Archives for category: Choices we make

Christians call it fate while Buddhists call it karma.
Christians’ main goal is called salvation while Buddhists’ is called nirvana.

And no, these are not exactly the same thing.
Not different enough to separate them easily, not similar enough to consider them the same thing.

Fate depends on what God has in mind for you while karma depends exclusively on what you have decided all along your life.

Salvation is even more complicated.
Catholics believe that each individual can obtain it, regardless of what they had done until that moment, by simply acknowledging ones sins and by repenting before God/priest. Protestants, on the other hand, believe that individual salvation is entirely at God’s mercy. Mortal individuals can do nothing more than putting their faith in God’s all encompassing love and waiting for it.
Meanwhile, since Buddhists don’t have a God, they believe that accomplishing nirvana is the responsibility of each individual… All somebody has to do in order to achieve this goal is to transform their inner self. There is no outside, objective (?!?) benchmark to be reached here… no other arbiter to please…

Yet fate and karma are not that different either… Life experience in Asia may be different from that in Europe but the differences aren’t huge enough to consider them two different things. Not to mention the growing number of Buddhists living in the Euro-Atlantic region and the burgeoning number of Christian converts in Asia….

As for salvation versus nirvana… the man made Catholic one is almost similar – even if a lot easier to obtain, to the Buddhist nirvana while the Protestant one is just as dis-similar from it’s Catholic equivalent as it is from the Buddhist nirvana.
Yet, again, is it really possible for peace of mind to be that different on the opposing ends of EurAsia? Peace of mind experienced by very similar human individuals…. The only difference between them being the culture they have grown into….

Which brings us to chance.

Rationally minded people – scientists, economists, etc., are convinced that any decision can be perfect… If  only people were diligent enough to educate themselves properly, to think with their brains instead of allowing their hearts to take over…

‘Rationally minded people…’
But how rational is to expect a human being – an animal, first and foremost, to behave in a perfectly rational manner?
How rational is to expect a human being to overcome all emotion AND all biases? Known and unknown….
How rational is even to expect a human being to ‘diligently’ research all available data before making a decision? How much time would that take? When should someone be satisfied enough with the information gathered about a particular subject?

How much is each of us indebted to Lady Luck about the place we’ve born into?
Christian Europe or Buddhist Asia?
About the time of our birth? Before any of Christ/Buddha had preached or after?
How much is each of us indebted to Lady Luck about the amount of opportunity each of us have had to decide about during our lives?

My last question was a tricky one, indeed.
OK, Lady Luck is responsible for many things. For the place and time of our birth. For the fortunes of the families we’ve been born into and for the mental and physical each of us enjoys. Or lacks…

Only we do share in the final responsibility for our fate/salvation/karma/nirvana!

Our decisions are equally shaped by the circumstances in which we’ve reached those decisions AND by our diligence in making them.
Each of our decisions opens up some new doors and shuts down others. Or, at least, turns our heads towards new openings and away from others.

‘And your point is?’

Don’t blame others for your bad decisions and don’t praise yourself too much for your good ones.
Don’t blame others for their bad decisions. Are you sure they had a real alternative for the situations you found them in? Mind you, not whether there was a real alternative! Did THEY had access to that alternative?
Extend a helping hand. You’re not responsible for saving everybody else but to see somebody in need and not offer your help sets the stage for you needing help and everybody else passing by without noticing you.
Don’t overdo it. When you see someone drowning, get them out to safety. That’s enough. Don’t lecture them about the dangers of getting into water. Firstly, you don’t know how they got in and, secondly, if they are not able to figure this out by themselves you’re wasting your time.
Don’t prevent everybody else from getting in simply because somebody had (nearly) drowned. You’re not God. You don’t know everything. You just happened to be there when somebody was drowning and you was strong and brave enough enough to save them. That’s all there is to it.


Advertisements

And no, this is no joke! Alas…

Populism is scientific because its ‘adepts’ have a very rational behavior and use scientific tools to increase the appeal of their public messages.
And, on the other hand, populism is scientific because its advent is perfectly explainable given what we currently know. About our society, about our brains, about our psychology….

Let me start from the beginning.
In Thomas Kuhn’s terms, the last 60 or so years have witnessed a tremendous paradigm shift.
Science has replaced religion as the main paradigm and ‘religion’ has been demoted to  ‘religions’.

