Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Nude in Public

I'm one of those people who has scary dreams of being nude in public. It happens pretty often, though I can't remember it happening in the last six months. Usually, in the dream I have gotten myself into the embarrassing situation because in my air-headedness, I have forgotten to dress completely, or left my clothes someplace rather far away. Now I am faced with a social situation in which I need to try to keep my dignity. I interact with people in the dream while naked, but they don't always seem to notice. I do sometimes detect side whispers and laughs at my expense.

This dream speaks volumes about one's self-perception, guilt or shame, and fear of being exposed for who and what one is. It is a solid meme that rings true from person to person. You have that dream, you know how it feels.

I listened to a great talk by Alan Watts this morning on KGNU. To me, it was the perfect sermon, about how all of life and eternity is in the present moment, and how "knowing that" is what you want. You put up lots of barriers for yourself against knowing it. You aren't pure enough, you haven't studied long enough, you aren't ready. But the truth is, you already know it. You just let yourself forget, over and over and over.

Watts quoted Matthew 6:28-30 ":Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:
 29And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
 30Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?"
Then he said, "No one ever preaches a sermon on that." (This was 1973.) "They say, 'That is all well and good for Jesus Himself, but we have to be practical. After all, He was the Boss' Son, He had a special "in", so He knew everything would turn out all right for Him.' They don't get the part where Jesus is trying to tell everyone that they are the Boss' Son, too. Now that's the Good News, the Gospel." Watts pauses here, then says: "It never got out."

He gets a big laugh from the people there at the talk. This recording sounded like one of his seminary talks. The wry truth that those religious insiders know is that Jesus' actual Gospel hasn't "gotten out" yet, even though it is plainly written in the Bible. That you can look at the Gospel stories through Jesus' eyes, and that doing so is in fact the whole point. That you can "know" as Jesus did, and speak as he did, - "For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. (Matthew 7:29)

You know how scribes teach. They are forever looking something up in their scrolls, and then saying, "Yep, here it is right here, in black and white, it says this that and the other." Not Jesus. He spoke from his heart, and made it up as he went along. People heard his authority, not because he shouted and gave orders, but because he spoke as one who knows something from personal experience. He knew the experience of a human being who could stop all the worrying, and know that he was the Son of God. Watts went on about how incredibly courageous a person would have to be to take Jesus at his word about letting God provide. Give all your clothes back to Dad or to the poor, walk out in the street naked. (That is where I started thinking about my nude dreams.)

What would you think about person who was walking around naked in public, who seemed sane and at peace with himself? I wonder how much chance there would be for such a person not to get locked up. You can't do it with a plan for what is going to happen to you, and be sincere. But then, none are our plans are ever secure.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Help me Improve

I'm hoping a few people will find my blog soon, and give me constructive feedback. Even critical or damning feedback might help me improve.

In trying to improve, I am not hoping to professionalize, or "monetize" this effort. It is all very well and good, under the old paradigm, to provide a reliable, high quality product, in such a way as to to appeal to a certain segment of the market. It is believed that our combined societal professional and moral ethic will, without conscious thought, create the best possible outcome, so by all means, professionalize and monetize.

But I don't want to milk the cow. I don't want to provide a high quality, consistent product. I appreciate quality and consistency, but I am not looking to support the current, false-faced paradigm. When I can believe that our societal effort is going toward a healthy end, that will be the time for me to be "professional" and "consistent". In the meantime, I see all the efficiency and effectiveness of our society being turned into wanton destruction. I feel an obligation to question the value of efficiency and effectiveness in themselves, in this circumstance.

What kind of comments DO I want? Certainly, the kind engage the subject matter: How do we use the technological tools we have to reorganize society toward a saner way of life? Any discussion of the content is welcome. Comment about my form or style are also welcome, if you are a skilled editor. Also, "meta"-type comments are especially welcome. For example, someone recently said in response to my writing, "Use 'I' statements. Think of how people are going to hear it. Think of what people need to hear, and what they don't need to hear." I realized that there are some things I need to express for my own mental health, that are not useful for others to hear. It is not self-censorship to edit those out of my public writing. If you see something in that category, let me know. Thanks.

Six Degrees of Separation

What if everyone in the world got hyper-networked? Meaning, not only is the person able to get on the Internet and use email, but also participates in online community and socializing? We are not far away from seeing what the effects of this will be in the future. A substantial fraction of the population of the United States is now participating on Internet social networking sites at least once per month.

