It strikes me as odd, or rather suspicious, that if a theologian was asked about what was occurring in a city on a specific street across the world, he would feel contented to admit of his ignorance, but when asked about the beginning of the universe he feels compelled to have an answer and be certain of it. He calls this the cosmological argument.
Morality comes from within us and not, as is commonly suggested, from the Bible. There are a multitude of problems with poseting this theory on the origin of morals, not the least of which is the ambiguity of that Bible. For as one man condemns slavery using the verses found therein, another condones it. Every religion that spawned from that scripture differs in the ways to understand it, both its stories and its morality.
Religion exploits the wonder that we feel towards the universe. Whereas science seeks to understand the world, by following reason and empirical evidence, religion seeks to cloak the world in mystery so as to convince the masses that only one true answer could be behind it: the Designer.
The entirety of social aptitude is the ability to empathize with the one you are encountering. By feeling what they are feeling you can modify and act accordingly. Empathy is the root of compassion and cruelty, for by feeling the other's pain we can either be in anguish by it and thus wish to help, or relish in it and wish to increase it. This is why the human creature excels at both, for it is a finely tuned beast capable of feeling another's suffering. This is why he invented torture.
Almost every social encounter begins with each participant putting up a wall to protect his vulnerability. The wall, however, he hopes will be torn down by the listener. It is for this reason, people generally respond with "Good" and nothing more when asked about their welfare. If the listener asks for a more thorough answer he will probably receive it with glee; the speaker was simply testing the interest of the listener. It is a well known truth that man loves to talk about himself, how thick his walls are will depend on how long it will take you to demolish them and let the water of his inner emotions pour through.
I have neither the hubris nor interest in speaking about the so-called 'masses.' To speak about people who are essentially my peers, as though they were some mindless organism in need of my help, is arrogant and contemptible. Who am I, or anybody for that matter, to speak of what is good or bad, what should be taught or not, to the masses of individuals, each with a unique mind? Indeed, they discuss the forest without the slightest understanding that it is made up of trees! But how men love to place themselves on this pedestal! How they revel this superficial position of intellectual grandeur they have granted themselves when they turn up their noses and feign concern for the welfare of the "incompetent and ignorant masses."
The grandest “mistake” that evolution made was to give man the ability to philosophize. The intellect, insofar as it is used to help us evade predators and therefore survive, serves the goals of natural selection. But to philosophize! To be struck by the mysterium magnum of the universe, to reveal the utter absurdity of existence; this certainly was not the “intention” of natural selection. A most wonderful mistake, indeed.
What a curiosity that humans become so bewildered when they contemplate the very likely possibility that they have no purpose. Are we envious of the knife, whose purpose is evident? Why must we have a purpose? Why should we crave a purpose? The knife may have a purpose but he has no chance at meaning. In all its existence it cannot experience anything for which it was not fashioned. 'Why are we here?' what a treacherous question! We are here! How shall we live? That is the proper question. We have the existence of gods, knowing good from evil, and we crave the existence of the knife! What buffoonery!
What horror! What dread! The fear that rests on our minds forcing us not to see what is clearly before us: That life is absurd. We were placed in this world against our will. We were placed in a country, an era, a mindset, all against our will. We do not know how much time we have, nor what we are to do while we are here. The cruelest part of it all: That we love life! We adore the prison of existence, the breath that shackles us. We find patterns, and worship them, we think it is for them that we exist. How silly is life, how utterly futile? What a cruelty to have been inflicted with this mind! To think, to ponder one’s own futility! How ugly and vile is the mind of man. What a gift to be an ape; to be free from the shackles of philosophy. We build our towers taller and taller hoping with each brick that one day they will mean something. The only elixir to life is to transcend it. To leave the game behind. The game of desire and boredom, the endless game. To spend one's few days in 'the thing in itself' for the sake of itself. Not to accomplish, to take another step towards nothingness, but to live in the eternal moment, meant only for itself. It is here that one will find contentment. It is the only way to satisfy our betraying consciousness. To use it against itself! To betray the consciousness, by indulging oneself in the pleasure of eternity. This, it would seem to me, is the Buddhist idea of nirvana. How it should be sought after! We have been trained from the womb to crave money! Money: whose entire function is to fulfill desire; but for what? Is there an end to desire?! Even if one acquires enough to temporarily vanquish the constant nagging of desire, what will he be left with but boredom?! What silliness that man seeks gold, which only serves his will, a will that has no concern for the man.
It is not what occupied Sisyphus' hands, but his mind, that had the power to free him.
To my love - Indeed my love, you have always amazed me in your ability to paddle in the shallowest of waters and then plunge to the deepest depths of conversation and return to the shore unburdened and unshaken, taking me with you the whole way.
The only reason self-conscious beings, innately selfish beings, would ever wish to procreate on a conscious level is because of the trickery of evolution in making babies appear cute to us. Since we are the only mammals capable of rational thought and therefore able in some way to challenge our instinct, evolution had to give us reasons besides gene continuance to procreate. When we see a beautiful baby, we, the selfish beings we are, desire one of our own. We know this baby will require all our time, time we really wish to spend on our desires but the cuteness of the baby is so captivating. And of course, the fact that sex is incredibly pleasurable makes the decision even easier! This way the genes carry on our species undisturbed by our rational. We also helped this process by convincing ourselves that procreation of the human race is a virtue and pleasing to the gods, which diverted our attention from the truth: Having a child is an act which sprouts from the selfish part of our minds, and the instinctual animal within us.
Sometimes when I am reading, my mind shouts so loud that I can no longer focus on the text. It may take a page or even two before I realize that my mind has already shut the door to the external and is concentrating on something internal. Ironically, I was trying to read only moments ago…
I cannot decide whether hope is a friend or foe to man. On the one hand, hope can be a treacherous bastard who allows you to wallow in some false security that the suffering you are currently enduring is only temporary and that salvation is ever-approaching, only to betray you with false promises over and again. On the other hand, he can be a friend inspiring man to take another step. When man's faculties have abandoned him, when his strength is exhausted, when his soul has no life, hope can lift and carry him when he would have otherwise perished. Perhaps then, hope is a simpleton, neither friend nor enemy, just a simple fellow ever walking behind man talking only of good things, as simpletons generally do.
Most people spend an incalculable amount of days engaged in mindless chatter. Their mouths move but their minds remain undisturbed under the thick layer of dust that has come to rest upon it. Their words are unimportant and quickly fade into the great yesterday of the past. Their ideas rise quick enough to form the following sentence but die and vanish just as soon as they arose. A wise man's words, however, are charged with a living idea. They are tools which deliver this idea, generally old idea that has been residing in this man's head for a while, to the listener bright enough to grasp it. It will then, like a flame, ignite the one mind whilst leaving the other mind still lit! It then glows in both their minds, evolving, and spawning new ideas, which in turn create fires of their own. What foolishness to not wish to engage in deep thought and meaningful conversation all the long day! What weakness of man to cower in the easy nature of chatter and gossip! A gossiper is letting his mind go to waste! What a tragedy. However, a bad idea, an evil idea, will have the same effect as a meaningful one; it will crawl inside the mind of he who possesses it and change all the future thoughts to fit inside its tainted shell. It lays a base off of which all his other ideas will reflect. What danger! This is why all ideas try to get into the heads of children; for the ideas can then pollute the entire life of the child. What care must we then take when teaching our children? We have the power to ignite or poison their minds. And we may be none the wiser which one we are doing!
When I removed my kippah for the first time - When one wears a mask for a long time, for whatever reason he put it on in the first place, when he removes it, if he is able, the feeling that overwhelms him is indescribable. Lying has become the norm for him. To be who he actually is will feel as though he is uncomfortable in his own skin. He will feel alienated from his own soul as though the lie had actually convinced him that he was the lie! He feels as though he is being observed from every angle, when in actuality it is only he that is observing, judging, and scrutinizing this new identity. It is a mix of feeling free and at the same time a stranger in one’s own skin. It is for this reason that men should never be asked to wear a mask and why man should do all he can to never put one on.
To say that someone wasted time, or that any activity can be said to waste one’s life, is to imply that there is a task which people are supposed to be engaged in and therefore any diversion from that project can be considered wasting time. However, apart from religion, who else would claim to know the purpose for which man was fashioned? Even religion only gives vague ideas about man’s purpose here on earth, but as for individual missions, even religion does not have the hubris to claim to know. The truth is that most likely we were not created for anything in particular. We are just conscious of the utter lack of direction which encompasses all aspects of existence. Man therefore creates tasks and projects for himself. It is for this reason goal setting is said to be an ideal. Goals prevent us, we claim, from wasting time. However, though I do believe if one wants, for whatever reason, to accomplish something, setting a goal is certainly a wise way to go about it, we must admit that if there is no purpose to existence most, if not all, of our actions are equal in their objective meaning. Therefore, a man who spends his days in constant activity, creating, building, tidying; and the other idly sits and reads novels or watches TV, they are equal in the objective meaning of their actions, provided they are both content with their lives. It can therefore be asserted that wasted time is only time you spend engaged in a task that does not make you happy, or will not lead you to happiness. So strongly has this myth of wasted time been promulgated that when we spend a day engaged in trivialities, by the end of it, we feel an enormous amount of guilt and shame when we are confronted by others who "did something." It seems we have been convinced of one of the crudest indoctrinations: that he who spends his life engaged in things that bring him joy, but have no value for others is said to be a time-waster, with the connotation being bad. But shouldn't it be the highest priority to spend this life, this brief moment of sunshine, engaged in that which we truly enjoy?
I find it important to define what I believe, or rather, don't believe. I view the question of whether beyond our world there is a superior intelligence who fashioned our universe, to be an unknowable or at least currently unknowable question. The question defeats itself. Who created that superior being? Ad infinitum. Our logic then dictates that there must be something eternal, at which point we are forced to recoil back into ourselves realizing that eternity baffles our minds. We cannot grasp it; the idea simply silences our reason. Even if one would posit that there exists this eternal being he will find himself stuck in the insoluble paradox of how an infinite being could create a finite world. That is, that he could have a timeline of before the creation within the context of infinity. It may be intellectually easier to assert that by chance this world worked its way into existence, though I do not claim that this will not as well baffle our minds. Therefore I say: it is unknowable! What of religion then? It is here that I do not believe, and do not think their claims to be at all likely; for they all claim to know God’s will. Which of course is yet another paradox. They all believe ancient tales which without coming with the authority of religion would have been dismissed as fairy tales at worst and allegories, at best. What is more likely, our skeptic asks, that the laws of science were suspended in magnificent ways, and has not happened anywhere near the same caliber in the past three thousand years (except to one or two men and a time), or that the stories were made up by men who accurately estimated the allure of their scriptures and thereby were confident in the masses eager consumption of them? The doctrines were then taught to children who believed their parents without question and reality - as it has done so many times in history - became distorted to the wishful thinking of man. Indeed there is nothing found in the texts that could not have been thought up by well meaning and literate men. In fact, a great amount of the text fits right in the culture in which it was written! The absurdity of life, the directionless motion in which life moves, the evil and injustice which stand as its pillars, all declare that religions are man-made; created to comfort, to control, to refine, whatever the reason may be (and I don't think it is a singular reason) religions were codified by men and consumed by the credulous. I think the principle problem began when man let his questions about his existence and his arrogance of his common sense compel him to think up answers, or hear them from men of authority and be certain of those proclamations.
A piece of philosophy will find a comfortable home in the mind of a person who has heard the question that prompted the philosopher to formulate it. An idea that climbs into a mind which has not considered it before, will fumble about trying to attach to the plants already growing there. In time the idea may latch onto another grouping of ideas but it will remain a stranger there. The reader will believe he understands the idea being presented but when years later, he hears the question - should he be so lucky - he will feel the idea spring up from its unfamiliar lodging and make its way in great haste to its new home, freshly carved out for it.
Today on the bus I witnessed a peculiar sight. An elderly man climbed onto the bus. As he began to make his way down the aisle a younger man without a moment's thought leapt from his seat. I was impressed with the young man’s alacrity. The elderly man smiled and took the seat. Moments after, the elderly man grabbed at the younger man who was facing the other direction when the younger man turned around he saw the elderly man’s outstretched offering the young man a piece of candy. The younger man with a stern demeanor refused the gift. The elderly man’s face dropped ever so slightly as he placed the candy into his sack. I believe the younger man failed in the ethical sense. Such is the complexity of kindness. When he stood for the elderly man he did so, I presume out of a sense of duty: “He is old and I am young, I am obliged to give him my seat.” He did not remember the key ingredient in ethics. One must be aware of the emotions of the other. Ethics is not a simple formula, it changes, or rather reflects those to whom it occurs. The younger man refused not just the elderly man's candy but his dignity. The elderly man most likely feels smaller as the once strong man he was must now accept the seat of the younger. He is now a taker, he must be given to and cared for. One of the great sufferings of life is that as you age you become as needy as a child, but whereas a child feels unashamed by this constant taking, the elderly feel the pain of being solely a receiver. The elderly man may have consciously been repaying the younger man's deed, he was also, I believe, trying to restore some shred of his dignity. The younger man failed to realize this and rejected the man, reducing him to merely something that we are required to deal with and care for. Such is morality. Sometimes taking is giving, there is never one recipe for all situations. Therefore, O saint, you must be ever vigilant, less of the situation and more of the man or woman who shares it with you.
We must take into account the revolutionary attitude that Judaism has on the value of life. It can be safely assumed that any religion which places enormous importance on what happens after you die, along with making it into an eternity of happiness, the value of this life - with its constant misery, confusion, and injustice - all but disappears. Paradise-obsessed religions necessitate a dismissal of this life. One can expect that the monotheistic chosen people would want nothing more than to escape the confines of this life, and enter paradise. The curious thing is that where the Christians and Muslims spend a lot of time focused on heaven, the Jewish tradition hardly mentions it in its mainstream texts. In fact, the rewards in the Bible are completely this-worldly! The punishments are as well: death, plague, lack of rain etc. It is a text which is obsessed with this world. It is, I believe for this reason that the world has never known Jewish offensive martyrdom. That is to say, even though many Jews have died for their faith, they have not willingly given up their lives for it in the pursuit of killing others.
The best writing comes when it is unexpected, unpredictable, so that the author is more discovering than creating. The words pour forth, they fill the mind of the writer, sentences form and he is compelled to expel them. By establishing them on paper he has organized and articulated them. He can view them and build and refine the written ideas or can leave them be and think of others. His mind will no more be cluttered by the chattering or at times, screams of his thoughts. They have been categorized, brought forth from the thoroughfare of his mind and clarified into finite words. At the same time one must be careful not to write down thoughts before they have time to develop. Why what type of planter would he be if every time a sprout became visible he tore it out of the ground?! Once the idea is formed in some way, by no means completed, for there is no such thing as a finished idea, he will have no choice but to scribble them down. Writing fervently, not quite sure how his ideas will form and when he can write no more, when his mind has retreated into the fog, he will breath a sigh of relief. A writer writes because he must, because he has no other choice. For that matter, my mind has closed the door to this very idea…
Had the Americans lost, little boys and girls in schools in Texas would be learning about the colonial terrorists who sought to overthrow the gracious empire of England. And such is the case with all of recorded history. I can therefore confidently assert that there is nothing in the history books that has not been carefully reconstructed by the victor. Not only have the spoils gone to the victor, but the much more important right to recreate the past to fit with the goals of the victor’s future. Every student must be diligent in this manner. He is studying a story, a story told by the side that survived, and it is therefore tainted by their beliefs and ideology. History is therefore an insufficient means to understanding the past, but it is nevertheless important, for it is the best that we have.
Growing up I would constantly hear about the dangers of assimilation. Intermarriage was spoken of in hushed tones accompanied by the greatest fear. It was said that if we were not careful the Jewish culture would slip into oblivion. This was taken as a terrible thing, so that no teacher ever felt it important to explain why that would actually be any worse then when the Romans disappeared. Each year the rate of people abandoning Judaism was said to be on the rise which simultaneously horrified and excited people. All big events, to the faithful, whether good or bad are paradoxically viewed as a sign of the eminent redemption. I suppose the same is true of a prisoner, his hope leads him every which way allowing him to view every occurrence as a step toward freedom. But, let me now ask, in my matured and secular self, what would be so terrible if the Jewish people ceased to be? "Then Hitler would have won!" They passionately cry! What silliness born of emotions! Hitler wanted to slaughter the Jewish people. Not the idea but the men, women and children. This type of madness, no matter which race, creed, or culture, needs to be protested. No man should have the right to wipe out any groupings of individuals. As long as society lives by this principle, Hitler has been successfully defeated. So once again, let us inquire into the nature of cultural extinction. I once believed, not long ago, that it would be better if there were no borders, no flags, no in-tribe loyalty of any kind. I have found, however, that this view is narrow minded for it omits two critical aspects. 1. That man is a lonely creature who needs to feel part of something; he needs his life to matter. The bigger the social group the smaller and thereby more insignificant that he will feel. To say that man should be content to feel part of the universe, as some scientists would have it, or part of the human race as the idealists would desire, is to not understand the feeble and socially starved nature of man. 2. That the world would lose its color, its majesty, if all culture melted away and one singular type remained. Much wisdom, much perspective, much life would be lost if our species molded into one. However, I have chosen to expunge any ideas of nationalism that I was given in youth. Nationalism can be a dangerous idea. It is not the way of a rationalist for your inner bias can't help but come to the defense of your country, religion, or people. I have even gone so far to view family not as a right but a privilege. The shared DNA may cause me to instinctively care for them, but cognitively I view family as a closer bond than any other. Of course it can be broken, but I too need some structure to alleviate the loneliness. Family can mean by blood, but I view it more as by mutual appreciation. A love formed by hours of work. Constant maintenance is necessary to uphold the edifice of friendship or it will crumble. And it is good that it is so! One can of course posit that nationalism is simply extending your family to all those who live in your country or practice your beliefs, but this is an impossible thing to say. And too often it happens that people will defend ideas they do not understand, defend people they would never have, simply because they pledge allegiance to the same flag. So whereas I see the purpose of cultures, when one vanishes through assimilation - even my childhood faith - I do not view this as any more horrible than a color missing from the universal tapestry. The same is true of all the cultures which vanished long before I was here.
I know of no just war . That is not say that I do not know if there ever was a just war, there may have been, however the wars I have seen fought can not be called just. Perhaps in earlier days when the kings rode first in the row of soldiers, when his sword was the first wielded, there were just wars. For it was he who ignited the war who began it. Of course there were, back then, mad kings who were bloodthirsty men stricken by boredom only endless riches could bring, who engaged in warfare simply for the fun of it. However, we must recognize the nobility of a king who rides first into a war that he deemed necessary. But today when officials, elected or otherwise, sit behind mahogany desks and with the swipe of their pen kill millions, can this be called just? When they themselves would never touch their polished shoes to the blood drenched grass of a battlefield, they call for the hanging of any so-called coward refusing to engage in their war! What hypocrisy?! They manipulate the passionate nature of young men, say they must fulfill their patriotic duty and fight and possibly die so that the very men who started the war can live in peace. Duty! What a vile misuse of the term. As if a young boy of 18 should have a duty to sacrifice his life for the good of the government!
Philosophy for me is a drug. In its clutches I am protected from the ever beckoning mundane. In its pursuit my mind can find an oasis in the miserable desert of existence. The existence that has cursed man with the endless desires and lack of appreciation for what man has. Constantly our souls suffer the utter boredom of our existence. We concoct stories of brighter futures. The truly hopeless, or shall I say aware, talk only of paradise, a place where perhaps their bloody feet can cease marching on. Such is the power of philosophy for me; it is my paradise, my refuge from the evils of normalcy. Ah, how delightful are the pages of the great thinkers, what majesty, what an honor to dwell amongst their ideas, to revel in them, but most importantly to make them of such importance that the trivialities of life shrink and disappear before them.
I have spent most of my life drenched in optimism. I looked upon mankind as generally good, the universe as a home, and life as a gift. Such an outlook is not only childish but is bound to disappoint. People are selfish, the universe indifferent, and life is more akin to a curse. I am not writing this out of depression but out of awareness of the reality. An accurate understanding of reality cannot be had under an optimistic perspective. To view reality in all its harshness will lead, I believe, to grand happiness. The reason being that when one expects nature to be apathetic to his existence, when he understands the shallowness of man’s soul, he will be pleased when exceptions take place, and will remain unbothered when they don't. The one who sees the silver lining ignoring the threatening grey cloud will not bring his umbrella, the man who sees the cloud will carry it under his arm with a smile on his face when the sun comes out.
It is a known human condition, and perhaps it is true in other creatures as well, that mutual suffering has a strange effect that turns stranger to friend, and friend to brother. In other words, it draws people towards one another, as if we instinctively feel, perhaps for the first time, our own vulnerability. “Put your back to mine, I will watch North and you South and together we will banish this forthcoming darkness!” Suffering creates bonds between people, even between enemies, provided the suffering comes from without. It is because of this condition that it is crucial to learn of the suffering of others. Instead of hiding, as we do, the pain we are experiencing we should share it. Indeed we are all suffering, when one becomes aware of this inevitable and inalterable fact, a feeling of pity and love towards all of mankind will wash over him. Therefore, it is not so much that when we all cease our endless suffering that we shall have universal love, but when we cease believing it is only us who is experiencing it. Indeed a pain free world will almost certainly breed monsters. How curious a species we are?
When evaluated whether optimism or pessimism is the better course, the answer will depend on how we judge the world. If the world is mostly bad with splashes of good, then pessimism seems to be the most reasonable course to happiness, the opposite is true of optimism. I believe the former to be true upon brief analysis which is why the young can be said to be optimists and the old generally pessimists.
It came to a point that just waiting for the bus became an action which filled me with strange guilt. The bus would take me back to my settlement in the disputed territories of the Israeli/ Palestinian conflict; a conflict, I freely admit, I can no longer lay claims to. In fact, this region is so overwhelmed with conflicting agendas that figuring out what happened yesterday will prove to be a fruitless waste of time. For every account whether historical, ideological, or political - especially political - there are varying narratives each calling the other wicked. I feel as though I should know more about this conflict, and up until recently I thought I did; it was only after opening my mind to the surrounding chatter that I found that I had been given, as so many in the conflict, one side of the coin. So what of my ignorance? I do not know what will become of it, for as I said the truth is somewhere beneath centuries of mutually exclusive propaganda. So my chief concern as of now is to leave the dispute so to speak by relocating to a territories that are not under scrutiny. That will not serve to make me more knowledgeable or any less culpable in the is Middle Eastern crisis, but it will allow me a cleaner conscience. I will then, continue to pursue the root and cause of this bloody conflict, of which one thing is certain: neither side is purely in the right.
