Archives for category: religion

For a long time the Jewish people have written down their thoughts about the world.
At some point, about two thousands years ago, Jesus and his followers reinterpreted those ideas so new books had to be written on the same subject.
Another four centuries later the Councils of Hippo (393 AD) and Carthage ( 397) determined which of those books were to be included in what is currently known as the Bible.

The versions being circulated since were written in Latin, Hebrew, ancient Greek, Aramaic, ancient Armenian, etc.

By 1500 almost nobody but some of the priests were able to read any of them.

So Luther had decided he had to translate it. Into German.

And changed the world.

“Luther’s Bible introduced mass media, unified a nation, and set the standard for future translations.”

Since then, because modern languages are a work in progress, the Bible has been practically rewritten many times over.

Here are three versions of how Cain and Abel were born. Genesis 4:1-2.

And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the Lord.

And she again bare his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.”

King James Version

Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten[a] a man with the help of the Lord.” And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground.

English Standard Version

“Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, “With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man.” Later she gave birth to his brother Abel.

Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil.”

New International Version

What next? I’ve counted 106 different versions, all written in English, on a Wikipedia page…

Luther had translated it because almost no one living in his times was able to read it by themselves.
Nowadays it seems that anybody who cares about the matter, writes their own!

I was under the impression that religion was meant to bring us together…

The Tower of Babel

11 Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward,[a] they found a plain in Shinar[b] and settled there.

They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel[c]—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.”

Who is scattering us now?
Why are we doing this to ourselves?

Some people believe that “racial prejudice” is “the natural human inclination … to identity (sic) with members of one’s own tribe, race or ethnic group” and “Post-racial multiculturalism is the exact but equally extreme and insane opposite of Nazi racial ideology“.

Compare this to “Religion, which should foster sisterhood and brotherhood, which should encourage tolerance, respect, compassion, peace, reconciliation, caring and sharing, has far too frequently — perversely — done the opposite. Religion has fueled alienation and conflict and has exacerbated intolerance and injustice and oppression. Some of the ghastliest atrocities have happened and are happening in the name of religion. It need not be so if we can learn the obvious: that no religion can hope to have a monopoly on God, on goodness and virtue and truth“.

What’s going on here?

Where does all this ‘confusion’ come from?

Let me start from the ‘bottom’ of it.

“No religion can hope to have a monopoly on God, on goodness and virtue and truth”.

While I fully agree with Desmond Tutu on the gist of his words I must contradict him on something very important.

Religions cannot hope at all. About anything. Anyway you look at them. No matter which definition you use, religion – all of them – is something that people do together. A common effort.
It is the individuals who are the actual doers. Who love and hate. Or hope, in this case.
Who pretend that their religion is the only true one. Or understand, as Desmond Tutu did, that each religion is yet another manifestation of God.

“Religion has fueled alienation and conflict and has exacerbated intolerance and injustice and oppression.”

Again, it was individual ‘religious’ people who have done all of those things, not religion per se.
All sacred texts have been written by human people. I can even accept that the first manuscript of each religion was directly inspired by God. Only each of them have been copied a thousand times over. And heavily editated.
Then came the individual human people who have read those texts, interpreted them, passed them on and acted upon those interpretations. Upon their convictions, actually.

And this is how “Some of the ghastliest atrocities have happened and are happening in the name of religion”. Not because of ‘religion’ but ‘in the name of religion’.
Simply as a consequence of how certain people have chosen to interpret/use religious teachings.

And not only ‘religious’ teachings.

People are able to interpret – and use in their own (perceived) advantage, every bit of information that comes their way. And now, that we have started to understand more and more about how our brain is working, the manners in which we use that information have become more and more ‘convoluted’.

“Post-racial multiculturalism … began as an understandable overreaction to Nazi racial ideology…before being consolidated by academics into an instrument of socio-political intimidation, rewards, punishments, manipulation and control, a modern, secular replacement for the power-political role of medieval church ideology.”

So.
It was the academics/priests who have done the damage. Not their religion nor the information they had at their disposal.

But why?
How come people whose religions – all of them do this – are adamant about ‘respect your neighbor’ become involved in wars?  Sometimes even in ‘religious’ wars ….
How come academics, whose very job are to teach their students to think autonomously, use their ‘rank’ in order to subdue ‘their’ file?

Could the religious warriors have something in common with the intransigent academics?

How them sharing the unbreakable conviction that they own the truth?
Forged inside the ‘echo-chambers’ where they have grouped themselves according to their specific beliefs? (No matter whether those beliefs are of a religious or ‘rational’ nature…)

Only after I had reached this point in my discourse I was able to fully appreciate Desmond Tutu’s words: ‘Religion … should encourage tolerance, respect, compassion, peace, reconciliation, caring and sharing’.

He doesn’t say anything about giving up on your own kind.
Or about leaving your roots behind.

