Francis Collins – The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence of Belief (plus my thoughts)

Still learning about Francis Collins’ views, and this video went a  long way in letting me know where he’s coming from. He and I come from different places and our views do differ in terms of how we envision or understand God to be. But I greatly appreciated this talk and Q&A. Dr. Collins does a good job of laying out that there’s more to life than science can explain, now and possibly ever; it’s just his conception of God that I have some serious quibbles over. To me, Christianity is interesting, but I see it as yet another narrative in a long line up through history. I cannot accept its deity in full, though I can appreciate what these people 2,000 years ago were attempting to point to. All religious narratives were attempting to describe that which we call “God,” and I believe all fell short. All have so far been caught up in and limited by our human lens. We are incapable of fully comprehending such wonders, that is my belief. To describe God as a He or a She or an It is inadequate and misleading. People take biblical scriptures wayyy too literally these days, and that seriously clouds people’s judgment, religious people and atheists combating them alike.

There’s more to life than science can allow us to understand, this I strongly believe to be true. And this ties into our social, psychological, and moral realm where science is already clearly demonstrating its limitations. This is my primary qualm with the psychiatry and mental health professions today — so-called “experts” are attempting to treat social and interpersonal and system-induced difficulties as if they were medical maladies, “diseases” being the popular term nowadays. That route will never bear fruit, messing with neurochemistry without deeply examining the societal and environmental influences on emotional turbulence and/or apathy. People wish to believe a cure can come in the form of a pill, but oftentimes this is not so, especially not when it comes to addressing our natural reactions to social upheaval. We blame people for not “adjusting properly,” but according to what standard? It’s according to the standard set by our economy primarily. People must function in order to serve it; that seems to be the dominant concern. And most of us are not adjusting well, despite plenty being very good and consistent actors.

For me this all relates back to my own inquiry into that which we call God. It involves a moral dimension that science alone cannot sufficiently address.

But that is all I have time to say tonight.

**Update 5/25/13: That video spurred me to order Francis Collins’ book The Language of God in audiobook format, which arrived a couple days ago. Nice having something new to listen to and concentrate on as I drive between appointments. Audiobooks rock!

Sunday morning thoughts in mid-May

Been doing a bunch of thinking lately. Been also thinking about what a woman mentioned in the last post told me the other day. She said nothing I hadn’t already thought of — much of it was just the sort of things that blackens my heart from time to time and causes me to look upon humanity with disdain.

But, she also brought out my need to defend humanity against such cynicism, though admittedly I’ve flip-flopped since our conversation, sorting through all the horrible stories I remember hearing of, and this also being the week that Michele Knight, Amanda Berry, and Gina DeJesus were discovered after being held captive for a decade. Doesn’t help the case for optimism.

Every day I circle around and around in my feelings toward humanity, oscillating between extremes, but much of the time contemplating shades of gray. There is no confidence in this assessment, only aimlessly looking around and trying to take in what’s going on. People confuse me, and I confuse my own self. Our history boggles my mind.

The woman said she doesn’t believe we’ve evolved in any real sense over the last 10,000 years. And I can’t say one way or the other as to whether I agree. Personally, I tend to think our species’ apex occurred thousands of years ago, perhaps during some point in humans’ hunter-gatherer phase or during early agrarianism. But what would I know? Oh, I do imagine we have evolved, and by this I’m referring in terms of our becoming domesticated, and it’s a process still very much underway. Doesn’t necessarily make us better, and perhaps it has made us worse off, in terms of the civilizations we’ve created as well as what it’s made people into, psychologically. And perhaps I’m imagining things when I entertain the possibility of us ever having been any better than we are today. I can’t even say what might be “better.”

What strikes me as interesting is how we seem to have developed a sense of disgust over what humankind is capable of, and this makes it very easy for people to dismiss other humans as selfish, mean-spirited, corrupted, overly aggressive, deceptive beings. What I wonder, though, is how often that mirror is turned around on oneself?

