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Monthly Archives: June 2005

There are days when I am most aware of myself, when I realize that I am truly and absolutely human are the days when I feel the most despair over life. If one even seeks to comprehend for even a minute the great amount of humanity in the world, how much so much of it suffers, the poverty, the exploitation and the selfishness that typifies so much of human interaction with each other brings what can only be thought of as tremendous sadness.

I ponder how one handles this despondency, and I find that people probably have three responses that can be categorized simply. If you are aware of the magnitude of this despair, or perhaps have felt it in a way that I have for perhaps the first time in my life, I think that one can have only three responses. There may be others, but I cannot think of them, nor do I have any intuition of them. But there are others, maybe better responses that do not underestimate the nobility of the human being as I am prone to do.

The first is the obvious response, and the one that I have to admit that I adopt most often. It is easy to do when one lives in the cocoon that I inhabit. It means that the obvious response is to ignore it. One closes ones heart, does not think of the rest of the world. It is what I once called snarkily the Indian response. In a society that is so best by poverty and that fails to deal with it and shows little improvement, if one did not ignore the issue, one would I think fail at living ones every day life. I accept that not all people can work for change, millions must lead ordinary lives so that a few can create the change that is needed. But I would at the same time, wish more of the millions.

The most common response I feel is that of apathy. It is not head in the sand, nor is it activism. It is the worst response to any problem, and the most evil of ways to behave towards any people or problem. It signifies that the problem is not even worthy of notice, let alone any attempt to fix it or repair it. Or even worse yet they recognize the problem, but think that it need not be fixed now, that to fix it now would upset the boat to much, would too trouble their own lives, that their conscience could not be moved enough to bring action from their limbs. But I should also admit that this is where I stand now, always wondering what I can do, and if I can spare the time, and finding more things to do that are more important. It is something that I will try and change, though I do not yet know how. If I could feel that even in my small way I was making a contribution, then I would be satisfied, and that even a small change that might be attributed to me, could justify a whole life. In summary though, my feelings might be best summed up by this Martin Luther King Jr. quote: “In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends”. Nor could it be summarised more clearly.

It is a saying, that one cannot bleed for the whole world, but perhaps that is what we are required to do. I think that the only thing that we can do is in fact this. One must bleed for the world, for only then does one begin to achieve the essential requirement for a proper human society, and that fundamental is compassion. One can not wrap yourself in ignorance and apathy, lead a happy existence in the knowledge that others suffer. Or if you can, one must wonder what existence they lead, and what terrible recrimination can be made against them by every other soul on the planet. A people who recognize this will organise their society on it. Some day I hope the world will recognise this, but I wouldn’t hold your breath in anticipation.

It is of course true that the modern world is not found on such a basis, and that if you suggested that society ought to be founded like this, people would dismiss you as a hippie socialist, who has no understanding of the real world. I wonder though, who is more correct, the one who insists the world is as it is, and the one who insists that the world is not what it should be. Who lives more in the real world, who is most attune to reality, and who is really entombed in a illusion.

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I recently asked a few people what they would do if they knew that they could not fail. I pondered this question because I wondered what I would be like if I was in that position, but more importantly to discover where I would go and what I would do. Instead I find myself unable to answer the question because it seems to be the type of question that misses the point almost, that fails to understand the nature of achievement and why it has merit.

Put simply I feel that achievement is those things that you acomplish, not free from fear, but inspite of it. It is easy to do things when they are easy, comfortable or require little from you. But when you are on the line, when the breath is quickened and the palms are sweaty, then when one achieves inspite of that, that is when you truly feel or ought to feel that you have done something, that you thought you could not have achieved half an hour ago. That is true sucess.

It brings me on to the role of fear in normal life, and in slight part this is inspired by the Kender Tas from The Dragonlance Chronicles. Those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, can continue on without troubling yourself, but if you have a little time, go read those books. Suffice it to say that the Kender are a race that feel no fear, are indeed incapable of it. I wonder then what a human without fear would be like. He would not be brave, or couragous, these being defined like achievement as being inspite of fear. Instead I feel that such a person would be incredibly reckless and dangerous, they would not understand the majority of people that inhabit this mortal coil, they would take inordinate risk, and endanger others without realising.

But they would also be immune to the effects of fear, and perhaps more true respondents to my question I could not find anywhere else if I were to look in this wide world. To be able to see both sides of an issue, to weigh them up on thier own merits and not your own comforts, to be able to push your boundaries and to try new things, to see the new and the challenging in all things, instead of searching for only the old and familiar and clinging to it with all the stubborness that the will could render. To me this seems to be alive in an amply more vibrant way then I have ever been, nor am I ever likely to feel so alive.