Science becoming the main paradigm means that we have grown confident about our knowledge. We might be aware that we don’t know everything yet but we continue to believe that we’re able to learn everything. That if we are diligent enough we’ll sometimes be able to look under every rock that is.
This attitude has led us to search for ‘perfection’. ‘Efficiency’ has displaced ‘redemption’. We have ceased our quest for salvation and are now obsessed with ‘buy low, sell high’. In other words, ‘make the most of it but strain yourself as little as possible’.

Which makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?

A lot of sense… mainly when you no longer perceive the guy next to you as being a full-fledged member of your community. Your religious community, that is. Of your church.

You see, ever since Emil Durkheim, the sociologists have been aware that religion was not so much a story about the making of the world as a ‘common ground’. The ‘common core’ shared by the members of a given community. Which ‘common core’ makes it possible for those who share it to have respect. For themselves and for the other faithful members of the community. By sharing that common core, the individuals find their bearings in the ‘wide, wide world’ and, thus, know how to behave relative to their ‘neighbors’. With enough mutual respect among the individual members that the community is able to function. To survive, that is.

We no longer have that kind of community.
Our primary allegiance is no longer towards ‘church’. Most of us consider themselves primarily as members of a nation – something governed more by formal laws than by public sentiment, and only secondarily – if at all, as members of a ‘religious’ community.

Now, putting two and two together, it’s very simple to understand that in the given circumstances ‘populism’ was inevitable, right?

Too many of the would be leaders have no qualms about how they get what they want.
Power.
‘Buy low, sell high’ is the current mantra, remember? Accepted by all of us. Buyers, sellers, by-standards…
Too many members of the general public are willing to accept promises which are in line with their own expectations, even if those promises being put in practice means a lot of misery for OTHERS. Who cares about those others, anyway? They are not members of OUR ‘church’!

I’ll let you decide how sustainable is such a situation. I was going to use ‘community’ instead of ‘situation’ but it would have been horribly wrong. We no longer live in communities. We only happen to live in the same place.

For how long?

The relatively flat layout of most parliamentary chambers has induced in us the idea that society is linear. From left to right and backwards.
Also, the current almost ubiquitous existence of parliaments drove us to forget that until recently – historically speaking, of course, most societies have been punctiform. The sovereign king was the only one able/entitled to make any significant decision…

Meanwhile we are told by the political scientists that long term political stability can be achieved only through ‘checks and balances’. Meaning that the state has to be organized in such a way that nobody can get amass too much power.
Actually most modern states have an executive, a legislative body and a judiciary. Each of them performing their specific tasks while keeping a jealous eye on the other two.

The problem with long term political stability being that it is a very abstract goal while most people just want to be happy. And are willing to go at considerable lengths in order to achieve their goals….

And it’s exactly here where ideologues start to argue among themselves

Some say that the individual is sacrosanct. That individual freedom is the most important value that is and the most fundamental ‘human right’.
Others say that society is more important than any individual. That all individuals should put themselves at the service of the society and that individual liberty pales when confronted with social necessity.
And a third category consider that democracy is a waste of time and of opportunity. That the best for any society is that a capable person/group of persons to be given absolute power over it. The rationale being that ‘the capable’ will take good care of their ‘property’. A far better kind of care than any group of bickering politicians would ever be able to offer….

On the practical side, those preoccupied with ‘freedom’ consider that the main duty of the state is to preserve/protect individual liberty. That people, once free, will know how to achieve their personal happiness.
The socially minded consider that individual happiness cannot exist before/outside the well being of the entire society. Hence the ‘rational citizen’ has to postpone (read forget) any personal goals and sublimate their own persona into the society.
‘The more capable than the rest’ consider that the ‘incapable’ cannot be trusted with defining their own goals and have to be told what to do. For their own good!

It is very easy to observe that none of the three ‘ideal types’ described above doesn’t work on its own. That each have been experimented and found to be ‘unpractical’, to say the least.

Individual absolute freedom exists. The Saan living in the Kalahari desert and the  Baka in the Cameroon don’t have any formal rules, no social hierarchy and are absolutely free to do as they please. Both have been easily overcome, their habitat is being encroached/destroyed by their ‘neighbors’ and have been able to survive only by going further and further away from anything.
Socially minded people have, time and time again, congregated. Only to witness their communities dissolve or develop malignantly. From the early christian settlements to the XiX-th century phalansters.
The ‘know better’ is, apparently at least, the most successful arrangement. All kingdoms and empires have been organized according to this principle.
And all of them eventually failed. Even Plato’s idea of ‘king priests’ has led to Alexander the Great’s ultimately disastrous campaign into the Middle East. Not to mention the fact that the erstwhile mighty Athens had fallen into anonymity just after starting to be governed by specially trained rulers.

