Converting God

“… people prefer to believe in and worship a god who is remote rather than live out the godlike nature which is their inherent being.” Henry Miller (from Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch)

In the true beginning, there may have been heavens, but there was certainly no Earth as we know it. About 10 or so billion years after this real beginning, there was finally an Earth, but even then it was uninhabitable by even single cell organisms for several billion more years. And far from being the center of the Universe, Earth is merely a speck of a speck of a speck of dust thrown to one of the far reaching corners of this still expanding Universe.

While humans ascended from the evolutionary cycle approximately 200,000 years ago, much of the history of the Universe had been percolating and changing for about 14 billion years. However, humans, perhaps the most curious of all known creatures, remained a self-centered, confused, and frightened species that desired and demanded a clear explanation of the source (and importance) of their own existence, and, as a consequence of this unquenchable thirst for understanding and knowledge, we did what humans always do: we made things up and thus was god created.

One can only imagine what the first god was like, finding its origins out of a fertile and desperate imagination, but it was likely quite vague and general. As humans became more sophisticated, so did their god; however, as true knowledge and understanding grew, so did we desire that the supposed power of our imagined god would expand as well. Before we understood the immensity of the Universe, it was sensible to attribute the creation of the Sun and a handful of planets to god, along with a smattering of stars that decorated the night skies purely for the pleasure and delight of human beings. Little did early humans realize or conceive of the complexity, age, and size of the Universe; even in today’s times, we are only beginning to scratch the surface when it comes to understanding the Universe.

Since its creation by humankind, god has been converted many times. Interestingly, with the advent of science, god continues to evolve, but now evolves at a much faster rate than prior to scientific discoveries. While civilization is approximately 6,000 years old, it is not very clear when god was created by man. However, early writings and tales indicate the presence of and belief in an imagined god for at least as long as humans have been recording their existence and sojourn on this planet.

Ironically, two of god’s greatest enemies are the sciences and the arts, of which both disciplines are known as seekers of truth. These practices grew from a deeper desire to better know and understand god, but instead ended up stripping the many veils of this prevaricating impostor. In our attempt to further buttress and prove the existence of an all-powerful being, our discoveries instead weakened the already flimsy foundation of our self-created truths to the point of the utter destruction of the concept of god.

However, such discoveries and realizations have done woefully little to diminish our absurd belief in an invisible creator. For all of our vaunted intelligence and alleged thirst for facts, we remain steadfastly allegiant to our fables. We are more than capable of seeing the folly of those older gods from previous civilizations which we no longer worship in this modern society, such as Thor, Apollo, Zeus, etc., yet we stubbornly cling to the notion that our currently created god is a different creature altogether and is thus deserving of our unending devotion and sacrifices. (Speaking of devotion, even as a kid raised in a fundamentalist christian family and culture, I always thought it rather petty of our contemporary god to demand eternal worship at his/her/its feet. It came across as both needy and insecure.)

However, while we have clung for centuries to the crazes of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, we have also performed plenty of upgrades to both religious beliefs and practices, in accordance with the logic that cultural changes demand such tweaking. Employing logic to further cement and encourage our irrational beliefs is an oxymoron at the very least. When humans are finally capable of realizing the folly of creating gods to worship, perhaps we can move to the next stage of existence: making the most of our brief moment in a blink of the Universal eye instead of attempting to secure an infinite seat at the banquet of a supposed heaven by spending our earthly sojourn adhering to restrictive behaviors and ridiculous acts in order to appease the god that we created.

Most interesting of all is how we have continued converting god to accommodate our evolving needs and concerns. Over the centuries, god has been revamped by various societies to better reflect their practices and values. Now that we have grown into a global community, regardless of the imaginary borders which we have drawn across the globe, we have the need for a global god to administer to our broader needs. It should come as no surprise that this modern world has generally substituted their worship of god with the worship of money; both are made up from the depths of our mad minds and both are incapable of providing any relief from our suffering.

Since humans thrive upon analogies and symbols, money is the ideal substitute for the old-fashioned god of yore. Money, like god, was created by humans, and its value and utility is measured by humans. Moreover, a coin, being round, has no beginning nor end, just like the god we imagined. Most importantly, money buys us the same amount of love and security as our ancient god: in other words, none whatsoever, even though we are continually fed the pap that god/money is love and god/money will secure us a place of comfort on into infinity. Most people will sell their souls for money (and have done so), just like so many have sold their brief time on earth for god.

