Widespread Conformity vs. Heaven

Cameras remain weird and fascinating to me. But one downside of filming a talk (versus writing it down) is that so much time is taken up just rambling along, and so a bunch winds up having to be left out for brevity’s sake. I don’t want to make some major, hour-long doozy of a video. What hell that would be to edit, and how boring to listen to coming from me. Well-aware that I’m not a good speaker, but ah well. The course I feared most in college was Public Speaking. The camera provides a safe enough distance to experiment and play around.

Got things I’m thinking about, might as well jabber some about them too. Why not?

Well, in the second clip above I was talking about what I call “natural hierarchies” and pointing back in time. Probably some genius out there will pipe up to say enslavement existed long before corporations broke onto the scene, and yes — preemptive duh. Part of the film had to be cut out due to crappy sound quality where primates were mentioned, but nevertheless we’re focusing here on primitive humans, all of whom lived in small clans and tribes, over thousands and thousands and thousands of years on up to the few small, isolated groups that remained outside of civilization until the 20th century (which have since been disrupted by foreigners — tribes of Papau New Guinea readily spring to mind). It’s what humans and our progenitors did and do. Try as we might, it’s seriously doubtful we’ll be able to overcome that significant fact of life. Humans are intensely social beings.

My imagination tends to like to swim in the pools of the very, very distant past, the early agrarian past, and where that knowledge and understanding might someday lead our species (maybe, possibly, assuming we don’t wind up nuking ourselves into a new Stone Age — a common worry). And I just like to wonder what our options are, theoretically. In my mind I can envision a modern agrarian renaissance, made all the more necessary because gaining independence from the current setup requires regaining control over food production. This is where the organic and small family farm development really comes in handy, but I believe this is calling for more of us to be involved to whatever degrees. Because in order to feed ourselves currently, we must earn money, and to earn money many people are expected to tolerate unfulfilling and/or soul-sapping and/or low-wage employment positions that tie into the economic slavery game confronting all of society. Even if you’re not employed by some big-dog corporation, chances are you’re still getting hosed. Self-employment is becoming less and less the norm as people turn toward businesses to earn what they need.

We have grown separated from the land. Many of us do not know how to provide for our basic sustenance, hence why we can be so easily manipulated as a population. Our needs all come through working for money, and money is needed to attain nearly everything under the sun today. We do not control the money supply, nor have much say over how it is managed. We are dependent, in other words, and this is not a secret.

Beyond reclaiming our ability to care for our own selves to the utmost in terms of what’s vital for our existence, so as to break away from corporate mammoths with serious quality control issues and unethical business practices, we’ll also gain benefit from working the land again and reacquainting ourselves with the natural world that in recent decades Americans have abandoned and instead taken to being distanced casual observers. It is my belief that many will find a greater sense of purpose and appreciation for their lives if they could reconnect on an elemental level with all that is needed to nourish our bodies and take back power into their own hands and into their own communities where shared values can be flaunted, embraced, and explored.

Diversity is what I’m suggesting, brought about by separating off and dividing up according to what allows communities to prosper. Shared values being an important consideration, tempered with however much or little tolerance will vary from community to community. There is no such thing as one size fits all when it comes to the cultures and communities we feel most at home in.

In a way I can see this as a new free market where people segregate off into their respective corners and create the communities they endeavor to. People unhappy here may relocate there instead, if admitted. Ten thousand villages, with privacy-loving stragglers housed in between, aiming to live better within their means, able to understand that efficiency isn’t everything, not always. Some life processes are more pleasurable when left to be, but in plenty of other ways technology will prove amazingly important in this movement I dream of. Agriculture that makes better sense, with Farmer Joel Salatin providing an innovative example for country-dwellers. Urban examples are still in the works.

But how far off the grid can most of us realistically step? I don’t know. Hard to imagine the whole staircase at this point. But the first step I believe is to return our available land toward more productive uses. Lawns soaked in chemicals, made to look artificial, are a waste of time, money, and energy other than providing aesthetic enjoyment (which matters as well, but why be limited to focusing on something as superficial as artificially-derived beauty?). Perhaps if we could start there, more ideas will spring to people’s minds over time. Maybe.

