Thursday, August 6, 2015

Scattered Thoughts


Like a good harvest for pagans, a full collection plate is a sign of the local god’s favor.

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They call their conscience Jesus so as to chicken out of wrestling with it, like Jacob did with the Angel, or Abraham bargaining with God before He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.

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The same criticisms Christians made of the pagans can be made against them in turn. Blaspheme, fornicate, desecrate their Holy Places, steal from widows and orphans and worse. Where is their God? Why does He not speak up for Himself? The best they can do is vague incoherent warnings springing from hate, fear and guilt. To speak Christian: from Love.

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Fear of The Lord, “you must have faith”, “submit to the Will of God”, “Faith over Reason” all direct attention away from submitting to the Will of God’s PR man.

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Learning from experience and nothing else really means blindly following what you’ve been told by your parents, your grandparents, your teachers, your preacher, and anyone else who knew what was “best for you. Fear of living something afresh is the school of life’s diploma.

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The discovery that there are worse things than standing alone against a crowd is Un-American.

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Why can’t experience also include discoveries of wishful thinking passed of as genuine reasonableness? Life is a flirt and loves her endless striptease.

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Self-deception? Bah! Humbug! Our brains do not always work with perfect efficiency. Unrecognized short circuits are sometimes useful. Our brains and their predecessors have more important things to do than worry about truthfulness whether to ourselves or to anyone else.

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We stand in a river. We make believe we can catch views from the river’s banks, playing at being in two places at the same time. We also like to play at seeing the back of our heads. All attempts to imagine ourselves as truly dead always fail with the realization that we are still there looking at our dead body. Our metaphors for expressing our imaginings grow out of sight and location.

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Once we imagined the earth as a gift from God to be used for our benefit as we saw fit. We beheld His gift as if in our hand. We cut the forests down, poisoned the rivers, exterminated His creatures as if we were not also part of His Creation. After the rape of Creation comes the tenderness of environmentalism. We now wish to treat His gift respectfully, as if it were still something to be held in our hand.

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Why do I capitalize “God,” if I am so godless? It is polite to show respect for the dead.

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The brain constructs models of reality. This is what we do when we scheme and plan to fulfill some desire or attain some goal. The defining characteristic of models is that they do not mirror reality. Some details are excluded as unimportant, while others are exaggerated almost to caricature. It is our designs and desires that include or exclude details of the model’s subject. All models are fallible. Their usefulness and their fallibility are both rooted in incompleteness.

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Does language model reality? Or do we use it to draw attention to those parts of reality that are most important to us? Or maybe it’s a fun house mirror: distorting as much as it reveals, so as to be worse than useless as a means to approach reality. Or maybe it’s not a mirror at all. Language is, if nothing else, social. Wittgenstein’s arguments against private language are superfluous. Simple empirical-mindedness finds language always spoken between and among people. One learns a language from other people. One learns a language in order to speak with other people. Or maybe language models reality, but reality needs redefinition as the net of posturings, manipulations, deceits, exploitations, bargainings and God only knows what else that make up human social life. Or is reality a vague feeling of order that language creates in ordering and arranging perceptions both from our outer and inner senses?

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If reality is constructed by our brains using language, then where there is no language there is—what? Nothing? Unreality? Falsitude? Maybe instead of a true/false or real/unreal opposition, order is opposed to chaos? Chaos understood both as a lack of order and as pure plasticity. Language is so intrinsically human, it is impossible for us to imagine an absence of language and its metaphors. Chaos is not like anything. It shares this difficulty with “uniqueness” rigorously conceived. There may be analogues in Eastern Religions with the concepts of Nothingness and Nirvana. But I always think of the beginning in Hesiod’s Theogony. An opposition of order/chaos allows for gradations of organization and chaos. Or to use a metaphor that will resonate with Americans: civilization as the degree to which wilderness has been cultivated and pushed off away from us. Does this mean that we make this world our home to the degree that we are human?

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The next time some jackass tries to explain that Slavery was not that bad and that it was good the slaves, ask, why is there no record of any white people standing in line to become slaves? There have always been layabouts of every race and class on the lookout for easy meals, easy work and job security.

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If history is written by victors, everyone is a victor at one time or another. History is written by the side with the longest memory.

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“Organization” has an element of choice, implying other possibilities. “Order” sounds static and based on essential and unchanging relationships. It pretends to finality. “Order in the Heavens” but not “Organization of the Heavens.”

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What alone is forbidden today? Happiness. Rampant concern for one victim or another is always a call to arms that something must be done about ____. Lack of concern means complicity in crimes against somebody’s preferred victim and therefore immoral. What is happiness? Delight in finding the way of the world to be fortuitous. Happiness means having better things to do than to be overly concerned with somebody else’s victim. Happiness is immoral.

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Having happiness as one’s goal in life amounts to a continually fearful avoidance of pain and suffering. Happiness is difficult to conceive as anything other than the absence of unpleasant sensations. Ignore happiness, do what you love and happiness will come chasing after you like a love-struck teenager.

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Do what you love. Happiness will come traipsing along soon enough.

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We Americans are all for Individuality just so long as it restricts itself to a limited palette. Someone who is not limited in the same way as everyone else is not even seen.

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Henry Ford famously said that consumers could have any color Model T just so long as it was black. Freedom as choice is always limited by the choices presented. Why these choices and not others? Choices will always be limited. Freedom as choice is limited, arbitrary and illusory.

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Experience versus Analysis. Both have advantages and disadvantages in getting on in life. Balancing opposing extremes is an art.

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Humans have believed over the millennia so many different things about being human, let alone what it is to be a good human. Common to all these notions of humanity is that each in their time was believed to be “true.” Each of these notions was felt in turn to be reason enough to end all further discussion. Truth has always been a useful tool for silencing and destroying enemies internal and external.

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There is a famous story (whose specific details escape me) from the Far East about how the world rests on this and then on that and then on the back of a giant turtle. And what does the giant turtle rest on? It’s turtles all the way down. Why does the world have to rest on anything? Isn’t this just contemplating the world as if we were outside of it? As if there were some residue to our personalities that is outside the world? But if we are completely and resolutely natural then there is no place on which to establish a vantage point from which to look back at the world or at ourselves. If we are completely “inside” the world, any talk of “outside” is just so much superstitious twaddle. Any notion of “outside” is based on the arbitrary extraction and projection of qualities and properties of objects in this world on to the blank wall of ignorance.

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Nature may abhor a vacuum, but human imagination most definitely abhors ignorance. Look at the tales told about life after death or fanciful imaginings of a Christian feeling good or bad.

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We give the name “world” to the totality of all possible sensations, properties and experiences. Then when we use our handy dandy concept we all too easily forget that it is something we made up even when we should know better. With the loss of our souls, we have to learn to think and talk about ourselves and our surroundings differently.

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What are consequences of belief in possession of a soul for one’s attitudes and choices? The most obvious consequence of belief in an unchanging eternal soul is that change is not part of who you really are. Anything that might change who or what you are is a threat. If change is not part of who you are then change can only mean death and destruction of your soul. Instead of “soul” I could have said instead “an unchanging but absolutely essential defining characteristic” whether for an individual or for a social grouping. For example being “white” for American racists (conscious or otherwise). Or being “straight” for homophobes. Belief in soul means there are some things that are not part of history or subject to historical change (personal or otherwise) being more akin to a rock than a living thing.

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Belief in soul can be a prudent strategy for making decisions and navigating social situations.


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