Despair in Florence

I was speaking with a very insightful young Florentine during my recent travels. He commented that the state of American politics (of which I must admit to being a bit embarrassed) isn’t surprising to most Europeans given the populist anti-immigrant goings-on in Italy and throughout Europe. “What we don’t understand about the Americans,” he said, “is the guns.”

This got me thinking about a Goethe quote I ran across recently that goes: ‘There are times when all consolation is base and it’s our duty to despair’, which resonates, no doubt, but I have to wonder how much value there is in despairing, you know, all by itself.

 

Where the Lions ate the Christians

I’ve recently visited a place, an arena where, around two millennia ago, Christians, who apparently didn’t fit in well at the time, provided great spectacle as prey for very angry and very hungry lions. I must admit this particular place has lost a lot of its potentially grizzly impact since becoming a tourist magnet, you know, cleaned up, no blood anywhere.  Nowadays the pushing and shoving amongst the hordes of Christian visitors themselves suggests a sort of sadistic propensity for pain.

Anyway, the culture in charge at the time, a couple millennia ago, found the minority sect to be disrespectful of the established gods so lion fodder they became. Of course a few centuries later the Christians were torturing and burning those they found to be heretical to their faith.

Considering the religious maneuverings in politics these days one can only be dismayed at how slowly the wheels of evolution turn.

Via Giordano Bruno

I was noticing during my recent travels that Rome has a Giordano Bruno Avenue just a block down from one named after Savanarola. It got me wondering, being so close to the Vatican, if there’s a sense of atonement here given the fact the church saw fit to burn the two men for heretical behaviors.

There’s little question Bruno was inclined toward the occult, Hermes Trismegistus and Fra Savanarola was one of the original reactionary fundamentalists, burning books as he did. Still, burning and dismembering the two seems a bit harsh coming from a religion that espouses Christian charity.

The church fathers would seem to present a bit more enlightened front these days but if push came to shove one wonders if there wouldn’t be job openings for inquisitors.

The Benefits of an Expanded Consciousness

I’ve been reading that quite a number of people these days are relying on various chemical enhancers to improve their intellectual functioning. As I understand it, widespread use of psycho-stimulants like Ritalin are being used to prop up memories and quicken access to stored information (quicker even than a Google search, I guess) for those wishing to function more effectively or maybe just to appear smarter than they really are. There are also those out there seeking more intense religious adventures than they might otherwise experience using psycho-stimulants like psilocybin which have apparently been used for millennia for the purpose of traveling to the far reaches of consciousness.

I find this idea of psycho-stimulation somewhat intriguing in light of my own diminishing memory, which, of course, I can attribute to the considerable amount of information processed and experiences experienced which has come with aging. I do find myself a little slow on the draw when it comes to participating in fast paced conversation as well. Considering the eye opening potential psycho-stimulants may offer as consciousness ex pander and a means of subordinating personal ego perhaps some experimentation is in order. Getting to a deeper understanding of mankind, the environment and universe has to be a good thing. Maybe our politicos could benefit from a bit of psycho-stimulated enlightenment.

Ideals and Ideology

I’ve been reading, lately, about the disconnect between ideological beliefs and hard facts; that firmly held beliefs sometimes get in the way of accepting objective knowledge when the two don’t exactly mesh. I guess we all have our ideological beliefs, what we see as appropriate, preferable directions and outcomes that our culture as we understand it, would best observe; perspectives that have come to us through our intuitions or religious beliefs or communion with like-minded folks. Pluralism being what it is, though, belief systems will never coalesce into a single dominant ideology.

Objective knowledge on the other hand, that knowledge that we obtain from careful observation and thoughtful painstaking data collection doesn’t require belief: it comes to us as a dynamic fact that shouldn’t be thought of as divisive in terms of ideologies. But, I guess were having a hard time these days separating beliefs from hard facts.

Anyway, I was thinking that it would be really good, ideal really, if we could all come together around the realization that what we desire is a shared common ground, a cooperative and peaceful humankind progressing through shared knowledge. We must not let ideologies get in the way of our idealism.

Fear

It’s become apparent to me, lately, that among other perhaps more obvious differences between conservative and liberal political perspectives, the notion of fear is of particular concern to those entrenched within the political right, which, I guess, explains the conservative desire to build walls and ban entire communities of people of particular religious beliefs………and build ever-larger military arsenals, anticipating, I guess, having to ward off the aggression s of any number of potential hostile entities. I suppose one could add to this the conservative penchant toward religious devotion intended to override the fear of ultimate personal demise.

It’s hard to argue or reason with someone harboring a very real, albeit abstract fear and as much as I might like to convince my conservative friends of the beauty of a pluralistic world I guess I’ll have to settle for a bit of understanding, a sympathy for them living as they do with their very real fear.

A Larger World

 

It’s occurred to me recently that perhaps my world is shrinking.  Having fallen into a fairly consistent daily routine that finds me usually no farther than maybe 25 miles from my home most of the time and limiting my sources of information to those outlets that more or less support my views, not to mention the fact most of my social contact is with people pretty much just like me, I think I may be closeting myself.  I think I may be losing any personal empathy and understanding I may have once had to a diverse, pluralistic world.

It may be time for me to step out of the artificial safety of my insulated life, embrace the discomfort of the unknown and grow my world.  I need to do this before the most abhorrent of conditions, fear of the other, sets in; I can kind of feel it coming on.

I will venture into the public square, strike up conversations with those of unlike mind, seek out folks of unfamiliar cultural values and maybe even venture into situations where language barriers exist.  I need to renew my faith in the benevolence of those with whom I share the planet.  I know such benevolence exists.  I’ve realized it in the past.  There’s still time for me to save myself.

The Evil ‘I’

I’ve been thinking, lately, that perhaps I’m taking some of the events of the day a bit too personally. I’m thinking my sensitive, insecure ego is causing me to become increasingly intolerant, less understanding of those with different views than mine and making it less likely I will fairly assess what’s happening around me. Occurrences, no matter the cause have little to do with my stilted sense of appropriateness, my biased ideals and the sooner I come to grips with reality the better.

At any rate, I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one dealing with the evil ‘I’ which causes so much turmoil in the world.  I know there are spiritual endeavors that offer direction in ego suppression, subordinating the invented Self. Meditative disciplines emphasizing focus on the now and allowing thoughts to pass through one’s mind has the potential, I think, to set me in a more healthy and productive place. I just need to start putting in the time, focus on the now, maybe practice some deep breathing.

My Prejudices

I’ve been reading that, as much as we may not like to believe it, prejudice is an inevitable contributor to how we understand most all aspects of our existence. We attach meaning to what we observe through pre-conceived concepts which may function pragmatically but certainly fall short of providing us with a thorough understanding of our world. And, so, we end up with prejudices heavily ego-centric and self-preserving.

The kind of prejudices that lead folks to embrace racist, xenophobic perspectives and doubt the legitimacy of scientific research result from the lack of having at hand hard facts and reliable theories and have led to some pretty amazing intuitive jumps, irrational thinking and prejudices.

But, then, any belief is a prejudice which denies its contradiction. As I think about my own beliefs that may border on philosophical skepticism (a contradiction in itself) likelihoods and reasonable possibilities seem the operational rule. I suppose the only way to avoid believing oneself into a box is to think theoretically, keep things open ended.

Useful Facts

I’ve been mulling over the relationship between objective truth, subjective belief and fact, lately. As far as I can tell, facts are those things that are unmistakably true, that must under all circumstances be the case. Facts are those things having occurred, like the Norman Invasion, things that will occur in the future like the ultimate physical demise of all biological life forms and concepts beyond doubt like gravitational force. Propositions that border on objective truth, then, are those concepts and theories that are most in-line with the facts. Subjective belief on the other hand, provides important personal ground for living, maybe, but is not required to conform to any sort of irrefutable facts.

Now, it seems to me, in order to progress in our understanding of the world around us we need to generate useful knowledge. Some people undoubtedly feel subjective beliefs offer useful knowledge and I hesitate to dismiss them out-of-hand, but I’m afraid such a stance lacks the flexibility needed to truly progress. To progress we need to be able and willing to set aside what we once understood to be the case in favor of new ideas, theories that conform better to the facts which have been and continue to be revealed to us.

And these days with the significant problems we face I’m thinking we better root for the creative, progressive problem solvers who are reaching beyond what we now know. Here’s hoping solutions will be found before we find ourselves inextricably caught in a trap of our own making.