Speaking of infinity and our place and role in it, check out this informative and humorous summary of the Universe and our meager standing as humans on a minor planet, rotating around a minor sun, which belongs to a minor galaxy amongst the billions of galaxies in the Universe:

(originally posted on 6-12-17)

I Love Strippers

As a Lyft driver, I drive people from all walks of life around town. I have had individuals from halfway houses, on parole, drunk, business people, visitors on vacation, and, yes, even strippers. As an aging male, it is easy to jump to the conclusion that I love strippers because they are young, attractive, and sexy (at least according to the dictates and ideas of the general public). 

However, because I am a Lyft driver, as a rule I like people who are generous tippers and my personal experience has been that strippers tip much more than the average fare that gets in my vehicle. (Also, since I am as old as, if not older than, their own grandfathers, it is more than creepy for me to think that I should see them as sexual toys to be trifled with.)

As I mentioned in a “Lyft & Uber Tips” page I used to have when I drove, every person that enters my car from a ride request is a 5 star customer. It is up to them to be so awful as to merit a rating lower than 5 stars; I even take into account the idea that a person can be having a bad day. In essence, you have to work pretty hard to earn a lower rating from me. That being said, when a young woman enters my car and gives me the address of a strip club in town as their destination, I neither change my mind or attitude about the quality or worth of this person. Most importantly, I do not turn into a leering, drooling male hoping to get a peek of some intimate flesh. If anything, I tend to be even more gentlemanly than usual, because I am sure that they get tired of being treated as an object to be examined and handled. They entered my car expecting to be given a ride to work or elsewhere, and I strive to meet their expectations.

In each case, these generous women have tipped well above the average tipping client I transport. (I have observed that, in general, people in the service industry, who rely upon tips to form a significant portion of their monthly earnings, get that I too am a service person and they are more likely to give a tip than other individuals, particularly “important” and “successful” business persons.) Conversely, I have observed that some business people who climb into the backseat of my car perceive me as a non-entity who is obligated to get them to their business destination as quickly and invisibly as possible. Yes, to those people, I am invisible. They cannot be bothered to interact with me or see me as a person; I obviously will not enrich their bottom line, so I am of no value to them. Because they perceive themselves as busy, important, and successful, their manner must mirror their self-image, which means that they cannot be bothered with the likes of a mere Lyft driver, who is just another pesky human being that they need to bother with to improve or serve their own significant existence. Ironically, these very same individuals also seem to be quite miserable in their own puddle of self-importance. Their only reason to be friendly to another person is if that woman or man can generate an additional profit in their business endeavors. And those types of people hardly ever give any tips; they see no value of the service I provide and frankly do not care if I earn a minimum or lower wage.

But back to the beauty of women who work as strippers. Their beauty is much more than surface; these women generally are self-starters who understand the nature of their work, which is to entertain and titillate their customers (who on the whole are men; often the selfsame businessmen I mentioned in the previous paragraph). They are extremely adept at getting men to loosen their wallet by offering cheap (and partial) thrills to them. Meanwhile, they are paying their own way through life, many of them also funding their own education through their work. Furthermore, they understand that many people will view them as inferior or of a lower class, and they have learned to shrug off such attitudes as being inaccurate and shallow judgments of their character. They are not working in order to prove their intelligence or creativity; on the contrary, most of their clients would be intimidated if they learned that this luscious young female actually can read and converse knowledgeably. It takes a very clever women to play the dumb bunny in order to stroke the fragile egos of these horny hound dogs.

So when I say that I love strippers, what I love about them is their fierce independence and their own self confidence. Of course, they are human and subject to the many human foibles we all have in life, but they have chosen a path that is both challenging as well as financially rewarding. In America, we are too caught up in identifying a person by the job they hold, not by the human being they are working to become. They have found their own autonomy by being an exotic dancer and entertainer, and they deserve more praise and appreciation than they usually get!

(originally posted on 6-18-17)

Playing with Passion

The fire and passion of Beethoven

“To play without passion is inexcusable.” Ludwig van Beethoven

Among classical composers, Beethoven stands out as one of the most memorable and powerful creators of music. While erudite musical analysts and critics can provide detailed and specific reasons for his greatness, his quote about passion perhaps offers an ideal summation of the power of his work. Indeed, passion plays a significant role in much of his work, especially his later pieces.