Also, it’s come to my attention over time how many people out here take great issue with their own species, yet lavish love and heart-felt appreciation on other animal species, particularly their mammalian and avian pets. What troubles me about this is that the very traits they describe as despicable in humans, they tolerate in animals, as though animals simply cannot help their natures, yet we are different. I do believe, of course, that we do differ, yet the truth remains that we too are animals and remain bound to our natures as well (at least to a large extent). Because our natures differ and contain a greater measure of free will doesn’t lead me to completely sever us from the natural kingdom and declare us as “bad.” As I told the woman, the traits she described don’t strike me necessarily as all bad, and she abruptly responded that that indeed is how she feels. She said that humans are mostly “bad” by nature, and I’ve heard this over and over again from people. But what is it that they are pointing to? What makes us so horrible?

Is it that we have some power to choose, whereas animals are largely led by instinct (or, in the case of household pets, driven by habits and reinforcements)? Are we simply angry at one another for not living up to our potential, for not turning away from our base nature, for not making better choices? I can understand all of that. Yet, how much control do we really think we have? Because I don’t believe it’s as broad as we tend to imagine, especially not when we consider the societies we grow up in and what we’re exposed to that influences our thinking. How much free will does one possess when his or her imagination is stunted? How free are we really?

I think sometimes we take issue with one another because we do not like living in captivity. In modernest times, we face the very weird reality of cameras everywhere capturing us, recording us, documenting our whereabouts. With so many people around there’s little room to move about, to do as we wish, without hearing the complaints of others. Even our relationships are scrutinized, as are our financial decisions. Ideologies are at war with one another, and there can be no peace. Technologies have advanced beyond our capability to handle them responsibly, with the common drive for power distorting our worldviews and undermining ethical considerations. We are still very much tribal peoples — that apparently has not, and perhaps will not, change. Much as many have come to realize we all share in our humanity, that we on some level are ONE, these considerations don’t sink in as deeply as we might like to believe. A shift in consciousness radical enough to overwhelm the direction we find ourselves collectively heading in may indeed come too late to be of real use to our species. It is possible.

When people get scared, they tend to get angry, then tend to want to lash out against something. What we do not understand worries us. The unpredictability of others concerns us for our safety and our emotional well-being, and from all directions we are bombarded by news stories and personal accounts and claims of all sorts that degrade our faith in humanity. It all adds up to make it seem like life is meaningless, like it all boils down to avoiding suffering to the extent one is able.  Why not? Why not protect oneself from chaos? Well, because that sort of reflexive response typically points back to the very traits people take issue with in others. That blatant hypocrisy points to a greater truth, which has been paraphrased as: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Because others don’t wish to do it, we then don’t wish to either, because we are afraid of appearing to be suckers, and we’re afraid of being taken further advantage of.

But consider the logic, and we hear this sort of thing all the time. Because she has witnessed disturbing aspects of her fellow humans, she withdraws into her “cocoon” and avoids them like the plague. Because they are “self-centered,” she feels perfectly fine retreating to the comfort and security of her own home, away from all those “selfish” people. She is not made happier as a result though, so this strategy doesn’t seem to be benefiting her incredibly much. Though I will say that the blessing of privacy to return to at the end of the day is a wonderful thing, and I will not disparage its necessity and value. My qualm is only when we hide in here and use this secure perch to lash out at others, others whom we oftentimes do not even know well, whom we make assumptions about, whom we hide from and in person would say no such sort of things to. That cowardice is a bit confusing to me. I grasp the need to put on an act around some people because of the need to remain employed, but that’s not what this is all about. The internet has provided a space for people to vent relatively anonymously through, so we’re freed up to say the most wretched things to one another.

But that lady spends her time online looking at animals, not worrying with other people. She spends her time at home with her pet, and she claims to donate money to causes that benefit animals. And she works in a profession operating under the guise of “treating” people, albeit sometimes against people’s will. The people she comes into contact with are pretty often at their worst, in search of help or brought in in an ambulance. She, like a police officer, sees a disproportionately negative side of humanity as part of her daily work. I can sympathize with how that may skew one’s perception.

