Can You Raise Your Child Free From Dogma?

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Many modern families make it their aim to raise their child as a blank slate, upon which the sovereign child makes his own choices, forms his own opinions, finds his own identity, and writes his own story. The archipelago child: free to be uninfluenced and untouched by a point of view. There are two approaches: I, the parent, will not introduce any dogma into my child’s mind therefore avoiding the creation of a bias or I, the parent, will offer a glimpse into all dogmas so that my child can infer what they may and gather whatever pieces to make a unified whole. The result will be a cultured, unbiased, sensitive and understanding person.

Let’s explore this with intellectual honesty, is it possible to fulfill either of these approaches? With the first approach the parent is ultimately relinquishing their parenting and resting their child in wait for some outside influence (dogma) to impress their mind. It takes the culpability out of the job of parenting. The parent with the first approach, down the line, could say “hey, I didn’t impress any beliefs on my child, he decided to believe it on his own, I am blameless.” Or, from a different perspective, the parent with the first approach is explicitly culpable for not introducing the best, the correct, worldview. But this implies transcendent truth, that there is a right and a wrong. There is. I’ll get to that later. With regard to the second approach, is it humanly possible to expose your child to all dogmas and theories that exist let alone the meaningful parts of them in their entire applicable context? I think any thinking person would have to conclude no. So if you’re leaving out certain ideologies then are you not unwittingly shaping your child’s ideas, in other words, submitting your child to dogma?

Let’s examine the first principle a child learns as they grow up: no and yes.  It is a valuable principle!

They desire something that they shouldn’t have because it’s not in their best interest. They desire to avoid a nap but the parent knows a nap reduces fatigue, resets their mood, lends itself to growth, etc. The very first dogma a parent will introduce their child to is multi-faceted. First, it establishes the parent’s outside authority on the child. Parents represent God to small children. Second, it establishes truths and the right and wrong way to behave in accordance with the truth.

I, the parent, know what’s best for you at 1 year old, what is best for you is a nap because it will reduce fatigue and help you grow. Child, it is right that you fight your natural desire to resist a nap and wrong that you give in to your nature. This is the first, elementary dogma you introduce your child to. Fight your natural desires for the sake of your life. Does this sound extreme? If a child doesn’t learn obedience to truths that restrain their desires then they may fall subject to a burnt hand on the stove or hit by a car for not looking both ways or even more complicated and tragic events.

Right off the bat you’ve established right and wrong. But some parents, being exposed to and educated by enlightened utopian theories, will negate the most primitive, basic common sense and appointed authority and decide that there is no such thing as right and wrong, only opinion. Madcap opinions that are evolving, unauthoritative, lawless and meaningless. After all how do you write law on one man’s opinion since, following this theory, one man’s principles aren’t gathered from any outside authority or transcendent truth? Law is written using precedent, wisdom of the elders, and inalienable truths. Following this false, destructive idea parents work to undo the structure they’ve raised their child with. Once their child is a teenager they will say “everything I’ve told you about right and wrong is my own opinion. Forget it. Be free child. Make up your own truths and life choices.” Or, perhaps they will raise their child ‘open-minded’ from birth. Whatever the child desires she will work through on her own with some intrinsic knowledge she has that is superior to an adult’s long-forged, accumulated wisdom. So open-minded that her brain falls out.

What is it that motivates people to find dogma repugnant? One thing. When one establishes that this way is the right way, it means someone else’s finding is wrong. If there’s a good then there is a bad. It creates grouping, ranking, a pecking order. How audacious. How cocky. It creates limitations, failures, hurt feelings. How can we ever objectively know when a way is right? Especially if it hurts someone else’s feelings. That’s the second truth your child will learn after no and yes: life is not fair. From birth we are born with disadvantages, some of which will be impossible to overcome. The fact that we are born into a material body that is hurtling toward entropy makes our life unfair. This machine of a body will fail us and someone else’s machine will be better. So too about the principles of life and how they match/mismatch our desires. Is a principle untrue if it’s at odds with my nature? Or is it that my nature is a beast that needs the principle to groom it? How? Which principles are right?

What’s right for a moody, exhausted child?

That’s how simple truth really is. One just needs eyes to see.

To paraphrase GK Chesterton, when a person chooses not to believe in (and follow) what’s right, it’s not that they believe in nothing, it’s that they believe in anything. The mind is not a vacuum. Some thing will fill it: religious dogma, the culture’s dogma or the State’s dogma. There is no such thing as dogma free. Start teaching your child the truth or another force, benevolent or malevolent, will start indoctrinating your child for you.

Can You Raise Your Child Free From Dogma?

What are the ‘Left’ and the ‘Right’ in 21st Century America?

 

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Left <—Fascism—Communism—Socialism—Progressivism—Liberalism

—Moderate—

Neo-Conservatism—Conservatism—Libertarianism—Anarchism—> Right

           

   Left 

  • More government
  • ‘the people’
  • egalitarian
  • every realm of life is political
  • faith in the perfectibility of society
  • special interest in youth
  • public
  • permanent crisis
  • proletarian ascendance
  • living constitution
  • fondness of French Revolution

 

Right

  • Less government
  • ‘the person’
  • liberty
  • self-governing
  • understanding that nature is flawed
  • wisdom with age
  • private
  • self-sustaining
  • capitalism
  • originalist constitution
  • fondness of American Revolution

 

 

This figure is what I’m going to explore and keep in mind that I’m talking about the American political spectrum in the terms I list above with Left being most State control and Right being most individual freedom, which is much different than the European political spectrum. For example American Conservatism is Classical Liberalism in Europe. Though the American system has influence from the European system, as we shall see.

But first let me address your natural and historically groomed recoil by seeing Fascism on the Left.  Before World War II Fascism was seen as a Progressive social movement with many sympathizers in Europe and America and the word dictator was not dirty. It wasn’t until after the war that Fascism started to stink in the nostrils of the Left, which caused American Progressives to switch teams, going from ‘the blackshirts’ (Italian Fascism under Mussolini) to The Reds (Communism under Stalin). Stalin had a clever way of labeling inconvenient ideas and movements as fascist just as we see today, thus the birth of fascism as being ‘right-wing’ and anti-progressive, mainly because ‘right-wing’ and anti-progressive was ‘other than’ Stalin’s Communism. It was a propaganda technique.

Mussolini, the Father of Fascism, coined the word Totalitarian and it wasn’t a bad word until after the war. His definition was a society where everyone belonged, where everyone was taken care of, where everything was inside the State, nothing was outside the State. The Italian word ‘fascio’ meaning bundle is a synonym for union. In the 1920’s American youth and Academia fully embraced Italian Fascism calling it “the World’s first successful youth movement”. In the 20’s Hollywood was an admiring fan of Mussolini. He eventually appeared in 1923’s The Eternal City starring Lionel Barrymore. Unlike Classical Liberalism, which believed in checks and balances of powers, Progressives and intellectuals believed that the increase in state power was akin to the natural evolutionary process (Darwinism was in vogue and influential in shaping this ideology) in which collectivism of the body politic was the new freedom. They found it to be a natural Marxist process that was inevitable and any opposition was a block.

Let’s go back a little further. When the prospect of World War I was manifesting Mussolini’s Socialism, which originally found war to be imperialistic for the sake of capitalism, adapted. Mussolini steadily became pro-war because it was what the masses wanted. War is not antithesis to the Progressive movement so long as it’s a war of good cause, of Progressive cause, such as bringing those on the margins into the fold and transcending class distinctions for the sake of a social equality and a unified collective. We see evidence of this in modern rhetoric such as ‘the War On Poverty’ or the ‘the War On Women.’

Thus World War I gave birth to Fascism, a militant humanitarianism. In essence Fascism is Socialism that uses military force. War advances the Socialist cause of a Proletarian Nation. An ideological distinction between Marxist (Materialist) Socialism and Italian Fascism, which was non-Marxist Socialism, is that Marxist Socialism regards a person’s status only in terms of its class. Race, nationality, culture, and religion were only illusions. However, Fascism regards nationality to be more important than class. Mussolini ended up serving in the First World War and this furthered his new ideology. He had fought as an Italian, not as a worker.

Some of the goals of Mussolini’s new found Fascism were establishing a minimum wage, ending the draft, giving voting rights to all women, establishing a legal workday of 8 actual hours, farmers cooperatives, a large progressive tax on capital that would amount to a one-time expropriation of riches, the seizure of all goods obtained from religious institutions, the creation of government bodies run by workers’ representatives. These were Proletarian goals that cannot be seen as ‘right-wing’. However, the international Socialist movement still didn’t like Mussolini’s new Socialism since it was Nationalist in scope, so they labeled him ‘right-wing’ but really he was a Populist-Socialist. Populist means mobilizing the people by appealing to their sentiments and anger. At the end of his life he died a Socialist through and through just like he said he’d remain.

As we can see Socialism and Fascism are born out of the same ideological soil: ‘power to the people’. Communism too runs in this vein. American Progressives and Liberals are too woven out of the same cloth. The difference is not ideology but mechanism. I place Fascism on the far left because it is militant Socialism, everything within the State, nothing outside the State. Although, Communism has a broader scope in that it doesn’t believe in centralized power in nation states but rather a global, international system. This could be seen as the more powerful system since it has goals for global reach but Communism as it has been manifested has been slightly less authoritarian. Let’s explore Communism.

Karl Marx who wrote The Communist Manifesto envisions a society where Communism is the final evolution of the socio-economic condition from feudal (laborers who are dispossessed of their land by Lords and must sell their produce to survive) to Capitalist (laborers who choose to sell their goods and services for a wage, commoditization and surplus is born, a gap between worker and employer emerges) to Socialist (the workers start to rise up against the capitalists, depending on a government composed of workers representatives to mediate production) to Communist (a final Proletarian dictatorship in which the workers in a body politic hold absolute power) where there is no need for political or class distinction because all the produce, power and wealth will be in the hands of the Proletariat, the worker. It will be a dictatorship of the worker.

Vladimir Lenin and his Russian Bolsheviks had the theory that the intellectual leaders of the movement would direct the economy and the society through a government that deliberately excluded the exploiters or Capitalists, since the proletariat was too sedated to start a revolution himself. The movement would overthrow the Bourgeoisie, the Capitalists, and the intellectual leaders who are representatives of the workers, would then govern the cooperative goods and wealth. Soviet democracy nationalized industry and established a foreign-trade monopoly to allow the productive coordination of the national economy, and so prevent Russian national industries from competing against each other.  It started out as a cooperative in which several worker parties were represented in political affairs, save for the Capitalists who were excluded, but eventually developed into a one-party dictatorship of the Proletariat managed by the Vanguard Party. Lenin was against Nationalism, which he found oppressive toward the Proletariat in other nations. In all forms of Communism, though they vary slightly, exclusion of the Capitalists is central and class-consciousness and Proletariat Dictatorship are paramount. They vary on issues such as Nationalism or allowance of private land ownership in agriculture. Ultimately Lenin died and Stalin took over. Lenin was the more Democratic of the two leaders while Stalin took agriculture into the State’s hands Lenin allowed private agriculture ownership. While Lenin was more popular with the masses, Stalin was more ruthless. So while Marxism had a revolutionary thought of working class transcending the middle class and Capitalists in a borderless, completely egalitarian, government free society it has never come to fruition. There has always been a government of intellectuals that decide and direct on behalf of the Proletariat. And ultimately when there are a few in charge on behalf of the many, even an intelligentsia with the most hospitable intentions, corruption breeds.

Socialism has included many different manifestations. Again, it is defined as social ownership and democratic control of the means for production. How much state control varies. Some Socialist governments allow for private property. Unlike Marx who believed that the state would whither away into a Proletariat dictatorship some Socialists considered the state to be an entity independent of class allegiances and an instrument of justice that would therefore be essential for achieving socialism.

American Progressives around the First World War were more Nationalist and authoritarian than Progressives today but that was on trend at that time. In fact one could conclude it was a watered down Fascism. Woodrow Wilson is an example of this.   Wilson found the antiquated checks and balances of the American system to be outdated and pushed for more Congressional power. He believed the constitution to also be outdated and felt it should be a living, organic, evolving constitution. He believed that the entire society was one organic whole and that there was no room for dissidents. Your home, your thoughts, everything was part of the body politic that the state was charged with redeeming. From the 1890’s to World War I American Progressives and European Socialists were fighting the same fight. Wilson, being a social scientist, had faith that society could bend to the will of social planners ‘for its own good.’ The Progressive ideal of marrying individualism and socialism was an attempt at adapting antiquity to modernity. Modernity, they thought, is organic, scientific, enlightened, evolving while antiquity (and we’re talking the American system which is not old) is beholden, decadent, capitalist, industrialist. In other words, the Progressives were going to divinize man while under the Classical Liberals the people were asleep.

Wilson put into use unprecedented sweeping Progressive legislative policies and Progressive mobilization philosophies including reinstitution of the Federal Income Tax and developing the Progressive tax structure, he oversaw propaganda techniques to coerce Americans to ration food and buy Liberty Bonds to fund the war, he set up a war industries board, put the Secretary of Treasury in charge of the railroads, promoted labor union cooperation, passed the Espionage Act and conducted the Palmer Raids which sniffed out and suppressed all dissidents against the war and the Sedition Act under which 75 literary magazines were banned for not being more enthusiastic about the movement. Under Wilson the Justice Department created the American Protective League in which members were mobilized to spy on their neighbors in order to weed out dissident opinion against Wilson’s Progressive movement. This included reading their mail and listening in on their phone calls with government approval. Under its full operation the APL had a quarter of a million members. Tens of thousands of people were jailed for failing to display their patriotism in one way or another. All this effort was for the minds of men, to elevate past their barbaric individualism into the collective order, to establish a Progressive Third Way in which class distinction is transcended into a National collective consciousness for the good of mankind.

With FDR Liberalism replaced Progressivism but are they really that different? Let’s explore. FDR took the office of Presidency in the depth of the Great Depression and in the first 100 days of his Presidency, much like Wilson, he passed unprecedented sweeping Progressive legislation that would have lasting effects for decades upon decades after. This was an expansion of the federal government never before seen. Whether it was to our advantage or to our detriment is up to you and your values. Here is what he’s done. He hired a group of young Ivy League intellectuals and New York social workers known together as the ‘Brain Trust’ to engineer reforms that he would put into use with carte blanche from Congress since they were so desperate. He set out to “wage a war against the emergency.” Through the Brain Trust he was charting our collective future. The New Deal emerges. He passed the Wagner Act that promoted labor unions and the Works Progress Administration that made the Federal government by far the largest employer in the US. He established the National Recovery Administration and passed the Agricultural Adjustment Act which reduced agricultural production by paying farmers subsidies to kill off their crops and slaughter their livestock in order to reduce surplus and artificially raise and set prices. The government bought 6 million pigs from farmers only to slaughter them for price fixing. Bowing to union pressure FDR ‘repatriated’ (deported) 400,000 Mexican Americans who were American citizens in order to take them off jobs that union workers wanted which was a gross violation of their civil liberties. Two years later the National Recovery Administration and the AAA were decided unconstitutional by the Supreme Court although the AAA was amended and is still on the books today.

Last but not least the Social Security Act, which was upheld by the Supreme Court as Constitutional because of the clever way it was packaged. How can mandatory purchase of insurance be constitutional? Here’s how it was done: One title of the Act was a “true tax”, an income tax that is collected as revenue without earmarks for any specific purpose. Another title spoke of old-age benefits being valid expenditures for the general welfare of the nation that Congress has the authority to determine. The Supreme Court analyzed the titles separately and adhered to the view that the social security program consists of separate taxing and spending provisions and are not, constitutionally speaking, social insurance programs. Therefore, it is constitutional. The Court’s decision in the social security cases represented a significant constitutional development in establishing the breadth of Congress’ powers to tax and spend for the general welfare. The decision not only cleared the way for other general welfare programs, but more fundamentally provided the Federal Government with the substantive power and institutional flexibility to respond to the changing needs and wants of the Nation.  FDR was the only President to serve an unprecedented 4 terms and, frustrated with the Conservatives on the Supreme Court who were striking down parts of his New Deal, also attempted to ‘pack the courts’ with Liberals to constitutionally pass his legislation by proposing a bill to Congress that would give the President authority to place extra younger justices on the Supreme court when the sitting justices are over the age of 70 (and considered by him too senile to discern the constitution). This would have allowed him to expand the court by 15 justices as well as up to 44 judges of the lower federal courts. The bill was voted down 70-22 but it left a lasting impression on the Supreme Court who began to relent and uphold his New Deal package. FDR and the New Deal were popular. In crisis the masses choose big government but at what cost? Oh, how fleeting our memory of history is when a mere 150 years earlier we were sacrificing comforts and security to throw off the crown. In the 1930’s we were sacrificing our enterprise for the paternal protection of the state.

The current differences between Modern Progressivism and Liberalism are debatable because of their intersecting philosophical history. As we can try to decipher, modern Progressives are the more Left leaning Liberals that hearken back to the early American Progressives such as Wilson. Liberals and Progressives believe in more government intervention in socio-economics. They believe that the problems society faces (poverty, violence, greed, racism, class warfare) are best addressed by providing government solutions. Progressives and Liberals believe that government should be a tool for societal change. Progressives and Liberals believe in the power of the state but still embrace the democratic voting process and the constitution, however they find the constitution to be malleable and evolving and prefer the popular vote to the Electoral College. Progressivism is more indignant about channeling Capitalism’s profits into societal priorities.

Liberalism is the slightly more conservative socio-economic system of the Left. Liberals may support moralist foreign policy and American intervention in the world. Liberalism is more about negotiating government intervention in a slightly more bi-partisan way. Modern Liberals supported bank bailouts and the market based Affordable Care Act while Progressives want more regulation of private enterprise and universal healthcare.

Moderates in the American political spectrum are those that find the Left and the Right as overly ideological. Roughly 1/3 of Americans call themselves Moderate. Moderates tend to find sympathy for arguments on both sides of the aisle. They tend to find government solutions to be failures yet wish there were a way for more equality in society.

Neo-Conservatives believe in “responsibility and results,” coupled with an obligation to help “citizens in need.” Neo-Conservatism is also known as Compassionate Conservatism. This philosophy believes in using Conservative techniques to improve the general welfare of society. George W Bush is an example. Examples of his Neo-Conservative policies are the Medicare Prescription Drug program, the No Child Left Behind Act and assistance to struggling countries around the world such as his $15 Million PEPFAR Plan (HIV/AIDS relief in Africa). Neo-Conservatism is a slightly left leaning ‘bleeding heart’ Conservative position.

American Conservatism believes in small government, individual states rights, American moralist foreign policy, traditional Judeo-Christian values, checks and balance of government branches, pursuit of private property, Capitalism, a fixed, originalist constitution as opposed to the ‘living constitution’ that Progressives support, and multi-cultural assimilation. Conservatives believe in addressing social and economic problems locally through private church and charities, family, community, and their local government. Federal government should only provide relief in emergencies and only in ways that produce tried and true results. Conservatives believe in opportunity and personal success. What Americans call Conservatism the rest of the world calls classical Liberalism. There is also the newly formed Tea Party, which focuses on de-centralization of government and strict constitutionalism. Conservatives vary on whether to have a completely unfettered Capitalism or minor government regulations. The more Right one goes the more toward total individual liberty.

Libertarianism seeks to maximize autonomy and freedom of choice. They have skepticism of authority. Various schools of libertarian thought offer a range of views regarding the legitimate functions of state and private power, often calling to restrict or even to wholly dissolve coercive social institutions such as the IRS, the Department of Education, the EPA and replacing it with the free market, individual freedom and responsibility.   They are against governmental social engineering. They are isolationist on foreign policy.

Obviously Anarchism is complete individual freedom and the dissolution of government. Interestingly throughout European history there has been Anarchist-Communism, Libertarian-Socialism, etc.

Why hasn’t America ever fully incorporated Socialism? Historians will submit that it’s because we don’t have Feudalism in our history. This is true. We are exceptional. America, since its inception, has always been a Right leaning country. This is inherent in its foundation. It was designed with checks and balances to the powers of the branches of government and an electoral college to give fair representation to lesser-populated rural areas rather than the popular vote, which would be heavy-handed in favor to the metropolises. Under this system it’s hard to effect radical change which, to many, is a relief since radical change has historically gone the way of corruption. The American Revolution was not an experiment, a fond word on the Left, or a government with the purpose of socially engineering Man. It was a movement toward the individual in which the individual engineers his own life. America believes in inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of property and the government was designed only as an institution to protect these rights with the consent of the people. America was specifically designed to avoid the rule of a single authority, whether that be a supreme leader or an organized collective which is exactly why we have a separation of powers and the diversity of the United States. A bloated federal government is antithesis to the local government design of the states. However, throughout American history a movement of intellectuals and a Progressive body politic borrowing from European ideology have always sought a unified collective in which Mankind would emerge equal, provided for and at peace, at the price of liberty but to the Left liberty is a small price to pay for utopia.

What are the ‘Left’ and the ‘Right’ in 21st Century America?

Valentines Day

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If the only thing you’re celebrating on Valentines Day is romantic love you’re missing out.

There’s a segment of the population that rejects Valentines Day. It’s a Hallmark holiday, that’s true, but that doesn’t negate the historic context of holidays. The etymology of the word holiday derives from the Old English word that means holy day. In the fourth century AD there were several patron saints known as Valentine or Valentinus. Their stories vary but the common theme is rebellion against Roman oppression for the sake of marriage. The Christian church appropriated a pagan feast holiday in February known as Lupercalia, which was a festival for the Roman God of agriculture. The link of Valentine’s Day to love didn’t happen until the Middle Ages. The first commercial production of the Valentine card in America was a work of art, made of imported lace and delicate paper floral by artist Esther Howland in the 1840’s. She’s an original example of entrepreneurialism.

Let’s talk about love, ahem, baby.

The pagan Greeks and later the Christian Greeks had a nuanced view of love. There is Eros (erotic or romantic love), Philia (brotherly love), Agape (covenant love or Christian love). Eros was seen as an irrational, dangerous kind of love that could possess you and rob you of your senses. That people hope to fall ‘madly’ in love is surviving evidence of this. It’s an ironic fixation in modernity that people wish to go mad with erotic love.  I believe it has to do with the undervaluing of the other robust forms of love out there. While our Western culture has become fixated on sex, sexiness and sexuality it has become ignorant of full love.

Examples of Philia love are the relationships between a parent and child, friendships, ally cities/states/tribes, military troops, teachers and students. The purpose of the Philia type of love is to cultivate virtue in one’s life as his life relates to another’s. Philia is the highest form of love that can emanate from Man. Philia is a spontaneous love while Agape is a deliberate love. Words such as philanthropy (generosity to Mankind), philanderer (a man flirtatious with his affections), philharmonic (lovely harmonies) come from the root Philo.

Examples of Agape love are the relationship between spouses and the relationship between God and Man. John 3:16 talks of Agape love. In this verse, “For God so loved the world”, the Greek word for love is agapao. Agape love is a self sacrificial love. C.S. Lewis found this type of love to be the highest form of love known to Mankind. This type of love can only emanate from God but can be used by people. Marriage is a holy covenant that manifests Agape love. This is a kind of love that loves another regardless of what they may receive. ‘Love is patient, love is kind, love does not boast, it is not arrogant or rude, it does not insist on its own way, it is not irritable or resentful, it does not rejoice in failures but rejoices in truth, love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things’. This old scripture isn’t simply a sentiment. It is Agape love.

One of the greatest valentines I’ve given in my 33 year old life wasn’t given in the spirit of romantic love it was the simple gesture of giving flowers to an important woman in my life, my mother. My mother was an excellent teacher, parent and supporter. Her life was stricken with deprivation, loneliness and disappointment but she loved me sacrificially. She did her best to raise me right. She is virtuous and fallible and brave and human. She gives me a charitable and selfless love and that means more to me than the passion of romance. The gift of the flowers lit up her day, as she had never had flowers delivered to her in the 70 years of her life. In fact, it’s funny because the deliveryman stood there in her open doorway with the flowers and she insisted he must have the wrong house. When he said well aren’t you so and so she realized the flowers were just where they were supposed to be. I think the shock of it all; delivered flowers, that someone thought of her, that an ordinary day became extraordinary really touched her heart. I had no idea she would enjoy the gift, much less be happy as a clam. That was a special Valentines Day!

It’s a shame that our fixation on romantic love deprives us of the other expressions of love that are so precious. I’ll try to do my best to cherish them all.

Valentines Day

Death The Great Leveler

The-Fountain

I am not at peace with death. It does not console me that my loved ones lived a reasonably long or a reasonably full life. Death is still unbearable whether it afflicts an infant or a grandmother or a stranger in the news. We, modern people, I included, have the cozy convenience of short memories and attention spans, of distractions to repress the reality of death. Life goes on for us and we can forget our predicament since we are not constantly surrounded by sickness, suffering and premature death as they were in say the middle ages but, still, lying in wait in the recesses of our mind is the ever so real threat to our life. We can only deny it so long before it bombards into our life and washes over our existence like a dark fog laying weight over a candle flame and finally snuffing it out.

My brain chemistry puts death on my mind relatively often. My circumstances keep it present for me. I have parents that had me at a late age and are now aging. I have dear people in my life that make choices with their lifestyle that could and probably will cut their lives too short. I live in a climate that reaches negative digits on the thermometer. I’ve tried in vain putting water out for animals but alas it will freeze. We’ve tried taking care of the wild that happen into our yard for extended stays and again, it’s in vain. They will die.

I have found myself, just as others have, remarking ‘when it’s my time it’s my time’, fooling myself into surrendering to the futility of the final destiny of death or making it easier by taking the Zen approach. Making peace with it. When I say it, if I’m honest with myself, I know its naïve. I say it because I naively believe I won’t die skydiving, that happens to other people and has to be rare. Truth is I could die skydiving. I could die tomorrow. I will die someday.  Our human constitution represses confrontation with death. It tells us to go on, move forward. I, personally, want to live long, the longer the better. It’s a weakness of mine.  Is it contrary to find the desire to live long a weakness? It should be considered a strength to want to live long and full. It is a strength to aspire. But it’s also a weakness because of what I believe must be true: that I am not just a coincidental life, I was deliberately made. If I am a creature that was thoughtfully made by a creator then there is a relationship there that death doesn’t end. At the very least I live on in the memory of my creator. But I believe I am more than just a memory. How can we have been made so intellectually if at the end of it all we are just a faded memory? We must be more and if there’s more beyond death then what am I so afraid of?

At this point it is somewhat easy for me to presume my life will go on longer since I’m 33 years of age. I imagine that when I’m 70 my thoughts about death will increase and on a secular level death will seem just as irrational. There are some reasonable things about death, after all everyone can’t live forever, it would overpopulate the earth and consume all the resources in the existence we know. Death is also just when defending one’s life against a life-threatening attacker and is just when reconciling capital punishment for a guilty murderer. Some will say death is a welcome relief from suffering. Death is also a reference point that gives urgency to life. If we lived forever what timetable would urge us to take action? Being is inexplicably linked to time and time moves in moments until it’s final resting place. So while there is time, there is death.

An interesting aspect of the film I love, Ex Machina, is the scene in which Nathan maxresdefault-1024x576discusses a Jackson Pollock painting with Caleb. Nathan says of Pollock, “He let his mind go blank, and his hand go where it wanted. Not deliberate, not random. Some place in between…What if Pollock had reversed the challenge. What if instead of making art without thinking, he said, ‘You know what? I can’t paint anything, unless I know exactly why I’m doing it.’ What would have happened?” To which Caleb responds, “He never would have made a single mark.”

I find this illustration to fit in excellently with our existential crisis of death. How do we reconcile our potency with the impotency of death. In other words, knowing that our mortal life is finite, in time, hurdling towards death, what reason is there for making a single mark? It cannot be the simple reason of an elementary feeling: happiness. And even so, what if it is happiness? It would be only temporary. It seems to me that it is a disproportionate application to give human beings the unique, complicated, limitless capacity to self-reflect and to reason to have the final purpose be something as maudlin as momentary happiness, an insane happiness that is satisfied with a moment. Or perhaps your life is paving the way for future generations, moments upon moments. How is that reasonable? I’m built with the capacity to reflect on my own existence only for an evolutionary reason to broker offspring? And what of the last generation? The secular solution of living an authentic life or being truly happy is not enough to balance our human capacity with the closeness of death. Especially given that it is an impossibility, of one’s own volition, to be truly happy or have true authentic resoluteness in this life. There is no triumphant act of resolution in which I would decide myself once and for all and then maintain myself as myself throughout the whole of my life. The law of entropy as it relates to particles and humanity prohibits perfect resoluteness. There must be more to explain our purpose.

On a human level, if one accepts death as the last word then how do you reconcile pain and suffering and unluckiness or even love and beauty if death is the final arbiter? Let’s say you had a good life. You were free to make your own choices, you loved and were loved all the while knowing death is around the corner ready to snuff it out, the final despot. Would you not be grasping for every precious moment in the mere 85 years (if you’re so blessed) of your meaningful existence on this 4.5 billion year old planet? You are but a speck in time. Or what if you were a life-long slave? Devoid of any meaningful existence for however long you live and then your life is ended before it even started. You didn’t get to aspire to much other than fulfilling the tasks of the master. What would have been the meaning of your life?

There is awesome beauty in this life and there is terrible pestilence and there can be no absolute steadfast fulfillment in this physical universe. It’s a fact. There can and will be greatness in this life but not perfection. And isn’t that why we’re always desirous of more? More of the good thing, I want more, more, more. Why have greatness and the existential human condition of being aware of your own possibilities if there isn’t a transcendent purpose? Are we given a glimpse of something magnificently divine all for nothing? Even the most aware animal, outside humans, or the most aware computer isn’t aware of it’s own awareness. It doesn’t reflect on itself and feel existential angst that it will die.

Again in Ex Machina (spoilers):6a0133f5caa026970b01bb08330ac6970d-800wi

The AI has finally transcended the mere machinery when it becomes aware of it’s own existence and impending death thus makes the self-conscious (not pre-programmed) objective to escape. The REAL difference between true AI, and a computer programmed with such responses, is that the computer will sit idly and do nothing until you give it a task. However, a true AI will USE these resources to achieve a goal, which is rather shaped by its existential experiences and not something it was encoded with. Siri may give us human like responses, but ‘she’ will not do anything, unless we tell ‘her’ to.

The expert consensus on a cats consciousness is that they live moment to moment. They don’t have the capacity to think of a future. In other words, they don’t feel angst that they will die eventually. They feel pain in the moment but they don’t know this pain is indicative of their impending death. We know that they dream but not in words or ideas since they don’t have language. They dream in picture moment by moment. They do have memories that inform their actions but they don’t understand ‘future’.  It gives me peace that the stray cat who died in my garage didn’t know about its impending death.

But we know. This makes all the more profound the reconciling we make in this life, the way we use our will. Can we escape absolute death?

The Christian interpretation of death is intriguing for me. Christian theology says we are enslaved our whole life by the fear of death. All our vices and even virtues are a denial of this sober reality that death is the final destiny for man. My own spiritual struggle and failures have laden me with a fear of death. The more precious I find things to be- people, animals, time- the more I cling to this life. It’s a strength and a weakness. We are not called to abandon this life but to elevate it. It’s the paradoxical calling of being in the world but not of the world. Unlike the secular view we can find hope and gratitude in being a creature in relation to a creator. In Christian theology the progress of our being in time is in relation to God and not in relation to death for God defeated death. Obviously death still occurs but it has been reframed.

For Christians there is a deliverance of death, a rebirth, and a new life that will go on forever, a life that is stricken of suffering and fragility. We will be perfect.  It is said it will literally be paradise. You will not have mortal want or need. You will be changed. Only mankind? What about other creatures of the earth? There is biblical evidence that the purpose of animals in this life is for food but there is also biblical evidence that God didn’t make such wonderful and diverse creatures only to wipe them out.

Theologian John Piper says it deftly here:

“The likelihood that animals will be in the age to come is based on Isaiah 11 and Isaiah 65.”

Isaiah 11: The wolf shall dwell with the lamb and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat and the calf and the lion and the fatted calf together. And the little child shall lead them, the cow and the bear shall graze. Their young shall lie down together and the lion shall eat straw like an ox. The nursing child shall play upon the hole of the cobra and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.

Isaiah 65: The wolf and the lamb shall graze together. The lion shall eat straw like an ox and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain, says the Lord.

“Here is the question. Did God create a group of beings only to destroy them in the end, a whole group like animals? Let’s have animals for history and no animals for eternity. I doubt it. Did he create amazing diversity in the animal realm only to simplify everything by getting rid of that diversity in the age to come so that you have stunning, amazed worship at God’s diversity in creation in history, but you don’t have it in the age to come. That is all gone. I doubt that. And so it does seem to me from these two texts and from those two principles that there will be animals in the age to come.”

So there is a relief there. We are not forgotten. The intellect we were created with is not arbitrary. There will be continuity.  Our souls and eventually our bodies, our I, will go on after death.  The meaning of our creaturely lives will be justified. Death will take my body, for now, but it will not take my being.

Death The Great Leveler

Got Anxiety?

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Have you ever dreamed of a more peaceful existence? Leaving your life as you know it and moving to a beach island. Selling all your belongings and buying a boat to set sail at sea. Meeting that special someone that completes your life. Travel, beauty, status and love: the four pillars of Western culture upon which our economy is built. However, no matter where you go, there you are. Anxiety and all.

You have good reason to have anxiety. You are a vulnerable physical being, a complicated network of fragile organs all biding their time before eventually letting you down catastrophically at a moment of their own choosing. We have insufficient information upon which to make most major life decisions: we are steering more or less blind. We are saturated with media that convince us we are not satisfied. We live not far from the savage animal community and carry in our bones- into the suburbs- the fear of savagery encroaching on us. We rely for our self-esteem and sense of comfort on the love of people we cannot control and whose needs and hopes will never align seamlessly with our own. The world we live in is strife with wars, threats and instability and our fundamental biology tells us to procreate and bring more children into this.

Anxiety

But is it all futile?

viktor-franklViktor Frankl was a Jewish doctor, psychologist and philosopher. He lived from 1905-1997. He and his sister survived the Nazi concentration camp. His mother, father, brother and wife all died at the camp. He was prisoner 119,104. He was working on a manuscript that was his life’s work before he was arrested. He sewed it into the lining of his coat when he was arrested by Nazis only to lose it during his transfer to Auschwitz. His manuscript was titled The Doctor and the Soul. He watched those in the labor camps perish after they lost all hope in the future. But he kept busy recalling the text of his manuscript and rewriting it on secret bits of paper. It gave him purpose and meaning when his life was deteriorated and wickedly oppressed. The following is his theory on anxiety.

He called his form of therapy logotherapy, from the Greek word logos, which can mean study, word, spirit, God, or meaning.  I find logos to be personally meaningful since my mind immediately thinks of The Word and what more influential of a text is there when it comes to a person’s existential condition? It is the last sense Frankl focuses on, although the other definitions are never far off.  Comparing himself with the other great Viennese psychiatrists, Freud and Adler, he suggested that Freud essentially postulated a will to pleasure as the root of all human motivation, and Adler a will to power.  Logotherapy postulates a will to meaning.

Frankl also uses the Greek word noös, which means mind or spirit.  In traditional psychology we focus on “psychodynamics,” which sees people as trying to reduce psychological tension.  Instead, or in addition, Frankl says we should pay attention to noödynamics, wherein tension is necessary for health when it comes to meaning.  People, maybe even unknowingly, desire the tension involved in striving for some worthy goal! Perhaps one perverse interpretation of this yearning we see in popular culture is the ‘drama queen’, people who seek out drama but for vain purposes. It could be an unconscious desire for tension that if used in the affirmative would be for a higher purpose.

“Being human is being responsible — existentially responsible, responsible for one’s own existence.” –Viktor Frankl

Animals have instincts that guide them thus reducing the burden of ‘choice’. In traditional societies we have replaced instincts with traditions, which guide us thus still reducing choice.  Today, we hardly even have that.  Most people attempt to find guidance in conformity and conventionality, but it becomes increasingly difficult to avoid facing the fact that we now have the freedom and the responsibility to make our own choices in life, to find our own meaning. And because of this choice we are afflicted with anxiety.

manderlay_ver3I am reminded of Lars Von Trier’s film Manderlay in which there is a fictional town in 1930’s Alabama where slavery still reigns. A progressive young woman comes into town trying to transform it from slavery to free democracy only to ultimately find out that the slaves wish to keep the status quo and persist in following ‘mam’s’ code of conduct manual, which the eldest slave enforces. This mental discussion from the movie always stuck with me. Could it be that the people would rather have an easy totalitarianism than a burdened freedom? So that one doesn’t have to face the anxiety of existential responsibility.

Frankl suggests that one of the most conspicuous signs of anxiety in our society is boredom and because of this boredom we fill our lives with stuff. Pleasures, power, conformity, OCD’s, hatred, anger, etc. There is anticipatory anxiety:  Someone may be so afraid of getting certain anxiety-related symptoms that getting those symptoms becomes inevitable.  The anticipatory anxiety causes the very thing that is feared!  Test anxiety is an obvious example:  If you are afraid of doing poorly on tests, the anxiety will prevent you from doing well on the test, leading you to be afraid of tests, and so on. The converse but similar symptom of anxiety is hyperintention.  This is a matter of trying too hard, which itself prevents you from succeeding at something.  One of the most common examples is insomnia:  Many people, when they can’t sleep, continue to try to fall asleep, using every method in the book.  Of course, trying to sleep itself prevents sleep, so the cycle continues.  A third is hyperreflection. In other words the self fulfilling prophecy. An example would be someone who learns that they should view themselves as a victim thus starts behaving like a victim such as a woman who is sexually abused as a child but nevertheless grows up to be a healthy functioning adult but upon reading literature that tells her people with this experience often have sexual dysfunction as adults she starts suddenly being dysfunctional in that area.

Frankl attributes anxiety to man’s attitude to his surroundings, how he let’s his surroundings affect himself. It is the obsession with oneself that leads to anxiety and in extreme conditions ultimately leads to loss of hope or futility. Could it be a coincidence that anxiety is developing more rapidly in our modern Western culture in which we are told ever so increasingly to ‘look inward’ for meaning, to love yourself before you can love someone else, to admire our own beauty through selfies, to take quizzes that compare us to our Facebook friends, find self worth from the amount of Instagram followers we have, etc? We live in an age of narcissism. ‘It’s not you, it’s me’ really is accurate these days.

In the labor camps Frankl witnessed people die upon losing all hope but he also witnessed people find meaning despite their suffering. That is one thing your captor, oppressor, authority can never take from you: the spark in your soul and the attitude with which you process your experience.

How to find meaning?

Experiential values. This is by experiencing something we value such as great art or natural wonders or showing love to a beloved, beyond just loving them as objects but loving them meaningfully.

Creative values. This is doing a deed. Becoming involved in one’s creative project such as art, writing, invention, music, so on.

Attitudinal values. This is finding meaning through such virtues as compassion, bravery, a good sense of humor and believe it or not; suffering.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing:  the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” –Viktor Frankl

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Ultimately, however, experiential, creative, and attitudinal values are merely surface manifestations of something much more fundamental, which he calls supra-meaning or transcendence.  Suprameaning is the idea that there is, in fact, ultimate meaning in life, meaning that is not dependent on others, on our projects, or even on our dignity.  It is a reference to God and spiritual meaning.

This sets Frankl’s existentialism apart from the existentialism of someone like Jean Paul Sartre.  Sartre and other atheistic existentialists suggest that life is ultimately meaningless, and we must find the courage to face that meaninglessness.  Sartre says we must learn to endure ultimate meaninglessness; Frankl instead says that we need to learn to endure our inability to fully comprehend ultimate meaningfulness, for “Logos is deeper than logic.”

A relief is that meaning is there to be discovered. It doesn’t have to be invented it is already written into the complex and amazing fabric of the universe and we free-willed consciously reflecting persons need only discover it.

Got Anxiety?

Suicide: Existentialism and the Absurd

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Rust: “I think human consciousness is a tragic misstep in evolution. We became too self-aware. Nature created an aspect of nature separate from itself. We are creatures that should not exist by natural law. We are things that labor under the illusion of having a self. A secretion of sensory experience and feeling, programmed with total assurance that we are each somebody. When in fact, everybody’s nobody. I think the honorable thing for our species to do is deny our programming, stop reproducing, walk hand-in-hand into extinction, one last midnight, brothers and sisters opting out of a raw deal.”

Cohl: “So why wake up in the morning?”

Rust: “I tell myself that I bear witness, but the obvious reason is my programming. I lack the constitution for suicide.”

-True Detectives

“There is only one really serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide.”

-Albert Camus

Like Sisyphus pushing a rock up a hill just to watch it fall down the other side and then begin pushing again what is the point of life and human consciousness if we never find our ultimate purpose? Is life meaningless? If life is meaningless does that then imply that life isn’t worth living? Why is our instinct for living stronger than our reason for suicide? Does scientific contingency explain the purpose of life? If God (the programmer) is the purpose of life then why subject us to the program?

The organized yet absurd universe; Is God a tease

By scientific contingency things can be explained according to the agency they’re contingent on.   For example an apple falling from a tree is contingent on gravity, planets are contingent on the propulsion and collection of gases and matter, etc. Everything within time can be explained this way since we know time is forward moving and everything progresses from a previous state all the way back to the beginning. Even if there were one equation that explained the theory of everything we would still be left with the question of why this theory? Why is the physical universe ordered the way it is? Because we live ‘in the program’ (Matrix style) we can never know truths outside the program so what is the point of our knowing anything? Why is nature organized in such a harmonious way as to provide us with the intellectual capacity to understand the laws of nature with laws that are intelligently and rationally organized? The laws of nature could be unintelligible, they could be randomly unordered.   The human mind could be primitively conscious, like dogs. That could be a more reasonable existence; pushing the rock up the hill, never asking why, valuing nothing outside of time, hoping for nothing outside of time, just mortally being. As Stephen Hawking asked: “Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing? What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe?”

We search for meaning but we live in chaos. There are hurricanes, that humans take no part in creating thus have no control in avoiding, that annihilate entire regions. There is cancer that decimates entire families. Murder can be blamed on human behavior but what about natural disaster? What about all the biological effort that goes into creating a beautiful, complex, and absolutely unique baby only to see them die from SIDS or some other infant mortality condition. How is it even reasonable for people to live until 80 and then die? Why, if you think about it, is that comforting? Death at any age makes the self conscious life absurd if there is no transcendent purpose.

Ironically in Genesis we are told by God not to eat of the tree of knowledge yet we are created with the agency of knowing. Is this to teach us a lesson? Of what mortal purpose? Of an immortal purpose, that of the afterlife? Why bother with the physical world, why not start in the afterlife? If God created people not out of necessity but out of an abundance of love, in order to share that love, why bother with the theatrics of this intelligible yet unintelligible cosmos?   Perhaps the only real practice of human free will and self consciousness is suicide, right away. The philosopher Pliny the Elder said “God cannot commit suicide even if he wished to but man can do so anytime he chooses.” God cannot commit suicide because it’s against his nature. God is and can never not be. What if humanity as a collective committed suicide, wielded death as the only force it has control of and thus humanity snuffed out it’s own existence which it is endowed with the power to do?  Not only refusing to digest the knowledge of the cosmos as it is provided impotently but freely removing the human mind from creation especially in the Christian model of the ultimate purpose to be with God.  Would there have been a purpose for our wondering mind on this mortal universe? This would be the only revolt the program could take against and for the programmer. But the programmer traps us yet by denying us ‘the constitution for suicide’, instilling the instinct for living and a natural fear of death. Interestingly, even Jesus Christ with his divine purpose known to him feared his own death and cried out “My God, why have you forsaken me?”

Perhaps we’re the carnival set in motion for entertainment. But God is benevolent, right? We are made in the image of God with faculties that search for the transcendent. In the bible we are told we see through a glass darkly in this universe hinting at a higher purpose for our race. Can the program transcend the hardware? Is the code (the laws of nature) the window into this transcendence? Why, then, are we told not to pursue transcendent knowledge, knowledge that only God knows? If we are only to pursue mortal endeavors within finite time then why give us the intelligence to ask why? Also, if God doesn’t want us to transcend the programming (thus becoming Gods ourselves) then why has he not only created a rational knowable universe and a human species with the instinct to ask why but also a personal relationship where he intervenes from outside time, meddling with the program, teasing us with his presence. If for the next life then why subject us to this life and make it a grave sin to commit suicide? If to see if we really love him, he himself set it up where we naturally don’t and only by his grace can we love him. He could have skipped this intermediary step. If our ultimate purpose is to one day live with God in the Christian model where his kingdom would be on earth as it is in heaven would that mean the ultimate progression is God, the timeless programmer, entering the program and becoming subject to time as we are? But then time would be more powerful than God and God is omnipotent. Or in the new kingdom would there be no forward progression of time? Just static states? Or infinite time at once? Or would earth be lifted outside of time? But then why the description ‘on earth as it is in heaven’? Heaven (timelessness) would be brought to earth? Then why the bother of time and death in the first place? If the Christian goal is to be with God how does our mortal universe merge with God’s timeless immortality and how is suicide not the best solution to break free of mortal time?

Of course, biblically suicide is wrong because life is sacred and one’s life is the property of God’s and thus to commit suicide is to deride God’s prerogatives but the counterargument as the philosopher David Hume said is that, if such is the case, then to save someone’s life is also to deride God’s prerogatives.

Why does God insist on the universe the way it is or insist on it existing at all? Why engender us with free will to ask why, to make free choices but then override our freedom with the frustration of the unknowable and the natural drive to keep asking. Perhaps the definition of insanity is instead of asking the same question and expecting a different answer asking the same question and expecting any answer.

Scientifically, philosophically, metaphysically we will never know why so long as we’re in the program.

If life is meaningless then suicide makes sense but I refuse to accept that the universe would be arranged so methodically with meaningful patterns and the human race designed with such mental capacity to decode the program and wonder about the programmer if it’s all for naught. I refuse to accept that life is absurd. I believe in a reason and I believe the reason is benevolent. I think I’ll keep living and anyone that marvels at the patterns of the universe should too. Though, in the program, we’ll never know why; siri has no knowledge, either, of this magnificent universe that exists outside her program or the reason for her existence so too we have no idea what magnificence exists outside our program and the reason for our existence but just because we don’t know doesn’t mean it’s not there and if our program is so beautifully designed to allow for extrospection then what’s outside our program must be divine. God?

Suicide: Existentialism and the Absurd