However, this is not an essay on either history or classical music, but rather a rumination about the power and impact that passion brings to one’s life. While many dictionaries will first define passion as a “strong and barely controllable emotion,” most individuals will agree that either “an intense desire or enthusiasm for something” or “a thing arousing great enthusiasm” are more apt and accurate descriptions as we use the word today. (As an interesting side note, the root word of passion originates from the Latin word “pati,” which translates to “suffer.”)

It is pretty clear that in our current times, few people, if any, correlate passion to any form of suffering, although many passionate love affairs will disintegrate and leave one or both people in a state of suffering and despair. In most cases, people find that passion provides the impetus and inspiration to complete difficult tasks, be it a business project, a game of sports, or a work of art. Even more interesting is the fact that outsiders can sense the presence of passion in any given endeavor.

We have all seen people going through the motions rather than giving their all to the job that faces them. What most people do not understand is that a lack of passion in anything one attempts makes that encounter that much more difficult to endure and manage, not to mention that it sucks dry any possible joy that could be experienced.

Even more interesting is to observe the use of the term passion over the years (as measured by Google searching through published books). As illustrated in the graph below, the word passion appears to be diminishing in use over the past couple of centuries.

Are we losing our collective passion?

According to the above chart, our use of the word “passion” has been cut in half since the beginning of the 1800’s. Could it be that we now deem this term as too old fashioned to use anymore, or is the population in general simply losing their passion for life and creativity?

Or are we now using different words to connote passion? Some common synonyms of passion are listed below:

  • affection
  • devotion
  • attachment
  • fondness
  • fervor
  • ardor
  • enthusiasm
  • zeal
  • love

While the word “love” is still bandied about regularly, love has been homogenized to mean an above average liking of something, such as “I love to read books” or “I love chocolate more than any other sweets.” We do use “enthusiasm” quite a bit, but the rest of the words listed above are not typically encountered in our daily conversation.

So this returns us to the question: is the human race losing its passion for living and creating art? And have we perverted passion into simply a strong feeling? I remember years ago, when Bill O’Reilly was a rising star on the Fox News Network, he was asked why he was so verbally abusive and constantly yelling at any guest who had a different ideology than his own. His reply was that he was not abusive but passionate about his beliefs. However, in my perspective, hurling insults and interrupting your guests is not acting in a passionate manner at all; rather, it is one’s attempt to dominate another person and to override conflicting (and perhaps intimidating) belief systems. A passionate conversation or exchange will find all parties building their own enthusiasm by listening to other points of view and then using these different (and sometimes new) ideas and concepts to further their own appreciation and understanding of the total picture. This does not mean that one has to change her or his mind; oftentimes, it deepens and expands their own perception and convictions while remaining rooted in the truth. Compared to out-screaming your opponent, this approach is more mature and more likely to strengthen one’s own position based upon specific facts rather than vague feelings.

If you ever get me as a Lyft driver, you will find the Beethoven quote pasted in front of the passenger seat as well as another one that is visible for those passengers in the back seat. I have had several passengers take a picture of the quote, and most people who do read the quote find it truthful and inspiring. Of course, it is not just in “play” that passion is important; to work or live without passion should be just as unacceptable as playing without passion.

The good news is that while the general public may have lost their idea and desire for passion, any individual can nurture and encourage their own passion and find that life is more vibrant, exciting, and beautiful than simply going through the motions like most other people. Create your passion and let it carry you to greater heights and deeper experiences!

(originally posted on 6-22-17)

Our Ape Culture

More differences or similarities?

“Man is more ape than many of the apes.” Friedrich Nietzsche

“He doth like the ape, that the higher he clymbes the more he shows his arse.”Francis Bacon, Sr.

Since most Americans (especially males) are blind to the rape culture that exists, there is little willingness or interest in discussing this subject. In my opinion, we should really be addressing our ape culture, because I see the rape culture that certainly exists to be a subset of our ape culture. Perhaps by being willing to explore and examine our ape culture, we can better understand why our rape culture exists and remains an unspoken problem in our society as well as around the globe.

So what is an ape culture? Over the many generations of humankind, might was right. Even though humans were less mightyful than all of the other species in the ape family, amongst their own species might was the crown prize. As the human race became more civilized, there has been an ongoing refining of the “might makes right” concept.

It was not long before pure brute strength was no longer sufficient for domination, although brawn still impresses most humans. Wily thinking and influential speech soon became strong factors in controlling the masses (think governments, religions, and now even businesses as methods for holding the reins of power). Recognizing the primal fear that all humans are still born with, we are still cruelly teased and manipulated by our leaders, extending well beyond physical frights and threats and now including such nebulous elements such as the loss of belongings and money.