It’s a fanciful wish, I know. Not terribly practical or realistic in our current state of affairs. I know. But that’s what heaven on earth looks like to me. Greater diversity with truly free trade between groups of people, unregulated from on high (aside from perhaps agreements on principles that extend to all, including non-invasion pacts). But how long would such a paradise even last? Probably not long enough before groups got uppity and tried taking each other over. Bummer.

But ah well. We’re free to dream, if nothing else.

“What created the universe, if not God?” and ramblings on constructing a personal philosophy

The1janitor’s answer to the question “What created the universe, if not God?” (at 1:45):

“I don’t know, but I’m not just going to believe the first thing someone tells me without evidence either.”

 

That pretty much sums up the default position of my own beliefs as a self-described agnostic since the mid-90s. That’s my basic core attitude in a nutshell, succinctly put.

I’d been raised as a Christian (Methodist), spending several of those years living in the Bible Belt of the Deep South, but my grandma’s Christian teachings differed a bit from what I found in churches. As in she placed a great emphasis on Jesus’s love, devotion, and ability to forgive our shortcomings as fallible people. Grandma spoke a lot about Jesus, still does, goes on and on and on, always has and always will. But there wasn’t much fire and brimstone in what she had to say. Basically she turned Jesus into a friend and an overseer, someone on our team and wanting to see us all do better, not just some chosen few. It was a simple, humanitarian take on the religion, and I got a lot out of Grandma’s way of seeing things.

Well, then I went to church and we all know what’s typically found there. Basically the screws came loose holding me in religion as soon as I hit adolescence, which then terminated my interest in organized religion a couple years later. It deserves to be stated that some self-professed “Christians” are true-blue assholes. Especially preachers, but don’t get me going off there.

But whatever. I wound up taking a decade off from giving a shit about religion is what ultimately came about. For a long time, my agnosticism basically consisted of me not really wanting to care about the issue for a spell. “God” as described by the biblical narrative is so obviously a myth that doesn’t translate into a literal reality. Plenty of atheists take pleasure in teasing Christians about this, but what real good does that do? Just makes people think you’re a jerk. I was at a point where I’d had enough of religion and competitive arguments on the matter, seeing as how they spring up everywhere and over anything.

And through not seeking religion or even something behind religion, I freed myself up to learn on what felt like a more neutral analytical platform, which proved very beneficial. Through learning about matters that don’t directly relate to religions, it brought me around to questioning the narratives we’re commonly taught, to questioning everything. Going so far that a few years ago I began letting the notion of Jesus back in a bit more, or at least the parts of the myth that strike me as most meaningful and challenging to ponder. That’ felt like the right thing to do, even as I struggle and live in contradiction to some of the values it calls into attention. But I find the myth (story, call it whatever you will) of Jesus to be so valuable in terms of navigating our social world — like the lessons it teaches about reconciliation and forgiving one another and worrying about our own damn hypocrisy and other shit we need to work on instead of focusing on everybody else’s. It’s about living simply and within our means (which is becoming damn near impossible in this money-whore economy), about sharing with one another, about caring for the downtrodden and others who may not enhance our status or offer us a direct reward.

Why? Simply because being alive is a big deal, or at least it feels like it is for us humans, and we are capable of enduring such incredible suffering, so why add to it unnecessarily? But we all do from time to time, even despite harmless intentions. That’s going to happen. Nobody is perfect. It becomes a matter of whether we’re working on ourselves to become better than whatever we were, and that’s a personal journey we each embark on — a thorny, subjective experience if there ever was one. I’m not here to preach to others who happen to stumble across these written words, but to the universe I admit my sins (again, call it what you will — I define sins differently than some) and recognize I have a long way to go. A long way, and no shortcuts have appeared so far, not real ones anyway. Setbacks are never fun, but they happen too.