All he actually says is ‘Be very careful. If all of you will accept to see only the same side of things you will become a herd. And while there is indeed ‘safety in numbers’ all herd members are ultimately headed for the abattoir’.

Diversity isn’t something to be forcefully, hence falsely, celebrated. Or imposed on others.

What we need to preserve, and celebrate, is our ability to ‘walk around’ the things that we encounter. To entertain, and discuss among ourselves, different – even conflictingly different – versions of what we see around us. This ability would only enhance our chances to solve the problems we’ll certainly be faced with.

‘Culture’ is nothing but layer upon layer of place-specific information which have accumulated in time while ‘religion’ is how a certain group of people have learned, again in time, to cooperate in a certain environment.
It doesn’t matter whether that ‘environment’ has been created by a God, has evolved according to Darwin’s theory or both.
What really matters is how we react – conditioned by our cultures and by our religious upbringing – to what is happening to us. Both individually and collectively.

In this sense, each culture we manage to preserve will only add to our chances of long term survival. As long as we’ll learn to sincerely respect each-other, of course.
Again, both individually and collectively.

PS.
A comment on my FB wall, “True religion is God entering history and the lives of humans and revealing Himself. All other religions are man’s attempt to explain the world around him in terms of god or attempts to control lots of other people in the name of some god“, helped me to understand that “There is ‘religion’ – the shared attitude that helps us to cooperate, and there are religions – specific ways that individual communities have traveled in order to attain that attitude.
And something else. What if ‘God entering history’ and enough of us reaching the shared understanding that it is far better to cooperate amongst us – love thy neighbor – than to fight each-other are the same thing?
How to put this understanding into practice? In the various, and continuously changing, circumstances we have to face?

How about this being the very reason for us having so many religions/cultures?

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Over reliance on ‘tradition’ and over reliance on ‘science’ (a.k.a. rational thinking).

The individual prone to falling victim to the first method is convinced that:

They has adequately framed the problem.
– The answer, to that particular problem or to one close enough so that the old answer is still usable,  has already been found and recorded in the collective archive currently known as ‘tradition’.
– They is smart enough to identify the correct answer inside that huge wealth of  rather haphazardly accumulated knowledge.

The individual prone to falling victim to the second method is convinced that:

– They has adequately framed the problem.
– The answer to that particular problem can be reached scientifically.
– They is smart enough to identify the correct answer using the scientific tools currently at their disposal or to develop new ones, if necessary.

If, on top of all this, that individual, in no matter which of the two situations described above, is so convinced of the adequacy of “their” answer as to be prepared to impose it on others, even against their will – or without telling them before starting the implementation of “the answer”, then all hell will break loose – sooner or later.

By now you have probably figured out why these two methods are ‘only apparently different’.

In fact both of them are nothing but variations of the ‘inflated ego syndrome’.
This theory has been proven by the fact that all the dictators that have ever ‘ruled the Earth’ have always been convinced they were ‘rational people’, regardless of all of them either pretending to had been ‘blessed by God’ or explaining their ‘arrival’ as a ‘natural consequence’ of Marx’s scientific/dialectic materialism and/or Nietzsche’s Will to Power.

The people suffering from this syndrome can be identified by the manner in which they react to every input they receive. If their response is either ‘No, you’re wrong about this’ or ‘Yes, I was thinking along the same lines’ but never ‘Thank you for this fresh and very interesting perspective’ then you are dealing with someone harboring a very ‘inflated’ – and usually also very jealous – ego.

This kind of people are usually very good at spearheading change but allowing any of them  to acquire any considerable amount of power is, to say the least, suicidal.

Unfortunately, sometimes essential meaning is lost not only ‘in translation’ but also during ‘interpretation’.

While reading an excellent article about Zineb el Rhazoui, a Charlie Hebdo survivor, I encountered the notion that “Islamophobia is not an opinion: it is an offense.

Come again?!?

Is it possible that anybody might be offended by someone who’s being afraid? Regardless of that fear being reasonable or not?

Since that notion was said to have been promoted by Collective against Islamophia in France I checked their site, hoping to understand what they mean by that.