Ironically, in these democratic times, it is typically the masses that select the brutes which will lead them, whether through votes or by mere acquiescence of the claims of self-anointed rulers. For a species that prides itself on its intelligence, it is rather ludicrous that we allow leaders to abuse us and determine which rights they feel is safe to grant us. We even go to extreme lengths to justify the terrible despots that have little to no compunction for lying to, stealing from, and demeaning the very people they claim to care for and about.

Maybe it just takes a few generations for it sink in that we are as worthy of a full life as we let our leaders live. Although it is tempting to point to outside nations and groups as having horrible leaders while extolling the imaginary virtues we bestow upon our own leaders, the sad truth of the matter is that it is impossible to identify any country or region that is truly interdependent and treats all individuals with equal respect and rights.

We are certainly slow learners, but once an idea has been planted in our minds and takes root, we do evolve to higher levels of intelligence and understanding. Less than 10 generations ago, the bulk of humanity was considered to be chattel, available for free labor or to be sold to another human within the elite circle. While slavery is now abhorred throughout most of the civilized world, most of us are still enslaved in jobs that entail the largest percentage of our waking hours.

In the meanwhile, the elite in our societies reap the rewards of wealth, able to influence public and private policies while remaining callous to the trials and sufferings of the masses they perceive as beneath them and, yes, less human. Or perhaps less worthy than themselves. Either way, the battle for control and dominance by the upper echelon of our social structure relies upon employing behaviors that reinforce the notion of power and superiority.

Because the subconscious reaction of most human beings is to avoid or submit to aggressive and threatening behavior, the elite apes symbolically pound their chest with their displays of wealth and class, continuing to demand their way. Once we get beyond this knee jerk response of immediate conciliatory and submissive reaction to appease the mighty, we can begin to lay new groundwork that truly strives for equality for all human beings, regardless of the locale of their birth, the color of their skin, the gender they were assigned upon birth, or the whacky religious beliefs which their parents and other authoritative persons instill in them while growing up.

And part of equality, much to the dismay of the ruling class, means a fairer sharing of all resources and necessities. Surprisingly, it is the masses that understand how to do without or with less than the desired comforts and luxuries of modern living, while those who have more also fear more the idea of loss. This is mainly because the poorer bulk of the population have learned that they can still survive and, yes, be happy with less. Of course, we all are constantly being mesmerized by the fantasy that more is better; it just means that reality leaves most of us with less rather than more and it simply is not worth moping through life because we do not have bigger houses, cars, toys, and other possessions.

SHORT SEGUE: Speaking of possessions, have you ever noticed that most people are as possessed by their possessions as much as they possess their possessions?

Sadly, in our modern and civilized times, we humans act neither modern nor civilized. We continue to accumulate our carefully selected and customized detritus and will often use any means to acquire this junk. This includes being immoral and unethical in business practices and relationships in order to build our own private junkyard of material items (and yes, in this sense money is also material). Because we shift into a mode of not thinking but instead reacting to the fable of more stuff = a better life, we often resort to apish behavior and actions to make sure we stay at the top of the junk pile. Our simian antics are easy to fall into, but the things we collect through such an attitude leaves us no happier than before. In fact, for most people, they more they rake in, they less happy they seem to be. You could call it our own black hole of misery.

Our ape culture promotes and encourages dominant and violent behaviors by rewarding those who excel at such aggression and selfishness. The idea of seizing what you desire at any given moment perfectly reflects the rape culture that we pretend does not exist. We rape our lands, oceans, and even arctic regions and justify these actions because they meet our imagined needs; using that twisted logic, is it a surprise that raping women is considered acceptable?

I find it particularly humorous that most of the people who reject the notion that we are evolved from apes, particularly those of a religious bent, support this ape culture and its dysfunctional behaviors and attitudes that continue to contribute to the cancerous societal problems that we seem unable to eradicate or even lessen. If we want to separate ourselves even more from our brother ape species, now is the time to throw off this ape culture and transform our culture into one that is more sensitive and caring than what it is now.

(originally posted on 6-26-17)

The Self-Made Lie

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent.” John Donne

America is a prideful nation built upon falsehoods. One of our greatest lies is the image of the successful American as a self-made man (or woman). Granted, many inventions, innovations, and fashions have sprung from the tenants of American soil, but to pretend that a person can make themselves into a success without the support and use (and all too often, the manipulation) of other individuals is pure fantasy.

