Archive for the ‘On Philosophy’ Category

Some people hate my diatribes against political candidates, religious zealots, anti-rationalists, creationists, science-haters, war-mongers, racists, misogynists, antisemites, homophobes, and my whole cast of characters. Some people love them.

People of different backgrounds also have widely different responses to my posts on loving each other, respect for every individual life, the ethics of war, respect for religious diversity, struggling with rationalism, respect for atheists, and love of our lonely little blue rock in space.

To be honest, I don’t really care and here is why.

I began this blog as a way to keep myself writing. It was for me. I blog as if I were writing in a diary. The only difference between this and a private journal is that I think about whether what I write here is something I’m willing to let others read. It’s a diary but it’s not private.

My one unshakable belief comes from Aristotle and is simply this: “The unexamined life is not worth living“. I believe that we humans are distinguished from other mammals simply by our power to reason. I don’t know if that is really true because I have a 50 year bias toward cetaceans given to me by my mentors Greg Bateson and John Lilly. But, from what I can know without talking to orcas it seems we are unique in our capacity for reason. Most of us under-utilize that blessing and some of us use it for monstrous purposes. But, for me personally, thinking, pondering, debating, considering, arguing, and examining are the reasonable paths to being fully human.

My blog, therefore, does not try to convince you of anything. It does not try to insist that I’m right. In fact, I admit that I’m often not. All this blog does is to give you an unobstructed view into my personal self-examination. I have a substantial private life. But the part of my wrestling with God, biology, philosophy, and existing which I choose to expose is, herein, an open book.

So, I’m going to continue to piss you off sometimes. I’m going to let you watch my struggle if you so choose. You can’t get me to stop doing that even if you negatively react to my posts. All you have to do is stop reading them if you don’t like them. Personally, I hope that you continue to read this writing for many years to come. All I hope is that I challenge you to think; and that by exposing my self-examination I somehow help you, yourselves, to grow.

I’m grateful to all of you whether you like me and my writing or not. You challenge me to think and I hope the challenge is mutual.

In deep gratitude and love for you all: Happy Thanksgiving.

 

 

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It seems that, each year, the usurpation of every single Christmas Carol for the purpose of selling more stuff bothers me more.  Maybe this year I’m just a bit extra grumpy from the steroids I’m taking after my brain radiation. Or, maybe I’m just in one of my moods. But, this year, I’m getting pretty tired of Christmas advertising.

After all my years of questioning religious dogma you may be surprised that I say this but:

my religious Christian friends are right when they say “Jesus is the reason for the season”. 

We can extend that into my Jewish context  by remembering that the rededication of the 2nd temple after having our culture threatened by much greater military force is the reason for Hanukkah. We should even remember that the pagan roots of seasonal traditions like Christmas Trees are really about the solstice and the timing of our fragile planet’s Gaia-esque lifecycle. Even my athiest and agnostic friends can relate to celebrating another year of living on a funky little blue planet that is so full of unceasing wonder, and so unlikely to have borne us. The main thing, to me, is that in the darkness of winter we can celebrate our faiths and our vision of a world healed and renewed.

It is no secret that I don’t believe what my Christian friends believe. I don’t focus my life on eschatology, I focus it on what I know I can affect by working for this life, not a next one. If you guys are right and there is some place called “Heaven” please put in a good word for me because I think I’m a good guy and do good work for the world. In the meantime the extent of the eschatological Steve Bilow is limited to leaving a decent place for those who will follow me, to live. If I don’t clean up my Karma and I have to reincarnate without being promoted to Mavatar Bilow for another 1000 lives. so be it.

That said, here is my message to my Christian pals.

What I think and believe should be entirely irrelevant to you. It is what you believe that is important. Furthermore, if you respect me and I respect you then we will always be able to learn from each other, to understand the unknown better, and to love each other more. So, let’s just do that and continue healing the universe together.

Please at least consider this:

If you think that you have a belief system that will improve the world without disrespecting others, murdering people, or infringing on other people’s freedoms and liberties, pursue it with gusto. Just stay open to the high likelihood they we Jews, most Muslims, the Hindus, Buddhists, Shintos, Unitarians, Mormons, athiests, Jains, agnostics, Taoists, and others also have the same goals. I may call dogma “irrational” but I’ll apologize right now it that offends you. All I ask in return is an equal amount of respect.

The Unitarian Universalists have a very beautiful saying. They say:

One light, many windows.

That was taught to me by one of my followers and it sums things up very well.

My own way of saying the same thing is to tell the story of the blind men and the elephant:

One blind man is near an elephant’s leg and thinks an elephant is like a tree. Another, is by his tail and thinks an elephant is like a snake. A third is by his trunk and thinks an elephant is a big garden hose. All are right based on their available data. 

Substitute the word “God” for “Elephant” and you can imagine us as each having limited knowledge of something we can’t see and about which we can never have more than speculative data.

I like the UU concept better.

And on the topic of respect:

I would say that every television or radio commercial that usurps your festive and holy music to sell a car, a toy, a movie, a diamond, a perfum, a bar of soap, an insurance policy, a debt restructuring plan, a condom, a plane ticket, a larger erection, a cure for COPD, a new job as a highly paid truck driver, an adjustable bed, a new vertical blind, an HDTV, a department store gift card, some nice new jeans, or anything else, is an affront to your beliefs. So, Christian friends, what you should really be offended by is the usurping of Christmas by commercialism. If you really want more for respect Christianity then don’t let it become a bacchanal of commercialism.

All that said, I’m off to work. Hopefully I’ll listen to some Christmas music on XM Radio. There I can contemplate love, joy, peace, God, holiness, truck driving, and perhaps a bit of erectile dysfunction. If the latter 2 outweigh the former 5, well, that’s why God invented audio books.

I wish all who celebrate Christmas a blessed Christmas Eve and a wonderful Christmas Day. Please fill it with the love and light, the care for the less fortunate, and the peaceful compassion that the Christ in which you believe would have it filled.

Merry Christmas!

This morning, as I was driving in to work, I was listening to Donald Trump supporters who were explaining why they agree with The Donald that we should ban all Muslims from entering the US. Some of these supporters were surprisingly articulate. For example, one guy’s response was:

  • ” ‘Cuz I don’ like ’em here”.

Another great response was:

  • “I’m scared and we gotta pertect Americans.”

Now, those are some rock solid debaters if ever I’ve seen one.

You may think I’m being biased when I quote people with an IQ of 16 but I’m not. Clearly, there are some intelligent people who have equally inane ideas. The problem comes when you put them all into a crowd where they are mutually supportive and where, in turn, they generate energy. That energy gives the leader greater and greater power. So, like we saw in Nazi Germany, or in Darfur, or at any political rally no mater who is speaking, crows give leaders power.

That is why I want to encourage everyone I know to read Elias Canetti’s seminal book “Crowds and Power“. Even right after the Holocaust, Canetti knew we could bring ourselves to extinction. He said:

  • “There is no doubt: the study of man is just beginning, at the same time that his end is in sight.”

He knew we could likely do it through war but that we always would need an invented enemy:

  • “Rulers who want to unleash war know very well that they must procure or invent a first victim.”

He seems to have even known that Donald Trump was coming when he said:

  • “The paranoiac is the exact image of the ruler. The only difference is their position in the world. One might even think the paranoiac the more impressive of the two because he is sufficient unto himself and cannot be shaken by failure.”

Canetti knew, way back then, that all Trump would need to do is to create fear by selecting an “enemy” that most of us don’t understand:

  • “There is nothing that man fears more than the touch of the unknown.”

And, of course, he knew what would happen if Mr. Trump spewed his nasty rhetoric in front of a large group:

  • “As soon as a man has surrendered himself to the crowd, he ceases to fear its touch. Ideally, all are equal there: no distinctions count, not even that of sex. That man pressed against him is the same as himself. He feels him as he feels himself. Suddenly, it is as though everything were happening in one and the same body.”

He certainly knew that the key to gaining power would be fear:

  • “All the distance which men place around themselves are dictated by this fear.”

And…. unquestionably the great Canetti knew that we have no longer any reason to believe that we have some divinely ordained right to even continue on. He observed:

  • “The planet’s survival has become so uncertain that any effort, any thought that presupposes an assured future amounts to a mad gamble.”

But, perhaps most amazing of all is that Canetti knew exactly what Mr. Trump needed to do to gain ever greater power. Knowing that a man like Trump gained the most from being continually in the press he said:

  • “Success is the space one occupies in the newspaper. Success is one day’s insolence.”

I’m giving you all these Canetti quotes because “Crowds and Power” is, perhaps, even more important now than it was after WWII. You see, for every person who is intelligent enough to rationally reason about political issues, engaged enough to make decisions based on data, concerned enough to look beyond their own small communities, and compassionate enough to see people who they don’t understand as a part of the rich fabric of humanity, there are dozens of people who don’t care, don’t pay attention, don’t see beyond their micro-worlds, don’t think, or are simply too stupid to understand that a threat to others is a threat to themselves. Put all the latter types into a room with Donald Trump and soon they will be cheering for laws against Muslims.

I hope you know where that path leads! It leads to religious laws, then racial laws, then explicit discrimination, then perhaps internment camps, and then…. I dare not say it.

Will all the people who support the coming tragedy be evil? Of course not. What they will be is part of an out-of-control machine that will be heading down a slippery slope with no breaks. We can’t let that happen.

Please people: Read Canetti!

If you think it can’t happen here, think again.