Monday, October 31, 2005

Objectivity

There are people out there who seem to lack objectivity. It appears they want to foist their agendas upon the whole world.

We are afraid they aim to hijack reason and brainwash our children.

We need to fix our own objectivity problems before we worry about them. We need to do it for ourselves so we can teach our children to do the same. If we do that, our own objectivity, and our children's minds, will be unassailable.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Meta-thoughts on the Intelligent Design discussion

Kelly's post on Intelligent Design:

I have been trying to find time to react to Kelly's post on Intelligent Design. As I mentioned in my previous blog, I am not terribly up-to-date on all the arguments on either side of the debate. I did spend a few minutes in the local bookstore looking for some material on ID, but I didn't see anything.

I can not pretend total ignorance, however. I have not been living in a bottle for that many years. The truth is I have encountered some of the issues before, but did not take the time to inform myself about the details. Due to a lack of free time, I will have to more or less confine my scope to whatever has already been discussed in Kelly's post.

What I would like to do in this post:

What I would like to do in this post, is to think aloud, so to speak, as I sidle up to the issues. I don't pretend to be a great thinker, or that I think any better than anybody else. But I do believe that one way blogging can serve the planet is by opening up our thinking processes -- so that we can learn how each other thinks. So we can see people trying to improve their thinking. So we can practice together, and learn by example. Of course, this means that I am open to suggestions about my own thinking process.

Please be mindful that this will be artificially long and ponderous, as I am trying to explain my thinking in writing.

I would like to do 3 main things in this post:

First, I would like to explore my own biases, beliefs, pet notions, ignorances, predispositions and fears. These are all components of everybody's thinking, and they all play necessary roles in the thinking process. But they can also become the sources of much of our stupidity and intellectual arrogance, when we take them for granted.

Second, I would like to follow up with a look at the structure of the known arguments to try to identify what the crucial arguments are, which arguments play a subordinate role, and which may not even be that important. Actually, Kelly has really already broken it down pretty nicely for us, so there should not really be much for us to do. Still, I would like to take a shot because I think it is a worthwhile exercise.

Third, I would like to extract any conclusions, arguments, questions, or just anything I might want to follow up on.


My biases, fears, beliefs, ignorances and predispositions:

My overall bias is towards the notion that Intelligent Design should not be taught in schools.

I was thinking about it the other day, when I realized that, from the outset, I have a nagging sense of fear that somehow a successful ID campaign might lead to religious fundamentalists overrunning the protective walls of secularity, causing our youth to succumb an agenda of scarcely disguised religiosity, and retarding free thought everywhere. (When I hold it up to the light of day, that does seem a bit exaggerated.) All this to say that I do have biases, and I have to stay alert to that fact.

I am open to certain traditional Judeo-Christian-Islamic faith-based notions about religion, such as monotheism, but not others. I have no interest in being affiliated with any formal synagogue, church or mosque, any denominations, or sects. The supernatural aspects of religion are not really of interest to me. For the most part, I see them as quite beside the point.

I am predisposed to think that any attempt to suppose that the Bible must be literally true is misguided. I can accept that parts of some Biblical stories have historical value. I might be receptive to some views that hold the Biblical creation story to be true, but only in a very abstract way. But I am not predisposed to subscribe to any attempt to treat the Biblical creation story as literally true. I am also predisposed to consider the existence, or non-existence, of God to be a matter of faith, and not even remotely likely to ever be determinable by science.

I have a strong attachment to the notion of a secular society. I think religions profit from this as much as those who are not religious.

I do not see much merit in believing just because one's parents, or one's community, believes it. Or because there is a punishment for not believing it.

I am willing to entertain notions that might be considered of the same ilk as Intelligent Design -- up to a point. I do not see it as problematic to posit the existence of a creator who allows randomness, natural selection and evolution to do the work. However, I am predisposed to think this is quite unprovable (and un-disprovable), and therefore useless as science.

I have a layman's knowledge of science. Maybe slightly better than average. But there are huge gaps in my knowledge.

I have a layman's knowledge of the Bible. Maybe slightly better than average. But there are huge gaps in my knowledge. One of my main sources of understanding is "Asimov's Guide to the Bible", written by Isaac Asimov in the late 60's, that discuss the historicity of the Old and New Testaments.

It occurred to me recently that my attachment to science and reason may be more attributable to faith than to first-hand experience with science. On the one hand, I do know the outlines of what is popularly known about science. But I really know very little of issues where science falls short. I mostly just know that such areas exist, and I have been content to trust that somehow they will be resolved. Or somehow, it's okay. I also can't think of many places where I really practice using scientific methods in depth. So, I must admit I do accept many generalities about science on faith.

Intermediate conclusion:

So, I have now identified what I think are the main things that may limit my ability to really learn in any discussion about Intelligent Design:

I am definitely starting from the position of being biased against the introduction of Intelligent Design into the schools. But at least part of that bias is rooted in a fearful mental image that deserves to be questioned. Another part of that bias may arise from my earlier negative estimations of fundamentalist religion.

On the other hand, I am not opposed to a belief in a deity, and I do not necessarily feel the need to dispute all possible formulations of Intelligent Design. If one were to suggest the existence of a God-creator that simply uses evolution as the mechanism through which he-she-it brings his-her-its creatures into existence, then I do not have an immediate problem with that, though I do not assign it any truth value from a scientific standpoint.

Particularly shocking, to me, was the realization that my belief in science may be as much a matter of faith as anything else.

Figuring out what's important in the argument:

My next step would be to review the structure of the Intelligent Design arguments, then try to decide which points are of primary importance, which are subordinate, and which are not necessary. (In the past I have wasted time and effort dickering about side issues.)

I would like to reiterate that, for practical reasons, I am only going to use Kelly's post as my source of infomation. The fact of the matter is that Kelly has already predigested everything for us through his own analysis and presentation of the issues. Nonetheless, I think it is worthwhile to go through this exercise.

Something to bear in mind is that Kelly acknowledges that he does not personally favor ID. That said, he seems to do a good job of working their case.

I hope Kelly won't mind if I plagiarize his 4 point summary of the main premisses and conclusion of the ID argument as to why ID should be included in schools (click on the link to see his whole post):

Intelligent Design (or ID) is a hot topic these days. For those not in the know, the basic premises are these:
1. Evolution is only a theory, and is not proven
2. There are many holes in the theory of evolution
3. ID resolves this problem by positing that some intelligent force is at work in the evolutionary process, or that evolution is false entirely and that species are the work of some intelligent force.
4. Therefore ID should be taught alongside evolution in public school science classes


He certainly has made our work easy. Point #4 -- the conclusion -- is what it's all about. The argument is about whether or not ID should be taught alongside evolution in public school science classes. The argument as to whether or not ID is valid or true is secondary, for example.

When you play baseball, you're supposed to keep your eye on the ball. If you take your eye off the ball, it'll go whizzing right past you. Likewise, you should keep your eye on the conclusion because that is what matters here. All the other points -- the premisses -- are there to presumably support that conclusion.