More often than not, the “successes” that we revere in the world have murky pasts they wish to hide and therefore show no hesitation in modifying their success story to reflect purer intentions and original ideas, whereas the gritty truth will reveal the appropriation of others in order clamber to the top of the heap. Stepping upon others to reach greater heights is neither glorious nor honorable; it actually is reprehensible behavior that should merit the disgust of others, not their praise.

Another version of the self-made fable derives from the person who came from a privileged background and claims to have built his or her own success when he or she actually was funded by doting and moneyed relatives. Sure, this individual may have brought a great idea to the table, but more often than not, the development and fruition of that great idea relied upon bringing together a team of people to bring reality to a vision. Again, some may argue that it takes leadership to construct a winning team, but leadership often employs coercion, manipulation, and dishonesty in order to reach their heady goal and, more importantly, leadership requires a group of people that will follow.

Winston Churchill said that history is written by the victors, which gives the author of that particular chapter of human endeavors free and creative license to portray themselves as a darling of society, rather than the scoundrel that many become in order to reach their dream of domination. While many new ideas are clever, fantastic, and useful, this should not grant the person carte blanche rights and powers over others. Most “successful” people know that this is true, but fortunately for them, their money provides them with the means to modify laws which will then continue to favor them and to allow them the rights and powers that they seek and believe they deserve.

Part of the problem of the self-made lie is that it has become the ultimate badge of honor and acceptance. Even more, it has become a standard measure for all Americans, to the point where seeking assistance in times of need is scoffed at as if everyone wants a handout rather than a hand up. (Hence, the made up Biblical verse that “God helps those who help themselves.”) Worse, we elect leaders who arrogantly continue spouting this nonsense of the independent American and denigrate those who are less fortunate than others. Sadly, the proportion of unfortunate people appears to be increasing rather than decreasing as our society grows and evolves. When the success of the individual overrides the success of our society as a whole, perhaps it is time to rethink our strategies.

Americans crave to be a part of or at least near success stories, as if it will rub off on them or they can benefit from the crumbs and leftovers that remain on the bounteous table of success. Many inspiration speakers will declare that if you wish to be a success, surround yourself with successful individuals and then mimic their actions and behaviors in order to reach your own summit of success. While this may sound as if it is solid advice, if you take the time to read the biographies of different successful people you will discover that there really is no clear or certain formula that can guarantee success.

Sociological studies have concluded that humans are a communal species. We rely upon the power and safety of groups in order to go beyond basic survival. Of course, within any group you will find some that are stronger, smarter, or more influential than others. What we seem to forget is that even though others may appear superior in certain aspects than the rest of the pack, none of those people are so arrogant as to believe that they no longer need the group to survive or thrive. It should also be granted that when faced with threats or problems, the group as a whole should carefully consider the advice of the brighter and brawnier members, but this does not mean that the rest of them should stop thinking and processing information.

An excellent example of listening to leaders yet demanding equal treatment and risk is to consider how wars are waged these days. We yield to the lawmakers to determine whether war is a feasible option, but when our leaders rush us to war but are unwilling to participate themselves or to allow their children or grandchildren to join the military, we should call their actions and decisions into question. When the masses simply become fodder so that our leaders, their cronies, and their relations can profit from the carnage, their judgment should clearly be suspect and their decisions challenged.

It used to be that truth was sought by leading thinkers and philosophers. Can it be that crass materialism and control over the masses is now more important and valuable than finding honest answers to the problems and concerns of humankind? For those who still honor truth and honesty, perhaps it’s time to dismantle the idols of self-made men and women and pursue causes that benefit all of humanity rather than the tiny slice of privileged bastards that want to rule the world and have the rest of us trust them that they will do right for the entire population.

(originally posted on 6-29-17)

Interdependence Day

Can the circle be unbroken?

“Nature has never read the Declaration of Independence. It continues to make us unequal.” Will Durant

July is the month when Americans celebrate Independence Day by wasting money, blowing off explosives, and generally bragging about our independent superiority. However, once the 4th passes by, we rather unceremoniously and unconsciously sink back into our daily lives of interdependence, while continuing to operate under the pretense that Americans in particular are uniquely individual and independent.