“For the CCIF, Islamophobia has a clear definition:
It consists of all acts of rejection, discrimination or violence against institutions or individuals on the basis of their real or perceived belonging to the Muslim faith.”
OK, so they are not offended as much by the fear itself but by the heinous actions some people take against people belonging to the Muslim faith, on the basis of the real or faked fears felt by the perpetrators.
But this is far from being OK.
What these guys are doing is confounding people’s minds.
They keep preaching that ‘Islamophobia is bad’ to people who are very naturally afraid of the actions perpetrated by some wackos who pretend to be Muslim.
This doesn’t make any sense.
It’s like saying that people living in a seismic area should not be afraid of earthquakes. And instead of building their houses in a certain manner they should go to the shrink and treat their unreasonable fears.
If some people who pretend to be Muslim behave in a totally unacceptable manner it is not reasonable to expect that all Muslim will behave in the same way but after so many bad things that have been committed by people pretending to belong to the Muslim faith it would be unreasonable not to try to understand what is going on.
On the other hand those who strongly disagree with the CCIF, Zineb el Rhazoui among others, make the mistake of deepening the confusion instead of calling the bluff for what it is:
“This is very dangerous because it has even entered the dictionary as hostility towards Islam and Muslims. Yet criticism of an idea, of Islam or of a religion cannot be characterized as an offense or a crime. I was born and lived under the Islam of Morocco and live in France and I have the right criticize religion and this dictatorship of Islamophobia that says I have no right to criticize! If we criticize Christianity it doesn’t mean we are Christianophobes or racist towards the ‘Christian race.’”
In real life criticism is one thing while violence – verbal violence, even – and rejection are completely different things.
Confounding these two categories is feeding the very monster who is menacing all of us – militant intollerance.
The article about el Rhazoui also mentions her latest book: “Destroy Islamic Fascism“.
I don’t agree with all the ideas excerpted there but there’s one which should grab the attention of all Muslims who describe themselves as being moderate:
“As for mainstream or moderate Muslim clerics, El Rhazoui tells Women in the World that during the Burkini debate in France not one Imam stood up and said “Hey, wait a minute, you can be Muslim and wear a [regular] bathing suit.””
She also says that ““The Muslim religion has its place in the modern world if it submits itself fully to the laws that rule humanity today: universal principles of equality between men and women, sexual and individual freedom, and equality for all, no matter your creed or religion. Until Islam has admitted this and accepted that the freedom of men and women is superior to it, Islam will not be acceptable.””
I’m afraid there’s a small problem with this.
A religion exists only as long as it has followers and inasmuch as those who belong to it choose to make of it.
It is not ‘Islam’ that has to ‘admit’ anything but the Muslim people themselves.
In this sense it is counterproductive for us, the free thinkers of the world, to peruse the Quran in search of violent episodes and then use them to demonstrate that ‘Islam is not a religion of peace’.
What we need to do, if we want to destroy the Fascism which happens to be of Islamic nature, is to win more and more Muslims to our side.
Making fun of their main Book and of their Prophet won’t achieve that. On the contrary.
On the other hand, giving in to even the most unreasonable things in the name of ‘tolerance’ isn’t helping either.
The Federal Court of Canada ruled in February 2015 that the policy requirement for women to remove their niqabs during their oath swearing at Citizenship Ceremonies is unlawful, as it interferes with a citizenship judge’s duty to allow candidates for citizenship the greatest possible freedom in the religious solemnization or the solemn affirmation of the oath. The Minister of Citizenship and Immigration filed a notice of appeal to challenge this decision at the Federal Court of Appeal and the lower court’s decision is not in effect until the appeal has been decided by the Court.  As a result, women who wish to swear a citizenship oath may not do so with their faces covered.
What kind of oath is that which is pledged by a faceless person?
How strong is that person’s adherence to our value regarding ‘openness and transparency’ and how willing is that person – or her husband/father/mother/sibling who makes her wear a niqab, presumably against her will – to respect and promote our notion of gender equality?
PS I
And how about replacing ‘Islamophobia’ with ‘anti-islamism’?
PS II
Why is it that the spelling checker suggested me that I should write ‘anti-Islamism’ while ‘antisemitism’ is not usually written using a capital s?

“The purpose of Halacha is to disturb. To disturb a world that cannot wake up from its slumber because it thinks that it is right.”
Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo

What is currently known as the ‘North Atlantic Civilization’ is a construction whose blue prints have been initiated in the Middle East, on the Banks of Jordan.

The Jews, those who had started the process and one of the very few peoples/cultures who have survived since that era, have reached a very interesting stage in their development.
Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo discusses, in a series of articles, some very important ‘contemporary issues’.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the context:
“The word “halakhah” is usually translated as “Jewish Law,” although a more literal (and more appropriate) translation might be “the path that one walks.” The word is derived from the Hebrew root Hei-Lamed-Kaf, meaning to go, to walk or to travel.”
Yigal Amir had killed Yitzhak Rabin in an attempt to halt the Oslo Peace process and
Baruch Goldstein had killed 29 and wounded 125 in “the Muslim prayer hall at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron.

When reading Dr. Cardozo’s considerations please engage yourself in a mental experiment. Try to identify at least one aspect of those mentioned here that doesn’t fit the rest of the North Atlantic cultural space.
I encourage you to use the links and read Dr. Cardozo’s articles in full. I have selected some of his words trying to suggest something, there is a lot more to be learned there.