Fear defines us in a way that I don’t feel we understand or respect. We are our fears, we live them out every day, they confirm themselves gain their own momentum, and control us without our ever realising. I don’t wish to portray that I live a life loaded in fear, but I think that sometimes that is more true then I am willing to admit. It is a vast scary world out there, an unexplicable callidoscope of events, images and impressions flit past you everyday, so new so fresh so different, that if you really understood them as that your mind would rebel and your heart quail.

I suppose what I’m saying is that one needs to open your eyes properly. The world is a vast place, full of love and hope, but equally full of fear and loathing, and it is important to realise that they are there, to not forget them in your thoughts, to understand that they do not present themselves in making your judgments but that the aware mind should be wary for their presence and distorting effect. One needs to feel alive, and to live in fear, or in love or in hope alone and not in all, is to be less alive then one should be.

Change. It is the perennial sign post of the human condition, and perhaps its eternal marker. We are beset on all sides by change, people change, the weather, the house and the time all constantly change, all slightly different then they were a little while ago, a few second elapsed and a magnitude of change incapable of comprehension to the human mind has occurred. Billions of atomic particles did not exist when you started this paragraph, they will have existed and vanished before you finish this sentence. Babies born, the living have died. Eternal unrelenting change. We are beset by it.

I draw this to your attention, not to remind you again of perhaps how small and uncomprehending a role we play in the vast universe, but to look for its opposite. In a world so beset by change I think it wise to look for what might be termed its constants. There are unchanging things in the world. The quote that of course springs to mind is that nothing is constant but change itself. But I think there are other things, and that to think of our world only in terms of its physical manifestation misses the essential elements of its formation and functioning.

I read a quote that exhorted the reader to believe in right and wrong, to trust and protect, serve and care for other not because they were necessarily true or correct, but because somethings are worth believing in whether they are true or false. It’s assertation made me come up short for a while, because I do agree that sometimes the truth content of a statement should have nothing to do with whether you believe it or not. Sometimes a lie is acceptable because it has the same effect as the truth. There is a Zen koan to the effect, stressing that a lie that has the same effect as the truth, is not a lie and should be treated as the truth.

In my mind though I can see the passionate riposte of the determined warrior of truth. While I’m sure there are many objections to my last paragraph, what primarily seems wrong is that Truth and Right, which are the fundamental axis of any moral compass, should be so interdependent and interrelated. It seemed that they should be clear and crisply defined, but instead that they seem so twisted together. The Truth is Right and the Right thing is True, but are all true things right, and right things true? Can there exist a situation in which doing the right thing involves sacrificing the truth? Or where telling the truth is to do the wrong thing? I strongly suspect that they do exist.

How do you deal with such a situation is hard for me to fathom. My instinct is to sacrifice the truth to the cause of right, in my thinking it seems to me that truth is of secondary importance to doing the right thing, for truth with a wrong outcome is not something that I can accept to be the correct response to a situation. On this line of exposition I would justify the telling of white lies, and the fudged truth to prevent hurt or a wrong occurring, yet this is a position that I find myself shaking my head at and thinking absurd. I find myself once again with more questions then when I started, but perhaps I can place my faith in change. Some day something will change, and I or someone else will have an answer to my questions. I will think and wait. And if I dare it, Hope.

It is perhaps the most famous of all Socratic quotes. As one reads thought Plato’s “Apology” which writes out Socrates’ defense of himself at his famous trial in Athens, one comes across what Henry Cary translates as “…[B]ut the life without investigation, is not worth living in”. It is more often translated as “the unexamined life is not worth living”. It represents perhaps the single founding principle of what I’m attempting to do with my writing, to set out to examine my life and its values, principles and obstacles, in the hope of coming to a better understanding.

It is fitting that if I am to recourse to basics, then the first object of such an analysis ought to be the principle that I have just stated encapsulates what it achieves. It represents an interesting duality, because I’m not entirely sure you can judge a base axiom, a fundamental starting position, against itself. It also seems wrong though that an axiom and the very thing that it requires you to do are self-contradicting. An axiom that exhorts one to inquiry, cannot itself be accepted uncritically and quietly.

It brings a difficult question of how one goes about assessing this against any other metric or any other standard. I confess that I too have no idea what to do, but it seems to be a good starting point somehow, self substantiating for some odd reason, itself encouraging me to go ahead with its proposed course. I suspect that is because it appeals to further lower axioms. I do believe that the world makes sense, that with perfect knowledge one would understand that all things have a reason to be, that the circumstances that cause their occurrence are not random, not chance but in a cosmic way pre-determined.

This causes a conflict within me, because I do not believe that life is like this itself, and especially that free will and the conscious mind are not evolutionary tricks, or a good way for genes to propagate but an end and the goal in and of itself. Our genes are the way they are because they needed to be that way to create a sentient creature. I understand that the traditional interpretation of others such as Dawkins in “The Selfish Gene” works the other way, with the gene being the dominant unit of selection, but I would not accept it works this way. It seems to be an attempt at using biology, to trivialize humanity, to apologize for the excesses of human life and fails to understand the nature of human sentience in any adequate way. To this scientists explanation of the mechanical, I think Yoda was much more accurate when he said “Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter”.

Its perhaps the clearest indication of our age that we have not managed to understand our own minds and consciousness while setting out to explain all of nature in either a mechanical or a biological model. We think that all things can be explained as the sum of their parts, but somehow we are living proof that we are a greater whole. Its a notion that I think modern science has not managed to ever reconcile properly in its attempts across the ages, and an issue that’s not talked up in the public because I think people fail to understand how limited really the scientific endeavors is.

I suppose that the cross is there when you jump from biology to psychology, these two fields representing the two halves of the gap, and you might say that evolutionary psychology and cognitive science represents the bridge builders of science trying to find out how this seemingly uncrossable chasm might be managed. I do not think that the modern mindset, with its unexamined assumptions encapsulated within the scientific method and of the easily testable requirement of everything are well suited to solving the human conundrum in such a complex changing and variable environment as a single human being. It seems to me that no human can ever fully understand another human, and I think that thought too is a revolutionary one, when you think about it in the course of every day life.

Fidelity, is the sister of Justice
Horace, Ancient Roman poet.

Its been an interesting time in terms of loyalty for me. Again the question arises in terms of the forum that I’m associated with. It brings into focus a sharp question, and requirews me to ask what loyalty is and who or what is it owed to. A person who embodied tenacious loyalty to FMG, the organisation and its ethos, has been moved to part ways with it, in a time when so many of us are willing to move on and throw our weight behind the new venture, our loyalty to the people behind the site, rather then the abstract site itself. It moves one to a meditation on loyalty.

What loyalty is, could probably be the subject of a protracted platonic dialogue. Its composed of so many components that its hard to describe. I would think that the core concept of it would be something along the lines (my legalistic mind at work here) of a duty owed to a person, to act in their best interests, and to support them and help them. It is effectively a duty to support them when they are wrong, for as Mark Twain so wisely said, almost anyone will support you when you’re in the right. It’s the notion of someone being on your team, on your side, one of your own, and that you willingly strive and struggle on their behalf. But it resonates at a deeper level than that in our minds. Loyalty is more then mere care for, or mere support, its a commitment really in the face of adversity, its too champion when others would penalise you for championing.

The other thing I’m wondering about is whats called the unit of selection in biology. It’s the question of what level of granularity is loyalty owed at. Do you owe it to the spirit of the organisation, the Boss, your seniors, your peers, your inferiors? Can loyalty be owed to ideas, to abstract entities, legal fictions? Can you really be loyal to a organisation, shouldn’t what you be loyal to is the people that make up these organisations?

All I can really offer is my own inadequate answers. I think that you need some sort of fusion of loyalty both to a person and an ideal. There is no problem in this, and indeed no problem arises until people begin to move their separate ways. What happens when the ideal that you owe your duty to, is no longer represented by the person that you owed that loyalty to. What if they have moved on and changed in some way that you cannot agree with. That though they are your leaders, they have lead you astray and away from what they should have done and rightly ought to be have expected to have done. I suspect that you end up as I feel now, straddled on the edge of a crack of the earth, one foot on either side and the gap in between slowly getting wider. It seems a difficult and almost unresolvable situation in some respects. To abandon one for the other involves a tremendous sacrifice on your part, but the end result in both instances can only be dissatisfactory. You end up with either your championing and supporting of ideas and suggestions that you feel are not correct, that are not in the best interest of what you should be supporting because they are the direction that the other wished to travel in and your duty to them compelled you to move in support of their postion. But intellectually you have become a whore, selling your own ideas for cheap, selling your own integrity and power of advocacy away from your cause, towards that of a cause that you don’t believe in. Its a hard dilemma, and not one I pretend to have any answers to. Just more and more questions.

The other side to this coin, of course is when does loyalty become a hinderance. When does your loyalty to an ethos or another abstract become impractical and uneccessary, some redundant emotional baggage that you are carrying on from times gone past, not caring to live in the here and now, because you are bound by a commitment that you made that is fictious now, and certainly not relevant to the here and now. Again I just don’t know. Do you betray the people that you trust and who you support out of duty to an abstract? How can that be right? Can you disassociate yourself from the real world where you can make an impact so that you can claim the ideological high ground in a battle already long since over? So many questions with no real or substantial answers. So much guess work and approximations. So many intuitive judgements and decisions that can’t be even understood by yourself let alone explained to others.

Loyalty is a key virtue to have, and it is something I believe that is a fundamental aspect of people that you can trust and put your faith in, that they have a residual loyalty to you and would not want to see you suffer any damage or detriment. This loyalty makes you valuable as part of a team and gives life to it. Now if only I knew what it is.