But moving on from that, I’ve kinda come to blend teachings like those of Jesus with the Golden Rule (and the reversed golden rule: Do not do unto others what you would not want done to you) and things I’ve picked up from authors and a few philosophers, creating a hodge-podge of sorts. Some parts of it are set more firmly than others; some questions still free-float in orbit around the core beliefs and attitudes I wish to uphold within myself. Some items may wind up dismissed over time after proving incompatible or inconsistent with what I’m aiming to be, as to be expected as one grows and learns. This could be considered the construction of a personal philosophy, but it has no name and doesn’t need one. Just an inquiry in response to the call of living, figuring out how one wants to approach this existence and others sharing in it, what standards to set for oneself and what to aspire toward. By and large, it presents itself to me as a personalized social philosophy of sorts, because that’s where the emphasis is primarily placed: on directing myself and relating with others and on the social constructs humans created that we’re currently expected to live with (like the blessed government and economy). In my view, the ultimate goal is to create a sane society. (Notice that I didn’t say a rational society though, because I am giving up on that dream after figuring out humans aren’t terribly prone to remaining rational, much as we may like to think otherwise. But that’s another topic for another time.)

In a nutshell, that’s what the moral/social/individual life is about. Out of this inquiry stems the sociological, the psychological, the philosophical, the existential and metaphysical, the parental, the legal and political, the economic, and, for some, the religious or ‘spiritual’. It all ties together; none stand alone because all are interrelated and in places overlapping. That is what is meant when I refer to our social world. (We can then tie in the environmental and natural since our habitat is part of who we are, which is where sciences and mathematics get introduced, leading into technologies and profound new understandings that have dramatically impacted how we experience the world in modern times. It’s all such a huge fascinating web that not a one of us could possibly cover all the ground there is within one lifetime, alleviating all concern about ever getting bored.)

It truly does help to have some sort of narrative to guide us, and I’ve come to believe its creation must be personally undertaken by each one of us. We each mold and shape what is within us, and we each are definitely primarily responsible for maintaining our own ships (in other words, monitoring and consciously guiding our own behavior and choices to the extent we are able). Because no one else can or should be responsible for managing us for us. Such strikes me as a form of slavery, so it appears we have the option of either shaping our own selves up to standards we’ve given deep introspective thought to and can devote ourselves to, or else risk being pushed by the tides or coerced into being who someone or something else determines we ought to be. We see the direction our countries are headed already, making this inquiry all the more timely and worthwhile.

But anyway, that had very little to do with that man’s video. lol  Kinda in the mood to go off on tangents this weekend. Ha! Out.

Personal conception of God

The concept of “God” as I understand this has very little to do with what Abrahamic religions have to say on the matter. Religions are mythologies, historical tales and explanation systems, and I appreciate them for whatever value they can offer as such.

In reply to my video response on atheism being dumb, someone mentioned gnostic atheists and agnostic theists and I had to go look that shit up. Still don’t care much about breaking it down to that level, but apparently it’s worth noting that yes, we humans are able to clearly realize that what’s written in the Bible or Qur’an isn’t to be taken literally, at least not in this day and age when we’re able to know better. To do so requires relying on magical thinking that defies natural law. But acknowledging that doesn’t completely demolish all value religions contain, nor does it imply that because the Christian myth of that which we call “God” is patently false that it logically follows that all possible ways of perceiving “God” must be false as well.

This word “God” has everybody hung up on either trying to defend it or to destroy it, and personally I try to stay outside of all of that these days. “God” is a word intended to point at something beyond human comprehension, so arguing over whose understanding is most accurate seems pretty pointless. For some people, the concept of “God” involves what may be described as a force of nature, not some entity in the sky that determines the direction of our lives or answers prayers or sends people to heaven or hell. I happen to agree that the biblical narrative is a fairy tale notion of “God” that does unfortunately little to advance our understanding of this ‘phenomenon’ (for lack of a better word) for people today.

People ask why folks even need a “God” to believe in, and I think that’s part of the puzzle right there. Why have religions been an important part of human history for as far back as we can study our species? Is this merely a feature of humanity to where we’re searching to infuse our lives with meaning, or is this humanity’s attempt to comprehend and make sense of a larger natural order that we seem able to experience on some invisible level, yet can’t prove or explain its existence?

In a nutshell, for me this is about a natural order of sorts, having something to do with consciousness, but I haven’t the foggiest clue how to explain to others my own exploration beyond that, just as I doubt anyone else is able to. We each make sense of living in our own unique ways, this including any and all conceptions of “God” or any other belief systems (including atheism and agnosticism). It doesn’t appear possible for any two of us to truly and completely share in our understandings, no matter how close our views may seem, because we cannot see into one another’s minds or experience living behind one another’s lenses.