What I just briefly witnessed filled me with awe as well as ironic joy. I watched two gangs of dogs barking at one another. Each one stood with his army barking and revving his paws. One of them, presumably the leader, lifted his right leg, and urinated. A sign of ownership over that piece of land. The barking continued. Had I been on foot I would have stood there as long as possible in order to examine and revel in nature playing itself out before me. Sadly, my bus rolled on and left me to the thoughts that followed. Though the dogs did not carry guns, were they not soldiers? And though they carried no flag, was not the urine of the leader, its equivalent? Men are as beasts, are we not? We may wear fine clothes, may speak with a sophisticated tongue, but underneath we are savages with blood stained fangs. Our civility it is true, affords the illusion of safety. Though it cannot be denied that since man struck up a social contract with his fellow, we have taken a step out of the jungle. But have we? Are there still not predators and prey? They may not hunt or be hunted in quite the same way as a cheetah does a gazelle, but can we deny the hunt entirely? And as the cheetah hunts his prey instinctively so does man hunt without being conscious of it. There is strength and weakness and each man has his role, the same as the creatures of the jungle. Some will survive the harsh reality of the jungle and others will perish. The fact that it took man so long to admit his lowly origin and animal nature is a testament to man's impeccable ability of to lie to himself. Even now, the doctrine of evolution is rejected by many self-deceiving animals too afraid of its very real implications. Better is the illusion that man is a species unto himself, that he is separated in the order of nature, that he is the owner of all he desires, for he is not a brother animal but a human, superior in every way to the ape. The monkey, who strikes such a semblance to man that one would have to be blind as to not notice his kinship with him! The belief in an afterlife is this lie multiplied. For it causes humans to believe this this animalistic world can not be their true habitat, this is but a soul prison until they can rise to their true home, a home that is befitting the glory of mankind. Yes, we are evolved animals. We have instincts as they do. Yes, our intellect divides us, it allows us to survive the jungle, to evade the threat of death. But we mustn't lose sight of the fact that we are warring dogs, lustful apes, and vicious lions. Only then, will man be humble enough to deserve the right to be part of this earth again.
In every generation, it seems, it becomes necessary to teach the doctrine of equality. In the recent history it was blacks who are maltreated, believed to be inferior to the white man. Similarly has it been with women having to fight to gain equal rights with men.. I was born in the echoes of these movements. Though they had made huge triumphs the human disease that wishes to negate others was as alive as it ever was. In my life it was the homosexuals who were treated as sub-human or at best, as evil sinners. They were denied rights, and treated as though they were disrupting the status quo. Indeed they were. The oppressed have never been liberated without first upsetting the status quo. And though there are people who believe themselves to be champions of equality, who are pleased at where the moral zeitgeist now stands, they do not realize that their abhorance of homosexuals is merely threads cut from the same cloth of hate that was once directed towards blacks. The human race it seems has a difficult time swallowing this fact: That all humans, regardless of their inalterable nature of birth, regardless of color, gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation, posses the same basic and inalienable rights as the majority. To deny rights to anyone, denies rights for everyone. For unless we value the human life based on itself, what then will be the criteria?
Democracy, so as to protect itself, seeks to prove that democracy is the best way of life. Democracy is the people's rule, it is a society built on compromise. Trannies, on the contrary, live by one ideal. They have no interest on compromising on their truth. What they know to be truth is to them, the only ideal which truly matters. Can one be considered virtuous who comprises truth; who bends his ideals to fit with others? Can such perversion be called a virtue?! Democracy is created on compromise. It is founded on bent idealism. And of course, it is a gross perversion to say that compromising is the truth of the advocates for democracy. What shall be then of the world? Trannies of fixed ideas battling for dominance? A horrible picture indeed. No, I posit that the founders of democracy understand that life has no certainty. That “truth” is a word that should not be used in an ultimate sense. Therefore, we must allow for the possibility that we are wrong, and afford the opposition the same right, and thus compromise on our opinions of truth. The only other road would be to say that civil unity should not be concerned with truth, this approach however, cannot last, as the idealist will always rise and call this blasphemy. Therefore, ye advocates of democracy, ye praisers of peace, praise skepticism; for it is the key that will unleash democracy to the world.
We charge the media with being a corrupting source of information. We claim they are bias, immoral, and impious. We say they do not show the beautiful side of life, that they make life horrible and filled with bloodshed. Yet from whence cometh their viewership? Do we not realize that if a great deal of people did not crave what they produce - the violence, the sex, and the general human degradation - then they would not show it! We control them. What we wish to see they will show. Perhaps it is time for the idealists to realize it is not the media who is to blame, but their fellow humans, and many times, themselves.
As the Israeli elections are only moments away, I find myself relentlessly reading the different policies of the parties trying to find someone who has a viable plan for peace and equality between Israel and the Palestinians. It occurs to me that peace has never, and will never originate from governments. It has always, and must, come from the people. Even though the governments are in the best position to make peace it is not the nature of political powers to seek to level the playing field and thereby weaken their power. It must come from the people and they must compel the governments to implement it on legal terms. In every generation there have been conflicts between peoples, races, and creeds. Each side has mutually exclusive claims that vilify the other side and teach hate to their children. At all times the problem seems too large to solve, until a group of humans, of honest lay men and women, those who hold no power in the governmental sense take hold of their own power, and change the world. It is the duty and the right of each of us living in this tumultuous region to reach out grasp hands with our neighbors and teach the governments what peace looks like.
Is the world becoming a better place? Is it marching towards utopia? If we can really posit that it is exponentially improving itself, we can safely assume eventually - though almost certainly not in our lifetime - that the world will reach perfection. Then the ever echoing words of Isaiah will finally rest in reality. The sheep will lay with the lion. Man will be whole. The world at peace. I can not even imagine such a world. Not as a natural manifestation. It is no doubt that the wise religions have altogether given up on man in his current state and spoke instead of some mystical paradise just beyond the threshold of reality. Man's nature, religion claims, is sick. How right they are! Of course, one must be defining sick as religion sees it. More accurately we are beasts, very natural, very earthy. We are, in fact, nothing special. Yet, one cannot deny that the man has tamed himself a great deal. Human equality, an idea that can be arrived at using the faculty of reason, is on the rise. We may still have a ways to go, but minorities really do have a voice, if only in Western countries, and it is still just above a whisper. But can we say the world has improved, or has the evil, the true nature of man, simply found new lodging?
We all lie, the only question that remains is whether we are honest enough with ourselves to admit it.
Pain is a messenger, a loyal servant who rushes to inform the king that he is heading towards, or already in, grave danger. But what does the king do? He hates the messenger. When will he realize that Pain is his most loyal servant? Comfort, on the other hand, is a cunning serpent whom the king loves, but through his machinations he has killed many kings.
Religions chief achievement was to convince mankind that doubt was a sin. By doing so they stripped the human animal of his ability to flee from nonsense, to separate his desires from reality. Religion allowed man the folly that what one wishes were true could be, if only man expels Doubt; his close friend. With Doubt in exile the clergy were free to domesticate the human, shackling him to certainty like a dog on a leash. And like leashed dogs, they barked and snarled at anyone who tried to attack their captor.
For the past year I have been battling my convictions and the convictions of others. One conviction in particular I have attacked with my full arsenal. The idea, or shall I say, presumption, of God. I scrutinized and rejected religions as childish wishful thinking, and a will to rule men through morality and tradition. They compelled men to obey God, which every religion has translated to mean: obey a group of men, feeble-hearted irrational men (men specifically), who have appointed themselves, Ambassadors of God. When one views religion as something apart from oneself, its nature becomes transparent. It is an elixir of life. It is a comfortable blanket in which the humans, the beings who became aware of themselves and more so of their death, can wrap themselves up from the cold reality; which the clergy can then smother them with. A lion never seeks meaning or purpose. He lives and dies remaining oblivious of himself. Man has been cursed with consciousness, cursed to stare at the sky, hands outstretched, believing - wanting to believe - that he is important, that he matters. His solipsistic soul informs him that life cannot go on without him, and therefore, there must be a redemption just over the horizon and a God who loves him and fashioned him! But I am done battling religion. The world is too big to confine one's thoughts to a single idea. I am changing. I can feel echoes, whispers of ideas that are at present too large for my mind to handle. They wisp by, and I reach for them, grasping only a fraction between my fingers. During the past year I had the luxury or hubris, to believe that I was a rationalist. I believed I really was examining the world objectively. I now know how silly that really is. Indeed, I am a subjective creature, inherently irrational being, who is attempting to view his cage objectively. Whereas I will continue to aspire to rationalism, I know it is an ideal I will never attain.
I'm curious about the human need to show pity. What is the motivation that causes one to feel compelled to pity? Is it something dark? Does the human who pities feel superior to the pitied? Is it a misfiring of evolution? Did humans who pitied their young survive better? Did the tribes who pitied the weak last longer than tribes who didn't? Either way, I am curious from where the need to pity arises. I have learned of myself that I despise being pitied. I hate when people are kind to me out of pity. I feel attacked by them, challenged by their sympathy. Is it for them that they pity, or do most people crave to be pitied?
I watch the small ant struggle to get free. His leg, the thin as a hair black leg, is stuck; perhaps it is broken? He struggles furiously. One can imagine the sweat beads cascading down his little insignificant face. I sit and laugh as this peculiar sight play itself out. I wonder: why does this creature fight to live? Why does he toil so hard to survive? What awaits his departure from this dilemma? What point does he have in carrying on in his worthless existence? Is he to continue surviving winters through his summer’s work? To what end; why not let go in this moment? So ridiculous is his will to live. So instinctually does he battle the coming darkness. He cries out from deep in his subconscious: “I must live!” Yet the subconscious will gives no reason why existence is valuable. Silly ant, I thought. And then I glanced up and saw my own reflection...
Walking with a cane for the past week has given me a unique insight into the life of the pitied. By far the worst feeling was the stares from passerbyers. Their looks of pity, their condescending eyes. As I examined their stares, which they believed they were disguising, I noticed something peculiar. Their stares did not stem from pity. No doubt they were filled with pity, pity happened to them - since that is the natural reaction when we witness someone we identify with suffering - but there was another human character trait that was compelling them to stare, to examine. Curiosity, that endless need to know, to see, to explore. The wonderful human trait that has compelled man to explore, observe and eventually to leave Earth in search of the stars. So as I stumbled, hobbling along with a cane, the minds that passed me looked on curiously. "Is he missing a leg?" "Such a young man, why would he have a cane?" This is the intersection between pity and curiosity. True pity would be to treat the disabled, the strange, the deformed, as normal members of society. But we humans are victims of our emotions, they occur to us, and so it is difficult to curb our impulses. This week that I spent as the other (on a very small scale, I must add) has caused me to try as best as humanly possible to let my pity and respect for dignity, outweigh my unquenchable curiosity. Though it is important not to stare one mustn't be afraid to look at a disabled person for as they see the stares they also see the people looking away. No one wants to be a scientific experiment and no one wants to be invisible. In closing I think I can speak for all disabled when I say: our eyes are up here.
Ah, but should happiness be the ideal? Should the goal of man be to seek contentment all the days of his life? Should we do all we can to avoid suffering? Would it then not follow that a Brave New World in Huxley's utopia, should be our primary concern; to dull the senses, to drug our minds to the point of contentment. Sickening! How horrible it would be if suffering were at once drugged away! A constantly happy life! What nonsense, the word would lose its allure! What use is happiness if not to balance tragedy? This is the inexplicable nature of the religionists paradise. He talks of a world with no desire, for we shall have all, a world without pain since we shall enjoy health eternally. But what worth is such an existence? What art can be made in a world where the heart merely pumps contentment. There is something alive about suffering. Something that demands our respect. To live is to suffer, to create art, write poetry, dance to the music of a thousand chorused voices, is to transcend the suffering, not to a paradise of contentment, but to a fanatical volcano of competing emotions. It is to free oneself from contentment, to feel, truly feel what it is to be alive. To feel pain, to laugh, to wallow in tears, and to dance with unhindered joy, this is to live. There are those who would greatly benefit from your contentment. They would seek to feed you soma in the form of technological advances, distractions, ever-deadening your need to feel, to suffer. No, the goal of man is to expand his consciousness. To feel great misery and delightful happiness. To sing and to cry. To laugh and to rage. To feel himself, to crave the feeling of life. To abhor contentment, to hate those who wish to quiet his soul, to despise those who would numb his heart. Life is worth living because there is misery, not in spite of it.
I look down from my window, 17 floors in the sky. The world is shrunk before me. The roadways are filled with motor vehicles. Where are they going? They just keep coming and coming. Disappearing when they pass under my window. Endless lines of metal and rubber seemingly rushing. I stare at them and wonder about their drivers. Who are they? What do they dream about? Are they happy or miserable? Do they hate life, do they hate themselves? Do they have a place to go? I know to them I am a passing window. Perhaps they pass me daily. Do they wonder about who is behind the tinted window high in the sky? Are they conscious of the life that fills the halls of these looming concrete structures? How difficult is to see the stranger? Do we comprehend that though the passing cars, the hovering windows, are but props in our play, that we are merely props in theirs?
I wonder, do all people feel unique, really distinct? I know that I do. I sit surrounded by others and I realize I am uninterested by their obsessions, bored by their conversations. They seem to spend an enormous amount of time discussing food. I have no relation to them. But I am curious, just as I will, from time to time, indulge in their discussions in order to not be outcasted (people seem to get very bothered when I attempt to isolate myself. I can't tell if their anger comes from their desire to be in my company, or their hatred of someone who possesses what they lack, the ability to be alone), perhaps then, the others are acting as well? Perhaps they have the same feelings of distinctness? Perhaps they too feel bored and disinterested in the general nonsense of the masses. Perhaps we are all so very different and only pretend to be similar so as to tribalize ourselves?
Shackled, I loved my chains. I was born a slave, baptized into servitude. With a great adoration I worshiped my captors who themselves were slaves. They claimed to be communicating with Master's essence, they claimed, in other words, to be my masters. I adored their wisdom, became intoxicated by their words. I cursed my feeble heart for not resembling them more. And then, not all at once, but gradually, slow as a glacier, I began to doubt the principles of my slavery. The doubts grew inside me, spreading like a cancer strangling my faith. The palaces I had built began to crumble, the inhabitants screamed in agony, they begged me to stop the plague. I stood impotent as my kingdom fell and perished. I mourned the loss, but not for long. As a phoenix I arose from the ashes. I felt stronger. The chains that had bound me, I shattered with glee. From their horrible grasp I escaped, proud and indignant. I know mocked the masters I had once adored. I thought of them as fools too afraid to be disillusioned, to timid to be free. I began to build, to construct a new kingdom. One where I would be free, one where there would be no chains, no shackles. As a dream I built and built but would then awake and see that all I had constructed were but phantoms, illusions. Upon what foundation I had built them? The ground collapsed from under me. Falling, endlessly falling, was there no end to the abyss? Grasping, grasping at what appeared to be vines but were merely dead twigs that snapped as I reached for them. Darkness, darkness confronting me. Enveloping me, challenging me. Could I withstand it? Could I make sense of it? I had become free, but at what cost? Were I a slave I would be protected by the hopes that my captors told me of. I could suckle once more at the nipple of redemption. I could believe that my breath had meaning, that my life was a journey. Alas, I am free; free to suffer, free to fall endlessly into the abyss. Free to wander in search of rest. Ah, to wander, the curse of the free mind. I did not choose this life, I was drawn toward it like a fly to a flame. Always conscious of the danger but compelled, driven by something, some power, a courage buried deep inside my soul, planted by men ages before I arrived. Venture forth I shall, I must, I only hope I have the courage to face the raging sea. Many have drowned in its terrifying waves, have been swept under by the tide never to be seen again. I am standing by the shore of the black ocean, the waves dance at my unshackled feet. I can faintly hear the cries of the drowned. I look to my left and then to my right. I see hundreds of souls, standing as I am, their faces wrinkled in torment. They too, are building up the courage to take those fateful steps towards the forthcoming darkness. What unknown treasures await us on the other side of this rolling blackness? What Towers of Babel hearken us from the horizon. If only we survive the journey, if only we can survive...
Why is it that humans feel the need to be part of a cause? Wherever one looks he will find another concerned citizen standing on his soapbox in the city square, spouting the latest and trendiest cause. He will believe, for this is necessary, that this cause supersedes all others. He will tell you how only a monster could not devote himself solely to solving this particular societal problem. The irony is that no two people truly believe in the same cause. That is, they may each be screaming for the end of poverty, but the means in which they wish to end it oppose one another, sometimes violently. But this gentlemen on the soapbox why does he do it? Why does he feel the need, the compulsion to stand in the city center and make himself a crusader of a specific cause? I have come to believe, firstly that he is serving himself before he is serving anyone else. He needs to do this, he simply can't live without it; without a cause. Secondly, I think that this need comes from a sort of metaphysical adaptation to our consciousness. When humans became aware of themselves, their life and their death - perhaps most importantly their death - they at once felt the void of emptiness. They at once were witness to one of the greatest absurdities imaginable: life itself. The human would have chosen to end his life at that moment were it not for the sudden emergence of "meaning." Man began, and still does today, to apply meaning to everything he saw. He became a meaning-junkie. He listened to a song and gave it a soul, marveled at a sunset and told a story for it. Stood in wonder at the vast night sky and drew pictures which in turn created stories. He believed these stories, he loved them, he worshipped them. For these stories comforted him, consoled his tormented soul. They caressed his aching body, they revived his spirit. Soon everything had meaning. The weather became alive, purposeful and majestic. Coincidence became intervention and man, not surprisingly, became the ideal creature in the world, a species unto himself. Man did not need to be taught this keen art of finding meaning, it came as natural to him as laughter or even breath. As time passed men of superior character and intellect arose and began to banish the superstitions of the past. They showed how the weather was but an effect of another cause. They showed how man can make critical judgment errors and that he was far from perfect, but worst of all, these men showed that mankind was but a mere primate. Related closely to chimpanzees and more distantly related to every creature on earth and in the sea. He was an animal on a planet of animals. The floor opened beneath man. The human mammal fought hard against this discovery they hated it, for it stripped them of the meaning they craved. They did terrifying acrobatics so that this new discovery would not upset their old ideologies. Yet the structure once so strong was dealt a mortal blow. It is not difficult to see that we are living in the echo of that discovery. We are living in an age where science stands a head above superstition. Where once superstitions, and religions stood as a temple, an idol of worship, now people feel silly when their ceremonies or beliefs are exposed. Science rules, it has vanquished, or is on the brink of vanquishing its most hated nemesis. But what will man do? How will he cope without his star tales, or his animated heavens? I do not think we should worry. Man has always adapted and he will do so again. He is adept, remember, at discovering the "hidden meaning" in everything. He is wonderfully evolved to make causes out of the thin air, to sacrifice his life on a principle of nonsense. Humans could not live without meaning, as they could not survive without air. So long as we have consciousness I believe, we will find a way to make life meaningful.
One of the common, and in my opinion strong, arguments for religion is its blanket of comfort it offers its adherents. It truly addresses all the deep seated fears of the feeble human heart and placates them.
“Worry not,” says the preacher, “you will survive your death, there will be another world of justice for the wicked and love and grace for the meek -- for you!”
Of course, upon examination it is odd that they would be comforted by the knowledge of hell-fire and strict judgement, but of course as everyone they perceive themselves as generally good. They are comforted in the knowledge that God, unlike any judge of flesh and blood, will not only weigh the evidence but examine their heart and see that they meant well. Of course, other people who they deem as wicked will certainly perish in eternal fire. The silliness of the desire is apparent, a just world should terrify all but the heavenly angels. Immortality however is just one of the many existential desires of man.
“Yes,” the rabbi exclaims, “God is listening to you! He hears your prayers, he looks upon you with love, he favors you, he protects you. When you experience pain he is just acting as father who is scolding his child. You mustn't fret but accept his judgement with love. He is of infinite wisdom and you are limited and feeble.”
Indeed we are! We crave the ultimate father figure who reminds us of our real father who, when we felt helpless as children, would swoop in and hold us, listen to us, and protect us. We grow up but inside we are children cowering in the dark, calling for out for our father.
“Indeed,” says the Imam, “we have a purpose. We are not merely highly evolved animals, we are agents of the one God, who has fashioned and created us for a specific task.”
These seem to be the primary needs that are met by religion - all religions in one manifestation or another. Though this makes religion all the more suspicious in my eyes, it also is indisputable that it can offer enormous comfort for people who are suffering internally or externally. But at what cost? What does religion ask in return? Religion demands obedience. It appoints the leaders for you, and they control you. You sell your freedom for heart numbing comfort. An opiate indeed. Religion demands your conscious. They dictate what is good and what is evil. Not surprisingly, they call virtue all that supports their religion, and sin anything that challenges it. What is perhaps more surprising is that morally sound people would hurl stones at an apostate, would behead, or burn him for his thoughts, and would feel therefore that they were in the grace of God. These same people condemn any other religious practice, especially those that harm other people, but will condone it when the messengers of their religion demand it. In other words, the price of existential comfort is your mind. The irony is the more religious people challenge their faith, such people are fondly called theologians, their god becomes much different than the god of the church sermons. He becomes smaller, or more abstract, in other words, less personable, and therefore more plausible, the price of this is of course that these theologians do not get the same level of comfort, that is, unless their mouths are playing the thinker while their hearts rest assured. I believe a great deal of them are guilty of this sort of doublethink, which can be clearly seen from their contradictions in their words, deeds, and practices.
If there existed a race or species that was superior in intelligence to the human race, it would be a moral obligation and duty to seize power over us, for our own good. Recognizing this, we humans, would be compelled to give them the right to do so. This would be the safest course of action. Humans have learned over years of thinking otherwise, that we are in little control of ourselves. Our minds are weak, our hearts are easily swayed. We are irrational and emotional, in other words, not fit to rule even ourselves. But there is no superior race to our knowledge. The men who rule us are humans in every way. They may indeed, if we’re lucky, be of great intelligence, but they are still human, still fallible. Thereby, none have the right to rule others, since they're judgement will not surpass in any considerable way that of the general mass of society.
Those who seek greatness while they are alive, generally fall short of it. Most of the men of history revered for their thoughts, deeds, and legacy, were degraded while alive, and only recognized after, when people could step back and see the crater they had left in the world. People who seek fame and recognition for true greatness, will necessarily cut important corners in order to achieve it. They generally do, since mankind is easily deceived and confuse bloated egos for towering heros. But soon after they are gone, these lightweight thinkers will fizzle out and their ashes will disappear.
I wonder, can we ever forgive our ancestors for the evil they have done? Can we absolve their sins? Can we forget the brilliant minds they burned for heresy, for the powerful spirits they shackled in slavery, for the incalculable lives lost in worthless wars? I wonder with passionate indignation. But then my thoughts drift to the future, and I wonder, will our descendants ever forgive us?
He who is talking, generally advocates freedom of speech. The only freedom of speech that matters is that of the dissenter. Seek out the persistent voice of the contrarian for it is only through his words that you, one way or another, will refine your ideas.
Human equality did not come from Judaism but rather as a rejection of one of its most basic principles. Jesus rebelled against the Jewish idea of national chosenness. God loves all of mankind equally was not a Jewish concept, it was an expansion of the love supposedly held for the Jews exclusively. Modern day Jewish theologians would like to lay claim to this social value, claiming that it was their religion that brought it into the world. They point to the verse in Genesis which describes the creation of man happening in the image of god. Therefore, they claim, all men are equal insofar as we resemble god. Of course, this is not what was meant by that verse. A point which is easily noticeable by the multitude of verses which contradict the equality principle of Judaism. The Egyptians, Babylonians had gods of their own, who would do their bidding, Yahweh was the god of the Jew the personal god who loved them, and protected them. Jesus can lay claim at least in part for human equality since he rejected this notion of chosenness.
When confronted by a popular idea, a concept held as absolutely true, seek out the voice of the dissenter. Against the unanimous scream search for the whisper of the contrarian. Examine his rebellion, let his anti-ideas pierce you, they will sting at first, there is no doubt of that, but it will save you from devouring poison. Remember that wolves and sheep travel in groups. Their shared mentality can corrupt the strongest mind, the most steadfast spirit. One must separate himself seek out the opposition and take refuge in solitary wisdom. Many times after examining both the popular and heretical ideas you will find that the majority is completely wrong. Why is this? I believe that when truth enters a herd it necessarily becomes diluted. It mixes in with the varying minds and becomes muddled by emotions and social norms, in other words, it becomes poisonous to the intellectual mind. This is by no means always true, but there is no way to determine whether your thinking is clear unless both sides are brought before you.
