Tag Archives: philosophy

A “real man”, and a narrative

I have a guest post up over at the DaddyYoBlog about being a “real man” that leads into a little bit about false narratives. Go check it out here.

A teaser blurb:

Maybe what was lacking was the spiritual side of manhood, of fatherhood. Maybe when our grandfathers came back from WW2, they had no sprit left to give their sons. So manhood became something that was altogether mechanical, and was out of balance. Our fathers then pursued this mechanized lifestyle which fulfilled the mundane aspects of their lives, but left little room for them in the realm of that which is ethereal. For a few years, my dad raised me all by himself, and I now wonder if he struggled with this on some subconscious level. I wonder how detached my grandfather was. I wonder how my Father’s generation prepared for Fatherhood, if at all?

Cheers

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"We aren't feeling enough as a culture right now"

Just happend upon this video that is well worth watching. TED has some great talks and videos, but this one just stood out for some reason and really resonated with me. I hope you enjoy.

Cheers.

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Something brewing in the atmosphere

Today marks the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing. It was a terrible, gruesome act perpetrated by a home-grown terrorist. It’s been recently pointed out in the media and the blogosphere that the current political atmosphere is comparable to what it was then, and I’d have to agree. This morning on NPR there was someone from Pew Research talking about how much more angry and untrusting the right become when a Democrat wins the Presidency than the left do when a Republican does. You can see some of this sentiment now in the Tea Party movement, and much like talk radio in the early-mid ’90s, you see it splattered all over the internet.

Personally, I’m sick of all the bullshit coming from the right and the left which is getting us largely no where except to further the chasm between Left™ and Right©.  Recently I asked Justin what place Buddhist ethics has in political discourse. I did this because I believe there needs to be a fresh voice in politics today. One that isn’t driven by a desire to wipe out the other side’s ideas or beliefs. One that isn’t so dualistic in nature that it can only prop itself up with the rhetoric of the destruction of the “other” side. One that has its roots in compassion, and strives for understanding. We will never, ever all agree on the same political and moral principles, but we can at least stop yelling at each other long enough to understand where the other side is coming from. We need a voice that recognizes that any ONE idea or philosophy is inherently exclusionary and can’t survive in an emergent democracy. We are a nation of many peoples, many cultures, and ideas. This is where we draw our strength and have propelled our country to the world’s utmost superpower. It is only an inclusive, emergent philosophy based in compassion and wisdom that is continually updated to include present-day knowledge that will end the great divide we now see splashed across (and perpetuated by) our headlines.

The old idea of a system based totally on a “free market” certainly is lovely on paper, but eventually leads to plutocratic tendencies and an inherent wealth divide that is virtually insurmountable by those at the lowest rungs of the ladder. And the idea of a communal society simply cannot work on a scale as grand as these United States. It might work just fine on a hippie commune (for which I have great admiration) but there is no way to run that type of system in a world economy. These ideal states are fine for your Philosophy 103 term paper, but have little value in the real world.

A recent example of this would be supply side economics. The idea is a great one. Give tax breaks to the rich, and the rich in turn will buy lots of yachts and start-up companies and do all of these great things that will put America to work and eventually create a healthy middle class by means of employment.  But every friggin time that has been attempted in real-life in the past century, the exact opposite happens. The wealthy don’t invest or go buy a lot of things that put people to work. They just put that fucking money in the bank and get a little richer. Great idea on paper, but zero real-world benefit to the lower or middle classes.

I do believe there is a way to the middle ground here. Repeat after me: there is a middle. There is a happy place where markets can be regulated without hampering innovation, and where government can be a place where society pools its interests to take care of its citizens most basic needs without crippling the economy. There is a way to enjoy your personal liberty and take care of your fellow citizens at the same time.

But how do we get to that middle ground? What are the specifics, and what are the practical ways in which we get there? Is there a way to apply those Buddhist ethics in a secular way to achieve this goal? Is there a way to bring it from the philosophical and into the practical?

I’m considering starting a group political blog to help answer some of these questions (and others) as well as raise some other ones. It will look at modern politics from a Buddhist perspective, one based in compassion, empathy, wisdom, and of course Fudo Myo. It would be an enviroment where, as Justin put it “…. we can we educate moderates and the near-right to expose the problems of the extreme right, instead of fueling their fire…”

If you’re at all interested, leave a comment here.

Cheers.

