Recently ….

So I’m back, and have posted next to nothing – typical! This isn’t for a lack of things to say, so much as a lack of time and space in which to compose my thoughts and write them down. I have been fascinated by the news reports lately … I look at the ‘POTUS’ and think to myself, Marty McFly must have done something horribly wrong, because Biff is in the White House! But that’s how life goes sometimes … comedy, drama, suspense, and in modern times, apparently all uploaded to Twitter in the dark hours of the morning!

I also decided to add a contact page to this blog – for me, it’s better than posting my Email address and I’m happy to see that WordPress has made this option available for us bloggers!

I hope Ostara went well for all you readers, and hope the emerging Spring will allow some fertile sanity to grow amidst the madness that seems to have overrun our society!

A question about US politics

Since the beginning of the Democrats’ national convention in the US, I have read a fair amount about the disruptions caused by angry supporters of Bernie Sanders. My question, then, is why are only the Sanders supporters angry? Yes, Clinton supporters got the candidate they voted for; but they got her under a rigged contest. Why isn’t every Democrat in the country outraged at an overt manipulation of its democracy? One that enables leaders of corrupt countries to say, “See, they call us corrupt, but their democracy isn’t so clean, either!” I don’t see why the emphasis is on the Russians – while they might have hacked a server and exposed a rigged system, they didn’t rig the system.

Bernie Sanders fans wanted change in the government and the economy – they by and large seem to have wanted more fairness in the whole system. Instead they got a rigged system, more unfair than previously thought; their candidate, a symbol for the fairness they were hoping for, stood on a stage and endorsed a candidate who was not fairly elected, while distancing himself from his supporters because they weren’t willing to stand down? I can understand both their outrage and their desire to disrupt an unfair process through peaceful (if loud) protest. What I do not understand is why they seem to stand alone. Anyone who loves democracy, as well as any politician who claims to champion it, should be protesting this entire election. 

Madness

I have been planning to post my condolences for those who were in any way connected to the shooting in München a few days ago; but I had difficulties finding the words, as I was also still trying to find the words to express my condolences for those who were in any way connected to the ax-wielding attacker on the train near Würzburg. These words were already long-overdue, in part because I was still trying to collect my thoughts regarding the truck-driving murderer in France. As it would turn out, the words I would offer now are not so different from words I have offered before.

As seems the go-to reaction, I watched the news as people immediately started looking for connections to the murderous militants in the Middle East; and in each case, shook my head as I still feel like we are missing the bigger picture: we can blame militant organizations all we want, for whatever we want; but the truth remains that at the heart of all of this is a yawning pit of hatred that seeks to swell itself by drawing in as many as it can. I wrote about this last year, in a post titled, “When hatred takes and takes.” I feel like while it’s important to mount a strong defense against such people and their organizations, more important is to cut off their supply of willing fighters by addressing the situations that make people vulnerable to supporting such organizations or causes in the first place.

As well, as I wrote in another post, “Speaking out against ‘religious hatred’,” I feel like religious people, representing the moderate mainstream from all walks should be doing more to make it clear that our beliefs and our gods aren’t about hatred. We need to be explaining why this is the case, as well as pointing out exactly where we and the hate mongers split. If this involves challenging certain aspects of religious tradition, then so be it: the gods do not change just because we say one thing today and another tomorrow; but our religions, having been created by us, can change according to our priorities and choices.

We can fight fire with fire, as the saying goes – and I certainly have no issue with the idea of using violent force as a means of self-defense – but at some point, we have to remember that fire is traditionally fought best by depriving it of its fuel, and by confronting it with water. Violent force as a means of self-defense against hate-filled people intent on doing harm is one thing, relying on violent force as a solution to this kind of hatred is madness. Allowing the enemies of freedom and a democratic way of life to succeed by accepting a reduction of our freedoms and democratic processes is madness. Forgetting who we are and what we stand for, and thus trading in our very identity as a culture while getting caught up in the currents of intolerance and retribution isn’t just madness, it transforms us into our own enemies at the same time.

What has happened in France, in Belgium, in Germany and other places around the world, to include the United States, is madness. It represents an attempt by hatred to sustain itself. The question I think we need to be asking ourselves at this point is just how mad we would allow ourselves to become in our response, or would we instead choose a path of sanity? My condolences to anyone and everyone who has ever become a victim of such attacks – such things are not fair, they are not just, and there is no way to replace a life that has been extinguished. I regret as well for those who have allowed themselves to become consumed by hatred … these people made a choice, no matter what their circumstances; and in doing so, failed to remember that even in anger and sadness, life is worth loving and living. Instead, they allowed themselves to be seduced by the notion that life is best-lived by taking the lives of others. My prayer then, for the survivors of such attacks, from the individual to the cultural level, is that we keep this failure on the part of our attackers in mind; and that we have the strength to hold onto our values and our identities, as well as our ways of life, in resisting the urge to succumb to the same kind of hatred that we have been attacked by. May the souls of those who have lost their lives as a result of such hatred find peace – and may those of us who have survived stand together, remember who we are, and eventually find and spread peace throughout this world.

Temple to the gods in Iceland planned

I’m sure this is already making the rounds on the Internet and in the Blogosphere; but I thought I would include a link to this particular article just to add my two cents to the topic.

First, I think it is great that a physical, Heathen temple is being erected! I think the location is also very appropriate, and look forward to seeing it when it is built. This might be something I would even feel the urge to see in person. I’m not sure how I feel about the gods being seen simply as metaphors; but I think it’s okay when we all see the gods a little differently from one another – it helps us to complete the picture, by seeing it from so many different perspectives.

One thing in the article did sort of gall me, and that was regarding the bloody animal sacrifices. It bothers me specifically that it was mentioned in such a glib manner as a parting shot in the article. I’m not going to get mired in discussions regarding how ethical or important animal sacrifices may or may not be – I’ve written about this before in this blog, as well as elsewhere. I will, however, vent a little frustration with people who sit so smugly at their keyboards and pass judgment over a group of people without first having their facts in order. Would this author ask a Christian priest or Jewish rabbi if they planned to barbecue a menagerie of animals once their new places of worship were completed? Open up a copy of the Old Testament, flip the pages until you get to Leviticus, and you’ll read why I ask this question in the first chapter. Or, flip through the Bible a few more times, and you’ll find good reason to ask whether or not there will be any fathers sacrificing their own sons at the new place of worship. But these questions don’t get asked, because everyone assumes that Christians and Jews have put all of this behind them (if they were ever taught that this was a practice more common among the forebears of Christianity than it was among ‘devil worshipers’ in the first place). By all means, feel free to put these kinds of questions to Heathens and Pagans – I think it’s good to get this out of the way and keep a group’s practices out in the open – but don’t forget to put these kinds of questions to people of other, more mainstream, faiths as well. When you do so, and everyone considers you to be an utter dumbass for it, you might just gain a little insight into what hypocrisy is all about.

AI

Artificial Intelligence  – this article from Reuters, describing Elon Musk’s claim that we will soon have to implant technology into our brains just to keep up with the output of AI-enhanced computers of the near future, opens a philosophical side to the topic by asking whether or not augmenting our brains with computers will have an impact on our sense of humanity. I think this is a good question to ask, and I think it’s a discussion that needs to happen at all levels.

First, although I grew up with plenty of science-fiction, I’d like to clarify that I have very little fear of robot monsters prowling through time and space, subjugating life on our planet. I fear the human monsters of politics, economics and outright madness. Who commands the most money and influence will obviously command access to the better technologies; and will thus command a massive advantage over those who do not. Looking at the world today, I see a tendency to do this already, I worry over the potential to enhance it with the kind of AI Musk imagines for us. Flaws in any system, intentional or not, are to be expected – I’m wary of implanting something in my brain that might pick up a virus from an unfriendly group, government, corporation, or even a simple madman with time on his hands and a point to prove.

I think the Reuters article asks a valid question. My answer is that I do not believe AI itself will affect our sense of humanity. I believe instead that it will simply amplify our ability to act upon whatever sense of humanity we already possess. Looking at the world today, I can see where this could be both blessing and curse. Let us hope that our common senses of humanity and good-naturedness somehow evolve faster than AI technologies.

Torn

I recently read about the United States officially having its own national mammal. While I am happy that this guarantees some measure of protection for the bison (the winner of this pageant), I still find the concept somewhat strange and disappointing. For starters, while I understand the selection of an animal to symbolize a nation, I think going after a favorite mammal opens to the door to needing to select a national fish, reptile, bug, etc. I wonder whether or not this is an effective way to spend government time / taxpayer money? Some might say it’s valuable because it lends protection to the animals chosen; but I would suggest instead that it makes it harder for animals who don’t get selected. I think animals that are endangered or threatened should qualify for protection without having to be a national favorite.

Then there is the choice of the bison, itself. This is an animal that was nearly hunted slaughtered to extinction, all as a means of trying to ‘subdue’ the Plains Indians who were trying to fight for their existence. People became American heroes based on the numbers of animals they shot (often from the luxury of a train car) and left lying out to rot. An entire species of animal was selected for extermination, for the simple hope that it would break the back of a people’s resistance to subjugation and the loss of their lifestyle. Using the logic that went into selecting a national mammal, perhaps the United States should have instead opted for a national people and then chosen the Indians – they are also endangered, the reservations in many cases represent some of the most atrocious living conditions in the entire nation, diabetes and other illnesses having reached epidemic proportions among them, many can’t even speak their own languages properly or remember the entirety of their ancestral ways. They are ‘native’ to the Americas, as well – maybe not as native as bald eagles or American buffalo, but I think 16,000 years qualifies as native enough. Oh, but wait, people are mammals, too – and the national mammal designation has already been taken – so I guess the Indians will have to go on without this degree of protection.

I am happy for the bison – I think the American buffalo is an amazing animal and I think what happened to the great herds a little over a hundred years ago was a shameful thing. I am happy to know that they are (at least in isolated, carefully managed places) making a comeback. Now that bison have this status / designation, I certainly wouldn’t try to take that away from them. But I think there are other animals in America that need the same level of protection and chance at strengthening their populations. Grizzly bears are an example that comes to mind, along with a few wolf species – and here is a list with more. I think, as I said, that it’s important to protect an animal (or plant) from extinction; but I think this can be done without proclaiming national favorite this, or national favorite that. Protection of a species should of course include the protection of said species’ natural habitat. Habitat protection might go further toward helping the environment in general; which helps us all. National mammal status seems to me to be a sort of token action.

Edited to add: It would seem the US also now has its own national beer.

Zombie apocalypse

Last year, while discussing with someone my involvement with the Boy Scouts when I was a kid, I mentioned that one of my favorite aspects of Scouting was having learned wilderness survival skills. I was asked at this point whether or not I was one of those who was preparing for the ‘zombie apocalypse.’ I was puzzled, as the question seemed sincere … this led me to look around a little bit at what was going on in American culture (it’s been a good while since I lived there). I was shocked at first – that a search engine returned so many results relating to how prepared one can possibly be for a zombie apocalypse. I mean, okay – I believe in a lot of things, and that our Universe is large enough to hold uncountable possibilities – but zombies? Perfectly dead people who get reanimated to go shamble around the woods and do someone else’s evil bidding, while mumbling b-r-a-i-n-s over and over? In the Boy Scouts, the motto is ‘Be Prepared;’ but I’m guessing even Lord Baden Powell never would have foreseen zombies creeping into his orderly camps!

But my sense of humor is a hardy one, and I thought I would look into the matter more deeply. As it turns out, the whole notion of a zombie apocalypse is a result of Hollywood – no surprise, there – but then the notion eventually came to symbolize general preparedness. I was intrigued when I found a page from the Centers for Disease Control’s web site (decapitalizing web and internet feels very weird to me, by the way). On this page, it was also stated that the government was using an opportunity, created by the zombie craze, to encourage a general sense of preparedness in the average American household. I really liked that idea – Emergency Preparedness was another merit badge I earned, along with Wilderness Survival – so, more at peace with the sense of priorities in American society, I didn’t think much further about the matter.

Then, a few days ago while walking, the memory resurfaced and I thought about it from another angle. Zombies, from a religious sense, aren’t really that difficult for me to wrap my mind around … it’s the Hollywood sense that I initially reacted to. But what about zombies in other senses? Socially? Politically? And those are just a couple of senses of the word that I started contemplating. Fully reduced to its most simple and bare meaning in the English language, a zombie is an unfortunate creature that isn’t really alive, isn’t really dead, and does the bidding of someone else. I would say that it exists in a miserable state; but since zombies have no will of their own, they may not even be aware of the state in which they exist. It would not be a far stretch to compare zombies with slaves. A zombie apocalypse refers to a collapse of society, due to a rapidly growing population of zombies within that society.

So, for a zombie apocalypse to happen, it would require a large number of people with no wills of their own, surging in numbers sufficient to cause a collapse in a given society. This is a startling thought, as examples spring to mind almost instantly – some a bit closer to home than I would have originally considered. Backpacks, stuffed with provisions, with various weapons at the ready doesn’t seem so far-fetched in the sense of a zombie apocalypse as I’d originally thought. In some places in the world, it would seem this is already a very concrete reality. Closer to home, I see the danger arising out of a blind sense of conformity. I look at people who get caught up in certain perspectives, ideologies, or even beliefs to the point where their independent will (and along with it, their capacity for independent and critical thought) is sapped, to be replaced with an almost blinding desire to conform to and even blindly obey whatever it is they have surrendered their will to.

Now before someone accuses me of assuming an attitude of general non-conformity, I’d like to point out that the definition of zombie apocalypse I’m using deals with a rampant surge of enthralled automatons that contribute to a collapse of society – I’m adult enough to understand that some degree of conformity is required for a healthy society or group to function. Even a meeting of true non-conformists would be a logistical nightmare, let alone a functioning society! But, like anything else in our world, too much of anything is not healthy. Rather than grabbing my gear and provisions, though, I think I will fall back on encouraging people I encounter to remember that our choices are our own to make – choice, from a philosophical perspective, may be one of the few things we truly do own in our lives – and thus make my own small contribution toward staving off a zombie apocalypse.