I am ashamed of my humanness at times. Disgusted when I feel envy, sickened by my seeking of fame. It happens all of a sudden without warning, my thoughts will be interrupted by my human emotions. They will swarm into my mind clouding all that dwells there, poisoning my thoughts and corrupting my ideas. My stomach will tighten as if I have consumed something foul, my heart will race, and my eyes will blur. Try as I might to combat these emotions with the sword of rationality, like waves, my sword slices through them, but they merely reshape and overcome me. They are mighty waves crumbling my fortresses, crippling my intellectual empire. The water rages on destroying the carefully planted fields, crushing the delicate artwork that illuminates my kingdom. And then, all at once, as quickly as they came, they recede into the depths. My mind is restored, we have been damaged but we shall rebuild. We look on at the now quiet sea, and we know, the waves have ceased for the moment but they will rise again. We know that we cannot defeat them. Their power is unmatched. They are the reminder of our feeble nature, our utter animal. Alas we are human, all too human.
The absurdity of existence can be stifling. It can make man wish to crawl into darkness, and die. It can make man mock his most virtuous efforts, his most supreme aspirations. If man were to dwell in the absurdity, if it were to grasp his mind and not let go, suicide would be his escape, madness his opium. Fortunately, most people barely notice it. There are times when they hear the echoes calling from the abyss, seductive whispers from deep inside the blackness, but those moments are brief and so man can live with persistence and the belief in destiny. As for myself, I only receive a whiplash as a reminder of the absurdity of it all, at the end of the week and another lashing on Sunday. The Sabbath remains a haven, an inn on the road where I can rest in eternity. It gives me the strength to forget that my days are heading nowhere but the grave, and at the end of it all, there will have been no ultimate purpose for this existence. I will fade into nothingness as all things do.
When man stands before the cosmos he will almost certainly be stricken with unparalleled awe. He will see its utter vastness, its seemingly endless horizon, and will more than likely feel something akin to a religious experience. Yet there is another emotion that can be coupled with the realization of our very small part of the universe. Man can begin to feel insignificant. “How can my brief life matter,” he will wonder, “in relation to such an incomprehensibly large universe?”
Fundamentalists anywhere, are a danger to freedom everywhere. The most poisonous venom that has ever plagued mankind is dogmatism in all its forms. We can forgive early man for being certain of his beliefs, he knew not of philosophy which taught man humility. But he who lives post-Socrates, how could he be forgiven for grasping into his ideas with certain fervor? How have we allowed ourselves to be poisoned? In this modern age, we must combat fundamentalism wherever it rears its ugly head, and must seek to cut the head off the serpent poisoning mankind. We must therefore first expose the sickest amongst us, the ones in whom the poison of certainty has caused almost irreparable damage, these people, the venom-spreaders, the intellectually diseased, can almost mostly be found in two places: the church and the government.
The story is told of two men in prison. Each man was locked an individual cell. Besides the uncomfortable cot and bowl for waste, there was a peculiar mechanism attached to the far wall; it appeared to pierce the stone wall. The warden explained that their crimes condemned them to a life in prison. They were told however that the mechanism if they turn its massive wheel, would crush wheat into fine flour and would be given to poor families in the town. At first the prisoners scoffed at the idea. They preferred to lie around all day, they had no interest in working for others. It did not take them long however, before they each, on their own accord, began to think about their existence. How useless it was, how horribly meaningless. Indeed it was as if they didn't exist at all. Shackled in blackness, had the world already mourned and forgotten them? They began feeling disgusted by the very breath in their lungs, they abhorred the hours that remained in their living dead existence. Their eyes fell upon the large wheel and its many connecting gears. As if of the same soul, each of the men got up, shuffled their dirty bare feet across the stone floor, their chapped hands grasped the wooden wheel and began to turn. The wheel was difficult to turn, as one might expect. After a few rounds the men were feeling the sweat form a light coating on their blackened faces, but something inside them felt so alive. They began to turn with more might, their heart pounded their muscles shook violently, but they felt as though they were reborn. Each man imagined what might be happening on the other side of thick stone wall. One imagined a large group of poor families cheering as the flour began to cascade upon them! They cried out in sheer ecstasy! They worshiped him and chanted his name. They called him their savior! The other man believed it was a humbler scene. The flour was being distributed to baskets in a quiet shack. A few other felons loaded them onto wagons, which were driven by a town official who brought them to the houses of the impoverished. The men fantasized about just how much flour was produced with each difficult turn, they wondered whether it was what they wanted to believe or whether it was a rather small amount. Neither man had ever had any experience grinding wheat before. After long hours of turning their wheels the men laid down in their thin beds and smiled as the sweat trickled down their faces. Their soul felt so warm inside them. How many people had they helped today? How many children had food in their bellies because of their efforts? The men fell into the most peaceful sleep they had had in years. In the morning - they knew it was morning only because the guard shoved a plate underneath their door - the men leapt out of bed, gobbled up their stale meal, swallowed their few drops of filthy water they were given, and then began to turn their wheels. One of the men began to whistle, his heart was truly alive. The other man felt more fulfilled they he ever had in his whole life! He regretted the time he had wasted indulging himself when he was a freeman. The days went on and on. The men set into their routine, the utter loneliness they felt when they were not working caused them to churn the wheel until they had no strength left. They would collapse to sleep only to repeat the process the following day. Their hearts were filled with happiness, with meaning. One day, one of the men began to wonder: "Is there really a mill on the other side? Am I really producing flour? What if my efforts mean nothing? What if all the work I have done is just a cruel game being played by the warden? What if my fantasy was my own illusion and nothing more?" The thought began to plague him. He had been turning this wheel for more days then he could count and perhaps they had meant nothing. He suddenly began to think back on his first day, when he was brought to the menacing stone fortress that was to be his prison. Did he see any mills, or wagons? Had he noticed anything but the towering wall and the terrifying reality they represented? He could not remember. He racked his brain, straining to gather a more clear memory of that dreadful day. With each passing moment his doubts grew stronger and stronger. All at once he was filled with a strange certainty that there was no mill, no wagons, no flour - no meaning. When this thought had thoroughly seized every corner of his mind, he collapsed onto the stone floor and began to weep.
Meanwhile, in the adjacent cell, the sound of joyous whistling filled the dingy chamber. The man was turning the wheel as he always had, each cycle made him all the more certain that he was a savior, a sentinel protecting the weak and poor of the village. He had wondered once, whether there was actually a mill, but immediately laughed at the craziness of the thought, “Why then would there be a wheel here in my cell!” he had thought. He resolved never to think of such nonsense again. Though he had laughed it off, something in the darkest place in his soul had been terrified by the thought. “Evil thought,” he decided, “evil nonsense.” On the other side of the damp walls lay a crumpled body weeping and shaking. The echo of the wails amplified and made an almost deafening sound. The man heaved and sobbed. His hands were clenched together pressed against his broken lips. He mumbled inaudibly to himself. Hours passed, and finally he climbed to his feet. He stared at the wheel. He timidly approached it. His hands caressed it lovingly. He realized that he loved the wheel, he adored it for what it had given him. He began to turn the wheel once more. He wondered why he did it. Was it habit? Was it a fear of the alternative? Was it hope? He wondered as he turned it round and round.
What is God? Abundant evil or abundant good? Indeed, though spoke of as two, it appears that god is both god and devil. Indeed, a reading of the Bible seems to indicate that the devilish side prevailed only to be later "civilized" by the godly side. At first a tyrant of immeasurable cruelty, a slaughterer of mankind through drowning. Did man ask to be created? Had he requested his insatiable lust? And God could not simply make them vanish? He then picks his favorite nation and commands them to slaughter countless inhabitants of Canaan. He loves his people but seems to disregard the rest of mankind. Then his son is said to be born only to live briefly and die for the sins of man - sins, God declared to be so. And finally he promised eternal love and paradise for those devout and eternal unending fire for those who reject him. The rejection, of course, is never of God, since he has chosen to hide, it is rather of priests. But alas God performs miracles supposedly and yet lets evil reign.
At best, O Lord, you are a mixture of good and evil. What other species is exactly so? Indeed what other species excels at evil and is only loving towards those devotional to them? Friedrich was right when he said that was indeed difficult to tell whether man was made in the image of god, or god in the image of man.
How can we define morality? It is unnecessary to note that every person on Earth except those deemed to be mad have some sense of morality. This code of conduct varies almost by the person and can sometimes violently contradict. There are certain moral precepts that seem to be cross-cultural. Murder, for instance, is considered wrong by almost every culture in the world. The punishment for murder was generally death which is only slightly ironic. As we uncover the layers of morality we begin to notice even more ironic and strange things. We have killed god and thus we have killed our justification for morality, yet even in the most secular, a deep-seated sense of morality persists. What is its origin. It would seem that morality could only come from two sources: genetics/evolution and social norms. So deeply are we affected by these causes that we will hate ideas, like incest or eating dogs, without carefully considering why. In other words, we believe certain things to be wrong because our subconscious has been conditioned either by evolution or by our circumstances, to believe that they are indeed wrong. We cannot then speak of morality with much authority. It is the job of the ethicist to study these emotions common among men, and see which if they are good for society and which seem detrimental. They will then make laws protecting against these "immoralities" using force that would be criminal if used in any other means. Right and wrong vanish. Morality is subjective, ethics are the rationalizations pertaining to those emotions. Laws are moral principles of the powerful.
I am finding it incredibly difficult to break free from the Prison of Perspective.
I can find no rational for any moral system except pragmatism. What could possibly be the reason for a soldier to give his life in battle? The only reason imaginable is if he believes in another life, then, the pragmatic thing for him to do, is sacrifice this life, for the rewarding one after death. Of course, there is a reason why a country would send soldiers to die, it is again, pragmatic. The nation, the whole, must be protected. But we humans are not rational creatures. Therefore our morality is only loosely based in reason. In fact, there is evidence to say that we act solely off our instincts and only later rationalize them to fit a philosophy. Every idea of right and wrong, duty and right, is so punctured with assumptions and wish-thinking that the only reason it ever stands is because we are directly beneath it propping it up. Indeed we construct massive edifices on illusions. Human rights! What nonsense! Yet, so much of the western world is built upon it. Pragmatism always leads to power. Power secures survival. It is only when our survival instinct is not noticeably apparent that we can wander off in the garden of ethics. But do we view those who sacrifice their survival for others as heroes? Did people facing utter annihilation in the concentration camp not give their last piece of bread to someone else? How do we explain this phenomenon? We must begin by realizing that is difficult to be evil, that is, most of us do not have the strength to bear another's pain, much less harm another so that we may live. Our guilt would destroy us, our life would cease to matter. But were we pragmatists devoid of emotion, masters of our instincts, we would see that survival is the most important goal and seize every opportunity to defend it. There is only rule in the jungle, one ethic: survive. But humans seem to crave something more than survival…
Heaven can only be filled with lawyers. They would be the only ones who could convince the Judge of their innocence.
Is the man on the cross the most tragic waste of life, or the most profound use of it?
The walls are thick. The cell is black. There are only tiny rays of light that serve to accent the darkness. We were born here, and many of us will perish right here, never knowing anything else. Most of us have never fathomed that we are indeed imprisoned, but we are; against our will and escape is nearly impossible. Few people are said to have escaped but the great majority live and die here. I am referring to a term I have created called the Prison of Perspective. It is a prison like any other. Locked in our inherited narrow view of reality, given to us at birth, and fortified as we grew older. Rarely do people realize that they are in a prison at all, much less do they realize they helped build it. Each time they confirmed a belief blindly, they put another stone on the ever-growing cell. Each time they cowed from hearing a dissenting view they tightened the chains on their ankles. Whenever they refused or felt guilty about their doubts, they placed another lock on the door. Of course there masters are prisoners of their convictions as well, though the servants rarely see it. Freethinkers, the ones at least trying to break their shackles and escape are at best scorned and discouraged, at worst, violently opposed. A free man, stands as a disillusionment to the comforts of what we know, he is therefore regarded as a poison, his words treated like venom. Whenever our prison walls are challenged we scramble to pick up the fallen stones and cover the gaping hole, for fear of the unknown. We must break free of our given beliefs, challenge our most cherished convictions, smash the fortress of certainty and venture forth into the unknown plains, as free men.
The vast majority of believers would be a good cause to accept religion’s claims if humans generally made decisions based on reason, but they do not. We decide things after they have already been set in motion by our emotions and instincts. If man were above all skeptical, his belief would count for something, but he isn't. He is born credulous and only later, if he is extremely lucky, learns skepticism. If he devotes himself to truth, he will no doubt become a master of skepticism; which will lead to free thought, a very appropriate synonym for atheism.
The danger of all thinking is that it bases itself off something else. When a thought arises, and we critique it in the fire to see if it's true we generally do so in a pre-existing furnace. For instance, the religious scholar bases all his brilliance on the foundation of assumptions he has, whether through blind faith or careful consideration already accepted. The secular scholar as well has, for whichever reason, rejected the supernatural and is now basing his thoughts off that platform. For any advancement in thought one must have a foundation off which to build. The problem, though perhaps inescapable, is obvious: people who have accepted a set of claims will seldom go back to challenge them. They are the foundation upon which all their thinking is based. It is for this reason that very wise people can believe and even expound on complete nonsense, once the original seed is planted, if it is an untruthful proposition, any plant thereafter cultivated, no matter how carefully pruned, will be poisonous. How then is one supposed to find truth? First, he must realize how illusive truth is. Like a math problem, even if one decimal is off in his thinking, the outcome will be wrong, but unlike math, ideas are complex and nuanced while numbers are finite and simple. Therefore, we can faster trace our errors in math than in our thinking. Second, one must constantly seek out dissenting views, for though uncomfortable and may sometimes cause him to move slower intellectually, it is the only way to find truth. Third, remain open always to have everything you thought true proven utterly wrong, and be willing to begin again.
There is beauty, but it is transient. There is happiness, but it is not eternal. There is meaning, but it is not ultimate. The universe is indifferent, but we do not have to be. One does not need religion, does not need to succumb to the seduction of superstition, one can be perfectly content in knowing that he is the product of chance, given a brief moment to breathe in the world and experience life before he returns his consciousness and becomes again a part of the ever-spinning universe.
It is only in the reserves that I find myself surrounded, and associating with, people of very different characters than myself. In general that kinds of people I attract I can tolerate, and moreover, I truly enjoy their company. I am pleased that it is this way. Yet, when I return to the army I am at once thrust into a swarm of people of such varying and polarizing characteristics. Some of these characters disgust me, others puzzle me, and still yet others I am interested in. It is a truly unique experience. Neither good nor bad. When I was in the regular army service I became overwhelmed by these differences and felt incredibly lonely. Now however, since the reserves is only for a short time, even though I am still isolated to a degree I can more easily appreciate the vast diversity that makes up mankind, with the knowledge that soon I will once again be surrounded by like minds. When I say like minds I do not mean minds that agree with me, but rather minds that are similar in their methods of thought. This distinction is as night and day.
Once one can confidently choose life over self-annihilation (a task I am not certain can be accomplished by most people, myself included) than the most important question becomes how we should live. This question should be asked and re-asked by every individual, every society, and every epoch. This is the primary question.
Some thoughts on death:
Death is frightening; that is, the thought of death: the ultimate unknown of which we have no experience, the idea of finality, of being no more. These realizations are terrifying to the conscious creature. Of course, it is fear and therefore irrational. Sadly, one cannot be truly comforted by the wise reasoning of Epicurus. I have another fear that accompanies death. I will admit from the start that it is an irrational fear for reasons I will show further on. The fear is that my death will be twisted and bent to fit crudely or otherwise into some political agenda or another. I am a soldier in the Israeli army. Can you imagine how the world would use my death were I to be killed in combat? Some would praise my courage, they may even honor me with the now empty title of hero. Others will vilify me as a occupier and monster. Some will say that I came to Israel to defend my people, some will say I was a great soldier who loved his country. My death will be used to justify more killing. The regime whose soldier killed me would praise the attacker for slaying the enemy warrior. The truth is that I do not want my death to used for any agenda. I am a simple man. I seek truth and desire world peace. I love knowledge and crave to acquire it. I love my family. I love the relationships that I have with each of them. I love my friends. I am not a fighter, not do I wish to sacrifice my life for nationalism. I am not, in the popular sense of the word, a hero. I do not desire to be a hero. I want to live, love, learn and laugh. Simple man, simple life, simple death. When I die, I wish for it to be of natural causes, whatever that entails. - Written in the back of an army jeep in the border of Gaza
The absurd can only be confronted in the present. It is only in the moment where you can sustain the reason to continue breathing. Nothing in the past, no previous effort or struggle, can justify the future. For the daunting edifice of life’s ultimate meaninglessness strangles and murders any attempt to circumvent it. What past moment can one bring to justify his existence? What future event can convince man to continue the struggle of habitual breathing? It is only in the moment, in the present, when he gazes lovingly at the beaming faces of his children, or when he is embracing the woman he loves, or when he finishes a project that had meant a lot to him, only in this second can man roar with laughter or chastise sternly anyone who would suggest that life is not worth living. Absurdity has power to cripple only when we dwell - as we consistently do - in the past or future. Only when we live in the moment, in those rare times that we are thrust into focusing on the illusive Now, can we truly confront the absurdity of life with the healthiest and strongest of spirits.
The danger of tests, which now fill the minds of every student, is simple. When we tell a child that he needs to pass this or that test, when we constantly are him putting in a position to fail, when tests become the object of the child's fear, we accomplish nothing. The child may pass the test, but he will not have truly learned. He will have memorized the important details for the sole purpose of overcoming the obstacle in his way. Learning to complete exams is not true learning. Exams are only a tool to help the student and the teacher evaluate how the student is learning, not to pass or fail him! We need to remind children, and perhaps ourselves, why learning is important. Too long it has been trumped as the only road to money, this is absurd in the highest degree, and has dealt a mortal blow to the education of generations. We have trained children to memorize what will be on the test, dispose of the rest, and dispose of the test information moments after completion to begin memorizing for the next exam.
What is the meaning of life? This question persists in the minds of all conscious creatures. It gnaws at our every endeavor, challenging are continued existence. This question has caused men and women to sacrifice themselves, or more terrifyingly, their children for a cause - holy or nationalistic. These causes serve to answer the question that poisons their minds. When viewed closely however, one can observe that this cause was clumsily covered and the paint is already peeling revealing the menacing question underneath. Those who turn to gods or governments, do so with the hope that these omnipotent institutions will either answer the question for them, or at the very least guarantee that their faith is enough to give their life purpose. Of course, this question only ever arose in the mind of these highly evolved mammals because they had the unfortunate curse of being aware of their coming demise. We watched the other mammals, even the highly evolved, decaying and dying and our great talent of pattern recognition confirmed: we too are going to die. All at once, life needed a purpose, something beyond, something important. So how shall we go on, we who have no creed, no religion, no doctrine that seeks to placate our anxiety? What will be of us. Some of us have sought meaning through selflessness, but is this "the meaning of existence?" I elect to think that the meaning of life is either non-existent, that is, life is accidental without purpose, or unknowable, that is, whether beyond the shores of reason there lies another dimension or Eden to which our species and our planet serve an important role, is unknowable. The danger lies in people who desperately need to answer the question of meaning, who clammer at anything that appeases them. Evidence, skepticism, these principles are abandoned in the maddened search for the meaning of life. An analogy can be drawn from the reader of a well-written novel who seeks in the early chapters to understand where the author is going with the story. A careful reader will not waste time with such obviously frivolous tasks, he will live in the page and wait for the story to unfold and the meaning to be revealed. We are not mere readers of the Novel however, we are characters in the story. Religion wants you to believe that you can have a relationship with the Author and that you play an important role. As for me, I need to live in the page. My character will eventually fade from the story and it will more than likely still go on. My character cannot escape the book in order to identify that there is an Author at all, much less seek to know the meaning of the story.
The oppressors always seek to sanctify the status quo. To those whom it benefits, the status quo is something to be safeguarded, to those stifled beneath it, it is a towering idol that can only be destroyed with the hammers of dissent.
If you do not criticize and condemn your own government, you are not a patriot, you are a slave.
It was man's boundless curiosity that first made him ask, upon reflecting on the cosmos, “where did we come from?” It was man's fearful imagination that led him to create stories and legends of gods and men. It was man’s hubris that led him to believe those stories as true and his own knowledge absolute. It was man’s tenacity that sought after many dark years, to peer once again at the mysterious cosmos, stripped of superstitions. It was man’s rebellious nature that led him to reveal his discoveries even though they challenged the established ideas. Science is founded on the best of our natures, humility, curiosity, and passion. Through its tireless efforts and the courage of men and women throughout history, we live in a time where we finally are beginning to grasp our cosmic address, and venturing forth unafraid of the vast abyss in which we live. Perhaps we will one day truly be able to answer the question of our origin, and we will do so, standing on the shoulders of giants.
We tend to regard as a genius anyone who is smarter than ourselves. This, of course, presupposes our own superior intellects. In other words, regarding someone as a genius usually reveals more about your intelligence than it does theirs.
If you wish your subjects to obey, you will do well to convince them that their instincts are evil. Since these impulses will always be stronger than external law, it becomes necessary to turn your subjects against them. It is for this reason, I believe, that religions have always made sinister the natural sexual impulses of man. Repeated enough times, lectured on the evil within man, and he turns against himself, against his own nature. Feeling helpless he will turn to you, as his master, and will devote himself to learning from you how to repel his inner enemy. Upon failing to restrain the inner drive, he will crawl to you for repentance.
Sometimes I wish there was an afterlife even if it was just a plain white room that only lasted ten minutes so that all the religious fanatics who have slaughtered and disrupted the world for the skewed belief can know that they were horribly and terribly mistaken and that there is no heaven awaiting them. I believe these ten minutes would constitute an eternity of hell.
Your perspective of the past will rely on your position in the present; therefore the past relies just as much on the present as the present relies on the past.
We haven't left the jungle. We simply disguised it in concrete and glass. We have not escaped the predators we have merely dressed them in suits and smiles. We have not given up hunting for our food, we simply obey the smiling predator, who keeps us clambering by his side throwing his scraps at us. He keeps us just satisfied enough so as to keep us in line, docile. We mammals are right where are ancestors were, only they recognized that they are animals.
Judge not a book by its cover, but rather by the size font that its author’s name appears.
A sure sign of maturing is not so much the graying of hair, as it is the graying of what was once perceived as black and white.
Every writer should have a reader he hopes to impress.
Don’t downplay your achievements; they are usually not deserving of humility.
Criticize not, unless it will accomplish more than praise will.
Behold there is a great gulf between all men. Respectful communication is the only way for man to ever meet his fellow.
One of my chief goals has always been to be a man who never stops becoming.
Examine your own character with a critical eye, and you will learn a lot about humanity. Conversely, the study of humanity will teach you much about yourself.
When the enforcer and not the enforced, is praised for a job well done, this is a sure sign of tyranny.
Indeed, some people are alive today simply because they didn’t die yesterday.
There are three paths one can take in this life; there is one of fire, passionate and consuming, one of ice, rigid and unchanging, and one - that sits between these two roads that is like water. It flows to and fro, at times warming itself by the fire and then curling back to be cooled by the ice. Such is the path of the wise.
Aging is the greatest humbler of humans. In infancy, we are certain that the world revolves around us. In adolescence we rebel against the reality that it does not, in adulthood we are dealt blow after blow that reminds us that we are very small, and if properly lived, the elderly can reconcile that they are very small in relation to universe, and be satisfied and take pride in the splash, however small, they made, and die as humble beings.
Humans are overall simple creatures. It is easier for us to see the world as black and white, good and evil, right and wrong, because this duality is simple for our minds to grasp. Contrastly, nuance is difficult to digest. It is a painful pill that we sensitive-bellied creatures do all we can to avoid. The world, upon critical examination is not a battleground of god and devil, good and evil, it is a confounding mix of colors, with no discernible pattern or clear borders. What constitutes good has challenged even the greatest thinkers. What makes man go? That is the unsettling question of every age. Simply put, we don't know. We can see this craving for comfortable duality poisoning all academic pursuits. Politics, philosophy and history all these subjects have been tainted at one time or another by this fatal poison. Only science, so far as I can see it, has remained above these temptations. Science can remain pure because it doesn't mingle in emotions, which are messy and undefined. It does not try to simplify existence it seeks only to explain it in all its complexity. Duality is lazy intellectualism, we would do well to rid ourselves if this most childish of notions.
Dec. 7, 2015
This is my creed:
Be skeptical of even your most cherished convictions. Be always open to hear another opinion. Be ready at any time to change your own opinions in accordance with the evidence. Be unafraid to think for yourself. Challenge authority. Love as much as possible all living things. Unless acting in self-defense never hurt another person or animal. Live with passion but don't take yourself too seriously. Study the universe, there is much beauty and inspiration amongst the stars. Be boundlessly curious and ready to learn. Most of all enjoy this brief moment of sunshine that we call life.
Dec. 9, 2015
Here then is my reason for disbelief:
Religion makes fantastical claims. It asks its adherents to accept certain very grand assumptions about reality. It asks them to believe in an invisible all-seeing and all-knowing God. It asks them to believe in miracles which directly contradict everything we know about nature. It asks them to believe that God has spoken to man and told him how to live. It asks them to believe that their particular holy book - which is a drop in an expanding ocean of holy books - is the only correct one. It asks them to accept the authority of the clergy (perhaps the most sinister aspect of religion). It asks them to believe that after this life, there is another infinitely better world where they will be rewarded, and perhaps more importantly, the others - the heretics, the rebels - will be eternally punished. Religion makes these superb claims while not offering the evidence needed to back them up. Indeed, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” None such evidence is provided. As soon as I realized what I was being asked to accept and upon what platform it all stood, the stage crumbled and my belief in religion dissipated. Why has religion been able to capture the minds and hearts of thousands? Why have even very intelligent people been seduced by its fantasy? Don't we all, in our daily lives, require good evidence to believe even trivial ideas? What then is the secret of religion's success? Certainly there is not one right answer to these questions. There are always many factors that cause man to act one way or another, but I believe I can give at least one possible answer. Reading the above claims made by religion one can see a certain pattern emerge. Many of them, we desperately want to be true. We would love to matter. We would love to know that there is a Heavenly Father who cannot die and will therefore never abandon us. We love the idea that He will care for us. We love having an authority over us, deciding for us the difficult moral dilemmas. We love the idea that we will survive our death. To hell with the evidence! Please let it be so! This is certainly part of the reason religion has been such a potent and irremovable force in history. I forgot who said it, but it is spot on: there will always be religion so long as humans are afraid of death.
Dec. 13, 2015
Would the world be better off without religion? There are two groups of people who will find this question ridiculous. The so called New Atheists would jump at the opportunity to eradicate what they believe to be a poison. “Of course the world would be better without it!”
The other group would laugh at the idea that the world has any good in it save religion. “Of course atheists can be moral but they need to borrow from religion to do so. The world would certainly be an evil place if religion did not permeate it.”
These two factions have lively debates to this effect. The atheists showing the track record of religious crusades, wars, persecutions, and jihads, the religious pointing to the atheistic regimes of the 20th century and the large religious charity organizations. The debates, as one might expect, go no where. After much contemplation on the nature of and results produced by religion, I humbly conclude, neither side is correct. In fact, they are wholly mistaken, dangerously so. Their fundamentalist view for or against religion, produces an animosity of the other that is tribal and can cause violence at worst, horrible divisiveness at best.
The answer, as is usually the case, is far more complex and nuanced. Religion is a potent force that has shaped much of human history. Any scholar who wishes to understand history, culture and human nature would do well to study it carefully. Childish silliness (as religion is sometimes accused of being) does not, cannot survive and thrive the way religion has.
To shorten this essay, as the study of religion cannot fit in one essay, I will say two particular things I think religion has introduced to the world. One of them we can learn from and try to emulate and the other I think is religion’s alone. The first is community. Religion has built into its infrastructure a sense of kinship with neighbors. The shared vision and hopes, the shared history and destiny, and weekly (or daily) gatherings of shared activities all serve to break down the natural barriers that divide man from his fellow. The secular community would do well to try and implement something that will resemble religious houses of worship before dismissing the totality of religion.
The second unique feature that I wish to mention here requires a small bit of explanation. We humans are self-serving creatures. Anyone who has ever contemplated it understands that human altruism is always tainted by personal gain whether external or internal. Humans are more enthusiastic when the kindness they perform will, in some way, be reciprocal. Here is the peculiar aspect the religions offer its adherents: it allows them to be self-sacrificing (charity or martyrdom) while simultaneously being self serving (reward and God's good favor) this cannot be implemented on secular terms but it should not be hastily overlooked.
Dec. 13, 2015
Boycotting a speech because you disagree with the content, banning books because history is "offensive," the belief that your opinions should be immune from criticism and ridicule, is the death of liberalism. Indeed it is regressing back to the fundamentalism that liberalism arose to combat. Liberalism opens the market of ideas it doesn't shut it down. Because of its values of tolerance and acceptance it allows the debate to ensue now that no one need be afraid of being persecuted for their opinions. Nowadays, people - sensitive young people - have hijacked liberalism and made it into a dogma that doesn’t challenge ideas, dissenters aren't heard. If you challenge an accepted norm these so-called liberals will scream and shout in an effort to drown your voice out. They will call you a Racist, Bigot, Cruel, and will, because they refused to listen, remain safe in their opinions never having to feel the pain of doubt, never needing to courageously have their ideas critiqued. They will never grow nor change. Their minds have been coddled and strangled. If we wish to stop this entropy into soft dogmatism we need to reeducate people on the need to put their ideas up for criticism. To listen to the other voices to either learn the truth or to refine their own opinions.
Dec. 13, 2015
I have long said, and I believe demonstrated, how the distinction often made by theologians of good vs. bad religion is silly and is tantamount to saying that a savage is defined as anyone who isn't in my tribe. If good religion means following your interpretation of your holy text than who can claim that the murderous Islamists who are using their religion to slaughter infidels - an edict of their faith - are any different in principle, to the Christians performing acts of charity to satisfy their god? I therefore conclude that this argument falls on its head and indeed never really gets started. However I think there is a distinction to be made, but not so much from one religion to the next but from one religious person to the next. There are mature believers and immature believers. I understand that this distinction sounds condescending but I think the usage is befitting. Immature believers think that their set of beliefs are absolutely true. They do not admit of their own fallibility. They are certain of their creed and believe they hold the Ultimate Truth. It is no surprise that this lot of believers turn violent more often than not. But they are young-minded. They are intellectual children. Mature believers face the obvious truth that the only thing we can know for certain is that we know nothing. We are highly evolved mammals who perceive our surroundings subjectively. We are extremely susceptible to deception and error. We are influenced easily and live for too short a time to really see what's going on. “I don't know anything for certain, so I won't kill anybody who disagrees with me.” This is mature religion. Of course, mature theologians must still solve why their god asks them to kill others and how they can remain pious while defying those commands. That is their problem, but they're grown ups they'll figure it out.
Dec. 21, 2015
If you ask me why I am alive now, it is because I am enjoying my coffee. Life can only be analyzed for purpose in the present. The future cannot justify the present, as the present is all that exists.
Dec. 31, 2015
Inside the chamber of my mind, haunting the corridors of thought, there is an inner clerk. She is a shrewd and wrinkly old woman, who is obsessive and relentless. She believes in order, in cleanliness and as such she is alway gathering my thoughts and clumsily placing them in boxes. She wants the ideas to be off the floor and off my desk. She has big boxes with vague labels and she is endlessly grabbing my ideas, even the unfinished ones, and categorizing and generalizing them, in order to get them in a box. We are in a constant violent dance: me, always pulling out ideas, believing them to be far too complex for any general box, and she, ripping them from my hands and placing them in a big box. Despite her age she is quicker than I am, and when I am distracted or tired she takes the advantage and cleans up my mental office. I then find myself observing the world as though things could be placed in big boxes. I catch myself generalizing reality, and though it does feel good, and it is much easier to work in a clean office, I know that the boxes are false and that ideas cannot and should not be boxed; they are unique and nuanced! I chastise her, I try to banish her, but she is relentless in her efforts. As I push her bony body from my office she is still grabbing ideas and tossing them in boxes, "A clean mind is a good mind." She says in a raspy voice, over and again. I yell and stamp my feet to no avail. My intellectual dance continues…
Dec. 31, 2015
Throughout history there have been people, the majority in fact, who have claimed that there was no other way. No matter the issue, the majority always threw up their hands in despair, or disguised contentment, and declared that there was no other solution, the way it was - the status quo - was simply the best and only possible way. These people, once again the majority, were always silenced by the few exceptional men and women, who were courageous enough to think different, and brave enough to turn the page of history, no matter the weight holding it down, and proved once again that there is always something else we can do. On the list of achievements are the abolition of slavery and the intermixing of the races, which at the time even scholars believed would spell the end of civilization; the liberation of women from the second class status, which has now been proven to be the enabler of society, was in its time look upon with horror; in my own time I have seen the opening of locked closets where society out of fear and disdain banished those who had a different sexual orientation than they did. Still today people are saying that affording the rights of LGBT people to marry will erode the whole of “family values.” This is a recurring mistake: Reaching the Final Conclusion. Believing we have thought a thing all the way to its final conclusion is a dangerous reality, it is indeed like rushing to the horizon and believing that you have reached the edge of the world. In that case, as in this, he who lifts his eyes will always find another horizon beckoning him from afar. To believe you have reached a final conclusion is to murder the idea prematurely, it is an intellectual crime far greater than reaching a false conclusion. To hold owns views as sacred, as finished, is to become a euthanizer of mind. We must be courageous always to pursue the horizon, we must be strong enough to not let our feet tire in the endless chase, we must be brave enough, no matter the popular consensus to turn the page of time, always and again.
Jan. 3, 2016
I cannot think of a greater character trait to cultivate within oneself than patience. The rare ability to restrain yourself from speaking or acting can separate you as a god among men. You can slow the world down, harness the fire within your heart. Control yourself, and you will control the world.
Jan. 8, 2016
If you look closely enough you will see people everywhere; people who deserve a smile, people who have a name by which they would like to be addressed, people who have stories, and people who are struggling. People, in short, who are just like us.
Jan. 11, 2016
When writing, find an editor. Find someone who does not seek to flatter you but perfect your work. What they sometimes do to the words you have massaged can be painful but your writing will be better for it. It serves to free the writing from the greedy ego of the writer and place it under the microscope of critical analysis.
Jan. 13, 2016
To love someone is to risk oneself. To give someone your heart, to trust someone with your emotional world is perhaps the most dangerous of endeavors. It would seem one would have to be mad, even if only a little, in order to indulge in it. “To fall in love,” a more perfect metaphor could not be devised. To love is to put yourself in danger, but like most things, the most joy, the most pleasure is felt when life is in some way at risk. This is a curious character trait of humans, but we seem to feel most alive and when we are at risk of losing it. We become apathetic to life the moment we are numbed by it. Love is a risk worth taking.
Jan 14, 2016
One of the concepts that fill me with wonder and joy is music. Not listening to music perse, but delighting in its origin. Music is all around us. Every gust of wind, every thud, if properly utilized can be used to make music. Is there anything more spiritual than that? Music surrounds us, but without human intervention it remains unheard. Music, as is well known, has the power to elevate man, to cause him to transcend himself. I have long believed that music was the finest discovery that humans ever made, and when they did, they found it was right next to them.
Jan. 14, 2016
Most changes, discoveries, and innovations created by humankind has, at its origin, a bold idea. No matter how complex, no matter how precise the mathematics, every change or discovery began with a mind boldly stepping outside of the conventional and into the endless abyss of the possible. To stop imagining, to believe that what is cannot be changed, is to shackle oneself to the known. Like cows chewing on their cud so are these who vomit up old ideas and believe them to be sacred and unchangeable. How many times throughout the eons have these bold thinkers been chastised or called mad? How many times have we visited violence against them? We hate them because they remind us of our ignorance, of our oddly insignificant place in the cosmos. They dare to challenge everything we have grown so comfortable believing, and just as one acts when a warm blanket is ripped off in the winter, we react with wildly kicking and punching. Eventually we realize that these daring explorers were just trying to tell us that it was the morning and to show us the sunshine. Always wonder "what if?" Perhaps you will change the world.
Jan 18, 2016
Traveling, to leave even temporarily one's home, is unsettling; but that is precisely the point. It is meant to literally unsettle you, to shake up your dust-covered routine. It is supposed to cause the earth beneath you to shake, causing to crumble the walls of comfort, of isolation that you built around yourself. It is meant to expose you to a new setting, a new background, new faces, new stories, and to show you that though you thought otherwise, the world is wholly unfamiliar to you. It reveals to you the discomfort you feel in your existence. It demonstrates how much larger the universe is than your interests and habits. Travel helps you realize that life is not supposed to be settled, stagnant, it is meant to keep you learning, changing, and evolving; in a word: living.
Jan 28, 2016
And in the end it is ourselves we will need to stand before in judgment. Our future selves will sit in tribunal and drag our sins into the courtroom and condemn us to irreparable guilt. We needn't be afraid of God since if he indeed exists and is indeed just, he will know that we mammals never stood a chance. We needn't be afraid of others since their judgments will never be as harsh or as accurate as our own. But we will know. We will stand naked before our own piercing eyes and shudder with shame and fear as we judge, criticize, and bring to shame our own past deeds.
Jan 28, 2016
There will always be disagreements between humans. We can argue until the end of time but the fact remains that we are looking at the world through lenses. Imagine a pair of glasses. The frame of these glasses is placed on all of us at birth. With each passing year new lenses begin to form, each with their own brilliant color. We begin to see reality through these lenses. With each new lens our vision becomes more distorted and unique. We begin to see the world through our collection of lenses and believe what we are viewing is reality. We therefore argue furiously with our neighbor, and curse is apparent blindness. Why can't he see what lay right before his eyes?! What we need to realize is that his glasses reveal a much different image. Some believe that poverty is the most pressing issue. Others believe racism is still as vibrant albeit more carefully disguised. Yet others believe that when they see the wars throughout history they can firmly blame religion. Others say atheism is the cause of all evil. These people don't believe they are narrow-minded. This, to them, appears to be the reality. At rare times we can help or harm our fellow by removing lenses or placing new ones on. The ideal I believe is to remove the glasses entirely and see reality objectively without bias or prejudice. This, however, seems wholly impossible and therefore we must remember that our reality is distorted and seek disputation and argument in the hopes of glimpsing if only for a moment, reality through the lens of our fellow human.
Feb 10, 2016
It is a disturbing thought to presume that love, the emotion that relentlessly inks the poet’s pen, poisons fidelity, and overturns kingdoms, is a product of evolution. As unmoved by spirituality as I am, this is a sobering thought. How could it be that the magic of love, that volcano of emotions that flow through every one of us, is just a by-product of a process trying simply to make us have sex. How crude a thought! How irreverent! The horror of it all: that no matter how terrible, it could still very well be true.
Feb 17, 2016
Be safe; but never too safe, or you might miss the risks worth taking.
Feb. 17, 2016
A bare reading of the holy texts of the three Abrahamic religions would leave one quite confounded. As he turns page after page of either the Old or New Testament or the Qur’an he would be confronted with terrible brutality and yet sublime morality. The reader would see a God morph before his eyes. At times God would remain wholly incomprehensible and at others he is so drenched into anthropomorphisms as to resemble an ill-tempered child. At times he is forgiving and others vengeful. He is simultaneously the god of all living creatures and a jealous god. When one is confronted with a holy text it appears to be a tapestry woven together with ancient folklore, vicious barbarity and profound morality. Religion is, as far as I can tell, the most potent force that has ever filled the hearts of humankind. It has adapted and blended in with its host, the human mind. When each person begins his search for meaning, for something to make sense of this seemingly absurd existence, it is he, the reader, who is doing the searching. When he finds religion, he absorbs it into himself. He sees what he wants to see in its stories, in its morality. If he is cruel he will learn cruelty, but if he is kind-hearted, he will only see a god of love.
When secular values conflict with the ethics of a particular religion, more often than not, the religion is not defeated but is rather reinterpreted to fit this new host. It is therefore not paradoxical that many religious people who hold that there book is divine will dismiss the killing, the tribalism, the barbarity found therein with a wave of the hand. They will not be confounded by this discrepancy, religion has adapted and therefore it can survive.
In our efforts to understand the people around us we must realize it is not the religions we should be studying but the people. Often is the case that when we read a book we are merely looking at a reflection of ourselves, how much more so, the mysterious word of God.
Feb. 21, 2016
We needn't bother ourselves with the teaching of morality. To try, in an ultimate sense, to convince others of the right and wrong principles you feel, will either be futile or lead to violence. Many is the time the unheard preacher becomes a murderer. What we need is empathy. To strengthen and remind ourselves constantly that everything on our little planet shares a kinship with us; that much of our world experiences pain and joy, suffering and tranquility. The moment one recognizes this most wonderful fact, he at once will understand morality, right and wrong, the whole of ethics. Empathy is a muscle, and he who uses it, builds it, prefects it, will be he who is righteous.
Feb 21, 2016
We make a grave error if we believe that the freedom and human rights we, in the developed world, now enjoy are stagnant and fixed. If we become complacent, remove our eyes from our elected officials, if we let down our guard and become - as I believe we have - focused on trivialities, we forfeit our right for freedom. “Power corrupts,” the adage goes, do we believe that the men and women that fill our houses of government are immune from the seductive nature of power? Are we so naive as to think that, given the opportunity, they will not dissolve our rights and snatch away our freedom? How pleased they must be that so many in our society have become cynical and turned away from politics! How powerful they must feel as they see the horde of mankind turning away from the ballot boxes to follow the lives of celebrities and drown in consumerism. We have indirectly told our leaders: “Do what you like to us, just keep us content enough as to not realize our slavery.” We cannot take for granted the world we have inherited. We cannot forget the multitudes who gave their lives so that we may cast our ballot, so we may criticize the government, so that we can threaten our politicians, so that we can root out corruption and expunge it from our houses of government. But lo, we have become fat and cynical. We have given the government the keys to our shackles. We have committed a sin against democracy. We do not deserve the good we have been given.
Feb 22, 2016
The question that persists in my thoughts ever since I rejected the faith of my upbringing, is regarding the meaning of life. This question of "Why?" Has plagued mankind since most likely the beginning of consciousness. What is the meaning of life? If one has a belief in a god, and that belief being that He (and he is almost always a he) would not create us simply for his own sadistic pleasure, but rather that he created each of us with love and with a purpose, a meaning in mind. At least, he did so for all of mankind and therefore human history is playing out a divinely ordained drama of which we are center stage. Leave it for now how anyone could hold such beliefs and not see the absurdity. How they can accept as truth that which the magnitude of the universe seems to flatly deny, or that they can simultaneously know that god is wholly incomprehensible and also know that he only creates for a reason. Bah! But I digress.
If one does not hold such beliefs, how then should he quiet the grumbling of his heart, when he asks "Why am I here?" I have been trying to sufficiently answer this question in my mind for almost a year as of this writing. I think, however, some things are clear. Firstly, as for ultimate meaning there either is none, or it is unknowable and therefore tantamount to saying there is none. In relation to us, we can easily say, there is no meaning to life. We will pass from it, both in the microcosmic (our individual lives) and the macrocosmic (our solar system) and it will go on without notice. However, and this is crucial, we can create what I am calling artificial meaning. In fact, we will. When we live, when we come in contact with the external we are defining our meaning. The eulogy is where those you affected will spell out what your life meant. One can decide to act with kindness and his life will have meant a lot to the people affected and of course, vice versa.
March 14, 2016
I have noticed something strange in the way that I think, or rather the way I perceive my ideas. I see them not as an internal flashes of loosely connected images and words, but rather as structured organized thoughts, that sit external to myself. I realize that when I have many of my ideas, I can recall them as though they happened to me. I can generally remember whereupon they happened to me.
March 16, 2016
Common sense is a wonderful tool to bring you to and from the grocery stores, but proves to be ill-suited for dealing with life on a larger scale. We put, I believe, far too much trust in the lessons taught us by our small subjective experiences. We look, so to speak, at one tree and believe we can identify every species of tree in the forest. To be clear, common sense is of course a "sense" much of humanity would do well to use more often, but in our praising of common sense we mustn't fool ourselves into thinking it is anything but a guess based off our biased perspective. Indeed, scientific discoveries have consistently mocked our common sense. The moment we think we understand the rules that govern our world, some scientist comes out says: "Wait, have you heard of quantum physics?" We would do well to remember that, generally speaking, things that are common, are not very valuable.
March 22, 2016
I think there is within me, buried under thickening level of cynicism, a deep sense of hope and an irrational belief that humanity can eventually get it right.
Though I generally deplore beliefs unfounded by reason, I think that I am guilty of such a belief. The evidence, I recognize, seems to suggest otherwise. We play out our global drama, countries send young men and women to war, greed is unmoved by poverty, and selfish motives are often disguised as its proposed opposite. Religious leaders have been indicted for acts of horrible depravity; sins we once believed the devout were immune from. Every time one switches on the news they are accosted by headlines of bombings, deaths, murder and corruption. Giving up hope in our species seems like the most rational option.
Yet, for all our rational thought, humanity has throughout the ages still kept alive this belief, that given the right set of laws, or the correct social structure or perhaps the right prayer, humanity could fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah. I will forever hope...
March 23, 2016
One of the errors that plague much of our discourse is that of false-synonyms. We tend to think certain words are synonyms when they are not. This leads to confusion and misunderstandings. It fundamentally undermines the entire point of language: to communicate using nuanced words to convey incommunicable ideas. It is a way to share our inner thoughts with someone else. But when we misuse language it loses its ability to convey our thoughts and instead can only relay vagaries as if one was grunting and pointing. One of the particularly common false-synonyms are faith and belief. When combined the difference disappears and they become interchangeable. Atheists will then make the faulty claim that they have no beliefs. This is of course false. We may even think we have no unfounded beliefs, but this too, is fallacious. The truth is that humans need to believe in many things in order to survive and thrive in our world. Sometimes you must accept a proposition on very little evidence in order to avoid danger. For example, if someone tells you that tomorrow an attempt will be made on your life. An incredulous person might very well be assassinated. Faith, however, is something entirely different. Faith is the choice one makes in order to preserve a belief when the belief is contradicted. Faith, or loyalty (a true synonym) is to withhold disbelief even against mounting evidence in order to keep your beliefs alive. Atheists should not have faith in their ideas. They should not seek to preserve them. If contradicted they should let go of their beliefs, however cherished, and expand their minds to encompass the true reality. Religions have a built-in fail safe. Creators of religions must have known how important faith was to religion. It is, indeed, far more important than belief. Faith will protect religion even when the masses are losing belief. They made it a virtue to retain faith in your belief structure no matter what happens. This is what atheists who seek to change a religious person’s mind, don't understand. The atheist believes that if they could get the faithful to listen they will be compelled to drop their beliefs. What they don't understand is that religion is one step ahead of them. Even if you ask questions that boggle the mind of the religious they have - if they are pious - a trained mechanism to protect their beliefs. Faith is a mighty protector of beliefs. To be sure, we have all withheld disbelief and consciously were faithful to our core beliefs. The difference I believe, is that whereas an atheist would be embarrassed if he were caught faithfully retaining unfounded beliefs, the religious tote it as a virtue and praise those of simple faith.
