Ownership

In the news, it seems like there are a lot of very possessive people bent on possessing all they can. If I would be pressed to point my finger at the ‘root of all evil,’ I would say that it is the need to possess everything, for which money is only one of many symbols. We live in a culture that promotes this flaw and calls it success. Arguably now the most powerful man in the world, we have a character who amassed an empire based on the possession of one thing or another, one place or another. He’s a fitting symbol for this, I think. As a leader of millions of freedom-loving people, one might expect someone who at some point served his people, rather than possessing as much as possible and earning his celebrity status by ‘firing’ people who were not gifted enough to acquire more efficiently than others. His agenda is based entirely on possession.

What drives this sort of madness? Is it a fear that being in possession of our own selves (for we can no longer claim this) simply won’t be enough? Or more general, is it fear itself that drives the need to possess? The final lesson of life is death, in which we are parted from all we think we possess, and take only that with us that actually matters and belongs to us. Is it a fear of this moment that drives our culture? What does this say about our faith in what lies beyond, if we’re so afraid of it?

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.

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.

Questions

Upon reading this article in the news, about a recent US government vote to not guarantee civil rights for LGBT employees of government contractors, a few questions sprang to mind:

  • How can any government advocating human freedom and equality, in particular one that attempts to hold the freedoms and equalities enjoyed among its own citizens as an example that the rest of the world should follow, fail to enact basic measures designed to eliminate discrimination among citizens employed by that very government?
  • Assuming that the contention of the Republicans involved in this vote is a valid one, that they felt motivated to protect the right and freedom to religious belief and expression, what is the track record of Republicans when it comes to protecting these rights and freedoms for people of all religious paths (not just those that descend from one Abrahamic faith or another – keeping in mind that there are religious views that believe in full equality and right to participation for members of the LGBT community) within the United States under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment? Or are they motivated to protect the rights and freedoms of religious expression for members of a specific religious outlook? If so, what would be the difference between this and adopting a state-sponsored religion in the United States?
  • Since this vote was so close, and even two more votes from Democrats might have made a difference in a situation where nearly 30 Republicans sided with Democrats, what were the reasons for the five abstaining Democrats to stay silent on this vote?
  • Regarding the other news in this article, about further measures to restrict the display of the Confederate flag: assuming that this flag is solely and entirely a symbol for racial hatred (which is disputed), how does the display of this flag in the US differ from the display of Nazi flags in the US, which seems to be constitutionally protected (the meaning behind which is not nearly so disputed)? If all of this really boils down to an effort to remove icons of America’s slave-owning past, why not remove the image of George Washington (who owned slaves for over 50 years) from American currency and other public displays?
  • If the racially-motivated killer of nine parishioners at the church in South Carolina had instead posed for pictures with a Bible instead of a Confederate flag, would there be as much effort to remove the Bible from public display? In looking at the issue concerning the first questions in this post, could it not be said that the Bible has been just as divisive, if not moreso?

 

Relative Being, expanding

Some readers will already be familiar with my work concerning the meta-religion, On Relative Being, as I’ve mentioned it and linked to it a few times in this blog before. I have decided to expand this work by giving Relative Being its own series of pages in this blog, where I will further explore topics that I have previously only scratched the surface of. This will be a process – I’m not introducing this as a book, where all the chapters are already written – it is rather something I intend to add to as time progresses. I welcome input from readers when it comes to this meta-religion I’m in the process of creating; and as I have tried to build Relative Being to be a perspective all could share and take part in, I think it only makes sense when mine is not the only perspective represented during the process of its creation and refinement.

For anyone interested, I have created a link at the top of this blog (next to my About, Copyright and Paganism pages) that leads to a preface, a table of contents showing what will eventually be covered, and the individual explorations, themselves. All pages, with the possible exception of the table of contents, will be open to comment and discussion.

* Upon further reflection, I decided that a different name might be more appropriate and descriptive for this work, that being AEON (Animated Echoes of Nature). I have changed the name in the pages referred to in this post to reflect this, and edited this post on 13. May 2016 to clarify this change.

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.