Even when someone refers to themselves as atheist, that doesn’t tell you their whole story necessarily either. Because someone embraces a label doesn’t allow us to see how he or she has evolved in his or her thinking over time, nor how they may continue evolving (or devolve perhaps) in their understanding as time moves on. This is one of those matters that calls out from the center of our individuality, and there will never come a time when an “objective truth” can be said to exist here. The concept of “God” is just too big to be caged like that. Why do we feel the need to cage and label anything and everything anyway?

People’s quests for certainty is a big reason why I tend to keep my ‘spiritual’ ponderings restricted to interactions with close friends and family, because being cornered and then demanded to explain and defend the merits of one’s own rationale for believing as they do frankly gets old and isn’t particularly fruitful in this instance. If some folks want to take parts of the Bible literally, I suppose that’s their prerogative, and the only time it comes to bother me is if they expect me to believe and behave as their beliefs tell them they should. The situation is made all the more complex since some are hell-bent on forcing the rest to bow down and live according to their expressed beliefs, which is bullshit whether they’re religious or anti-religious or something else in outfield.

I would be happy if we could suspend the fighting for a spell and turn our attention to learning about religions of old (starting way back before the Big Abrahamic 3) and delve into what morals and teachings they imparted, taking into consideration the historical and cultural context to the best of our abilities. Then perhaps it will become clearer to some why religious narratives were important and why a new narrative of some kind is still needed today. Religions started off as narratives, but the narratives going forward need not be like any that came before. We can get beyond religions, this I do believe, in reference to the inflexible group-think exerting too much control over people. We can choose to journey beyond untenable limitations and explore for ourselves, and there’s no reason any new narratives that come into creation can’t allow that to be so.

It’s a tricky topic to speak on when so many people have a set way they want to look at life and aren’t too open to how others see things. For me, it all ties together, from the social realm to moral and philosophical questions; from studying the physical realm, space and time to all forms of life (sentient or otherwise); from individualism to the wider collective(s); from mathematics to language and poetry; from power to play; from love to sexual exploration — all factor into my understanding of that which I’ve come to think of as “God,” yet “God” isn’t caged by any of that. “God” is not an it or a thing or anything resembling a person. That’s my take on it, and I doubt that’s cleared up much to state this. Oh well.

There’s a feeling associated with my understanding of “God” and I can sense this in others at times, whether they be religious or spiritual or not. The way I say it is something “speaks to my soul,” and often enough it reaches me through music. Hence the gospel songs I post and share, plus plenty of songs from other genres. Music is like my church, and through listening and letting its messages and melodies move me I am brought to a feeling of connectedness on some level with others, with the wider human experiment in living and its melodrama and our striving to reach beyond where we stand in a given moment.

There’s no way to be clear on this subject, just no way at all. It truly speaks to a subjective experience in terms of how one relates with this concept and how far we decide (or are able) to follow it. I get to feeling like talk of this nature is deemed as pure crazy by some, but that relates back to us not being able to see life through one another’s eyes, leaving us forced to rely on inadequate words to point instead, and lord knows words are always up for individual interpretation. What I mean by “God” will never be what you or she or he means by “God,” at least not in any definite sense capable of being objectively understood and proven.

So around and around we go with our words and claims and arguments and so forth. We humans truly are an odd and interesting bunch.

This is a complex inquiry within each of our own selves, that is if we’re aiming to remain open to it. Then it’s made all the more complex when a bunch of us want to get together and argue over what can or can’t be or what’s idiotic to believe. What does it even mean to “believe”? I understand this to be an inquiry never headed to becoming a rigid set of beliefs cast in stone, deemed complete and no longer changeable. At least for me. Science proved to be a game-changer for humanity because its methodology and findings dramatically altered and enhanced inquiry of this nature, but scientific inquiry hasn’t done away with ‘spiritual’ inquiry, nor has scientific exploration solved (and perhaps it cannot solve) what all is being asked here. Questions remain open, and I guess my experiences with atheists have given me the impression that a number of them jumped off the train at that stage in their journeys and decided that was far enough, as if that’s all they needed or were interested in knowing. That’s fine for them, I guess, until they start dismissing people with differing views as ignorant fools living back in the Stone Age of intellectual discourse. What’s folly to me is assuming one can know everything worth knowing, and that’s it, case closed, turn the page. How is that not dogmatic thinking in its own right?