April 3, 2016
My conscience whispers to me, it begs me to give up the practice of eating meat. My logic leads me to this conclusion as well. My stomach feels tight when I contemplate the sorrow that the domesticated animals have endured, and endure at this very moment. Humanity has yet to rid itself of this form of slavery. We seem to not even notice it. I firmly believe that this will be the next step in humanity’s moral development; how long it will take I cannot say, but that it should happen is, it seems to me, inevitable. Humanity has been stepping ever forward, expanding its circle of empathy to include minorities of every sort. That it will one day soon, include the animals that we have hitherto abused and consumed seems, as I have noted, an obvious next step. When such a time comes my descendants will look upon me with disgust as I view the slave owners of 19th century America. They will say that though I cared deeply about this issue I could not seem to rid myself of it. They will see me as primitive and morally corrupt. I soon hope that I will find the strength to rid myself of this awful cross that I have chosen to bear.
April 5, 2016
It seems that I have been cursed or blessed (I cannot decide) with an intellectual condition that forbids me from steadfastly holding an interest. Yesterday it was religion and philosophy, today it’s politics and science, tomorrow -- oh, what will it be tomorrow? Every time I believe that I have found an interest that will become my lifelong companion, the interest disappears and interests not hitherto considered, take its place. As one might imagine, this makes picking a career a most difficult decision. However, my rather eclectic assortment of interests allow me the gift of conversation in a myriad of topics. I say conversation - the format of which allows one to only have dabbled briefly in a topic, and still get through a short discussion easily and with the air of complete and thorough knowledge. I don't know when it will happen, I don't know when the winds of change will pass me by and leave me turned around, all I know is that it will happen. Again, I cannot decide whether this is a blessing or curse, either way it is mine to bear.
April 10, 2016
I have found that one of the interesting and valuable causes of studying history is the crushing of the mythical past. We tend to view past decades with almost a glossed over wonder, and past heroes as mythical demigods. The more pages of history one studies the more muddy the waters become, the more human the heroes become, the more history becomes familiar. I can imagine this bothering some people. Some people wish that the past truly did live up to the "good ol' days." Some people must wish to worship yesterday's champions. I have no such desires. When studying history I find the past is more relatable. It allows me to transport myself into the years past and walk among the men and women of the time. I can see them. They are so human; so complex, so confused, so full of emotion and ego. They are like me. I can see them, touch them, be them. History is not some distant realm that we can only read about, a good historian can wisp you away a thousand miles to a time long gone, and show you that history is then, now, and tomorrow. It is just one long story of humanity. Though the clothes have changed, the dialects merged and evolved, the issues reshaped, the humanness is ever-present. Mythology may be wonderful, but it is beyond us, untouchable by humans. History is in us, when we study it, we are really studying nothing more than ourselves.
April 17, 2016
In our society today, doubt has become akin to a sickness, to something to be feared. “I'm a plagued with doubt,” you may hear someone wail. Surely, humanity has done this as we have decided many other issues: namely, with our gut. When doubt, for whatever reason, creeps into our convictions, we feel as if we are being attacked. Inside our storehouses of biases and convictions we feel as though a tornado has begun to rip apart our cherished and precious collection. We can feel ill. Our stomachs can tighten, the world becomes scary and we feel alienated from it. Our beliefs begin to wither under the crippling weight of doubt. Humanity therefore, ran away from these dark feelings, preferring the cozy comfort of their convictions. Religions demonized doubt. They say that if you doubt you should immerse yourself in your beliefs, push away doubts, they are the work of the devil. “The confusion you feel is evil, return my child, return to the comfort of certainty, and ye will be praised.”
It seems we, as a society, have grossly misunderstood the nature of doubt. Doubt is always a form of growth, and the confusion and chaos, are growing pains.
We have been seduced by Certainty. We love how she makes us feel; so protected, so safe. What we don't see, or pretend not to, is that this mistress is cruel and is killing our minds. She will keep us numb until we perish. She has enslaved us.
Doubt is a friend. Doubt asks us, begs us, to reevaluate the contents of our beliefs. To challenge them, wonder about them, replace and refine them. Doubt is not always right, but he is always well-intentioned.
We need to praise Doubt. We need to be unafraid by the confusion, unmoved by the pain. If we hold out, if we don't retreat to our opiate, there is a brighter day ahead.
To doubt one’s beliefs is not easy. It is painful and scary. But if we care anything at all about Truth, we will, we must, listen to our doubt, let it consume us so that our ideas, our beliefs will never become stale and rot.
Take your beliefs down from the shelves. Blow the mounting dust off them, inspect and examine them. Make corrections where necessary. Practice this all your life, and your mind will be free.
April 17, 2016
What if the animals that we slaughter and consume en masse could speak? What would they say? What would they scream? As we feasted on them, abused them, caged them. As we destroy their families. Genetically alter them to fit our needs - our bloated and greedy stomachs. Our morality is blatantly inconsistent. If we hear of someone caging a dog for his life, we reel in horror, we shout condemnations. Yet we support an industry that does this very thing to millions of animals every year. There are cows who have lived their entire lives in cages. Do these animals cry? Do they weep over their lives? When will we murderers and captors repent for our sins? I know I must do this. I can no longer partake in this slice of evil.
May 1, 2016
May 1st has begun as typical as ever; I suppose (though I cannot be certain) that it will continue in a predictable manner. This morning I woke up at 6:35, my daughter was particularly adamant about leaving her crib. I spent some time with her, packed my lunch for work, kissed my wife goodbye and walked to the bus stop. The bus came only slightly late and I found my usual spot in the back corner and adjusted the air conditioning vents so they would face me. Everything about today has been typical. I have repeated it many times, and I suspect I will repeat it many more times in the future. May 1st will disappear from my memory.
Yet today isn't typical at all, is it? Somebody died this morning. Someone who was loved, someone whose family will burn this date into their memory for as long as they live. If the deceased was elderly, perhaps today will be spent in bouts of crying and storytelling. If the deceased was young, if it was a child to new parents, today will be marred with suffering, the likes of which I hope to never know.
Somebody was born today. Somewhere a baby was brought into the world. Today someone was made a father. Today a new mother held her newborn child and felt a love for her she didn't know was possible. They will celebrate this day every year with abounding joy.
Today someone was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Today he will be stripped of his freedom. He will be numbered and caged. Perhaps he was a criminal. Perhaps he deserved it. All he has left is his hope. Perhaps if he behaves well, his lawyer said...
Today someone was freed from prison. Today she scratched the last X on her calender and she woke up with a smile plastered on her hardened face. Perhaps she has a child out there, a child she has watched grow up through monthly visitations. Today she gets a second chance at life.
I suppose May 1st isn’t so typical afterall.
May 5, 2016
It is a vulgar paradox when governments talk about granting freedom to its citizenry. This is, of course, utter nonsense. The government has hindered the natural freedom of humanity. The people have granted government the right to restrict certain freedoms, in order to cultivate fertile grounds for a society protected from foreign as well as domestic threats. This social contract between citizen and government is the sacred law that binds man to his government. We the people relinquished certain freedoms to the government on condition that we the people would always control the direction of that government. “Man was born free, but he is everywhere in chains.” It is the duty of every citizen to watch carefully his government, to keenly observe their movements. He has given them his most prized possession, his freedom; watch it well or you will lose it.
May 19, 2016
As a general rule those who disagree with you are not "obviously wrong." Sometimes it may feel as though their arguments are rotten from within, and that they must be stupid and ignorant, but many times - indeed most times - this is not the case. In fact, if you believe that there could be nothing worth considering in your opponent's arguments, chances are, you are the one who is ignorant. Much of what is wrong in our culture stems from people believing themselves absolutely right and their opponents utterly wrong. This nonsensical dichotomy is reinforced by two methods both used to paint the other side.
1. Silencing of the moderate counter opinion.
2. Giving voice only to the extremist.
These two methods, which are really one and the same, when carefully executed will cause people to truly believe that their opponents are ignorant idiots at best, and menacing enemies at worst. The truth however, is that our ideas and convictions are painted by personal bias and emotional reactions. We cannot possibly esteem ourselves as purely right. We are always wrong, the debate ensues in order to determine just how wrong we are.
May 19, 2016
The lie of consumerism to which most of the world is now plagued is that by obtaining more, our pleasure will increase. This is an old adage; money and positions cannot bring happiness. But I wish now to take it a step further. It is safe to assume that people's lives are better now that the average person can afford to own more property. Certainly, having a house filled with comfortable furniture, cutlery, delicious food, and the latest technology is something as a society we should wish for everyone. Therefore, the lie of consumerism is not that life can be enhanced by owning nice things, this I don't believe would be a lie, the lie is that the more you have the more your happiness will increase.
This is not only untrue, but it is in fact, the exact opposite. Abundance taints beauty and tarnishes value. The more we have of something the less it matters to us, the less it serves to satisfies us, the more we are stifled by it. Abundance is overwhelming. I noticed this after viewing hundreds of pictures - thanks to our vast digital capability - of my daughter. My daughter is my everything. Her beauty can stop my heart, her smile enlightens the darkness, her eyes illumine like sapphires. I love looking at pictures we captured of her, but as photo after photo flashed before my eyes, as the seemingly endless colored pixels struck me, my eyes became heavy and my mind drifted. What had begun as a excited look at the past, the subject being my daughter, became a tedious task of trying to see every one of them. There were simply too many photos. How could anything withstand the devaluing power of abundance? In our age of plenty, we must learn to temper our desire to always increase our possessions. For ages past this desire may have helped them survive but it is causing us to drown in the ocean of abundance.
May 19, 2016
Sometimes I forget that racism is still alive. It remains incomprehensible to me that someone could actually harbor hatred for someone solely based on the color of their skin. I grew up learning about and considered it a cured disease, something that plagued our parents but that modernism had released us from. But as I grow older I am depressingly reminded that the world is still full of racism and bigotry. Though xenophobia comes naturally to our species, reason does not allow it to exist. No thoughtful person can be bias on the premise of race. Ergo, racism equals ignorance.
May 27, 2016
Our descendants will either be bewildered or amused by our obsession with race. Somehow even as scientists dispelled this nonsense years ago, we as a culture are bent on defining and labeling people based off their race. That is not to suggest that we should not battle for the rights of races that have been discriminated against; indeed, to pretend that racial animosity does not exist is to become culpable, to remain silent is to permit the hatred and segregation. It was not the silent majority that changed the world, but the few who were unafraid to be noisy. As long as there are ignorant people who wish to segregate based off race, then as silly or evil as the concept may be, we must stand against them. This of course, produces a sort of quandary. Whereas RACE is a pseudoscientific and inherently evil idea we must continue to focus on it as if it actually has some weight. But by focusing on it, we indirectly promote the idea that there are different races. However, it seems clear that this xenophobic nonsense will not survive the next few generations. And while I'm sure our children will find new reasons for hating one another, race, I believe, will be just laughable nonsense from the primitive age of their parents.
June 1, 2016
"We the people..." The first three words inscribed in the constitution of the United States and etched into the heart of humanity ever after. Three simple words, three words that represent a fundamental change in the world. Three simple words that left a crater in the earth, the shockwaves of which still echo around the globe, penetrating the darkest corners of the Earth. Three words that challenge the millennia of monarchies, undercuts oligarchies and terrifies the endless cycle of tyrants. Three words that once uttered changed the story of humanity forever. A government of the people, for the people, by the people. Although the men who wrote these words were far from living up to them, although still today we struggle to include everyone in the "people," the words can now never be forgotten. In the past "the people" were servants, they knelt before anyone that was said to be superior to them, the bent knee was the commoners lot; with those words humanity became erect. These words stand as the mantra of human liberation from the chains of tyrants and the shackles of corruption. Humanity would begin to free itself from the disease that has been plaguing our culture from the first time one person wrongfully perceived that he was somehow privileged and someone else agreed with him, or was scared of him, and knelt down. Class division became a matter of birthright, the throne of power was greedily passed from King to dictator to violent regime to corrupt politician. The few ruled the many. You can still see the scars of the whip that tore into the backs of the people. You can still hear the screams echoing in the shadows of the past. But with those three simple words humanity stood up, wiped away the tears of oppression, raised a flag above their heads, and demanded justice and freedom, not for some, but for all. Power would be decided not by birth but by vote, the rulers would become the representatives, and humanity would regain its inherent dignity. There is still many more people around the world who are not free, who still cannot drink from the wellspring of Liberty, this must not stand. But every tyrant knows, every corrupt regime, every power hungry dictator feels, that one day the spirit of "we the people" will fill the hearts of the oppressed and the flag of freedom will then wave from upon the ruins of his palace. Let those three simple words fill our hearts, let their light shine and awaken the shackled slave. The greatest rebellion against slavery is recognizing that we are deserving of freedom and it is our natural right to claim it. I envision a day when "we the people" will include all of humanity and we can finally live up to the ideal that beckons to us from those three simple words.
July 4, 2016
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
America has yet to live up to these words. The country has undergone a civil war, numerous marches, and peaceful and violent protests in pursuit of this democratic ideal. Still today -- though we have made enormous leaps in the right direction -- we fall far short of the vision set down by our forefathers. We need not make America great again, America's greatness lies in her resilience to keep marching on, smoothing out her sharp edges, these noble words fixed firmly in her gaze. America is far from perfect, but she has never stopped striving for perfection.
June 6, 2016
I have mistakenly said in the past that an atheist is merely someone who does not believe in God or gods. I preached that to say that an atheist believes that there is no god is to attempt to sully the atheistic position. I went so far to say that an atheist who would claim to believe there is no god, would in fact be equal to the religious believer, that is, equally irrational.
After contemplating it one day on my way to work it became clear that while I was not wrong about the definition of atheist: “Without having a belief in God or gods,” I was mistaken to think that a lack of belief was not in itself a belief.
It boils down to semantics. The religious believe that their version of God exists, I don't believe he does. Said another way: I believe there is no God, the religious believe that there is.
The word “belief” has been so tied with religion that as a budding atheist I rejected the notion that I could hold beliefs of any kind, specifically not ones rooted in theology.
The word “belief” however, defines nothing more than a reflection of what one thinks is true. I believe I exist. I believe the sun is a ball of hydrogen and helium. I believe unicorns are a mythical invention. I believe there exists no intervening gods.
I have come to these beliefs through my own observations and study. Looking from within the biased perspective to which I am a prisoner I have come to many conclusions about the world. Some of them have been wrong, others have yet to be so.
A religious person who accepts the possibility that his religion is wrong is, in that sense, equal to me.
The difference is whether or not we will allow our ideas to be scrutinized. How will we measure truth? If we discover our beliefs are wrong will we revise them? Steadfast devotion to our ideas is the death of intellectualism.
It is for this reason that I see the concept of faith, that is, the willing suspension of disbelief in order to retain a belief, as a sinister plot of the clergy to enslave their followers. It is no surprise that all religions that I have encountered praise faith as a virtue, some religions praise it as the supreme virtue. When you have seduced a mind with faith it will become impervious to growth, it will reject blatant evidence and the only goal will be the retention of already-held beliefs.
Religion therefore inoculates a child before the child has reached the age of reason, formulates the beliefs and biases of the young mind, and then teaches the glory of faith in order to starve the mind for the rest of its life.
June 16, 2016
The religious and scientific communities ask the same questions. How did we get here? Where are we going? What caused the universe to come into being? It is humanity's ignorance of these answers that causes the road to fork. The scientific community pushes the limits of our knowledge while acknowledging those very limits, the religious use this ignorance to tell stories, invent gods and worst of all, they answer a question that the scientific community stays far away from: Now that we are here how shall we live. The religious use their ignorance of the universe to dictate to us how to live. As long as there is ignorance religion thrives; which is why religion is a natural enemy to science. This is why religion has, so long as it had the power, suppressed science. As we know more, religion becomes more and more obsolete. We have only to worship the “God of the gaps.”
My beliefs will continue to be altered as I learn more, as I challenge them. I have no sacred ideas, no beliefs that are off-limits. I seek out disputation and argument. If I ever catch myself falling prey to the sin of retaining unfounded beliefs, I quickly revise my intellectual behavior. I would never have faith when the evidence points away from my beliefs.
June 22, 2016
I have always viewed my life in the context of a story. I believed that my life had a beginning, middle and end. I would wonder about my story, wonder if I was on the "right track." In other words, was I who I was supposed to be at this part of the tale. But what if life is not a story at all? What if life is but a series of moments wherein the goal in each individual moment is to maximize happiness? We humans have a need to see everything through the prism of cause and effect. This function helps us to organize the world, placing each instance and occurrence in its proper file. It is reasonable therefore that we organize our life as a story, but it may be harmful to do so. If we see the world as a story we will constantly be looking for the next chapter. We will be forever chasing the future in an attempt to control our destiny. Our "destiny," the English language is riddled with words that make us think we are living an epic tale that will coalesce in a glorious death. Yet this is so often not the case. Life tends to be too arbitrary for fiction. We tend to be victims of random forces that cause us to be tossed and turned until where we were going is not where we are. We scramble to try and place this new reality into our storybook and have to practically force it into the pages of our lives. Life is so often stolen when we least expect it. I believe - and this is not an original idea - that we would be better off viewing our lives as a finite series of moments. Each one disconnected from the next. In each moment the primary concern is to be happy. Of course, not every moment is happy, but the goal of life is not to get somewhere, or be somebody, but to grasp each moment of life. One thing is certain: One day our moments will run out, and the chances are we won't be quite done telling our stories when they do.
June 22, 2016
I sat and stared at the motionless body before me. The twitches were gone and now the eternal stillness had set in. I, for the first time in my life, stared at the trampled ant. It had been a nuisance to me and I had done what I had always done before, killed it without a moment of thought. My foot came down on its little body stamping the life out of the critter with one swift motion. As I removed my foot my eyes fixated on the small crippled body. There was no agony, no twitching limbs, it lay there in deafening silence. After several seconds I was struck by the horror of it all. How utterly haunting is the sight of a body void of its life force?! How maddening? The brutal finality of death is crippling to the spirit. It is no wonder humanity invented heaven. I don't believe it was motivated solely by our desire to survive the end, but as an attempt to make sense of the motionless body of the deceased. We would look upon our dead and like vacant homes it was clear they were empty. Something was missing. The vibrancy, the sparkle that once so enlivened their face was instantly gone. Almost as if something had left. We named the missing tenet the Soul. How could it be that our bodies made us human, when the human now before us was so void of humanity? We could not believe that this lifeless lump of flesh and bone was all there was. The soul became the essence of mankind and heaven became the eternal dwelling of souls.
I wonder, is there a heaven for ants?
June 29, 2016
I feel as though there is within me a growing sadness. I find myself sinking into a melancholic reflection with increasing frequency. The worst part of it all is that my sadness is irrational. It is an emotional reaction to emotions. It is impenetrable to reason. If I try to "solve" them, I fail. The sadness remains, even as my mind ridicules how trifle it is. There are people who have what to suffer from, I have only myself. I am my own oppressor, my own tormentor. I look over my shoulder, I wonder about my decisions. My life has changed, I have changed. At times like these I remember myself in a younger age. A rosy-cheeked child with great aspirations. I believe I still am that little boy. Still afraid of the future. Still full of dreams. Still confused. Still wondering about what I am "supposed" to be. And as I wallow in these thoughts, I'm on my way to see my beautiful wife with whom I share an eternal and rare love and my gorgeous daughter who fills my heart with a happiness I have never felt before. So what have I to doubt about my destiny? Why would I doubt the decisions that led me to this sublime present? I feel betrayed by my heart. How dare it combat reason! How dare it persist without substance! This cloud will pass, but will return sooner, I predict, than it should. Life is good, smile.
July 19, 2016
The student of history who judges the people of a past era with the moral measures of his present day is missing the great lesson history can teach us. In his haughtiness he judges those who came before him, and in his haughtiness he misses his own moral blunders. History teaches us, if we are humble enough to learn from it, that even good people with the best intentions can, because of the their proximity to the issues of their lives, be guilty of atrocities. It is not for us to judge the past, we should learn from it, and armed with the knowledge of humanities fallibility, examine our own deeds and seek to correct them. Future generations will certainly look upon us, with an air of moral superiority afforded to those who have the privilege of hindsight.
June 19, 2016
Though our current political climate demands it, I have come to realize the inherent danger in an ideological candidate for office. Our democracy rests on the principle of compromise and ideologues are lousy compromisers. They can rouse a sleepy or cynical electorate as they shout cleverly crafted absurdities from the dais, but once in government they will either expose their duplicity or paralyze the government. How tragic that the candidates for office feel compelled, rightfully so, to perpetuate an Us vs. Them dichotomy so as to pander to the fringes of their party. Responsible voters should demand a candidate who is calm and collected, who listens to the opposition, who will use reason to determine whether to adopt or reject policy. Abraham Lincoln was in my opinion the greatest political leader chiefly for this reason: He understood the need to listen to others, specifically his political rivals. It is ironic that as a schoolboy I was taught that Lincoln was as an abolitionist, a fierce enemy of slavery. Had he been - as many of the candidates were, who ran against him in 1860 - there is good reason to believe that the still young republic would have been torn asunder in its infancy.
July 25, 2016
Would the world be better off without religion?
There are some that would mock this question believing it to be absurd. Some atheists seem to have the belief (dogmatic belief, I might add) that without religion we could usher in an age of utopia. The irony of this belief stings deep.
There are also some of the faithful who would say with confidence that religion is the sole reason that in today’s society, we aren’t killing and raping one another with impunity.
But I give pause to this question. Religion certainly has a lot of offer both its adherents and those who come in close contact with it. It enhances the sense of community, which is a natural desire inherent in all humans. It connects people to optimism and hope. It creates meaning in an otherwise absurd existence. And religion teaches us to treat our fellow man justly and with undying kindness (every religion, of course, stipulating who is and isn't, considered your fellow man).
Yet many atheists argue that religion brings with it so much evil as to outweigh the value aforementioned. For a long time this was my contention. If I could have pressed a button and rid religion (the idea not the people) from the world I would have banished it without a moment's notice.
But this view of religion is rather narrow and naive. It presupposes two things with are quite obviously not true. One, it assumes there is an inherent quality to religion that actually could be banished, something like a faith gene, and Two, it assumes, quite dangerously, that the religious impulse was somehow injected in man, like a disease from without.
Of course, if we are coming at this as an atheist, we must concede that religion arose in the mind of men and was subsequently structured by them to fit their needs and desires. We therefore must conclude that this "disease," if we are to call it that, originated from within man, and is connected to much of what makes him human. In other words, there is no religious impulse, there is however a collection of instincts, fears, impulses, and fantasies that religion was constructed to house.
This observation leads us to realize that religion has not one inherent quality but many, and they are to be found within the natural make-up of man, therefore any attempt to banish religion would need to abolish much of what constitutes humanity; a task which is not only impossible but dangerous, for we could not calculate the consequences of what such a task would be.
I posit that even if we were to replace, somehow, the Bible with one that removed all the hate, bigotry, tribalism, war, revenge, patriarchy, sacrifices etc. we would be left with a doctrine that would be wholly unpopular and disregarded but for those who have already done this, perhaps unwittingly, to the current Bible. In other words, our hypothetical doctrine would either fall on deaf ears or would be distorted so as to adapt itself to fit, what we might call, the darker side of man. The ones who would accept our doctrine devoid of evil, are of such a disposition that they will wiggle their way through the Bible avoiding or morphing the "the bad stuff" in such a way as to render our hypothetical doctrine irrelevant.
I believe the differing factions within each religion speak to the truth of this thesis.
August 8, 2016
There is a treacherous platitude that is passed from one drooling optimist to the next. It is said as a command, as something you are demanding of yourself or some other pitiful soul to do: "Be happy!" When people say this they believe they are promoting happiness, but they are in fact, making it harder to be happy. Happiness is a passive emotional state. It is not something you can choose to be, it is not something you can do. What we have done in our society is created a mentality that happiness is something you chase, something that you can find. This is a dangerous falsehood. The truth is that happiness echoes from within us. It does not need to be collected; man placed in certain circumstances will be happy. What we should then promote is the abundant wisdom passed down through the ages, wisdom that can be found in almost every ancient tradition, and when we internalize these precepts - whether they be patience, kindness, love or peace - we will be happy, it will happen to us. Therefore don't try to be happy, try living with kindness, patience and love. Try letting go of consumerist obsessions. Try forgiving more often. Try laughing. Try dancing. Try singing in the shower. Try spending less time worrying about the things over which you have no control, and spend more time with family and friends. Try being your best self. and then, as every ancient prophet, priest, and teacher has informed us, you will find that you are happy.
August 8, 2016
Intelligence follows learning; wisdom follows listening.
August 9, 2016
Be skeptical of conspiracies. There is a rather pathetic human trait that seeks to unify complexities into one, in order to simplify it for our mammalian minds. And so humans invent stories of boogiemen, great and secret societies designed to control and brainwash humanity, grand government cover-ups, and on and on the imagination leaps and dances. These stories are seductive, they give us an easy answer to the evil, the randomness, the meaninglessness of our reality. They allow us to soar into the most fantastical fiction, at once transporting ourselves to the center of it all. Once believed, once the imagination has been given free-reign, everything becomes possible - the most ridiculous fantasies, probable. I do not mean to say that there are no conspiracy theories that are true. It would be dangerous to not investigate, to some degree, the claims of the conspiracy theorists. However, we must be aware of their seductive nature, their alluring content, and put up the guards that protect us from believing nonsense.
August 10, 2016
One of the things that has, as of late, captured my interest is the psychology of filmmaking. It wasn't until I heard an interview with Steven Spielberg - wherein he describes several scenes in his directing of the movie Lincoln - that I realized what had been happening to me every time I watched a movie. We all see when the actors are trying to manipulate our emotions; they begin to cry in order to trigger our sadness. This process is overt. It happens to us, but we recognize it most of the time. What we don't see (quite literally) is what is happening behind the camera. The director is, in every scene, telling us something. He or she is, with every camera angle, filter, and background, soliciting in us unconscious responses. He is causing us to feel his feeling, to see what his imagination has painted. A well-directed movie can have, and this is common knowledge, a deep and lasting effect on the viewer. A good movie can change lives! Now as I watch movies, I try to "hear" what the director is telling me. I try to "feel" what he wants me to feel. Like all art, the deepest impact will be had by he who is open to being affected.
August 14, 2016
The following is a memory, almost distant, partly faded, that I wish to retain. I stare up at the setting sun. The glorious fireball is falling behind the ancient stone buildings of Jerusalem. To the others around me the position of the sun probably made little consequence, but to me it represented the last possible moments that I could change my mind and strap on tefillin. It was the first day that I had decided that I was no longer going to perform my religious duties. I no longer believed they were truly from any God, it would therefore be inauthentic of me to continue to practice, whether from habit or guilt. That morning I had strengthened myself to cast away my emotional attachment to these duties and persevere in my conviction. This was an act of almost religious defiance. But as the sun began to fade over the horizon, and with it the last dwindling minutes that I could still fulfill the commandment, my resolve weakened. I wondered if I should run to the closest Chabad stand where they would no doubt have a pair I could use. I at once decided that I did not, could not, live out of guilt. Still feeling, as I was, fragments of my once strong faith, I resolved that if God was truly just he would desire that I live truthfully and not cower in guilt. And thus the sun set and a new chapter in my life had begun.
August 17, 2016
My belief is that people are not inherently evil, but in fact, are profoundly ignorant of their psychological and emotional make-up. I think most people want to be good; a great majority believe themselves to be. We believe our value system is godly, our intentions pure, and our thoughts and opinions deeply rational. The hard truth is that almost the exact opposite is true. Our value system is man-made and tends to be geographical and generational, our intentions are muddied by our personal bias and selfishness, and our thoughts and opinions are, generally speaking, merely servants rationalizing for their master, our passions. Because mankind has considered itself an elite species of great intelligence, because we have believed ourselves to be at the center of the universe, and because we think ourselves the children of gods, we have been resistant to hear the truth: We are only slightly more intelligent than our closest cousin, the chimpanzee, we are an infinitesimally small part of an expanding universe, the magnitude of which, our mammalian brains could hardly consider. Since we have trouble accepting the above as true we necessarily make tremendous blunders, which are at times extremely evil. It was our ignorance that led us to be arrogant enough to believe ourselves great; it will be our knowledge and humility that lead us back to the dignity of being a small part of a very big world.
August 22, 2016
It is my belief that no nation enters into conflict with another, but for its own benefit. There is a lie that we allow our politicians to tell - provided they belong to our party - that the reason for this or that military action was due to a humanitarian impulse. They tell us about the suffering populace under the enemy, they tell us they we should not be complacent while so many suffer, they tell us that their intentions are pure; that we are the good guys with guns. These lies are powerful. They put the opposers of the military action on the defensive, for they must explain why they are indifferent to the suffering of others, and they cause the poor and uneducated (who fill in large part, the ranks of all armies) to believe their cause a crusade on behalf of goodness, indeed, on behalf of God. They believe they are fighting evil and protecting freedom. These words are used by politicians to incite subconscious emotions within the young soldiers, the words very ambiguity being their power. Nations go to war or make peace solely and entirely, on the basis of self-interest. I do not necessarily condemn this, what I condemn is the lie.
August 22, 2016
Several weeks ago I began a new job. As an initiation the company informed me that at the first office meeting I was to give over an embarrassing story that happened to me. I found the tradition troubling primarily because asking someone to become vulnerable when he is, by the nature of the situation, already quite exposed, is to ask someone to kick himself while he is already down. That being said, I could appreciate the idea of humanizing the new employees in the eyes of their co-workers as well as comforting the wounded and vulnerable ego with laughter. As it happened, I made up my mind that I was not going to cower, I was going to really tell something that was embarrassing, if for nothing else but the thrill of doing it. The meeting was in the evening, and I therefore spent the whole day trying to think of an embarrassing story. My mind was blank. I thought of one story but thought it to demeaning to tell over, in other words my dignity did not allow me to say it. I tried remembering another story, and nothing came to mind. I knew that I must have experienced many embarrassing moments in my 26-year-old life, so why couldn't access the file and draw one from the many stories? Unfinished
August 25, 2016
Whenever I find myself in high society I feel awkward and out of place. I identify with the help: the waiters, the janitors, they seem more human to me. The privileged upper-class think different than I do, they sit different, even breathe different. So when I find myself, as I do now, at a fancy hotel, I feel as though I am a foreigner in a distant land. And when the waiter asks to clear my plate, when the janitor sweeps the crumbs from around my table, I feel as though I want to stand and hug him, and tell him that he is my brother.
August 25, 2016
When a people feel oppressed and on the side of righteousness, there is no injustice that cannot be justified.
August 28, 2016
Having children is not a virtue. Religions have always heralded the act of giving birth as a divine commandment, the very act of bearing a child is thought to be the will of God. This misunderstanding has caused many children to be born to neglectful parents; people who may be devout worshippers of God, but are not prepared for the immense responsibility of raising a child. I sit now on a train, across from a young boy of religious parents. His father is a young man. The boy is crying but his father has left him to pray. The boy sits teary-eyed alone. His many siblings do not comfort him, they have run away. His mother does not comfort him, but for a moment or two, for she is seated at a different part of the train; it would be indecent for the husband and wife, man and woman to sit together. The young father was commanded to have children and he was commanded to pray. Bringing a life into this world is not an end in itself. It is a beginning. How sinister of religion to place our biological need to procreate on a divine pedestal! Childbearing is a necessary and beautiful thing. How I hope that if there be a celestial Being, that he care more for the neglected children than the prayers of their neglectful parents.
August 31, 2016
People who become dismayed by politics, or cynical of their political party, seem to have come to politics with an unjust (though wholly understandable) sense of idealism. I confess, I too was of this lot. I tried to see which party seemed to embody the values and principles that I held dear. At once, it appeared as if the Democrats, with their tolerance for others, care for the impoverished (at least in rhetoric) and their avowed concern for the environment, was right for me. The Republicans, conversely, seemed concerned about tax-cuts for the wealthy, obsessed with patriotism, and less-concerned with minorities. In short, a group of slightly angry white folk who wished the country had a little less color. As I learned more and more, as I watched passionate speeches from both sides, as I paid to attention to the different philosophies, I became at once, totally confused. I was back to the political drawing board. Yes, the Left seemed to care about downtrodden neighborhoods but were their policies actually working? How much of their efforts were only to get the ever-desired "minority vote?" The Republicans as well had rhetoric, and while they were obviously not racist, they had the "South" which means they have to pander to a certain, I'll call them, pointy-hooded demographic. The “South,” which has been controlled by both sides throughout history, is bought when a political party leads toward certain principles. The point is, both parties are private clubs. They want to stay in power. They don't have real principles, they will do what is necessary to "get out the vote." We the People, in our suffocating ignorance and naive hope, believe our Party to be that of God himself. We listen to the carefully crafted speeches and believe we are listening to a Messiah, waving our tribes flag. We believe these organizations, these political businesses to be pure and humanitarian. This is foolish. Politics is just this: People fill the government, they want our vote so they can stay there. Our vote gives us the power to coerce action from them. We have values, we have principles; political businesses do not. We have to make our voices loud and our votes abundant if we want to change anything. Remember the people in the government are humanity’s representatives, we should not expect anything more but imperfect, biased, greedy, egotistical humans.
September 1, 2016
Doubt is like an inn between two great cities of Belief. You cannot stay in it for long, but it is wise never to venture far from it. A careful scholar will return there frequently.
September 1, 2016
People confronting the waves of information that rush towards them from the endless ocean of the Internet is quite similar to a baby observing an unfamiliar scene. The same wonder and bewilderment strikes them both. Only the baby has a marked advantage for it is, at least somewhat, open-minded.
September 1, 2016
A skeptic is on a constant quest to find out behind which curtain Oz is hiding.
September 4, 2016
History can, and certainly should, be learned from - but it should not be copied. The adage goes: "History repeats itself." Is this adage true? Cliche though it may be, I believe it lacks a certain preciseness. History may feel as though it is repeating itself, it may give a sense of familiarity but it does not copy itself. In every epoch, in every generation there are themes, because humans are simply, human, all-too-human. These themes do replay themselves but their existence in another time creates its unique nature. The world will change and as it does the themes will replay differently. Each issue needs careful and creative inspection. One of the intellectual sins often committed is to slap an old opinion on a new issue. The issues may seem the same, but they are not. I have been guilty of this. I have connected seemingly similar events, believing my thoughts on one, good for the next. In the process I missed the intricate nature of what was happening before me. Again, we must rigorously study the past, it will teach us much about ourselves, but we must also confront every issue with fresh eyes and a mind ready to generate a new opinion of an old theme.
September 5, 2016
We are altruistic because it feels good. It feels good because we have evolved to think of altruism as good. This distinction is crucial to understanding humanity. We are not merely selfish beings. Rather we are social beings with easily inflatable egos. We evolved our morality to protect ourselves, our families, our tribes and perhaps most of all, our reputations. Humanity would seem far more rational if every decision was truly made out of self-interest.
September 6, 2016
It is interesting, or perhaps not, that the invention of the camera has brought us Instagram selfies and the awe-capturing images of Ansel Adams. Life: it's all about how you use it.
September 7, 2016
I have lately felt a great calling. Ever since the last time I stood by the shore of the great Mediterranean, I felt the sea calling me. I wish to be sailing, the wind carrying me over the rolling waves. I wish to be far from shore, surrounded by the sounds of water splashing against the side of my boat. I wish to to watch the shore evaporate into the distance and see only the sky kissing the leaping ocean. I have always had an affinity towards boats, I have long enjoyed paintings depicting ocean-voyages, though I have never really pursued these passions.. But the sea ever-beckons, her seductive whisper is ceaseless in my ear, perhaps at last she will grasp me in her arms.
September 7, 2016
We make a perilous error if we believe there aren't captors lurking always, trying to enslave us. If we are lucky, we are, all our lives, just a breath away from their grasp. If we stumble, if we become distracted, if we think ourselves safe, we will at once be at their mercy. It is not our bodies that they want however, but our minds. The advertisement culture is scientifically sinister in their attempts to control us. They are acutely aware of our psychological make-up - our desire to fit in, to be one of the herd - that they command our interests and passions. We are to them sheep awaiting a shepard.
Politicians boil complex policy into emotional trigger words so they can get us to hoot, holler and applaud their carefully designed strategy without knowing who they are, or what is really at stake. We are to them flag-wavers on their political team.
What can free us, or keep us free from these monsters?
A ceaseless desire to learn; to question your assumptions, challenge the people in power, discuss openly your ideas, and be ready to change your mind. To learn is to take the first step towards intellectual freedom, but the journey is long still. Everywhere the monsters lurk, everywhere we are in danger. They do all they can to keep us in a state of passive contentment. There are institutions that will ban reading material for they are terrified of what you might find there: the key to the shackles that bind your ankles. They quiver not for your soul, as they say, but for their power. Their power is but a shadow that only appears menacing through ignorant eyes. The moment the light of knowledge is cast upon them, they vanish as if they never were.
Of course, acquiring information without thought is dangerous for it can fortify nonsense and bolster lies. This, however, is not how I define learning. Learning is an interactive process, it requires the one learning to be actively involved, to wrestle with the new information, and if necessary, reject it. The slavers would love to keep up dumb. They numb us, put distractions before us, and it is our job to follow the advice of Marcus Garvey: "Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds." Learning is the key that opens our prison doors, let us fight everyday to obtain it.
September 8, 2016
Language was created, it seems to me, to allow humankind to communicate for survival purposes. But this could have been accomplished through the creation of a small amount of words. What caused us to create vast storehouses of intricate and profound words? I believe it is for two purposes: 1. To be able to communicate practical but complex and technical matters. 2. To be able to communicate the depth of ourselves to another. I cannot tell which of these two is more important for our survival; I am leaning towards the latter.
September 8, 2016
Learning helps us get answers to questions we never knew we had.
September 8, 2016
If someone is unwilling to change their opinion, debating them becomes at best, a supreme waste of time, and at worst, counterproductive. You can gauge the stubbornness of of your opponent by the hostility with which he confronts your arguments, and at the speed at which he resorts to ad hominem attacks.
September 14, 2016
Once upon a time there was a village buried in a valley between two great mountain ranges.It was a small village that was ruled by a benevolent King. He was the teacher, philosopher and religious leader of every person in the village. One day he gathered his people together and told them of two great cities, one on each side of the village, just behind the the great mountainous walls. On one side there was the great city of Good, it was a wonderful city with beautiful architecture and the people there lived in perfect harmony. The other city was called Evil, where the sun never shined, drowning in perpetual darkness. Its inhabitants were always fighting with each other. The city was mostly rubble where with the stench of death filled the air. The king went on to explain what the people of Good believed. He told them of their devotion to their king, of their honesty in business, and their love of family. In Evil, he said, the people were ruled by no one. Corruption and power were wield
ed by those that could until they were overthrown by a vicious mob. Life was miserable in Evil. Everyone did whatever they wanted, their freedom had bred monsters. The people were smitten by the words pouring forth from their great leader. The king proposed that he would present to them a book detailing the two different philosophies, and would create a system of law that would make their litter village as happy and harmonious as Good. He would also implement punishments for anyone who acted in the wicked ways of Evil, to which the people happily concurred. The book was finally presented to the village and it became the sacred text. The people read it, taught it to their children, who subsequently taught to their children. For years the village studied the ways of Good and dos their best to mimic their ways. They became brutal in the punishments of criminals who acted in the ways of Evil, which meant anyone who disobeyed the king.
one day two travelers stumbled into into the village. They were tired and needed to rest. At once the people surrounded them. They had never seen anyone from outside the village before. Since one of the ways of Good is to be kind to strangers they took them in and fed them water and wine. Everyone wanted to talk with them, to hear about the world outside the village. The travelers told them that they come from a village as well, but they had no king. The people began to stir. They explained that their village followed a text that was written by a philosopher who had visited and studied the two great cities on either side of the mountains and that the people lived by the great principles of the people of Good. The villagers began to get angry but stayed relatively silent - but for some whispers - to hear the travelers finish. The travelers spoke of the ways of Good, as being free from hierarchical rule. It was a place where everyone did as they wish and no one obstructed to them. It wa
s a place where humanity converged and all different types of people lived together and celebrated the Earth. They did not believe in the Great Spirit so they were free to make up their own minds and would study the ways of the world and seek to understand them. The villagers and this point had heard too much. The whispers steadily rose to a roar. The villagers began to shout at the strange travelers. The believed that they we're followers of the polluting ways of Evil. Their fury was volcanic, exploding and spreading at once throughout the village. One of the travelers was grabbed and pulled to the ground, where he received kicks to his stomach and head, the mob was screaming in a terrifying unison: "Evil must perish, Evil must perish." As it turned out this was a very popular line in their sacred book. Suddenly when one of the travelers was just about trampled to death, the king showed up on the scene. He demanded that the crowd move away from the travelers, which the mob did somew
hat reluctantly. The king inquired about the incident that had caused the violence, and when he was fully answered. He looked intently at the two travelers, one mangled and bleeding, the other wide-eyed and breathing heavy. The king seemed interested in their ways. He continued to ask questions about the ways of the neighboring village. The people stirred impatiently, they were very exciting to continue causing Evil to perish. Unfinished
September 17, 2016
It seems to me that emotions always outlast the facts. This is an inconvenient truth no doubt, but it explains our persisting fear we feel even after we awake from a bad dream.
September 19, 2016
Is man a religious animal? By religion I simply mean a way for us to bind ourselves to certain sacred ideals, to hold as brothers those who share those ideals, and to reject ideas (and people) that seem to poison or contradict those ideals. If this is true, then could it be that I, as an avowed atheist, have a religion as well?
I have come to believe that I do.
What then is my religion?
In a word, freethinking.
I hold freethinking to be a sacred ideal. I see it as a necessary ideal that humanity, as a whole, would do well to adopt. I will do my utmost to spread this ideal to others, though of course, not with violence. I see the act of freeing one's mind to be the noblest achievement that can be reached. I regret deeply my intellectual shortcomings, the natural shackles that do not allow me to rise above my subjective prison. I look with pity at those who do not seem to even know their minds are locked in black cells. One could say that we mammals were born fallen, fallen from intellectual grace.
Do these sentiments not sound religious?
What then are the tenets of my religion?
To question your assumptions.
To challenge authority.
To be skeptical of popular opinion.
To debate, discuss and listen to opinions that challenge your own.
To maximize your intellectual and emotional potential.
To be open to new experiences.
To evolve and change in pursuit of the elusive truth.
To strive to know the universe.
To know thyself.
To be drunk with curiosity.
To be ever aware of your inherent fallibility.
To expand your consciousness.
Could these be my commandments, my eternal scroll?
And if freethinking is my religion, then truth is my God.
Is this a perversion of freethinking? Is this a irreverent use of religion?
I don't think it to be. Though I would have once recoiled at the possibility that I, rational godless I, could be deeply religious, I now welcome it. If we are religious animals, as has been suggested and as seems befitting, then I proud of the religion I have chosen.
September 21, 2016
I was reading a book today and the author asked me to pause and reflect on why I "get up in the morning."
Which I promptly did.
The reason I get up every morning is out of habit. I am habitually alive. I began living long before I began reasoning and so between my mind and body, as Camus said, the body keeps its irreparable lead."
That's the honest answer.
However, if pressed to give reason, which I imagine was the author's intent, I would say that I continue living because I enjoy it. My goal is to expand my consciousness to encompass as much as possible - one does not need to travel to accomplish this, but it helps. I hope to connect with my fellow creatures and allow them to connect with me, man and beast. I hope to maximize my happiness and endure with reflective contemplation the deep misery that almost necessarily accompanies life. I want to love deeply my family and friends. I want to think and pursue my thoughts in the desert of my mind! I want to be a mind always investigating itself, plunging deeper into my own essence. This is the reason, the rational and secondary reason I continue to breathe. I despise the world of dreams, reality has always been a more suitable climate for me.
September 22, 2016
Life, it seems to me, is about expanding your consciousness by widening your perspective in order to come ever-closer to the truth, and to understand your essence and that of the people with whom you share this average-sized planet. In so doing, you will ensure the greatest happiness for yourself, because you will be full of understanding and thus, full of love.
September 22, 2016
I have written this elsewhere but it bears repeating: I have had many opinions, some of them have been wrong, some of them have yet to be so. This approach is, I believe, the proper way to the think of our accumulated knowledge, vast though it may be, and the only way of avoiding the trap of narrowmindedness.
September 26, 2016
My belief is that people are not either inherently good or evil, but rather people inherently want to be good. This distinction is paramount. At once the whole of bloody crusades, genocides, wars, charities, good deeds and altruism are explained. It is our patently false belief they we are by enlarge rational actors that we are are quick to grab up swords or set up charities in pursuit of our ideas. In our arrogance we think our thoughts pure from bias and cleansed of natural instincts. We cannot see our glaring self-interest and narrow perspective with which we form every idea and opinion about how things are or ought to be. This leads to some wonderful and some horrific outcomes (of course, these distinctions are as well subjective). Why we are thus, has been written about at length by people more qualified than I, but this distinction seems correct and easily recognizable. Once we accept our opinion's lowly origins, we will at once be humbler creatures more eager to open our minds, entertain opposing ideas and inch ever-closer to the truth.
September 28, 2016
Pain is a loyal servant and a wise advisor to the king; Comfort is a cunning serpent who slays the king in his sleep.
October 9, 2016
It is my belief that though much of any given religion may look strange, even nonsensical to our eyes, when it was first adopted not only was it understandable but often times rational.
When one looks back at ancient myths, rites or ceremonies, from eras long gone, a careful observer does not dismiss them as merely barbaric practices from ignorant fools, but rather looks for the humanity in their actions; indeed, tries to picture himself within their context. Without this leap of imagination, history becomes an incomprehensible relic, abstract and distant. It becomes a pointless intellectual endeavor.
Many religions have been done away with, many gods have been buried under the sands of time, many ceremonies and holidays, rituals and sacrifices have been forgone. The fire of their altars has been extinguished, the sacrificial ashes blown into oblivion. Such religions can now, and should now be studied. There are other religions who have survived the ages. They continue to breathe and grow even though their momentum has been somewhat slowed in recent centuries. They are traditions born of ancient beliefs, an ancient perspective. The cultures that molded and practiced these traditions are long gone, but the traditions have carried on. This creates the chasm we now have when viewing these traditions through a modern lens. We are not able to look at the past, these traditions are here with us, they are practiced by our neighbors or loved ones. They are not a past we must dig up, but a present that we must endure. These traditions of an epoch unlike ours, persist with unparalleled vigor.
Religious apologists have made great efforts to fuse these two elements together: ancient folklore and superstition with modern sensibilities. Some say that their religious traditions and sacred texts are really far more progressive and have really been leading the charge for the values we now hold dear. Others, the less flexible and acrobatic, simply say that we have become so removed from the true values, that we can no longer determine what is good. Yet others, have carefully removed the icky parts while tenaciously grasping the tradition or verse that seems to allude to our modern values, and then stretch and expand it until it blankets the whole.
One must applaud such intellectual efforts, for it is a truly difficult task to reconcile the traditions and scriptures that through an ancient lens were championed as the height of rational thought, but viewed through our current lens, paint a quite different, indeed often times horrifying, picture.
The longer these ancient traditions are carried into the future the queerer they will become to humanity's ever-freshening eyes.
October 19, 2016
A person who will not change his mind is dead. He only appears to be alive, but he is as a decapitated chicken bumbling about for a brief time before collapsing. The great majority of us can still be made to change our opinions but the thought terrifies us. We prefer a state of mental inaction. Thinking is dangerous to our comfort, aggravating to our complacency. We should rebel against this laziness! We should revolt against the butcher wielding his slaughtering knife! We should cling to life! Cling to thought! We should be excited to have our perspective challenged, to have comfy minds exposed to the freezing air of reality! The mind only rests when it is dead. Rebel against death! Rebel! Rebel!
October 25, 2016
The Neighborhood of Gods:
The street is full of structures varying in size and style. Some are yet small, humble structures, the concrete between the bricks is still drying. Others are much older and grander buildings. These have been around for a millennia. These buildings are filled with dutiful workers, steadily growing the building even higher, while mending the decaying foundations. One cannot miss the structures that are vacant and lie in ruins. Their rubble tells a story of a once magnificent structure, but its pillars are now shattered and its stones lay askew.
I was born into one of these structures. It was very old, but still sturdy and filled with people. Growing up I explored the house, peeking my curious eyes into every room. There were many builders, and each room seemed to have its own style. Some were fastidious in their adherence to the laws of building, other were more careless and spent a great deal of time in laughter and song. Some of the builders spent all the time constantly repairing the foundation, and when the damage was too great for them to fix, they merely covered it with shiny new boards and hoped, I suppose, that no one noticed. There were many builders, who were either lazy or disinterested for they would spend most of their time engaged in anything but building. Because of this, I imagine, there were builders who tried in many different ways to correct these inactive builders. Some would yell and ostracize them. Others would coo and try to entice them. I spent 23 years in this building until I finally decided to leave. I did not believe it to be my home. I saw too many of the holes, some covered, some decorated. I became disenchanted with their building, and I walked out.
At first I just left. I ran from the house into the cold and dark street. There were many others camping on the other side. They too were building, but the structures who usually much smaller.
I have begun to build my own house. Unlike many on this side of the street I have returned to the house I grew up in to learn from them. I have studied their many styles and building techniques - after all they have been at this from way before I was born. I take what I like, what I think will work and adopt it for myself. I do the same with houses I did not grow up in. It has not been easy. Parts of my house have crumbled after I thought I had finished building. But it is my house, my home, built by my own hands. I would not trade that for the whole neighborhood.
October 26, 2016
The kindness people show you is a good indicator of the kindness they expect from you.
October 26, 2016
Statistics are wonder things: if they agree with you they fortify your position, if they contradict you... Well, statistics are a soft science.
The truth is I despise arguments that lean heavily on statistics. Statistics are certainly a good tool, perfect for instance, for a politician. But the great majority - to avoid using the colloquial "90%" - haven't the slightest idea about the statistic they so eagerly wave in front of their argument. They even have the audacity to call these statistics, facts! To watch this attempt at an intellectual shortcut crumble you need only ask three questions:
1. Who provided this poll?
2. To whom did they ask the questions?
3. What were the questions?
People will generally be ignorant of one or more of these questions, quickly delegitimizing this posturing argument.
Pretend we didn't have the Internet to throw every statistic promoting every viewpoint and defeat your opponent with the sharp blade of reason.
October 27, 2016
We say "I" practically countless times a day without the faintest idea, nor even the slightest curiosity, about what we mean when we say it.
October 27, 2016
On Gratitude - I seem to be severely lacking in this department. Not because I don't have what to be grateful for, I could fill a book without applying too much effort, but because I think I have forgotten how. When I was religious, gratefulness was built into the daily routine. It was in every prayer, in almost every action, and increasingly integrated into your thoughts. The better your luck the more thankful to God you became. I think now, as an atheist I need to relearn this habit.
October 27, 2016
One only needs to hear how many decent people will say with righteous certainty that given the opportunity they would have loved to kill Adolph Hitler to understand why comparing anyone you don't like to the Führer can be dangerous hyperbole.
November 9, 2016
There are two languages spoken in business. I am here referring to the tenuous relationship that exists between employers and employees. The only two relevant ways to connect to one's employees is through money and power. If you desire that your workers feel enthusiastic, work diligently, are honest and reliable, one must use money and power. That is to say, to motivate with money and by allocating power and responsibility. Any other attempt to rally your workers, like appeals to ship metaphors, calling your company a family, will breed discontent and will strike your employees as superficial attempts to make them work for you. The employer/employee relationship is fragile. There exists automatically a vast power dynamic that makes mammals such as ourselves, uncomfortable. By rewarding with money and positions, you will invariably produce a feeling of excitement in the workplace. You will lessen the discomfort of power and you will motivate your workplace. We are not a team, nor a family. We are a company that is best managed when we activate the self-interest of our workers.
November 9, 2016
Hope is a more powerful agent to stir the masses than hate; and both are more powerful than contentment.
November 17, 2016
On Convictions - It is no wonder that this word comes from the same word we use for men in prison, convicts. Indeed a conviction is an idea imprisoned in rigid shackles, stuck in a stubborn cell. They become our mental prisoners, trapped until such a time as they can be broken loose. This, however, is a rare occurrence, and when it happens both the idea and its captor are better for it.
November 17, 2016
What is the basis for my morality?
In a word, Empathy.
My kinship with every human, indeed everything in this universe leads me, naturally, to feel some connection to them. Reflection on the fact that we are made of stardust, that we are genetically related to the tree, and that we come from a diverse family of apes, leads to an interconnectivity with the universe. Empathy then kicks in. It is a natural occurrence. It happens to me. The more I see my fellow human as a brother or sister, the more I feel for them. We can, without much effort, make some very good claims about what would make our fellow humans happy. We may not have all the same interests, but we are not so distant. Morality then is born of empathy, and refined and codified into ethics from rational reflection and personal introspection.
November 25, 2016
Learning breeds freethinking.
Freethinking breeds dissent.
Dissent breeds opposition.
It is therefore inevitable that when a group believes itself in possession of the one Truth, it will eventually attack the institutions of learning, using any means necessary to force them into submission and silence.
November 27, 2016
Libertarians, it seems to me, are anarchists who want government protection.
November 27, 2016
Being concerned with morality, particularly the morality of others, puts one of the fast track to authoritarianism. A tyrant who seeks power and fame can be cowed, a tyrant deeply convicted that he knows good from evil will be unstoppable. Moral convictions can be poisonous in the hands of the crusader. It is no surprise then, that the most tolerant and loving people, will - driven by the moral certainty - destroy anyone they perceive as obstructing the construction of their utopia.
December 4, 2016
The multiculturalism in America is staggering. Even before exiting the airport one is bathed in a mixing of colors and shades. The air is filled with the music of language. Not one language but many, rising up to become a great chorus. It is no wonder we struggle so much with racial tension! We are attempting to produce a culture of mixed races and creeds, with no shared faith, no shared religion, only the ideals emblazoned in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. Such a lofty standard; let us hope We, the mixed and different People, can one day live up to it.
December 4, 2016
If you wish to love your country, take a leave of absence from it. When you return the air will taste different, the buildings will look refined and beautiful, and the flag, ah the flag, will have your heart beating just a bit faster. Oh, how I have missed you, America.
December 18, 2016
Mass movements are motivated strongest by fear and hope. A cunning leader will oscillate between promulgating fear and spreading hope. Too much of one may dissolve the movement. Kept in balance, a movement will never run out of energy.
December 22, 2016
If you want to be liked, be like everyone else, if you want to be loved, be yourself. The consequence of the latter, of course, is that you may also be hated.
December 25, 2016
It is a common practice among humans to identify with one's ideas. Not only do we have many beliefs, but we need also to call ourselves by our collection of beliefs. We may pretend that this is for others, but I suspect it is equally, if not more, for ourselves. The comfort of identity: The blanket of belief can feel so warm from the cold reality of doubt. Indeed, even after we have glued as many labels to ourselves as possible, the crippling question of "Who am I?" persists. The moment you focus on the label under which you have placed your essence, the absurdity becomes palpable. You are not wholly one set of beliefs! We crave the "isms."
They make us feel safe, they allow to file ourselves in the proper category.
Beyond the absurdity, there is a danger to this intellectual habit. The more you identify with your ideas, the less you will want those ideas questioned, examined or ridiculed. Thus, you may be a critical thinker in other areas, but with your labels you will safeguard them with your life. You have placed them under lock and key, terrified to peer at them with a critical eye, lest they prove to be empty. What then would become of you?! Would you too disappear? This feeble human trait may be for the most part unavoidable, but it behooves anyone who would like to keep his mind sharp and his ideas battle-tested, to separate as much as possible oneself from the ideas that crowd one’s mind.
January 16, 2017
I am at a loss. My mind scrambles for excuses and justifications like a frantic lawyer of a losing case. My will has broken and I have lost the moral high ground. I have decided to begin eating meat again. I stopped entirely last April and have since then thought it okay to digest "Free Range" meat, or meat that was treated humanely. I held that stance for a while until several days ago, when my resolve simply shattered. I had bit off more than I could chew, pun intended. I had taken a moral position, a noble ideal, that I could not yet live up to. I hope that in the time to come I have the strength, or perhaps, the world will change enough as to make the decision for me. The peculiar thing is how I am dealing with this internally. I can't tell which pains me more, being flaky on my moral principles or having others know that I am. It sounds pathetic either way. My mind is desperately trying to find a rationalization that I can use to assuage others of the notion that I am too weak to continue this position, but each time a my mind destroys whatever arguments are presented. The truth, the naked truth is this: in my ongoing struggle to live my life in the most noble and ethical way possible, I must lay down my arms, and surrender this battle, for now. Judge me if you must, I accept your condemnation as a scar upon my armor.
January 30, 2017
"But time I hope will do my opinions justice. I believe them to be true and calculated to lessen some of the greatest evils of human life. If they are not, I shall console myself of having aimed well and erred honestly." - Benjamin Rush in a letter to John Adams regarding his book on the "diseases of the mind." I should hope that in my later years, I will be able to say the same of my opinions.
February 7, 2017
I discovered something interesting about myself today; I am not interested in people. I'm far more interested in ideas. Today on the train I was "accosted" by a friendly stranger who began conversing with me. I reluctantly looked up from my book, hoping his questions would be brief. Several minutes in, I realized that he was unable to leave me alone. He continued to talk about himself, his family and his travels. He showed me a picture of the house he lives in. It was all I can do from rolling my eyes. When we arrived at my stop, I said my goodbyes and hurried off the train, lamenting the time lost. As I walked onto the sunny streets of Tel Aviv I thought of my friend Moshe. I wondered what he would do. I concluded he would have enjoyed the human interaction above all else. Perhaps he would have probed the sadness clearly etched in the strangers aging face. Moshe may have been fascinated by the divorced man, who told me his philosophy of life, "I don't think about the future, and I don't plan." I believe Moshe would have enjoyed this brief moment shared with a fellow human, I did not. I was bored by him. I would have loved if this mysterious train traveler could have offered me an idea more stimulating than what I was gleaning from the pages in my hand. I enjoy a conversation of ideas more than most of life's pleasures. But to talk to another about nothing, this distresses me. I have always wondered why the following quote of Friedrich Nietzsche resonated so deeply with me: "I hate who steals my solitude without really offering true company." I guess now I know.
February 10, 2017
It is simple to accuse those who disagree with you of wicked intentions and evil motives, it is far more difficult to adamantly oppose certain ideas, while holding those who believe them in the highest regard.
February 15, 2017
Is it reasonable to ask men to live in a "cut-throat" world and then demand that those same men not cut throats?
February 28, 2017
Prudence is a fine virtue, one that should be cultivated and employed regularly, but there is a risk of over indulgence which may cause one to miss the very aspects of life that are the most important. A stubborn caution can lead to an early coffin.
February 28, 2017
Were the constant struggle between advocates of big government and advocates of small government ever to cease, the State would quickly slip into either tyranny or anarchy, respectively. The conflict between these two ideologies serves as a protection from these two great evils. It is not then an end to the debate that we should seek, but a way of framing the discussion so as to make it a fair fight.
March 6, 2017
If you wish to see the extremes of a careful man, you must see him among his company. Only there, among like-minds, will his prudence step back and allow him to speak freely.
March 8, 2017
To Tova - And were I to traipse this entire Earth
This middle ground betwixt heaven and hell
And meet did I every mysterious creature
There is none with whom I would rather dwell.
March 8, 2017
I am a freethinker, not an atheist. It is not my godlessness which defines me, but my commitment to accept the truth, whichever form it may take. To seek it not by revelation or authority, but through curiosity and skepticism.
March 23, 2017
Patriotism is a tool used by leaders to ensnare the hearts of the masses, so that the masses may ready themselves to die with a smile upon their face.
March 27, 2017
Whenever beliefs held to be certain attain a measure of power, the result will be violence and death visited upon the dissidents. The haste at which this becomes true, is in direct proportion to the degree of certainty.
March 30, 2017
As the proper friction between two stones produces fire, so will the truth be illumined by the honest confrontation of adversarial ideas.
April 3, 2017
Each day is a mini-lifetime. In the morning we are born, we spend the day reacting to the world around us, we experience ups and downs, we feel love and hate. In the evening we retire, spending our time in leisure, and then we lay down and die, only to be resurrected the following day.
April 20, 2017
To stand idly by while your brother's blood is split, is to take part in the spilling of your brothers blood. Pacifism is a morally corrupt ideology.
April 21, 2017
Be wary of conventional wisdom, it can sweep you along with the current carrying you to places you should not be. Herd thinking is not always correct and is rarely nuanced. In other words, it is diluted so that the whole herd can share it. That being said, don't automatically stand against the tide - only do so when you know you can stand sturdy, until then keep your eye on the current and watch where it's going.
May 7, 2017
Perhaps this is my motto: Be skeptical, humble and kind.
Be skeptical: Be ever vigilant for falsehoods masquerading as truths.
Be humble: Carry yourself with humility, there is always more to learn.
Be kind: Be kind to all creatures with whom you share this Earth. We are all struggling, kindness alleviates the suffering from us all.
May 9, 2017
Nationalism, that is, the love and loyalty to one's country and countrymen, is in many ways a religion. It is a collective euphoria, the transcendence of self, becoming greater than oneself. One is taught to feel pride, to pledge allegiance, to revere the symbols and ceremonies. Indeed nationalism merely replaces God with Government, divinity for bureaucracy. As with religions, nationalism as an ideology, has carefully evolved to fit with human nature. All of human nature - the good and the evil. It therefore is not something we should be rid of necessarily, but something that must be watched, and restricted when necessary. Leaders will use religion or nationalism (or both) to control and enslave those they rule over.
May 17, 2017
Life is an untold story; it is up to us to decide the meaning that will eventually become our tale. The meaning is not to be found on the empty pages but in the words we inscribe upon them.
May 24, 2017
Idealists make dangerous politicians.
May 28, 2017
We walked through the doors of the crowded nightclub. As we crossed the portal we were instantly enveloped in the rhythmic and electronic music. The lights flashed over the faces of the huddled mass of humanity.
We made our way to our reserved table and sat down.
I cannot speak for the people I had accompanied, but I felt like a stranger in a foreign land. This was one of, if not, my first time in a nightclub and though I have seen scenes in movies, it is truly different in person. Indeed, the whole event looks as though they are attempting, if only for a few hours to transport themselves into a movie.
I surveyed the crowd and became fascinated by them.
As a married man surrounded by bachelors and bachelorettes I was privileged with a certain perspective, I imagine most there could not see. I was the explorer, the anthropologist, and they were the native tribe. They were the observed, I - being disinterested in partaking in their rituals - became the observer.
What is the motivation to congregate in this place, I wondered. The music was too loud to converse, the lights too dim and flashy to see properly with whom you couldn’t converse. People drank and shouted and laughed and danced.
I then realized that the desire was a primal one. It was decidedly uncivilized. It was natural, raw and sexual.
The music, the lights, the alcohol, the drugs, all the elements were perfectly chosen to free the inhibitions, break the bonds of civil society and, in a safe place, remove our enlightened costumes and become animals again. Though violence occasionally will break out in this environment, I imagine the draw to this place is sexual in nature.
Men try to portray themselves as alpha males, the women as beautiful prizes to be won. It is rife with lust and passion. It is a wild oasis in the middle of polite society.
Amazed by all this, I continued to study the congregants, when I noticed something odd.
Though we come to these places to be animalistic, we are not quite comfortable doing so. The occupants stand in circles talking to the people they came with, only occasionally glancing outward. There is a sense of discomfort that seems to permeate the musky air, as if even with the mind-numbing music and alcohol, we still feel the shame bred into us by civilized society.
I am calling this, “The Adam & Eve Complex.”
Even as we stand in the garden of Eden, with all the natural delights surrounding us, we are no longer able to be “naked.” Once we ate from the tree of knowledge, once we came to see ourselves as a higher species, akin to the celestial angels, we could no longer shed our fig leaves. We may be aware of our lowly origin, but we cannot, it seems, return to it.
So we frequent our nightclubs, seeking to escape, if only for a short time, from the pressures and toils of civilized life. We hope to free our inner animal who must otherwise be caged. And yet, even if with all the elements in place, it seems - at least this is true of my friends and I - we leave unsatisfied. Indeed, we are human, all-too-human.
June 17, 2017
History is not a collection of dates, wars or great men. History is the story of humanity. It is the very real tale - told from many different perspectives - of a highly evolved primate’s attempt to secure health and happiness for himself and his family. It is the saga of the attempts, the successes and the failures to build a civilization that prospers. It is a tragic drama of clashes between those competing ideas of the good society. It is the scientific and gradual progress of economic doctrines and governmental policies. History is at times painful and at other times absurd. It is strange, it is evil, it is beautiful and noble. It is the story of humanity being ever-retold in new and different ways.
June 17, 2017
What is moral leadership? I do not believe it is righteously pursuing at full speed the goals that you wish to achieve. A moral leader needs to Shepherd his or her flock. A moral leader is like a parent who needs to slowly teach the child right from wrong, in a way and at time that the child can understand it. Moral leaders coax that don't coerce. They don't use threats but sweet admonitions. They bide their time until the congregants are ready and they introduce them to a new moral level. Politicians pander to the people. They do not lead but follow the morality of their constituents. Moral leaders make sure to lead their congregants right to the edge and make sure to with love guide them forward. They do not race ahead like the lonely ideologue, and they do not walk among the crowd like self-serving politician, rather they walk gently a step ahead of the flock guiding them one step at a time.
June 18, 2017
When one criticizes a religion for a verse in its holy text, the criticism is generally met with a form of "we don't do that anymore." Take as an example, the burning and torturing of women accused of witchcraft. This was done with religious fervor and moral purity as the verse states - without the least bit of ambiguity: Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. This verse simultaneously confirms that witchcraft exists and that the punishment for it is death. Nowadays religious people are quick to say that a witch has not been burned in the name of their faith for a century and that that verse is no longer relevant. But this creates a quandary, must I wait until young girls and old women are being tortured and burned before I criticize the brutal nature of the text? Must I wait until religion is powerful enough to carry out its prescribed violence in order to challenge it? Would not the powerful religion then silence my blasphemy - as it has done whenever it historically could? It seems to me that there is a truism worth concluding here. Religion is always dangerous when it has power. The more power it has the more it will adhere to the letter of its texts. We must criticize it now, so as to prevent us from ever relinquishing again the power of the State to that of the Church.
June 18, 2017
A "witch hunt" mentality will always eventually devour its own, the hunters will eventually be hunted.
June 20, 2017
When religion is in power it has always become a totalitarian and necessarily violent regime. It is only when the forces of enlightenment and reason erect the sacred wall separating church and state, that religion prides itself on teaching the world the values of compromise and tolerance. Even as the stench from the burnt witch stills wafts in the air the theologian arrogantly claims that without his religion the world would be a depraved and violent sinkhole. Let us not forget the dark cloud that covered the world when the morality of religion was compelled on entire populations. Religion can and should join the conversation about ethics and morality, but it may not lead it. If a religion wants to boast moral superiority, let us remind them about the genocide and mass slaughter perpetrated by the ancient Hebrews, the Christian crusades and the current Islamic jihad. Religion may have wisdom in their blood soaked scrolls, it may have proverbs worth bringing into our discussion on ethics, but it should offer these gifts humbly and without pretension.
June 29, 2017
What is the purpose of government? The answer to this question is monumental and must be the foundational principle upon which political opinions can be firmly built.
What then ought the government do, what functions should it fulfill in society, why do we submit our societies to rule of a government?
There are two basic functions as I see it.
The one is that the government is, as Ben Shapiro calls it, "a Big Gun." It's purpose is to ensure domestic tranquility from threats both foreign and domestic.
On this view much of the cynical and suspicious views of the conservatives and libertarians rests.
If the government is a Gun, a weapon to be deployed only when necessary, it then follows that we would to lock this Gun in the proverbial safe, and hope to forget about it. Hence, small government.
I agree in large part with this view. There is however, yet another side to this leviathan that I find to be its more lofty function.
A government should be a human error-correction device. We know as humans that we are many times short-sided, impulsive creatures driven by self-interest and parochial biases. We therefore set up a government strong enough to ensure that we do not - in our healthy selfish pursuits - hurt others doing the same. It is there to regulate our prejudices, to guarantee Liberty to all its citizenry. It is there to protect the environment from the innovative free market. It is there to see that the moral vision of the nation, the values and creeds upon which the country was founded are preserved. We should, in this view, accept the government's limited intervention to help us be our best selves, as people and as a community. Humans want to be good, we just aren't always good at being good. It was wise of us to set up institutions that are bigger than individuals. That's why we invented science, and, I am arguing, that is why we invented democratic republics.