Granted, individuality is one aspect of our human lives, but to pretend that humans, who rely upon some of the most intimate and complex communal behaviors of all species for survival, is populated by independent autonomous individuals with no need for community support and interaction is to deny the truth of how we live, thrive, and reproduce. While different societies and cultures vacillate between collective and individual values and behaviors, it is important to acknowledge that in either scenario leaders cannot exist without the masses. While it is tempting to prop up our selected leaders, it is equally important to emphasize that each individual is just as necessary in our community and none should be considered less than any other, regardless of education, skills, or even the level of their contribution to the group.

All too often, the bulk of the population is considered dispensable and of insignificant value to the whole. Of course, it is typically the leaders and their biased cohorts that are making this determination, and when portions of the population disagree, their patriotism and loyalty falls under question for simply daring to pose such queries. While no two persons can ever be measured to be perfectly equal, and while societies and cultures as a whole decide which particular skills and talents are deemed to be of greater value, the hard and unpolished truth is that even those least able to directly contribute to the group should not be considered of such minimal value as to be ejected from the safety and comfort of the group. Even the most independent person would wilt without the support and company of his or her community.

Of course, subgroups within a culture tend to be more inclined to support those members who are least capable of contributing to the greater group. A prime example of this would be infants and children within families. Beyond offering a degree of intangible pleasure and soliciting an inexplicable rush of love, children, toddlers, and infants are admittedly quite useless to society. Of course, we imbue in them the responsibility of becoming contributing members of a future society, but how often do we see the actualization of these imagined and expected contributions down the road of time?

In a world where money is presumed to conquer all, if we do not become money-generating machines that contribute to the well-being of the economy, then we are considered to be living, walking wastes of space and time. Sadly, innocent babies and exuberant kids must shed their innocence and exuberance in order to join the band of laborers who devote the bulk of their waking hours scraping for sufficient funds to pay their own way in this greedy, grasping world. While this rule may not apply completely across the board, it unfortunately applies to most of use. The greater misfortune is that we are being educated to not question or challenge this ridiculous premise; in fact, the farther behind we are in the game of accumulating money (i.e., the lower on the earnings totem pole), the less time we are granted to ruminate about our situation and condition.

Perhaps the greatest absurdity of all is that our future is too often forged by the conditions of our birth. Were we born in a rich country, and into a moneyed family who is privileged to bypass the financial slavery imposed upon the masses? Chances are very low that you will enter the world blessed with such a position.

Regardless of your position at birth, every human being is endowed with their own mind, which they may own and control, or conversely may surrender to others who claim the right to own and control your mind and how you think. The truth of the matter is that, regardless of our status within our society and its many subgroups, we can choose to be happy even though we have been taught that happiness is an exquisite state that requires financial performance and material acquisitions to be properly and permanently triggered. Considering the deepening divide between the haves and the have-nots, substantially more than 50% of the public should be unhappy, if not outright miserable, due to their economic status.

Once you stop playing the game of earned happiness and satisfaction, you can find fulfillment simply be being alive instead of through your inventory of material collections and nebulous achievements. Most importantly, you can reverse the brainwashing we all endure on a daily basis and know that no matter how much or how little you own, it does not have to affect your state of mind and being. Some of the greatest pleasures we can have is being part and parcel of your own communities without fretting over the importance or value of your perceived contributions.

Interdependence is neither a weakness or a fault. As stated before, all members come together to create the society in which they live. While some will lay claim to being independent, this is a shallow and surface pronouncement. The truth is that we are individuals but also part of the collective whole. Pretending to be otherwise is to continue the feeble fantasy of independence. Isn’t it time to start celebrating and honoring Interdependence Day?

(originally posted on 7/29/17)

Barbarians and Savages

All hail barbarians & savages!

“Oh, most unhappy earth! Wretched home of the human race, where barbarism not only still exists, but is taken for glory… instead of driving their weapons into the earth to benefit their fellow creatures, men plunge them into one another’s hearts to decide the ownership of the actual soil. Barbarians! Savages!” Charles Gounod

We may no longer don garish suits of armor or drag along unwieldy weapons of war, but to imagine that we have sloughed off our barbaric and savage attitudes and posturing is to falsely imagine that we have elevated our societies to a state of civilized enlightenment. We have already lived through an Age of Enlightenment, but it appears that we took away little from that illuminating and inspiring era during our brief sojourn on this planet.

While many believe the rise of technology and the expansion in medical advances to be indicators of our increasingly civilized society, as long as we continue to wage war against other human beings (not to mention our insatiable desire to slaughter innocent creatures of the wild) our pronouncements of civilized behavior and lifestyles is merely a hollow echo ringing down the valley of humankind. We still believe that certain persons should be declared owners of sections of the earth and that trespassing upon the lands of others is not only a right but a noble obligation intended to advance the cause of nations.

Interestingly, individuals within a nation are simply mirroring the acts and beliefs of the nation in which they consider themselves to be citizens. Just as nations announce the division of lands through borders both visible or invisible, so do the denizens of the country divvy up the land into individual parcels for their own benefit and gains. Granted, to be able to call a plot of land one’s home offers a sense of security and purpose, yet we all too often also consider the acquisition of lands to be an accomplishment worthy of praise and legends. Consider the audacity of earlier Western Europeans who traveled far and wide and across uncharted oceans to declare a new land to be theirs by virtue of seeing and desiring it. For while we may wish to call them discoveries, how can one “discover” a land when it is occupied by humans already native to that area? More importantly, how can a human being justify the seizure of the lands already occupied by humans? Is it because they speak a different language and live by different customs?

When Western Europeans invaded the land now renamed America, they were compelled to call the natives already living there “savages” because they wore fewer and different clothing, spoke an unknown language, and had customs that were completely foreign to the Europeans. Perhaps the greatest offense to the invaders was the natives’ ignorance of the Western European gods. Because they decreed many centuries earlier that their god was the only and rightful god of the planet Earth, any persons unfamiliar with the demands and practices of this created god had to be placed in the category of savages and barbarians. Yet these local peoples, who appeared to be more attuned to the land and nature than these “civilized” invaders, were not the initial aggressors against these aliens. After an incessant series of transgressions against the local population, many tribes did finally push back, much to the ire and surprise of the invading barbarians.

When one studies the history and origin of the word “barbarian,” the term came about in the late Roman Empire to refer to any persons who were unaware of and did not practice the Greek and Roman traditions that had been developed over the centuries. In essence, they were foreigners who were new to the Greek and Roman cultures and languages. So a barbarian is simply someone who is considered to be primitive and uncultured in comparison to the people who were raised and educated in a given society.

However, over time the word “barbarian” has evolved to simply mean a brutish person. Ironically, most wars are waged between two nations, where typically both battling parties perceive the other people to be the barbarians. And that moniker is appropriate, since war is typically a barbaric and savage affair. Some may wish to debate that war is no longer barbaric or savage, since we have sophisticated weaponry that is often deployed in missions and battles but that argument is as inaccurate as our high-tech artillery. War is designed to kill and maim people, as well as to destroy property and equipment, of the chosen enemy of the day, and this concept is insanely atrocious and violent. The fact that we have developed weaponry that is capable of mass destruction and deaths means that we are more barbaric and savage than ever before.

Perhaps the question that should be asked is “Why do we hate peace and equality so much?” Waging war for peaceful ends has proven over the centuries to be an oxymoron with global implications. Peace is not a show of weakness; rather, war is a display of our continuing cowardice and fear. When we learn to stop being afraid and start becoming interested and concerned for all of humankind, war will end and we will look back and shake our collective heads with shame. Until then, we will continue to heap glory and rewards upon the cowards of conflict.

(originally posted on 8/1/17)

Consuming Outrage, Absurdity, and Our Own Sanity

Like wild animals, we cannot consume enough media madness

“In an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.” Herbert A. Simon

The phrase “You are what you eat” comes to my mind, but at a more expansive level. Our obesity problems extend far beyond food; we seemingly cannot consume enough, always need more, are living in a black hole of insatiable informational gluttony.

The Bad Taste of Media

It strikes me at various times and in various places. Most recently, while waiting for my car to get an oil change, another customer came in and saw me sitting, reading a book. Perhaps I stood out (while sitting down) because I was reading instead of staring with glazed eyes (as most people do in such places) at the omnipresent TV which was broadcasting the latest bullshit. Regardless, he approached me, feigning interest in the title of my book for a reason to step into my silence. I shared with him the name and subject of the book, aware that the information I was conveying meant little to him beyond an opening to chat. He just wanted to talk for a few minutes to a complete stranger, apparently.

And I provided an ideal opening, because I mentioned I was reading because I am not a fan of television, particularly the endless news stream (you can no longer refer to it as a “news cycle” because that would imply a beginning, end, and new beginning, whereas news, information, data, or whatever you wish to tag it seems to stream endlessly and without apparent meaning, an informational diarrhea of torrential proportions). My new acquaintance summed it up quite succinctly by confessing his actual physical discomfort from overexposure to this polluted stream of unconsciousness and the prescription his doctor offered as a cure: a media fast.

