Paranoia and Projection

There’s a common human tendency to blame others when something goes wrong. (Whether or not it’s a NORMAL human tendency remains to be seen.) You remember that, when you were a kid and something went wrong, it seemed important to blame it on the circumstances, on somebody else, or on something else. Anything to escape being paddled or hollered at: “It must have been the wind!” “I didn’t do it! S/he did it!” And if somebody “told” (or “tells”) on us, then some of us were tempted (or are tempted) to get even by taking it out on the tattler so that we wouldn’t have to (or don’t have to) be the only one to get punished.

If you’re suspicious that someone is “up to something”, what’s the basis for that suspicion, psycho-dynamically? There could be evidence, but what about when the evidence is skimpy, unlikely, or non-existent? You’ve been told that there’s a plot to undermine the usual order of things: The Nazis/Commies are planning to make a comeback by restricting your rights, selling out the country, or bombing all the mosques, synagogues, or churches. Or the current medium of exchange is almost worthless and, very soon, you’ll have to go grocery shopping with a wheelbarrow-full of high-denomination bills. There’s a secret movement at work to send a colony of “the chosen few” to the moon with enough supplies to last two growing seasons, then to direct solar flares to incinerate the world population so that “The Moon People” can return and take over. Or, how about this?: Certain factions are at work behind the scenes to deny gun ownership to the general public so that the international government can impose martial law on the population, take over their property, and make everybody work for minimal wage. Like slaves. You don’t think that’s true? It COULD be true. Couldn’t it? (Anything is possible.)

Calculating the probabilities requires information and a grasp of probability in general. When’s the last time such a scheme was pulled off? How long did the rumor last? Has the world situation changed since the last rumor went around? Is the general public more sophisticated now than it used to be? What are your own private fantasies?

Would you like to impose martial law on the world so that you can control things and not let things “get out of hand”? Do you trust human nature? Is it important for you to own guns so you can control the situation? (You never know what’s going to happen, right?)

To what extent are we projecting onto others when we’re suspicious? Conspiracy theories are rampant these days. “Somebody’s up to somethin’; I don’t know what, I just know somethin’s goin’ to happen.” Predictions of the end of the world are prolific (everywhere, constant). Why the worry? Are people feeling guilty?

End-of-the-world religious sects set dates for Armageddon. When the date comes around and nothing happens, membership falls off. But the remaining faithful aren’t discouraged; they just set a new date and start over.

We fear Armageddon for biblical reasons. We were told as children that “Judgement Day” is going to happen and we’d better get ready for it. We humans have been made to feel guilty and that we’d better confess our sins and do penance for them or we’re going to spend eternity in hell. So, if we’re made to feel guilty, maybe it’s only natural that we look for somebody else to blame. “We’re not the only ones. Somebody else has got to be blamed. I can’t be the only one who’s guilty. Somebody else has been up to something.”

This way, we don’t have to accept the responsibility for the future and the blame for the past. Somebody else has got to pay for this.

The way out of this is to avoid feeling guilty, to avoid blaming ourselves and others for the past, and to start accepting responsibility, ourselves, for the future.

What are we doing to help make the world safe?

Is Amanda Knox a Saint?

Hardly.
Few people would consider Amanda Knox “pure” enough to be a saint. And she wouldn’t be considered to be qualified for sainthood by the Catholic Church. What about the Protestant Church? Do you know of any Protestant saints? Or Jewish? Or Moslem? Amanda is apparently not a practicing Christian. Whether or not she believes in god is moot.

She’s never mentioned going to church or praying or believing in an “afterlife”. Is she an agnostic or an atheist? What if she’s a Humanist? Could Amanda Knox be a Humanist saint?

She certainly had faith in humanity when she cooperated with the Perugian police. And now, it seems that she trusts humanity to believe in HER.

What do Humanists believe in? Some say that they believe in Nature, Evolution, and Humanity, that they believe in YOU.
They believe in you and other humans to solve the problems that beleaguer the human race, even those that seem insurmountable, those problems that are so gigantic and overwhelming that we despair of ever solving them: Pestilence, poverty, war, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes. The human race has made great strides in providing food for huge numbers of people (though certainly not all), in inventing and managing manufacturing and distribution systems that serve a wide variety of human needs, and in educating and training masses of human workers, teachers, managers, and professionals.

How big a human population can the natural world and human activity support? Is there a limit?

And what does all this have to do with Amanda Knox? She’s innocent, but what has Amanda Knox ever done for us?

Amanda has demonstrated how much faith we can have in others. She trusted her inquisitors, she cooperated beyond what would have been expected. She suffered in the name of justice. She stayed in Italy to help solve the murder of her friend, Meredith. She waited for the truth to come to light. She did not conspire or strategize. She suffered only.
It was the authorities who took advantage of her innocence. She didn’t suspect what forces hovered around her or what wild, malevolent imaginations were at work. She was ignorant of the ignorance and superstition that were at work against her.

Was she flagellated, or burned, or strung-up “a la strappado”? No. Was she even threatened with any of these torturous procedures? No. She was subjected to a bombast of questionings over prolonged periods of time, shouted at, intimidated, brought to tears, slapped in the back of the head, and, finally, accused. All this in a foreign language, by a couple of women and a large group of men. She was always cooperative. Sometimes too cooperative.

Finally, she was found guilty (with no reliable evidence) and imprisoned for an additional two years beyond the two that she’d already served. She wept, she was despondent, she cut her hair.

While some humanists are considering eliminating certain words from the vocabulary, like “saint”, “sanctified”, and “sanctuary”, maybe they’d be satisfied to merely change the definition. Maybe, “saint” could come to mean merely “pure of heart”, or “goodly”, “trusting”, or “to be honored”.

What do you require of a saint? Steadfastness in the face of depravity? Courage? Faith?

And what is Humanism? Is it a faith? It’s been said that a “faith” is believing in something that’s not well supported by the facts, something for which there’s very little evidence in support. It’s for sure that having faith in humanity isn’t well supported by the facts. We fail one another too frequently. We’re not to be trusted with responsibility over too long a period of time. And we’re all newcomers on this planet. This wasn’t our idea. We didn’t create the universe. We just found ourselves in it. And we muddle through, like Amanda.

How can we be held responsible for the earth? It wasn’t our idea. But here we are with some limited ability to protect it from further destruction. We can pollute or not pollute. We can deplete or not deplete. We can run amuck like lemmings or we can be sensible and use what science has provided to us for civilizing ourselves, for preserving our home, for constraining our industriousness and maintaining what we have developed so far and what’s left of the planet.

What do you think? Did Amanda practice self-restraint through her ordeal? Did she suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune? Can we expect something super-human from another human being?

Patriotism: No. Matriotism: Yes.

We humans have long followed the principle that it’s morally right to stand up and fight for the fatherland. We commonly take our surnames from our fathers. In most cultures around the world, the “man of the house” is the leader and the ultimate authority. There have been more kings in history than queens. In most cultures, the husband in a marriage has more rights than the wife. Over the centuries, this has contributed to a stability in the state of marriages and of the community based on them..

But this “male authoritarianism” has generated a variety of injustices: Men have been paid more than women for doing the same job (because the man supposedly “has a family to support”). Women have been seen as having fewer rights in courts of law. In cases in which a wife charges her husband with rape, does the verdict come down in favor of the wife? Or is the opinion held that “a man cannot (legally) ‘rape’ his wife”?

The preferential role of the man in many cultures around the world has made for stability in the community because it makes it easier to maintain control; we don’t have to spend a lot of time discussing the ethics of a given situation if the man has more rights than the woman.
Obviously, this arrangement can result in extremely unjust situations. It HAS resulted in extremely unjust situations.

The argument in favor of the masculinist arrangement partially derives from observations of Nature in which we see the male of a specie sexually mounting the female, not the other way around. The male bird is more colorful and has a variety of songs to attract the female whose role is merely to show up and be chased after. And, of course, as we heard in “Anna and the King of Siam”, “Bee must go from flower to flower to flower. Flower must not go from bee to bee to bee.”

Nature has its rules but of course there are exceptions. Some male birds feather a nest, watch over the eggs, and even help to hatch them. And there have been matriarchies throughout history in various parts of the world. What needs to sought out for us humans is a system of child rearing and social justice in which women’s rights are equal to men’s.

And how does this apply to patriotism and matriotism? As opposed to patriotism which is sometimes exemplified by the sentiment, “My country, right or wrong!”, matriotism is a larger concept that takes into consideration more than “the fatherland”. Patriotism often fosters ideas and images of “defending (something) to the death”, men in trenches firing lead slugs at one another, flags of competitive countries raised in anger and strife, huge corporations battling for the opportunity to build bigger battleships, longer-range phallic symbols, and more destructive explosives. Matriotism generates images of love, mothering, mother earth, gentleness, nourishment, and care. It’s a larger, slower, more nurturing process. How long does it take to “father” a child? How long does it take to “mother” a child?

The concept of matriotism encompasses more than the images of various nation states competing, conflicting, and conquering. It generates images of accommodation and cooperation. More things survive these processes; they’re not so destructive.

Matriotism is not so fast and so small as patriotism is. It takes more time and includes more people. It’s not based on nation states. It includes the whole world. Many patriots are fearful of the concept of “One World” because it threatens their sense of security, of “protecting the homeland”, of looking out for oneself. This thinking is reminiscent of the “minutemen” of earlier U.S. history who were prepared to take up arms at a moment’s notice to defend the colonies from the importunities of the crown or of a foreign nation. We see this provincial paranoia in many different places, in Myanmar, in North Korea, in the small Latin American countries, in Ireland.

Matriotism an easier, larger, more wholesome way of looking at things. We see it in the way that a mother looks out for all of her children, not just some of them. We see it in the way that insightful politicians look for solutions that incorporate the needs and desires of all the parties involved. We see it in the way that peacemakers are revered by peoples who have been ravaged by relentless conflicts and destruction.

Patriotism is single minded, blind-sighted, and destructive. There IS a better way. It involves patience and open-mindedness and adaptability. It’s more productive than destructive. You like production, don’t you? Do you think you could back off and slow down enough to consider the options to “having it out”?

Mothering is what this world needs. Not “dog-eat-dog”.

Attachments and Tradition

We humans have ong been saddled and abetted by our need to be with one another. We grow attached to our homes. We don’t want to give them up. Family is important, in spite of it all.
These attachments grow larger until we find ourselves enculturated and then nationalized.

What troubles arise from this clannishness! We identify ourselves by which team we root for. We take offense if someone insults our group. We struggle to advance our cause. It becomes a tradition.

What wars are waged when we’re told who the enemy is. The Germans are paranoid of the Russians; the Russians, of the Germans. The British and French seem now reconciled but how long do you think that will last? Hutus and Tutsis have slaughtered each other; the Greeks and the Turks are at odds. The Jews and the Muslims persist in their hatred and the Sunnis and Shiites the same.

In Florence, the clans of the Medicis and Pazzis conflicted to death. In the U.S., the Hatfields and McCoys.

Is there any culture that has avoided vendettas? Do the liberals and conservatives persist? Will the royalists and subversives continue their ways; will labor and management go on?

We speak different languages, we make different laws. We believe in a variety of things. We make up our stories and we cling to our “facts”, we believe what we need to believe. This all comes from Nature, from the drive to subsist and survive.

But how animal are we, that we should kill to survive? Should we prey on each other to our mutual destruction? What can we look forward to? What is the future that we want?

We copulate and reproduce. We thrive and conspire. We compete and conflict.

But we also cooperate and survive. What numbers will we reach? What do you want for us?

Will the planet become so overrun with humans that it self-destructs?

There is the example of the lemmings who reproduce so exorbitantly that they run off the cliffs “en masse” and die in large numbers. It’s only natural.

Is this what we want for ourselves? Is this planet free for the burning?

There is a need for self-restraint. We can’t afford to breed relentlessly. And we can’t rely on “The Great Unseen” to solve our problem. We must solve this problem ourselves.

What’s it to be? The survival of the fittest? Is the law for the highest specie to remain “Kill or be killed”?

We can do better. We were smart enough to develop separately. We will now have to be smart enough to survive altogether.

Amazed

It may be that you’ve been amazed at how often and how persistently we humans relate to one another, how often we try to relate to other humans better, and how often we fail to relate to other humans better. Think of all the plots of all the movies you’ve seen.

You may have raised the question, “Why can’t people get along?”

It may be that it’s because we’re so intelligent. That may not make much sense on the surface of things. We’d like to think that the more intelligent people are, the easier it should be for them to get along. On the other hand, chipmunks aren’t too smart but there are no reported cases of murder among them.

Humans are able to communicate, to raise questions, to provide answers, and to work for the common good.
But what’s good?
And what isn’t?

Our intelligence allows us to learn. But we learn different things. We learn that the working class has needs that have to be recognized and taken into account by the government. And we learn that workers are often slackers who take advantage of other taxpayers’ money and seem to feel that the world owes them a living.

We learn that there is one true god and that our understanding of him or her is the true understanding. And we learn that god had a prophet or a son who is equally to be revered, prayed to, and thanked for his blessings. And we learn that there is no god.

We learn to speak a language by listening to family members and others who use that language. Other humans grew up with different family members who spoke a different language. Why didn’t they learn our language? Are they stupid? Or just unlucky?

We believe that the political system that we grew-up in (or that we learned to appreciate) is the best one. It makes the most sense and we don’t like the encroachment of other systems because they’re strange and they don’t cater to our needs.

We ask, “Why are those other people “auslaenders”? Why don’t they change? We know for sure that our system is better than their system because we like it. That’s why it’s better.

In our enculturation, we adapt our personal inclinations to what the larger group offers or requires. As infants and young children, we have to adapt or we die. If Mom doesn’t want to feed us every time we’re hungry, we have to wait. It’s a matter of survival.

Are we humans learning to get along better on a global level? Or is war a fact of life? There was a time when warring factions were much smaller: Families, tribes, river folk, mountain folk, desert folk, city folk. We raided other tribes because they had something we wanted. It was a form of trade. Next time, they might raid us. Things got vicious. There was livelihood at stake. There was pride at stake. “Those other people are wild and vicious; they don’t deserve to be treated like decent human beings.”

Regions were dominated by aristocracies. Lines were drawn. Nation-states evolved. This amalgamation continues: The European Union, the Americas, The Near East, The Middle East, The Far East. The Western Hemisphere, The Eastern Hemisphere. The Northern Hemisphere, The Southern Hemisphere. (Would it be helpful to think in terms of “Quadrospheres”?) We think of “first-world countries, second-world countries, third-world countries.

We say the world is shrinking. We’re reaching out further and faster: Printing, Pony Express, telegraph, radio, telephones, television, Internet, the “social network”. Have you seen the earth from the viewpoint of one of the many satellites now circling the earth, from as far away as 25,000 miles?
It’s humbling.

We have much to learn as we get a bigger picture. It’s time for us to get a bigger picture. It’s time for us to get bigger, ourselves.

Suddenly, Nietzsche

Suddenly, Nietzsche appears to be more of a poet than a philosopher. As a philosopher, he rambles on in hard-to-follow fashion, has a reckless disregard for sentence structure, and wields vocabulary like a cavalier with a sabre. For example, in “Beyond Good and Evil”, in the section titled, “On the Natural History of Morals”, he says this:
“All these moralities which address themselves to the individual person, for the promotion of his ‘happiness’ as they say — what are they but prescriptions for behaviour in relation to the degree of perilousness in which the individual person lives with himself; recipes to counter his passions, his good and bad inclinations in so far as they have will to power in them and would like to play the tyrant; great and little artifices and acts of prudence to which there clings the nook-and-cranny odour of ancient household remedies and old-woman wisdom; one and all baroque and unreasonable in form — because they address themselves to ‘all’, because they generalize where generalization is impermissible — speaking unconditionally one and all, taking themselves for unconditional, flavoured with more than one grain of salt, indeed tolerable only, and occasionally even tempting, when they learn to smell over-spiced and dangerous, to smell above all of ‘the other world’: all this is, from an intellectual point of view, of little value and far from constituting ‘science’, not to speak of ‘wisdom’, but rather, to say it again and to say it thrice, prudence, prudence, prudence, mingled with stupidity, stupidity, stupidity — whether it be that indifference and statuesque coldness towards the passionate folly of the emotions which the Stoics advised and applied; or that no-more-laughing and no-more-weeping of Spinoza, that destruction of the emotions through analysis and vivisection which he advocated so naively; or that depression of the emotions to a harmless mean at which they may be satisfied, the Aristotelianism of morals; even morality as enjoyment of the emotions in a deliberate thinning down and spiritualization through the symbolism of art, as music for instance, or as love of God or love of man for the sake of God — for in religion the passions again acquire civic rights, assuming that. . .; finally, even that easygoing and roguish surrender to the emotions such as Hafiz and Goethe taught, that bold letting fall of the reins, that spiritual-physical “licentia morum” in the exceptional case of wise old owls and drunkards for whom there is ‘no longer much risk in it’.”

All one sentence. The man seems never to have re-written anything. It would be a challenge to the world’s greatest grammarian to diagram that sentence. And what does he say? Do YOU know what he says? Echoes of schizophrenic word-salad resound in one’s head. Maybe we’ve all been led astray in expecting Nietzsche to be rational and lucid in his rambling. Maybe this isn’t philosophy, maybe this is poetry. Poets aren’t expected to be rational, right? And they honor many fewer of the restrictions imposed on us in the construction of our prose. A poet may ramble, allude, contradict him/herself and exercise “poetic license” in licentious ways. Think Walt Whitman.

In the section of “Beyond Good and Evil” titled, “We Scholars”, Nietzsche reveals a sense of rhythm, symmetry, and metaphor that may make you think of poetry:

He says, “Artists have a more subtle scent: they know only too well that it is precisely when they cease to act ‘voluntarily’ and do everything of necessity that their feeling of freedom, subtlety, fullness of power, creative pacing, disposing, shaping, reaches its height — in short, that necessity and ‘freedom of will’ are then one in them. In the last resort there exists an order of rank of states of soul with which the order of rank of problems accords; and the supreme problems repel without mercy everyone who ventures near them without being, through the elevation and power of his spirituality, predestined to their solution. Of what avail is it if nimble commonplace minds or worthy clumsy mechanicals and empiricists crowd up to them, as they so often do today, and with their plebeian ambition approach as it were this ‘court of courts’! But coarse feet may never tread such carpets: that has been seen to in the primal law of things; the doors remain shut against such importunates, though they may batter and shatter their heads against them! For every elevated world one has to be born or, expressed more clearly, bred for it: one has a right to philosophy — taking the word in the grand sense — only by virtue of one’s origin; one’s ancestors, one’s ‘blood’ are the decisive thing here too. Many generations must have worked to prepare for the philosopher; each of his virtues must have been individually acquired, tended, inherited, incorporated, and not only the bold, easy, delicate course and cadence of his thoughts but above all the readiness for great responsibilities, the lofty glance that rules and looks down, the feeling of being segregated from the mob and its duties and virtues, the genial protection and defence of that which is misunderstood and calumniated, be it god or devil, the pleasure in and exercise of grand justice, the art of commanding, the breadth of will, the slow eye which seldom admires, seldom looks upward, seldom loves . . .”

Disregard the content and think about the FORM of what Nietzsche has to say. We are here contemplating the way Nietzsche thought and wrote, not whether he’s right or not. Our task here was to get closer to his STYLE of thinking. Poetic, is it not? The CONTENT comes later.

Being Mortal and Being Happy Anyway

Mortality is a dilemma of the human condition. Even if we’re lucky enough to come up with a reason for living, the rationale may very well become questionable as soon as the harsh light of our mortality is thrown on it. Whatever reason we come up with, short of an immortal significance, is rendered inconsequential by our death. That we are finite makes the time unbearably short. The pursuit of knowledge is futile beyond what we need to survive, to be comfortable, and to lead meaningful lives. We must therefore accept that we will die, not only long before we learn all that which will be known someday (since human knowledge will continue to grow after our death) but before we learn all that which is already known (since it’s too much for any one person to process).
The exclusive pursuit of pleasure dissipates, ultimately. The key concept is balance and style, staying healthy, looking good, and feeling great, doing the right thing in the right way, being appropriate, friendly, and loving, and asking and offering neither too much nor too little.
There needs to be a balance between work and play. Workaholics and playboys and playgirls are out of balance. “Balance” means that nothing goes to an extreme. What gets done well is living. If one excels and is hugely successful at school and work exclusively, or at play and love exclusively, then something’s being neglected (either family or job).

How did the 40-hour workweek evolve? It seems unlikely that it will ever officially be longer in western countries. Whether it could be shorter is moot: An expanding population makes for more available labor. It would be an oddly generous corporation that would pay its labor force a living for putting in a few hours a week on the job. So the final wage-and-workweek balance comes from a reconciliation and balance between the needs and ambitions of corporate management and the needs and ambitions of the workers.

Is there an irreducible minimum in the length of the workweek? How many hours a week do people really spend exerting themselves (including, housework, lawnwork, shopping, taking care of family members, home-repair, taking care of the car, bike, or scooter, doing the “have-to’s”)? Doesn’t a hobby gravitate toward being work if taken seriously and given enough time? What about the idea of doing what you love? If the official work week were reduced, would second jobs increase (as part of the drive to “get ahead”)? Is competition for survival the only basis for work?
You may feel that you do what you do because it’s a “necessity”. For you, “success” may simply mean being able to “do do what needs to be done”. But what’s the relationship between the words “sucCESS” and “neCESSity”? Can a person be successful at doing something that’s not necessary?. We might immediately think of show business as being unnecessary; but there are millions of people who are willing to spend their hard-earned wages on being entertained. So, apparently, being entertained is a necessity. And there are people who succeed in providing this necessity.
What do you want? And what do you need? It may be easier for you to know what you need than to know what you want. You know what you need. But what do you want? A loving partner, a good paying job, transportation, a home of your own?
Let’s not talk about what you want. Let’s talk about what you need. You may want to say, “A roof over my head, food on the table, enough money to support my family, and a little left over to relax and enjoy. But you also need to feel that you’re leading a worthwhile life, that you’re doing things that halp you think well of yourself. You need love and romance in your life, companionship, entertainment, adventure, and meaningful work.
That should be enough. Is it enough?
Some of us need to “succeed” beyond the “necessities”. We don’t want to just “keep up with the whoevers”, we want to get ahead of them. That’s our view of success: Getting ahead, not only ahead of where we were but ahead of others. We can call this the social-class struggle and we may wonder if we humans are ever going to get over that.
Probably not.
Darwin called it “natural selection”. It’s part of the fabric of our existence. It gets brutaly ugly sometimes as in the case of invasion, enslavement, and persecution, but it seems to be a reality of biology. And we humans are very biological.

Free Will, Determinism, and Fatalism

You believe that you have free will, probably. You feel sure of this because you’ve had so many experiences when you’ve considered your options, made your decision, and went ahead and acted on the basis of that decision. How could anyone try to say that you didn’t act on your own free will.

Let’s back up: What preceded your decision? Why did you choose to do as you did? Did you know, on the basis of your many personal experiences, that what you decided was based on a comparison of alternatives, and that the choice you made was probably the right one? What influenced those experiences? How did you come to believe as you did?

You HAVE made mistakes. The information that you based your decisions on have sometimes been wrong. You had good reason to trust it at the time. But sometimes we’re misinformed, or we get the wrong idea, or someone lies to us or is mistaken. We go with what we’ve got and make the best of it. How do we know that what we learn is true? Can you trust your friends? Or your news sources? What determines whether they’re trustworthy or not?

Is it possible that they were misled or that somebody got their facts wrong? Highly possible. We’re not talking here about whether somebody is wrong or not, we’re talking about whether your decision was made of your own free will or not. Let’s say that your sources are impeccable; they’ve never been wrong. You believe them. Are you then acting of your own free will? You have reason to trust them. Where does your “free” will come in? Nobody forced you to choose as you did, but if you saw no better alternative, how “free” is that? You chose as you did for good reason. You were “brought to your decision” by the facts at hand, by other people’s experiences and opinions, and by your own experiences. A friend who knows you well might have predicted how you would respond. How free is that?

Nothing happens without a cause. We come to our present circumstances by way of a chain of events. One thing leads to another. We might logically say that we can predict what’s going to happen tomorrow because of all that we know about everything that’s happened so far and about what we know about our friends, acquaintances, family, workmates, public figures, physical reality, and what’s in the news. In a fully determined world, where we have all the information on hand that we need, that would seem to be a logical conclusion. But here’s the hitch: We DON’T know what’s going to happen tonight. Nobody does. Religions have been based on the assumption that there is a divine being somewhere in space who knows what’s going to happen because “he” knows everything and is even in control of everything.

What we’re talking about here is “Fate”, the unknowable, the unnegotiable, the natural forces that are beyond our control. Some religions have even identified which “fates” might be in charge of what, as in the case of the three ancient Greek Fates, one of whom spun the thread of life, another of whom measured it out, and a third who decided where to cut it. All this is very poetic but it reflects our strong human concern to know who or what is making the decisions in our lives.

No one can know. The picture is too complex. We can make conjectures about how long we’re going to live just as insurance companies make predictions about how good a risk a potential client is (with actuarial tables). We think, in this regard, in terms of probabilities.

Thinking in terms of probabilities is healthy. We kid ourselves less than we do when we believe in “luck”. “Anything can happen” is a statement that’s commonly heard. But is it true? “You never know” is another familiar statement. Are these statements true? No, they’re not. You GENERALLY know what’s going to happen. Is it likely that you’re going to die in the next five minutes? No, it’s not. Is it likely that your next bet at a gaming table or your next pull on the handle of a slot machine is going to pay off? No, it’s not. Could you win? Yes, you could. But it’s not likely.

We like to think in terms of luck because it makes us feel favored, special, that “Lady Luck” is going to smile on us tonight. But what are the odds against it? Our belief in “luck” is a carryover from our belief in a spirit world, that is, that “there’s something out there that’s aware of our situation and that’s looking out for us”. It’s like religion, a faith in the unseen.

The unflattering reality is that there is no spirit world that exists “out there, somewhere” in which certain entities exist that are looking out for us or that intend to do us harm. We have to look out for ourselves.

It’s time to grow up.

MiSOTHeism

You’re familiar with the concept of atheism. You’re probably not familiar with the concept of miSOTHeism, anger at God. Think of the Judeao/Christian character from the Old Testament, the man they called Job. He argued with God about his misfortunes and couldn’t understand why God, whom Job revered, should punish him so unremittingly. (A modern version is the story of Tevye in the American play and film, “Fiddler on the Roof”: Tevye, in close communication with God, is at a loss to understand why God should pick this particular day to make his horse go lame and force him to pull the milk wagon himself. Tevye looks up at the sky and asks, “Why? Why now, Lord?”

The idea of God being irresponsible is not so close to reality as is our own HUMAN irresponsibility.
How far does our responsibility extend?
Our responsibility extends to the outer limits of Planet Earth including it’s atmosphere and to the limits of its populations of life forms.

Being a miSOTHeist could be said to be the same as being the devil’s advocate.
Humanism avoids this thorny dichotomy between God and the Devil by simply not believing in either of these myths: There is no Hell, there will be no Armageddon. WE are the ultimate creators/destroyers of the human population. It’s up to us to decide if we’re going to blow ourselves up, starve ourselves to death, or allow ourselves to be decimated by lower organisms like germs.

Did we create the Universe or even the Earth? No. But we are the inheritors of the Earth and must see ourselves as it’s caretakers. It is our inheritance. We are now responsible for its continued survival, so far as we’re able. It will someday collapse on itself and explode but that’s beyond our control just as its origin was beyond our control. We could say that that’s a reason for believing in God. But believing in God thus becomes a subsitute for ignorance. If you were a believer, you wouldn’t want to think of God as a substitute for ignorance, would you?
No. Probably not. So let’s just say that we’re ignorant and move on from there.

Our responsibility begins with being realistic. We like to think that we’re realistic in our human relations, on our jobs, in solving problems, and regarding our health. But we’re often unrealistic about our health, aren’t we? Some of us like to think that we don’t smoke too much, just a couple of packs a day; that we’re not really overweight, just 20 pounds or so; or that we get enough exercise just walking around at work.

Our responsibility extends beyond our responsibililty to ourselves. It extends to our families, to our neighbors, to children in general, to animals, and to the world in general. We’re not responsible for a hurricane but we are responsible for gathering and sharing the news, for preparing for an emergency, for not driving when it’s blowing hard and there’s a lot of snow along both sides of the highway. We’re responsible to one another for establishing detectors for seismic shocks around the globe and for communicating early warnings. We’re responsible for detecting meteors and asteroids that are heading toward earth, even those that are coming from the direction of the sun and can’t be easily seen.

We’re responsible for maintaining the purity of water and air, for not polluting the water table by dumping mineral-poisoned mining waste into streams, for not robbing the air of purifying forests by scalping mountains, for not hunting into extinction threated species of mammals.

We need to cooperate with one another in seeing that each newborn is properly anticipated and well-taken care of. Getting pregnant beyond an allotted two children is irresponsible. This planet’s resources are being strained to their limits by the human population as it numbers today. If you oppose abortion, then you must logically support sex-education and contraception. You can’t have it both ways.

Think “quality of life”. Work to stabilize the economies of the world and not just your own. It’s too late to be ethnocentric. We did that. The nation-state, with its linguistic and geographical boundaries, is running out of date. We can no longer afford to think so provincially. We must think of the human specie, all our brothers and sisters around the globe. We can do this.

Why be disappointed in God or angry at him when it’s our responsibility? Why be so unproductive and immature as to shrug our shoulders and wonder why bad things happen when it’s our responsibility? It’s time to grow up. We have to accept the fact of our existence and the obvious role for us to play as the dominant specie on the planet. We can’t just “hope for the best”. That will kill us.

And, we can’t keep blowing and blasting one another to smithereens as a way of preserving the very shaky integrity of nation states. Competition among species? Survival of the fittest? How are we humans doing? If the survivor in an arms race is the country that can blow up the most people in the shortest period of time, what does that leave as the hallmarks of the specie that’s left? The most cruel, the most vicious, the most hardened and paranoid variety of humans that we can imagine? Is that a specie that you want to belong to?

Let’s work together to control population growth around the globe. Let’s discuss and agree on alternatives. Let’s listen to the voices of informed population specialists, take a vote and concur with the majority. We can solve this problem. We’re not halpless. We’re not children. And we’re not lower animals.

Hallucinations

There’s a common human tendency to proJECT, that is, to attribute what’s going-on inside our heads to the outside world. We can’t see inside our heads. Our nervous systems have evolved to be responsive to outside objects and events, in the interest of survival and procreation. As a result, if we have a dream about a relative speaking to us, we suspect that something significant is going on with that relative in real life. If we learn the next day that the relative has died, it’s hard to resist the idea that it was the dead relative’s spirit that was speaking to us from the afterlife. This feeling is so compelling that we feel we KNOW that he or she was speaking to us. It’s very personal; it’s very close to home; it’s nearly impossible for someone else to convince us that the experience was purely psychological and not spiritual.

How do we learn to suspect that the experience was psychological? We review the recent history: Were we just thinking about the relative the day before? Has the length of time since we last heard from or about them been very short or longer than we would like? How’s their health? Were you worried about them? Did a friend, neighbor, or relative mention them recently? Did some incident occur that made you think of them when you normally wouldn’t have?

The brain is a problem solver. Yes, it worries. That’s preliminary to coming up with a solution. You can’t solve a problem if you haven’t given it any thought.

Trust your brain, particularly your subconscious. You may not be aware that you were thinking about anyone or anything. That doesn’t mean that you WEREN’T thinking about anyone or anything.

Some people think that Freud attributed human behavior exclusively to the sex drive. In addition to developing insights into the role of the sex drive in our lives, however, he was keenly aware of how active the subconscious mind is. He’s also accused of having been a sexist. If you want to avoid feeling contaminated by what you may consider to be a “male chauvinist pig”, take a look at what ANNA Freud, his daughter, had to say about the subconscious defense mechanisms. She identified many. These include displacement, repression, regression, denial, projection, introjection, rationalization, reaction formation, intellectualizing, isolation, sublimation, and others. As you can tell from some of the names, these are techniques for moving a bad feeling somewhere else: Pushing it down, pushing it up, pushing it aside, pushing it in, pushing it out, just putting it somewhere else in the mind so it’s not so uncomfortable. These strategies work for a while but they can cause problems, especially if someone else “calls” us on them.

When we have an unsettling mental experience, like a dream that seems to be portentous, to carry some important meaning for us, we don”t want it to mean nothing or to be insignificant; we don’t want it to be random or meaningless. So if an event happens the next day, we leap to the possible connection, we want to feel that it was no accident, that the dream (was trying to tell us something). Some people believe that “there are no accidents”, meaning that two events don’t happen together for no reason. This kind of reasoning is a kind of defense mechanism: We don’t want to think that things happen for no reason; the dream has to have some SIGNIFICANCE. It helps us feel better about meaning in our lives if we can make such connections.

An hallucination can be seen as a kind of defense mechanism. It’s caused by a short circuit in the brain but it can be seen as a kind of projection of nervous-system activity onto the outside world. You’re dropping off to sleep and your brain sends a random signal that sounds like someone turning a doorknob. You’re sitting quietly and thinking when you hear a voice talking to you and it’s not your voice. It could be an angel, you think. Or it could be God. Could it be the Devil, putting that nasty thought into your head?

Whatever the thought and whatever your interpretation of it, it’s an intracranial event that you’re interpreting as something going on outside your head. In this respect, it’s a projection of that event. We don’t like to think we’re going crazy. Most of the time we’re not. But we don’t like to think that there’s something going on inside us that we’re not in control of. In reality, it’s quite common for the brain to disorganize as it shuts down for the night. There is period of time when you’re no longer awake but you’re not asleep either. You may accept your nighttime dreams, on the one hand, as being a normal occurence but not, on the other hand, your dropping-off-to-sleep images and experiences. They’re too close to wakefulness to be easily dismissed. And they can be frightening.

There are people who have “night terrors”. Some of these occur during that period when we’re only half awake and they’re all the more frightening because we can’t just “stay asleep” until the dream comes to an end or changes into something more acceptable. Children, in particular, are susceptible to the frightening experiences we can all have in the penumbra of consciousness. Children don’t have the life experience or mature-enough brains to tell the difference between a dream and reality.