I guess my own views are that we are animals nowadays born in captivity and that we tend to be highly-reactive, self-concerned, and unfortunately not terribly good at self-directing in a productive fashion (which partly has to do with boundaries set within our society). We are expected to walk a new path as designated by the rules of our societies, even though plenty of this runs counter to our natures and plenty also runs counter to our interests. But even without our concrete jungle, we have likely always lived as contradictions and likely always will. Just as nature has her contradictions as well. We are not above that, nor are other lifeforms, including our beloved pets, simple as they may individually seem to be.

We have a tendency to reduce everything down to too small or narrow of a view, and once formed we tend to cut off information that contradicts that view, keeping it small and narrow indefinitely. What propensity exists in us to do this, I do not know, but I assume it has to do with individuals reaching their thresholds in terms of the will to process information. It seems all of us narrow our focuses as our lives unfold, hence the notion of us becoming old dogs unable to learn new tricks. It’s not uncommon to hear of old people being accused of being set in their ways, because it’s largely true. Most are. That is what typically becomes of us, perhaps because we cease being as curious, perhaps because the free hours in each day to explore and learn are very limited, perhaps because we’re exhausted from work and our own social lives. And perhaps because we’re not pushed to engage with others and come into less contact with others unlike ourselves due to positioning, as becomes possible when income increases and we can afford to move to the suburbs or when we take a job where we are in a position of power and interact with others unlike ourselves primarily through that lens. We’re molded by our life choices just as much as by what we’re born into.

So what might propel us to be the change we wish to see? What might motivate us to behave differently than that which we claim is “evil” or wrong? Apparently when it comes to the opinions of others, we’re pretty content with playing a part, putting on an act, so it’s unlikely that real and authentic connections can occur between us. What might motivate someone to take time with the people they criticize and condemn so as to gain a deeper understanding of why those people behave as they do? Because so often we judge based on superficial appearances and limited contact.

I’m asking myself these questions too. Perhaps what bothered me most about what that woman said is that I am well-aware of the wrongs in my own being. It is easy to get depressed and to become stuck right there staring at that reality, but I believe a more productive goal would be to step beyond, to continue exploring (particularly that which I find most offensive), and to seek redemption through improving myself and taking action of greater value. Perhaps it won’t prove a thing one way or another when it comes to debating whether humans are “bad” and beyond deserving sympathy, but that’s not what it’s ultimately about at the core. Underneath it all, each of our lives is a journey, and how we conduct ourselves has a lot to do with how we wind up seeing others and whether they wind up relating with us.

All of that is being said as someone who, if she only knew, belongs among those she derides and looks down upon. At one point she declared that she knows what she’s talking about, her being much older than me, nearly my grandmother’s age. I am still relatively young and perhaps still clinging to idealism that will fade with time. She spoke of my generation’s and younger people’s lack of work ethic, and I stood thinking to myself that I see no reason to work as a cog in the wheel for a business that by all accounts gives not one damn about me. If that is due to my lack of work ethic, then so be it. But I do believe our view of work is changing, that people are awakening to the pointlessness of the rat race. Transitions don’t always look like they have a purpose when observed from a traditional vantage point — to her it may seem like ridiculousness and nothing more. I see it as holding the potential for a grassroots revolution of sorts as people try to figure out other way to get by than selling their souls to a job that they loathe. There’s creativity in this. But I suppose it wouldn’t look that way to someone who’s tired from playing the game for so many decades.

I’m not trying to put her down, just trying to understand. She is angry about the reality unfolding, as am I, and our concerns overlap in areas, though I’d be willing to bet our proposed “solutions” would differ dramatically. But that doesn’t make us enemies, even if we can’t see eye to eye. She has been good to me over the last couple of years, and I’ve aimed to be good in return. But admittedly our conversation saddened me a bit. I realize she was just venting and sharing. But I wasn’t in a position where I could give her a full and honest response, nor would it have probably been worth attempting anyway. I too would like to keep my job. So I suppose she’s right at least on that count, that we tend to interact as actors.