What will this be like? It may be like knowing what kinship relationship you have with everyone you know or interact with. In hunter-gatherer societies, this was the case. Everyone you knew, was some kind of cousin, uncle or aunt. This was a great aid to knowing what kind of behavior you owe to that person. The question is whether this is a good or a bad thing for human freedom and satisfaction. I'm sure hunter-gatherer tribes had varying social structures that I might or might not like. But the general principle has to have a positive effect. The Golden Rule is more likely to be observed when you know how you are related to each person. It gives you a concept of how your behavior toward that person might return to you in kind (through a chain of relatives).

We don't need to know the genetic kinship relationship we have with every other brother and sister on the planet. Once we establish a connection with another person, that person is part of our network. If we are all literally connected through the Internet, then anyone we connect with in one way, can later connect to us (or try to) in any other way, for any other purpose. All of our history is available for a small fee; unless we really try to hide, we can be found by practically anyone you have ever met.

That's enough of the abstract picture. Theoretically, you are connected to everyone. Perennial mysticism  says, "All is One," but I don't need to go that far. I don't think it will be long before groupings of people who have connected and interacted over a long period become stable and start providing identity to their members. These will be like-minded people, who share many things in common. They will have a shared value-system. They will have begun to integrate themselves together economically. This will happen just because they know and trust each other. Inside the group, people will cooperate and share much more than physical neighbors generally do now in the United States.

The groups will be both local and international. You will be able to gather into your network people who think like you and whom you can trust. This will be greatly to the advantage of people who are naturally better at cooperating. This will lead to an expansion of peace and health - though we may not see this wave overcoming the weight of negative forces in the social environment for many years.

Monday, December 20, 2010

All I ever needed to know, I learned from having panic attacks.

I have a new tag line today (above). Some people might think it needs some explanation, which I'm sure I will be giving over time. Panic attacks are an interesting phenomenon, even somewhat to the person having them. They proved to me that changes in states of consciousness can be even more dramatic than going from sleeping to waking.

Panic attacks force you to think about death, and about what is important to you. I attribute some of my most cherished spiritual insights to panic attacks, directly or indirectly.

Friday, December 17, 2010

You must be who and what you are with some intensity.

You must be who, and what, you are with some intensity. This is not the same as a demand for overwork or strain. You can be a hero of achievement, or a person who is working hard to become that.  But if you are confused and uncertain of who or what to be, you can be confused and uncertain with gusto, being the superb actor you are. If you are lazy, you can be enthusiastically and undefensively lazy. If you are lazy, but you do no harm to others, you have a right to be left alone. If your laziness negatively impacts others - not just offends them - then you don't have a right to it. I.e., if you have entered into agreements and don't hold to them out of laziness, then you deserve a bad reputation.

If you are a violent or hateful person, you can also be what you are with gusto. I take a solemn attitude toward the reality of violence and hatred in people. It seems clear to me that even the most un-self-reflective person must experience phenomenal pain by being a hurtful. If there are those for whom being hurtful to others is enjoyable or at least not painful, I'm not sure I would recognize them as having human consciousness. They would seem to be as flat as a cartoon character, and effectively dead.

Why do we have such a clear image of a purely evil person, such as Hitler is supposed to have been, when so few of us have ever met such a person? Why do some of us superimpose that image on many people whom we have never met? Sociopaths are thought by current researchers to be 3-5% of the human population. Statistically, if you have met 1000 people, you have met 30-50 sociopaths. But successful sociopaths don't act evil in public, and unsuccessful ones are mostly locked up. The vast majority of the bad behavior we observe is caused by pain and causes pain to its doer. We end up treating practically everyone EXCEPT the most successful sociopaths as purely responsible for their own bad acts, as perhaps only the real sociopaths are in reality.

A pragmatic view seeks to understand how behavior is motivated, and recognizes its own reactivity. A negative emotional reaction on my part doesn't help me interact more smoothly with people. I can have such a reaction with gusto, though. Or I can let it drop, since it is only hurting me.

Monday, December 13, 2010


A character in one of my upcoming novels is going to say, "The art of sheep-shearing began with Godfrey Bowen and his brother Ivan, in New Zealand of 1938. Before that, there were processes by which wool was cut from sheep, but nothing you could call an 'art form'. It was inefficient, hard on the animal, and hard on the shearers. The Bowens began a process of continual improvement in their techniques of shearing. They pioneered techniques now used worldwide. Not only do modern methods reduce stress on animal and man; they also produce a superior product at a much greater speed. It is an admirable advance of human culture.

"The shearing of human "sheep" is also an art which has seen explosive development in recent years. It has gone from artisanal robbery to mass-production graft. The continual improvement of its processes has resulted in a stranglehold on our economy. The needs of ordinary people, for education, retirement and medical care, cannot be met satisfactorily, because efficiently provisioning those needs does not create profit at a high enough level to satisfy the gougers. It is a lamentable regression of culture.