Isn’t it about striving to become better, to grow? Guess it depends on how one perceives so-called “objective reality.”

__________________________________________

[Update Sept. 29th, 2014: edited for typos and greater clarity.]

Excerpts from the audiobook “Age of Empathy” by primatologist Frans de Waal

A short excerpt from the audiobook The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons For a Kinder Society by Frans de Waal (read by Alan Sklar; 2009; disc 3, tracks 3-6) on the topic of social synchronicity and imitation among primates as well as humans:

Disc 4, tracks 1-4; on the topics of empathy and sympathy in chimps and humans:

Disc 5, tracks 4-5; on the subject of primates and humans evolving in group environments, arguing that altruism is emotionally driven:

Dangerous Knowledge (from the BBC)

This BBC film titled “Dangerous Knowledge” tackles some of the profound questions about the true nature of reality that mathematical thinkers are still trying to answer today.


Dangerous Knowledge (1/5) by xSilverPhinx


Dangerous Knowledge (2/5) by xSilverPhinx


Dangerous Knowledge (3/5) by xSilverPhinx


Dangerous Knowledge (4/5) by xSilverPhinx


Dangerous Knowledge (5/5) by xSilverPhinx

Interesting food for thought, even for those of us who aren’t particularly mathematically-inclined.

Atheism is Dumb

A really good talk by Eric Orwoll. I tend to agree with what he’s getting at, much as I remain ignorant and would never be able to word my ideas anywhere near as clearly as he is able. Atheism has always struck me as being too restrictive, like the flip-side to religion. Once upon a time I came to reject Christianity because I understood it’s a mythology, not something to hang a sense of certainty on. Atheism comes along and claims its own form of certainty, much of which is proposed as standing in stark contrast with Christian theology, basically disputing that the “Y H W H” deity literally rules the universe. Well no shit, atheists — it’s mythological narrative from 4000 years ago that we today have trouble even comprehending, having grown so far away from oral traditions and religiosity that Abrahamic religions sprang from. People today want to be literalists, and I see that applying just as much to atheists as to Christian evangelists. Fundamentalists, they like to call themselves, but it’s really just a label connoting a sense of certainty in a particular belief system. I have no such certainty and am open to the world of possibilities. Much as I’ve found room among atheists to move about in my sandbox of ponderings, frequently I still am checked and reminded that my attitude is “spiritual,” as though that were unacceptable or ridiculous to them.

I reject such limitations on my personal exploration and find those who dismiss people like myself to be rude snobs arrogantly believing themselves to know so much more. The truth is that we don’t know much, nor will we ever be able to know it all. The very notion of infinity sets up unsolvable paradoxes that man’s mathematics cannot unravel in a way we deem as intelligible. Such is the conundrum of living. Some run from this realization and cloak themselves with a sense of certainty derived somehow, because they are afraid to sit with the fear of the unknown. Perhaps because it points back to human frailty and insurmountable limitations — human weakness and smallness — or at least that’s how they tend to perceive it. But this also points to human greatness, or rather the greatness of consciousness, the glory of inquiry, the fascination of life’s mysteries. We are small, but we are not so small as to be completely inconsequential. These are deep philosophical and metaphysical questions that we humans are blessed to possess the ability to wrestle with, and yet we so often run from them and hide our eyes and ears, preferring to avoid the mental heavy-lifting accompanying inquiries of this magnitude. Much easier to reduce life down into blacks and whites, rights and wrongs, yes or no, true or false — oversimplified dichotomies that keep us polarized yet bring us no closer to understanding our existence and our role in the cosmos.

Religions can be considered political constructs, because that’s what they serve to do — to encourage people to behave in certain ways, to tolerate certain conditions imposed on us from on high (whether that be from nature, as was originally the case, or from powerful elites claiming to be specially backed by God, as became common during the reign of Abrahamic religions). Philosophy gets outside of that cage and explores wider terrain, which has the potential to upset both religionists’ and their atheistic counterparts’ applecarts alike. Because the social realm is designed BY human beings, albeit influenced at one point by natural phenomenon (though to a lesser extent as time rolls on). In other words, the debate so often centers around what humans once claimed, what humans once assumed, how humans once attempted to explain their understanding of this life. But human constructs aren’t the end-all/be-all to reality. What we can see, hear, touch, and test isn’t all there is to this life. We are limited on what we can directly experience. There’s no shame in admitting that and allowing ourselves to remain open and inquisitive.

