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Late Night Thoughts (Reposted from February 20, 2011)

There are few noises at this hour.   A car passes in the distance.  The house creaks.  The furnace starts.  I have not heard a dog bark in hours.

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…”It is really annoying when people, particularly those in positions of power, can’t even be bothered to take the trouble to lie well.” — Yves Smith.

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…To oppress a mother is to oppress a democracy, for it is mothers who teach the value of democracy to their children.

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…It seems what’s happening in Wisconsin is part of the class war in America that’s been going on for sometime now.  As Warren Buffett pointed out, the war was begun by members of his class, and his class is winning it.

Unfortunately, if rich billionaires like the Koch brothers win the Wisconsin round in the class war, that means they will have managed to break the Wisconsin public service unions.  And if they manage to do that, then the Democratic party will be left as nothing more than a paper man in that state.

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…The other day, I noticed an advertisement that claimed the Bible was, of all the world’s wisdom literature, the most profound.  Now, I’ve heard that claim made before in various ways and places.  But, I confess, I have never understood why anyone would make that claim.

As wisdom literature, the Bible seems to have been often surpassed. And not just by many of the ancient Greek, Roman, Indian, or Chinese authors.  But also by more modern authors.

To give some of the Biblical authors credit, though, their concern for social, political, and economic justice was remarkable for their time, and — thankfully — very influential on the West.

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…There seems to be a sense in which almost all complex, hierarchical societies — even going as far back as to the origin of complex, hierarchical societies some 5,500 years ago — have been scams.   Moreover, it’s been the same scam perpetrated again and again.  And, in essence, that scam has been to fool the masses into believing the society’s elites have the backing of a supernatural order.

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…There are many people in this god-drunk town who cast their blurry vision on science and declare that it, too, is a religion.  The last drunk to tell me that declared, as his reasoning, “Religions are based on beliefs. Science is based on beliefs. Therefore, science is a religion.”

By precisely the same “logic”, “Cats are furry.  Dogs are furry.  Therefore, dogs are cats.”

But, even if his reasoning was logically valid — which it is not, unless dogs are cats — what would not then become a religion?  Indeed, even one’s overwhelming desire to take a shower after hearing him espouse his drunken  “logic” would, according to his drunken  “logic”,  become a religious act.

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Just now, a motorcycle started up, then sped off.  In the day, it would be just another cycle.  But in the night, it seems a story in itself.

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…Humans are natural born cartographers.  We make maps of the world, which we call “beliefs”.   It’s what our species does.

Sometimes, our maps are more or less accurate.  And sometimes, they are fantasy maps, like the ones we made as children to show where a pirate’s treasure lay buried in our backyard.

The accuracy of our maps often matters less to us than the fact they are ours.  Because, for most of us, our maps are something we think of as us.

Now, when we fall in love, she sooner or later challenges our maps…

And, if our love survives those challenges, there’s a chance that our love is true.

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…Tonight, I came across in a faded notebook a line from a poem I once wrote to a woman: “No one has made me wish / To face with grace the challenge / of her morning breath like you, Joelle.”   And consequently, reading that line, I had a sudden and abrupt realization of precisely how it is that I have managed all these years to remain celibate despite the occasional woman who’s now and then been interested enough in me to even read my poems.

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…Once I saw a Seven-Eleven that was closed.  Locked up and abandoned.

Since everything inside the impossibly dark store windows was in place and intact, I eventually concluded it must be a clerk who didn’t show up for work.  But I at first thought: “Not even a president’s death can close a Seven-Eleven. It must be something.  It must be big.”

Perhaps there is inside all of us a thing — a strange, hard thing — that now and then longs for an event so big it will close even the world’s Seven-Elevens.

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…When I met Becky she was in her 30s and would now and then do something completely spontaneous: Always some little thing, but it was an attractive quality.   Even in a city, birds from a branch put to air like her.  So, though they live like the rest of us amongst the concrete and noise, you can see how those birds are beyond the artificial world we have created for them — how they are still native to the earth and sky.  Some people are like that.

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…So far, I have found only three things with power to redeem the human condition: Love, work, and play.  And of those three, love is the greatest.

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…Brett called to invite me to lunch the other day  (Brett was 15 the year we first met at the coffee shop.  I was perhaps 40 or 42).   So, we met at a tavern where the beer is watery, but the food is good, and I enjoyed talking with him so much the time slipped past on rabbit’s feet.

At some point in the afternoon, after we had exhausted half a dozen topics, Brett said he suspected the reason quite a few kids had hung out with me years ago at the coffee shop was because I was for the most part nonjudgmental.   So I told him that was the dumbest thing I’d ever heard from a fellow human, if indeed he was actually human. So, I thanked him for confirming a suspicion I’d had.  Then, being an insufferable old fart, I told him a story he’d already heard at least twice from me, and one he probably didn’t want to hear again.

After we had parted for the evening, I reflected on the fact that Brett had certainly been one of the most intelligent people at the coffee shop, and very likely one of the wisest.  Yet, it had never been any one thing that led me to those conclusions.  Like a stream of gold dust, Brett is someone who stands out from the crowd not for any one big thing, but for the cumulative impression made on you by a thousand glittering details.

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…My second wife had a taste for dresses by Ungaro.  Is Ungaro still around?  That Italian knew how to make a woman wearing silk look like a nude.

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…This night, for the first time in ages, I recall once a woman and I spent nearly two years laughing together.  No, she was not my wife, but a co-worker.  We worked together in the evenings, and we’d spend every moment we could with each other.  Then, when I moved on to a day job, I still dropped by her workplace in the evenings to laugh with her.

One day, I invited her out to a movie.  But by the time she got to my place, it was too late to catch a show.  At a loss for much else to do, I tried nibbling on her ear.  Consequently, two years of laughing together led to her having three explosive orgasms: The best in her life, she told me.  After that, you might think she’d be happy.

Yet, somehow, by the next day, she had translated everything — all of it — into guilt and regret.  “You must think I’m a slut”, she said, “because I slept with you on our first date.”

“No, I feel as if I’ve been courting you for two years”, I said, “Besides I’m in love.”

“Even if you don’t think I’m a slut”, she said, “When I saw you this evening, it made me think of myself as a slut, and then my heart sank to the floor.  I can’t see you again.”  And she meant it.

It was much later I realized that, despite our rapport, only one of us had been in love.

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It is almost dawn.

Alienation From Self, Belief, Consciousness, Education, Fantasy Based Community, Human Nature, Ideas, Ideologies, Learning, Liars Lies and Lying, Life, Living, Reality Based Community, Skeptical Thinking, Spiritual Alienation, Thinking, Truth

Only a Child Can Believe

(About a 3 minute read)

The next time someone gives you directions, take a moment to notice how you feel about them both before and after you have taken them and discovered for yourself they got you where you wanted to go.

Did your feelings change a little bit?  My own feelings change.  Not much, but still perceptibly change.  Near as I can figure, that’s the difference between my believing that something is true and my accepting that something is true.  It’s the difference between my conscious mind believing something, and my whole mind — including my subconscious — believing something is true.

I have a friend who is in the habit of saying, “I believe you, Paul”.  I have known him for at least a decade, and I have yet to see evidence he has believed me even once about anything!

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Willful Stupidity and the Good Reader

(About a 4 minute read)

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”  — George Bernard Shaw

I suspect future historians will now and then speak of us as an “Age of Wonders”.  The wonder of our electronics.  The wonder of our communication technologies.  The wonder of our medical advancements —  especially in the field of mental health.   And so forth.

But sadly, I suspect future historians will also speak of us as an “Age of Willful Stupidity”.

If so, they will doubtlessly say our age began over 100 years ago with the Stupid Bolshevik Revolution in Russia that was soon enough followed by the Rise of Stupid Fascism in Italy.   And the historians are bound to point out that the willful stupidity has continued largely unabated straight through to today’s many Stupid Denial Movements.

I suspect future historians will write whole libraries on that one theme alone — willful stupidity.  And I expect — I actually expect — that somewhere in those libraries there will be a book or article with an insightful footnote saying, “The first casualty of willful stupidity is the art of listening.”

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Who is Privileged and Who Is Not?

(About  5 minute read)

Growing up, I had a keen sense that I could get away with a good amount of rule-breaking.  Not just little things, but some fairly sizeable offenses too.  I didn’t usually push things as far as I sensed I could, but I did have the perception I could get away with a whole lot of things — if only I wanted to.

The sense stayed with me when I got older, although it became a little vaguer.  When I was in my late teens, early twenties, majoring in philosophy I was aware that I wouldn’t have much trouble getting a good job upon graduation — despite some warnings that my major was impractical.

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“Truth Isn’t Truth”

“Truth isn’t truth”  —  Rudy Giuliani, NBC “Meet the Press”,  August 19, 2018.

(About a 4 minute read)

In Western philosophy, the notion truth is relative dates back at least 2,400 years to the sophist Protagoras, who is stated by Plato to have said, “What is true for you is true for you, and what is true for me is true for me.”

In the East, the notion goes back perhaps another 100 years earlier to the Jain teacher Mahavira, who seems to have been the first to teach Anekantavada, a doctrine that has been described as advocating religious pluralism.

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Alex Jones and the “Paradox of Tolerance”

(About a 7 minute read)

I think it can be said of Alex Jones that he is the poster-child for the “American disease” of tolerating the intolerable.  Perhaps out of all major democracies, America’s democracy is the most susceptible to the disease.  That’s because we tend to be extremists when it comes to protecting freedom of speech.

To be sure, America does limit free speech somewhat, but the limits are absolutely minimal.  You cannot advocate physical violence against someone and/or their property, nor can you “yell fire in a crowded theater” for the mere sport of it, since that might lead to physical injuries.

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Why I Always Need a Shower Whenever I Study an Ideology

(About a 4 minute read)

“Since opposed principles, or ideologies, are irreconcilable, wars fought over principle will be wars of mutual annihilation. But wars fought for simple greed will be far less destructive, because the aggressor will be careful not to destroy what he is fighting to capture. Reasonable – that is, human – men will always be capable of compromise, but men who have dehumanized themselves by becoming the blind worshipers of an idea or an ideal are fanatics whose devotion to abstractions makes them the enemies of life.” ― Alan W. Watts

 

It is a tragedy of human nature that it is more than fair to describe all ideologies — even the most accurate and most decently motivated — as inimical to the very best efforts of humans to think.

Of course, that raises the question of what it means to  “think”, and I certainly do not mean in this context to define “thinking” in any way a psychologist would recognize the term.  That’s too narrow here.

Instead, perhaps the minimum standard — in this context — for ‘thinking” is open-minded skepticism.  And perhaps the highest standard is creative, but truthful and accurate, out-of-the box thinking.  If so, it should be fully appreciated by all of us that ideologies invariably fear and fight against such thinking in the same way snakes fear and fight pigs, their natural and inevitable predators.

People who say an ideology “got them thinking” are flattering themselves in the same manner as anyone using a map would be flattering themselves if they claimed they were — not a mere map user — but a cartographer.  Ideologies are not intended to get you thinking, they are intended to get you motivated.  They are the philosophical equivalent of a sales pitch.

One thing any successful salesperson knows is, speak all you want about how much your product or service will do for the world.  Speak to both individuals and crowds. Even shout the news from a mountain that yours will save all of humanity, and lead to much whiter teeth, too.  But whatever you do, don’t forget to close the sale on narrow self-interest, because it is narrow self-interest that does the real selling — that is always and ever the real motivation for adopting an ideology.

People like to confuse themselves about that.  But while people can at least now and then do things for selfless reasons, they simply do not adopt an ideology to help their brother or sister more than themselves.  Ideologies are just as opposed to selfless motives for believing in them as they are to genuine thinking.

Although most of us don’t hang around our hammocks all day long thinking about such things,  to act without any selfish motive at all is to act spontaneously without thinking about it.   That’s because the psychological self or “ego” crucially rests for its very existence on thinking, on symbolic thought.  Hence, there is a profound sense in which it can be said that you cannot think about saving the girl without in some significant sense thinking about what saving the girl would mean to you personally.  In other words, self-interest will factor into every calculation you can make of the value of saving the girl.

But to me, the biggest objection to ideologies is that they are so full of themselves.  Basically, they are “systems of thinking that explain to their deserving adherents why they themselves are clearly right and why everyone else is clearly wrong, yet systems which are always significantly wrong about always being right., and everyone else wrong.’

Arrogance is a form of blindness to one’s blindness to nearly everything.   As opposed to true humility (which is claiming what one deserves — no more, no less),  arrogance lacks sufficient realism to either understand itself or others.  It’s like living in a fantasy world.

Beyond that, ideologies, when approached carefully and cautiously can help make sense of the word.  But damn, there are just too many ideologically-deranged people willing to do the equivalent of bomb an abortion clinic in the name of Jesus.