Sunday night ponderings in May on human domestication, estrogen, and the future

Domestication. It’s a topic I like talking about because it’s difficult to not see it unfolding around us. We’re becoming domesticated on a whole new level. Was just thinking about birthcontrolbirth control pills and the convenience in using them to regulate your cycle, plus certain brands reduce breakouts. Plenty of side effects accompany hormonal birth control options, and I would absolutely never recommend the progestogen-only varieties (like Depo Provera — yikes!), so it’s a trade-off. But for a lot of years birth control pills felt like a risk worth taking for the peace of mind they offered in avoiding unwanted pregnancy.

But when you really think about the concept of taking hormones to control fertility, improve the complexion, and regulate the cycle to become more predictable and convenient — that’s pure science. The latest in technology. Convenient, but with notable drawbacks, to our own bodies but also to our environments. Think of what happens to all those hormones regularly flushed down toilets, whether they are even capable of being properly filtered out in treatment plants. Some evidence suggests problems loom there. Think of how that might wind up affecting men in a round-about way. But then again, we’re exposed to so much estrogen in our environment already, as we’ve discovered with plastics and also soy (which is now in damn near everything on the super market shelves, including our pets’ foods). Estrogen everywhere. Due to this consideration alone I expect people of tomorrow to turn out a bit different than all who’ve come before. Hormones are powerfully influential on our development.

drugs_glassofwater

Just makes me wonder what tomorrow could bring. Suppose it’ll be interesting to see what this lifetime might unfold, much as I doubt it will remotely resemble what I’d like to see for us. My spirit is paleolithic, I think, having always felt obsolete. lol

We like to say that people direct their own lives, that we can take the reins for ourselves, do something different, try another way. But how? We’re deep in this labyrinth already, and it would take such radical action to retreat and head in different directions. But then again, it would be much easier for smaller groups to break away somehow if there were enough to do so around the same time. But that’s a pipe dream, right? People want this, on some level, because we can’t imagine anything different, and if we can it still doesn’t appear feasible. The floor has fallen out from underneath us and we’re clinging to the walls, trying to keep up with what appears to be the only game in town. It’s a stupid game with so many unfortunate consequences that will likely culminate in disastrous effect. But how does ONE, just one person, go against the grain? Without winding up much poorer, much unhappier, less understood by others? That’s the thing — those are the consequences. Might wind up treated as a leper. Probably will lose friends. Definitely will be criticized. How many people would willingly sign up for that? It looks like social suicide to someone who cares about that sort of thing.

Had a couple drinks and felt like pondering out loud. Reflecting on conversations with people, wondering if indeed there is anything of major impact one can do. And honestly, a part of me says it doesn’t matter. It’s not just about influencing others the way we’d like to. If the many are going to collectively steer this ship into a glacier, either through stupidity or genuine but misguided intentions, what can be done about it? Doesn’t mean we have to conform entirely and go along with their program. No. Because life itself is the journey, and living itself is the source of redemption. When I think deeply on these sort of topics where the individual is being pulled along by the collective-run-amok, I gain an appreciation for the stories that point toward a higher purpose than simply following the herd. And by higher purpose, I’m just saying having respect for something bigger and beyond our human experience. All of life is paradoxical and filled with mystery, and there’s more to it than just our drama. We humans may indeed fail in this experiment in living, who can say? But we as individuals don’t necessarily have to. We are our own persons underneath it all, and we possess enough will to buck back when it feels right. If nothing else, we’re driven by orneriness. LoL

So who can say what the future may hold? And who can say that the most important emphasis should be placed on trying to change the hearts and minds of others? Seems to me if we really want to impact others, we’d work on our own selves. I’m trying to, much as I fail and stumble. Can’t seem to knock off getting irritated while driving. Haven’t taken time to get to know the new neighbors. Too often grumbling, complaining. Because I worry so much. But at the end of the day, what am I so worried about? That people might suffer. But perhaps that’s what’s needed to turn our lives around. Life’s tough love is letting us see how we can create hell on earth if we aren’t mindful of what we’re doing.