But there is more to it than just the explicit premisses. All three premisses might be true, and the conclusion remain false. That's because there is an implied premiss that says something "IF 1 is true AND 2 is true AND 3 is true THEN 4 must be true."

Anyway, the obvious main lines for arguing against ID (assuming we accept Kelly's summarized version of the argument) would be to prove something like one of the following:

1. Evolution is not just a theory,
OR
2. There are not many holes in the theory of evolution,
OR
3. ID does not resolve the (so-called) holes,
OR
4. Even if 1, 2 and 3 were true, that would not warrant that ID should be taught alongside evolution in public school science classes,
OR
5. One or more of the (pro-ID) premisses is irrelevant, dishonest or in some way improperly conceived,
OR
6. Some variation or combination of the above.

I would like to point out that each of these lines of argument would probably entail many deeper sub-arguments. For example, to argue that ID does not resolve the (so-called) holes, would probably entail wading through a lot of sub-examples/premisses in order to prove whether or not it does resolve the issues. Premiss 3 may be a premiss with respect to conclusion 4 in Kelly's argument summary, but it is a conclusion in its own right, with its own premisses. Those premisses are not stated here, but if you attack premiss 3, you will most likely have to deal with the premisses and examples that support it.

One mistake I have made innumerable times in the past, is to not clearly see what the main lines of argument should be, and to jump around from one line of argument to another. As with driving and coloriing, it is often better to stay within the lines.

Another problem I encountered was when I felt I had (more or less) successfully attacked some set of sub-arguments only to find I could not make the leap to destroying the conclusion of the subarguments -- premiss to the main argument -- without resorting to a feeble generalization.

As an example of this last folly, suppose a pro-ID debater were to advance the example argument that lungs and eyes could not have evolved through natural selection, but could be explained if God created them as is. This would be a support to their intended conclusion that ID resolves the many holes in Evolution. The problem may be that, even if the anti-ID debater were to successfully fend off that particular argument -- followed by 10 just like it -- they still might have a long way to go. It doesn't necessarily follow that if you successfully refute any 10 examples that you may therefore assert that you have thereby refuted the conclusion they were in support of. It may seem obvious to you that if you refuted 10 examples in a row, that all their examples are refutable, but nobody has to accept that.

In my own case, there have been times when the other guy would not acknowledge my right to claim that I had proved the generalization, so I got frustrated and tried to blame them for being unreasonable.

Kelly discussed 3 main arguments commonly used to try to refute the 4-point ID argument. They were summarized as:
A. Intelligent Design is just a subterfuge for teaching religion in public schools
B. If Intelligent Design is taught in public schools, then you will have to teach any and all ideas, even crackpot ones, and
C. Intelligent Design is not scientific.

I'll call them Refutations A, B anc C.

Refutation A primarily argues a variation of the anti-ID argument line that read,
"Even if 1, 2 and 3 were true, that would not warrant that ID should be taught alongside evolution in public school science classes". It's a variation because it seems to entail the presupposition that ID fails to resolve the holes of evolution.

Refutation B Seems to touch the same lines of argument as refutation A.

Refutation C. Seems to be a variation of the anti-ID line of argument that says that "ID does not resolve the (so-called) holes". If it is not scientific, then it can't really be said to resolve the holes in evolutionary theory. [This might also be said to fall under the line of argument "One or more of the (pro-ID) premisses is irrelevant, dishonest, or in some way improperly conceived."]

I won't go into them now, but it seems to me that most of the commentaries up to now have made arguments that are variations of at least one of the 6 main lines of argument available to the anti-ID side that I listed earlier.


Intermediate conclusion:

I have taken a look at the structure of the arguments, but I was forced by time to only focus on the main lines of the anti-ID arguments. Ideally, I would take a deeper look at what the pro-ID arguments would need to prove. That is, deeper than what is stated in Kelly's 4-point summary. At any rate, I consider this to have been a useful exercise.

When I looked at the comments to Kelly's post, I could see that a number of the argument lines were accounted for. For example, there was some discussion of the true nature of scientific theory. Some of these discussion would probably fall under the anti-ID line of arguments "Evolution is not just a theory" in conjunction with "One or more of the (pro-ID) premisses is irrelevant, dishonest or in some way improperly conceived"

I think enough of the anti-ID arguments were accounted for that I don't really feel I will add much if I wade in. But if I did, I think I would want to stick closer to anti-ID argument lines 1 "Evolution is not just a theory", or 4 "Even if 1, 2 and 3 were true, that would not warrant that ID should be taught alongside evolution in public school science classes". But that would just be for practical reasons: I don't know enough about evolutionary theory to know its shortcomings; and I also wouldn't want to get bogged down in a number of subarguments that I suspect would require me to refute every possible example the pro-ID forces might throw at me.


Final arguments, questions, conclusions and general follow up:

This was a long exercise, but of value to me. Hopefully it was at least interesting in some way, or perhaps even instructive. There is a lot more that I would have liked to achieve, but it requires more time than I can take away from my family.

I think the biggest benefit to me was from examining my biases, fears, beliefs, ignorances, predispositions, etc. I realized that I take science on faith. I also realized that I have what may overreact to the notion of teaching ID in the schools. This doesn't mean that I would go out and vote for it, if I were given such a vote. But it does mean that I might want to explore that in a bit more detail. It's worth noting, that Kelly touched on a similar point in downplaying the negative effects of allowing ID to be taught in the schools.

Up to this point I have focused a lot on the argumentive approach to this whole issue. It crossed my mind that it might be worth exploring the significance, and possible variations of ways in which ID might be taught in the schools that would not bother me. For example, if it were taught in philosophy class, alongside other great philosophies, I probably would not be even thinking about it. It probably is, in many good schools. In general, it is easy to become so focused on the debate as to miss other ways to resolve an issue. Unfortunately, this is something I can not explore in depth at this time because of time constraints. (It's getting late, and I have to work tomorrow.)

Missing from all of this was a determined representative of the pro-ID side. I am intrigued enough to want to follow up this subject. When I do, I would like to visit a site where the pro-ID people are in the majority.

At any rate, I feel that this was a good exercise for me. There was lots more I had hoped to do, but I will have to cut it short (LOL) at this point.

Good night.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Discussing Intelligent Design

As I mentioned in my previous post, Full Metal Attorney did a post on Intelligent Design.

In addition to kelly's post, there already have been several very intelligent comments by mr k, alexander, afarensis, and khorbin.

I had hoped to be ready to express my thoughts on and around this subject, but I am running a bit behind, partly owing to the fact that I am not anywhere near as well-versed on the subject as Kelly and the others. My intention, when I am ready, is to do a post here, and to also add a comment or two on kelly's page. At any rate, I will aim for this weekend.

Good night, y'all.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Some sites I have been visiting.

As you might have guessed from my previous blog, I have been visiting neo-neocon's site.

Her topic seems to be mostly about her views since converting from a liberal to a conservative.

She gets her opinions out and says things that some people would obviously find controversial. Her writing style is quite smooth. I have not yet done the full tour of her blog, but so far I have been finding a number of very challenging discussions.

I look forward to spending some more time there, and recommend that you take a peek, too.

Another site that I have mentioned in the past, and will mention again, is The Language Guy. I mentioned his site in reference to some posts he had done on the abortion issue awhile back. At any rate, I have been haunting his site lately. Not all his posts are quite as controversial as the abortion one, but he consistently brings up language topics that are relevant to the average joe.

I have also been visiting The Stupidity of People. I enjoy the familiarity of wicwit's topics -- and humor -- and would like to blog about them at some point. I think a lot of us could relate to wicwit's experiences.

Of course, I make regular visits to Kelly's site: Full Metal Attorney. Kelly's site is is full of cool things to make you think. One of his posts A Little Low-Brow Humor: Men’s Restroom Etiquette Quiz struck me so funny I almost pissed myself. Did I mention that I like low-brow humor? Anyway, I found it so funny, I had to add my own two cents worth.

I am currently looking forward to Kelly's promised blog on Intelligent Design. That's a subject that I have been hearing a lot about lately, but know very little of.

And, do you suppose mr k, a blogger from across the puddle, whose site -- life is funnier when you're lonely" -- I like to frequent, will be checking out Kelly's intelligent design post? I have a suspicion he doesn't think too highly of ID. But I am betting he will pay a visit.

Anyway, these are just a few of the sites I have been checking out and enjoy. I hope you will give them a try yourself. Enjoy.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

What is the first step to winning the war in Iraq?

What is the first step to winning the war in Iraq?

I was just checking out neo-neocon's post Dinner party politics and how to avoid them. It brings to mind the problem of seeing the other person's point of view.

It's amazing how easily we reach a point where we become convinced the other person's opinions are simply ridiculous. We become convinced too easily that the people-who-believe-what-we-do-not are simply unable, or unwilling to make sense. Or they're just idiots. Who hasn't wanted to resort to "...rapier witticisms meant to slip beneath an opponent's guard and gut him without him ever knowing his ignominous defeat..."?

When I find myself thinking along those lines, it can only mean that I have given up trying to think beyond my opinions.

You may not like what I'm about to say.

Giving up like that is not evidence of the other guy's stupidity. It's evidence of your stupidity. Mine too, when I do it.

I am not saying we have to agree with the other person. It's just that we have to be very slow to brand them as the fool. We have to be very slow to stop trying to see the world as they see it. Often, when we finally do see things as the other guy sees it, we still disagree. But we are changed, too.

There is another reason. Sun Tzu, could tell you. It's important to know how the other guy thinks, whether he is your best friend, or your worst enemy.


Oh yeah, this was a post about the war in Iraq.

I don't know what you think of the war in Iraq. Right now, it doesn't actually matter what either of us think.

Whether you think it is right, or whether you think it is wrong, there is one thing we should all be able to agree on.

We can't really win in any way shape or form, until Americans and Canadians and Europeans -- until Westerners -- have really looked deeply into the minds of Iraqis. And not just of Iraqis, but also of the other players in and around the warzone.

In the meantime, we do not understand anything. We won't until we can see the world through their eyes.

What we do is assume we know something about them. We give up on really trying to understand them. We do. Us. Liberals and Conservatives.

How do I know? Because we can't even really listen to each other without declaring ourselves the winners -- and that the other guy is just an idiot.


So, what is the first step to winning the war in Iraq?

Well, I didn't promise that I knew how to win the war. (Whatever winning means.) But I do know what the first step is. Learning to understand the other guy.

As long as we are not doing that, we are guaranteed to be losing.


Get discipline. Keep listening till it really hurts good. Then when it is too painful, keep on listening. Keep going till you really understood the other guy. Not just till you got tired, you lazy lout.

Discipline starts at home. Spread the word.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

It's almost Hallowe'en: What ELSE are you afraid of?

Sun Tzu said:
"If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle."

Knowing yourself starts with knowing your fears. Do you know yourself? Do you know your fears? Do you REALLY know your fears? Tell the truth. You don't have to tell me the truth, but please tell yourself the truth.

The following is a Hallowe'en offering. It's a chance to look within. It's something to take with you and contemplate in the dark. It's something to think about. It's something to modify and make your own, if you see it's value. It's also something to give away to others, if you think they would welcome it.

A Litany of Questions About Fear:

Can I make a thorough list of my fears?
Have I ever really examined my fears?
Do I even know my own fears?
Can I even recognize my fears?
Can I admit my fears to myself?
Do I know my big fears?
Do I know my little fears?
How many of my big fears are just little fears that grew because I didn't deal with them?
Can I see the effect of my little fears?
Do my little fears lead to aversions?
Is my life being subtly directed, or misdirected, by my little fears?
Do I trick myself into avoiding dealing with my little fears through distraction? By seeming to be preoccupied with other things?
Are my little fears the result of trauma? Or are they just the result of habit?
Are my little fears about protecting my ego?
Are my little fears about maintaining my delusions?
Do my little fears make me reactive?
Do my little fears make it hard for me to really listen?
Do my little fears drive me to need to be right?
How do my fears drive my thinking?
How do my fears drive what I say?
How do my fears drive what I do?
Do I use my fears to control myself? Is there another way?
Do I really make a habit of facing my fears?
When will I start to make a practice of facing my fears?
Could I get rid of my fears if I were willing to give up the delusions I cling to?
Do I keep thinking the same kinds of thoughts because of my fears?
Do I need to keep my fears?



Please feel free to suggest improvements, or just tell me what you think.

Monday, October 24, 2005

It's almost Hallowe'en: What are you afraid of?

What are you afraid of? [Scale of 1 to 10 ---> 10 being very afraid]:

Death
Boredom
Being found out as a phony
Being found out as incompetent
Having to sing in public
Having to dance in public
Having to throw (or catch) a ball in public
Being in a bathing suit in public
Being wrong
Finding out you're not as smart as you thought you are
Finances
Taxes
Losing
Winning
Sex
Loneliness
Unemployment
Silence
Poverty
Embarassment
Responsibility

Didn't find any fears that are interesting? Make your own list. Feel free to tell a story (about your fears), if you have one.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Security

Back in the mid-eighties, I was in the medical profession. I focused on emergentology. By training, my specialty was neurosecurity.


Well, actually, I was a security guard in a hospital, working for slightly more than minimum wage. But I did spend a lot of time at my post by the emergency ward.

One day, this guy Ralph was with me. He had just been hired. It was his first day on the job and I was showing him the duties in the emergency area.

This particular day, there had just been a "code 99". A code 99 is when the ambulance is coming and the patient's heart has stopped. Our job, when a code 99 was called -- or when any urgent ambulance arrival was expected -- was to try to clear the front driveway of people doing drop-offs so the ambulance could get by, then open the ambulance bay doors. And once the ambulance was in, we would help by opening doors, etc.

[This is just an aside, but do you have any idea how many people refuse to move their vehicles when they are told that an ambulance is coming with a patient in critical condition?]

Anyway, we had just gotten to the emergency area when the ambulance had arrived in its garage. I reached for the knob to the door leading from the garage to the ER area. Just before I could touch the handle, the door swung open fast, and people came pouring through. And so did a gurney with a young man's limp body on it. He was pale and lifeless looking. His eyes were open and blank. And his arms were flopping over to the side. Not even two seconds passed before he was out of sight.

Ralph looked like he was going to barf.

He had probably been on the job for less than an hour and already had seen what I think was his first lifeless body.

Actually, we have no idea if the kid lived or died. But he sure looked dead.


Right at that moment, I was more worried about Ralph. Something in his eyes made me think it had really affected him, shook him.

I had an idea. I continued by taking him on a tour -- to the maternity ward. We just sat there, looking at the babies for awhile. We stayed about 10 or 15 minutes. I don't think either of us spoke. But when it was time to move on, he thanked me. I guess he realized why I went there.

I like Ralph. He was good people.

What I actually wanted to tell you was not about Ralph. It was about something I started to understand when I worked at the hospital.

My oldest brother had died of a brain tumor while I was working there. He had been sick for a few years. He was not a patient of that hospital, but, for me, the events at the hospital, and slow dying of my brother were intertwined. They taught me something.

While working at the hospital -- while my brother was dying -- I came to realize something. Something important.

We are all dying. I was living, at that time, in a town of around 80,000 people. Up to that time, I had only seen about 4 or 5 dead bodies. And I had friends who had never seen any. Or maybe just their grandmother or somebody old. But if 80,000 people lived there, and if I were to live my whole life in that town, and if I should enjoy an average life span, I should expect that around 80,000 of my neighbours would die during my time there.

So where were all the bodies?

Up to that point in my life, death had been a creepy thing. A hidden thing. A thing to fear. Cryptic. A thing that crawls beneath the floor.

But while I worked there -- at the emergency door so much of the time. As I wandered through the wards at night. As I pondered the loss of my own brother. As I heard about one young 20 year old girl who lost her life to asthma because somebody refused to send an ambulance. (That bothered me day and night, wondering who she must have been.) As life and death swirled around in my head. I realized.

A message of hope.

Death is all around us. Death is everywhere. But death is not the problem.

The problem is that we hide it.

That's why we see so little of it. That's why we think it is so creepy. Why we think it is so repulsive. That's why we fear it so much.

We need to know, that all life ends in death. We don't seek death, but we still must accept it.

Instead, we hide it. We teach our children to hide from it. As we did.

When I took Ralph up to the maternity ward that day, it was to show him, without saying, that life is a cycle. We die. We are born.

This is life.

Most of our fear is not of death itself.

Most of our fear is because we choose to live our lives in delusion. And in our delusions, we think the answer is to hide from death. And to hide it from ourselves.

Because we don't face it, it can swallow us. It is not death that swallows our lives. Death only takes what was never ours. Delusion takes what is.


I titled this post "Security". That is the delusion. There is no security. But grasping for it can cause you to waste what you do have.

Embrace the truth. Face your fears. Live.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

My Two Universes

I live in two universes.

The first is an infinite, stark, awful universe of indifference.
Sometimes beautiful.
Always terrifying.
Always indifferent.
Mindless of me.
Mindless of my loved ones.
A universe in which the entire life cycle of the earth
And all its wondrous beings
Mean zero.
A universe in which all our wars, our anger. Even our total annihilation.
Mean zero.

Less.


My second universe is a jewel, cradled in the palm of the first.
There is compassion.
There everything is connected.
There you and I are special.

What I want to tell you about my universes is this:
When I forget that they are the same universe
I get a bit psycho.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Thinking inside the box

It seems that every meeting I go to these days, somebody points out that we need to think outside the box.

The expression is a bit well-worn, but I do like it. It can be a very helpful directive. Think outside the box - think outside the usual rules - think outside the habitual thinking places. Break free of assumptions.

However, what sometimes annoys me about this expression is that we often forget that we can only think outside of the box if there is an actual box to think outside of.

It helps if we first have a very carefully constructed box, which we have examined closely. In my experience, it helps if we have done a thorough job of thinking inside the box before we we make the jump to thinking outside the box.

I first started learning this lesson from my high school English teacher, Mr Murray. He had chided me for turning in a structureless, sloppy essay in which I had deliberately ignored some rules he asked us to follow in producing our work. I thought I was being "creative". I explained that great writers routinely broke the rules. That was the mark of their genius.

He explained to me that the great writers first master the rules. And only once they have mastered the rules, then they break them.

Then he gave me an "F".

Well deserved.


Just a note on Mr. Murray. He had a prosthetic leg. A prosthetic eye. And, so it was said, a plate in his head. The kids used to call him jigsaw Murray. He had been injured in WWII. I think he was in the Italian Campaign, though I'm not sure how I would know that. He was also a great teacher, although I never told him that. I haven't forgotten him.

Wherever you are Mr. Murray. I thank you for this lesson. It still took a few decades to internalize it, but at least it was not wasted on me.


Think inside the box. Spread the word.


P.S.: I am at home with my daughter today. She is still sick, but seems to be feeling a lot better. We'll see how things go tonight.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

My Daughter has Croup

My daughter has the croup.

Fortunately, my wife recognized what was happening right away and got her outside quickly into the cool moist night air.

Croup can be pretty serious -- even lethal. It's very scary when your child is coughing like a seal and gasping for air. Thankfully, my wife's fast thinking really helped, as my daughter's breathing eased up within a few minutes. My daughter was able to relax and laugh about her funny cough.

I would not have even recognized what it is, so I am really grateful to my wife for being so knowledgeable.

Now, I suppose, we just have to get through a night or two.

Good night.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Failing to go to bed on time

One of my key stupidities, is consistently failing to go to bed at a reasonable hour.

I hope you can learn from my mistakes.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

James Bond: Think Another Day

How slow can you think?

-------------------------------

It seems there is a new James Bond on the horizon. A fellow by the name of Daniel Craig. Never heard of him before -- but that might be a good thing.

The last James Bond movie I watched was "Die Another Day" (2002) with Pierce Brosnan and Halle Berry. I got the ticket cheap.

Do you remember the movie? Early in the show, he is imprisoned by the North Koreans. Two or three years later, he either escapes or is recovered through a prisoner swap. Unlucky for him, M is convinced he gave information to the Koreans. The British are holding him in a medical facility, and it's clear that M won't be playing nice with him.

In order to escape, while laying still on the hospital bed, he begins to slow his heart down. Flashbacks tell us he put his time in the Korean prison camp to good use by teaching himself how to stop his own heartbeat. After a few minutes, be brings his heart to a stop and the monitoring equipment shows that he is flatlining. This triggers an alarm, so the medical staff come running into the room. When they get close enough to him, he hits the doctor, overpowers everybody in the room, and makes good his escape. Whadidya expect?

When I was a kid, I had heard about yogis would could do things like that. They could stop their hearts, then revive themselves hours or even days later. I always thought that was cool. From the age of 13, I wanted to be able to do that. Several decades later, I still haven't figured out how.

So, you would think that I would have been impressed with James Bond having mastered the art of heart stoppery, wouldn't you?

Except I wasn't.

I did find it funny though.

The first reason I found it funny, was because it seemed to have been ripped off of the Flint movies from the 60's with James Coburn. There were at least two: "Our Man Flint" (1966) and "In Like Flint" (1967). The Flint movies were a spoof of the Bond films. What was kind of funny to me was that Derek Flint, the American answer to Bond, could stop his heart at will. And he had a funky little watch gadget that would somehow help him reactivate his pulse at a pre-determined time. At one point, I think he used it to survive a gas attack. He stopped his heart so he wouldn't breathe poison. So here was Bond ripping off Flint, who was spoofing Bond. That's a little funny.

But what I thought was a *lot* funny was the fact that Bond went to such trouble to make his ECG machine register him flatlining.

I could never figure out why he would need to make his heart stop. I don't know much about medical equipment, but I would have thought he could just reach up and lift the sensor off of his chest -- then eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee -- flatline!!

And, if that wouldn't do the trick, there still must have been a simpler way involving tampering with the equipment.

C'mon, JB. Stopping your heart? Was that really necessary?!

And the third thing that made me laugh was the thought that even the great James Bond overcomplicates things from time to time.

Well, maybe it's a pattern of thinking that just wiggles its way in after all those years of having to escape from so many of Dr. Evil's diabolical and murderous schemes.

-----------------------

Anyway, I didn't learn to stop my heart. Heck, I'm not sure if I can even slow it down a little. (Beyond what I can do by just sitting still, or laying down to sleep.)


What I did learn, however, is to slow down my mind.

That is a good thing. It's not too hard, really.

But it takes practice. It's really a matter of learning to become calm. Learning to let go of things.

My shoulders used to be too tight. I have made many visits to the chiropractor because of tension. I used to be stressed and worried almost all the time.

Now, I try to make a practice of relaxing and slowing down my mind several times a day.

This is something I have been practicing for quite awhile now, and it has helped tremendously.

This is something you can do for yourself. If you haven't already tried it, please do so now.


Learn to slow down...

Your mind.



Slow it down...

Try to make it...



Stop.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Why does Copernicus blog?

Why does Copernicus blog?

Most of us came by our thinking habits by default. We typically acquire our opinions rather casually. We can be quite slovenly in our thinking behavior. We can be lazy. But, even if we weren't lazy, we often don't have a lot of skill in using our brain.

I'm not saying we aren't smart. I'm not saying we can't put arguments together.

But most of us couldn't take a deep look at the world from the other guy's point of view. Most of us wouldn't. We are often quick to figure that the other guy is an idiot. We're dismissive.

It sounds like I am on the attack. It sounds like I am angry.

Well, maybe I am attacking. But I am attacking us. I am attacking because I think there is a solution to a problem that our egos mostly don't let us acknowledge.

The problem is, we mostly haven't worked very hard on our own thinking. On our attitudes. On our beliefs. We haven't really challenged ourselves. Not yet, anyway. Look in your heart. Do I speak the truth?

One reason we haven't done this is because we haven't had many examples to follow. We have not been an example to each other. We have not had the kind of environment where it would be easy to encourage one another to improve our thinking. We do not challenge each other to do better. We don't even challenge ourselves.

We haven't had enough examples. Many of us get an introduction to critical thinking skills in school. If we practice these skills at all, we do it very sporadically.

Critical thinking skills are not the only skills. But the important thing is the challenge.

We must challenge ourselves. I must challenge me. We must challenge each other.

If we don't, a hundred years of activism and good deeds won't be worth piss. Not enough of us will have the discipline to think clearly. We will still be acting on momentary whims a century from now. Without challenge, our children will not be better than us. Without this challenge, activism won't mean anything. We won't be able to change the world, because we won't have the discipline to change ourselves -- we are the world.

So, why does Copernicus blog?

Because through blogging -- if we take up the challenge -- if we challenge one another -- it can be easier than ever to show one another our thinking habits. It can be easier than ever for each of us to see examples of better thinking behavior. It can be easier to practice. It can be easier to help and encourage one another.

The blogosphere brings us an environment that was not so easily available before. Most of us didn't have access to wise mentors with oodles of time on their hands to guide us. Now, with the blogoshpere, there has never been a better opportunity to learn from each other's examples. It was never so easy to see what it takes to build self-discipline, as it is now, in the blog universe.

Take the challenge. Spread the word.

mr k argues on behalf of the meat eaters

There is another post on vegetarianism from mr k. The post is entitled "Arguments to eat meat"

He has done a marvelous job of trying to take examine both sides of the issue with a detached view. We all have our biases, so that is never an easy thing.

My hat's off to him.

He's already done better than most of us ever do, in my opinion.


Let that be a challenge to the rest of us!! Spread the word.

Friday, October 14, 2005

mr k gets to the meat of the vegetarianism argument

I was checking out mr k's blog life is funnier when you're lonely and discovered a couple of interesting posts about vegetarianism: why I am a vegetarian and vegetarian arguments continues

It was particularly gratifying to see that mr k had taken the time to delineate his pro-vegan arguments in premiss/conclusion format.

Please be sure to check out his blog.

Miller's Law

"MILLERS LAW: In order to understand what another person is saying, you must assume it is true and try to imagine what it could be true of."

I like the above saying. What does it mean?

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Abortion: What if women decided?

What if the matter were entirely decided by women?

In other words, what if men were excluded from the whole abortion debate, as well as from any involvement in the legal decision process?

Would that change anything? What?
Would it improve or degrade the value of the outcome?

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Ready Made Thinking

Which of your most cherished opinions did you get from somebody, or somewhere, else?

Dr. Edward DeBono is famous for teaching thinking skills.

One of his best teaching aids is a program called CoRT -- [Why, with all his thinking skill, could he not master the use of UpPER- and LoWErCaSE?] -- which aims to teach a number of very useful thinking "tools" which can be applied to a very wide range of situations. Apparently, CoRT is taught in schools around the world. Oddly enough, it didn't make it to my school. (Maybe that was my problem.)

The thinking tools typically have short two or three letter names, like PMI for Plus, Minus, Interesting, or APC for Alternatives, Possibilities and Choices. They encapsulate little thinking plans that can be used in many situations. And they are disarmingly simple, but if used correctly, can help you achieve better quality of thinking.

It's rather like a master carpenter using very simple tools: hammer, screwdriver, blade, saw. The tools are simple, but there is a right way to use them, and usually a wrong way. There is also a right time to use each one, and a wrong time.


Okay, well this reminds me of a story...

When I was a teenager my older brother and I worked briefly for my uncle, who was a building contractor. My job was to nail down flooring. By the end of the first day, I could barely use my right wrist. It felt sprained. (Meanwhile, my left thumb was developing some serious paranoia problems of its own.) Needless to say, I did a great deal of whining about the wrist.

After a couple days, my big brother, who had been having some fun at my expense, must have either taken pity on me, or got tired of my whining. Or, maybe he had just been waiting till I was sore enough that I would actually listen to his advice. He walked over and explained to me how to hold a hammer. You hold the damn thing from the end of the handle and let it swing itself.

Oh.

I was flabbergasted at the difference. I had been gripping it part way up the handle. After swinging it that way several hundred times, it's no wonder my wrist was feeling a little sprained. But what was really flabbergasting, was that it had never occurred to me I might need to be taught how to swing a hammer. It seemed like hammer usage would be an obvious thing.

Well, maybe it is to all of you. But it sure as heckfire hadn't been obvious to me.

Anyway, after that it got a lot easier to swing that hammer. My sprain didn't bug me so much after that. My thumb didn't get over its little scaredycat problem -- I'm afraid...I'm afraid! But I was able to get through another week or two on the job.

It was a shot to my pride, but I walked away with a new respect for tools. They may look simple, but I still need to be taught how to use them.

Okay, so that's the end of my story (great, wasn't it!). Now CoRT is back in session...



One of the CoRT tools I wanted to talk to you about is called Ready Mades. DeBono tells us about 2 types of Ready Mades: There are helpful ready mades (RM-H) and substitute ready mades (RM-S). And the rough idea behind these tools is that you try to recognize if some piece of your thinking -- for example, an opinion you may hold to -- is a ready made, or not. And, if so, is it helpful, or is it a substitute for thinking?

Now, I find this to be a really useful tool. Pity I don't use it as much as I should. In fact, I am going to make a resolution -- right here, right now -- to try to make more frequent use of this tool.

Here's what I am going to do. I am going to try reviewing a few of my opinions -- or other ideas -- to identify which are of my own origin, and which are not. And when I recognize some as not being my own, I am going to ask myself whether I brought any value of my own to the ideas. I am going to ask whether I did any of my own thinking, or whether I just took it as is, right off the shelf, without even examining it. Was I being lazy? Or, practical? And the most important thing I am going to ask is whether it is a helpful for me to keep the idea as is, or if I should be doing something more with it. Oh yeah! And, how attached am I to the idea?

These questions should help me to sort my ready mades into one of two categories: Helpful (RM-H) and Substitutes (RM-S).

Now, there is nothing wrong with using ready made ideas, any more than there is buying clothing off the shelf. But it does seem to me helpful to recognize when I am thinking for myself, and when I am really in lazy thinking mode. When I am not a serious participant in the thoughts that are holding court in my mind.



Have you ever listened to, or debated with, somebody who seemed to just be reciting opinions that he or she probably just got from somebody else?

Do you ever notice yourself doing it? You know I do.

If you have the inclination, I would like to hear some of your stories (or other thoughts) about ready mades.

Monday, October 10, 2005

The other 98% of our brain

From time to time, I hear somebody talking about the 98% of our brain that is not used. Wouldn't it just be marvelous if we could tap into that unused brainpower? Think of the abilities we would develop. Think how much more intelligent we would be.

Then they often draw conclusions about how we could recover that unused capacity by tapping into our subconscious, etc., etc.

Personally, I am not so sure that I would want to invest my efforts in that direction. I think it was Isaac Asimov who once pointed out that the supposed 98% of unused capacity is actually responsible for "blue-collar" work -- making sure we remember to breathe, keeping the blood flowing, that kind of stuff -- and would not be particularly suited for higher cognition.

Anyway, my thought is that it would be better if just tried to recover as much capacity for rational thinking as possible from those areas of our brain that are reserved for prejudice, ignorance, arrogance and narrow-mindedness.

If I can succeed in that, I think I shall have evolved significantly.

Are you doing anything to try to improve?

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Examining arguments: Abortion example

It seems to me that a huge portion of the population often expresses forceful, emotional opinions on subjects they have never really analyzed in detail. Often they have done a great deal of thinking about their arguments, but little analysis of the actual issues. They typically ignore the weaknesses of their own arguments and dismiss the strengths of the other side's.

What particularly annoys me about these people -- what annoys me the most about US -- is that we shoot off our mouths all the time. And we can't understand why the other guy is so stupid that he can't get our arguments, when they are so self-evident to us.


Full Metal Attorney:

Then, occassionally, somebody will show up that has truly taken the effort to try to examine the issues in great detail.

I just encountered such a blog. The author, Full Metal Attorney, has gone to a great deal of effort to detail out -- and analyze -- the arguments on both sides of the abortion issue.

The url of his post is:
http://fullmetalattorney.blogspot.com/2005/10/abortion-primer-on-argument-theory-and.html

I greatly admire the effort he put into his analysis.


The Language Guy:

I also was interested in some commentary on the above post by The Language Guy. ("On Reasoning about Abortion" - Posted Sat Oct 8, 2005 -- Sorry, I wasn't able to get the post url)

His real intent was to make a contribution with linguistic analysis.

He pointed out an interesting ambiguity that occurs one the question of foetus being human. One of the key issues, as itemized by Full Metal Attorney, was whether a foetus is human.

The Language Guy pointed out a significant ambiguity in the use of this term. Namely that there is a difference between saying "X is human" and "X is a human". I hope you'll read his post to get his explanation, but it seemed to me that it was not a trivial distinction.


In the end, I would like to confess my admiration of Full Metal Attorney for his effort to map out the issues as impartially as he was able. I thought he did a much better job than many of the people who are most passionate about their point of view on this subject.

This is a great example of how it's done. Spread the word.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Conflict and One Dimensional Thinking (Cont'd)

(Cont'd from Conflict and One Dimensional Thinking)

I spent Friday evening doing battle with some malware that invaded my PC. Something called Trojan.Vundoo. It took awhile. I got frustrated at times. But in the end I kicked its viral booty.

Norton AntiVirus reported the problem, but for some reason couldn't fix it. Still, Norton didn't give up easily: a warning message kept popping up in front of me. I'd click the OK button and the pop-up window would just reappear. Over and over and over again.

I got a bit frustrated at first. I said TH*NK!!! a few times. :)

Well, maybe I said something other than TH*NK!!! the first 3 or 4 times.

So, why am I telling you this? This is supposed to be a post about "conflict and multi-dimensional thinking", isn't it?

Indeed, it is.

The point is that the many of the same internal mechanisms that apply to conflicts with others also apply to problem solving. Problem solving is just a special case of conflict thinking.

There are many situations in life where we tend to respond with fixed modes of response. You've heard of the fight or flight responses, haven't you? Actually, it should be the fight, freeze or flight response.

Imagine yourself walking through the woods and you run into a bear. If it's a brown bear, there is a good chance its flight mechanism will kick in, and it will run away from you. This despite the fact that it is probably much stronger and more ferocious than you.

But if its cub happens to be nearby -- worse yet, if you happen to get between the adult and its offspring -- its fight mechanism would almost certainly kick in, and you can expect a pretty nasty mauling. Ouch!!

And, what about the freeze mechanism? Where does that come in? Well, from what I've heard, the bear might just leave you alone if you lie down and play dead. Dunno if that's true, but I do know it's called playing 'possum. Apparently, staying very still when threatened is what opossums do.

In the animal world, these response modes are pretty much hard-wired. And they represent a relatively narrow range of behavioral options. But the same mechanisms are also part of human behaviour. They are part of our instincts. The difference is that humans are capable of a wider range of responses. The fight, freeze or flight responses in the animal world tend to be pretty narrowly defined -- they really tend to be about fighting, freezing or fleeing. But in the human world fight, freeze and fight can be expanded to include wider, more complex, ranges of behavior that might be relabelled "go-get-em", "stay-put" and "get-out-of-the-way".

What's more we can change our responses, based on self-knowledge. Most animals can't. Still, we humans have a strong tendency to favor certain modes of response, rather like the animals.

This -- along with belief systems and attituedes -- is a key factor in one-dimensional conflict thinking, which I first mentioned in my previous post.

In fact, it might be a bit more fundamental. It's part of our wiring.

The point is that we have a tendency to favor a particular type of response -- fight, freeze or flight -- in certain circumstances where we feel threatened.

The tendency to favor a particular response type -- a particular mode -- may vary a bit by the type of situation. For example, the same person may tend to be aggressive when driving, but may tend to retreat in relationship conflicts, and may freeze up when asked to dance. In short, for broad categories of their behaviour, they may lean toward one response category or another.

Part of what happens -- on both the cause and effect sides of the equation -- is a tendency to "lock-in" to a response mode under given kinds of (perceived) threats. This tendency to lock-in makes sense from an evolutionary stand point: if an animal in the wild had to spend time thinking about which type of response is most appropriate, it would almost certainly be next to get voted off the island we call evolution.

Humans have this lock-in mechanism, too. Only, in humans, conflict responses have taken on a wider role. They are not there just to deal with potential enemies. They permeate everything. They are triggered largely by the stress mechanism. They permeates everything. Not only perceived threats to our life, but also perceived threats to our social position, to our relationships, to our ego, to our resources. And on, and on...

We have a wide range of things we perceive and react to as threats. This reaction so permeates our lives that we are often not even particularly aware that we are responding to many situations as if threatened.

We may react as if threatened when faced with an unfamiliar task. Like when I found out I had a virus on my PC. And Norton wasn't able to fix it!! It has been a long time since I last had to do battle with a virus. And that time it ended up being a real hassle. It took days. So, I felt stressed. A bit confused. Why wasn't Norton doing it's job?! Is this going to be a repeat of the last time.

Once I realized Norton wasn't going to fix it, I started to feel a small sense of panic. My first reaction was to try and make the error message go away so I could ignore the problem. I was favoring the "stay-put" (freeze) mode.

And I might have gotten away with it, too (trying to ignore the problem, that is), if it hadn't been for those meddling error messages (from Norton).

Even if Norton couldn't fix the problem, it wasn't about to let the matter go. That stupid message box kept popping up, even after I clicked OK about 300 times. I tried to ignore them. I tried to ignore the threat of a virus. But in the end I couldn't. In the end, I pretty much had to break out of my one-dimensional conflict thinking and try to find a wider range of alternatives.

Good thing I did. I ended up being able to find a solution within a couple of hours. Of course, Friday night was a write-off.


In summary, we humans are constantly responding to situations as though threatened. This applies to actual conflicts, but also to areas where there is no real danger, no real threat. For example, when somebody says something about us that we feel is negative. Or when we are face with an unfamiliar problem. Or when we are in an awkward social situation. Even if we don't onsciously perceive that we are feeling threatened, we often react as though we do.

When that happens, we tend to lock-in to one of three response modes, which more or less correspond to the flight, freeze or fight responses in the animal world. Our responses are often more complex that those of animals, but not always.

When we get locked-in to one response mode, our possibilities for handling problems is narrowed. Sometimes this may be beneficial -- such as when in real-time danger and an immediate response is required.

But often this tendency to lock-in to one response mode may be counterproductive, even dangerous. I call this one dimensional conflict thinking.

One dimensional thinking can also be linked to belief systems about conflict -- for example, if you believed you must always turn the other cheek -- and attitudes that are not well tailored to reality.

And it is from this one-dimensional thinking that so many of our problems arise.

When we don't have an appropriate range of tools with which to resolve our threats -- real or perceived -- we flail, thrash, blame, accuse, attack, scheme, etc.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Conflict and One Dimensional Thinking

One huge area where people have a lot of trouble in life, is dealing with conflict and struggle. For a lot of us, our thinking starts to get muddled when we find ourselves in a conflict situation.

You've probably heard the proverb: If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail.

Part of the problem, I think, is that we typically learn just one way to approach conflict. We don't develop an full repetoire of skills. And when our range of options is so limited, we often end up using the wrong tool for the job. Sometime with bad consequences for ourselves, or for others.

Another key problem is that we often start out with a counterproductive attitude towards conflict. This can be tied up with the reasons for the limited repetoire -- a flaw in our belief system about conflict.

Many of us are brought up to believe that conflict is bad. We must avoid it at all costs. Or we must resolve it immediately. Some of us believe that, where conflict is concerned, we have to confront all problems without hesitation. Some just consider conflict sinful, or evil.

Conflict has gotten bad rap.

In my mind, we need to see conflict as a neutral thing. In itself it is not bad. It just is. It is a part of our lives. It is there. It is more or less a constant of life.

It is important to see it as a neutral thing. Like a knife. A knife can be used as a weapon. A knife can also be used to cut bread or, in the case of a scalpel, to save lives.

Likewise, conflict can harm us -- as in war. It can also help us -- as in the struggle between family members who are working out their differences. It can entertain us. And, it can sustain us as we learn to compete for our livelihood.

It will always be here. We may resolve one conflict, but another will always be coming over the hill. Except when you're dead. Then you can relax. (Maybe).

The next problem -- actually the first problem -- is the problem of a limited repetoire.

When people have a limited repetoire of tools and approaches to conflict, they find themselves getting frustrated more often. I suspect you would get frustrated, too, if you found yourself in a difficult situation where you didn't have the appropriate tools.

What, for example, would you do if you were Batman, and the Joker had just pushed you off the roof of a tall building. And when you reach into your utility belt, all you find is a hole puncher? You'd be pissed!! You might feel the need to swear a bit. (Holy toolcase, Batman, I hope you read my post entitled "F*CK MEANS TH*NK!!!".). You are going to get very frustrated indeed. If you survive the fall, that is.

What were you thinking, Bats? Did you think that you should limit your array of available tools to just a hole puncher because you didn't want to escalate the conflict?

What our Batman example doesn't illustrate is that when we get frustrated...because we don't have an appropriate array of tools and approaches to conflict situations...when we get frustrated...we often start to flail...or lash out...and we end up escalating and complicating the conflict.

We escalate conflicts when we flail. We flail because we are frustrated -- or panicky -- or confused. We typically get frustrated because we have too limited an repetoire for dealing with conflict. We often have too limited a repetoire because our attitudes towards conflict are wrong. They may be too lax. They may be too fearful. The may have been influenced by an inappropriate belief system that leads us to believe that conflict is bad.

Conflict is neither good nor bad. It just is.

If you look in the self-help area of the local bookstore, you will probably find lots of books that tell you how to handle conflict.

