Human Rights v. Human Obligations

Have you ever considered the notion of “human obligations” as a corollary to the term human rights? Not to suggest one is dependent upon the other by I cannot help but wonder how things may be different if certain human obligations were dealt with in the same manner as human rights have historically been addressed. This would obviously require careful monitoring, but imagine if every Citizen was obligated to prove he or she knows the basics of how our government works in order to vote. I know this brings up thoughts of the poll tax or IQ test to those that was only applicable to African-Americans, but this is different. Let’s use the basic civics test we require those attempting to become Naturalized citizens of this country who are naturalized are required to know and .are tested upon. If we require it of those we grant citizenship to, it is not unreasonable to demand that same basic knowledge from our citizens.

How delightful would it be if all those seeking to serve Public Office be required to have a certain level of education, degree, certificate or whatever we decide to call it in Political Science and the Art of Statesmanship & Governing before they are eligible to run for elected office? In fact let’s do the reverse, every person that has completed such training is automatically eligible for election process (if they announce an intention to Run). Wouldn’t provide a basic level of competence. We require training of lawyers, doctors, professors, mechanics, plumbers, electricians, etc. so why not those in charge of our own government?

Once they have successfully completed the appropriate education from an accredited Political Science department (like accredited law schools), all they need do is announce their candidacy for lower office. And then they must first have held a lower office and demonstrated an ability to fulfill those duties that in a way that warrants their eligibility for higher office. These need not even alter the existing constitutional age requirements for the certain offices in Congress & the presidency.

Is it mere utopianism to hope for an elected official feels a “Human Obligation” to have in mind the best interests of the People he or she represents? At this stage, it is so blatantly obvious our elected officials no longer even try to hide the fact that they spend up to 70% of the time fund-raising.

The Supreme Court has somehow found it appropriate to give Corporations the same rights that we individuals have in our Constitution. Combined with other case law, they are now permitted to essentially give unlimited funds to campaigns, PACs & SuperPACs with almost no disclosure necessary – at least not before the election in question.

It’s so obviously wrong that there is a significant movement to change the law to undo the damage, which was to essentially put the entire government up for sale to the highest bidder. Between 2010-2012, during which the Supreme Court rendered its controversial Citizens United ruling, spending on campaigns, PACs & SuperPACs increased by something like 1900%. Does anyone in their right mind not believe the donors are expecting ROI – Return on Investment – which is a concept they are very familiar with in business? I certainly hope that level of naïveté does not exist.

I think it may take a constitutional amendment to fully eliminate the blatantly corruptive influence money currently has on our government, which explains why is it: 1) so bitterly divided and vitriolic; and 2) unable to accomplish anything, leading to the lowest approval rating Congress has ever seen.

The lawmakers have benefited so drastically from these rules and we cannot rationally expect they would change those rules themselves. They certainly have not done anything thus far. On the contrary, it’s gotten much worse. If you study campaign contributions, PAC & SuperPAC contributions as well as lobbying activity, Wall Street exceeds the other big players combined.

Which simply means Wall Street owns both parties and why there is currently a strong movement within the Democratic Party to get away from Secretary Clinton’s real & perceived ties to Wall Street and that of her husband. Of course, it was Pres. Bill Clinton that executed the plan to make sure Wall Street knew Democrats were as willing to play ball as the Republicans, as long as they kept the campaign money flowing. And boy did they ever.

It such a dominant influence in current politics that things the American people almost unanimously agree SHOULD get done will not get done. They won’t even come up for a vote because the industry watchdogs Big Corporations have purchased in Congress won’t allow it.

Take the controversial gun issue: over 80% of Americans are in favor of universal background checks for every sale. Though I’m not certain, I believe the statistics for closing the show loophole are similarly overwhelming. But the power of the NRA and the gun lobby is immense & they OWNER the GOP.

Let’s investigate how much money the industry has made under the current president because of the constant NRA campaign of lies like, they’re (Obama, Harry Reid, pelvis);; literally coming for your guns and they’re going to imprison you in FEMA Camps”. It might make for interesting fiction if a majority of Americans didn’t believe it to be so. You may recall the proposed invasion of the state of Texas under the guise of “wargames” that was supposedly leaked by the military or something of that nature – and, of course, didn’t happen. I still see people saying Pres. Obama has time and will declare martial law, confiscate all weapons and retain power.

Then again, there are those that will argue till they’re blue in the face with as much passion as if they were fighting for civil rights that there is all a massive conspiracy to cover up the fact that the world is flat. Even though it’s mathematically impossible as the extra gravity accumulated the closer you came to the “edge” of the earth would be something like 9G’s. The Internet is an amazing and wonderful place but it’s also given something to do to those people who have that little bit of knowledge we all know can be a dangerous thing. And now with the technology they can organize, groupthink sets in, and suddenly we have militias and the most creative conspiracy theories one can consider.

This stemmed from an interesting thought that occurred to me when I ran across this quote from Alexander Solzhenitsyn:

“It is time in the West’s to defend not so much human rights as human obligations.”

Now I acknowledge having no idea the context in which the quote was made. He may have been referring to obligations as burdensome while I’m looking at them as a way to force citizens to realize the government isn’t here just to protect your freedom and allow you to take, take, and take. This is what happened with the fossil fuels industry for the last 200 years.

Think about this way: you find something in the ground that doesn’t belong to you, but that you essentially pay the government for the rights to steal from the ground – from the ground owned by “The People”. And they pay absolutely nothing for the right to exploit the resources of our, which we know it took millions of years to get there.

First of all, this exploitation of resources removes any doubt as to why fossil fuel companies have been among the most profitable the world has ever seen. Look at the business model! They get to extract as much of the resources mother Earth created over millions of years at virtually ZERO COST, and turn around and profit on it as if they created the chemical in their own laboratories and obtained the requisite patent. If that were the case, they have the right to have all of the profits (that’s the model of the pharmaceutical of big Pharma which is for another subject), but these guys take from the earth. Worse, what they take, and take and take from the earth has already done a great deal of damage in terms of the climate, and some will argue we are already too late without immediate & drastic measures that the fossil fuel industry will certainly oppose.

It’s happening right before our eyes as the developing countries (China, India & Brazil, etc.) are now fully developed and they unanimously realize how serious a threat climate change truly is. Of course they have no insane political party made up of politicians paid to deny the unambiguous science as we have here. Thankfully b/c it allowed them to take the bold steps (though not enough) that they took at the Paris Climate Agreement. The party that denies the science, also denies its beloved war making machine that has identified to climate change as a global threat. A real & true threat – a clearly defined strategic threat to the security of the United States of America. Despite this, half of our government refuses to even acknowledge it exists because they are so beholden to the Fossil fuel industry. They will protect that industry regardless of the cost to the American people and the environment we live in.

As I’ve said many times, the choice is ours. The only way in which we can exercise that choice is basically which party we vote for given the limited choice we really have. As always, would love to hear your thoughts, reactions or impressions.

Thanks and have a great day!

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Check Your Perspective…

Thought Experiment… Step Out of Your Comfort Zone and Think From Another’s Perspective:

A worthwhile Thought Experiment is to challenge yourself to view an issue from another perspective. Here is a 14 minute video that, if you really thought about it, would admit presents a perspective that is what I imagine is a very different perspective that you had of the topic. Was this true in you case?

Take this 13:38 and step away from the Echo Chamber in which millions of Americans elect to live their lives: 1) Engage in the experience of learning about and considering another’s perspective; 2) Now actually considering, really thinking about something a perspective that you never thought about that way before; and 3) Share your reactions, thoughts, opinions or suggestions in the Comments Section of the blog and which really supports the blog too so I kindly ask you to use this platform. (It’s just a click but it helps me immensely!) Congratulations on getting this far. Sincere apologies, unless I am wrong, I must pay for the ability to embed video on my page so click here for YouTube video (13:38).

Did your Perspective Change about anything? If so, what & how? I wouldn’t spend the time if I didn’t think there are subjects we need to make sure we really think about, done an thorough analysis of our reasoning to make sure it isn’t just going with the flow, a gut reaction or conventional wisdom – all without much though given to why you chose the way you did. Don’t feel inadequate as I believe only a small minority are that self-aware and analytical, quick to use critical thinking skills. Like many things it becomes a habit… a way of thinking and living in the world. These skills, which were important to our survival at one time, and that echo-chambers erode like all other unused muscles – hated atrophy! “Group-think” sets in and the analysis of what may be an important issue or life decision is over. The benefit of this approach is you don’t have to decide for yourself, you just turn with the swarm of fish that is the masses and have no really idea why. It’s not uncommon at all. I genuinely fear the school of fish analogy is sadly now the default setting for at least American society. This is my humble effort do change that. If you think you already see issues from a balanced perspective you…

May Want to Double Check…

One way is to take this short escape from your routine that won’t miss you and do what you normally don’t do because it’s human nature and it is SO easy to do – which is stay to that which you already know and are very comfortable without ever stopping to consider why you agree. Consider and analyze your reasoning. Really deconstruct it so you’re confident it’s sound and if you discover otherwise, you reconsider this is done without shame and should be done without shame. It is no different than preparing for everything we all have to do for anything we want to do well. Preparation is critical and this is why we demand it of doctors, lawyers, and ourselves whenever we give a proposal to our bosses, to prospective customers, and in other important events in life.

If you are Consider the reasoning of other’s that you respect but that may hold a different opinion so you can see it from her perspective. If you responded to that last sentence with, “I don’t know anyone like this.” you may be too far gone and will have to make an effort to meet people with different views. You will discover first that they are people too. Think about it this way: close to ½ of the voting public disagrees with you, but way more than half of those we deal with in life are nice, regular folks just making it through another day like you are. Meaning some would hate your politics, but you know they are not a monster – and neither are you. This sentiment is long dead in the current political climate… let’s hope that changes.

Online we act like civility and basic respect mandatory in face to face discussion is obliterated and it bothers me. There is never a way to exchange ideas or get someone to consider your perspective if you’re calling them names. No matter who started the bad behavior! If that happens, just disengage – no online rage (no one can see you anyway… I hope!)  Perhaps because the dialogue I am accustomed to is philosophical and legal. Philosophical discussion is typically pretty civil and pleasant. While arguing to a Court one is required to exercise decorum, civility & respect or the Judge will let you know it.

What constitutes “discussion” on the internet in general deserves not such a dignified label. It’s a childish trading of insults and will be ignored. People generally talking at each other not in anyway resembling a real discussion with an exchange of ideas. We have to remember that there are people that you respect and with whom you don’t agree on every important issue… you just don’t know it yet. It is because we have such complicated and very complex lives it shouldn’t surprise us that we reach many different opinions, but saying your opinion these days risks a nasty response and this is especially true online.

But again, like anything else, reason can be done properly or improperly. No one can tell you the answer, but you can be challenged to make certain you have given important issues appropriate thought and consideration. What if a young man or woman walked right up to you and asked very directly your opinion on an important topic?

Lives are hectic, but we must give ourselves time to think. We demand our children think before they speak or act, why not hold ourselves to the same standard? But the way one checked their opinions was discuss it with friends, parents, and teachers, along with anyone else available whose opinion we respect. Please read what Plato thought about taking enough time to think click here now.

If you want to read my continued thoughts just click. here.

Aristotle – The Four Ideas

 

Aristotle was born in 384 BC in Stagira, Greece where his father was the Royal Doctor. His death at 28 was in 322 BC, at Chalcis, Greece. He grew up to be arguably the most influential philosopher ever with modest nicknames like the master The Master, and simply “the Philosopher.” As if there were no others. He is probably best known for his first big job of tutoring Alexander the great, who went on to conquer the known world and unite all of the Greek city states which (and a great deal more) which had been constantly at war for centuries. Aristotle then headed off to Athens, where he met up with his mentor and teacher Plato, with whom he studied for a good dance and then branched out on his own to found the school known as The Lyceum. French secondary schools are called to the say are named in honor of errors Aristotle’s school. He used to walk around as he talked and his followers were known as peripatetic, or the wanderers.

The Father of Science – Then Known as Natural Philosophy

He is the unquestioned founder of science. Alexander the Great gave Aristotle carte blanche as far as scientific samples as the Hunters, fishers, etc. were at The Philosopher’s disposal. After gathering the specimens of from land, air and sea from anywhere in Alexander’s Empire and perhaps first true scientific laboratory. Aristotle’s Organon is thought to be the product of Aristotle’s students based on the lectures of the Master. Like Aristotle, it delves into every scientific field known and many Aristotle essentially founded. The treatise is full of errors along with the countless genius observations never before known to have been made by another human being. Most errors can be traced to the complete absence to any scientific instruments to study specimens. Aristotle had his eyes, his two hands and his unmatched brilliance and revolutionary mind.

The Organon was finally published by Andronicus of Rhodes in 40 B.C. Thereafter it was the textbook of (Western) science, or Natural Philosophy as it was called then as once a field is defined by the philosophers, a Scientific Specialty is born and Philosophy goes on her merry way to deal with the unsettled, harder questions humanity has yet to solve. For nearly 2,000 years Aristotle literally wrote the textbook Western Students would study until Sir. Frances Bacon published his masterful Novum Organum (New Organon) in the year 1620. Natural Philosophy would be guided by these two books and led to the birth of early science that blossomed into a massive tree of specialties but rooted in the minds of two geniuses. But the relevant questions to ask, the topics of investigation… the actual maps to lead us 2.500 years later to the amazing things we see today. The scientific method began here, the emphasis on evidence and observation rather than looking to the super-natural or superstitious phenomena.

Part of the misguided thinking that Philosophy is a waste of time, it is comical if you understand the thinking 25 centuries ago that has proven far more accurate that initially suspected. This is why most people look at philosophy as having done nothing, but in reality philosophy has given birth to every science ever created. If begins the questioning & the scientific inquiry, but once enough information, knowledge and date is gathered through the philosophical inquiry, the infant science (i.e. biology) is born. Meanwhile philosophy modestly marches forward to wrestle with the difficult and still under answered questions. Giving the appearance progress is never made. Simply put, if not for philosophy, the binary code & logic that is the basis of all computing so thank Philosophy for that Smart Phone.

Now science is so massive and the amount of knowledge available to us is so vast there is now a specialty of philosophy known as Philosophy of Science, for example. And there needs to be because there is so much science to follow that it helps to have philosophy take all of that knowledge and synthesize it into a body of work that continues to (1) educate people about the state of science; and (2) continue to point science in the right direction. I believe Philosophy should act as a guide and the conscience for science as for all other subjects.

For Aristotle, philosophy was about practical wisdom. Here are what you might call his four big practical questions he thought it important for Society to consider:

     1.   What makes people happy?

In the Nicomachean Ethics (350 BC), which got its name because they were a compilation of his lecture notes in this case edited by his son Nicomachus, Aristotle set himself to find the factors that led people to lead a good life… or not. We believe the good and successful people all possess distinct virtues. And he proposed that we should get better at identifying what these virtues are so that we may nurture and value the virtues in ourselves and honor them in others.

The Eleven Virtues: 1) Courage, 2) Temperance, 3) Liberality, 4) Magnificence, 5) Pride 6) Magnanimity, 7) Patience, 8) Truthfulness, 9) Wittiness, 10) Friendliness, 11) Modesty.

This was the basis of The Golden Mean as these virtues were always the middle-ground – or “The Golden Mean” – between the two separate Vices. For example, courage is the golden mean between cowardice and rashness. Magnificence is the golden mean between stinginess and all guaranty. Modesty is the mean between shamelessness and shyness.

Conversation was one of the key aspects of knowing how to live a good life according to Aristotle. He gave the example of the boorish man whose boorishness gave him nothing to offer because he lacks a subtle sense of humor. The Boor is basically useless for any kind of social intercourse because he contributes nothing and takes offense at everything. Others carry humor to excess. A buffoon cannot resist a joke whether appropriate or not. They will spare no one including himself or those with them, the embarrassment just for a laugh and will say things a man of taste would never even dream of saying. So the virtuous person is the golden mean between the two which is the individual possessing wittiness. Witty but tactful. We have a whole page (This does not look right on a phone – sorry):

  • The Deficiency                    The Mean                        The Excess    
  • Cowardice                              Courage                           Rashness
  • Insensibility                       Temperance                   Self-indulgence
  • Meanness (illiberality)     Liberality                          Prodigality
  • Stinginess/pettiness        Magnificence                    Vulgarity
  • Pusillanimity                    Magnanimity                       Vanity
  • Unambitiousness                  Pride                                Ambition
  • Lack of spirit                        Patience                           Irascibility
  • Understatement              Truthfulness                    Boastfulness
  • Boorishness                          Wittiness                        Buffoonery
  • Cantankerous                    Friendliness                  Obsequiousness
  • Shamelessness                     Modesty                            Shyness
  • Spitefulness               Righteous Indignation               Envy

Moral righteousness is a habit. Like all habits it takes practice and encouragement. Aristotle believes that people lacking in virtues should be recognized as unfortunate rather than wicked, pitied instead of punished.  They rather need better teachers & more appropriate guidance.

2. What is Art For?

The blockbuster art at the time of Aristotle was the Greek Tragedy drama. As Athenians would sit and watch tragic plays in open-air theaters all across Greece most would see a gory, horrible tragedy of a play by playwrights like Aeschylus, Euripides, and Sophocles, who were household names at the time.

Aristotle wrote “The Poetics”, his manual on how to write great poetry. It was a rather rigid guide to how poetry should be written but some very useful tips the ancient philosopher gave are still seen in dramatic writing today.

What was the point of the tragedy, though? What is the point of the entire community coming together to watch horrible things happen to the lead characters like Oedipus in the play by Sophocles who, inadvertently kills his father, marries his mother and once he learns of his hideous misfortune, he gouges out his eyes in remorse and despair. Aristotle’s answer is Catharsis. A kind of cleaning where you get rid of the bad stuff, in this case cleaning up our emotions and supposedly getting rid of feelings of fear & tragedies remind us all too often that terrible things can befall good people, normal people, including people like you and me. Perhaps that is why the vampires, zombies and other gory fantasy television and film is so popular today?

Therefore, we should have more compassion & empathy toward those whose actions have gone disastrously wrong for them. Instead of what seems to be popular today, which is to look down upon the person as if they deserve their lot in life because of stupid decisions you assume they must have made. Of course, this view gives no consideration to the obvious role that luck, better opportunities given the upbringing, caring and involved parents that emphasize education, parents having the basic financial resources to care for child or children. These are thing that are unequally provided in this society as in every society. Aristotle believes we need to be collectively re-taught these truths on a consistent basis. The task of art, as Aristotle sought, was to make the profound truths of life stick in our minds. Perhaps because our conveniently insulated lives keep us away from anything unpleasant unless we elect to see it. The world is full of unpleasant things and those problems remain whether noticed or not.

3. What Are Friends For?

In Books 8 & 9 of the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle identifies three kinds of friendship:

  1. Friendship which comes about when each person is seeking fun. Their chief interest is in their own pleasure and the opportunity of the moment, which the other person present provides.
  2. Strategic Acquaintances (think political friendships) – where each member is as friendly as need be only to get what they are seeking out of the relationship.
  3. Then there is the True Friend. Not someone who’s just like you, but someone who isn’t you, but about who you care as much as you do for yourself.

In the true friendship, the other person’s pain is your pain, their joys are your joys. This makes you more vulnerable, should anything awful befall this friend of yours, but it also strengthens you because it relieves you of the too small orbit of your own thoughts & worries. You expand your own life into the life of another and together become larger, more resilient, and more fair-minded. You share virtues and cancel out each other’s defects. Friendship teaches us what we ought to be and it is, quite literally, the best part of life.

4. How Do We Get Ideas Through in Such a Distracted World?

Like a lot of people, Aristotle noticed that the better argument didn’t always win the debate. Aristotle wondered why this was, and you know why an argument that consists of convenient bull shit can seem victorious over a beautifully and subtly argued, very detailed analysis of the complex causes of our current problems, etc. or something similar. Some silly phrase or soundbite, often called Talking Point will prevail because it’s simple and easy to understand versus a detailed analysis of a complex problem that naturally requires a complex analysis in hopes of arriving at an answer to the complex issue. Aristotle wanted to know what he could do about it so he decided to teach people how to win arguments. This was known as “Rhetoric.” The art of convincing others to agree with you.

This is what Aristotle notice drove serious people away from the inane debate that made up the talk of the masses (why do I hear an intense discussion over the Kardashians?). Aristotle expected more from society and wanted something more for society. He wanted thoughtful, serious, well-intentioned people to learn how to be persuasive so they get involved in the welfare of the people as a whole.

His Rhetoric enables one to reach those people who don’t agree with them already and, using reason and logic properly, would get the listener to see the wisdom in the position… or not. But at least the decision is made with more information. The goal is to ensure that reason would always prevail. That holding a position reason seems to defeat would not be seen as a defect of one’s character, just faulty reasoning.  This seems like a utopia as divided as society is now, when opposing views tends to lead one to believe the other has a character flaw – to put it kindly – simply due to an opposing intellectual position they hold. This would be especially helpful to get people in society to rediscover what it is like to keep an open mind. The loss of a debate is a win for the Greater Good so long a reason prevails. Unfortunately, that does not represent today’s political or cultural climate.

Aristotle does make some timeless points in his advice on rhetoric: You have to recognize, acknowledge & reassure people’s fears. You have to notice the emotional side of the issue. Is someone’s pride on the line, are they feeling embarrassed? In that case one needs to edge around the issues particular to that discussion accordingly.

Finally you also have to try and make it FUNNY, because attention spans are very short and you may have to use examples and illustrations to make your point, bring it to life and sink into the brain of the less naturally curious. Amazing to consider these words are from Aristotle’s pen over 2000 years ago, when there were no distractions compared to 2016. Yet even he discussed how to combat short attention spans and how using examples and illustrations can help get your point across and make it memorable. What do you suppose Aristotle would say of distractions today?

Conclusion: Metaphysics is the Problem

When people think of the word philosophy, rarely is their first thought how practical it is. That is unfortunate because the ancient Greeks were adamant that philosophy (literally translated to Love of Wisdom), not be an abstract endeavor to be done by tweed jacket wearing professors and the occasional self-actualized individual. The Greeks were adamant that philosophy is for everyone, a deeply useful skill that should be learned and practiced by all in order to help us live, and die well. Help us find the best way to run a government, when and why we should go to war, how to deal with race relations, how we can lift up those in poverty so they can help themselves, etc. etc. Perhaps it is not this way because we haven’t listened enough recently to Aristotle.

Most people think of Metaphysics when they think of philosophy, which reminds them of the very obscure & difficult philosophers and makes them turn away as fast as they can. Philosophy should be about how it can be used to help citizens live a more satisfying and useful lives and benefits society as a whole. Metaphysics is what the people that took a mandatory introduction to Philosophy class remember most… the endless discussion over the meaning of life. How the brain processes information? Free-will v. determinism? Why we’re here? Even whether we are here at all. It can seem like useless mental gymnastics for sure. It is this author’s opinion that Metaphysics has hijacked philosophy and nearly ruined it, leaving little room for the practical uses in our daily lives.

The Practical Use for All of Humanity

The origin of philosophy, as emphasized by Aristotle’s teacher Plato, is not an abstract endeavor but rather as a useful and practical activity that all members of society should use & practice. In fact it may be more important now than ever in America given the bitterly divided society we live in. It is apparent the masses are unmoved by reason & logic, but we went through the Enlightenment once and learned the power of reason so we can rediscover the virtue of those lessons once again. The United States of America was born out of the Enlightenment and must return to its Enlightenment roots.

Philosophers need to be Front & Center to remind our citizens the importance of critical thinking skills and show our Citizens to again use Reason and Logic to arrive at informed decisions rather than allow themselves to be influenced by campaign ads, Corporate media or just whatever society is giving its fickle attention to at the moment. Not only should Philosophers be here for the discussion, they should be forcing the discussion and forcing our elected leaders into this discussion so they can be held accountable for their decisions that have no basis in reason or logic unless you are on of his or her donors.

Philosophers should recall that Socrates called himself the “gadfly of the state.” Meaning he was always buzzing around the leaders and leading citizens questioning their decisions and the motivation for those decisions, whether those decisions were just and beneficial to society as a whole. Socrates asked so many questions of the wealthy and powerful in Athens, questions they considered inconvenient. So inconvenient, in fact, they put Socrates to death because of his incessant questioning (sometimes speaking truth to power is dangerous).

EVERY CITIZEN should be making sure their own decisions are properly thought out after investigating various perspectives so decisions are well-informed. Furthermore, that the leaders in government we send to represent our interests are also making well-reasoned decisions that benefit the people. Make them answer for their positions and their votes. This is what Philosophers should be doing for society right now… addressing the important issues, forcing society to think about them and to make sure to let their elected representatives know how they feel about it and hold them accountable to address the needs of “We The People” as opposed to their donors.

We must be sure to ask all the right questions, looking at society as part of a much Bigger Picture as opposed to a single issue so we arrive at the right answers to the right questions and don’t destroy ourselves in the meantime because of things like greed, the lust for power, or the unintended consequences of an important decisions. These are decisions we ALL face together and should make together as a society. It may sound like something we needn’t concern ourselves with right now, but I assure you… existential issues are closer than any of us think. And it’s better to find the right questions and the right answers to those questions earlier since the alternative may mean… well let’s just be early.

Quotes to Ponder…

imageMany of us like to think we are forgiving people, but are we really?

As this is a quote worth pondering, please look as my previous post about whether we really give ourselves time to truly think enough: Do you think often enough? Plato wants to know.  Thank you.

 

Plato’s Allegory of the Cave

The ancient Greeks were adamant that philosophy (literally translated to Love of Wisdom), be a deeply useful skill that should be learned and practiced by all as instructive to humans living and even dying well. The very well-known PLATO (circa 423-347 BC), believed in the usefulness of philosophy more than most of his contemporaries. Plato viewed philosophy was a kind of therapy for the soul. One of the most compelling and widely known of the stories or dialogues Plato wrote on the usefulness of philosophy in what is now known as the Allegory of the Cave; perhaps the most famous allegory in all of philosophy. The purpose of the allegory was to “compare the effect of education and the lack of it on our nature.”

As part of his masterpiece, The Republic, Plato describes The Cave – a prison where people are born as prisoners and are to remain for life. Without the ability to ever venture outside the cave in which they are chained, they are deprived of natural light in the cave so all that the inhabitants can see are shadows of things projected on the wall by the light of a fire behind the objects and prisoners. Being the only reality they know, the cave dwellers become fascinated by the shadows of animals, plants & people. Moreover, they believed the shadows were real and, if studied, will provide them with knowledge to allow them to succeed in life. Obviously, the dwellers have no idea they see only shadows… mere phantoms of the thing it purports to represent. The dwellers even begin to talk among themselves about the shadowy things and take great pride in their sophistication and wisdom.

Then something very unusual happens when one of the cave dwellers happens to find his way out of the cave into the blistering noon sunlight. At first his eyes are overwhelmed but adjust soon enough. For the first time in his existence, he finally sees things as they really are when properly lit by the sun. Gradually he begins seeing ‘real’ objects and begins to recognize these are the things he has previously only as shadows on the cave wall. His finally adjusted eyes see actual flowers, the colorful sky and its many birds, and he touches and feels for the first time the foreign texture of everything he touches as everything is new to him. The night comes and he is flabbergasted by the stars and gradually begins to contemplate the vastness and sublime nature of the universe. As Plato put it, “[p]reviously he had been looking at only phantoms; now he is nearer to the true nature of being.”

From a natural feeling of wanting to share his discoveries with his former cave-dwelling companions still blinded by the confusion and error of the shadows, he decides to leave the sun-lit world and return to the dark and damp cave he used that used to make up his world. His eyes area again required to adjust from bright light of the outside world and he struggles to acclimate to the cave. He stumbles and, unable to see clearly, to his companions seemed very awkward and confused. He clearly did not impress his companions as one bestowed with knowledge of “the real world.” He quickly realizes his former cave-dwellers were unimpressed with him and he is equally unimpressed with them. The animosity heats up badly enough that when he insists on explaining what the sun is, or what a real tree is like, the cave-dwellers initially get very sarcastic and poke fun at him. His persistence engenders anger as they feel the newly enlightened escapee has perhaps lost his mind. They then get angry with him and the discord leads to an eventual plot to kill him.

Plato Those that see beyond shadows

The solution, according to Plato, was a broad, carefully administered philosophical education. He understood the effectiveness of a method of inquiry pioneered by his master Socrates, which is where the type of  inquiry is now known to us as the Socratic Method. Done properly, it should be a gentle process. One must avoid condescending lecturing at or forcing pupils to read a particular text. Instead, start with a general pronouncement of intellectual modesty. Be honest with each other in admitting that no one knows very much, and that true wisdom starts with owning up to that ignorance.

Simply confess that you don’t know what policies the government should implement, what war is meant to achieve or how relationships work. Then attempt to get the other person to state what they think and you together start a journey to find the answers. It is likely the other person will be confident, sometimes even overconfident. They may quickly tell you the answer you seek is rather simple and most people know the answer already. This is where real patience is needed to deal with this type of bravado. If the inquiry goes off-topic, you cheerfully bring them back around and be prepared to have many discussions with them, often over many days.

This method of is based on a confidence that with the right encouragement, people have the ability to work things out themselves and eventually learn to detect errors in their own reasoning. But dialogues often go awry unless you gently and quietly draw your interlocutor’s attention to sticky and difficult points without ever casting blame or getting annoyed. You cannot teach anything by making your pupil feel stupid, even if they are at first.

We ALL must begin in our Cave, but it was Plato’s deepest insight that we need not remain in the darkness and ignorance of the cave by remaining. Plato enlightens us by informing us that the way out of the darkness is philosophy. Philosophy is the beacon whose light we learn to slowly follow until the true nature of things become clear.

How Does This Apply To Me?

This allegory has never been more applicable than in modern society and in a most serious way. More than  ever America is stringently divided into echo-chambers where no one is even exposed to other views much less presented with a coherent argument of all sides of the many complicated issues we face so one can arrive at an informed opinion through their own informed, well-reasoned thinking. Sadly intellectual laziness pervades and far too many are content to be told what to think and the mental muscles used in critical and/or analytical thinking are atrophied to uselessness.

Then, for some inexplicable reason, people knowledgable on just one side of a debate believe themselves to be unrivaled experts on the subject. That misguided belief is most often accompanied by an arrogance justified only in a true expert that has spent years in study and/or training to acquire the knowledge, skills and abilities of an honest expert. This is why we use a surgeon to repair a damaged body, a lawyer to argue a complicated case before a judge, and a mechanic to repair our cars. The glaring distinction is the true expert has devoted immense time and effort to obtain the knowledge, and her well-developed knowledge is constantly updated and sharpened by the inquiries and challenges by more accomplished experts. The end result is someone with unique ability and knowledge to address a particular problem needing a remedy.

By contrast, the pseudo-expert does not have her ideas and beliefs challenged but only reinforced, no matter the ideas proximity to truth. After constant reinforcement these unrefined ideas eventually seem infallible. This is a dangerous and growing phenomenon made more complicated by the recent phenomenon of “fake news” to further cloud the issues. How is an individual living his or her busy life, even a relatively well-informed citizen, expected to devote the time and energy required to become adequately & thoroughly informed and to make a decision on a complex or nuanced issue? Without making an immense individual effort to discern fantasy from reality, which not every citizen has the time, energy or ability to do, it is tough for one to locate and study the right sources to address the inquiry even if inclined to do so in the first place. There are trustworthy sources that are reliable and factually accurate, even some still using the journalistic standards that we used to be able to take for granted but no more.

It now takes time and effort to determine whether a source is reliable or if it also has an agenda that colors the objectivity of the reporting or analysis built into everything they report on or if its accurate but it can be done and, I would argue, must be done as we go forth in this brave new world of post-truth politics we have quietly entered. Let’s reign in this monster before it becomes an accepted as the “new-normal.”

I do not know if you agree but I cringe at the idea of living in a “post-truth” world and that becoming the new normal. As Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, “You are entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts.”

It is understandable to be tempted to throw up your hands, say “to hell with it” and just disengage. Should that happen, we will quickly slide into a permanent state of post-truth politics and the power of the people will be a thing of the past – which I believe is precisely what the establishment wants. flag-eagle-constitution

Sometimes circumstances dictate the action one must take and this is one of those times. To be clear, I cannot emphasize enough how much I truly hope I’m wrong. I want President Trump to act for the benefit of all Americans and successfully build on President Obama’s work in steering the Ship of State out of the Great Recession and building on the stable economic foundation of slow but steady economic growth (free of bubbles), drastically reduced unemployment and focusing on increasing real household incomes that have been stagnant since the 80’s – a trend that finally started to reverse as we saw a considerable increase in household incomes in recent months.

Making matters exponentially worse, our gridlocked political system has been put up for sale to the highest bidders, which are inevitably the wealthiest families & large corporations. As a result, our elected officials that should be “beholden to the people alone” are rather blatantly beholden to their donors and ignore the needs & desires of the people. This explains why members of congress spend up to 70% of their time fund-raising and yet we the people are supposed to naively believe the unlimited millions donated to their campaigns, their leadership PACs, and SuperPACs give these mega-donors no greater access to or influence over our elected officials than you or I have? An utterly absurd notion.

Corruption has always been a part of politics but there is no longer even a superficial attempt to conceal it. Where our politicians used to try to hide their conflicted interests, they now barely pay lip service to their constituents while publicly and without a hint of shame, do the obvious bidding of their donors. I believe it is because they know – or at least believe – that there is nothing “we the people” can or will do about it.

As it stands, the only ones with the power to change the rules are the ones grossly enriched by those rules. We have allowed the Fox to take possession of our Hen House and does anyone believe the Fox will voluntarily change the rules and ban Foxes from the hen-house?

Or do you suppose he will now gorge himself until sick then hand out the rest to cronies? I think it is the latter. The best book I know on the subject is “Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress – and a Plan to Stop It.” It is such an enlightening work I wish I had the power to require every voter to read it and to compel the people to implement a plan to end corruption.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Now is the time to remind ourselves that our great Republic depends on an informed electorate. I add to that what I believe the founders took for granted – an energized and participating electorate. Apathy was painfully evident in the 2016 election. Decisions to stay home and not participate could easily have changed the outcome of the contest. The decision lies with each one of us. We can choose to stay in the echo-chamber that is the Cave we have made for ourselves or fallen into that keeps us insulated from the thoughts and opinions of others. In the alternative, we can make a choice as an act of our individual will to get out of the Cave and move into the light to become part of a truly informed electorate for the benefit of our nation and our children’s future. What will you do? Only you can decide, but I humbly suggest get you leave the intellectual comfort of the Cave, move into the light and accept the challenge to think for yourself so you can arrive at your own well-informed and well-reasoned decisions as our Founding Fathers intended. Now decide.

Kintsugi – Zen Buddhist Philosophy

We all have dreams at some point as to how our life will turn out. Naturally we will find “the one” for us and have a deeply fulfilling relationship leading to a wonderful marriage. We will find financially and creatively rewarding career and win the respect of others. It all sounds so easy and we all can remember one point in our young lives when we just knew that was waiting for us if we make the right decisions and live by the golden rule.

Unfortunately, life has a nasty habit of interfering at some point and reminding us how little control we really do have and deals us a series of smashing blows. We find ourselves left with nothing much of our dreams except some shattered and seemingly worthless fragments. For many of us, our bodies are also shattered and left in seemingly worthless fragments of what we once were.

How to deal with such a devastating blow? Perhaps it is worthwhile to look at Japanese Philosophy and, in particular the Zen Buddhist concept known as KINTSUGI (Kin-Sugi). This is the Zen Buddhist approach to Ceramics.

buddha

Over the centuries, Zen masters developed an argument that pots, cups and bowls that have become damaged should not be neglected and simply discarded. They should continue to attract our respect and attention and, if possible, repaired with enormous care. Certainly an incurable disease falls into the category of the flaws and accidents that life delivers with a cold indifference to our dreams and aspirations, however noble, and can leave our bodies damaged and shattered. There is a part of Japanese Biddhist Philosophy that is symbolic of and intended to reinforce one of the underlying themes in Zen, which is reconciliation with the flaws and accidents of time.

The word that describes this tradition of ceramic repair is KINTSUGI. Kin (Golden) Tsugi (joinery) – it literally means to join with gold. In Zen aesthetics the broken pieces of an accidentally smashed pot should be carefully collected, reassembled and glued together with lacquer that is generously infused with most expensive gold powder with absolutely no attempt to hide the original damage. The very point is to render the fault lines strong and beautiful. The gold veins are there to represent the breaks of a philosophical merit all of iTD own.

The origins of Kintsugi are believed to date back to the Muromachi or Ashikaga shogunate (circa 1336-1573) when the Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (1358-1408) broke his favorite tea bowl and was so distraught he sent it to China for repair. When it was returned the Shogun was appalled at the crude and ugly metal staples that were used to hold the broken pieces together that he had his craftsman come up with a better solution. What they came up with was a delightful method that did not disguise the damage, but rather made something artistic and beautiful out of it.

Kintsugi belongs to the Zen concept of Wabi Sabi, which is a reverence for the simple, unpretentious and aged – especially those items with a rustic or aged quality. There is a story of Japanese Philosopher Sen No Rikyu (Re-que) (1522-1599) who was a great believer in Wabi Sabi.

While traveling through southern Japan, he was invited to a dinner. The host of the dinner thought his honored guest would be impressed with an expensive, antique tea pot he bought from China. The host was greatly disappointed when the philosopher paid no attention to the elaborate and expensive tea jar. Instead he spent his time chatting and admiring a branch on an old tree swaying in the breeze outside.

The host was so upset about Riky’s lack of interest that, once the philosopher left, he smashed the jar on the ground and retired in despair to his room. The other guests wisely gathered up all the pieces and had the jar repaired using Kintsugi. When Riky returned for another visit, the philosopher turned to the repaired Jar and exclaimed with a knowing smile, “Now it is Magnificent.”

In these modern times where we are consumed with worships of the new, of youth and perfection, the Art of Kintsugi holds a particular wisdom that applies to modern life as much it does to ancient Japanese ceramics. The love and care expended to repair the shattered pieces should encourage us to respect what is damaged and scarred, vulnerable and imperfect – starting with ourselves, and those around us.

As hard as it is to apply such wisdom when it is ones broken body and constant pain has left our perfect and likely never attainable dreams in life shattered to pieces, all we can do is try our very best each day. We know there will be days that are almost unbearable and it is easy to write these words and make it seem as if I am contentedly consoled by philosophy, but I assure you it I am not.

I turn to the wisdom as a form of consolation or perhaps as merely a distraction until I can remove the dreams shattered into far too many pieces for Kintsugi to work and permit me the time to sweep away the shards and the overwhelming shame in an effort redefine life and find new dreams.

Thank you for taking the time to read my humble contribution to wisdom in an effort to help myself and, it is my sincere hope, others live a better, more satisfying life through applied philosophy.

Do you think often enough? Plato wants to know.

Throughout Plato’s writings, often misinterpreted as the sayings of Socrates because, especially in the early dialogues, Plato used Socrates as his voice in the majority of the Platonic Dialogues. For the purpose of this post, I’ll refer to Plato because he was the author of Socrates’ words. Of course, it is well known that these Dialogues were written long after the actual conversation, or dialogue, actually occurred. It seems logical to conclude that they constitute Plato’s best use of the actual conversation he recalls to convey the desired philosophical message or lesson.

Think More!

One of the first things Plato suggests we do as part of living a good life is to Think More. I find it ironic how we put so much work into preparing for almost everything we do so that we do them well. And that is as it should be. However, perhaps sadly, we rarely devote the time to think about us. Time for thinking about whether our ideas are based on the sound application of reason or whether we simply are “going with the flow.” In this, Plato seems to be referring, if he were writing today, to those things society places in high regard like celebrities or high-profile athletes. Not to suggest these people cannot be excellent role models and there are many, many of them, but there are too many that are not. It may seem as if they represent the majority. It is merely what the mainstream media elects to show us for ratings, though the good examples are far more common.

Get to Know Thyself. How? Subject yourself to critical examination.

Rather than simply going with the flow Plato suggests that we must devote time to KNOW THYSELF. In order to get to know ourselves, as Plato suggests, we must spend time proactively thinking about the decisions we make in our daily lives. This will, dare I say it, require us to unplug and focus on ourselves. Analyze our decisions as one might analyze their big presentation at work. Being happy is more important than any presentation and knowing yourself will actually improve your work, but how many of us spend even a few moments to get to know ourselves? Much less spend the time and effort to do so.

Form the Habit – Make the Effort

If we proactively make the effort to strengthen our self-knowledge we are not easily influenced by what our current culture thrusts upon us, which is so often intended to be sensational and create an emotional pull on us. Rather, we must actually make a decision as an act of your will to stop and subject ourselves and our ideas to a critical self-examination. Of course this can be done with another person, but it is not necessary. We can have a Socratic discussion with ourselves. In order to truly “AND bold know thyself”, we must stop and think more.

No matter how it’s done, the important thing is that it is done. Like anything, to make a real difference and become a part of us we must make it a habit. Actually engage in self-examination to make sure to examine the ideas and ensure sound reasoning is behind the decisions we make; and do so on a consistent basis until you no longer even notice it any longer. Easier said than done, but I shall try and hope you will as well.

Happy thinking…