By John Conway

“Future Humans” by John Conway

It’s a cruel lesson that breaks my heart to witness, but I suppose such is the way of nature, and divorced as our habitats may seem, the natural world remains the ultimate game-changer.

If we choose to go along with living as domesticated pets, though in less luxury and expected to work, we will suffer what that fate entails. Perhaps there can be no other way, not until our infrastructure crumbles due to a lack of resources, or until political and economic conditions deteriorate to the point where that dream gets snuffed. I don’t know.

Maybe people will find ways to pacify themselves going into this New Age, and perhaps people of tomorrow will figure out a way to strike a new balance that my feeble brain is unable to conceive of. But it won’t be my world by then, so that is for them to create. In my lifetime I’d like to imagine how we might live smarter, more in line with what’s natural to us as people who need one another, who value relationships and reciprocity, who want to care, who aren’t content in slavery, who aren’t content being taken advantage of by the few whose only work is to manipulate and exploit the rest.

Then I wonder how it’s possible to not feel disgruntled in the face of so much disillusionment.

Carter, Eisenhower, and my neo-agrarian vision

Pres. Jimmy Carter – (1979):

Don’t know much about Jimmy Carter aside from him being a Southern peanut farmer and later in life volunteered with Habitat for Humanity in building homes. His isn’t a popular name within my wider family — all are Republicans so far as I’m aware. So forgive my ignorance about the man. Not sure I’ve ever really listened to him speak before. And that speech was amazing. Much more honesty than we’ve heard out of a president in … how long?

Eisenhower’s farewell address is the only other speech of its kind that springs to mind:

I appreciate what both men had to say. Both are warning future Americans (us) of the gravity of the choices and possibilities we’re faced with — on one hand the formation of the military-industrial complex, on the other the energy crisis. Both pointed to the social and ‘spiritual’ crises that would accompany these radically-changing times, and their words ring true.

What Jimmy Carter said up above speaks to this idea I’m continuing to play around with involving intentional communities branching off and reclaiming power in the hands of common people by producing more for our own selves and the communities we belong to and/or trade with, particularly in terms of the necessities (namely, food generation). Let me very briefly outline the benefits of the setup I envision:

  1. Providing for our own necessities within our own homes and communities to the greatest extent possible, particularly when it comes to sustaining foods, reduces our dependence on the Corporate State (that is, major corporations being backed by government).
  2. By implementing this form of neo-agrarianism and making better use of the land we have access to, we can reduce the amount of petrol otherwise required in Big Ag’s pesticide-laden monoculture megafarms (as well as the transportation costs typically involved). Through the use of new technologies surely modern farming of this nature can be made very productive with little or no harmful chemicals and big-brand fertilizers needed and while utilizing knowledge of biodiversity and the introduction of animals and insects useful in the process. (Farmer Joel Salatin could surely be of help in explaining this aspect in better detail to those who are curious — he’s mentioned in a few agriculture-related books and documentaries.)
  3. Our current dependence on Big Ag to supply us with food unfortunately is made possible through its heavy use of petrol in various stages of the food production process. It is said that at least 45% of oil used in the U.S. is imported, and we’re well aware where much of it comes from. The military has had a hand in gaining us access to the oil needed to fuel our economy, and this is having disastrous effects throughout the globe, injuring our relations with peoples in other countries to the point where our government stands on high alert, nonstop, ready to defend against probable attacks from foreigners. We as a nation are coming to be reviled, and this will have repercussions eventually. Whether we’ve hit peak oil already or will someday, the fact remains that the competition over oil is harming us, yet is currently needed to prop up the lifestyles we’ve grown accustomed to as well as to make the foods many of us otherwise would starve without. If we somehow lose out on procuring enough oil, it won’t only result in a social reset in this country (and others that wind up affected as well), but rather complete chaos and competition on a savage level. People will starve. And all because we rely too heavily on fossil fuels to maintain our modern ways of life. If we can reduce this dependency by providing for ourselves and take back a big measure of control over our own lives in the process, why not aim in that direction?
  4. Through learning modern farming and urban gardening techniques, we will likely become better acquainted with sciences and technologies, further broadening our awareness and enhancing our own power as individuals. The skills needed there calls for all kinds of creativity and innovation, particularly of the jerry-rigged variety, and this opens us up to so many possibilities and learning experiences. Atheists and others frustrated by others’ lack of scientific understanding should be pleased by this likely outcome.
  5. People desiring simpler lives with more straight-forward expectations (like myself) may find solace in this saner way of living. But it’s all in how each community and each individual therein chooses to bring it about. As always, we can pave the way to hell if we’re not careful.
  6. It’s come to my mind that slavery will always exist. And what I mean by this is we humans will either wind up slaves to one another or ‘slaves’ to the earth in terms of living within nature’s parameters (or possibly both if we’re as unlucky once again). The castle made of sand that we’re working and living within today is not sustainable — not ecologically but also not socially and psychologically. Debt slavery has a long history, but it is a human construct, not a condition imposed on us by the natural world itself. For as much drudgery that may be involved in farming and directly utilizing our own labor to provide for our own needs, it at least comes with the benefit of tuckering us out enough to where we, with any luck, will use what energy we have remaining more wisely and not waste so much of it bickering over our differences. The intentional communities going their own ways also helps reduce tensions by allowing groups of people breathing room who otherwise stay locked in irreconcilable arguments.
  7. The gender issue can be abated because, again, people are kept busy with creating something they do want instead of arguing nonstop with one another over what they do not want. Furthermore, men and women would need to contribute to the extent their capable, and this competitive environment can be put to productive use through struggling to prove themselves as able-bodied and relatively independent (and to admit where one or the other may generally be better-suited to certain tasks, however that may shake out).
  8. It is my belief that a greater peace than many of us experience today can be found through engaging in productive work that serves a real and necessary purpose. When we pull our own weight, so to speak, this boosts our sense of pride and satisfaction with living. And through observing the dedication in others, we may kindle respect and admiration for one another and go a step further toward solidifying community bonds. Because the notion of community exists only when it revolves around some sort of commonality, like shared life experiences and working toward common goals. Through working together we may also learn the importance of charity, as well as why shame deservedly accompanies abusing charities provided. Because people then see how, up-close and personally, that charity was brought about through the labors of others. Those who lack empathy in this manner should be noted and never promoted to positions involving much power.
  9. Love matters. And love involves respect, knowledge, responsibility, and care. Reacquainting ourselves with the land may go a long way toward healing our social wounds as we learn to see one another in the context of individuals we see and come to know rather than mere statistics printed somewhere. We need to bond, just as we also have a need for a sense of belonging to something bigger than ourselves, something greater. It is not about stepping back into the past so much as it is inquiring into what life has taught us thus far and see how we, individually and collectively, might do better. But it starts in the hearts and minds of individual people and spreads from there. The connections forged along the way may make the entire process worthwhile, even if humankind winds up beset by obstacles we prove ultimately unable to overcome. To genuinely become friends and loved ones and neighbors — is that not what gives living so much of its meaning and authenticity?
  10. If we are indeed facing “end times” or the emergence of a new Dark Age, self-reliant communities will likely have a better chance of surviving or at least winding out their days striving to make amends internally and get right with our creator. I do not envision a God as any that have been described so far, but something beyond that, the unknowable yet the intuitively felt. Everyone understands this in their own way, and I won’t elaborate further. If that creator is viewed simply as nature itself, that works too. The point is that it may help mitigate the suffering that may befall us and give what lives we have remaining greater quality. Maybe. Depends on a lot of variables, sure. But maybe.

I’d love to change the world, but I don’t know what to do. But as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., stated: “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” He also said: “All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.” As well as this: “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”

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.”

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[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: