The Ancients

I’ve been wondering, lately, if anyone thinks about the ancients anymore. I’ve been reading about the polarizing political intrigues that engulfed Plato in the later years of his life. He found his integrity compromised despite his best intentions to teach the young ruler Dionysius philosophy, geometry and the path to a deeper understanding of the ultimate realities.

I guess the idea that absolute power, which is what these early Greek tyrants had, corrupts absolutely holds most of the time. Diogenes the Cynic certainly understood this. In protest to the perverse values of the time he cast off all social conventions (along with most of his clothes) and wandered the streets of Athens seeking an honest man while living hand to mouth, without material possessions of any sort, in a castoff wine barrel.

Some things never change I guess. It’s pretty evident today that the inclination to wield power trumps thoughtful contemplation, reasoned pursuit of the good and the just and true pretty much every time.

Virtual Reality and Dementia

I’ve been reading that Virtual Reality technology is becoming pretty sophisticated these days: put on the headset and find yourself in an alternate world so all-encompassing it all becomes pretty believable. Well, as a recreation anyway.

Apparently the technology is being applied to nursing home residents suffering from dementia. The intent is to help them restore brain function, I guess. I’m wondering if or when VR will be taken a step further: headsets for hospice care. I can imagine, rather than heavy sedation a journey to a pain-free realm of serenity, beauty and peace might not be such a bad way to retire from life.

What would happen, I wonder, as physical life expires. Does one live on psychically in beautiful VR? Seems kind of religious. Could it be technological advances will redefine the notion of heaven?

Leisure Capitalism

I’ve been reading, lately, about this idea, sort of a thought experiment I guess, offered by an innovative thinker that addresses concerns about the health of our planet. The idea, leisure capitalism, proposes reducing the hours workers work by as much as half. The twenty hour work week would reduce considerably the toxic emissions we are presently spewing into the atmosphere and relieve pressure on our contaminated waterways and depleted forests. These things will be accomplished by reducing work commutes, industrial run-off and large-scale harvesting of South American rain forest.

The wealth of the developed world could easily compensate workers with a living wage and, one would think leisure capitalism would be an idea enthusiastically embraced by the majority of people who could then pursue recreational interests, the nature of which might responsibly be directed toward healthy non-polluting activities.

While the western world is scaling down production developing countries could be encouraged to increase production, raising the standard of living for many in poverty to reasonable levels enjoyed by most of us, after which production can be reduced and people everywhere can find meaning in recreational pursuits.

Seems to me like a great idea for those of us who find pleasure and meaning in activities not providing a paycheck, but I suspect there will be plenty of folks not willing to forego wealth accumulation, status relationships and economic power. The folks, who, I suspect, find it expedient to deny climate change wouldn’t look favorably toward doubling (tripling?) worker wages in the interests of bringing our earth back to full health.

Well, in my mind, the idea of leisure capitalism is optimistic and uplifting even though probably unrealizable. Still, let’s hope innovative thinkers will always be with us.

Why Western Europeans Dominated the Rest of the World for Awhile

So, as I understand it, a long time ago, way back, as humankind emerged from their hunter/gatherer roots, civilization developed in the Fertile Crescent (it being a place particularly conducive to plant and animal domestication) while much of the rest of the world,( save China and a bit later Mesoamerica), remained tribal people for millennia.

Before too long these newly sedentary farmers created complex societies that produced artisan craftsman and a written language. Unfortunately for those urbanizing folks they didn’t have a good grasp on the importance of environmental stewardship: deforestation and soil degradation took its toll. The civilizations of the Fertile Crescent fell into decline.

But, over the millennia, technologies developed by these folks traveled with relative ease and speed into soil rich Western Europe, where, before long, (relatively speaking), the Spanish, Portuguese, French, English and Dutch became the powers that dominated and exploited the rest of the world.

And so, it’s pretty clear geography and circumstance is responsible to a considerable extent for the historical dominance of the Western Europeans. One would think such knowledge would undermine the racist tendencies of our primitive minds. I fear that’s not the case.

The Story of Civilization, Part Two

I’ve been recently learning from a very well researched tome that the reasons for the discrepancy in the development of civilizations, over time, around the world, was, contrary to popular opinion, the result of factors that had little or nothing to do with human capabilities.

The so-called cradle of civilization, the fertile crescent in the near east which was the location of the earliest known significant civil progress had the benefits of a variety of domestic-able food plants and large animals which provided the means to create sedentary communities able to diversify energies toward technological developments: a considerable head-start on the rest of the world.

So called backward peoples like the Australian Aborigines remained hunter/ gatherers into modern times because, to a great extent, the lands they occupy don’t accommodate farming and the indigenous fauna isn’t domestic-able. The knowledge these people have acquired, though, makes it possible for them to thrive in an exceedingly harsh environment.

It would appear that humankind has survived to this point in time through a common intelligence and adaptability. Now, if we can all just recognize our mutual worth perhaps we can survive a bit longer.

 

 

 

How to Solve the World’s Problems Part One

I’ve been reading a very interesting assessment of the religious conflicts that have been fomenting around the world these days (well, actually, religious conflicts may be the lone absolute all civilizations have realized ad infinitum).

The problem, that has developed into terroristic behaviors according to my very credible source, is disenfranchisement: a lack of opportunity to voice grievances by participating in a political dialogue. Giving marginalized peoples the opportunity to be part of the legitimate social/political structure has been shown to reduce extremist behaviors and even groups with fairly hostile inclinations, people who view non-believers as apostate or heretical, will, given the opportunity, most likely work within a legitimate structure.

So, perhaps, rather than preparing for a cosmic war, opening dialogue, developing mutual trust, bringing the outliers into the fold is a superior philosophical stance. Besides, who can really know which side God is on?

 

 

The Story of Civilization, Part One

I’ve been reading that after the Big Bang, as life emerged, along with the amoebic beginnings of plants and animals, viruses began their evolutionary development. Then, much later on, as animals became domesticated by the first farmers, cows, pigs and such became hosts to booming viral colonies which had realized living animal cells were a great promoter of the viral life-style. (The animals, of course, being less than discriminating consumers of water, were readily available for viral habitation). Soon, these early viruses found their way to human hosts. The early farmers being unwary, often invited their domesticated animals into their abodes, which, it’s pretty obvious, wasn’t so good for mankind.

In fact, early epidemics of measles, plague, small pox, influenza and such wiped out large populations, the survivors having the genetic wherewithal to  pass on immunity to their progeny. So, to jump ahead a few millennia, the early farmers became explorers, sailing the globe seeking peoples to conquer and exploit, a task made considerably easier as they passed on the aforementioned deadly diseases to folks without immunity.

This whole scenario rather points out the geographic advantages (animals to domesticate and such) of the earliest farmers, who, on the positive side passed on their immunities to most of us. Still, it would seem to be sensible to keep a reasonable distance from the family dog: he/she may not kill you but knowing what the animal is inclined to eat and drink, disease is in the offing.  And, I don’t know about you but I’m getting a flu shot.

Our Primitive Brains

I’ve been reading that a significant part of the reason for our contemporary intellectual disconnectedness is due to our primitive brains: that our brains evolved to deal with empirical issues like finding food and avoiding predators and social skills like recognizing malevolence and benevolence and working with others for mutual benefit.

The problem seems to be that our pragmatic brain isn’t yet equipped to deal with the abstract knowledge science is providing these days leading to a denial by more than a few folks of the legitimacy of discoveries we could be benefitting from regarding ecological health, stem-cell cures and the nature and fragility of the universe.

Our primitive intuitive natures lead us to global warming denial, destructive fossil fuel extraction and heavy-footprint product production. A recent president went so far as to refer to ‘fuzzy science’ in condemnation of findings unfavorable to economic growth.

So, our intuitive selves tend to lead us toward the supernatural as explanation for the ills and inconveniences we would all like to overcome, and are to blame for the political motivation to slow down important innovation. Scientific discoveries shouldn’t require the faith of a believer. We all need to do a better job grasping the truth offered by our most innovative thinkers.

Pragmatism

I’ve been reading about certain 19th Century philosophers, William James and John Dewey among them, who developed a philosophic procedure, pragmatism, to deal with the disconnect between the growing validity of scientific discoveries and long held religious conceptions many folks embraced at the time.

Pragmatism was, and still is I guess, about practicality. Acting on an idea, empirical or religious, will produce either a result that proves to be personally useful, one of practical applicability, or will prove itself useless and disposable. The ‘truthfulness’ of the idea is thus established.

I guess it’s pretty clear that being practical, you know, for the most part, is important in decision making regarding social functioning and earning a living. It seems to me important, though, to hang on to idealisms sometimes no matter how trivial or fantastical they may be. Imaginings need to be limitless and be free to reach beyond any notion of functionality.

James and Dewey realized we live in a steadily evolving, transformational world. We need to spend time seeking the unknown in all its potential absurdness. Who knows, such investigations may lead to useful insights that will counter unwanted future evils.

The Dangers of Religious Fundamentalism

I’ve been reading that one of the primary drivers of religious fundamentalism is the sense of feeling under siege: the opposition, anyone holding a perspective contrary to the orthodox view, is identified not simply as apostate but as the enemy: immoral and evil.

With the firm belief God is on their side, fundamentalists embrace a world view that may include cosmic battle against the forces of evil.  Fundamentalists convince themselves they are the chosen ones of God which sometimes leads to nationalistic fervor and an aggressive political stance and may even include the idea of replacing secular government and constitution with the tenets of their religious beliefs. They evangelize, convinced anyone not a believer is doomed to eternal Hell, which I suppose might be considered somewhat altruistic ( the evangelizing that is), if the rigidity of their demanded beliefs weren’t quite so outrageous and their methods of conversion less oppressive. These folks take their sacred writings literally, a gift from God, inerrant, any metaphorical allusions lost on their determined black/white perspective. So, the fundamentalists flex their muscles in tense confrontation, waiting for the sign from God signaling Armageddon.

Whew! This all might make exciting TV drama if it weren’t so real.