I decided to record my thoughts expressed above in a video response:

Blue Gold: World Water Wars

This is one of my favorite documentaries to share with others, titled “Blue Gold: World Water Wars”:

Anyone know what time it is?  Better start wondering.

And all for what?  For power. Simple as that. For power, greed, money-lust…a desire to achieve ‘god-like’ status among humans.  For what?  You’d have to ask them. Probably because they have a vision of it working out in their favor, perhaps believing their ideologies (if they indeed embrace any) are the cure to what ails humanity. Or perhaps it grows out of contempt for fellow humans. I don’t know. But it is real and serves to teach us the deeper meaning of that which we term “evil.” From what I can tell, it appears evil is frequently born of sheltered, willful ignorance and a sense of special, selective entitlement.

This documentary is also available for viewing on Netflix. To learn more about this documentary, check out the official site here. Quoting from that site:

In every corner of the globe, we are polluting, diverting, pumping, and wasting our limited supply of fresh water at an expediential level as population and technology grows. The rampant overdevelopment of agriculture, housing and industry increase the demands for fresh water well beyond the finite supply, resulting in the desertification of the earth.

Corporate giants force developing countries to privatize their water supply for profit. Wall Street investors target desalination and mass bulk water export schemes. Corrupt governments use water for economic and political gain. Military control of water emerges and a new geo-political map and power structure forms, setting the stage for world water wars.

We follow numerous worldwide examples of people fighting for their basic right to water, from court cases to violent revolutions to U.N. conventions to revised constitutions to local protests at grade schools. As Maude Barlow proclaims, “This is our revolution, this is our war”. A line is crossed as water becomes a commodity. Will we survive?

Neil Postman’s take on “scientism” and popular misuse of the word “science”

An excerpt I transcribed from the book Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (1992) by Neil Postman follows, beginning on page 147:

By Scientism, I mean three interrelated ideas that, taken together, stand as one of the pillars of Technopoly. Two of the three have just been cited. The first and indispensable idea is, as noted, that the methods of the natural sciences can be applied to the study of human behavior. This idea is the backbone of much of psychology and sociology as practiced at least in America, and largely accounts for the fact that social science, to quote F. A. Hayek, “has contributed scarcely anything to our understanding of social phenomena.”

The second idea is, as noted, that social science generates specific principles which can be used to organize society on a rational and humane basis. This implies that technical means—mostly “invisible technologies” supervised by experts—can be designed to control human behavior and set it on the proper course.

The third idea is that faith in science can serve as a comprehensive belief system that gives meaning to life, as well as a sense of well-being, morality, and even immortality.

I wish here to show how these ideas spiral into each other, and how they give energy and form to Technopoly.

The term “science,” as it is generally used today—referring to the work of those in the physical, chemical and biological disciplines—was popularized in the early nineteenth century, with significant help from the formation of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1831 (although Murray’s New English Dictionary gives 1867 as the earliest use of the term in its modern sense). By the early twentieth century, the term had been appropriated by others, and it has since become increasingly familiar as a description of what psychologists, sociologists, and even anthropologists do. It will come as no surprise that I claim this is a deceptive and confusing use of the term, in part because it blurs the distinction between processes and practices.

Using definitions proposed by the British philosopher Michael Oakeshott, we may say that “processes” refers to those events that occur in nature, such as the orbiting of planets or the melting of ice or the production of chlorophyll in a leaf. Such processes have nothing to do with human intelligence, are governed by immutable laws, and are, so to say, determined by the structure of nature. If one were so inclined, one might even say processes are the creation of God. By “practices,” on the other hand, Oakeshott means the creation of people—those events that result from human decisions and actions, such as writing or reading this book or forming a new government or conversing at dinner or falling in love. These events are a function of human intelligence interacting with environment, and although there is surely a measure of regularity in human affairs, such affairs are not determined by natural laws, immutable or otherwise. In other words, there is an irrevocable difference between a blink and a wink. A blink can be classified as a process; it has physiological causes which can be understood and explained within the context of established postulates and theories. But a wink must be classified as a practice, filled with personal and to some extent unknowable meanings and, in any case, quite impossible to explain or predict in terms of causal relations.

What we may call science, then, is the quest to find the immutable and universal laws that govern processes, presuming that there are cause-and-effect relations among these processes. It follows that the quest to understand human behavior and feeling can in no sense except the most trivial be called science. One can, of course, point to the fact that students of both natural law and human behavior often quantify their observations, and on this common ground classify them together. A fair analogy would be to argue that, since a housepainter and an artist both use paint, they are engaged in the same enterprise and to the same end.

The scientist uses mathematics to assist in uncovering and describing the structure of nature. At best, sociologists (to take one example) use quantification merely to give some precision to their ideas. But there is nothing especially scientific in that. All sorts of people count things in order to achieve precision without claiming they are scientists. Bail bondsmen count the number of murders committed in their cities; judges count the number of divorce actions in their jurisdictions; business executives count the amount of money spent in their stores; and young children like to count their toes and fingers in order not to be vague about how many they have. Information produced by counting may sometimes be valuable in helping a person get an idea, or, even more so, in providing support for an idea. But the mere activity of counting does not make science.

Nor does observing things, though it is sometimes said that if one is empirical, one is scientific. To be empirical means to look at things before drawing conclusions. Everyone, therefore, is an empiricist, with the possible exception of paranoid schizophrenics. To be empirical also means to offer evidence that others can see as clearly as you. You may, for example, conclude that I like to write books, offering as evidence that I have written this one and several others besides. You may also offer as evidence a tape recording, which I can supply on request, on which I tell you that I like to write books. Such evidence may be said to be empirical, and your conclusion empirically based. But you are not therefore acting as a scientist. You are acting as a rational person, to which condition many people who are not scientists may make a just claim.

Leaving off on page 149. Neil Postman had much more to say on this and other topics, and I highly recommend reading this book.

More on scientism and the problem with so-called social “scientists” is discussed in the next transcribed excerpt.

The Various Forms of Love — an excerpt from Ch. 3 of “The Sane Society”

Having left off on page 35 of Chapter 3 with Fromm’s question “What are these needs and passions stemming from the existence of man?“, let’s pick back up there in Erich Fromm’s book The Sane Society (1955):

A. Relatedness vs. Narcissim

Man is torn away from the primary union with nature, which characterizes animal existence. Having at the same time reason and imagination, he is aware of his aloneness and separateness; of his powerlessness and ignorance; of the accidentalness of his birth and of his death. He could not face this state of being for a second if he could not find new ties with his fellow man which replace the old ones, regulated by instincts. Even if all his physiological needs were satisfied, he would experience his state of aloneness and individuation as a prison from which he had to break out in order to retain his sanity. In fact, the insane person is the one who has completely failed to establish any kind of union, and is imprisoned, even if he is not behind barred windows. The necessity to unite with other living beings, to be related to them, is an imperative need on the fulfillment of which man’s sanity depends. This need is behind all phenomena, which constitute the whole gamut of intimate human relations, of all passions which are called love in the broadest sense of the world.

There are several ways in which this union can be sought and achieved. Man can attempt to become one with the world by submission to a person, to a group, to an institution, to God. In this way he transcends the separateness of his individual existence by becoming part of somebody or something bigger than himself, and experiences his identity in connection with the power to which he has submitted. Another possibility of overcoming separateness lies in the opposite direction: man can try to unite himself with the world by having power over it, by making others a part of himself, thus transcending his individual existence by domination. The common element in both submission and domination is the symbiotic nature of relatedness. Both persons involved have lost their integrity and freedom; they live on each other and from each other, satisfying their craving for closeness, yet suffering from the lack of inner strength and self-reliance which would require freedom and independence, and furthermore constantly threatened by the conscious or unconscious hostility which is bound to arise from the symbiotic relationship. The realization of the submissive (masochistic) or the domineering (sadistic) passion never leads to satisfaction. They have a self-propelling dynamism, and because no amount of submission, or domination (or possession, or fame), is enough to give a sense of identity and union, more and more of it is sought. The ultimate result of these passions is defeat. It cannot be otherwise; while these passions aim at the establishment of a sense of union, they destroy the sense of integrity. The person driven by any one of these passions actually becomes dependent on others; instead of developing his own individual being, he is dependent on those to whom he submits, or whom he dominates.

