Disinformation, Rumor and Gossip

I’ve been reading lately about the perpetuation of disinformation that social media has allowed to spread quickly and widely these days. Sometimes, deliberately conjured false narratives based on non-existent facts and perpetrated by bad actors are sought out for various reasons from entertainment to reinforcement of intuited beliefs of deep state conspiracy.

It occurs to me the inclination for many of us to spread gossip is ingrained behavior. Intentions are not necessarily malevolent, but, even so, rumors that may start harmlessly: interpretations of neighborly idiosyncrasies, maybe, have always had the potential to devolve into dangerous fictions that may cause great harm: thousands of ‘witches’ were burned or hung across Europe in the 16th century, rumor and innuendo have led to the demonization of minority communities today and on-line threats of rape and murder directed toward victims of disinformation are commonplace.

Whether those guilty of spreading disinformation are fear driven or just mean-spirited it’s hard to take a liberal stance on speech freedoms while aware of the potential harms rumor, gossip and disinformation can cause.

Ahimsa

The eastern religious principle of Ahimsa proposes that one ‘do no harm’: to achieve enlightened insight one must come to the realization that all things human and animal, animate and inanimate have soul-like presence, deserve respectful consideration.

The Jains are a traditional Indian religious sect that take the principle of Ahimsa very seriously. The deeply spiritual among them practice extreme measures to avoid injuring any living thing, plant or animal, will avoid walking at night so as not to injure unseen insects and mask so as not to inhale any sort of minute flying being. The idea is I guess, that in order to achieve Ahimsa one must get in touch with what one imagines that even the least of life forms has valid meaningful existence.

With this in mind, I found myself recently watching a tiny winged creature walk across my pants leg. I wondered where it might be headed, whether it might be seeking food of some sort. Certainly it must be considered a conscious being aware of the dangers around it and what stone it might find that would willingly harbor it for the night. Would it be able to form a bond with the sheltering rock one might assume has being in itself?

There is something enlightening about acknowledging the validity of our fellow beings.

What’s That Smell?

I’ve been reading lately about the complexities involved in understanding one’s sense of smell. Exposures over time to different odors can affect how individuals experience scents in the present. Some smells are undetectable to some people while eliciting strong reactions from others.

Researchers theorize that the smells one grows up with may affect how odors are processed. A dairy farm childhood might elicit fond memories of the smell of cattle manure that differs considerably from that of someone who grew up in the city, whose exposure to the same smell recalls dog excrement stepped in on the sidewalk. Experiencing, assigning quality to odors depends not only on the health of the olfactory receptacles one’s nose contains but also on the variety of scents one has experienced in the past and the psychological baggage that goes with those memories.

I wonder what sort of mindset medieval city dwellers had dealing with the smells of chamber pot content poured from windows, horse excrement in the streets and the flow of human waste through town gutters.

I’ll bet a trip to the country was a breath of fresh air.

Kenosis

I’ve been reading about kenosis, the idea that, in order to fully embrace the natural world in all its beauty and complexity it is necessary to suppress the ego. Seems reasonable I guess: if one’s sense of self is excessive the inclination will be to subordinate, view the world as a vast department store where everything is available for the personal satisfaction of the consumer: forests, water, mineral resources, human labor is there to enrich the individual who covets it.

A strong ego may fail to recognize the presence of the Other: the aethereal essence permeating all things responsible for the beauty and complexity of the natural world. As the natural world comes increasingly under threat, in order to temper its decline an effort will be required that may exceed one’s comfortable complacence, demand actions and behaviors of uncommon strength and sacrifice. It’s not like these ideas are new: most all spiritual beliefs have embraced the sacredness of the natural world, honored the food animal sought benevolence from the Other to ensure food production.

Time to disavow our sense of anthropomorphic superiority, work to become one with the natural world.

Silver Creek (October)

What It Means to be a Rando

Realizing myself to be far removed from the popular culture these days I nevertheless caught on to the term ‘rando’ I overheard being used recently in a conversation between two 20-somethings. The term refers, I guess, to someone of little importance, a slight for sure.

As a result, I’ve become aware of how out of touch I am with the ‘in’ use of language and I find it a bit disconcerting, being so unhip (and I’m sure such term itself would be considered pretty lame; as would the use of the word lame in such a context) that I feel a need to try and remedy the situation, try to fit in at least to a degree

In hopes of moderating my pop cultural inadequacies I’ve decided that the next time I find myself in an elevator next to a girl wearing ear buds, I’ll turn to her and ask: ‘So, how do you like your beats?’ That should gain me a degree of cool, shouldn’t it?

Maybe not.

Embedded Evil

I’ve been reading accounts, lately, some fictional, some non, of man’s inhumanity to man. Myriad examples abound on various media outlets; news of heinous acts perpetrated by religious zealots and alienated loners among others.

Usually when real bullets or knives are involved, we’re exposed to such malevolence in video offerings that carry a warning of disturbing content of particularly vile acts to prepare us sensitive viewers for what’s to come (which, I suspect, is a real attention grabber) and, when it comes to the fictional realm is choreographed with accompanying soundtrack resulting in glorification, romanticizing the obscenities.

The accounts of wicked behavior I find most disturbing, though, are in the form of written narrative where description can be presented unedited and without censorship, where behaviors so hateful and vile, described in vivid detail, have the potential to burn the obscene imagery into one’s mind.

So, I’m wondering, does consuming knowledge of wicked and vile acts anesthetize, numb one’s sensibilities making the horrors presented more tolerable? Can descriptions of vile acts so horrific that knowledge of them become embedded within the mind of the reader, alter his/her countenance?

I’m thinking we may need to temper our media consumption sometimes, pay attention to the good happening in the world, you know, seek the lighter side. I suspect some research may be involved.

Aristotle’s Legacy

I’ve been reading that, in the mid-20th century, natural philosophy was dominated by logical positivism: the idea that truths are established in terms of clearly perceivable facts, such as size, shape, age, quantity, etc. The logical structure of this theory might be thought of as analogous to billiard balls on a table caroming off one another in blind chain-reactions of cause and effect. Such theory rejects value or quality judgements which are subject to individual interpretation, being of opinion or belief rather than fact.

By 1945, as the atrocities of the Nazi death camps were revealed, some thinkers began to see some otherwise subjective value assignments, evil particularly, as having objective validity. Taking Aristotle as a starting point, the dissenters found a biological paradigm to define the natural world: alive and in constant change, developing, reproducing and transitioning. Rather than blind cause and effect everything in nature is in the process of self-directed development.

These ideas have me thinking of a recent experience I had while paddling my canoe along a shoreline. I startled a duck, most certainly a recent mother, who in the interest of her ducklings hidden somewhere in the rushes, put on the most amazing show of feigned injury, flopping along the water, drawing me away from her brood. Choices were there for her to make: stay hidden or risk her life to draw me off; no ‘blind effect’ to the cause there.
I’m with Aristotle on this one.

Full Circle

It’s evening. The day has taken its toll. The aches and pains have accumulated over the day’s (relatively) strenuous physical activities. I’m exhausted. I can do little right now but convalesce. Maintaining the mantra: ‘use it or lose it’ is becoming increasingly difficult to voice with enthusiasm. Like others in my aging community vigor and flexibility are diminishing. The unable to perform list awaits and is never empty. Common medical knowledge informs us to cut back our physical (and mental) expectations, don’t push so hard, accept limitations if you wish to maintain your earthly existence.

Morning now. I feel invigorated, competitive again, ready to face any adversity. Age, after all, is experience, an equalizer against youthful exuberance. Bring it on. I’m more than ready for challenge.

Evening again and the cycle continues.

Black and White

I’ve been thinking, for some time, about the polarized political narrative these days. I guess the divisiveness isn’t so surprising given the sensationalistic clickbait that crops up on everyone’s phone, algorithmically modified to enhance the political inclinations of the viewer/listener and further exacerbated by politicos anxious to feed from the populist trough.

Ok; so maybe the news I’m being fed has got me thinking in black and white. Maybe I should be seeking and finding the nuances necessary to exchange diverse ideas in a constructive manner with those who hold views I consider abhorrent. Maybe my world is the simplistic one. I’ll work on it. Still, I do like the clarity of black birds on white snow.

Realizing the Sublime

The diminutive tribal people indigenous to the primal forests of equatorial Africa represent an autonomous culture able to thrive in a most prohibitive environment. Survival means understanding the flora and fauna, what’s edible and what has medicinal applications since the extremely dense jungle in which they live is rife with tropical diseases and man-eating predators. To thrive, tribal identity requires a philosophy of sanctity of group rather than individuality. To exist in such a place means finding the sublime in the terrible. They must become one with their sacred world.

Lessons to be learned here, I think, about how to nurture and support a life-providing environment.