"We are approaching the multi-leveled enslavement of the Roman Empire - proletarian, slave, conquered people. The only thing that is missing is the severe physical abuse and deprivation of the enslaved, by the enslavers, at least inside America itself, and apart from the huge imprisoned population. That will come when the oil-based economy becomes too expensive for ordinary people to participate in.

"If we can develop the skills of maintaining tightly knit communities, we will stand a chance of overcoming the stranglehold. We can produce and trade among ourselves the tools, inputs, food, and services we need. And with the base of the tight -knit community, we will have the political clout to resist persecution. Non-violently, because no 1,2,10,or 100 of us can be made into effective examples."

Saturday, December 11, 2010

What could go wrong with that

>>I am led to the conclusion that good ideas are those that make us feel good, and creativity is recognizing good ideas.

I should probably clarify that I am talking about decision-making at the lowest level of atomicity. I am talking about cutting your experience of life into infinitesimal slices of time. In religious terms, what you decide to believe at every instant is the difference between being alive(-ish) and being dead(ly). I want to believe that I do have free will and the ability to make my life better. But it is obvious to me that on the scale of any meaningful period of time, I do not have free will to affect the world and make it a more habitable place for me. It is as habitable as it is ever going to be.

On a tiny scale of time, though - RIGHT NOW - it seems I can make a difference in how habitable my world is. I need only decide to love the current moment's experience. When I remember that and do it, I get along very happily. For various reasons, at times, I lose touch with that possibility. Then I suffer, but when the period of suffering is over, I see it as a dream drama, in which I was under a spell.

The nugget of creativity

The nugget of creativity is conceiving of something, and then realizing it is good.

(That is what God does in the Book of  Genesis, by the way.)

Here we have two parts to the problem of how to be creative: How do you cause an idea -- that might be good -- to come into your head? And, once it is there, how can you tell whether it is good or not?

Hegelian interlude
The first part is not difficult. Ideas or thoughts (I'll use the terms interchangeably) flow through the mind continuously. The mind itself is not continuous, but when the mind is in action, thoughts are present. Even the idea, "This is not an idea," is an idea.

Ideas are plentiful.  If the mind is aware of something, it is a thought. This is why we have words for different parts of our experience as sentient beings - we are aware of sensations of experience that are not ideas. The mind does not feel a quivering in my muscles, or any other sensation. There are sensations that are pre-thought. They appear to cause some thoughts. The sense that "I" (the subject) am feeling or experiencing things that are not "thought", provides the sense of continuous existence, between discreet thoughts. But the mind-part of my being is only manifest as discreet thoughts. Ideas that could be good are always available when one is thinking. But much of the thinking process in adults is taken up with denying that one is having certain thoughts. This is unfortunately due to our socialization process. It is difficult to evaluate any ideas that you deny to yourself you are having. If you can get over that hurdle, you should have access to plenty of ideas to choose from.

When is an idea good?
We usually think and idea is good when it makes us feel good, or hopeful. Business people think an idea is good when it makes money. It would be nice to think that our evolution has lent us to the ability to to recognize good ideas in terms of what is likely to be successful. If you think something is likely to be successful, then you feel hopeful about it.

Is the following true? that if the idea makes you feel good, it, or whatever it suggests, is more likely to be successful? Perhaps there is no connection. But some people do seem have an innate ability to recognize good ideas. It makes sense that having such a recognition feels good. So then, for some people, at least, ideas are good when they feel good.

The person who recognizes a good idea, is inspired and energized. If this allows the person to put the idea into effect, then it is much more likely to have been a good idea than if it had died on the vine. Furthermore, it can be tested and modified, allowing it to become and even better idea.

I am led to the conclusion that good ideas are those that make us feel good, and creativity is recognizing good ideas.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Salvation Mantras

Salvation mantras are what I call statements that I can make to myself to banish fear.

They can take a surprising number of forms. One of the first ones that ever worked for me was, "Save me Jesus." This is a better version of the prayer that in a Chick Tract or Left Behind movie goes, "God, I know I am a sinner, and that I deserve to burn in Hell forever. But Jesus died to save me, and I humbly accept his gift." I was stuck in one of those versions for a long time, because it seemed the more sincerely you tried to claim belief, the more God was likely to believe you. (!)