Since the pure ideal types didn’t work, let’s see what we get if we combine them.

Since I’ve been experimenting it for the first 30 years of my life, I’ll start with the result of crossing ‘social minded’ with ‘know better’. Does ‘communism’ ring any bells with you?
Let’s cross ‘liberty’ with ‘know better’. Actually this has already been done. It was about liberty for those who knew better… Nazism, and its newer variants, are the first examples which come to mind.
And the most interesting result comes from crossing freedom with social minded. This has also been experimented. In the democratic Ancient Athens and in during the truly Republican phase of the Roman Empire. The same combination was used by the vikings and somehow perpetuated to this day. Its offshoots being the western style democracy.

Which democracy – just like the Roman Empire, will survive for only as long as it will conserve both individual freedom and social mindedness while allowing, but only when needed, the ‘know better’ to take over for the short periods of time when their presence at the helm is absolutely necessary.

I am determined to fly.
Only my actual flying is relative to my ability to ‘negotiate’ the absolute determination with which my body and the rest of the planet pull at each other.

Translation:

There are three kinds of ‘determination’.
Absolute, relative and teleological.

‘Absolute determination’ is that situation where everything is under the same constriction. For instance, (almost) everything substantial in this Universe is affected by the gravitational field which permeates everywhere and everything.

Relative determination is that situation where either a special characteristic of something or a special circumstance induces a specific relation between that something and an ‘overpowering force’. For instance, any electrically charged particle is under the influence of the electromagnetic field while the ‘neutral’ ones are indifferent to the said field. Also, a dead leaf which happens to fall in a stream is under a double determination. It is simultaneously pulled towards the center of the Earth and helplessly transported by the water. OK, the flow of the water is indeed powered by the same gravity which pulls the leaf but, again, it is relative to the local relief.
Please note that even if the absolute determination might seem insignificant due to the effects of the relative one, the absolute never ceases. An electron which spins happily around a nucleus only seems impervious to the gravitational pull. Simply because the latter is way weaker than the former, at that scale.

Teleological determination is that situation where the determinant has an active role in shaping the influence it exerts over the determined. NB, ‘active’ and not necessarily ‘conscious’. For instance, no two working bees belonging to the same hive  will ever do exactly the same thing in the same (broad) situation, despite both being under the same absolute determination and under almost similar relative determination – they are twin sisters.

Things become way more interesting when we start discussing the influence of ‘intent’.
When the teleological determination becomes intentional.
Where the scope of the active action is influenced by the consciousness of the determinant instead of depending exclusively on ‘rules’ and chance.

There’s a lot of dry wood in the forests around us. It stays there for a while. Only from time to time something happens that starts a fire.

Fill a room with a mixture of oxygen and hydrogen – at ‘room temperature’, and nothing happens. Strike a match and… you get a big noise and a little water. Don’t try this at home, you won’t live to tell the story. The noise is really big.

White phosphorus has to be kept under water. Whenever it gets in contact with humid air at a temperature above 30 degrees Celsius it starts to burn. And it cannot be extinguished in any other way than by submerging the whole thing under water.

Put a TNT stick (make sure it isn’t dynamite) into fire and it will simply burn. Fuse it properly and it will detonate whenever you ‘tell’ it to.

Let’s consider life now.

All the chemical elements, and a huge number of the organic molecules, which are the building blocks of any living organism have been around for eons while ‘life’ is a relatively recent occurrence.

Males and females – both animals and plants, roam around freely. Yet no offspring appears before something happens between a male and a female. This – the need for something to occur outside the individual organism, is valid also for bacteria – they need certain conditions to multiply, and viruses – which need the assistance of other, suitable, organisms.

Whenever conditions are right enough, sooner or later ‘life’ will surely appear. Or so it has happened all over our Earth. Till now, at least.

Whenever a living organism follows it’s normal set of instructions – its DNA remains fully functional, everything goes ‘as advertised’. If, by any reason, enough DNA is damaged beyond repair, the hell breaks loose. Being diagnosed with Cancer is enough to blow up even the most stable mind.

I’ve kept the most striking similitude for the last.
Both combustion and life continue only as long as certain conditions are met. Both need enough oxygen and fuel/nutrition.

There are also two big differences between them. One regarding ‘time’ – the successions of ‘moves’ which constitute the processes, and the other regarding ‘space’.

Combustion follows a set of pre-existing rules.  The chemical composition of the combustible might change the ignition temperature but that’s all it can do. Or it may add – as it’s the case for explosives, the possibility of detonation. But, again, both combustion and detonation follow a set of rules which are valid ‘across the board’. For all combustible and explosive substances.