What about the early prophets? They heard the word of God or they were visited by an angel. Were they insane? Probably not. But they were supported by a culture that allowed them to interpret their inner experiences in terms of messages from the spirit world. A man who’s done a lot of research into the history of such experiences is Julian Jaynes, a professor of psychology and the author of the book, “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind”. Professor Jaynes has gathered an enormous amount of material to support his view of how we’ve interpreted the activities of the brain differently over the millenia. He posits that there was, in ancient times, more of a functional difference between the operation of the left hemisphere and that of the right hemisphere in the brains of humans, compared to what there is at present. As a result, messages received by the logical, linear, and linquistic left-hemisphere from the less logical right-hemisphere had to be interpreted as coming from outside, from the spirit world, from God, or from dead ancestors. Professor Jaynes goes so far as to interpret the difference between the thinking represented in The Iliad and that represented in The Oddyssey as being a function of how human brains changed over the period of time between the eras described in those two epics. During the period of The Iliad, actions triggered by the right hemisphere were less cogitated, more direct, and more “inspired”. The instructions were essentially “dictated”.

However valid or invalid Professor Jaynes’ theorizing is, there’s food for thought there. We HAVE changed, have we not, from the days when we humans were Neanderthals? If you had been a cave woman during the Stone Age, and you heard a voice from nowhere tell you something, what would you have thought?

We tend to proJECT. We find it hard to believe that voices are coming from inside our heads. That would mean we were crazy, right? Not necessarily.

When Cain, in the Hebraic and Christian Bible, heard the Lord say, “If you do not do well, sin lies at the door”, was Cain crazy?

When Abraham heard God say, “Take your only son … and offer him … as a burnt offering..”, was he crazy? Probably not. Piotr Michalowski, an authority on ancient Mesopotamia at the University of Michigan, says that Abraham may have worshiped Sin, the god of the moon and Ur’s chief deity. “Mesopotamians worshiped a pantheon of deities.” He goes on to say, “…but each person also had an additional, personal god.” That bears repeating: “Each person…had a…personal god.” Does that sound familiar? Does that resemble what Julian Jaynes has told us about the origin of consciousness?

When Noah heard a voice telling him, “I myself am bringing the flood of waters on the earth, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life”, was Noah crazy? Probably not.

When Moses heard a voice saying, “I am the God of your father – the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”, was Moses crazy? Probably not.

And when Muhammad, as reported in The Koran, heard the voice of Allah telling him what to say, was Muhammad crazy? Probably not.

Can you hear the strong thread of TRADITION running through all these voices?: The prophet, saying to himself, “If they listened to their consciences, can I do anything less? They knew what was right. I must do the same.”

MEANING

There is a DRIVE toward meaning. We don’t want to lead meaningless lives. We want to think that our presence in this universe and our presence in this life have no meaning. So and so was a survivor of the East European death camps in the early 1940′s. Speaking on a college campus in the years after WWII, he said, “People ask me, ‘What is the meaning of life?’ Life HAS no meaning!”, he said. “YOU must bring meaning into your life!”

This means that WE have the possibility and a responsibility to find meaning in our lives. Is that what you want? Yes, you probably want that. How will you go about this? There are a myriad of ways to find, uncover, build a/o develop meaning in your life: You can find meaning in being helpful. Bringing meaning to other people’s lives will make your own life more meaningful. You can learn as much as you can about human existence and the place for homosapiens in general in this universe and as time proceeds. What’s the history of humans? What will be their future? What role can you play in that future? Do you want to play a role? Why not? What can you offer, however small?

Meaning is based on context, the surrounding situation. Your life is being lived in the context of all the other lives that are being lived and that have been lived, human, animal, insect, plant. Why should you care? Why should you not?

The context of your life, on this plant, at this time: Think about it: Do you care? Why not?

Do you think that your existence is insignificant? Well then; there you go.
What can you do to have an impact, to make a difference, to count for something, to be active in a way that will be helpful? What would you like to see? How can human life be better? What kind of life would you want, DO you want, for your great-grandchildren? Plenty of neighbors? A surfeit of neighbors? Living cheek-by-jowl in the desert?

In China, we humans curtailed the population explosion by killing off female infants. Is that solution acceptable to you? If not, what remedy can you suggest to avoid overpopulation? We can’t turn this problem over to God, it’s our responsibility. Nature is ruthless in it’s consequences. It has no consciousness. WE must have the consciousness (and the conscience) to avert the catastrophy of overpopulation.

Read what you can find on the problem. Find a sensible solution. Mass extermination? Think about it. It’s been done. Do we feel good about the results? Do we feel good about the process? Does it make sense?
In your view, what’s the best thing that could happen for humanity? A stable global economy? A stable world population? Growth is a good thing but unregulated growth of the global economy or of the human population would be disastrous.

Even if the human population stabilizes, there will still be growth, growth in the quality of life, growth in knowledge, growth in technology and the sophistication of lifestyle. Growth in the significance of life in the universe.

Today is the first day of the future. There’s something you can do to be helpful. Look ahead and beyond. Find that thing that will make things better.
And do it.