If you actually find yourself wanting to say, "Save me Jesus," then you know as well as anybody can, that you actually do believe Jesus wants to save you. That is why becoming very conscious of your subconscious fears is so important. It was in the midst of a panic attack that I realized that what I wanted most was to believe that Jesus was good, and wanted to save me. In my mind, somehow Jesus is God and still separate from God, so that He could save me from that mean, punishing God, Who hovers ominously out of sight. So, I discovered as a third party might, by asking me questions at the moment that I was having the panic attack, as to whether I believed that Jesus could/would/had saved me. And that is all it takes in the frightening fundamentalism that I grew up in, to know that you are saved forever. (Being saved, just in case you didn't know means getting whatever the best deal is that God has to offer.) So, I am covered whichever way I turn, unless there is some true religion that isn't the one I grew up in, whose God is going to toast me for not having known about Him. But it is not hard for me to believe that my-best-friend Jesus is gonna be able to beat up that God.

Some things, logically, we can foresee in the future

Some things, logically, we can foresee in the future. Calendar dates, for example. No one would call you a mystical prophet if you said, "This year, Christmas will be on Dec 25." But it is a kind of seeing the future. It is also a tautology, if you define Christmas as "Dec 25".

A little less abstract is the idea that all sorts of Christmas-related celebrations will be taking place between now and then. What is the nature of something that is planned - is the plan existing now, or is the event existing in the future?

It may seem trivially obvious to you that the plan is what exists in the here-and-now. And the actual event that is planned does not yet exist. But, of what is the plan? What is it a plan of? You can't say, "it is a plan of an event." unless you are comfortable with talking about something that doesn't exist. You might say, well, it doesn't exist now, it only will be, in the future. So, either it exists now, or it exists in the future. This paragraph  is genuinely a discussion of what "is" is, which is what you do in philosophy courses (or did around 1978). Since I was in those courses, I had trouble understanding why, a few years later, people were so dismissive of Bill Clinton's defense of fellatio.

a blind actor playing a sighted person.
Kinda interesting social commentary.
unblip ( we now return you to the previous commentary)

Roger Cohen praises "...the men and women of the U.S. Foreign Service! They are, to judge from the WikiLeaks dump of a quarter-million of their private or secret cables, thoughtful, well-informed and dedicated servants of the American interest who write clear, declarative English sentences."

I recall my DCM at the embassy carefully checking the grammar, punctuation and word usage of every cable that was composed, usually making changes like an editor or an Writing teacher. One of the lower-middle-ranked foreign service officers compared it to a dog, piddling on a post, to mark it. To make his existence meaningful.

But, he frequently caught punctuation, and occasionally even grammatical errors in other officers' drafts. It seemed at the time punctilious and overly-scrupulous. And way out of proportion to the attention given to the content. It was as if he knew in 1984 that these cables could/would be published decades later, and he wanted them to look good.

Now it seems to me I had no way of knowing how he viewed the content. To me at the time, most of it seemed perfunctory information gathering and analysis. We did it because we did it, not because anybody cared. I guess that actually was the status of the reporting of a junior officer, or practically anybody who was assigned to the country I was.

I also got the feeling that, in whatever discussions we might be involved in that did have real significance, the need was to represent the interests of some American company, or to show the locals who is boss, or give them some crumb that would get them to sign up to whatever today's vote in the UN was about, or occasionally to support humane treatment for some prisoner of the government.(The latter was one of my favorite parts of this occupation (foreign service officer). But I was later dismayed to learn that such "humanitarian" support is often denied to those of opposing political opinions, which makes it just another tool of oppression. How naive I was!)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Helping each other

Some people have no one to turn to.

As a small congregation, we can't help the entire world. We can't always help everyone who comes asking. But if someone has made an effort to be part of our community, we may go to extraordinary lengths to help them.

People with plenty of material resources only need emotional and spiritual support. But poor and disabled people often need help they simply cannot get without a friendly community. Moving is a good example. A woman with physical and mental disabilities lets someone in our church know she has to move apartments on a certain date. She can't afford to hire movers. But if she could, it is unlikely that she would have mental clarity to carry it off.

What would happen if no one stepped in? Moving day would come and go, landlords would be angry, and our disabled friend might end up in custody, possibly having harmed herself, possibly worse.

How much disruption and expense has been saved for everyone involved, when one troubled person receives adequate help? If we could find a way to get people the help they need, our entire society would benefit - but apparently, no one would "profit". A society that has no way of helping its weakest members under its economic structure, is doomed. Our society cannot sustain an enterprise that doesn't earn over a certain level of profit - regardless of how much the good or service is needed, by people who are willing and able to work. How does that add up to commonwealth, which values creating benefits to people who engage in it? And if our society is not a commonwealth, then why should those who are excluded from its benefits support it or abide by its rules at all?

If it quacks like a duck (etc.), it is probably a duck. If it is doesn't aim to benefit all, it is not a commonwealth.