Some will say that you need to learn to be more assertive. That's the solution, they say.
Others say that you must learn to "dissolve" conflict.
Others will say that you need to find a win-win solution.
Others tell you "not to sweat it".
Some may tell you that you need to not engage in conflict: here's how to be nice in all situations.

There really is a lot of advice books out there, but almost every one offers just one single approach. A single formula.

That is very unrealistic. But having just one approach to all conflict is a dangerous way to approach life, and a great way to magnify one's stupidity.



Okay -- sorry to interrupt -- but I have to go right now. There's more to this topic, but I'll have to pick it up a bit later.

Thanks for reading this far.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Religion and stupidity

Are you for or against religion? Neutral, maybe? (Write me, tell me.)

If you are down on religion, is it because so many wars and abuses have been carried out in the name of religion? Because so many religions preach tolerance, but practice intolerance? Because of atrocities in the name of God?

Don't worry. I am not a terribly religious person. And what I believe, I mostly prefer to keep to myself.

But there was a brief period in my younger days when I was into religion. That period was preceded and followed by times in which I looked very negatively on religion. I knew a small number of very religious people whom I admired, and so many more that I either pitied, or actively distrusted. In those days, it seemed to me that so many of the world's problems were caused by formal religions.

Eventually, though, I came to realize that the core stupidities that I blamed on religion -- prejudice, ignorance, arrogance, narrow-mindedness -- were in fact not religious problems, but human problems.

I saw that, even though I am no longer religious, I am still full of prejudice and prejudgement. And although I am no longer associated with any formal religion, I am still full of arrogance. My opinion is the right one. Others, however well-intentioned, are at best misguided. I may not say it. But that is what I think.

There are many things that happen in the name of God and religion that are shameful. And criminal. And many of us just accept them, perhaps because we are habituated to do so.

Politics can be similar. Look at the atrocities done in the name of Communism. I wonder if there is a list of how many that were done in the name of Democracy?

I believe we need to start by recognizing that the core stupidities -- the intolerance, the narrow-mindedness, the arrogance, the prejudice -- all start with us. With humans.

They are natural consequences of our intelligence. That doesn't make them desirable. That doesn't make them OK. That doesn't mean we can't do anything about them. But we have to stop blaming religion, or politics, or anything else, for the problem. The answer is locked away inside of us.

But, since we are speaking of religious faith -- and even political faith -- how can we deny the role they often play in so many abuses, so many wars, so many atrocities?

It seems to me that, under some circumstances, religion (or politics, or even love) can introduce a multiplier effect. Obedience and devotion -- whether to a higher power, to a cause, or to a loved one -- can be a good thing. But if turns into blind obedience or blind devotion. If we turn off our ability to question, for example. If we reduce our conscience to formulas, or rules -- or to somebody else's instruction -- we start down a path that may even turn our stupidities into evil.


What's worse, we then can't see the wrong we do, because the conscience that should warn us has been replaced. We still have a conscience. We have probably worked hard to acquire it. We are proud of it. And, since our conscience is by definition good, we can't see the problem.

But it is not just religion, or politics, or even love that introduce these multiplier effects. Anything can do it. Loyalty to a group. A sense of belonging. Being very busy. Being deeply absorbed in something. A racing mind. The desire for achievement. And on, and on.

In the end, our prejudices and our arrogance -- and all the other stupidities -- begin with us. Yes, some activities may introduce muliplier effects, but they are not the root cause.

Stupidity is part of the human condition. It is nothing to be ashamed about, except when we do nothing about it. That is where the problem must be solved.

Spread the word.

Monday, October 03, 2005

F*CK MEANS TH*NK !!!

I was reasonably profane as a youngster.

Still can be from time to time.

But, mostly, I try to keep a civil tongue.

Except, that is, when I am trying to do something that involves a modicum of dexterity, and I start fumbling. Whatever it is -- keys, socks, screw, credit card -- all the cards in my wallet on a windy day -- handful of legal documents on a windy slushy winter day -- dry cleaning over a mud puddle -- dishes at midnight when the family is sleeping -- I would drop it, then almost catch, then re-drop, then drop everything else trying to re-catch the first thing, then:

!!!!!!!F*CK!!!!!!

!!!!!!!F*CK!!!!!!
!!!!!!!F*CK!!!!!!
!!!!!!!DOUBLE-F*CK!!!!!!

Indeed, I would get very frustrated.

Until one day an angel appeared before me while I was in mid-paroxysm of F*CKery.

He/she/it spake to me in an awesome booming voice, asking if I had any idea what the word F*CK means in heaven.

I was a bit startled at the sight of an actual angel showing up in front of me. I'm not sure, but I think I might have let out the words "Holy F*CK!!!" I suppose that was not totally inappropriate, given who my visitor was.

Anyway, once I regained my composure, I then I thought about it a few minutes. I realized it couldn't possibly mean in heaven what it means here.

So, I admitted I had no idea, and asked it/her/him to tell me.

"In heaven", she/he/it said, "F*CK means THINK".



I stood there dumbfounded awhile. Just kind of gawking. And while I gawked, the angel's words did seep profoundly into my soul.

So that I was re-made into a changed man.

So now, on those less frequent occassions where I find myself fumbling -- or when I inadvertently let something piss me off -- and I unexpectedly find myself losing it and yelling !!!!F*CK!!!!

I remember what that angel told me.

F*CK means TH*NK.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Abraham Lincoln's strange tail

If you call a tail a leg, how many legs does a dog have?

Protesting Ourselves

Back in the 60's there was a lot of protesting going on.

They protested the establishment. They protested the government. They protested the war. They protested the draft. They protested pollution. They protested bigotry. They protested hatred. Did I leave something out?

In those days, there was a lot of energy and a lot of spirit. There was a lot of dedication to important causes. Because of all the protests, a lot changed.

The other day, I was watching a special about Bob Dylan and the 60's and the protest scene.

I got wondering what happened.

A lot of people are still protesting today, but it seems as if not much has changed after all. We still have crazy wars. We still have bigotry and hatred. We now have global warming. And we're no longer protesting the establishment. We are the establishment.

So what's wrong? Is it because we don't have the same idealism? Is it because we are not active enough?

I got wondering what we could protest, what we need to change, to start solving these problems.

Then it hit me. (While I was watching the Dylan special).

WE NEED TO PROTEST OURSELVES!!!

We need to wake up the establishment!!! But, hey, that's us!!

HEY ---- US ---- WAKE UP!!!!

We are not fixing things because we are not truthful with ourselves. We are not fixing things because we don't look deeply at ourselves. We are not fixing things because we blame the other guy. That doesn't mean the other guy doesn't need some blaming -- just that we need to start by taking a close look at ourselves.

And we have to help our neighbor to do the same thing. We need to fix our blindspots.

We are the war. We are the prejudice. We are the global warming.

I am not letting the politicians, and Al Qaeda, and the extremists, and this group and that group off the hook.

I am just saying, the fix starts with us. Or it doesn't start. No amount of fixing the roof will solve a problem with the foundation.

Spread the word.