“One of the greatest tragedies of Judaism in modern times is that certain halachic authorities, as well as people like Yigal Amir and Baruch Goldstein, forgot to study the first book of the Torah. They have become so dedicated to the letter of the law that they have done the inconceivable and have caused the degradation of Halacha.”

http://www.cardozoacademy.org/thoughts-to-ponder/the-desecration-of-halacha/

“It is for this reason that Halacha has always developed on the basis of case law, and not because of overall well-worked-out ideologies. It is sui generis. Much depends on circumstances, the kind of person we are dealing with, local customs, human feelings, and sometimes trivialities. God, as Abraham Joshua Heschel explains, is concerned with everydayness. It is the common deed—with all of its often trivial and contradictory dimensions— that claims His attention. People do not come before God as actors in a play that has been planned down to the minutest detail. If they did, they would be robots and life would be a farce.”

http://www.cardozoacademy.org/thoughts-to-ponder/chaos-theory-halacha-part-1-3/

“Not only do we see a considerable amount of chaotic halachic literature, published by numerous authorities, which seems to lack consistency and order, but we may even find contradictions in the various writings of one halachist. This doesn’t mean that the writer lacks a particular line of thought and some basic principles; it just means that within these norms almost everything is an open market.

I believe this is the reason why the Conservative movement, with all its good intentions and great scholarship, was unable to grasp the imagination of many halachic authorities. It is not the lack of knowledge, but rather the over-systematization that is responsible for this. Once there is too much of a unified weltanschauung and agenda, Halacha loses its vitality. The multitude of attitudes, worldviews, chaotic thinking and sometime wild ideas, through which the greatest halachic authorities freely expressed their opinions, is what kept the Orthodox halachic world alive. In some sense, and even almost paradoxically, Orthodox Halacha is less fundamentalist than Halacha in other movements within Judaism.

None of this should surprise anyone. When looking into the Talmud, which is the very source of Halacha, we find a range of opinions so wide, and often radical, that it is almost impossible to find any sense of order. There’s a reason why the Talmud is compared to a sea in which storms create unpredictable waves and turbulence. The revealed beauty of this natural phenomenon is what attracts people to gaze at the sea for hours on end. It reflects their inner world, which thrives only in the presence of tension, paradox and chaos.”

http://www.cardozoacademy.org/thoughts-to-ponder/chaos-theory-halacha-part-2-3/

“In my opinion, Halacha is in need of more “chaos.” It must allow for many ways to live a halachic life unbound by too many restrictions of conformity and codification. It must make room for autonomy on the part of individuals, to choose their own way once they have undertaken to observe the foundations of Halacha. Acceptance of minority opinions will have to become a real option, and some rabbinical laws must be relaxed so that a more living Judaism will emerge. While some people need more structure than others, in this day and age we must create halachic options that the codes such as the Mishneh Torah of Maimonides and the Shulchan Aruch of Rabbi Yosef Karo do not provide.

Surely those who prefer to live by the strict rules of the codes should continue to do so. For some, these rules are actually a necessity – even a religious obligation – since this may be the only way they can experience God. But they should never become an obstacle to those who are unable to adhere to them. Labeling these new approaches “non-Orthodox,” or “heresy,” is entirely missing the point.

I wish to be clear: I am not advocating Reform or Conservative Judaism which, as I stated earlier, have paradoxically become overly structured and agenda-driven. They lack sufficient “chaos” to make them vigorous.

While there is great beauty in attending synagogue three times a day to pray, we clearly see that much of it has become mechanic – going through the motions, but no religious experience. Yes, it’s better than not being involved in any prayer at all, but the price we pay is increasing by leaps and bounds. It is pushing many away. Codification is the best way to strangle Judaism. By now, Orthodox Judaism has been over-codified and is on its way to becoming more and more irrelevant.

I believe that one of Halacha’s main functions is to protest against a world that is becoming ever more complacent, self-indulgent, insensitive, and egocentric. Many people are unhappy and apathetic. They no longer live a really inspiring life, even though they are surrounded by luxuries, which no one would have even dreamed of only one generation ago.

The purpose of Halacha is to disturb. To disturb a world that cannot wake up from its slumber because it thinks that it is right. The great tragedy is that the halachic community itself has been overcome by exactly those obstacles against which the Halacha has protested and for which it was created. Halachic living has become the victim of Halacha. The religious community has succumbed to the daily grind of halachic living while being disconnected from the spirit of Halacha, which often clashes with halachic conformity for the sake of conformity. Many religious people convince themselves that they are religious because they are “frum.” They are conformists, not because they are religious but because they are often self-pleasers, or are pleasing the communities in which they live.

Large numbers of religious Jews live in self-assurance and ease. The same is true of the secular community. Both live in contentment. But as Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs notes: “Who wants a life of contentment? Religion throughout the ages has been used to comfort the troubled. We should now use it to trouble the comfortable…” ”

http://www.cardozoacademy.org/thoughts-to-ponder/chaos-theory-halacha-part-3-3/

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

What would we be without ‘our values’?
How could we judge things/people and evaluate situations without being guided by them?

But what if the ‘objects of our judgement’ do not belong to the same value system as we do?

What then?

I’m writing this immediately after reading a FB post. A female teacher, who ‘tries to be vegan’, has rather abruptly informed one of her female students “I don’t eat animals”, right after she had finished boasting about hunting a deer with her father. The student’s face ‘fell of’ and the teacher was wondering whether the Principal will chastise her.

So.
Is ‘not eating animals’ a value?
What is a value, after all? And do we go on affirming our values on every occasion?

By Google-ing ‘value’ one gets “principles or standards of behaviour; one’s judgement of what is important in life.”they internalize their parents’ rules and values””
It seems that a value is something extremely personal, ‘one’s judgement of what is important in life’, but also something that is learned from somebody else, “they internalize their parents’ rules and values”…

In this situation it would it be safe to say that a value is something which is simultaneously considered important by both a group and the individual members of that group?

Doesn’t make much sense? Except from an ‘arithmetical’ point of view?

Well… Let me give you an example.
Europe used to be a Christian continent.
Not anymore. A considerable number of Europeans no longer belong to any church and a lot of them do not consider anymore that God is their Maker.
But, on the whole, most Europeans still consider Christianity to be a ‘value’. Because they understand the role played by Christianity in the development of humankind, because there still are a lot of people who share this faith… the really important thing here being that very few Europeans would purposefully deface a Christian symbol, even when/if nobody would ever find out who did it. And this is valid even for the majority of the hard-core atheists.
At the same time, very few Europeans would – even among the believers – dream of imposing their creed, by force, on other people.

So what is the real value here? ‘Faith in God’ or ‘Live and let live’?

Actually I’m convinced that there is a direct connection between these two.

The Old Testament teaches us that ‘God made Man in his own image.’
It is very simple to make another step forward and understand that those who had written this believed that all men (or at least all those who shared their values) were equals among them (simply because they had been cast in the same ‘mould’) and, at the same time, that each of them shared at least a spark of divinity (the mould having a divine origin).
Europeans shared this value for two millennia.
No wonder that at some point it had morphed into what we now call ‘the human rights’ – a very similar concept/value, which produces the same social consequences: ‘Live and let live’.

Then how come some of the Christians felt very comfortable when using the sword as an argument to convert ‘the pagans’ to the only ‘true religion’?

Well… an alternative definition for ‘value’ could be ‘a certain conviction, reached out rather as a consequence of a specific set of circumstances than as a rationally deliberated conclusion, and shared by the members of the group living under those circumstances’.
According to this hypothetical definition the functional role of a value would be to ‘make it easier’ for each of those people. The ‘shared’ value would constitute a communication medium among the members of the community and a standard/guide for each of the individuals.

The problem with all this, as proven all along the human history, being that from time to time people act as if ‘values’ are ‘castles to be defended’. Or even ‘banners which have to be implanted on conquered soil’. Remember the Christians who used the sword to baptize pagans? Or the pyre to cleanse the souls of the sinful witches and those of the wicked heretics?

What happened in those moments with ‘Live and let live’? What drove those people to forget that ‘the others’ were also made ‘in His image’?

Or, in our days, how come there are so many people who consider that it’s OK to practically insult others while professing their own ‘values’. Which are not so widely shared as they would like them to be.

The strangest thing of all being that this very insistence, which sometimes becomes bullying, constitutes one of the reasons for which some of those values have such a hard time being accepted by ‘the others’.

2500 later

Rio 2016: The Syrian Refugee who swam for her life – all the way to the Olympics. BBC.Com

At some point in time 12 tribes of nomadic herders had settled down on the banks of Jordan.

Conditions were good so they had enough time to think about things further than meeting their immediate needs.
For me it doesn’t matter much whether their religious teachings were a gift from their God or just a product of their own minds. The fact that they are choke full of useful advice for all of us and that the sharpness of that advice has not been dulled by the passage of time should be enough. We’d better continue to pay attention.

“For this reason was man created alone, to teach thee that whosoever destroys a single soul of Israel, Scripture imputes (guilt) to him as though he had destroyed a complete word, and whosoever preserves a single soul of Israel , Scripture ascribes (merit) to him as thoough he had preserved a complete world. Furthermore, (he was created alone) for the sale of peace among men, that one might not say to his fellow ‘my father was greater than thine’, and the minim might not say ‘there are many ruling powers in Heaven; again to proclaim the greatness of the Holy One, blessed be He: for if a man strikes many coins from one mould, they all resemble one another, but the supreme king of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, fashioned every man in the stamp of the first one, and yet not one of them resembles his fellow. Therefore every single person is obliged to say: the world was created for my sake”

How come, then, that we are still killing each other in an organized manner?

OK, some go bonkers and kill themselves.
Some go so bonkers as to blame others for their unhappiness. They decide to go out with a bang and to kill as many of the ‘others’ as possible in the process.
The number of people going bonkers is naturally swelled by the present economic and social crises. Emile Durkheim, one of the fathers of sociology, had written an entire book on the subject, more than a century ago.

I can dig all this. It’s unacceptable but sort of explainable – aberrant behavior is not un-natural. That’s what evolution is for, to weed out aberrations that are too unfit to survive.

What completely baffles me is how come two and a half millennia after some simple herdsmen have demonstrated such acute but also noble thinking, some of us, most of whom pretend to be sophisticated intellectuals, continue to fashion religious teachings and ethnic/cultural values into wedges.
And use them to drive us into warring factions.

Why are they still doing this?
Why are we still heeding to their prodding?

Not only that we allow ‘them’ to ‘organize’ civil wars that kill hundreds of thousands of us and drive millions of the rest in exile but then we also allow some of ‘them’ to rule over some of the media that, supposedly, keep us informed.

“Unfortunately, some of the celebration was overshadowed by a completely unnecessary “omission” or outright censorship by Hungary’s public broadcaster. Refugee athletes are participating in the Rio Summer Games. Yusra Mardini, originally from Syria, is one of them and she has garnered a great deal of media attention, including in the Toronto Star.

“In the water, Yusra Mardini feels alive. In the water, Yusra Mardini swam for her life. In the water, Yusra Mardini helped to save the lives of many others”–writes Rosie Dimanno in The Star. The 18 year old ended up winning in the one hundred metre butterfly heat on Saturday. Not too long ago, Ms. Mardini had to swim to safety, fleeing her war-torn homeland, through Turkey and then across the waters in Greece. She and her sister swam for over three hours straight and, incredibly, made it to Europe safely. (They also helped save the 20 people that were in the boat they had been towing during those three hours) She trained for the Olympics in Germany.

Disappointingly, during the Hungarian public broadcaster M4′s coverage of the one hundred metre butterfly, they completely and seemingly deliberately neglected to mention Ms. Mardini. Jenő Knézy Jr., who is reporting live from Rio on behalf of the public broadcaster, mentioned four out of the five females competing–the only one he did not utter at all was the name of the Syrian refugee. It was as though she did not even exist– even though viewers could see her on their television screens. Mr. Knézy managed to avoid mentioning her, even after she won.

The hvg.hu news site wondered aloud after the incident: “Is it forbidden to even utter the name of a refugee on Hungarian public television?”

Mr. Knézy claims to have made an innocent mistake, when he forgot to mention the name of the winner of the competition.” (Christopher Adam, Hungary wins gold, breaks record on Olympics Day 1, but why did public television censor the coverage? August 7, 2016, hungarianfreepress.com)

 

“The Brexit vote may or may not have been a tragedy, but Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary appears determined to follow with a farce. On Monday, he scheduled a referendum on keeping out refugees for Oct. 2, further threatening to undermine the weakened European Union. The referendum question — “Do you want the European Union to be able to order the mandatory settlement of non-Hungarian citizens in Hungary without parliament’s consent?” — is a textbook example of voter manipulation.

This isn’t really designed to address the EU’s plan to settle 1,294 refugees in Hungary — the country’s share of the 160,000 people that European authorities have proposed resettling from the Middle East. Hungary and Slovakia are already suing the EU over the refugee quotas, and, in theory, Orban could veto any such plan. The referendum will help him prop up his domestic popularity and give him a “democratic” bargaining chip with other EU leaders — even though his strategy will be glaringly obvious because the question is framed in a way that produces only one answer.

Direct democracy’s biggest vulnerability may be that it can be subverted by political players who ask the people loaded, incomprehensible or otherwise rigged questions.”

“Orban has no one to correct him. Earlier this year, Hungary’s Supreme Court approved the referendum question. So now a Hungarian voter has a choice between agreeing with Orban or effectively recognizing that the EU can do whatever it pleases in Hungary without any national authorities having any say. The only other option is not to show up, thus refusing to be manipulated. If enough voters do that, Orban will be made to look a fool. But given the combined popularity of Orban’s party, Fidesz, and the hard-right Jobbik, whose thunder Orban is trying to steal with the vote, there’s a good chance the turnout will be sufficient.” (Leonid Bershidsky, Hungary’s Manipulative Referendum, July 5, 2016, Bloomberg.com.

Going back to Durkheim’ Suicide,  there is something there that I find of enormous importance. After studying how suicide rates vary, both in time and across borders and religions, Durkheim has noticed that each suicide act was indeed determined by the individual itself who, in his turn, was influenced by prevailing socio-economic conditions but that there could be noted another very important influence.
The members of the Jewish communities were the least likely to commit suicide, the Catholics came next while the Protestants were the most likely to end their lives, of those belonging to any of these three categories.
Durkheim explained this phenomenon by using  the concept of ‘social solidarity’ – for a society to survive its members need to stick together.
Then Durkheim went further and elaborated on the matter. ‘While it is good for a society to develop strong bonds among its members – the Jews have survived for so long and against such odds, these ties must not be allowed to become strong enough to stifle the individuals – otherwise that society would loose its ability to innovate, hence to adapt itself to the inevitable change that befalls upon its head, no matter what.’An equilibrium has to be met between social solidarity – which pushes us to think alike and to align ourselves to the values shared by the entire community – and individual freedom – that which allows each of us to depart, somewhat, from the social norms without being punished by the rest of the society.

I’m going to use, again, the Jews as an example. They have survived, as a people, for so long and against such odds that they must have done something right. Well… they do take care of their own and they do cherish individual autonomy.

After all they are the ones who came up with ‘God created Man in His image’. Hence all men are considered equal – because they have been cast in the same mould – and assigned a spark of ‘something special’.

Jews have done well in this world. Given the circumstances and until some of us have completely lost their minds.
Why don’t the rest of us follow their example?

They don’t kill each-other!
Not physically and not even symbolically.
No matter how much two of them might hate their respective guts, when push comes to shove  they’ll help each-other out of the mess.

Why have we, the goyim, ignored for so long such a fine example?
Why do we continue to do so even now, after we’ve found out that the only one Planet we can call home is rather small and that no one seems to be coming, anytime soon, to rescue us from ourselves?
And even if there was anybody who could have done this… would any of you lift a finger to help a bunch of quarreling idiots who are continuously threading on each-others toes? Specially when/if each of us would get their due after their death…

Then why would He?

Why would He help us before we start helping each-other?

At some point some of our ancestors figured that saving for tomorrow some of today’s bounty might increase the chances of survival for those who consistently practiced the habit.

Probably this happened in the temperate regions, where’s a marked difference between seasons and where the cool winters make it easier to store food.

And this is how thrift has become a commendable behavior.

Flash forward to the Enlightenment.

Drawing heavily from the Christian tradition prevalent in that cultural area – ‘God made Man in His own likeness’ – the ‘enlightened’ thinkers of the era determined that ‘Men were (created) equal’ – since all of them bore a certain likeness to the same standard.

Hence they must enjoy equal rights too. Including the right of pursuing happiness.

Go ahead. Click that link and read all about it. The guy writes a lot better than I’ll ever be able to. He even has an PhD on the subject.

The only problem is that he’s got it upside down. Using logic as a flash light to flush out happiness is like raping a woman in order to help her experience an orgasm.

But there’s another way to get there.

Csickszentmihalyi, who also has an PhD in psychology, noticed that people are a lot more likely to experience happiness by doing things and enjoying the results of their work than when trying to reach happiness ‘directly’. Even if he still uses the same term, “pursuit of happiness“, his approach is completely different from the one I mentioned first.

In this second scenario, happiness is no longer a goal per se but simply an indication that we are on the right track.

Towards what?

I simply don’t know.

I started with what our ancestors figured out. Imagine, for a moment, what those guys felt when a handful of them were gathered around a fire inside a cave, in the middle of February, munching on some fried meat that had been ‘preserved’ sometime in the autumn, specially when the north-easterly winds were howling outside. Was it happiness?

Again, I don’t know.
But please consider this: Did those guys stash wood, smoke hams and gather berries all autumn so that they might enjoy some moments of happiness in February or they did it in an attempt to survive the winter?

So why do we keep speaking about ‘gratification‘?
What’s the real difference between ‘instant’ and ‘delayed’ gratification? As long as we continue to see it as ‘the ultimate goal’?
A junkie who stretches his stash of dope for longer is any wiser than his mate who ‘enjoys’ his in one go?

last day 1

last day 2

This ‘lack’ of philosophers can be explained in two ways.

Nobody = among those with enough ‘brain power’ – cares enough any longer about finding the raison d’etre for which we toil on this Earth.

Not enough of the regular people find this subject interesting enough to keep alight the flame of the discussion.

The consequence being that freak ‘intellectual monsters’ have occupied the front stage and drive the ‘unsettled’ among us to utter insanity.

nuts

My take on the matter being that we live in a different world that we used to.
One where both the explanations mentioned above hold almost equal sway.

Thinkers do not touch the subject with the same vigor as a couple of centuries ago because knowledge has become vast enough so that very few people dare to look from one (putative) end to the other.
Commoners do not care much about the subject because they have become rather complacent. Day to day life no longer poses the same challenges as it used to, to the tune that most people, including the not so well of, do not feel such an ‘urgency’ about tomorrow as the one felt by our forefathers.

What we have is a total lack of workable ‘world visions’.

Usually in time of crises new ideas were presented to the public, some of them took roots, and the (local) world enjoyed a fresh start.

For instance when the Athenian democracy reached its crises point Plato came up with a whole concept that influenced the thinking of Europe for the next two and a half millennia.
I’m not going to discuss here the ups and downs of his teachings but the very fact that enough people followed them, and that his ideas survived for so long, means that there was something there. In the ‘cooperation’ between the philosopher and his followers.

The last inflection point happened sometimes in the XIX-ht and XX-ht centuries. Darwin, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Marx (the philosopher and the sociologist, not the political activist), Adam Smith, Durkheim, Max Weber, Einstein, Popper, Kuhn, Maturana…

Now?
Zilch!

Not that people do not think anymore.

Take Nicholas Nassim Taleb for instance. Or Jared Diamonds, Robert Prechter and Neagu Djuvara – to name but the first three who crossed my mind!
Yes, each of them had their relative moment of glory but not any near of what each of them really deserved!
Maybe because none of them had actually engaged in an all out effort to redefine human understanding on matters? Knowing that we are not yet ready to embark on a new project?

Have we become so lazy?

No, I cannot accept such a thing.
We’ll surely grow out of this. Fast!

 

truck-nice

When facing an uncertain future, people are hard wired to search their past.
Some look for things that have gone well and hope that reenacting them will bring back a measure of order in their lives.
Some others look for clues pointing to things that went bad, hoping that making them right will change their prospects.

In this respect I remember how fascinated I was when I first heard about Malraux’s “The XXI-st Century will be religious or will not be at all“.
When trying to understand what Malraux wanted to convey we must remember that he started as a left wing intellectual who, at some point, felt an admiration for Stalin. Later, after he found out what Stalin was really up to, Malraux had given up on Stalinism but never on his atheism. So?

Looking even further back in time we arrive at Emile Durkheim’s Suicide.

Written at the end of the XIX-ht century the book teaches us that while suicide remains a profoundly individual decision those who consider it are deeply influenced, when making the call – one way or another, by the strength and nature of the social ties that connect him to the community to which each of them belongs.
Further into the book Durkheim also discusses the fate of the communities themselves, arguing that a society needs to keep a dynamic balance between social control – that keeps a community together – and a healthy dose of deviance – which might pull at the seams of a society but simultaneously allows it to change when it has to do that in order to survive.

OK, all these are very nice but will you come back to our present? You promised us something about the future and you are leading us further and further into the past. Into a ‘mythological’ past, no less…

One of the most pressing issues that we must face today is the advent of ‘lone wolf’ terrorism. The kind that not only scares us the most but also the one that is hardest to prevent.
Some even try to make us accept the idea that we’ll have to learn to live with it.
“No revelations come from the massacre in Nice. There is nothing to be learned. This is what we live with, what we are getting used to living with. None of it is surprising—that’s the most frightening thing of all.” (George Packer, The Tragic and Unsurprising News from Nice, the New Yorker, July 15 2016)

Well, I strongly disagree with this line of thinking.

What happened in Nice, where a lunatic drove a truck through people gathered to watch fire-works celebrating Bastille Day and killed 86 of them, is proving that both Malraux and Durkheim were spot on. Each in his own right.

In the last twenty or so years, terrorist acts have doubled as suicides. Some perpetrated by ‘simple minded’ youngsters driven to desperation by perceived socio-economic inequities and primed by callous so called religious leaders while others were carefully planned and cold-bloodedly executed by apparently sophisticated members of the middle class.

If we interpret these acts according to Durkheim’s theories we might reach the conclusion that the communities that harbor the terrorists do not function properly. Either the individuals feel so constraint by the existing rules that they cannot find enough breathing space – and snap – or that they cannot find enough social support – and go out ‘with a bang’.

Or both, at the same time.

Let’s remember that those who comited most recent terrorist acts, in Europe and in the Middle East – if we count those who joined ISIS coming from the Western Europe, are second generation Muslim immigrants or new Islamic converts.
I’ll deal with these two categories separately.
The second generation immigrants had a very frustrating experience.
Their parents came from abject poverty, worked hard and, most of the time, fared a lot better in their new countries than any of them even dreamed of on arrival – specially when comparing to the situation in their countries of origin. The youngsters went to school alongside the natives, watched the same television programs and read the same books and magazines. And grew to have the same expectations. But had a lot more difficulties when tried to fulfill them. Because of their skin color, religion, etc., etc. Add to that the nefarious propaganda coming from the Wahhabi preachers and you have an already primed keg of gun-powder waiting for a spark.
But let’s not forget that these people live in otherwise closely knit communities.
And that preparations for terrorist acts do take some time and effort.
How come these preparations go unnoticed and, even more important, unreported?

Can we conclude that whole communities have went past the ‘I don’t care anymore’ point?

A situation for which Durkheim used the term ‘Anomie‘?

Could we consider that not only the immigrant Islamic communities are in an anomic state but also the larger, host ones? For letting the whole situation degrade to such an extent? Not only at home but also at the door steps of Europe?
And please remember the new converts to Islam. What happened to those youngsters – most of them are young people –  that they became so estranged to their native society that emigrated to a totally different realm, not to a different country? A few of them might be explained away by individual ‘deviance’ but such a large number becomes a social phenomenon that begs a different explanation.

Should we accept the situation – and the degradation that would inevitably follow if nothing is done – or should we heed to Malraux’s advice and do our best to find new, and more efficient, communication channels so that we’ll be able to built some much needed trust amongst us? Based on mutual respect, not on MAD force?

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