There is only one passion which satisfies man’s need to unite himself with the world, and to acquire at the same time a sense of integrity and individuality, and this is love. Love is union with somebody, or something, outside oneself, under the condition of retaining the separateness and integrity of one’s own self. It is an experience of sharing, of communion, which permits the full unfolding of one’s own inner activity.The experience of love does away with the necessity of illusions. There is no need to inflate the image of the other person, or of myself, since the reality of active sharing and loving permits me to transcend my individualized existence, and at the same time to experience myself as the bearer of the active powers which constitute the act of loving. What matters is the particular quality of loving, not the object. Love is in the experience of human solidarity with our fellow creatures, it is in the erotic love of man and woman, in the love of the mother for the child, and also in the love for union. In the act of loving, I am one with All, and yet I am myself, a unique, separate, limited, mortal human being. Indeed out of the very polarity between separateness and union, love is born and reborn.

Love is one aspect of what I have called the productive orientation: the active and creative relatedness of man to his fellow man, to himself and to nature. In the realm of thought, this productive orientation is expressed in the proper grasp of the world by reason. In the realm of action, the productive orientation is expressed in productive work, the prototype of which is art and craftsmanship. In the realm of feeling, the productive orientation is expressed in love, which is the experience of union with another person, with all men, and with nature, under the condition of retaining one’s sense of integrity and independence. In the experience of love the paradox happens that two people become one, and remain two at the same time. Love in this sense is never restricted to one person. If I can love only one person, and nobody else, if my love for person makes me more alienated and distant from my fellow man, I may be attached to this person in any number of ways, yet I do not love. If I can say, “I love you,” I say, “I love in you all of humanity, all that is alive; I love in you also myself.” Self-love, in this sense, is the opposite of selfishness. The latter is actually a greedy concern with oneself which springs from and compensates for the lack of genuine love for oneself. Love, paradoxically, makes me more independent because it makes me stronger and happier—yet it makes me one with the loved person to the extent that individuality seems to be extinguished  for the moment. In loving I experience “I am you,” you—the loved person, you—the stranger, you—everything alive. In the experience of love lies the only answer to being human, lies sanity.

Productive love always implies a syndrome of attitudes; that of care, responsibility, respect and knowledge. If I love, I care—that us, I am actively concerned with the other person’s growth and happiness; I am not a spectator. I am responsible, that is, I respond to his needs, to those he can express and more so to those he cannot or does not express. I respect him, that is (according to the original meaning of re-spicere) I look at him as he is, objectively and not distorted by my wishes and fears. I know him, I have penetrated through his surface to the core of his being and related myself to him from my core, from the center, as against the periphery, of my being.

Productive love when directed toward equals may be called brotherly love. In motherly love (Hebrew: rachamin, from rechem= womb) the relationship between the two persons involved is one of inequality; the child is helpless and dependent on the mother. In order to grow, it must become more and more independent, until he does not need mother any more. Thus the mother-child relationship is paradoxical and, in a sense, tragic. It requires the most intense love on the mother’s side, and yet this very love must help the child to grow away from the mother, and to become fully independent. It is easy for any mother to love her child before this process of separation has begun—but it is the task in which most fail, to love the child and at the same time to let it go—and to want to let it go.

In erotic love (Gr. eros; Hebrew: ahawa, from the root “to glow”), another drive is involved: that for fusion and union with another person. While brotherly love refers to all men and motherly love to the child and all those who are in need of our help, erotic love is directed to one person, normally of the opposite sex, with whom fusion and oneness is desired. Erotic love begins with separateness, and ends in oneness. Motherly love begins with oneness, and leads to separateness. If the need for fusion were realized in motherly love, it would mean destruction of the child as an independent being, since the child needs to emerge from his mother, rather than to remain tied to her. If erotic love lacks brotherly love and is only motivated by the wish for fusion, it is sexual desire without love, or the perversion of love as we find it in the sadistic and masochistic forms of “love.”

[Italicized emphases his; bold emphasis mine.]

Leaving off on page 39. That’s enough transcribing for this afternoon.

One man pondering reality

A fantastic video I wandered across tonight:

Which I came across via this playlist.