Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Tree of Knowledge: God, Gnosticism and the Bible

Painting of God with long flowing beard and white hair

One of the main tenets of gnosticism is that the Bible is misleading. This does not necessarily mean that the Bible is wrong, but rather that it has been twisted and contorted over the centuries. It has become a document that is purported to be drowning instead of upholding the original truth; its truth may reveal itself in a close study, yet only in the form of flecks or sparks according to the gnostic tradition.

The main premise is that the God represented in the Western tradition is not the ultimate or “real” God. He is, in fact, not even the most powerful, yet the most ambitious and – yes, you guessed it – the most jealous. This might explain the horrible acts that this god, or demiurge, commits, especially in the Old Testament. In other words, this god is seen as the spoiled child of the mother of god, known as Sophia, meaning in this case "eternal wisdom."

Does any of this make sense or is it simply heresy? One thing that strikes me despite my dislike and hesitance towards this interpretation is that it could somehow shed light on problems I have with certain events in the Bible. It might give me an answer to the problem of evil, Adam and Eve, problems with gender – at times in form of blatant misogyny - and the general non-acceptance of other religions.

First, let us start with Adam. He was in paradise with not much to do. The jealous god, or again demiurge, could not prevent that some of the “higher echelon” or “executive” gods put a tree of knowledge in this supposed paradise. So this god of the Bible decides to entertain Adam with various delights, including a beautiful woman made in his image. This would help lull Adam and prevent him from seeing and understanding the truth.

Now here is when the interpretation becomes twisted and why gnosticism is branded as "devil worship," or inversely why some followers of gnosticism accuse Christians to be following -unwillingly - the “evil one.” According to gnostic tradition, a senior god appears for the first – but not the last – time in this Bible, as a snake! He wants Adam and Eve to understand the truth and to see and think for themselves. In other words, he wants them to realize that the paradise they are living in is fake and so is their god for that matter.

And the snake does not address Adam, but Eve. She as a female is blessed with intuition and quickly believes the messenger. What is often supposed to be a “weakness” is reverted into strength. Eve later persuades Adam, and they both partake of the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge. And suddenly truth dawns upon them. They are as enlightened as a Buddha.

The jealous god finds out. He is furious. He wants to kill and destroy them. He curses them. He gives Eve, the instigator, a curse to haunt all women: labor. And he ejects both of them from paradise with the “gift” of suffering and death.

At various times the demiurge gets angry at humans and attempts to annihilate everyone in the process. The higher gods manage to save Noah from this god's wrath and, as such, humanity continues its existence. Then the jealous god comes up with specific rules claiming that he is the only one to be worshiped and that grave punishment waits for all those who do not. He talks of eternal damnation and induces fear in all people. He says believe only in me and do not have any other gods or idols; he does so lest they find out the truth the same way Adam and Eve have.

After eons of looting and destruction on earth, the executive gods send their own messenger to pave a new path. It is Jesus. He is the truth embodied and comes as a healthy counterbalance to the vengeful and even bloodthirsty god. He proclaims peace. He preaches acceptance. And he transmits secret knowledge to his apostles.

The jealous god has him crucified. But the popularity of Jesus has grown rapidly so instead of dismissing him as a heretic, he actually embraces him and calls him his son. If you can't fight them, join them! All this happened out of necessity, and it might explain the subsequent split of the Bible as it is suspended between violence and peace, vengeance and love.

What to make out of all this? If you disagree with it, it makes at least good fiction and an interesting hypothesis. It is a novel and different interpretation and gives food for thought. It can, at best, put things into perspective.

To me the forbidden tree parable offered by traditional sources leaves me rather confused. Why would God tempt people for no particular reason and why would be it a bad thing to have knowledge? Why would God seem so insecure and try to shield us from that? What does he have to hide?

At the same time, the gnostic hypothesis would explain the problem of evil. Evil exists then because the higher powers are in conflict, something that happened often in Greek and Roman mythology. There would be no all-powerful god controlling everything but rather a constant struggle for power.

This would also shed light on some of the excruciating violence in the Bible. Why nearly destroy the whole of the human race? Why is there such a huge difference between the Old and the New Testament in its depiction of God. Could we – or rather should we – choose only the aspects of the Bible that we respect most? Is the Bible to be taken literally, figuratively, seen as analogy, philosophy, literature, as the Word of God?

Although the issues that gnosticism raises about the Bible and God may have some appeal in a sort of devil's advocate manner, it does not mean that gnosticism is necessarily true. However, there is no doubt that historically many people in power have altered or changed the Bible and/or its interpretation for political or social motives.

Women had to take the brunt in most of this and “original sin” has been the proposed reason and justification for various “witch hunts” on the female species. At the same time, various parts and even gospels of the Bible have been suppressed or discredited over the years perhaps because they did not fit or benefit the ideology of those in power. There are many issues in organized religion that one ought to reflect upon and be wary about, and one should not simply and blindly accept everything as given truth. Now where is that tree of knowledge when you need it most!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

It's a Wonderful Life: Christmas from a Father's Point of View

Toddler boy sitting on Santa Clause's lap

So it is that time of Father Christmas again. Surprisingly, I am not really in much of a Christmas mood (yet) but there are certain vibes in the air. Alas no snow here to bathe all in its traditional white glow but then again there are still a few more days left.

Anyhow, Christmas and with it Santa may have a new admirer this year: my two-year-old son. He had his first encounter with the big bearded ho-ho-ho fellow at the mall. And my son was more than thrilled. He is asking Santa to get him a garbage truck.

All this aside, I must say there is also a cynic in me. Call him Mr Humbug. Christmas sometimes seems like a bunch of baloney, a calculated, mean-spirited attempt to exploit and capitalize on people's sentiments in order to make money. Heck, it is generally believed or rather known that Christ wasn't even born around this time. I do not want my child to be spoon-fed blatant lies!

And yet, I cannot deny the fact that there is more to Christmas. My son's and along with it many a child's expression. The sense of wonder that will envelop my son like a warm blanket. His excitement. His joy of a world of magic, and peace and love and reindeer flying across the sky carrying a jolly fat man who traditionally despite his plump weight climbs through chimneys.

Sooner or later my son will discover and know the truth of the nonexistence of Father Christmas and another magical bubble will have burst. And reality will dawn upon him. This is some magic that I have never really been part of. Something that I have missed out in my past. Christmas has often missed its spark.

Something has been amiss despite or because of the frantic efforts of my family to create that kind of Christmas-like atmosphere. Yet its deeper noncommercial and joyous aspects have resonated within me on an intimate and personal level. I would listen to Bach's Weihnachtsoratorium or watch the monumental Jesus of Nazareth.

Most of those personal traditions or rituals have changed now. This year we are treeless, not because of any convictions, but perhaps mostly because of laziness (on my part). Or stinginess. Or busyness. Or again maybe because the Christmas mood is rather slow to set in.

Just recently I watched a renowned seasonal movie in an attempt to instill the Christmas spirit within, namely the good old-fashioned Capra's It's a Wonderful Life with Jimmy Stewart. And yes, all the hype around this little jewel is more than deserved. It moved and thrilled me and revealed perhaps what may be the true face of Christmas under all the commercial glitter and confetti.

A time for peace, a time for new beginnings, a time for re-evaluation of what one has taken granted the whole year. And to hug those close to you. And to believe in all that is in cosmic harmony, the unseen world behind the seemingly trivial and insignificant. Merry Christmas to you and remember no man is a failure when you have friends! Or rather, no man or woman is a failure period.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Putting your Best Face Forward in Everyday Life

Photo shop version of author of "Arash's World" as airplane pilot

I do not usually like to put a face to, or rather put my face on, my blog. It may be called “my” world, but I am an ideas person and prefer them anytime over looks, profiles and status updates. That said, here you have a photo of mine. Yet I am not perfectly honest in this picture. It represents a half-truth or a certain play on words / pictures.

The pilot here in cyberspace that has my face is at the same time both me and not-me. It has been attained through photo montage as I am not a pilot - and never have been - nor have I actually posed for this photo. It is a juxtaposition of two different situations, the picture was taken in another context and comes from another situation, yet with the help of technology I have created (or rather my wife has done it for me) a real-looking false image of my self.

The aim of this post, however, is not basking in my looks or technological prowess;it is more about a certain realization that came to me. It may be commonplace but it is nonetheless important to me and hopefully to my readers as well. As I was posing for photos that I was planning to put on a work-related site, my wife suggested I should change my attitude because apparently it showed negatively on the photos.

I was merely looking serious and was not thinking about anything in particular when the photos were taken. When I saw the resulting photos I was surprised about how serious I looked. In some of them I actually appeared scared while in others I even had the look of a serial killer! Needless to say those photos were not chosen for my work-site.

However, on the other photos where I looked as if I had just stumbled upon a brilliant insight or epiphany, where I was thinking happy and uplifting thoughts if you will, my face looked completely different. There was a certain glow, joy, relaxation, and even confidence seeping through. It was slight yet noticeable. So thinking you are confident actually makes you look confident indeed! A precious piece of advice for the job world out there.

And I kept pondering about it. If our face “shows,” as the song about being happy and clapping your hands incidentally states, then why not put our best face forward at any time of the day. It is only a slight adjustment. It is related to the idea of positive vibes or thinking. Why not look our best by thinking the best thoughts.

Others can really see it all reflected in your face. Of course, one should stay away from fake and superficial smiles and there is nothing wrong with feeling blue once in a blue moon. But as they say, smile and the world smiles back at you, why not try that approach once in a while. And suddenly, once you realize how your inner world connects with the outer physical appearance both you and the others will appreciate and benefit from that interaction.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Feeding your Feelings with Negative or Positive Thoughts and Thinking

Hieronymus Bosch painting with circular shapes of sins

We all experience, from time to time, strong negative emotions, such as anger, hatred, and envy. And we almost always feel bad about it, immediately reproach ourselves and feel guilty afterward. Rarely do we rejoice at such feelings, and if we do, we may be in danger of being put and locked away.

The problem is that when we feel negative about negative thoughts and emotions, it does not work out like mathematical equations where two negatives make a positive. It is rather like a fragmentation of the self that is at war with itself. It does not, as a result, help our cause. Feeling bad about a negative feeling perpetuates negativity. Instead of ridding yourself from the undesired feeling, you inadvertently make it worse.

So what should be done? Try this out as an experiment: Embrace your negative feelings. Appreciate them. After all, the fact that they are labeled and classified by us, society, and religion as “good” and “bad” does not preclude that they are still feelings after all. They may be opposites on the scale, but they still have the same origin.

Nevertheless, a strange thing happens inside when you stop fighting against your negative side: It slowly evaporates. Your negative side wants you to pour gasoline onto it, but when you deal with these feelings gently, they dissolve. 

Just like in a heated argument, the violence escalates because of continued use of insult and injury. Should one of the participants break the chain and suddenly show a sign of true gentleness or utter a harmless absurdity, the other would be confused. The other would probably claim that you are completely out of your mind, but the conflict would most likely not terminate in a brawl.

Also, next time around, your outburst of anger may be at a decreased level. Naturally, you will probably never really eliminate negative emotions, yet at least they will be easier to control. As a swami once said, you cannot stop your thoughts from coming, but you can learn how to surf.

One of the ingrained difficulties of our own Judeo-Christian society lies in our image of sin and our complex relationship with God. In the eyes of God, we are all purported to be sinners. What a negative perspective! By chastising yourself for your sins, you will continue the vicious cycle of negativity. 

Human beings are definitely no angels. Far from it. And yes, one should always strive for the good, whatever that may mean to the individual under the circumstances. Yet unfortunately, religion and religious authorities often emphasize the worst in human nature.

What about love and forgiveness? Does not God forgive our sins? Did Jesus himself not protect and give shelter to a “sinful” woman when he claimed that no one was exempt from sin?

In fact, we have a split image bequeathed by religion. God as a loving and forgiving authority and God as the punisher. I have elsewhere shown this discrepancy by comparing the ideology behind Moses and the Old Testament versus Jesus and the Gospels.

Along the same lines, I believe we would achieve much more control of our so-called sins if we actually forgave ourselves once in a while and gave us space and room to feel those negative emotions. In this case, positive thinking is a valuable tool, but it dodges the issue. If you just use positive thinking to combat negative ones, you are back to square one, meaning more thinking with more fragmentation.

Instead of feeding and fanning the flames of the beast within us or punishing ourselves for our misdeeds or supposed transgressions, we should embrace them and forgive ourselves. It does not mean nor justify that we acted in the right manner. It just means that everybody has to face the inevitable adage that nobody is perfect. But at least we continue trying.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Space-Continuum, Time Travel and the Illusion of Free Will

Glimpse of a revolving star in universe
Do we have free will? If we do, how much free will do we have? Obviously, we can never have absolute free will because of the limitations that genetics (nature), the environment (nurture), our personal experience, our past, and other conditions of our surrounding impose upon us. 

Hence, there may be only a limited array of choices that we have at a particular moment in time; in other words, we do not have an unlimited set of options. There are many things that will not even occur to us in any given situation due to those constraints mentioned earlier.

Let us look at the following mundane scenario. I wake up in the morning, get up and have eggs for breakfast. Now usually I do not choose when to wake up; it is often based either on external circumstances, such as noise or alarm clock, or internal conditions, such as my body, regular sleep cycles or nightmares. Put differently, I usually do not have control over when I wake up so I have no free will or say in this matter.

Furthermore, my breakfast is also limited in its choices. I can only have what is available in my fridge / kitchen at the moment. Technically, I could go to the store to buy more items, but then again knowing how lazy and often hungry I am in the morning I choose to have what is there already.

Based on my taste palate and my desire to have a hearty breakfast, scrambled eggs would be the only option and it would be accompanied by a cup of coffee with a spoonful of sugar and no cream. I refuse to have bacon because of my concern for high cholesterol. 

As can be seen, in this simple example, I may believe I have free will, but others with enough information about me and my routine could quite accurately predict my behavior.

Now let us look at free will in terms of time. The arrow of time points forward, and it is generally assumed to move along the line of the past-present-future continuum. Notwithstanding, we experience the world from the crucial crossroads of the present; the present turns immediately into the past, while we have a sense of an unknown constantly looming future ahead of us.

What about my breakfast options if there existed the possibility of time travel? If I could travel in the past, I would be able to change the present, to choose to do otherwise by actively selecting to have cereal in order to show that I could act differently from how I had acted in the first place.

This is rather different from the fact that I would consciously choose now in the present to have cereal instead of eggs to prove my free will. One could say in this case that being led to prove that I have free will I purposely acted against my inclinations. That would mean I was compelled to act against my inclinations, and it was not really my independent free will. Anybody could have predicted my act of defiance.

In the case of time travel where I could choose a different outcome from what had actually happened, I would have the option to either a) do as I did in the first place (have eggs) or b) to do things differently (have cereal instead). The fact that I am not compelled to do as I already did once opens up a certain freedom of choice. 

Put differently, I have the ability to do otherwise and hence change the future. This is known as the “alternative stories theory.” It was a premise that “Back to the Future” explored in a playful manner. It is also one that is fraught with difficulties, such as the riddle if you travel to the past and kill your grandfather, would you still exist?

But let us assume I go back to the prehistoric time of the dinosaurs, how could I possibly change the course of history? Whether I know that the meteorite will hit the earth and make them extinct makes no difference: it will happen anyway.

Reading the renowned British astrophysicist Stephen Hawking I realized something crucial. If we can go in the past or future, we assume we would still be the same. But Hawking claims that one alternative theory proposed by physicists tells us that we cannot transfer information along the time continuum.

That would mean if I go in the past I will become my past self, therefore not have knowledge about future events. Simply going back in time I might be deleting all the future information and data and find myself in the exact position I was when I was in that past situation. Hence I would make exactly the same choices and not be able to exert my so-called free will.

Second option, what about future time travel? It would be similar. I would incorporate all the data, basically filling in all the gap by the time I arrive where I will be. In other words, my future will be my natural present. 

Although I have traveled forward, it is like forwarding a movie. All the events are going to happen the same way, and I will be in the same position, only that time has moved much faster.

And yet another point. The past is often seen as fixed or rather transfixed. So it becomes solidified, and we cannot change the facts. What I did in the past everyone knows, and yet, what I will do in the future remains still fluid and at best can only be a prediction with the current means and limits of science.

But if I move forward in the future, then my past will be my future from the current state. Yet according to the movie example I was giving, if my future is my past, then it means that it has been determined already. By this what will happen in the future has already passed, and I have no choice or say in the matter no matter what I do!

That would then mean there is no free will although I have the illusion there is. Another illustration would be the sum of all the physical forces that are exerted on objects and matter in the universe. I cannot defy gravity, for example. A planet cannot choose which way to turn. 

We are equally in a web of interconnected events that define us both from outside and within. If we have free will, it may be so limited that it may be insignificant; if we do not have free will, then we may be even nothing but actors with lines that may be written by a supernatural creator!

I am quite fascinated by the concept of karma, but what if karma is set not in this life, but is a consequence of another life. If in another realm, one of the spirit, we had free will and, as a result, we must live out a scripted life in order to be free again. 

These are just hypotheses and mind games, and I am just sharing them with the universe in a moment of euphoric philosophical thrill. You must believe me when I say I had no choice to do otherwise!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Important but Difficult Task of Letting Go and Buddhist Non-Attachment

Father giving a helping hand to toddler son to get up from snow

The Buddhist idea of non-attachment is highly commendable, and it is, in fact, a brilliant piece of philosophical advice, no matter what your religious beliefs or intentions may be. It goes hand in hand with the underlying notion of life being a temporary stage or a “loan.”

I see life more as a loan than a gift. It is not really mine; I have been given life for some time, yet one day, it has to be given back. It is like borrowing a book from the library. You can take advantage of reading the book, or you can ignore and reject the pearls of wisdom that it contains; either way, you do have to return it at a given time.

Apart from searching for truth and trying to understand our relevance or reason for existence in the endless cosmos, there is still the matter of non-attachment. As I am going forward in life, I cannot help but attach myself to all and everything. I get attached to my family, my friends, my school, my work, my neighborhood, my blog (!), and my possessions. The list is endless really. If you are like me, you keep all your souvenirs from ages ago and will not want to throw anything out!

One of the common misconceptions of non-attachment is that it means uncaring. That is far from the truth. Loving and caring for all that you deem important in life has little in common with grabbing onto everyone and everything and never wanting to let them go! In fact, the measure of love is indeed how willing you are to be non-attached; to love somebody and not to have a claim on them, not to see or treat them as your personal possession or little toy.

It is like the painfully difficult, yet beautiful stage when our children can finally stand on their feet and go out into the world, establishing their own life and leaving their very own footprints in the make of society. It is allowing others to make their own mistakes and to learn from them instead of constantly trying to protect them from harm and ultimately doing them more damage that way. And it is the most painful but unavoidable fact that at a given unknown and unpredictable time, we and also the loved ones will leave this plane of existence. Nobody lives forever, as they say.

And it is this leaving behind your cherished ones that I find the most difficult aspect. It is not so much death itself but a non-presence of protecting and caring for the ones we love. The task grows more difficult once you have a family. It is not so much holding onto myself then; rather, I would find it difficult to part with and from the kind of life with its intricate web and intimate connections that I have established here.

Yet to return the example of the borrowed library book: No matter how much I may love the book, no matter how much I would want to keep it and hold onto it under my pillow for comfort and consultation, one day (but in this case I will be given a specific date) I will be asked to return it to the “authorities.” And the less attached to it I am, that is, the more grateful for the temporary possession of the item I am, the easier it would be to face the due date.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Who is Counting Anyway: How Age and Birthdays are Nothing but Numbers in our Lives

Mostly eaten birthday cake
On the cusp of yet another birthday on the rising (or declining) slope of life, I cannot help but ponder upon my new accumulated age. But I do not feel any older really. In fact, I have stopped feeling older for the past ten plus years.

It is strange how we are keeping count. In addition, we have more or less clearly defined areas such as the unpredictable and rambunctious teenage years, the realm of young adulthood, the wild, decadent and engulfing middle age and the supposedly subsiding re- and declining phase of old age. Most of these phases have been categorized and classified eloquently by the psychologist Erik Erikson. Yet in reality, closing in on the middle part myself, I do not feel much different about entering this most recent stage.

That said, I must admit that circumstances have actually changed. I may not feel older, but I feel different. What interested or fascinated me in the past has been adjusted to my current situation. Having my own family affects my outlook on life. But that has not so much to do with age but rather with circumstances.

What I do not appreciate, however, is being told how I am supposed to feel or act at a certain age. It reminds one of childhood where parents would always claim that one is immature or childish for one's age! We often do likewise by complaining how so-and-so does not act (or sometimes even look) their age.

There are no real guidelines for how one ought to behave. Of course, living in society one must adhere to certain rules. A lot of it is organic though. I do not enjoy what I had enjoyed in my bachelorhood. I do fantasize about it occasionally, yet I would prefer a dinner with my wife and son to a wild drunken romp in the night / strip club (though there is nothing inherently wrong with that). We just adapt to the circumstances of the current flow of life.

The problem becomes more pronounced when one feels that one is lagging, when society expects you to do or have done something at a certain age, such as having a well-defined career, getting married and starting a family, buying a house and keeping a dog as a pet. One of my personal goals was to have published my first (of course best-selling) novel by the age of 27 (It never happened).

Anyhow, those rules of thumb or guidelines for “exemplary” life are always merely suggestions and you should follow them if and when you feel comfortable with them. In the meantime, you may get older physically but you still remain the same “young” person within, regardless of what bizarre and random number may show up on your driver's license.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Flaws and Dangers In The Democratic System

Ancient Roman senate
We have experienced it first-hand recently in the crucial mid-term elections during Obama's presidency. The powers can shift, and the course of politics can change within the blink of an eye. It may be people voicing their opinions and dissatisfaction, or it may be an inherent flaw in the system. Either way, democracy at its best and worst is both noisy and messy. There are usually no quick resolutions and rarely do people see eye to eye. It will run and function on one condition only: the hope of compromise.

Each individual ought to be given equal rights, and opinions must be valued in equal proportion. Debates will seem never-ending, and democracy is generally more talk and theory than concrete action. The election may be a culmination of talks and discussions, questions and answers, but even the occasional election is merely a moment, and then the democratically elected officials are back again on the drawing table discussing and debating issues.

This is one of the reasons why democracy does not have a place in the military, for example. In the military structure, there is a clearly defined and laid-out hierarchy; those beneath must all obey unquestioningly the orders of those at the top. Although ideologically one may disagree with this structure, pragmatically it is the best - and perhaps only - way such organizations like the military could function. In the moment of battle, quick decisions need to be made and that is delegated to the person in charge. On this particular individual rests all responsibility and that is the reason why the commander will usually get all the praise or all the blame in any given situation.

As can be seen, in a way, democracy stagnates progress. To have to take in the opinions of all the members will create clashes and delays. Yet there is another drawback with the democratic concept. It gives too much power to the concept of majority. In other words, the majority is seen as always “right.”

If the majority decides certain issues, the decision needs to be respected. But numbers, in my opinion, do not always make acts justifiable, and ironically, those whose voices are not heard, those that democracy is supposed to protect in the first place, could be the ones oppressed in the democratic system.

Of course, constitutions and charters of rights are there to protect us from cruelty and discrimination, while guaranteeing and ensuring the essential right of freedom of speech to voice one's opinions. The danger, however, could be that those creaky voices might not be heard and be suffocated in a system that thrives on majority.

I think one should find the system that is the most efficient and that works best in a large number of given situations. On paper, democracy may be the best option; in reality, it is a stumbling block and a cacophony of (white) noise. Masses are swayed and controlled rather easily by media; politicians lie and make false promises to get elected only to reveal their own hidden agenda at a later date.

Politicians are not held accountable for what they had initially pledged during their campaign. It seems to be a sad fact that the public suffers from amnesia after the elections, but it could be also that the process does not allow, or makes it extremely difficult, to recall these people from office once they are elected.

Likewise, a politician, during campaign or in office, might become populist and try to appeal to the masses. As a result, they may make decisions seen as “good” on a short-term basis, but which may be devastating for the country in the long term. Politicians, in general, have a limited term in office, so they often shy away from long-term goals and benefits and are mostly focused on the present and the immediate. And during the whole time, the eyes are steadied on the next upcoming election to prolong one's position of power.

Due to a lack of longevity, there is often no clear map, so the ship of state can be steered and jerked this way and that way with each upcoming election; sharp turns either to the left or the right of the political spectrum are commonplace. Advances will be nixed, and everybody starts from scratch and redoes and undoes laws and policies.

Politics nowadays is not that different from entertainment shows. Those who are better looking, tell us what we want to hear, are good at acting and become emotional on cue will win our votes. It is often as simple as that. Nobody would want an ugly or painfully direct president or prime minister regardless of their abilities. The majority prefers beautiful lies to the ugly truth and want people who are diplomatic and moral, whatever that may mean. Whether these elected people are capable or indeed the best option for the country are questions that are often ignored or disregarded.

Democracy would really work when people are informed and free to think for themselves and are able to make up their own minds. If they are swayed by what others think or believe, if they make decisions based on trivial and superficial criteria, democracy will be caught in a vicious circle and will end up going nowhere.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Difficulties of Being Nonjudgmental and Open-minded in a Judgmental and Opinionated World

Gateway path that seemingly narrows down

Do not judge a book by its cover and don't be so judgmental, we are often told. It is wrong to have preconceived notions about something or someone, and we should keep an open mind about everything and everybody. Easier said than done.

First of all, as we are growing up, parents are pushing us to have an opinion. Which one do you like and what do you think about this or that. I think every parent would like their children to be able to be a person with their own characteristics, not a zombie that simply follows orders (though as a parent myself, sometimes I would not mind the zombie version of a child!).

If the children have not made up their own minds, they would face more serious challenges during the formative school years. Teachers may tell you how to do things, but again a good teacher would want you to become independent, have an opinion and start thinking in a critical manner.

I believe this is a struggle that certain socialist and dictatorial countries face. They have taught their kids to follow orders and to do as they are told. For many, language learning, for example, consists in memorizing grammar concepts and vocabulary.

But what about creativity and imagination? Those are two aspects that many have undervalued, and its influence is ample and broad. Without a certain amount of creativity most, if not all, activities would not be able to reach its maximum potential, and that includes science and technology!

The result of critical thinking is that people will learn to think critically. They will be able to think independently, see a problem from many angles and see through lies and manipulation. They will also be more outspoken, telling others what they believe to be a wrong approach or idea; in other words, they can make up their own minds and have an opinion.

Now opinions are great. They give us our individuality, and as we know, in a free country like ours, everyone has a right to their own opinion, no matter how wrong we may deem them to be. All our own personal experiences form into clusters of schemata and become our lenses through which we see and interpret the world.

Here is where the problem lies. When we have reached midlife, we walk around with myriads of preconceived notions and judgments. We may have an opinion on a variety of objects, some of them more informed than others, and, in some, we may be more confident than in others.

And suddenly they tell us we should not be so judgmental! After years of encouragement of having a mind of our own! This is a very difficult thing to do. We cannot just erase years of conditioning and personal experience.

A possible solution could be thus: Have an open attitude. I have previously blogged about the importance of humility. We need it here. There is no way we can ever exactly know what others are feeling or going through. All we have are only approximations. We know what it feels like to go through a difficult break-up from what may have happened to us in the past. But we will never know exactly how this person, a different individual, may feel about his loved one, a different person with different sets of relationship variables.

As a result, I try my best to be as humble as possible. There are so many experiences I have never had and some I will never know about. I get glimpses of a similar experience, but I can never know for sure. When people deal with heartache, I can only know what it has felt for myself to be in a similar situation, that's all.

However, when women go through pregnancy and give birth, I cannot possibly know as a man what it feels like and am left with conjectures only. The problem is we do not really know, in fact, we will not fully understand or ever get the complete picture of many types of experiences in our lifetime. So all we are left with are our own little biased opinions that we need to shed from time to time to become open-minded.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Faith, Imagination and why all Religions are equally right – and wrong

Ancient Roman gods in discussion
In our logical dualistic minds, we constantly separate fact from fiction, truth from lies, and right from wrong and are bound to exclude one from the other. In other words, A is A and cannot be not-A at the same time. You cannot have, from a logical point of view, two contradictory statements that are equally right.

This belief, which is the backbone of science and technology, may stumble upon some difficulties in other, rather shady areas. One such would be the field of ethics. Sometimes it is not so easy to know which path to take, and both actions could be the “right” thing to do. In those cases, we may use our utilitarian guidelines, namely to find the choice that is the best option for the largest group of people.

In other areas, such as our personal lives, we tend to make decisions based on either what “feels” right, or we bring out our list of pros and cons. But what about religious issues? Are the answers clear-cut? Can we say that one religion is more correct than others? Does logic apply to those realms as well? Is there an afterlife – or is there none? Do we accept "yes-and-no" and "yes, but ..." answers?

The problem is that our mind seems incapable or unwilling of accepting and embracing two contradictory statements. Either you are lying or you are telling the truth, now which one is it?

But then again “truth” can be a relative and subjective matter. What is true to me, to my experience of the world, may directly oppose your version. If I am depressed and you are happy, our views of the same event are diametrically opposed. And when it comes to feelings, can we not feel both sad and happy at the same time? We often cry in both situations, so sometimes it is hard to distinguish one from the other.

There is a bizarre conclusion I would like to propose, one that may exasperate many logically and scientifically trained and inclined minds: What if all religions are equally right and wrong?

Imagine the following scenario. Romans used to worship Roman gods. For them, those gods, Jupiter and Apollo were “real”; they existed. We might say they exist in the same way fictitious entities like “Harry Potter” or “James Bond” exist. Do they really exist? No. Well, yes. Kinda. They exist in people's minds but not physically, right?

What if there is another plane of existence? Somewhere where time and space have not been born yet, in a world of twilight zone meets pre-Big Bang. What if in this world, what you believe is not only true for you personally but becomes actually true through the simple act of faith and imagination.

What if God both exists and does not exist simply based on what we think, regardless of actual physical reality? So atheists will find no God, while theists would claim that they were also right after all. To each his or her own.

This must have been the confusion that the protagonist in Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris faced. At that space station, one's imagination became reality. As a result, he met the physical embodiment of his now-dead wife. A hallucination? Perhaps, but she (it?) was there and felt “real” to the touch. Seeing was believing, no? If what we can see is not real and what we cannot see is not real either, what else is there?

My proposition is that the Romans were right in their unwavering belief, so is a Christian, a Buddhist, a Muslim, and a Hindu. The world is perhaps less objective than we think. Faith can move more than mountains. Imagination is more important than knowledge. We are the creators, each one of us, not only of our own lives but perhaps of the cosmos itself.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

On Being a Father: Two Years Later

Toddler son staring at camera
Although the first year of fatherhood was very interesting and rewarding, the second year has been much more beautiful. The difference is that nowadays my son is not only acknowledging my presence, but is actively looking for me and enjoys being around me. We have already our own unique and bonding activities, such as “shaving” and “doing the laundry,” which happen, at his own insistence, at the exclusion of his mother.

I am told that sons begin to identify more with their father at this point and turn him into their personal hero. I remember talking to some of the kids I was teaching, and they often mention that they look up to their father. This paternal admiration fills me with a cocktail of emotions, ranging from pride, love, satisfaction, and dread.

Yes, dread because there is often, if not always, in the back of my mind the fear of not delivering, of not living up to the standards of my son. And I know that once the teenage period kicks in, I will have to be at my best and strongest to deal with some of those burning accusations of his acute and imaginative mind!

At the same time, it fills me with anger to see how so many fathers out there let down their own children. Whether it is on purpose or as an unwanted consequence, they hurt their kids and leave long-lasting deep scars in the psyche of these fragile beings. Fatherhood, more than anything, comes with great responsibility, and one needs to be aware of it, whether one likes it or not.

I am also aware personally that the fate and plight of children affects me much more now than in the past. I have to admit that certain commercials involving desolate children or movies depicting a father-son relationship affect me more than ever. It is my sentimental spot, but it is mostly because having a child myself has opened a new gate, suddenly and automatically, a new way of seeing and understanding the world.

Nothing to me is more rewarding at the end of a day of work than arriving at my apartment, opening the door and hear my son screaming “papa” and running towards the door to greet me. I see his glowing face and for a moment all tired feelings have lifted from me and all my efforts for his well-being are worth that single moment in time.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Burden of Empirical Science in the Modern World

Medieval monk writing on a book tablet

Science may be today what religion used to be in the Middle Ages. Back then, religion was a constant guide of life that one followed closely, and one literally hung on each and every word of the clergy. Any questions about existence, God or on how to live life were addressed to those who were supposedly “in the know.”

Nowadays, a group of scientists has the last word in these matters, since they have usurped that power and privilege. When it comes to questions of health, life, even sanity, we turn to science. Science decides what is truth, what is falsehood, what is reality and what are phantoms, what is sanity and what is insanity. A grave case of mental illness used to be considered a possession of the devil, while today it is a malfunction of the brain to be treated with pills and medication.

Science has the upper hand today because it produces results. Science has helped not only to interpret nature, but also to control and manipulate it. It has given us technology which enables us to do feats that the medieval minds could not even dream of. Medicine has managed to cure and eradicate various deadly diseases.

When it comes to serious illnesses most people in the modern day of age would prefer medical procedures over prayer. Of course, I do not doubt the powers of prayer, but medicine, despite its failings and shortcomings would be a much surer bet; ideally both will be practiced because one should not underestimate the power of faith and belief, as psychologists often tell us.

Yet despite it all, science has struggled over the centuries. Some philosophers have questioned its validity. Although reason and logic have prevailed, there is one undeniable and accepted fact about science: its focus on empiricism. Why do or should we trust our senses so much? Scholasticism was based on the concept that one's senses deceive and are hence unreliable and that one should use logic only to achieve certainty. They would disagree with our common-sense notion of “seeing is believing” and change it to “seeing is deceiving.”

And others would say that we will never know for sure that the objects out there actually exist. Descartes believed that everything can be doubted with the exception of one's own self. Cogito ergo sum: I think, therefore I am. I can doubt and for me to be able to doubt there needs to be a distinct “I” to doubt things. Therefore, I must exist. But does this table in front of me or the computer I am working on really exist? Can it not be simply a figment of my imagination, an elaborate well-devised hoax designed to deceive me?

These types of ideas are not so much “bogus” with the advent of quantum physics. If all is just made up of atoms that are moving fast, while “hard” and “soft” are just sense impressions we receive that have no basis in reality, then how can we be absolutely certain that it is really real?

We perceive certain waves as color and sound but do these two exist independently, on their own? If you are colorblind, the world exists of a combination and confusion between green and red. Are you wrong and is the rest of the world right? Or could it be the other way around? Surely, it would be unscientific to claim that truth is what the majority believes it to be, right?

It may lead us to the sceptics who claim that nothing can ever be known with certainty. Even cause and effect may just happen to be coincidence and not a reliable law. Our brain may be wired to see events in a certain way, while it may not be able to see many other events. Ghosts may be perceived by some and not by others. Our sight may not be sensitive enough for such perceptions, yet they may still exist. A blind person could be able to “see” more than we do. A medieval monk may have been right, and it is us who are on the wrong track now.

The problem is that science with empirical evidence cannot fully explain truths. It can show and demonstrate what is true under certain circumstances in a certain environment. Science has been able to reproduce results; it can predict what will happen in a given situation, yet, for better or worse, it lacks the absolutes of religion and is focused on the particulars.

From there we derive theories but theories are not necessarily true. Evolution theory for the time being is one among many until perhaps we may find another, a better explanation. We definitely have more knowledge, but it seems that it is a gamble. We can say that the empirical world of facts is the real deal and dismiss all religion and spirituality as cheap diversion or mere speculation and wishful thinking. Or we may have been fooled all this time and it is the other way around; then we have been blinded by a world of appearances and make believe and are living in Plato's dimly-lit Cave.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

You are what you Shop: How Clothes and Books reflect Personal Attitudes

Cover of Edmond Rostand's play "Cyrano de Bergerac"
In a materialistic consumer world, your shopping defines who you are. The style or brand names you choose to wear, your clothes, shoes and accessories give substantial clues about what kind of person you are, what attitudes you cherish.

A business-person could be spotted from miles away, while goths have their own way of setting themselves equally apart from the rest of society; all this time, well-groomed artists and musicians are hard to find since that would, more often than not, contradict the image we associate with them.

Each of us is instantly communicating with others simply and non-verbally with our appearance. Of course, some of us -me- are not that aware of what kind of messages we give off since we have mostly undervalued and under-appreciated the force and pull of fashion. But experience has taught us -me again- that you cannot go to a job interview with a Labatt (beer label) shirt and expect to get lucky.

Although I am not a fond member of the consumer society, I can see how it can be of importance for certain groups of people. Many thrive on their style; it's “do or die” for them. They need to make a good impression and would like to get your attention on the get-go. For them there is a gaping world of difference between “brand” and “no brand.” It becomes an existential matter of “to be” or “not to be.”

And your shopping habits do reflect who you are. For me, it is not so much about clothes, but books. When I see a cherished book or philosopher in the hands of a commuter, I immediately label the person and feel a strange affinity toward them even though I have never met them before. They are then either beatniks, pessimists, neurotics, romantics, existentialists in my mind based solely on the impression of their books. I do not necessarily judge the book by its cover, but the person by their books.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Author-Reader Relationship: An Existential View of Personal Blogs in Cyberspace

Solitary person overlooking Lost Lagoon in Vancouver's Stanley Park
On this special occasion and landmark of my blog - it is the centennial entry - I would like to point out the importance of the reader in this blogger relationship.

Without the reader, the blog would not exist. The purpose of blogs, its raison d'ĂȘtre, is to have a readership following its posts. Of course, it is also beneficial for the author to gain personal satisfaction by simply producing articles and by honing one's craft, but it is published in cyberspace for the main reason of being read and possibly commented upon.

Some writers say they do not care about readership and are validated by the art of writing itself. That may be so, but it seems a contradiction in existential terms. Even if you produce a text for your eyes only, you are indeed a reader yourself. A text cannot exist without its reader; otherwise it is no different from a blank sheet of paper.

Similarly, a person cannot live, or rather exist, without a social context. For existence, we need the other to confirm our existence in the world, for them to see, acknowledge and react to us. In other words, each of us is a text that needs to be read and deciphered by other people in order to exist.

As a result, dead or invisible people do not exist unless you are a medium or you happen to think of them. I am also aware that following my argument, Robinson Crusoe would not exist. And yet he does. He simply exists through the fact that the reader reads about his adventures. By picturing and imagining him in our minds through the act of reading, he comes to life each time we grab the book and read his text. If he were unknown to us, he would cease to exist.

In psychological terms, we are all endowed with a personality – or so they say. But you still need the other to differentiate yourself from in order to have a personality to begin with. Another person needs to recognize you as having certain characteristics, such as humor, intelligence, or patience. No matter how funny you may think you are, if you do not make anybody laugh, you are not funny. We need the other to validate or refute us.

Likewise, in a world where everybody is good and honest, evil and deceit would not exist. The fact then that you are good means really nothing because so is everybody else. In this case, we need the other, as our opposite pole to help us set us apart from them. The definition of good is the counterpoint and negation of evil, the yin and yang.

To return to our first proposition, I want to thank all my readers for helping my blog – and me – to come into being. If I say it would not exist without you, I mean it ... literally.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Negative Aspects and Attitudes of Science versus Religion

God with scientific instruments as geometer
God the Geometer
Throughout history - with the exception of the Middle Ages - science and religion have been at odds with each other. While religion tended to lean toward refinement of the spirit and was rather engulfed in spiritual matters at the expense of earthly matters (I am considering most Western religions), science instead chose to accumulate knowledge and to form its theories based on physical bodies. Science preferred and valued events rooted in material evidence, observable facts that could be reproduced and replicated through controlled experiments.

Religion became more and more rule-based and dogmatic and thrived mainly on authority and hierarchy. In its negative forms, it developed a specific stance of mind, the “holier-than-thou” attitude. A priest because of his study, knowledge, experience, contact with the Almighty presupposes special abilities and the right to not only teach, but to actually preach. He considers himself as authorized to show and reveal to the rest of humanity the supposedly wrong and sinful paths and traps that we get lost and ensnared in.

Science, on the other hand, grew more and more confident, and to a certain extent it became too engulfed and self-absorbed in its deterministic factual ways. Science, again in its darkest moments, has become arrogant with a “know-it-all” attitude; supposed superficial superstitions are dismissed as mere child's play and fancy, yet at the same time, science overlooks the fact that it has become trapped in its own myth and superstitious force. Science in its rigid form is happy to limit itself to only those events seen and measured, but remains unresponsive to anything that defies its paradigm; it rejects and brushes off the invisible as nonexistent.

The ideal would be, as in most cases, a moderate approach, the middle way. There is a fine, yet distinguishable line between teaching and preaching, and, at the same time, nobody enjoys a patronizing voice. Render to religion what belongs to religion, and science to science. Both have made valuable and insightful contributions to the human condition; both are essential for life, and none can really exist or survive in isolation from the other.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Thanatos, Schadenfreude and the Self-destructive and Dark Side of the Mind

Eros and Thanatos in loving embrace
According to Freud, our life is played out in two different, opposing forces. One of them, Eros, is the drive for sex, love, and self-preservation, whereas the other is known as Thanatos, the drive for death and self-destruction. It is the yin and yang of motivations and urges. Put simply, Eros wants us to live and struggle through and with pain and suffering; Thanatos prefers to end it all with death, the equalizer, the dark force, the state of constant peace, calm, and rest.

There are many people who deny they have a dark side and deem themselves as thoroughly good. As a result, they often close up to all that could pose a threat to their (false) sense of security; they are paranoid about anything that might trigger “sinful” and “harmful” thoughts within them and strictly avoid sex, drugs and rock'n'roll.

Yet the dark side within is really part of human nature; we cannot deny its existence, nor fight against it through vicious attacks; all we can do is accept and embrace it, so it doesn't creep up and hide behind our thoughts and make us do horrendous things.

The healthy person does not ignore his or her dark side and tries to keep track of its movements by shining a large searchlight on the dark side's plans and motivations, so as not to be caught red-handed and unawares.

The line between sanity and insanity may be much thinner than we may suppose. Mostly, it may be carried out in the restricted area of our subconscious. The neurotic is obsessed with their thoughts and actions; the psychotic is losing - or has just lost - control of the flow of thoughts and actions, while the psychopath is spontaneously acting out violence and deriving pleasure from sadistic acts.

Schadenfreude, a milder expression of our dark nature, is a German term that best describes taking pleasure in other people's sufferings. Of course, it ranges in intensity and gravity, but the main idea behind this is the fact that the misfortune is funny and enjoyable because it is not happening to me.

We may not be the agent or cause of other people's suffering, yet we still take delight in it. This explains the popularity of shows like “America's Funniest Videos” where falls or hits in the groins are met with roaring laughter. In these cases, we are feeding our dark nature some snacks, an innocent-looking form of catharsis. We do not harm them, nor do we feel their pain, but we laugh at their mishaps gleefully.

Is Schadenfreude dangerous? It really depends. It may desensitize us to other people's sufferings. It should be kept in check obviously as most of us do not want to end up as sociopaths.

Yet at the same time, Schadenfreude can actually protect us from ourselves, mainly from Thanatos, the drive that wants us to destroy ourselves, the urge that makes you suddenly want to jump onto a moving train, for no specific reason whatsoever; it is the evil voice inside your head that is tempting you to gamble away all your money leaving you with nothing at all.

The voice becomes most adamant when things are going really well reminding us that we are all walking a thin, mortal line, while misfortune and death may be just around the bend.

In such cases, Freud proposes an effective remedy, one that is unfortunately not heeded enough in today's culture and society: Taking refuge in Art.

By producing many of these temptations in written, visual or musical form, these demons may give us a respite for a while. We experience a form of catharsis on a deeper level, much more potent than the temporary relief of Schadenfreude. And we come out of it a little lighter, a little happier, and a little more sane.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

World Cup 2010, Paul the Octopus, and Thoughts about Freedom and Determinism

Oracle Octopus Paul predicting World Cup soccer games

Every four years, people globally go crazy and fanatic about soccer, mixing with it patriotism, politics, and even historical knowledge. People who live in countries of economic turmoil, for example, hold on steadfastly to their team for a little hope; a winning team can re-inject the nationals with new-found or rediscovered pride in their country, or soccer can be used and manipulated by governments to procure or regain popularity.

It happens on the world stage; the world is watching and everyone remembers previous bouts and rivalries between the countries on the soccer field. Germany fans, for instance, found long-awaited justice for a goal that was not in Wembley in 1966 with the goal that was but remained uncredited in the 2010 match against England.

Soccer fans have good memory, and they go even further back, sometimes up to fifty years or so. Fifty years! We are talking about whole sets of new generations, not only on the field but also those watching the tube. Countries have changed over that time period, yet soccer seems to be fixed and eternal in the annals of history.

This time around, a strange sea creature got a lot of media attention since he is credited with an ability not of historical memory but of awareness of future events and outcomes. I am referring to the now renowned and famous Paul the Octopus, who has correctly predicted every game of the German team, regardless of win or loss, and has even risen to give global prognoses and predictions while bathing in media attention.

Now my issue is not with an octopus being psychic. I have no problem with mind-bending feats. I do think - do not ask me how or why - that it is possible and that it defies reason. In fact, if I had listened to his prognosis, I would not have lost 10 dollars on a bet of the semifinal match-up. I am more interested in the implications of the statement. What if it is true that you can predict every game. Would we actually need to have any more World Cups?

This may sound silly, but think about it. If indeed we can know for sure what will happen, should we still make an effort in what we already recognize as a losing cause? Should Germany try its best to beat Spain, even though it has been established that they would lose come what may? Do we have any freedom then? How hard should we try? Where are our limits? Is it all about participation, the German “Dabeisein ist alles”?

It is a question I have been fascinated with for a long time, and I am sure, without being psychic, that there will be other posts on the topic as well. But here I find it appropriate to mention this dilemma once again, the clash between personal freedom and determinism or even fatalism if you like. I subscribe to a certain brand of fatalism because I think, and science may support my cause with its karmic reliance on cause and effect relationships that, simply put, you reap what you sow.

Yet at the same time it seems you will reap, no matter if or what you sow because the outcome will occur anyhow, with or without your assistance. The only glimmer of hope might be this: Paul was wrong in predicting the Euro-Final in 2008. Was it error on his part? Or did the opposing team actually manage to create an upset, not only physically on the field, but an upset or hiccup of higher cosmic dimensions. No one knows what is really happening and only time can tell.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

So many Books, So little Time

Man reading a book in bed

Sometimes I feel I am lost in Borges labyrinth-sized library. There is an infinite number of books out there in the world that I will never be able to read in my short human lifespan, even if I were to forsake family, work, food, and sleep. So many books will be left unopened and unread; worse, I won't ever know of their existence.

Normally, I would not despair about this fact. Despite being an avid reader, I would simply choose the familiar and beloved authors and philosophers and let all the others be.

Yet how will I know if I have made the right choice? What if I have not yet stumbled upon my most favorite, destined author that could give me unfathomable reading pleasure or even be able to change my life forever? What if his or her works are lurking in a bookstore or library corner gathering dust and being eaten by moth, while I go about ignorantly completing my supposedly meaningful tasks in this world?

A lot of it may have to do with luck – and advertising. What others consider literature may arouse my interest. What close friends suggest as good reading I might take on. What the media or critics rave about, I might actually pick up and read.

It is always intimidating to enter a bookstore or library of any size and be overwhelmed by the odor and the hidden wisdom of so many stacked and shelved books. If I had better hearing, I would hear their whispers echo in the empty spaces. They could call out to me and make me pick up the right book at the right time.

Sometimes I have dreams about books but so far they have been misleading. I dreamed once that I picked up Kazantzakis' Zorba the Greek. I followed the advice, bought it in the same week, read it and felt baffled and disappointed afterward. Why did my higher self want me to read that particular book? Did I fail to read between the lines? Was there a hidden message for me?

In the meantime, I can only try my best and read voraciously whatever crosses my path or catches my interest in the hope that somewhere in those pages I will find my spiritual guide or “soul-mate” - in a philosophy book or a book of excellent fiction. Who knows I might even stumble upon the perfect recipe in a cookbook.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Eternal Fixation and the Gaping Gap between Desire and Realization

Woman sitting on edge of bed looking bored

Be careful what you wish for, we often say, and there is a grain of truth in this statement. In many cases, we are either let down or disappointed when we finally reach our goal. It is part of human nature and make-up, I suppose. We spend, for example, weeks, months, years in order to reach our destined objective, and then we may enjoy it for a bit, but soon it wears off like any old hat, and we are left with our desire for more and evermore, for variety or more of the same but in improved presentation.

Yet at the same time, they often say that it is the journey that counts; it is the path that is more important than the destination itself since the destination always leaves a lot to be desired and ends up being a sham anyhow. This may be why the happiness of people who suddenly become rich by winning the lottery or via an inheritance may not be as long-lasting as those who have worked hard to get there and who “make” it through their own efforts.

Whether it is money that you are chasing or love or a family or your retirement, when it comes down to it, you will never be fully satisfied with the results. Commonplace boredom will ensnare you sooner or later, and there seems to be no immunization against it. Or is there?

The driving power is indeed the journey itself but in the shape of our desire. Now desire is something that lasts. And desire is constantly moving us towards action; it is our constant craving. It is desire that makes the object worth pursuing in the first place.

If you are in love with somebody, and you desire them, you place a high value on them, and hence you double or triple your efforts to conquer this person. It is your desire that makes her beautiful. Without it, she would be just an ordinary girl, but your longing has made her into a shiny star, a regal beauty queen, a unique person in the world.

Although there is often a consensus of what constitutes beauty, namely what the majority of the “experts” of the time, such as media and peers, agree upon, I am more interested in the individual's perception of the object or the person in question. We can hide desire from other people's views, yet it burns inside us; it gives us energy during the day and robs our sleep at night. It is the stuff that furnishes us with poetry.

And strangely, paradoxically, it finds its most beautiful expression in its failure to achieve its fulfillment. It is the everlasting gaze, the arms outstretched in eternity, far away, yet so close to the desired goal.

It is the final step that was never taken, the desire that remained spiritual forever and never became flesh. It is Juliet who will never be with the beloved, but who finds him in the eternal embrace of death's shadow.

The desire that never materialized is the most beautiful. Why? Because it shines forth in all its splendor, in all its facets, in all its myriad possibilities, never actualized but always there and always full.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Say No to Cigarettes and the Differences between Illegal Drugs and Nicotine

Drawing of a smoking cigarette
There is a lot of propaganda against the use of drugs, but surprisingly comparatively little and less severe reactions against the use of cigarettes, especially despite the fact we are clearly aware of its dangers along with its high level of addictiveness. What might be the reason for such preference and biased and unequal treatment?

The argument is often brought up that tobacco is legal, while the other kinds of drugs are illegal. But legality can be akin to fashion: It changes according to the seasons. Once alcohol used to be illegal, and drugs were tolerated. Birth control pills and condoms used to be illegal until their use was finally admitted. Abortion is still a crucial and controversial issue where not only countries but both states and people are thoroughly divided. Not to mention gay marriage, of course, where legality often becomes mixed up with morality.

Another point concerning illegal drugs is its apparent lack of discrimination: All drugs are judged as equally evil and harmful, which would be the same as treating all alcoholic beverages as dangerous, without considering its potency, that a beer cannot be on par with vodka, for example. There is no doubt in my mind that certain drugs, such as cocaine, opium, heroin, crystal meth, are inherently harmful and have devastated many people's lives, yet others, more "natural" drugs, such as marijuana have proven beneficial for medicinal purposes.

But I am less interested in the discussion of drugs; I rather wonder how come cigarettes do not need to sustain the same vicious attacks. Why are people not demanding tobacco to be put into the same category and declared illegal as it is a clear and visible danger that is killing people all over the world and draining the health care system?

And why is this fight against tobacco halfhearted and -measured attempts instead of a full-out war? It seems that the strategy is to attack the consumers, the smokers, by containing them in and limiting them to certain restricted areas, but this obviously does not stop them from smoking; it makes their lives rather more inconvenient and by thankfully giving us nonsmokers a bit of protection from the dangerous effects of second-hand smoke.

Yet the problem lies in the continuous production and various business practices of the profit-wielding cigarette industry. This might be a reason why we tend to accept it and turn a blind eye towards it and accept it simply as legal. A lot of profit has been made from the cigarette industry for various decades now, and the good news for the industry is that unlike oil it is not running dry.

There is another reason why the industry is openly flirting with and attracting teenagers. Their unscrupulous fear and concern lies in the fact that older generations will die out soon, and they will lose out on their regular clientele, while youth may be life-long victims whose pockets can be drained for years to come.

But let us look at some of the harmful effects of nicotine, for example, keeping in mind, however, that cigarettes are a dangerous cocktail of several life-threatening chemicals. The word comes from the French diplomat Jean Nicot who introduced it to the Western world and thrilled the aristocracy of his times.

Nowadays, nicotine actually works as quite a useful pesticide. It is again only one element of various substances that destroys a person's body. For a much more substantial and comprehensive list of negative effects, please take a look at The Effects of Smoking on the Body published by Healthline and you may not want to touch another cigarette again! I think it is not enough to have a few ads here and there warning or intimidating people of its effects and dangers, nor is it a very useful strategy to ban smoking in public places.

I do applaud those measures as a nonsmoker and somebody who is concerned of the negative effects of secondhand smoke, yet it still remains only a halfhearted measure. The practice may decline slightly, but those who smoke will continue to poison their body and destroy their lives, while everyone else keeps up the war on drugs pretending that everything else is all right and under control.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Should we really Love our Enemies?

Stabbing death of Julius Caesar in Roman senate
Although it is noble and spiritually high-minded to love those who hate us and those who wish to do us harm, I believe that in real life it is not feasible and rather impractical to downright difficult and self-destructive to actually do so. There is no doubt that one ought to love one's friends, family and neighbors, and even broader speaking the “whole gamut of humanity.” But does everyone deserve our love, do they merit it or can everyone profit from it; from our own perspective would it be advisable for us to love them all, including the wicked?

Loving one's enemies may sound good in theory and on paper and from the mouth of spiritually elevated and enlightened people, but it also depends on who and what kind of deeds of wickedness we are talking about. Would you love the man who raped your daughter or the serial killer who took the life of your son? Would you actually love the person who gleefully and unscrupulously tries their best to make you fail in life? Would you love those who commit genocide and indiscriminately kill women and children?

The problem I have is the choice of the word itself: love. As a rule, I do not think that love should be necessarily merited or conditional, meaning “I love you because you do this or that for me” or that love even needs to be reciprocal or mutual (who would love their teenage children then?). When it comes to the wicked, I think we should try to understand them, to get to the source of their pain, suffering and frustration, and we should have compassion, however difficult that may be, and tell ourselves that they are mentally insane and literally do not know what they are doing. Those people have evidently gone astray, but should we love them?

It is true that some people would benefit from love because most of the persecutors have been persecuted before, many who have been abused tend to fall into the trap of the horrible and vicious cycle of abuse. Yes, it may stem from a lack of love. But if they are curable through love, then priests and humanist psychologists with their unconditional love should be able to help them, yet in reality they fail more often than not. Are those evil people then beyond hope - and love?

When you spend time with people who are filled with hate, if they do not affect you with their pessimism, then they might purposely try to hurt you. It would be the example of the snake that bit its owner's hand. The owner complained that he had taken care of and fed the snake for a period of time, so why had it been so ungrateful and attacked him. To which the snake replied, but you knew from the beginning that I am by nature a snake, and how do you presume to change who I am.

Although we may be able to bring out the good out of certain people, this does not apply to all the wicked people out there. The example of the snake brings about another question: Should we love the ultimate evil entity itself, the devil, the enemy of enemies?

My point here is that if we are too occupied with loving those who cannot be helped, it would be a waste of time and energy. Some might say that love is an unending well and the more you dig in and out, the more you will have.

But I would rather focus on those nearest to us, loving our neighbors and all those who would benefit from our time and love. Time is of issue here as we are allotted only a little time on earth no matter who we are or how important we think we may be. Anyhow, I would rather avoid my enemies and keep them at a distance because see what happened to poor Julius Caesar!

When it comes to the evil-minded in this world, I think the religious and spiritual people and certified professionals can take care of them for all I care. They are more qualified and will take on the risks of dealing with these dangerous individuals. In the meantime, I will feel sorry, compassionate and will try to help the evil-minded as best as I can, but loving them would be a counterproductive and harmful thing.