On it’s turn, life follows two broad sets of rules. It has to obey all those which govern chemistry and physics – read combustion and detonation, and, on top of that, it has it’s own set of detailed instructions. Which vary from species to species.

I’ve left for the end the difference regarding ‘space’ because this one is very simple.

‘Combustion’ will extend all over the place where combustible is ‘continuous’, in a single ‘event’, while ‘life’ is, by definition, about finite organisms which multiply to make ‘good use’ of the available resources.
This being the reason for which combustion stops whenever the combustible available in an enclosed place is exhausted while life can resist a certain period of ‘famine’.

According to Humberto Maturana, what we call consciousness – our ability to ‘observe ourselves observing‘, is the result of what sociologists would call a ‘cultural process’.
Meaning that consciousness has been developed in time – as is millennia, and is constantly shaped through daily interactions between us.

I don’t intend to discuss its genesis now, I’m just gonna point to one of its many consequences. Our need to explain everything.

We’ve developed our consciousness by talking to each-other. If we are to accept Maturana’s theory – of course, which I do.
At some point in time, during this process, there must have been an ‘aha’ moment.
Or, more precisely, a ‘what if’ moment.

Until then, everything was ‘natural’. Sun up, sun down, birth, death… and everything in between.
While learning to ‘observe ourselves observing’ one of our ancestors must have noticed that we make a lot of decisions. Unconsciously – until that moment, of course, but, nevertheless, still momentous. To ‘flee or fight’, which fig tree to climb, which cave to use tonight, which pelt to skin, which flint to flake…

The very next moment our ancestor must have asked their-self:

What if the Sun doesn’t get up next morning? Will I wake up from sleep tomorrow?
Who decides these things?
Are there only rules – like ‘every time you touch a flame you get burned’ and ‘ice is always cold’ or on top of the rules there is somebody who calls the shots? As in ‘decides whether this time the lion will attack on sight or it will let this one go’?

And we’ve tried to explain away our fears ever since…
By determining which are the pertinent ‘natural rules’, by placing the responsibility on somebody else’s shoulder – read ‘God’, or both at the same time. Again, I’m not going to develop this subject either, I’ll just remember you that Buddhism – for example, doesn’t reject older creeds. The Japanese, for instance, follow both Buddhist precepts and Shintoist traditions. Also, many Christians entertain a lot of local and not so local superstitions. Like never start walking with the left foot or having a very strong ‘respect’ for the third number after 10.

Let me make a short recap.
We taught ourselves to speak, we talked to each other until we developed something called consciousness to such a level that we’ve started to ask ourselves existential questions and then we came up with more or less credible scenarios meant to allay our fears.

‘OK, … and your point is?’

Don’t be so ‘surprised’ when somebody ‘irrationally’ defends their own ‘story’. ‘Their story’ encompasses their world. That’s where they had been living, together with everybody they used to know/consider their kin.
Don’t attempt to force your story upon them. Let aside that you might be wrong yourself… any attempt to forcefully impose a narrative upon somebody else is nothing but “rape”. Don’t do it unless you are prepared to get raped yourself.
And keep in mind that it’s not ‘their story’ that harms you but ‘their actions’.

No story has ever harmed anyone. For any story to have consequences, people must act upon it. According to how they have chosen to relate to the it.  That’s where we can see eye to eye, regardless of the stories each of us keep dear.
Are we ready to accept that we might be wrong? That our story might be incomplete? That our explanation of the world might need some adjustments?

Are we ready to understand that enlarging our explanation to encompass others will actually increase our own ability to survive?
Or are we going to defend ‘our’ version, no matter what?

Are we going to keep looking for explanations or to become the subject of yet another one?

I keep hearing that “America is not a Democracy, it is a Republic if you can keep it“.

Well, if nothing else, this is yet another example of how dangerous it is to give up studying ‘humanities’. As in classical languages, history…

‘Republic’ comes from Latin. Res Publica. Meaning a sociopolitical arrangement, a.k.a. country, ‘where “things” – “res”, in Latin, are decided upon by the “public” or the representatives that they elect.

Democracy comes from Greek. Demos Kratos. Meaning a sociopolitical arrangement where ‘power’ – ‘kratos’, belongs to ‘the people’ – demos.

Starting from here, it becomes a lot easier to understand that it doesn’t really matter whether the guy sitting at the formal top of a country calls himself king or president.
It’s who calls the definitive shot which determines whether a country is run as a democracy or is being ruled as an authoritarian regime.

