the surging of life, and the figure of Mars as the force of destruction. In the introduction to his unfinished work, Lucretius pleads with Mars to surrender to the pleasures of Venus’s bower, protecting the poet from interruption during his great task. This pairing is not unique to Greek mythology: in the Hindu pantheon, Parvati is responsible for cooling Shiva’s passions after he enters his dance of destruction. In celebrating struggle Goethe obviously sides with Mars, while Dante casts theology in the person of his beloved Beatrice.

The idea that women are responsible for tempering the wildness of men is buried deep in our cultural heritage. In women, that belief manifests as a cautious predisposition to believe that men will turn their passions against their lovers. My prayer is that women cast aside their ancient burden and organize their fertile energies around men of healing and constructive intelligence. Rather than catering to Mars, they should amplify the character of Apollo. Cast aside the terrorist to invest your energies in the healer, and discover reciprocity for your trust.

Called Out on Quotes III

Well, I was going to try to work up a quote from Hume, but I could not track the fragment found in On Kindness (Phillips and Taylor) to its source. I also got into a rather heated debate with IB, and am now too exhausted to organize my thoughts, which were to link Hume’s thought as a rebuttal of the nihilistic philosophy of Hobbes. The fragment says that Hobbes’s position is tenable only to “he who has forgotten the operation of his own heart.”

So, you know, I’m going to quote myself. From the home page out at everdeepning.org, this is the best wisdom that I have. It explains Humes’s observation, and sets forth the only path that I can see freeing us from the consequences of our actions:

Love dissolves the barriers of time and space, allowing energy, wisdom, and understanding to flow between us, and embracing us with the courage, clarity and calm that overcomes obstacles and creates opportunities. When we open our hearts to one another, there is no truth that is not revealed. And – for those that truly love themselves – no impulse to harm that cannot be turned to the purposes of healing and creation.

Called Out on Quotes

Anonymously Autistic has nominated me for the Three Day Quote Challenge. I am torn here, because after a lifetime of avoiding denomination I now have no means of wriggling out of nomination. Except maybe to blame AA for choosing such a great quote that I know that I will never be able to equal her inspiration.

So “Thank-you,” Anna.

Here is my favorite quote, penned by George Bernard Shaw when he sent Man and Superman to his friend Arthur Bingham Walkley:

This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.

I have many reasons for returning to this quotation.

First, the distinction between joy and happiness, the first being something that arises from within while the second is a response to temporary external stimulus.

Secondly, the wisdom (as Jesus suggests in the parable of the talents) that power is not awarded to self-seekers, but only to those that serve. When we honor that compact, we do indeed become like unto a force of nature, causing others to move in sympathy with our purpose, sometimes even against their conscious intention.

And finally the sense that the body is simply an adjunct to spiritual service. I wear my scars without shame.

There are some people that I would like to get quotes from, so I think that I will propagate the challenge. As Anna, I will not be offended if any among you decline.

The challenge rules are:

  1. 3 quotes in 3 days
  2. Thank the person who nominates you
  3. Nominate three more people each day.

Hoo-hah on the last one!