Since we are daily taunted by this eternal information “feed,” fasting is an apt analogy. At least when we gorge on food, we reach a saturation point where the body screams “No!” to another bite (at least for an hour or so). But the unending, droning, gnawing, steady drip of the latest outrage or absurdity denies most people the ability to lift their heads from the trough to take a breath of fresh air, for fear they will miss the next outrage or absurdity which might be more outrageous or absurd than the current barrage of meaningless noise.

Even a blind person can tell when they are talking to a person drowning in their own media ocean; there is a vacuous timbre to their voice as they absentmindedly ask “Huh?” in response to most communications directed their way, long or short. Riding public transport now creates new fears; instead of worrying about ruffians casing their victims, fret instead about the mass of zombies surrounding you, all of them seeming to derive what little movement they are capable of producing by dint of the power of the devices they stare at in the palm of their hand. If they are this brain-dead, then they are perfect receptacles for any suggestions or emotions their device is feeding them.

Cleansing Your Palate

Although observing the intellectual demise of our own species can be considered a form of entertainment for some, that practice is yet another distraction which diverts us from the process of reclaiming ourselves. Seriously, to abandon the bad habit of media overindulgence only to shake our heads in despair by watching others mired in the same unhealthy act is hardly better than sticking our heads back into the media feedbag. It is akin to deciding to go vegan and then to hang out at McDonalds staring at the other patrons (and there are lots of them there) still packing that poison into their bodies. Or for a person to forsake alcohol, only to hang out in bars watching everyone else getting hammered, shrieking with laughter and getting louder over time, until their peak has been reached and silence once more settles in the place like the dark sleeping night creeping up after a blazing sunset. In both of those instances, one would be inclined to give a pat upon their own back for unshackling those habits but that leaves one in a vacuum of sorts.

Admittedly, there is value in stopping bad habits but many find that if there is nothing to fill this new void it is tempting to revert back to past behaviors. For some reason, humans would rather continue unhealthy behaviors than find themselves bored; that is one of the reasons that replacing habits is easier than quitting a habit. If, instead of plopping in front of your favorite media-spewing device (TV, tablet, computer, phone, what have you), you are filling that time with a new activity (such as evening walks, reading a book, listening to music, or working out), you are more liable to stick with the change you want to make.

The Perspective of Time

If you are able to wean yourself off the media nipple, you may discover life to be brighter, more colorful, and vastly more interesting than you thought was possible. Even better, you will be less stressed and angry, less concerned about matters over which you have little to no control. Best of all, you will learn that major events over which the world is spending excessive amounts of time and energy really does not affect your own happiness or peace. You may even find yourself feeling empathy towards your fellow human, rather than imagining horrible disasters befalling those with whom you disagree.

For myself, I chose to swap the news flood for art, particularly music. Instead of stewing over the latest outrages and absurdities that floods the news cycle, it is incredibly soothing and therapeutic to sit for 30 to 45 minutes and let a work of art wash over you. As a fan of classical music and with an extensive collection of works by major artists over the last century, I have a wealth of beauty at my beck and call, something that even the richest humans only a century ago could not lay claim to.

My daily question is now: Have I spent my time well? My measure for answering that query is the sense of completeness and fulfillment I feel during the day. Of course, no one person can realistically claim to remain on an elevated realm every living moment of their life, but we are all quite adept at gauging how well we are faring throughout any period of our life, be that minutes, hours, days, or longer.

Logic dictates that what we consume shapes us. If we are regularly gorging ourselves on useless nonsense, such as what some idiot tweeted at 3 in the morning (these days, there are a lot of those types of idiots abounding), this bloating diet of outrage and absurdity leaves little room in our heads for any degree of sanity. In fact, some people seem to do whatever possible to vomit out any remaining logic and independent thinking they still have to better accommodate the stream of stupidity we call information.

Given the apparent limitless amount of information that is shoveled through every possible avenue of delivery, more is not better. Let us each define what is enough for ourselves, instead of looking to the businesses that depend upon our unceasing consumption in order to ring up their profits for their definition. Because they have already decided that “enough” is the dirtiest word in capitalism, they will never use that term nor encourage us to use of think of it.

Start seeing your life as enough instead of as insatiable. Awaken fulfilled each day instead of desperately grasping for the faucet of feckless facts and twisting the spigot full blast into your face. Trust me, there is a huge difference!

(originally posted 7/2/18)