July 2, 2017
"Freethinkers are those who are willing to use their minds without prejudice and without fearing to understand things that clash with their own customs, privileges, or beliefs. This state of mind is not common, but it is essential for freethinking." - Leo Tolstoy
There are, as I see it, four principles of freethinking. Freethinking is not a set a specific doctrine or dogma, it therefore unites people of every ideology, culture, religion and philosophy into a single group of travelers, trudging through life trying to figure who we are and how we should live. However, freethinking is a lifestyle not adopted by many, that requires one to adhere to the following four principles:
- The belief that truth is attainable. Many people intuitively believe this and so it is the principle that requires the least work to implement.
- That reason - though imperfect - is a tool that we can use and perfect to attain truth, or least inch ever-nearer to it. Science is in my opinion that greatest invention of humankind, as it has perfected the art of collective reasoning and empirical verification to weed out human folly from the garden of discovery. Reason needs to be our principle measuring stick for reality for without it, we can never create consensus and the first principle recedes in the void. Emotional intuition may be a wonderful tool for allowing us to better know ourselves, but in the sphere of public debate, in questions of ethics and certainly science, appeals to emotion distort and muddy the discussion, reason emboldens our quest.
- Be skeptical of everything. That is not to say never accept anything, that would contradict the second principle; but rather be skeptical of our own convictions. We are naturally disposed to be skeptical of ideas that challenge our perspective - this serves a valuable evolutionary benefit, but to be skeptical of our group, our revered leaders, and certainly of ourselves, this does not seem to further the goals of natural selection. We should use this built-in ability against ourselves, in service of ourselves. This will take consistent upkeep and work.
- Be open minded to new ideas. As written above we are trained by natural selection to be suspicious of ideas that do not conform to our held beliefs. When we are confronted with a new idea our mind seems to go into overdrive, either to persuade of its validity (if it adheres to our beliefs) or to reject it entirely (if it challenges our beliefs). Jonathan Haidt shows that our brains ask can I believe something if it conforms with our beliefs, and must I believe this if it does not. Perhaps We can't rid ourselves of this intellectual error, but we can become more aware of it as it is happening. We can, we must learn to combat it. "Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known" said the great Carl Sagan. How are we ever to discover with closed minds?
These, to be clear, are not dogmas one must accept blindly. The nature of freethinking is anti dogmatic. Perhaps I have misspoke and these four principles need revision? Perhaps there are more principles that need to be added. These are the four that I believe constitute freethinking, without them I do not believe freethinking to be possible. They are not normative therefore, but descriptive. Lastly, freethinking is a path not a destination. These principles need constant work. We are never freethinkers, we will always only be aspiring freethinkers.
July 2, 2017
We all have felt it haven't we? The anticipatory excitement that the end is near, or that a Great War is moments away from erupting, or that all of history has been leading up to this moment?
We have a desire it seems - though this desire seems to fade with age - of not merely studying history but living in it, participating in it, being historically important.
July 6, 2017
“If there is no God, all is permitted.”
This is the moral trump card of the theists as they retreat further from proving their actual beliefs. Once they have been forced to concede that in fact, there is no proof of God’s existence, and that there belief is primarily based on their gut feelings, they are quick to hurl this argument in an attempt to scare off the demons of doubt.
Godless morality, they claim, is subjective and therefore not binding, whereas morality as mandated by God, is an objective truth.
A theist will then generally point out that while one can be a moral atheist, it is only due to the Judeo-Christian values (they have yet to include Islam, one can only speculate as to why) that permeates the atheists surroundings.
I am tired of this moral posturing. I find that it is arrogant and vacuous.
Before we begin with my rebuttal to this line of reasoning, let us quickly define our terms: Morality is our sense of right and wrong. Ethics is our on-going conversation over competing ideas of the good.
For the sake of this argument I will use the word ethics, where the word morality is generally used.
Let us examine the claim of the theist: “If there is no god, there can be no morality, and conversely, with a god we have objective morality.” OR “Good and bad are merely empty labels, without a stamp of approval from God.”
It is important to set down at the outset that this claim is to a large degree true. If there is a god and he desires that we follow his instructions, what he prescribes as good is Good and what is bad is Evil, objectively.
Just as a designer can dictate what and how his design should work, so to God is the best authority to inform us how we should act.
However, this argument rests solely on the personal beliefs of any given individual. It therefore becomes a subjective claim! The ethics of a religious person will come from his personal beliefs and interpretation of his holy books. As we have seen these interpretations have varied throughout history resulting in some tragic contradictions. Indeed the slaveholders and abolitionists claimed authority from the Bible. The ethics of religion have always been a matter of fierce debate as no one can definitively prove their God and their interpretation. We are therefore right where we started; that is, competing ideas of the good.
So is ethics a nonsensical debate? Is there any worth talking about our moral compass? Do the words “good” and “evil” become opinions?
These problems have plagued me for some time and I imagine they will always remain a challenge to me. However, I do think a discussion on ethics can bear fruit only after we define what is bad and what is good. If, as Sam Harris puts it in The Moral Landscape, we can agree that ethics is a discussion about the wellbeing of conscious creatures in this life, or the next, then we can create a continuum that begins with the worst possible misery for all conscious creatures, all the time. Using this as a starting point we can work our way forward. We may disagree along the way, and hence the ongoing discussion on ethics is born.
Using reason and historical precedent (Harris would include science) we can begin to make claims about which behaviors would lead to suffering and which to flourishing. After certain debate we may be able to call some of our ethics objective in so far as they reliably bring happiness and well-being to conscious creatures. It would be hard for instance to make a moral argument against a fair trial for all peoples.
We do this with economics as well. We may debate on which economic philosophy is the best for a society to adopt, but our discussion is solely based on the acknowledgment that economic doctrines should cause the society to prosper. We aren’t afraid to say that it is objectively true that taking all the money and goods produced by a society and allocating it to one leader at the top, is a bad economic policy.
There may be many ideas that will seem equally good or equally bad and they will need to be tested in the laboratory of human experience. There may be some ethical behaviors that cause happiness in some parts of the world but cause misery in others. There is, in other words much debate to be had. Religion will need to come off its high horse, it will need to humbly sit at the table and offer its ideas of the Good and the Bad.
This notion that without religion the world would be steeped in chaos and conflict, is laughable when one remembers the horrible cruelty that was visited - and is still being visited - on Earth whenever people with moral certainty took up the sword. It was not men of the cloth that freed us from the Dark Ages, but enlightened intellectuals committed to reason and discussion. Indeed, history shows us that when one believes in God, everything is permitted.
July 10, 2017
“Buy 1 Get 1 Free!” the sign in shop reads, seducing you to enter. You walk in, check the deals. Two, for the price of one, is a great price. Even though you came into the shop merely for one item, it would be foolish to leave with only one when the shop is offering another free of charge, right?
Consumerism: The belief that more is better.
There are people who are committed to convincing you that what you want, indeed what you need is more, more, more. The more you believe this, the more money they make, hence the intoxicating and unrelenting advertisement culture that now fills every nook and cranny of our modern world.
The irony of Black Friday, which occurs a day after Thanksgiving, paints a horrible picture of where the consumerist philosophy leads. Watching the YouTube clips one can witness hoards of humans stampede and trample one another for the latest gadget. How these otherwise sane humans, fight and claw their way through the mass of humanity hoping to buy as much as possible while prices have been reduced, startles our senses. It is the tragicomedy of our modern world, the outcome of a philosophy that we gobbled up.
Minimalism: The belief that less is better.
There is a philosophy that unlike the advertisement industry, speaks in whisper. It does not have the influence or power that the corporations yield and so their message is nearly inaudible, but it is persistent. There are countless books written by authors hoping to offer tips and guidance to reduce what we have called “clutter.”
This is the rebellion against the philosophy of consumerism. This message is preaching what sages have been telling us for a millenia: “Happiness cannot be bought, more stuff does not equal more happiness, and that what matters in life is not the stuff you fill your house with, but the people with whom you share your life.”
These ideas have been packaged and clothed in many different ways, but their message is the same, we need to free ourselves from the endless pursuit of material possessions and begin to live more fulfilling lives; I do not believe we can do both. I am not suggesting that it is a zero-sum game, it is a process, a journey on which we commit only to continue trudging forward. Don’t sell your soul for their goods. Don’t buy their fool's gold. More stuff will only bring more disappointment, more boredom. Live more and you will need less.
July 12, 2017
I have faith in humanity.
I recognize that to some extent this faith is irrational.
But we must also recognize that in many ways our current world testifies to the fact that humans can make great strides in the right direction.
In our modern world people who were for centuries forgotten if they were lucky, oppressed if they weren’t, are now treated equally under the law.
These people, these minority groups, now have vastly more opportunity than did their ancestors.
The wealthy may still exploit the poorer classes from time to time but this must be done in secret; gone are the days of unapologetic aristocratic trampling and ruling over the poor.
Women have been rightfully freed from their service of their husbands. Women have become politicians, corporate executives, and champion athletes. They needn’t seek the approval of their husbands to pursue their happiness, now the equal couple must communicate and compromise so as to maximise the experience of their shared lives.
There are international charity organizations tirelessly working across the globe to help our fellow humans who are less fortunate. These organizations are funded primarily by the kindness of strangers who donate their hard-earned money with no expectation that the recipient of their charity will ever be able to reciprocate.
Technological innovators - though still far too few - are creating new ways to bring food and clean water to villages much in need.
These, and other examples like them, bolster my faith in humanity’s ability to make real progress. We have taken, and will continue to take, great leaps in our moral evolution as a species. To be too cynical of the moral advancements we have made, is too quite frankly be too cynical. We have, obviously, a long road ahead of us. With each innovation comes new obstacles, new challenges that will require us to continue to communicate with one another about the best course of action. We will make mistakes, we will at times take moral steps backward, but overall we have been moving forward, and I believe we will continue to do so. The world today is better than it ever has been - perhaps not for some, but for humanity as a whole. This truth seems undeniable.
Of course, most the examples above are only true in some parts of the world. Other sections of our Earth are still steeped in the evils of the past. There are still many persecuted minorities, impoverished families, and evil regimes. There is still far too much avoidable suffering being visited on our species, and we mustn’t become too complacent. There is still much to accomplish, but we should not be disheartened. In fact, the very idea that we might become disheartened shows us how far we have come as a species!
My faith in humanity, to be clear, is not passive, it requires of me and my fellow humans a great deal of work. Without taking bold steps forward, without expanding our circle of concern further from ourselves, without listening to one another, there will be no progress. It is us - not some mythical messiah - that will lead our world to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah: “...and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” (Isaiah 2:4) Amen, may we make it so.
July 14, 2017
Contrary to the cliche, time is not money. Time is far more valuable than money. To see the truth of this claim, imagine if you were given only one day to live, but you could prolong your death by paying a certain amount of money. It seems clear that most of us would happily pay whatever the fee. Obviously, in this thought experiment you, the patient, would not be suffering greatly, it would just mean that you have more time to live. We would pay a lot, I imagine, for each additional day. This point is obvious. The strange thing is, that while we budget our money to some degree or another, we don’t budget our time basically at all. I keep a monthly budget of my family's expenses, I have never attempted a time-budget. How strange are we humans?
July 17, 2017
It's not enough for us that our political opponents hold views that we find erroneous, we must find them evil. Not only are they mistaken on economics, they have to be greedy. They aren't simply wrong about foreign policy, they must hate the country they purport to love. Why do we have this compulsion? I believe it is because it relieves us of the responsibility to confront their ideas in the open battlefield. To do that, requires intellectual sparring, it involves close-quarters combat that we know may leave our cherished ideas, indeed our political identities, vulnerable to their strikes. Rather than put our fragile ideas in danger, we prefer to stay hidden in our trenches, rising only to hurl another epithet at the enemy. We have become cowardly soldiers, and so neither side loses or gains any ground. How rare then, is the warrior who is unafraid to face combat, and who faces defeat with dignity?
July 19, 2017
“Even a hair-stylist must pass a licensing exam before plying his trade in the United States, and yet those given the power to make war and national policy… are not expected to know anything in particular before setting to work.” - Excerpt from The End of Faith by Sam Harris
This idea struck me with full force as we are nearly half a year into Donald Trump’s presidency. Why are there no qualifiers to hold political office? Why don’t we demand it? Imagine if all would-be politicians (not only presidential candidates) were expected to take a course and pass an exam before they could enter office. It could be a course that would teach them the law, relevant history, political theory, philosophy, basic science, mathematics, economics, basic medicine, strategic warfare etc. Upon completion they could then begin running for office.
During the campaign they could brandish their grades showcasing their intelligence.
Imagine how quickly the best minds would be attracted to political pursuits, and more importantly, how quickly the poorly educated would slink away from positions of power.
Do I sound like an elitist? Do I sound like someone who despises the poorly educated class of society? Perhaps so; but imagine if I were referring to medical practitioners or pilots instead of politicians.
We expect our doctors and those flying our airplanes to be educated at least in their field. The degree to which they are experts will determine the level of respect we have for them.
Why don’t we want expert statesmen? Why don’t we want the people writing our public policy to have an excellent understanding of the law? Why don’t we want the men and women waging wars and negotiating peace deals, to have a superb understanding of geopolitics, warfare and history?
In our current moment education is relatively accessible to all. Yes, it needs to get better, the arms of our learning institutions need to be become more outstretched, our children need more professional teachers, but relative to any other time in human history, education is available to all who care to seize it.
What I am proposing is not an aristocratic rule for proletariat, what I am insisting on is for our halls of government to be filled, not with charismatic fund-raisers, but with men and women of knowledge and wisdom.
I imagine that the reason the well-educated Founding Fathers of America did not implement a test to govern has to do with their crippling fear of tranny. In this case, a tyranny of the educated on the lower classes. Perhaps they were right to leave out such a clause in their time.
But what about now? In the age of the Internet, in the age where books are cheap, where much of our education is free, where there are no laws restricting education from anyone based on gender or race, perhaps now, we should demand education - specific education - before we allow ourselves to be governed. Our fear of intelligence, our suspicion of experts, our cynicism of academics, elected Donald Trump, and may - and this is decidedly not funny - elect Kanye West.
August 3, 2017
When we are guarded, we are strangers. When we have touched one another from behind our fortresses, we become friends. When we shatter our walls - when we stand naked before one another - without fear, we are in love. Love is the reciprocal fearless vulnerability between two people.
August 11, 2017
I feel as though the warrior within me has awoke. I feel discontented in my comfort, the painted walls that surround me, appear as prison bars. My life is predictable, my food and safety all but guaranteed. I am a jungle cat who willingly entered the zoo. This worked for a while but I can feel the beast inside clawing to get out. The warrior may slumber but he does not die.
September 12, 2017
While I believe the concept of the Messiah to be a terrible one - since it perpetuates the notion that our problems can all be wiped away by an individual, abdicating us from the responsibility - I view the concept of "bringing the Messiah," found in Judaism - that is, humankind has to work hard to better the world or the Messiah won't arrive - as a beautiful one that imbues the lives of those who believe it with not only a deep sense of hope, but more importantly a sense of duty to actively participate in the, as Jonathan Sacks puts it, "healing of our fractured world."
August 21, 2017
Violence must be part of the peacemaker's toolbox.
September 25, 2017
A brief glance at the nature that surrounds Homo Sapiens leads to the conclusion that man is the noblest creature to ever bless creation. When we probe deeper the nature around us however, we are slowly stripped of our solipsistic garments, at last our crown is broken and we find ourselves naked - surrounded by naked animals. We begin to realize that we are not above them but among them. This can be frightening and humiliating at first, but as we adjust to the cold air of reality, as we let go of our pompous delusion of grandeur, we realize that we are among our kin, and that we are home.
September 26, 2017
There is, I believe, a dangerous delusion that permeates what has been called the “atheist movement.” I have long since abandoned the word “atheist” as a way of identifying myself - though it is literally true - for it excludes other thinkers from whom I wish not to be separated. The word “atheist” reveals the dangerous delusion inherent in the movement. Atheists are quick to point out that religions are fiction. They most gleefully point out the flaws in religious thinking, and scorn what they perceive to be mere fantasy. Atheists will then point out the scientific origins of religions. They will demonstrate that religions arose not to serve any god, but to serve the “desires” of natural selection. Much has been written about this and the evidence is piling up against any case that religion was superimposed on us from above. The most that can be said now, it seems, is that perhaps the supernatural creator, caused to us evolve with a propensity for religion in order that we should come to it on our own. I find this to be a rather unconvincing case for religion. Perhaps then, such research serves as another nail in God’s coffin.
However, herein lies the delusion of the atheists. They say with smug condemnation that religion merely evolved to serve human nature and yet believe that we - the murderers of God - can crumple religion up and throw in the waste bin. This is contradictory. If something has served human nature for so long, if - as has been shown - religion helped early humans build trust and cooperate in mass groups, if religious people today still on average give more to charity, are happier, and live longer, perhaps then, religion has something indispensable to offer us.
It is arrogant and naive - a deadly combination - to believe that religion can be disposed of and we will be better for it. Were that the case, were it merely a cancerous disease, it strains credulity that it would have popped up in every human culture for millennia.
In Nietzsche's Analogy of the Madmen, we are forced to confront this hard truth as we watch the atheists who fill the marketplace mock a wandering madman as he bemoans the death of God. The madman demands to know how we will rebuild now that we have murdered God. Eventually he runs off and sits in a church realizing he has come too soon. The madman was not a religious man but he was more than an atheist.We might call him a godless prophet. He tried to warn us but we laughed at him. Prophets are always mocked by the myopic masses.
We are living, I believe, during the funeral of God. His presence is still felt by many, but he is vanishing even from their hearts. Some are still acting as if He never died, others have embalmed Him in spirit form, while still others - the more philosophical - have made Him into an abstraction, an unfathomable Nothing on Whom (or perhaps Which) they still heap praise, but doubt increasingly if communication with such Being is is even possible. The God of the Old Testament - the jealous and powerful Monarch who caused seas to stand and fortresses to crumble; the Master of the World who demanded sacrifice, who made nations tremble, who turned the Nile to blood, and exiled His own children - is dead.
God is a fading memory, beloved by some, hated by others, ignored by most. We have killed God and we have almost buried Him. But did we, the builders of Babel, contemplate what we were doing? Did we wonder at all about what godlessness would mean? Or did we act like a bloodthirsty mob so caught up in the moment of lust as to not even realize what exactly we were attempting to kill?
Indeed, society is becoming numb. We obsess over vacuousness. We seek meaning in vanity and love in instant gratification. We are increasingly despondent, the gulf between each of us ever-widens. We worship escapism feeling uncomfortable with ourselves. We are the foolish atheists, and the madman watches us with tear-filled eyes.
What should we do?
We need to rebuild. We cannot resurrect God, but we can create something new, something which uses the materials of crumbled churches and mosques, something that is humble as it reads the myths that elevated the lives of the previous generations. We can seek to understand what it was that made religion so appealing. Indeed, what makes the believers today happier and more charitable.
We will need to be humble. We will need to be wise. We should not ditch our scientific methods. We should not rid ourselves of skepticism. But we must rid ourselves of arrogance. We must not call ourselves atheists, that is, merely unbelievers, we must become builders of a new world, creators of a new cosmos.
In this task the religious are not our enemy. They are not fools we must educate. The religions of yesterday and today must be viewed as relics to be cherished and examined. We should learn from them, take heed of their ceremonies, examine their traditions. Afterall, they were made by us.
We are the children and they - the religions of past and present - are the giants on whose shoulders we must stand if we ever hope to see beyond the horizon.
December 6, 2017
Monsters are not real. Well, not the monsters conjured that may be conjured in the recesses of your mind. There are not fire-breathing dragons or fang-toothed goblins. There are no demonic spirits haunting the dark corners of your closet.
The real monsters are far scarier. They look just like us. They disguise themselves with smiles and soft eyes. Beneath their thin veneer is a monster more terrifying than any fabled beast.
It is my greatest fear that you will encounter one of these monsters. I helplessly recognize my inability to protect you against every one of them.
My blood boils at the thought of someone trying to harm you.
I know they are out there lurking.
I will turn this world upside down to protect you.
Alas, this may not be enough.
That means that you will need to learn how to protect yourself.
You will need to learn to survive into the civilized jungle into which you have been born.
The monsters will come and you will need to learn to repel them.
Here is what you can know about real monsters.
Their only currency is control.
They will use smiles. They will use soft voices. They will use authority and fear. They will use guilt. They will use violence and aggression. Whatever their tactic, the goal will be control.
No one is allowed to control you.
Your teachers will guide you. The law will teach you how a we in a society should behave.
But you must not let anyone control you.
December 6, 2017
I feel as though I am grasping in the dark. I am looking for something.
I feel around the blackness. My hands caress the strewn-about objects. I lift them up. Maybe this is what I’m looking for? I continue to hold it in one hand while my other hand descends again into the darkness looking for something else.
The tragedy is not the darkness, it is that I don’t know what it is that I seek.
I only know that I feel compelled to find it.
December 13, 2017
The flowers of wisdom grow in the rich soil of knowledge, and blossom only when bathed in the warm sunlight of reflection.
December 13, 2017
Most discussions have an element of combat. While the two interlocutors may be friendly, their egos are nethertheless armed and ready. I have begun to notice that I have a habit of beginning an argument with the seemingly innocuous phrase: “I don’t think that is right.”
This statement, I thought, was merely a statement of assertion, meant only to enter the conversation.
Upon reflection I have noticed that this is actually an attack that causes the ego of the one to which this comment was directed to become defensive.
Far better, I have found to begin with something causes those defenses to drop.
“That is interesting…” followed by a question.
Though your goal may be to reveal the flaw in the argument of your fellow, this question (and any of those that follow) must be asked in genuine curiosity without pretension. The ego is finely-tuned to detect false curiosity and disguised arrogance.
Therefore, one must be truly openminded.
I have therefore resolved to be open to all ideas.
I will try to withhold judgement before I can truly probe the matter.
I will not mock or scorn offhand (this is often a defense mechanism as well).
I will seduce my opponent into my web of questions, in the hopes of finding the flaw in either my web or the argument.
The fruits of discussions are trampled by the combat boots of the ego.
December 14, 2017
What qualities must a good leader possess?
A leader must be disciplined. People will find it difficult to follow someone who does not first lead himself or herself.
A leader must be confident. Confidence attracts followers. It makes people feel that you are a safe place to entrust themselves..
A leader must be humble. Humility, of course, is a trait that best suits the confident. Confidence is the climate in which humility can thrive.
A leader must be empathic. If the leader cannot feel the emotions of the flock, if the leader is unaware of the feelings brewing in the ranks, leading will be impossible. Empathy helps us be in touch with those around us. If you lack empathy, you will lack followers.
A leader must stand firm. Principles are the compass that help us navigate the foggy road; they are the North Star that beckons us forward, reminding us of our way. While a leader must not be too rigid, indeed obstacles sometimes block the path, a leader must still not stray too far away from the right course. Principled leaders are predictable, which makes them easier to follow.
A leader must be kind. Kindness is strength. The weak leader cannot afford to be merciful. Cruelty is the thin armor of the timid leader. The strong leader is benevolent. One should lift up the fallen, not tread upon them.
A leader must be kind. Kindness is strength. The weak leader cannot afford to be merciful. Cruelty is the thin armor of the timid leader. The strong leader is benevolent. One should lift up the fallen, not tread upon them.
A leader must protect the flock. Cowards hide in the rear. One cannot properly lead from behind. A leader walks in the forefront and is the first to confront whatever challenges lie in waiting.
Leaders are not always the men and women in charge, but it won’t be long before they are.