“Government is suppose to be a negative force that leaves people alone.”

I’m afraid this would make any of the Founding Fathers weep.
It’s the ministers – secretaries of state, as the Americans call them, who need to be kept in check, not ‘Government’.
“Government of the people, by the people, for the people” means that the people governs itself. The people determines its own future. All the people …. not just ‘the government’. Extracting, at the conceptual level, ‘the government’ from ‘the people’ means freeing those who happen to be ‘the government’, at any given moment, from their responsibilities. Telling ‘the people’ that ‘the government’ should leave them alone actually means that the people should also leave the members of the government to do as they please.
Really? Would any of you be comfortable with such an arrangement?

“Once Rome left the tenets of their Constitution they adopted Democracy and soon people were left demanding more from the Gov’t. A Gov’t that could not provide.”

In reality, Rome had thrived for only as long as it had managed to preserve the truly democratic features of its government. As long as the citizens went to the Forum – the Roman Agora, and voted their true minds. As long as the Senators did their jobs honestly and decided for the future of the entire city.
Only after the Roman People had given up and stood idle while their democracy was corrupted into ‘mob-rule’ by the bribe-greedy senators, the Roman Empire had started to crumble. The Roman Empire was no longer a true republic nor a functional democracy when it was abolished by Augustus being proclaimed Emperor by his soldiers.
And the final nail was beaten into the Roman coffin when the people itself had started to accept bribes.
When Rome had started to be ruled according to the ‘panem et circenses’ principle. When the people had let himself be bribed by those who wanted to stay in power and when the people had stopped censuring those who determined the fate of the entire social organism.

When ‘the government’ had extracted itself from the people.

And yes, Republic has to be kept. Only not for its own sake. For ours.

It doesn’t matter whether a country calls itself a kingdom or a Republic, it’s how the shots are called which is really important. By the People or by a small number of individuals. While it is true that the Roman Empire had to devolve from a Democratic Republic to a dictatorial kingdom before crumbling, let’s not forget Germany and Russia.
Both had thrown out their rulers – Kaiser and Tzar, only to fall under the spell of dictatorial ideologies which had led both of them to ruin.
To republican ruin.
Both Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia had been ruled as republics by small coteries of callous manipulators.

What’s more important?

Commonalities or differences?

To understand what happened or to determine who’s responsible?

Truth or meaning?

Being safe or being content?

To feel (happy) or to be perceived as being (happy)?

 

How many of these answers had just sprung up and how many had been the result of careful consideration?

Really?

Am I the first to understand that once you’ve eaten it, nobody will ever again be able to part YOUR cake from you?

It stops being a cake as you chew on it?

Well… yeah. Actually it does. But… it remains a cake in your memory! That’s what you’ll remember having eaten: A cake!

And now, that we’ve settled the ‘eaten cake’ problem, let me ask you another question.

How strange is it that so many conservatives consider taxes as an infringement upon their right to freely dispose of their property yet they have no qualms to impose their beliefs upon other people – women, to be more precise, denying them the right to freely  dispose of their own bodies?

Because all life is sacred!

Hence, in their view, all abortion is murder. Regardless of the age of the fetus. Regardless of the consequences of having an unwanted child. Too early, too many, not enough money, health problems, sexual assault… nothing counts except for the right of the fetus to be born.

Some go even further. They consider that contraception is murder too. Because it denies the right of the egg-cell to become an embryo…

As I said before.
It is not only possible but very normal to have your cake and eat it too.
Same goes for convictions.
Once embedded in our heads they become ours and nobody can part them from us, no matter what logical arguments might be involved. Invoked?

Except for us. We are the ones who can leave behind some of our old convictions and reach new ones.
Conversion is the name of the game.

A game we’ve been playing since the dawn of time.

We pride ourselves for our ability to choose. Rationally!
We call that ‘liberty’ and we consider it an ‘undeniable human right’.

Yet everything, including our understanding of things, exists because of ‘chance’.
While neither chance nor choice can manifest itself/be exerted outside what we’ve learned to call ‘hard reality’.

“First you guess. Don’t laugh, this is the most important step. Then you compute the consequences. Compare the consequences to experience. If it disagrees with experience, the guess is wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science. It doesn’t matter how beautiful your guess is or how smart you are or what your name is. If it disagrees with experience, it’s wrong. That’s all there is to it.”

Attributed to Richard Feynman by
Florentin Smarandache, V. Christianto,
in Multi-Valued Logic, Neutrosophy, and Schrodinger Equation? (2006), 73

%d bloggers like this: