Saturday, July 25, 2015

MALES AN ENDANGERED SPECIES? THE POWER OF “OR”; WHY THE BIBLE CAN’T BE DIVINE; THE CULTURE OF HONOR VERSUS THE CULTURE OF DIGNITY

PICASSO: “TWO WOMEN
RUNNING ON THE BEACH”

Clothes are too trivial
for such breasts. Such knees.
So globed with light.

The sea is blue without
restraint. Cloud-spattered
sky, an open mouth. 

The blue air quickens
their gritty steps. Barefoot,
bare-breast, they run.

Not to their lovers.
Not with the wind.
They are

the wind. Hair drunk
on speed, they run
out of nothing into this

primary blue and white.
Their shadows run,
make dark

cross-hatches on the sand.
What I love
is that the women

never stop. They run.
Toward
us, who do not yet exist.

~ Oriana © 2015

*
 

THE POWER OF THE “OR” QUESTION: A DIFFERENT VISION OF THE FUTURE SELF
After receiving his ALS diagnosis, Stephen Hawking was in despair and started drinking. According to one story, a professor of his asked him a question, “You have a few years left. Do you want to spend them drinking yourself to death, or do you want to try to make a contribution to physics?”

This story went through me like a brief burst of electricity. Then, on the conscious level, I pretty much forgot it. I did not yet see brooding over misfortunes as equivalent to drinking, so that was just a wonderful story about a completely exceptional individual. It took mortality to corner me into a choice: do I want to waste the rest of my life on brooding, or do I want to do something productive?

Not that I thought my writing would be a significant contribution . . . but perhaps a tiny contribution. Perhaps I could touch a few lives — just as, at a poetry reading, there tends to be just one person in the room who responds to a particular poem at a deep personal level, or maybe just one line in that poem, a few lines that seem to have been written specifically for her, that fit into her central problem like a key into a lock — and that is enough. If the poet is lucky, that person will come up to you after the reading. Or ten years later, meet you and talk about that poem. That gives meaning to all the work (a lifetime, really) that went into writing the poems, and the hours put into preparing that particular reading.

And that reminds me of Emily Dickinson’s

If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain

One day in May 2009, as I was brooding again, thinking what a failure I was, I did finally ask myself the most important OR QUESTION in my life: Do I want to spend the remaining years of my life brooding and weeping, OR do I want to write and try to make a tiny contribution?



Do you want to spend hours crying until your face is red and swollen, or do you want to spend that time creating beauty and meaning? Once the problem is presented this way, then, as the popular saying goes, “It’s a no-brainer.” The question is rhetorical, but it must be asked. Before it can become a no-brainer, the brain must become aware of it.

Behind that question lay another one, just an elaboration of the theme. At eighty, do I want to look back at my life and say, “My life went badly. I wasted my life. I did a lot of brooding and weeping over my misfortunes” — or do I want to say, “I had a fabulous life. I got to do the work I loved. I wrote poems and essays; I got to create and enjoy beauty”?



 
The “or” question did the work. It’s a rhetorical question, really. It simply clearly presents the choice. Do you want to be a complete failure, or do you want to try to be a modest success? I didn’t have to re-analyze my mis-steps and bad luck. I didn’t have to figure out which primary life mistake led to all other mistakes. Debunking various old perceptions became irrelevant. Even if they were true, it didn’t matter. I didn’t have to sort out free will from determinism, my personal responsibility from the force of circumstances. The theoretical side of my life was utterly irrelevant. There was some writing that needed to be done, some tiny contribution to be made. And time was running out.

This also connects with the movie “A Dangerous Method,” when Sabina Spielrein says that the essence of healing lies in the patient’s forming a new idea of the future, A VISION OF A FUTURE SELF. It’s not about solving old problems or reworking all that went wrong in childhood. When a new life and a new self starts being born, it’s so exciting and overwhelming, the deluded thinking of the past is forgotten in an instant. It’s simply of no use and no interest.

Once we have this new perception, we can see the wisdom of the saying that we do not resolve our problems in life; we outgrow them. I did not acquire a new understanding of my past misfortunes; I simply lost interest in them.

But wait, didn’t I first have to see that my mother was the blame, and to work on forgiving her, especially since she was already dead? No. My task was my life NOW. There was real work to be done, a to-do list greeting me at breakfast.

“You can practice falling apart, or you can practice being strong” also had a profound impact. Sure, the word “strong” was attractive, but just the word OR had power. So ANOTHER OPTION EXISTED!

I could chose to be strong rather than to keep falling apart (practice makes perfect, so I was very good at falling apart). Whatever life threw at me, I could try to cope with rather than break down. I could be a doer instead of a brooder, a non-productive over-thinker. Self-pity, or productivity? It was indeed a no-brainer.


Don’t ask me why I never thought of it on my own. Sure, bad things had to happen to make me feel like a total failure. Those things are not relevant anymore. Here is how the recovery happened: I came across an OR statement.

Two side points here. 1. Freud said that the most important things in life are love and work. Alas, we tend to get hung up on love. If love doesn’t quite work out, it’s easy for a woman to get depressed. Here is where women have something to learn from men (especially those who get laughed at for always “tinkering in the garage”): nothing works like work. Work is always there for you.

2. Another bit of language that helped me was a title of a completely forgettable self-help book. The book wasn’t worth reading, but the title brought another insight: EATING, DRINKING, OVER-THINKING. The title equated over-thinking (the book used the term as a synonym for “brooding”) with alcoholism and compulsive eating, rather than with noble existential angst. And there was nothing noble about alcoholism. I found drinking repulsive.

It also made brooding a behavior rather than a feeling. When we think of depression, we usually think of the FEELING of sadness, rather than the BEHAVIOR of brooding. Behavior can be changed.

*

I saw the power of “or” — of being presented with another option —work in a different situation that also proved life-transforming. All my life I was good at saving money. Spending money hurt so much that I had to be getting a terrific bargain or exceptional quality for the reward to be stronger than the pain of parting with money.

To most people, it’s probably only natural to think that if you had money, you could spend it in ways that would make your life better. But if you grow up in the SAVE mode, that idea just doesn’t enter your head. Was I the only such person in America? No, though my pattern was more characteristic of the generation before me. Friends told me, “My parents don’t enjoy spending money on themselves. They know only how to save, not how to spend.”

You may have heard of the “millionaire next door.” I happen to live in the same cul-de-sac as an extremely rich widow. She could travel in luxury. She could move to a mansion with a view of the ocean. She could order the finest food. Or she could devote herself to various causes. But none of this has entered her head.

Two years ago I found myself face to face with a banker at my branch of Chase. He noticed I had saved up a certain sum — nothing spectacular, but enough to interest him. He asked me, “What do you want to do with this money — do you want to invest it?” If he stopped right there, he’d have had his way, but he made the mistake (from the bank’s point of view) of continuing: “Or do you want to spend it?”

“OR do you want to spend it?” he asked, not realizing this would be a life-changing question.

That’s how he handed me a different future — contrary to his plans. Funny: his last name was Contreras, which makes me think of “contrary.” He planted a contrary idea in my mind, and that was it. He uttered the word “or.”

Words, words, words . . .

One more point: the “or” question presented to Stephen Hawking may remind the reader of the difficult question that’s usually stated as follows: “If you had only one year to live, how would you choose to spend that one year? What would you do?”

That question is difficult because it is AN OPEN QUESTION. It’s not an either-or question. “What would you do?” implies a lot of possible activities, a huge menu of choices. More is not better. Choice is stress. Trying to choose one thing among many can leave us paralyzed. Given too many choices, potential buyers often simply walk away.



CULTURE

“WE SEEM TO CARE MORE ABOUT SAVING WHALES THAN SAVING MALES.”

“This is the first time in U.S. history that our sons will have less education than their dads.

Boys' suicide rate goes from equal to girls at age 9 to five times(!) girls' in their twenties. Men over the age of 85 commit suicide 1350 percent as frequently as women over 85.

More U.S. male military were killed by suicide in one year than were killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in all years combined.

Virtually all societies that survived did so based on their ability to train their sons to be disposable—disposable in war, disposable at work.

The evidence is ubiquitous. 92 percent of workplace deaths occur to men, jobs few women would take: oil rig workers, long-haul truckers, roofers, coal miners. Yet there isn't the political will to create regulations that would afford them more protection for these workers. Meanwhile, when women have a less life-threatening deficit, for example, underrepresentation of women in engineering, there's massive expenditure to redress. Although male-only draft registration is a violation of both the 14th Amendment’s equal-protection clause and the 5th Amendment’s due process clause, it is so unconsciously accepted it isn’t even questioned. Only men can serve in direct combat so 98 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan deaths were men. We seem to care more about saving whales than saving males.

But both sexes should be walking a mile in each other’s moccasins.

Marty Nemko: You’ve done such trainings, right?

Warren Farrell: Yes. I used to tell college audiences, “Every woman is in a beauty contest every day of her life.” I then invited all the guys on stage to experience that. I had those guys wear bathing suits and had the women be the judges. The guys were stunned at being unseen for their integrity, intelligence, or values. They felt objectified.

Marty Nemko: What did you do to help the young women walk a mile in the guys’ moccasins?

Warren Farrell: I had the women “ask-out” the guys they were most attracted to on a 20-minute “date.” Some did just what they criticize men for, for example, lying to get an attractive guy to go out with them. Others went after a less attractive guy to reduce the chance of getting rejected. The guys totally identified with that.

Marty Nemko: What was the outcome of those workshops?

Warren Farrell: Greater compassion for the other sex’s vulnerability, and I formed hundreds of men and women’s groups so they would continue to deepen their compassion after I left campus. 
 We don’t need a women’s movement blaming men, nor a men’s movement blaming women. We need a gender liberation movement. We need both sexes walking a mile in each other’s moccasins.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/how-do-life/201407/men-power-money-and-sex?tr=MostViewed  




  George Caleb Bingham, Fur Traders on the Missouri, 1845. It's not a cat, but a bear cub.

 “SEX WITH MOM WAS BLINDING”

~ this is how a tabloid would headline the story of Oedipus. Alain de Botton calls this an uncompassionate view. “It would be ludicrous to call Hamlet a loser,” he says. In the Middle Ages, some people were seen as “unfortunate”; now they’d called LOSERS. Meritocracy divides people into winners and losers without taking into account the accident of birth and other circumstances (what used to be called “fate”).

What is success? Is it making a lot of money at a job one hates, or is it having a job one loves, even if it doesn’t pay well? Is it perhaps being “rich in time” rather than financially rich? Is it having one deep relationship rather than being a “successful” womanizer?

The culture used to be particularly ruthless when it came to men’s “success”; now the pressure is on women as well. They are supposed to be “successful professionals” while being great wives and mothers — all this while looking great at any age: “it’s beauty contest every day.” No wonder women’s cortisol levels are sky-high, and we see a lot of adult acne and premature menopause.

De Botton wants us to adopt a “gentler” and personal rather than collective view of success. He also states the obvious: you can’t have it all, and there is always some area of life in which you are going to “lose” -- that’s the price of success. A terrific video, brilliant and entertaining.

http://www.ted.com/talks/alain_de_botton_a_kinder_gentler_philosophy_of_success


 
THE CULTURE OF “HONOR” VERSUS THE CULTURE OF DIGNITY: REVENGE AND GROUP LOYALTY VERSUS RESTRAINT AND INDIVIDUALITY

I’ve come across an amazing book, “The Wisdom of Psychopaths” by Kevin Dutton. The functional ones are found among politicians, lawyers, and CEO’s; Navy Seals show that psychopaths can be useful in “special operations.” Psychopaths show no fear and take big risks; whether that can be called courage or ruthlessness depends on the context. Like most psychological traits, psychopathy falls along a spectrum: there is a at least a bit of a killer in all of us.

But what most caught my attention was the digression about cultural evolution. When we look at the Middle Ages with their insane levels of cruelty and violence, we find a “culture of honor.” In practice, “honor” = revenge.

Suppose that A insults B. Never mind how small the insult: B feels obliged to redeem his “honor” by killing A. Now A’s brother feels “honor-bound” to kill B. B’s nearest relative then has the sacred duty to kill A’s brother. Never mind religion. Every priest will understand: the family’s “honor” comes first, never mind the price of revenge. This can go on for generations.

We still see this “culture of honor = revenge” in prisons and gang warfare. Allegedly there are still some vestiges of dueling in all-male academies. The honor culture is highly masculine. You constantly have to prove that you are a “real man.” Unfortunately, much of the world still lives in  an “honor culture.”

The average Western person, however, does not live by this strict and murderous “code of honor.” Dutton quotes Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker, the author of the much-maligned “The Better Angels of Our Nature”: “Beginning in the eleventh or twelfth century, and maturing in the seventeenth and eighteenth, Europeans increasingly inhibited their impulses, anticipated the long-term consequences of their actions, and took other people’s thoughts and feelings into consideration. The culture of honor — the readiness to take revenge — gave way to the culture of dignity —  the readiness to control one’s emotions.

These ideals originated in explicit instructions that cultural arbiters gave to aristocrats and noblemen, allowing them to differentiate themselves from the villains and the boors. They were then absorbed into the socialization of younger and younger children, until they became second nature. The standards also trickled down from the upper classes to the bourgeoisie that strove to emulate them, and from them to the lower classes, eventually becoming a part of the culture as a whole.”

Dutton agrees that in the West the rate of violence has gone down in a spectacular way. However, he worries that today’s “cultural arbiters” are mostly media celebrities, and some are “behaving badly.” The same goes for the greedy CEO’s that are willing to bend ethics. Dutton concludes: “On the one hand, we have evidence that society is becoming less violent, while on the other there’s evidence that it’s getting more psychopathic.”

But the media can also help spread the culture of dignity. Along the coverage of the shootings and bombings there is also quite a bit of coverage of the courage of “ordinary” people who rush to help. They often say, “No, I’m not a hero. This is what any decent person would do.” There are stories of schoolteachers, mothers, boyfriends, and even strangers who sacrifice their lives to save others. TV shows family members talk about their grief; viewers see even grown men cry without apologizing for it (which is as it should be). The media affirm that life of the average person matters, that we all have value, and that indeed “no man is an island.”

Jesus and the Buddha were ahead of their times in condemning the “culture of honor = revenge” and stating that hatred by hatred never can be ended. Words are never “just words.” The right words shape thinking; over time they transform consciousness. The Vikings had a culture of honor; modern Scandinavia is an outstanding example of the culture of dignity.

In addition to recognizing the value of each individual, the culture of dignity requires a strong state and effective law enforcement. We take it for granted in liberal democracies. In harsh, lawless places, the certainty of revenge may be necessary to survival. By the way, returning favors is also a strong requirement, as seen in the laws of hospitality, so people living in a culture of honor can give the impression of being very friendly. These are collective cultures. Alas, the dark side, the enslavement to the law of revenge, preserves clannishness and nurtures inter-group hostility.

In spite of setbacks, humanity inches forward. I think we are moving deeper and deeper into the culture of dignity.


RELIGION/ATHEISM

IS THE BIBLE THE BEST EVIDENCE THAT YAHWEH WAS INVENTED BY HUMANS?

Perhaps the best evidence against the existence of the biblical god is the bible itself, with all its contradictions and archaic mentality regarding slavery and witchcraft, for instance. A recent article in Patheos made me ponder this. But even before I read it, I had some thoughts of my own  on how Yahweh reflects the culture of the Ancient Near East (and the Ancient Middle East, assuming Mesopotamian roots and undeniable Babylonian influence).

Actually I love it the way the biblical god is so anthropomorphic. Thus, he strolls in the garden “in the cool of the day.” Why — is the Almighty affected by the mere heat of noon? If the temperature is 110 in the shade, can it affect a non-corporeal spirit? And since the garden was paradise, why not give it a perfect climate, so that the time of the day wouldn’t matter?

Again, I actually love phrase “in the cool of the day” — the long (and ever longer) California summer made me appreciate the wise adaptations of hot-climate cultures.

Some have defended Yahweh’s ordering Abraham to kill Isaac by saying that it was a religious custom in the region to sacrifice your eldest son — and regarded as an honor to both the father and the son to glorify god in this manner. Yahweh’s substitute of a ram points to some effort to transcend the culture, but the story still horrifies as we imagine the father’s suffering and the boy’s trauma (one writer wrote that Isaac’s trouble with eyesight began when he saw his father’s knife over him).  And it’s telling that Jephta’s daughter, a mere woman whose first name is not even given, is not spared from becoming a human sacrifice.

Forget Yahweh, some progressive Christians would say. Whose idea it was to combine the Old and the New Testaments? Let us just focus on Jesus as the true god — and Jesus was countercultural.

In many instances that is true. Jesus stressed the spirit, not the letter of the law, opposing the excessive legalism of the Judaism of his day and its emphasis on scrupulous, oppressive observance. This impresses me so much that I'm willing not to carp about the cursing of the fig tree and the ethnocentric episode when Jesus refers to non-Israelites as dogs.

Alas, there is also the matter of all the apocalyptic prophecies whose specificity defies a strictly metaphorical interpretation. When someone encourages potential followers to abandon their wives and children “and follow me,” it’s hard to dismiss this as merely Jesus’ opposition to the “idolatry of the family” (Christian apologists can go to amazing lengths). If Jesus really happened to be divine and thus omniscient and all-good, we would not have these false prophecies of the end of times causing outbreaks of religious hysteria over the centuries. Nor would the principle of non-judgment be contradicted by the vision of the Last Judgment.

(a side note: Jesus did not believe in a soul — “the breath of life” — separate from the body. The body would have to be resurrected in order for a person to be judged and sent to a place of reward or punishment. Hence the graves opening up and angels waking up the dead.)



 IF THE BIBLE HAPPENED TO BE DIVINELY INSPIRED, then rather than reflect the ignorance and prejudices of an ancient culture in a tiny speck of the world in which it originated, it would be a perfect, glorious book containing at least hints of the kind of knowledge that people couldn’t have had thousands of years ago.

Imagine if it revealed that the sun was actually a star. Instead, the authors of the Bible “seemed to think the stars are nothing more than little lights in the sky that would fall to the earth in the last days (Revelation 6:13).”

And instead of violating the rule about washing hands before eating, Jesus would have been its ardent supporter, perhaps also hinting that it might be best to boil drinking water.

“If God is all-knowing and all-powerful and infinitely intelligent, his book should be the most amazing piece of literature in history. It should be so brilliant and so glorious that no human author could write anything that compares.”

(Oriana: Now, the King James translation happens to contain some wonderful language, and some of its passages can indeed be called glorious. But this is not so in other languages. The Polish translation strikes me as pedestrian.

But style is not the most important matter. Above all, I don’t think a divinely inspired book would contain passages like this one in Deuteronomy:

32:41 If I whet my glittering sword, and mine hand take hold on judgment; I will render vengeance to mine enemies, and will reward them that hate me.
32:42 I will make mine arrows drunk with blood, and my sword shall devour flesh; and that with the blood of the slain and of the captives, from the beginning of revenges upon the enemy.
32:43 Rejoice, O ye nations, with his people: for he will avenge the blood of his servants, and will render vengeance to his adversaries, and will be merciful unto his land, and to his people.
32:44 And Moses came and spake all the words of this song in the ears of the people, he, and Hoshea the son of Nun.   

There is also the problem of redundancy and contradictions. “What does an all-powerful writer need? An all-powerful editor, apparently. When God spoke through his ghost writers, one of his angels should have spoken up and said, “Hey, you might want to fix some of those contradictions.” I mean, come on, there are hundreds of them. Am I really supposed to believe this book was written by the same being that created all the billions of galaxies throughout the universe?

Take the gospels, for example. (By the way, why are there four of them? What sort of author tells the same story multiple times? Why isn’t there just one detailed story that includes every element from the four gospels?) Let’s focus on the resurrection story.

    Matthew says Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to the tomb (28:1), an angel rolled away the stone and sat on it (28:2), and that Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (28:9).
    Mark says Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome went to the tomb (16:1), a young man was sitting inside (16:5), and that Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene (16:9).
    Luke says Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Joanna, and other women went to the tomb (24:10), two men in shining garments were standing inside (24:4), and that Jesus first appeared to two of the disciples (24:15).
    John says Mary Magdalene went to the tomb (20:1), no one was there although later there were two angels in white siting inside (20:12), and that Jesus first appeared to Mary (20:14).

These are just a few of the problems with the resurrection story. It doesn’t sound like a true story told by God. It sounds like a made-up story told by men who couldn’t get their story straight.

http://southernskeptic.com/god-terrible-writer/


I would add to this the constant failed prophecy of the imminent coming of the kingdom within one generation: “Some who are standing here will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” (Matthew 16:28). The very word “kingdom” shows the archaic, hierarchical nature of that ancient world order, but it’s some other, very concrete details in the other apocalyptic sayings (not to mention the Book of Revelation) that don’t let us simply metaphorize away this central prophecy presumably made by an omniscient divine being. What could be more sadly “human, all too human” than this kind of longing for a perfect world (after some ghastly mayhem first) and the failure of that longing?

(As Aflred Loisy observed, in a career-ending aphorism, “Jesus came proclaiming the kingdom, but what arrived instead was the church.”)


 Pieter Lastman, Jonah and the Whale, 1621 (surely this is a giant bass)


Now, the bible is fascinating in its own way, precisely because it is so blatantly human and culture-bound. And I'm willing to repeat that the King James Version contains passages of literary beauty that greatly influenced English-language literature. I hope nobody misunderstands this post as a call to toss the bible as worthless. It has a human worth. True, some passages have caused great evil over the ages, but on the whole the bible is a gift from from one ancient portion of humanity to humanity at large — mostly in the sense of a historical document revealing ancient mentality, a record of evolution from a nomadic tribe to a settled state, as well as an evolution in ethics, e.g. in Ezekiel the proverb that the children's teeth are set on edge because their fathers ate sour grapes is rejected, a glimmer of individual responsibility rather than collective guilt.

The main thing, though, is to firmly understand that the bible was written by men. It was written and re-written, edited and re-edited, translated and re-translated, etc, etc. It could have turned out even worse and more full of contradictions than it is. Human, all too human. 


A quick summary:


**


Ah, someone may say, why get stuck on the bible? Obviously it’s archaic, written by men who didn’t know where the sun went at night. What matters is your relationship with Jesus.  Here are excerpts from a wise article on that particular strategy.

LOVING JESUS, BUT NOT THE BIBLE

“I don’t follow the Bible, I follow Jesus.”

When I was a Christian, I used to say things like this all the time. I used to say “It’s about Jesus, not the Bible” for the same reasons that I used to say “It’s a relationship, not a religion.”  I was trying to distinguish my own particular variety of the Christian faith from all those lesser creations of men because unlike theirs, mine was The Real Deal.  I had recovered True Christianity™ unlike all those millions of misguided yahoos who insisted they had done exactly the same thing but with wildly divergent results.

I once sought to present a portrait of a God who was attractive and winsome.  “It is his kindness that leads you to repentance,” I would maintain, hoping to convince others (as well as myself) that my Supreme Being was supremely likable, and far more concerned with “fellowshipping” with us than with judging or condemning us. 

This perspective allows us to dismiss the less savory parts of the Old Testament which portray God as an angry, vengeful, fickle deity who wipes out entire races or even entire species because he’s so upset with them for not following his rules.  The God of the Old Testament killed off an awful lot of people (and animals) both directly and indirectly.  But never you mind, folks!  The good news is that the same book that says God had people stoned for Sabbath breaking and ordered all the Canaanites to be killed later says that God sends his rain on the just and the unjust.  “You have heard it said,” Jesus said, “but I say to you…” 

The letter to the Hebrews begins this way:

    In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.

You can see the struggle to reconcile the Old and New Testaments had already begun at the very beginning. But there is a much simpler (and to my mind more likely) explanation: They’re both made up, and they’re both wrong. Of course, I won’t likely be convincing them of that, but that’s not even what I’m trying to do here. I’m just trying to explain that presenting Jesus as more authoritative than the Old Testament carries very little weight for people who don’t see any reason to implicitly trust either source. They both come to us today between the pages of the same book.

For us today, both Moses and Jesus are literary characters in stories that we don’t believe.  Yes, Jesus is far more palatable than Moses in most places.  At times Jesus even comes across as an enlightened and liberated proto-humanist. 

But it’s not just about the New Testament disagreeing with the Old.  In many places, the New Testament disagrees with itself.  In response to this problem, many simply pit Jesus versus Paul, as if the man most responsible for sketching out early Christian thought somehow got Jesus totally wrong.  In all fairness, I see a lot of sense in this notion myself, except that I no longer share any ideological commitment to defend the integrity of the Christian religion, so this doesn’t present a problem for me.  But if you subscribe to the notion that a guiding intelligence was supposed to be shaping the early Church in any way, admitting this dichotomy would seem to undermine your whole system.

Truly, when you read Paul’s letters and then go back and read the gospels, there’s so little repetition or overlap that you wonder if Paul had ever even heard of those stories.  The ethereal cosmic figure Paul wrote about seems like a trippy departure from a guy he never really met in real life.  Paul knew Jesus only from visions and from weaving together a kind of literary character out of Hebrew scriptures which, when you go back and read them in their original context, say nothing of the sort.  Come to think of it, even Paul contradicts Paul in such key ways that most scholars who aren’t personally bound by religious loyalties to inerrancy will admit that much of what we were told was written by Paul wasn’t written by him at all.  In other words, even Paul disagrees with Paul, so it’s no surprise that he represents a departure from Jesus as well.

But now comes the group that exasperates me most of all lately.  Some people are prepared to concede that even the gospels get Jesus wrong sometimes, and they argue that places where Jesus seems to advocate judgment and condemnation aren’t really giving us the real Jesus after all.  So now we’ve got Jesus versus Jesus.  And yet somehow despite this debacle they are still certain that they can discern which portrait of Jesus is the right one:  It’s whichever one is the most likable and which, coincidentally, happens to agree most completely with all of our most cherished modern virtues.  Sure, they tell us, the Bible says Jesus spoke of Hell more than anyone else in history up until that point, but maybe that was added later.  And yes, they admit, it appears that Jesus had some harsh and dismissive things to say about family life.  But maybe the real Jesus never said such things because “that’s not the Jesus I know.”

How is it that you—living two millennia later than the original writers of these stories—can discern better which stories are “real” and which are “fake?”  Your own personal feelings?  Is your gut leading you now?  I just don’t get the cherry picking.  Or more to the point, if you have any self-awareness about how much cherry picking you’re doing, I just don’t get how you can then turn around and say you worship and love something you know you just built yourself with scissors and tape and glue.  All I can figure is that you’re convinced your hard work has simply uncovered the real Jesus as he was meant to be known.  But you have fashioned this person yourself.

The only reason any of this presents a problem in the first place is that all of these people are trying to save the Bible from itself.  But have you seriously considered the possibility that it’s a hopeless mess?  The Bible is a messy collection of the pious imaginings of many, many groups of people over a very long period of time. 

The emperor has no clothes.  Hearing [anyone] profess that they don’t trust the Bible but that they love Jesus is like hearing you say that you know the emperor’s weavers were charlatans, but didn’t the coat they made look splendid! 

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/godlessindixie/2015/07/22/loving-jesus-but-not-the-bible/

Sophonisba Anguissola, Girl Teaching an Old Woman to Read  

Oriana:

I don't mind if people construct their own Jesus, devoid of any shadow, as long as they are aware that they are doing this. There is something to be said for cherry-picking what appeals to us -- but with awareness that we are doing just that. But when a person think their Jesus is THE true Jesus that everyone else should adore and wait for the Second Coming when most of humanity will be hurled into hellfire forever, that's when I see that thinking has not taken place and childhood brainwashing still rules.

Jesus fell apart for me and lost my interest because of the failed (and ludicrous) apocalyptic prophecies, but also because of the contradictions described here: "Some people are prepared to concede that even the gospels get Jesus wrong sometimes, and they argue that places where Jesus seems to advocate judgment and condemnation aren’t really giving us the real Jesus after all. So now we’ve got Jesus versus Jesus. And yet somehow despite this debacle they are still certain that they can discern which portrait of Jesus is the right one: It’s whichever one is the most likable and which, coincidentally, happens to agree most completely with all of our most cherished modern virtues. Sure, they tell us, the Bible says Jesus spoke of Hell more than anyone else in history up until that point, but maybe that was added later. And yes, they admit, it appears that Jesus had some harsh and dismissive things to say about family life. But maybe the real Jesus never said such things because “that’s not the Jesus I know.”

Anyone can make up an imaginary friend who has no flaws — and there is nothing wrong with that as long as we realize that this is our imaginary friend, and not reality: if Jesus existed (there is some debate on this), that's not how he was.

If a perfect Jesus is assumed to be real, a crash into reality can follow. Both Bart Ehrman and Reza Aslan tell a similar story: in their teens they went to a fundamentalist summer camp where the preacher presented such a wonderful picture of Jesus that both Bart and Reza (at different camps), and probably many other attendees “fell in love with Jesus.” Both Bart and Reza loved Jesus so much they decided to go into ministry. In the seminary they learned Gospel Greek and studied the earliest manuscripts. The problems of translation and forgery aside, simply studying the texts word by word showed them a “different Jesus.” The ideal did not hold up.

But I am not against conscious “cherry picking.” We can take whatever stories inspire us from ANY religion. We don’t have to take anything else from that religion. Nor do we need to read ALL of Shakespeare. Even when it comes to Shakespeare, there is the best, and the mediocre.  Life is too short for the mediocre.

*

Let me end with a humble prose poem.
SLIDING INTO HISTORY

In childhood and beyond I loved best the old, shiny, hollowed out and really slippery pews. You'd slide in and wheeee! fall into the hollow and then by sheer momentum out of it, almost to the middle of the pew, falling over unless you managed to grab the railing. There was something very authentic about it, the buttocks of ancestors having made the old pew that kind of wild slide. Ah, history . . .





Charles:

The concept of the rhetorical OR QUESTION is huge for a person that likes to think small.

New goals equal new life. So true what you are saying about outgrowing old problems. Great concept.

Who would have thought that the banker was an inadvertent philosopher for you, catalyzing a moment of enlightenment? Certainly not the banker.

Love you essay on Culture. Pure insightful genius.

Re: painting, it’s definitely a cat.

You did a good job of putting bible in context
.

Oriana:

Re: the painting. It looks like a cat, and everyone thinks it’s a cat. But note the animal’s size, rather large for a cat, and the fact that it’s chained. I googled the painting, and the consensus is that it’s a bear cub.

The banker, Mr. Contreras, has indeed accidentally become an important teacher of a life lesson. If he knew, he might be upset — after all, from a banking point of view, he made a fatal mistake, making an OR statement, presenting an option other than investment.

An “or statement” works by providing sudden clarity about two choices, two contrary modes of action where one of them is unquestionably better. Once the question is asked, it becomes rhetorical.

I assume your praise is for the “culture of honor versus the culture of dignity.” I can’t really take the credit for writing more than the introduction. I take credit mainly for recognizing the importance of this topic. The word “honor” is so positive that few realize that dark side: the culture of honor is a culture based on revenge.

The bible definitely needs to be seen as a product of its culture and the history of the region where it was created and revised (and revised and revised). It’s interesting that the bible doesn’t have a central place in modern Judaism that’s comparable to its importance in fundamentalist Protestant churches.
 
My apologies for the accidental underlining of most of the text in this blog post. I tried every method of removing the glitch, but nothing worked -- it would take a lot of repasting.



Saturday, July 18, 2015

LA GRANDE BELLEZA; NIETZSCHE’S BRAIN CANCER; PREJUDICE INCREASES AS WE AGE; HOMER VERSUS THE BIBLE

dolphin fresco at the Palace of Knossos, Crete, c. 1,500 b.c.e

CAVE OF BLUE

Over the ocean a cave of blue
holds out against the night —
an entrance to the world beyond,
where it is still day.

I trace the glow of lucent green,
and you say look, that violet rim,
that lip of ripe plum purple.
The soul, we know, is tender blue,

like memory of being loved
back in the mother cave, and now,
this moment made of shades of blue,
a window of remaining light.

It’s Aphrodite’s blue-green glow,
the life that yet remains —
that kiss at mirror-edge where sky
marries the shining water.

How should we spend the last of time,
the light that lingers in the west?
I take your hand and we hope
that dark leap is a dolphin.

~ Oriana (2015)

This is a major theme that appeared in my life and writing only as youth faded: how should we spend what time remains? No question has ever been more important, or more difficult. Few of us “know what we want”; even fewer have any sure sense of what is best for us (and arguably it’s not even possible for us to know).

One answer is to simply take in as much beauty as we can from the world that offers it in such astounding abundance. If pressed against the wall for a quick answer, I would say I want “la grande bellezza” — great beauty. But at other times I would say, “tenderness.” Not romantic love with all its turbulence and impossible demands, but affection, tenderness. Being valued.

So holding hands while looking at a sunset on the Pacific is an image that provides an answer of sorts. It doesn’t begin to touch on the joy of work, but one can speak of only so much at a time. And besides, what if capacity for work happened to be lost? Is life then not worth living?

Perhaps being able to watch a sunset is enough, especially if one is lucky enough to be holding someone’s hand.

As the extraordinary movie “La Grande Bellezza” says, perhaps all we can know for certain as we grow older is that we can no longer waste time doing what we DON’T want to do. All we have to cover the embarrassment of being in the world is the “haggard, inconstant flashes of beauty.”

Not all that haggard, I’d argue. But then I am terribly spoiled living on the Pacific coast.

Yet almost everywhere on our “pale blue dot” (as Carl Sagan described the earth as seen from the rings of Saturn) there is an astounding abundance of beauty. More than haggard flashes. 

 **

A strange awakening this morning: thunder. When was the last time this happened, especially in summer?

Then, first thing after getting up, the coincidence of finally learning what causes thunder. The air around the bolt of electricity heats up to 50,000 degrees. The superheated air then rushes away at supersonic speeds — hence the boom.


PREJUDICE INCREASES AS WE AGE: IT’S DUE TO THE DETERIORATION OF INHIBITORY BRAIN FUNCTION
Psychologists used to believe that greater prejudice among older adults was due to the fact that older people grew up in less egalitarian times. In contrast to this view, we have gathered evidence that normal changes to the brain in late adulthood can lead to greater prejudice among older adults.

The frontal lobes are the last part of the brain to develop as we progress through childhood and adolescence, and the first part of the brain to atrophy as we age. Atrophy of the frontal lobes does not diminish intelligence, but it degrades brain areas responsible for inhibiting irrelevant or inappropriate thoughts. Research suggests that this is why older adults have greater difficulty finding the word they're looking for - and why there is a greater likelihood of them voicing ideas they would have previously suppressed.

Famous people are at a disadvantage when their frontal lobes start to shrink, as many of their utterances are part of the public record. But disinhibition is also costly for people outside the public eye. When I was teaching at Williams College in Massachusetts, an African-American student told me how her white grandfather had recently started referring to her as his "little nigger grandchild". She was shocked and hurt by this, and couldn't understand why her grandfather would say such a thing when she knew he loved her and was still mentally alert. The consequences of his disinhibited words were substantial, although he was creating friction only with family and friends.

In our research we have found evidence of a variety of problems of this kind. For example, older adults in our experiments are more likely than younger adults to rely on stereotypes and they have more difficulty than younger adults suppressing their stereotypic thoughts. But it doesn't stop there — we find that older adults are more likely to be socially insensitive across a variety of domains. Furthermore, all of these effects only emerge among older adults who show signs of poor frontal lobe functioning.

Our research indicates that older adults simply have greater difficulty suppressing prejudices than younger adults do.

To return to Atticus Finch, it does indeed seem that some older adults start to show prejudice even if they never did before. Such changes in social attitudes are not inevitable, but they are common. And the people who find themselves becoming less tolerant or more prejudiced can be quite unsettled by the shift in their own attitudes - a change that can affect friendships and their position in society.”

http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-33523313




My inhibitions against expressing contempt for religion have decreased, but that may be a separate, gender-specific case: it's been noted that women tend to get bolder with age, and don't seem to care as much about pleasing others. Like all writers worth reading, they are willing to offend (if you aren't offending anyone, you probably aren't saying anything true). This may be due to the insight that you can die having told the truth as you see it, or die without ever having told the truth -- so you may as well speak out. But racism, anti-Semitism, etc -- it's sad when these stereotypes become disinhibited in the elderly (usually starting in the late seventies, when aging accelerates in a dramatic fashion).

Of course that decrease in proper inhibition expresses itself in a variety of ways, not only in increase in prejudice. The ability to tell a story without endless digressions is also affected. How can we protect the frontal lobes from atrophy? We are just barely, barely beginning to understand anything about aging and the brain, and how inflammation can destroy the organ whose function determines how long and how well we live.

As for sticking to a story, staying on subject, it takes a lot of writing practice to combat the tendency to digress — since, as we grow older, everything reminds  us of something else. For me this was a struggle already in my younger years. I have a lot of knowledge, so everything  connects with everything. My motto — imperfectly practiced — is LESS IS MORE.



DE-EXCITING HYPERACTIVE AREAS OF SCHIZOPHRENICS’ BRAIN MAY HUSH THE VOICES

“Hoffman proposes that hyperactivity in the left frontal lobe combined with a weakened connection may lead to Broca’s area [a part of the brain involved in speech production] “dumping” language into Wernicke’s area—a part of the brain that normally receives speech information from the outside. A passing thought may be experienced as a whisper in one’s ear.

To test this theory, Hoffman and colleagues have experimented with transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), a noninvasive method that can inhibit small regions of the brain by producing light electric currents—in this case, reducing the hyperactivity of Broca’s area and portions of the temporal lobe. Although results are preliminary, most patients treated with TMS seem to experience relief from their auditory hallucinations, with improvements lasting anywhere from two months to a year. If validated in larger-scale studies, TMS could become an alternative treatment option.”

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-guest-room/201507/how-the-brain-can-hear-voices-dont-exist

Of course the way the medical system works, someone would have to get very rich off TMS in order for it to gain a wide application. 




IS THERE ANYTHING WE CAN DO TO PREVENT THE DECLINE IN BRAIN FUNCTION? (the results of this study will surprise you)

“Before we began our experiment all our volunteers were subjected to a barrage of tests that measured things like memory, ability to problem solve and general psychomotor speed (reaction times).

Everyone was then fitted with an activity monitor to measure how much and when they were moving.

The volunteers were then randomly allocated to three groups and asked to do a particular activity for the next eight weeks.

One group we simply asked to walk briskly, so that they were just out of breath, for three hours a week. The idea is that walking - in fact any form of vigorous exercise - will keep your brain fed with lots of oxygen-rich blood. This was not a popular choice with some.

"Walking is my least favorite activity," sighs Ann. (Newcastle does have punishingly steep hills.)

The second group were asked to do puzzles, such as crosswords or Sudoku. Again they had to do it for three hours each week. The reasoning behind this approach is that your brain, like a muscle, benefits from being challenged. Use it or lose it.

The final group were asked to stare at a naked man for three hours a week. Or, to be more accurate, they were asked to take part in an art class which also happened to involve drawing a naked man, Steve.

By the end of our eight-week trial almost everyone in the walking group noticed a big improvement in their general health - how much easier they found managing a particular hill.

Some of the puzzler group had found the puzzles hard at first, but by the end of the eight weeks many were hooked and swapping Sudoku tips.

The most enthusiastic group, however, was undoubtedly the art class. Although a few found attending a class once a week daunting, all of them commented on how much they enjoyed it.

"I have become a compulsive drawer of everything," says Simone. "I have been out to buy myself some pastel pencils and even a book on 'How to'."

So, art equals pleasure, but which group enjoyed the greatest improvements in brain power?

Our scientists redid their battery of cognitive tests and the results were clear-cut. All the groups had got a bit better, but the stand-out group was those who had attended the art class.

The most enthusiastic group, however, was undoubtedly the art class. Although a few found attending a class once a week daunting, all of them commented on how much they enjoyed it.

"I have become a compulsive drawer of everything," says Simone. "I have been out to buy myself some pastel pencils and even a book on 'How to'."

So, art equals pleasure, but which group enjoyed the greatest improvements in brain power?

Our scientists redid their battery of cognitive tests and the results were clear-cut. All the groups had got a bit better, but the stand-out group was those who had attended the art class.

But why should going to an art class make a difference to things like memory? Clinical psychologist Daniel Collerton, one of our experts from Newcastle University, says that part of the benefit came from learning a new skill. "Learning something new," he says, "engages the brain in ways that seem to be key. Your brain changes in response, no matter how many years you have behind you."

Learning how to draw was not only a fresh challenge to our group but, unlike the puzzlers, it also involved developing psychomotor skills. Capturing an image on paper is not just intellectually demanding. It involves learning how to make the muscles in your hand guide the pencil or paintbrush in the right directions.

An additional benefit was that going to the art class meant that for three hours a week they had to stand while drawing or painting. Standing for longer periods is a good way of burning calories and keeping your heart in good shape.
The art class was also the most socially active, another important thing to bear in mind if you want to keep your brain sharp. This group met regularly outside class, were keen to exchange emails and there was a definite social aspect to this intervention.”

http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-33505017


 
DID NIETZSCHE HAVE BRAIN CANCER?
Until I read this article, I thought it was syphilis, but not from a prostitute. Those who knew him well said Nietzsche lived and died a virgin. But he was an army medic for a while, and it's possible to get infected through contact with blood. But brain cancer makes even more sense.

“A study of medical records has found that, far from suffering a sexually-transmitted disease which drove him mad, Nietzsche almost certainly died of brain cancer.

The doctor who has carried out the study claims that the universally-accepted story of Nietzsche having caught syphilis from prostitutes was actually concocted after the Second World War by Wilhelm Lange-Eichbaum, an academic who was one of Nietzsche's most vociferous critics. It was then adopted as fact by intellectuals who were keen to demolish the reputation of Nietzsche, whose idea of a "Superman" was used to underpin Nazism.

The new research was carried out by Dr Leonard Sax, the director of the Montgomery Centre for Research in Child Development in Maryland, America. Dr Sax made his discovery after studying accounts of Nietzsche's collapse with dementia in 1889. He was admitted to an asylum in Basle, Switzerland, and was initially diagnosed as being in the advanced stages of syphilis.

According to Dr Sax, however, Nietzsche's notes show no signs of the symptoms which are now regarded as evidence of this disease, such as an expressionless face and slurred speech.

"Nietzsche exhibited none of these symptoms," said Dr Sax. "His facial expressions remained vivid, his reflexes were normal, tremor was not present, his handwriting after his collapse was at least as good as it had been in previous years - and his speech was fluent."

Dr Sax added that in the late 19th century more than 90 per cent of those with advanced syphilis rapidly declined and died within five years of diagnosis. Nietzsche, in contrast, lived for another 11 years.

Nietzsche's physicians, according to Dr Sax, suspected that he may not have had syphilis, but were unable to suggest an alternative. Reporting his findings in the current issue of the Journal of Medical Biography, Dr Sax argues that a more plausible diagnosis would have been that the philosopher was suffering from a slowly-developing brain tumor. This would account for both Nietzsche's collapse and the migraines and visual disturbances he suffered.

Nietzsche scholars welcomed the new findings and said that they would help in the rehabilitation of the philosopher. "Nietzsche was not anti-semitic or a nationalist, and hated the herd mentality," said Prof Stephen Houlgate, a Nietzsche scholar at Warwick University. "If this new research gets rid of another misconception about him, I'm delighted.”

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/3313279/Madness-of-Nietzsche-was-cancer-not-syphilis.html


 
NIETZSCHE DESCRIBES HIS FATHER'S DEATH (probably of death cancer too)

"The first event that shocked me when I was still forming my conscience was the illness of my father. It was a softening of the brain. The intensity of the pain that he suffered, the blindness that befell him, his pale figure, the tears of my mother, the concerned air of the doctor and, finally, the unwary comments from the neighbors that they must warn me about the imminence of the misfortune that threatened. And the misfortune came: my father died. I was not yet four years old.

A few months later, I lost my only brother, a smart and vivacious child. He developed a sudden seizure and died in a few moments."

Nietzsche, Of  My Life. Autobiographical writings of youth (1856-1869), Valdemar, Madrid, 1997, Translation by Luis Fernando Moreno Clear



CULTURE

THE HABIT OF CRUELTY HAS DIMINISHED (CHILDREN THROWING STONES AT CÉZANNE)

In his “Letters on Cézanne,” written to his wife Clara in 1907, Rilke writes, “I know a few things from [Cézanne’s] last years when he was old and shabby and children followed him every day on his way to his studio, throwing stones at him as if at a stray dog.” Rilke takes it for granted that children throw stones at stray dogs, and doesn’t seem surprised that they’d throw stones at the great painter when he was “old and shabby.” (In Arles, children and teens weren’t kind to Van Gogh either.)

I remember that in one of Hardy’s novels an adult throws stones at a stray dog. It was customary, and probably no one thought it cruel. The hungry dog needed to be chased away.

Given the shootings and bombings, it may seem frivolous of me to be saying Look! We no longer throw stones at a stray dog! Or at least it’s not customary! It would be seen as cruel!

But not so long ago, it wasn’t seen as cruel. And throwing stones at someone old and shabby — I guess that was only natural. And we aren’t talking about very long time ago . . .

I realize that there are still instances of cruelty to animals, the aged, and the homeless, but I don’t think anyone would mention it calmly, in passing. Even without Pinker’s statistics (“The Better Angels of Our Nature”), I’ve witnessed a diminishment of cruelty and violence over the decades. What saddens me is how much it persists in the movies and on TV, how often the characters use both physical and verbal aggression. And yet, in spite of this, a certain softening, mellowing, nuancing seems to be in progress.

According to Pinker, this started in the late 17th-early 18th century. He calls it the HUMANITARIAN REVOLUTION. Torture, slavery, child abuse, and cruel punishment used to be taken for granted. Now voices rose against those practices, as well as against despotism and wars of aggression. More and more people feel nothing short of revulsion when they see brutality — including cruelty to animals. Still a long way to go, but there is reason to celebrate the progress we have made.


RELIGION AND ATHEISM

There have been two great narcotics in European civilization: Christianity and alcohol. ~ Nietzsche

Both dissolve reason. Thinking is difficult; it’s not a happy state. Of course we prefer emotion, which energizes. As for the Christian hate groups, never dismiss the pleasure of hatred: it’s immensely energizing, and energy, as Blake observed, is eternal delight.

In the believer’s mind, God can do anything,
but in reality he can’t even say Hi.

~ seen on Internet



HOMER SEEKS TO ENCHANT US; THE BIBLE SEEKS TO SUBJUGATE US

Through the Middle Ages, it was still possible to see biblical stories as realistic. Then the modern world started emerging, becoming vastly different from the biblical world, and a more critical consciousness developed. (It's also interesting that thousands of years ago there existed a huge number of deities; that number began to shrink as the locus of consciousness became internal.)


For me this is the gist of Auerbach's article: “The Homeric poems, though their intellectual, linguistic, and above all syntactical culture appears to be so much more highly developed, are yet comparatively simple in their picture of human beings; and no less so in their relation to the real life which they describe in general. DELIGHT IN PHYSICAL EXISTENCE IS EVERYTHING TO THEM . . . The oft-repeated reproach that Homer is a liar takes nothing from his effectiveness. HE DOES NOT NEED TO BASE HIS STORY ON HISTORICAL REALITY, his reality is powerful enough in itself; it ensnares us, weaving its web around us, and that suffices him. And this “real” world into which we are lured, exists for itself, contains nothing but itself; the Homeric poems conceal nothing, they contain no teaching and no secret second meaning. 


But the Biblical narrator, the Elohist, had to believe in the objective truth of the story of Abraham’s sacrifice—the existence of the sacred ordinances of life rested upon the truth of this and similar stories. He had to believe in it passionately; or else (as many rationalistic interpreters believed and perhaps still believe) he had to be a conscious liar—no harmless liar like Homer, who lied to give pleasure, but a political liar with a definite end in view, lying in the interest of A CLAIM TO ABSOLUTE AUTHORITY . . . THE SCRIPTURE STORIES do not, like Homer’s, [seek to] please us and enchant us—they SEEK TO SUBJECT US, and if we refuse to be subjected we are rebels. Far from seeking, like Homer, merely to make us forget our own reality for a few hours, [the bible] seeks to overcome our reality: we are to fit our own life into its world, feel ourselves to be elements in its structure of universal history.
 

This was for a long time comparatively easy; as late as the European Middle Ages it was possible to represent Biblical events as ordinary phenomena of contemporary life. But when, through too great a change in environment and through the awakening of a critical consciousness, this becomes impossible, the Biblical claim to absolute authority is jeopardized; the method of interpretation is scorned and rejected, the Biblical stories become ancient legends, and the doctrine they had contained, now dissevered from them, becomes a disembodied image . . .   

The Old Testament presents universal history: it begins with the beginning of time, with the creation of the world, and will end with the Last Days, the fulfilling of the Covenant, with which the world will come to an end. Everything else that happens in the world can only be conceived as an element in this sequence; into it everything that is known about the world, or at least everything that touches upon the history of the Jews, must be fitted as an ingredient of the divine plan.”
~ Erich Auerbach, from The Scar of Odysseus chapter of Mimesis


 

**

Second most popular poem

IN BLACKBERRY WOODS

Blackberry bushes
scrape one side of the tracks,
the train stopped in the woods

by the semaphore’s arm.
My father jumps out.
In his cupped hands he brings me

blackberries warm from the sun.
He pours the glistening
berries into my hands.

The sweetest, the blackest
he brings me
forever from nameless woods.

I am eating the black sun.
Father goes to pick more,
and I know he’ll be left

behind — a flash of his shirt
in thorn-studded brambles,
at the window my mute

screaming mouth. But the train
blows a whistle for the fathers,
lost: he jumps back onboard,

and like a slow waltz,
rocking side to side,
in blackberry woods

we begin to keep time,
lips stained with
departing purple.

~ Oriana © 2015


IF I KNEW MY LIFE WERE TO END A YEAR FROM NOW

Charles:

If my life would be over in a year, this is what I would want:

“... simply take in as much beauty as we can from the world that offers it in such astounding abundance.”
~ while holding hands with the person I love.

Love the image of lightning and thunder and your comment is perfect for the picture.

Donald Trump is a perfect example of frontal lobes deteriorating.

I’m surprised that the art class was better than doing puzzles or cardiovascular exercise. I do all three so I should live very long….I hope, but you never know.

Interesting about the early plethora of gods and now with the expansion of secularism we have three standing, The God of the Hebrews, Christ and Allah.

IN BLACKBERRY WOODS  is a beautiful way to end the blog.

This is definitely one of my favorite blogs.

 
Oriana:

Freud said that the most important things in life are “love and work.” I’d amend that to “love and work and beauty.” And should the ability to work end, as may happen, love and beauty would be enough.

Surprised that you are surprised about the effectiveness of an art class on cognitive function! Creating art is challenging to the brain, and socializing is involved as well — lots of brain areas light up when we socialize.

The vanishing gods . . . The main Hindu gods are holding up pretty well. But I wonder if they’ll survive an increase in prosperity. It’s poor people who need religion most, and who seem to get the most out of religious festivals, which in India include an ecstatic element such as dancing. That part of religion I’d actually love to see surviving rather than being displaced by sports bars.

This is a lazy way to do a blog, but right now it suits me particularly well. I just wonder if I’ll get too spoiled to return to longer original essays. And for those who may be wondering why this particular development: I happened to read a study that concluded that my type of post gets the fewest “likes” on Facebook and is the least read (since it actually requires reading). I realized that choosing the best posts for the blog, with some commentary, was a way of making my best finds available to readers who really do read, and of archiving this content. It’s part of my “harvesting” project. 



Saturday, July 11, 2015

ADDICTION AND CONNECTION; SMOKING AND MENTAL ILLNESS; THE SOUL-MATE MYTH; PEOPLE AGE AT DIFFERENT RATES

 BREAD AND SALT

In late amber
afternoon, the streets ascended
on the scent of fresh-baked bread.
Babcia brings a sun-round loaf.

Under the saw-toothed knife
the crust crackles, resists;
I beg for the “heel,” I eat
the moist, steaming, almost breathing

bread, like the flesh of the earth.
In the salt mine near Kraków,
I linger behind, trying to lick the walls.
A white, slippery Saint Barbara

blesses the underground chapel.
At the spa with the salt towers,
the fountain of Hansel and Gretel,
known to me as Jaś and Małgosia —

two lost children huddled
under a dripping stone umbrella.
The towers are wooden pyramids
dripping brine through a five-story

scaffolding of birch twigs.
We stroll around the towers,
inhaling the salt breeze.
“Breathe!” Grandmother reminds.

It’s meant to cure everything. 
Once we watch a bride and groom
greeted at the door
with bread and salt —

the street dancing
with shadows,
the bride and her groom
lost in the lucky light.

~ Oriana © 2015


HEALTH

THE OPPOSITE OF ADDICTION IS NOT SOBRIETY. THE OPPOSITE OF ADDICTION IS CONNECTION.

In this powerful video, Johann Hari speaks about two experiments (one of them unplanned) that showed our current treatment of addicts is completely wrong. Rats isolated in cages will indeed get addicted to heroin-laced water and will eventually die of overdose; but rats placed in a “rat park” where they could socialize with the rats and exercise and simply had “things to do” did not take interest in heroin (nor do hospital patients who receive who is essentially heroin for pain relief become junkies). Twenty percent of US military in Vietnam were using heroin and other drugs; when they returned home, only 5% of those addicted continued their habit. The rest recovered without needing special treatment; simply being placed in a healthy environment removed the motivation to take the drug (this went against the accepted opinion that addiction was purely “chemical,” and the woman researcher who discovered the effect of the environment was vilified for years).

Hari argues that addicts need more connection; they need to receive the message that they are loved and can lead useful, fulfilled lives. They need job skills, not arrest records that will make it very difficult for them to get decent jobs. Individual recovery requires social recovery.

http://www.ted.com/talks/johann_hari_everything_you_think_you_know_about_addiction_is_wrong?utm_source=newsletter_weekly_2015-07-11&utm_campaign=newsletter_weekly&utm_medium=email&utm_content=talk_of_the_week_image#t-472312

 


MENTAL ILLNESS AND SMOKING

It has long been noted that those suffering from schizophrenia and other mental illness also tend to be heavy smokers. The rate of smoking is 45% versus 17.8% in the U.S. population at large (and about 7% among American college graduates). Furthermore, those schizophrenic who smoke start smoking before the symptoms of mental illness become apparent (“More than half — 57% — of people arriving at mental health services with their first psychotic episode were smokers, which is nearly three times the normal occurrence in the population. Smokers experienced psychosis one year earlier than non-smokers”).

The prevalent theory is that smoking is a self-soothing behavior, a form of self-medication. But a few new studies propose that nicotine actually contributes to mental illness, and is itself one of the causal factor, albeit a minor one (obviously a vast majority of smokers don’t become schizophrenic).

“There are also genetic clues – a small number of DNA sequences (called SNPs) are known to be implicated in both schizophrenia and smoking.”

http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/jul/10/smoking-tobacco-might-increase-risk-schizophrenia-say-researchers-psychosis


I don't think the self-medication theory is necessarily disproved by some link between addiction genes and schizophrenia genes. I've seen people (of all sorts, non-schizophrenic) get a soothing effect from the long exhale that is a frequent part of smoking. It's also typically a personal ritual, and there is something calming about rituals — the brain loves familiarity.

DIFFERENCES IN LIFE EXPECTANCY

“American life expectancy rose from 75.2 years in 1990 to 78.2 years in 2010. However, this improvement is undermined by two major problems. First, although women live longer than men, their life expectancy is rising more slowly. Secondly, both sexes have a lower life expectancy than their peers in other wealthy countries. The chasm between Americans’ health and other wealthy nations has been widening since the 1980s.

Dr. Murray and his colleagues report that the gap between life expectancies in the wealthiest and poorest countries has widened since 1985. In the richest counties in America—such as Marin County, California and Fairfax County, Virginia—the life expectancies rival those of Switzerland and Japan. However, at least one of every nine counties in America has a life expectancy lower than Nicaragua's. Parts of West Virginia and Mississippi fare worse than Bangladesh and Algeria.

The surprise lies in the size of the difference. In Marin County, California life expectancy for women is 85.02. In Perry County, Kentucky, it’s 72.65. Men in Fairfax County, VA, have a life expectancy of 81.67 (Marin County: 81.44). In Mcdowell, West Virginia, the male life expectancy is 63.9.”

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201307/why-is-american-health-lagging-behind-other-nations
 


PEOPLE AGE AT WIDELY DIFFERENT RATES

 “A study of people born within a year of each other has uncovered a huge gulf in the speed at which their bodies age.

The report, in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, tracked traits such as weight, kidney function and gum health.

Some of the 38-year-olds were aging so badly that their "biological age" was on the cusp of retirement.

The international research group followed 954 people from the same town in New Zealand who were all born in 1972-73.

The scientists looked at 18 different aging-related traits when the group turned 26, 32 and 38 years old.

The analysis showed that at the age of 38, the people's biological ages ranged from the late-20s to those who were nearly 60.”

http://www.bbc.com/news/health-33409604
 


So the discrepancy between slowest and fastest agers was almost 30 years — and let me remind you that the participants were all the same chronological age. Another study is planned to try to find out the reasons for the different rates of aging. As with most things related to health and longevity, we simply don’t know.

We do know that Nobel Prize winners and Oscar winners tend to live longer. Positive emotions?

High IQ is also a good predictor of longevity.

MORE MAMMOGRAMS DOESN’T MEAN FEWER CANCER DEATHS

Yet another study showed that more mammograms don’t decrease the death rate from breasts cancer. But they increase over-diagnosis and over-treatment, causing harm. But no matter how many studies show that, those mammograph machines are expensive, and hospitals need to get their investment back. 

http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2015/07/07/420585286/more-mammograms-may-not-always-mean-fewer-cancer-deaths

RELIGION/ATHEISM


That was the biggest part of my doubt once it arose . . . Especially after I learned about Zeus, Wotan, and other gods. Whatever happened to them? How come all the thousands of other gods were "false," and only the Christian god was the true god? This "monotruthism" (as Matt called it), the one and only true god revealed only to a tiny nation in the ancient Near East, aroused an ever-growing suspicion that ALL gods were human creations. And besides, Yahweh did seem so human: he walked (preferring the cool of the day) and talked, had fits of anger, regrets, was afraid of the power of humans if they could communicate or become immortal . . .

I didn't know about Garibaldi's position until now. My guess would have been that, like other nationalist leaders, he used religion to increase the zeal to kill the enemy. But Garibaldi rejected all creeds, and was an effective leader in spite of his open atheism. Given the times, this is a sweet surprise.

One of the things that aroused my suspicion was that god, instead of being perfect, had human faults. Not just jealousy, petty favoritism, regrets and temper tantrums, but also a deep insecurity about his own power and an actual fear of humanity as potential rivals: what if Adam and Eve also eat the fruit of the Tree of Life? What if people, speaking one language, are able to communicate to work together on great projects? Let's "confound" their languages! That just didn't seem to be worthy of a being truly superior to even the best and wisest of men.

I’d also add that god was created for the sake of man, not man for the sake of god. We should ask about any religion, “Does it serve humanity?” Or at least, “Does it serve some people without at the same time harming them, and harming others?” Offhand, it's hard for me to think of harmless religions.

Matt: HOW DARE GOD NOT EXIST AFTER ALL THE ADVERTISING AND PROMOTION?

ORIANA: And in the Catholic church the promotion was quite extreme: the many holidays, all the statues, icons, candles and luxurious flowers, sprinklings with holy water, special blessings, processions, the priests' splendid robes and vessels, the bishop's huge hat and crosier. The choir singing hundreds of people singing and praying out loud. Vatican 2 was a disaster, but the old liturgy had all the ceremony it could contain. Advent, Lent, the Five Wounds, Our Lady of the Flowers (in May) and Our Lady of the Sorrows. The riot of angels. The church was an ongoing spectacular opera.

Old-style Catholicism could easily be the center of a person's life. Some old women seemed to practically live in churches, in the pews, on their knees. My grandmother still referenced time in terms of the holidays: I last saw X just before Trinity Sunday (Corpus Christi, Michelmass, Candlemass, St. Martin’s — each week was holy in some way). The nuns in their outrageous headgear and loud black shoes. The priests swinging censors, filling the already dusky air with serpentine smoke of heavy incense. In retrospect all that richness and busyness seem a perfect cover-up for god's absence. You wouldn't need all the icons and ceremonies if there happened to be an actual sign of god's existence. The more frightening the emptiness, the more elaborate the façade. 

The little naked angels are always photogenic and upstage everything else. I wonder: is that the Inca gold by any chance?


WHY IS GOD HIDING?

This I could never understand: why is god hiding? Why doesn't he communicate? Couldn't he at least make a brief announcement from the clouds once a year? Why were saints and miracles common in the Middle Ages, but now virtually absent, or not very compelling? Why does the Pope keep changing the doctrine? And on and on . . .

But mainly I craved a brief announcement. Preferably a public one, from the clouds. But if not, then a private one made to me and to someone trustworthy. Not just obviously one’s own thoughts, but a voice from the outside — or some clear sign, like a book suddenly opening itself to a particular page. Pebbles and twigs spelling out a word — but not a hiker’s mark of direction. I scanned the world carefully for possible messages. I listened intently for even the quietest whisper.

Alas. Or perhaps — no news is good news. After all, that means no hell, no Last Judgment. Nothing supernatural, so we just have to cope with whatever life throws at us, grief or splendor. Mystery? I welcome it. Let's enjoy it not having all the answers so life and the world are forever interesting.



A KNOCK ON THE DOOR

They ask me if I’ve ever thought about the end of
the world, and I say, “Come in, come in, let me
give you some lunch, for God's sake.” After a few
bites it’s the afterlife they want to talk about.
“Ouch,” I say, “did you see that grape leaf
skeletonizer?” Then they're talking about
redemption and the chosen few sitting right by
His side. “Doing what?” I ask. “Just sitting?” I
am surrounded by burned up zombies. “Let's
have some lemon chiffon pie I bought yesterday
at the 3 Dog Bakery.” But they want to talk about
my soul. I’m getting drowsy and see butterflies
everywhere. “Would you gentlemen like to take a
nap, I know I would.” They stand and back away
from me, out the door, walking toward my
neighbors, a black cloud over their heads and
they see nothing without end.

~ James Tate

Then they're talking about
redemption and the chosen few sitting right by
His side. “Doing what?” I ask. “Just sitting?”

~ that’s the problem with the Christian heaven, so the only incentive is avoiding hell. 




FEELING ANGER AT THE GOD YOU DON’T BELIEVE IN

The last time I had the experience was actually most interesting. I was invited to feel myself surrounded by divine love, and I thought, OK, that would be something new, something the church never suggested -- I'll try. Instantly I was seized by enormous rage. It was so intense that it took me minutes to calm down. After that experience, and after thinking through the irrationality of it, but also of the causal factors, I never had the experience again. God wasn't sufficiently real after that to provoke any emotion. Btw, I described the experience to the woman who'd invited me, and she admitted her first attempts had exactly the same effect: the feeling of enormous rage. Because of a severe health problem, she apparently had a need for a parent in the sky, so she kept trying, with more than one religion.

The gist of my analysis was that the source of my rage was the stored resentment over the bad things that happened in my life, some of which were due simply to being in the wrong place at the wrong time. So much of what happens to us is mere accident, circumstances, in no way “sin” or a “character defect.” As long as god still exists in the neural circuits — or is revived through an “exercise” — and his benevolence is again exposed as a sham, the feeling of rage is understandable. Understandable and forgivable, but there is no excuse for having it linger. The problem is resentment at the fact that bad things happened. That resentment is irrational; it assumes that we have a right to special protection from suffering. We don’t. Time and chance really do happen to all. And yes, we are the victims of victims. To resent circumstances — or even the ignorant and themselves formerly abused people who victimized us — is not going to accomplish anything. Letting go of god here means letting go of the resentment at circumstances. 

Photo: Oliver Sacks

PROPHECY AND ETHYLENE; OMPHALOS, THE NAVEL OF THE WORLD, AT DELPHI

“This egg-shaped stone—the very stone described by the Greek writer Pausanias, who visited Delphi in the second century A.D.—represents the omphalos, or “navel of the world.” According to Greek legend, Delphi was fixed as the center of the world when Zeus released two eagles, one from the west and the other from the east, which met in the sky above Delphi. The original omphalos stone, now lost, was probably an archaic cult object that supplicants draped with wreaths, resembling the wreaths carved in relief on this stone.”

The trance-inducing gas that made the Pythia pronounce prophecies was most likely ethylene, the sweet-smelling “ripening gas” produced by some fruit. If the name reminds you of ethanol, also called ethyl alcohol or simply “alcohol,” you are on the right track: ethanol is the hydrate of ethylene

C2H4 + H2O → CH3CH2OH

Occasionally the Pythia inhaled too much ethylene and developed convulsions. She’d usually die within days, and a new Pythia had to be found. The oracle declined after an earthquake greatly diminished the release of ethylene from a tectonic fault that ran under the temple. Eventually the gas ceased to seep out, and the profitable religious business was over for good.


 

DID HISTORICAL JESUS EXIST?

Some New Testament scholars (Bart Ehrman, Reza Aslan) lean to “mythicized historical Jesus,” while others, the “mythicists,” claim that the myth came first and became “historicized.” Here is a good review of the mythicist position, which has been gaining popularity:

http://www.salon.com/2014/09/01/5_reasons_to_suspect_that_jesus_never_existed/


For the mythicists, “Jesus appears to be an effect, not a cause, of Christianity. Paul and the rest of the first generation of Christians searched the Septuagint translation of Hebrew scriptures to create a Mystery Faith for the Jews, complete with pagan rituals like a Lord’s Supper, Gnostic terms in his letters, and a personal savior god to rival those in their neighbors’ longstanding Egyptian, Persian, Hellenistic and Roman traditions.”

Bishop Shelby Spong tactfully refers to the Gospels as “faith narratives,” clarifying that those were not eyewitness accounts, but writings meant to spread the faith.

THE SMALLER LIES WERE A BIGGER SHOCK


 
After realizing that the Judeo-Christian god, like all the other gods, had been invented by humans and did not exist outside of the believers’ minds, I had no trouble seeing it all as mythology — both the stories of the Old Testament and events like the Virgin Birth and Resurrection. It was only natural to conclude the virgin birth was absurd, the resurrection never happened, and Jesus is never coming back.

Likewise, it was terribly unlikely that a Jew would tell anyone to drink his blood, given the huge taboo . . . so the Last Supper with its symbolic cannibalism never happened. Nor did Jesus die for anyone's sins like a sacrificial animal. That was just disgusting, archaic on the face of it.

When it comes to those big inventions, my attitude was soon, “How could I have ever believed this shit?” And I have to remind myself that it’s easy to brainwash a child, with her immature brain. You just repeat certain things, no matter how impossible they sound.

The shock was the small things. Scholars like Bart Ehrman publicized the historical findings that there was no census requiring anyone to go to the town of one’s birth (a bizarre idea; that’s not how census is done), no slaughter of the innocents, no flight into Egypt, no reading of a non-actual (conflated) passage of scripture at the synagogue in Nazareth (there was no synagogue in Nazareth, which wasn’t a functional town in the first century). Nazareth may be a Greek misreading of Nazarene, which referred to men so consecrated to piety that they were not allowed to cut their hair. Oddly enough, it’s those relatively minor confabulations that shocked me at first — not the “big stuff.”

No resurrection, no second coming — that was easy. But — the slaughter of the innocents never happened? — I was in a state of shock for hours. Reader, I can't begin to tell you how deeply shocked I was after reading that the slaughter of the innocents never happened. All those paintings, and of course my horror at the story when I was a child . . .  What a web of lies had to be invented.

Bart Ehrman also made sense of the apocalyptic preaching, gradually de-emphasized in the later gospels — there were many apocalyptic preachers during that era. Ehrman assumes that there was a historical Jesus and he was one of those end-of-the-world nuts. (If there was a historical Jesus, he meant the end days literally, clouds of glory and all. Later I was able to see this metaphorically, as applying to the last decades of a human life — there just isn’t time for a lot of things that may have been fine in youth.)

Still, the biggest lie — that the afterlife exists, and especially that hell exists — that’s taken years of wrestling to shake off. I like the statement Dostoyevski's "ridiculous man" makes -- in loose paraphrase, if hell exists, then no torment could be so great as my contempt for the deity who devised this torment.

Dostoyevski really dreamed of the world where everyone would be kind. I think if people had more access to giving and getting affection and doing creative work and useful service work, we could have such world. Remnant aggression could go into sports. And that would be as close to heaven as we can get. When life is fulfilling, we don’t need the lie of a paradise in the beyond, that “pie in the sky after you die.”



HISTORY OF IDEAS

WERE THE MIDDLE AGES ACTUALLY THE FIRST “AGE OF REASON”?

“The development of rationality is the theme of Johannes Fried’s book, The Middle Ages, and it is traced through the application of Aristotle’s logic in the twelfth- and thirteenth-century schools to the spread of its influence in ways that make it possible for Fried to postulate a “thought collective” among educated Western Europeans by the end of the period.

Perhaps there was such a collective. In Fried’s work its rise and achievement are given a priority that leaves not enough room for contrary cultural developments. One that is noted in his book is the almost universal expectation of the imminent end of all things, of the Last Days and Final Judgment predicted by Jesus and accepted throughout the early church. About every thirty years from the tenth century onward, this fear took possession of various, sometimes large bodies of men and women and inspired them to form mass movements. Collective penance, pentecostal enthusiasm, irregular crusades, unauthorized pilgrimages, messianic mobbing—all these engaged Christians who feared it might soon be too late.

This was a recurrent electrical charge both in politics and in religion, and Fried does it justice although it sits ill with his insistence on the period as an Age of Reason. He seems reluctant to concede that hysteria kept pace and outstripped the achievement of the thought collective. By 1500 art, printing, theater, and song had enriched the West with a vivid backdrop on which the presence of Antichrist, the Last Judgment, the Devil, Hell’s Mouth, and torments were made clearer than ever before. Individual consciousness of sin was so intense that the attempted reformation of the church would turn into hell on earth.”

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2015/jul/09/two-cheers-middle-ages/?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=NYR+Nanomachines+Middle+Ages+Aeschylus&utm_content=NYR+Nanomachines+Middle+Ages+Aeschylus+CID_baf16fd5002884b52138414e364fdfcf&utm_source=Email%20marketing%20software&utm_term=Two%20Cheers%20for%20the%20Middle%20Ages


I incline more to the "hell on earth" view of the Middle Ages: filth, disease, cruelty, constant warfare and other violence, theocracy (including the burning of "witches" and heretics), illiteracy, lack of privacy, child abuse as standard child rearing. Sure, over so many centuries there are bound to be positive developments as well, but what with outbreaks of religious-apocalyptic hysteria (and no wonder, life being so horrible it could easily make one think those were the Last Days), it's amazing Europe survived . . . 


 Charlemagne's chapel at Aachen

JOHN CAGE ON THE “MEANING OF LIFE”

No why. Just here.

**

CHARISMATIC ORGANIZATIONS AMD THE HUNGER FOR THE HEROIC IDEAL (THE CATHOLIC CHURCH AND THE “LENINIST EXTINCTION”)

“The Catholic church and the Communist party in formal terms are very much alike. In the Middle Ages, the Catholic church said outside the church there was no salvation. The Communist party said the exact same thing. In Solidarity you didn't have one group against another group, you had an association of individual citizens, and ironically enough for a Marxist system, they were workers in effect saying, we don't need the tutelage of this group, we don't need you for salvation. And I think that was the undoing of communism, its inability to recognize in moral terms and in political terms the individual.”

(This reminded me of a self-made Chinese woman billionaire who was used to work in Western high finance, but decided to go back to China: “I missed the idealism.” I also love the way that Jowitt sees an essential similarity between St. Augustine and Stalin, and Aquinas and Khrushchev. The Catholic church is a perfect example of a totalitarian institution that used to be charismatic but then went into decline.)

Ken Jowitt, author of New World Disorder: The Leninist Extinction, argues that Lenin created a charismatic political party that gave people a heroic ideal. He compared it to monastic orders: the Benedictines and the Jesuits. I think the Marines are another charismatic organization, looking for “superior” men capable of total dedication. No one joins the Marines to get rich. It’s about being a hero.

That’s also why fundamentalist religions that make extreme demands keep attracting followers while the toothless, non-demanding churches lose membership. Charismatic organizations actually negate the individual: the group is everything. Forget your inner life, your individualism. You get your identity from the group to which you give yourself totally: “Totus tuus.” Idealism pushed to an extreme (being willing to die and kill for the cause) results in evil, but I don’t think we can ever rid human nature of the longing to live for a great cause and be a hero.

Renunciation, asceticism, total dedication, the heroic ethos — nothing could be more opposite of consumerism.

Jowitt also makes a point that sooner or later a charismatic organization loses its charisma. This is reflected in attempts to reform the system (Vatican II comes to my mind), but the more you reform, the less you demand of the faithful, the lesser the opportunity to be a hero and the greater the loss of the organization’s charisma. It doesn’t matter if it’s a right-wing or left-wing organization: both kinds feed the emotional hunger for heroism.

Jowitt: “I think in every ideology you'll find an Augustine and an Aquinas. The Augustines are those who argue that they represent the superior and that the rest of the world is inferior; you have to attack the inferior, maintain the cohesiveness and the bounded quality of the superior. The city of God versus the city of man. Now, I'm not arguing Stalin was a Roman Catholic or an Augustinian, but in analogous terms they were the same.

As soon as you dissolve the tension between that superior group and the society, unless the group is willing to allow those people in society to be equal as individuals, there's only one thing that can happen to that group: it becomes corrupt. Aquinas, in effect, tried to revise the church to deal with the fact that the society had become more Christian. Khrushchev was Communism's Aquinas, but neither Aquinas nor Khrushchev allowed for the individual to become the major figure. Rather, the church stayed superior, even under Aquinas; the party stayed superior. What happened in the church? You got a Luther. What happened in the Communist Party? You got a Lech Walesa and an Adam Michnik. And what did they stand for? They stood for the appearance of the individual against the domination of that group.”

There is also a need for an enemy: “You have to have a combat quality, there has to an enemy to sustain your need to convert the world. If you've converted the world, charismatics go out of business.”

Jowitt says that Gorbachev really thought he could reform the system; he didn’t realize he was dismantling the Soviet Union.

http://globetrotter.berkeley.edu/people/Jowitt/jowitt-con3.html


Currently the most charismatic organization seems to be ISIS, alas.

One can argue that the early communists exhibited a perverted version of heroism, in the wrong cause, but they were heroic nevertheless. Aleksander Watt, a Polish poet and an ex-Communist ("My Century" is his fascinating tale of Soviet prisons, which cured him of both Communism and dadaist poetry) remarked that the most attractive individuals he'd ever attracted were pre-war Polish Communists, a fairly small and persecuted group. Their courage and devotion were total. When the party was embattled it was not corrupt. It took coming into power to corrupt it. Just one more variation on the eternal theme.


 LIFE WISDOM

“MARRIAGE IS A DISAGREEMENT MACHINE”

"NOTHING HAS PRODUCED MORE UNHAPPINESS THAN THE CONCEPT OF THE SOUL MATE," says Atlanta psychiatrist Frank Pittman. “A real relationship is the collision of my humanity and yours.”

"There is a mythology of 'the wrong person,'" agrees Pittman. "All marriages are incompatible. All marriages are between people from different families, people who have a different view of things.”

This reminded me of a statement by D.H. Lawrence: “Marriage is about disillusionment.” But of course it’s also about real estate, which this article does mention in the guise of “assets.” And it’s about the division of labor, I’d add. “These are the times when we miss our husbands,” a neighbor of mine said when I came to borrow her jump-start cables.

“The pragmatic benefits of partnership used to be foremost in our minds. The idea of marriage as a vehicle for self-fulfillment and happiness is relatively new, says Paul Amato, professor of sociology, demography and family studies at Penn State University. Surveys of high school and college students 50 or 60 years ago found that most wanted to get married in order to have children or own a home. Now, most report that they plan to get married for love. This increased emphasis on emotional fulfillment within marriage leaves couples ill-prepared for the realities they will probably face.

In fact, argue psychologists and marital advocates, there's no such thing as true compatibility. "Marriage is a disagreement machine," says Diane Sollee, founder of the Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education. "All couples disagree about all the same things. We have a highly romanticized notion that if we were with the right person, we wouldn't fight." Discord springs eternal over money, kids, sex and leisure time, but psychologist John Gottman has shown that long-term, happily married couples disagree about these things just as much as couples who divorce.

"There is a mythology of 'the wrong person,'" agrees Pittman. "All marriages are incompatible. All marriages are between people from different families, people who have a different view of things. The magic is to develop binocular vision, to see life through your partner's eyes as well as through your own.”

Too many choices have been shown to stymie consumers, and an array of alternative mates is no exception. In an era when marriages were difficult to dissolve, couples rated their marriages as more satisfying than do today's couples, for whom divorce is a clear option, according to the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.

A committed relationship allows you to drop pretenses and seductions, expose your weaknesses, be yourself—and know that you will be loved, warts and all. "A real relationship is the collision of my humanity and yours, in all its joy and limitations," says Real. "How partners handle that collision is what determines the quality of their relationship.”

https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200403/great-expectations-the-soul-mate-quest?tr=MostViewed





PROCRASTINATION AND THE POWER OF PRESENCE: EMBRACE THE TEDIUM

I learned this already in childhood: avoiding a small displeasure NOW often leads to a much greater distress later. Implementing this piece of wisdom, however, has turned out to be the work of a lifetime.

“Avoiding doing what needs to be done. Putting off till tomorrow what can and should be accomplished today. One aspect of procrastination is what I call the Sisyphus syndrome. As punishment by the gods for trying to eradicate and evade death, Sisyphus was fated to eternally roll a massive rock up a hill each day, only to have it roll back down just as he neared the top. We all share a similar existential fate. We are each required to routinely roll our metaphorical rock — whatever that may be — uphill every day, only to do it all over again tomorrow. It is arduous, difficult, tedious, boring and laborious work. But Sisyphus must do it. And so must we.

This tedious aspect of life is something many people try to avoid via procrastination. Like children, we would much rather play games than: do our math or history homework, or clean up our room. Who wants to wash dishes? Vacuum? Clean the bathroom? Do their taxes? Study for exams? Write their dissertation? We refuse to accept the difficult, dirty, tedious tasks in life, distracting ourselves instead with more amusing activities so as to avoid them. We resist and avoid shouldering the boulder.

But it should be remembered that for philosopher Albert Camus, in his famous little book The Myth of Sisyphus (1942), Sisyphus found meaning, contentment and even happiness in accepting his fate. As must we all. As Friedrich Nietzsche put it : amor fati. Love your fate. Tedium is an inescapable part of our fate. And part of becoming an adult, of growing up, is accepting that life will at times be tedious.

One secret to accepting the existential fact of tedium is to assert depth psychologist Otto Rank's therapeutic mental maneuver he referred to as “the willing affirmation of the must.” We cannot totally eliminate tedium from our lives, but we can consciously will it by choosing to actively engage it. To throw ourselves into the tedious task fully and wholeheartedly, rather than resisting it. This shift in attitude toward tedium can, paradoxically, transform it.

The secret is to savor each moment as though it will be our last. Like it is all we have. Because, existentially speaking, it may be. Death is an ever-present possibility. There are a thousand ways to die. But we can also learn from the monk the importance of remaining as present as possible in the face of life's constant distractions, demands and crises. Being mindful of what we are doing and how we are feeling or thinking at all times. Cooking. Eating. Exercising. Driving. Making love. Of course, this is much easier said than done. Mindfulness, like meditation, is a skill. And like any other skill, it must be practiced in order to get good at it. So don’t expect instant results. Stay with it, however, and soon you too will be savoring strawberries. And doing that next thing that needs to be done. No matter what it may be.”  ~ Stephen Diamond

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evil-deeds/201201/essential-secrets-psychotherapy-the-healing-power-clinical-wisdom-part-two


Pondering when it’s easier to deal with tedious tasks, I’ve discovered that on days I feel quite happy those chores aren’t as hellish. In fact they are hardly a burden. It’s the days deficient in pleasure that also tend to make chores seem almost insufferable. But in fact, as this article points out, to avoid displeasure it’s enough to simply change one’s attitude: embrace the “awful” task as if it were delightful. Do it whole-heartedly. “Whatever thy hand finds to do, do it with all thy might” is my favorite sentence in The Ecclesiastes.

Photo of the week:

New York, July 1925: mother cat stops traffic


IF I KNEW MY LIFE WERE TO END A YEAR FROM NOW

Charles:

If my life would be over in a year, this is what I would want:

“... simply take in as much beauty as we can from the world that offers it in such astounding abundance.”
~ while holding hands with the person I love.

Love the image of lightning and thunder and your comment is perfect for the picture.

Donald Trump is a perfect example of frontal lobes deteriorating.

I’m surprised that the art class was better than doing puzzles or cardiovascular exercise. I do all three so I should live very long….I hope, but you never know.

Interesting about the early plethora of gods and now with the expansion of secularism we have three standing, The God of the Hebrews, Christ and Allah.

IN BLACKBERRY WOODS  is a beautiful way to end the blog.

This is definitely one of my favorite blogs.

Oriana:

I’d amend the sentence you quote to include holding hands as well. Freud said that the most important things in life are “love and work.” I’d amend that to “love and work and beauty.” And should the ability to work end, as may happen, love and beauty would be enough.

Surprised that you are surprised about the effectiveness of an art class on cognitive function! Creating art is challenging to the brain, and socializing is involved as well — lots of brain areas light up when we socialize.

The vanishing gods . . . The main Hindu gods are holding up pretty well. But I wonder if they’ll survive an increase in prosperity. It’s poor people who need religion most, and who seem to get the most out of religious festivals, which in India include an ecstatic element such as dancing. That part of religion I’d actually love to see surviving rather than being displaced by sports bars.

That particular Saturday’s Child has already had 94 views. This is a lazy way to do a blog, but right now it suits me particularly well. I just wonder if I’ll get too spoiled to return to longer original essays. And for those who may be wondering why this particular development: I happened to read a study that concluded that my type of post gets the fewest “likes” on Facebook and is the least read (since it actually requires reading). I realized that choosing the best posts for the blog, with some commentary, was a way of making my best finds available to readers who really do read, and of archiving this content. It’s part of my “harvesting” project.