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Motorcycles, Beer, and Change

The last batch of beer that I bottled didn’t turn out so well. It was an American Brown Ale (I currently have a batch of Amber waiting in the fermenter, and a batch of Pumpkin Ale I’ll be brewing next week). And I screwed it up. I was off daydreaming about hops and Barley Wines and wasn’t being very mindful of the mash. I let the grains get way to hot, and some tannins were extracted (in beer, tannins = bad usually). So I ended up with some quite astringent beer. Besides that, the flavor was alright, but it was probably the worst batch I’ve ever made.

 What pissed me off about it all initially was the fact that I used the same system that I did before. I approached it in a different manner (which had a slight astringent problem, but nothing this bad) and got the same damn results. I’m not going to get into details about how my brewing method, as that would be even more boring than the rest of this post. Basically, even though my intention was to make a better ale by switching a few things up, I still fell into the same pattern as before and ended up with shit beer.

I’m fond of quoting Robert Pirsig. He’s the author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. If you haven’t read it, please do. It’s easily the most overlooked work of philosophical literature of the last 50 years*. I’m currently obsessed (yup, an attachment) with Zen and the Art, and the whole way he approaches thought in it. After I was done beating myself up over my lousy batch of ale, something he said came to mind.

 “But to tear down a factory or to revolt against a government or to avoid repair of a motorcycle because it is a system is to attack effects rather than causes; and as long as the attack is upon effects only, no change is possible. The true system, the real system, is our present construction of systematic thought itself, rationality itself, and if a factory is torn down but the rationality which produced it is left standing, then that rationality will simply produce another factory. If a revolution destroys a systematic government , but the systematic patterns of thought that produced that government are left intact, then those patterns will repeat themselves in the succeeding government. There’s so much talk about the system. And so little understanding.”

 I could easily write 20 or more pages on just this paragraph alone. I’ll probably reference it numerous times throughout this blog. But what I want to talk about now is approaching change. There certainly has been a lot of talk about “change” lately in the news, ever since President Obama took office. But how much change can we expect from him, and the political party that he represents? I say none. Nothing real. No real solutions to our problems. The root cause of our problems will not be addressed. This time we’ll use a blue band-aid, and in a few more years, it’ll be a red one. But band-aids to little to address the real cause of the affliction.

 We hear all the time about how “if it were a free-market system, things would be different.” Well, sorry. News flash: THIS IS a free market system. It is a free market system that led us to our present state. It certainly wasn’t communism, or totalitarianism, or anarchy. It was a free market system. It is this system that led to the controlling lobbyists. It is this system that led to a for-profit health care system. It is this system that led to Enron, the housing market crash, immigration problems, the wealth gap, the rampant depletion of natural resources, and just about anything else you can think of. So to make changes within the system, and expect another outcome is ridiculous. Eventually, it will all get fucked up, one way or another. A free market system must create disparity to survive, for if everyone were equal, there would be no motivation to progress anything.

 If we can’t make changes within the system to progress society, what then? According to Pirsig, we must change the whole thought process and rationality that created the system in the first place. We must not only throw out the present system, but throw away the rationality that produced it in the first place. Why? Obviously, that rationality was flawed. We could expect no less than yet another flawed system if keep the same patterns of thought in place. Our American Revolution simply handed over the crown to the American Government, and the American Banking interests. Meet the new boss……

 Here’s an example of a time when bucking the system worked, and proved beneficial to humanity at large. 2500 years ago in India, the prevailing rationality was that in order to achieve enlightenment, and end your cycle of rebirth, an aesthetic lifestyle was pretty much your only option. That only through extreme, disciplined aestheticism would you ever be able to achieve the clarity necessary to rid yourself of the illusion of self. Siddhartha Gautama tried this for many years. He tried everything the other aesthetics taught him, and he still did not reach his goal. So rather than find other methods within that system, he threw out that whole system, and figured out that the “middle way” was the true path to enlightenment. It was this break through that allowed him to realize his goal, and it wouldn’t have happened if he didn’t change his rationality and approach.

A lot of bitching takes place on the Interwebs about “changing” a lot of the world’s problems. It is hopelessly non-constructive and self-defeating. Not only do people not propose any real, actionable solutions, they’re pissing in the wind when they do manage to think of something constructive to say (and not only that, they don’t get off their asses to do anything about it). We can’t hope to rid the world of poverty in our current free-market based societies. It ain’t gonna happen. It is built into the system.

 Many people have found the Zeitgeist movie online. Not as many have seen the second movie, or been to the Zeitgeist Movement website. Now, you and I may not agree with what they are proposing. That isn’t the point here. The point is that they are proposing a completely different system, (a solution!), a completely different rationality and unheard of approach; and they are being ridiculed for it. The main reason? People’s attachment to the status quo. Humanity has been so entrenched in this “me me me gimme gimme gimme money is the only motivator” system and way of thought for so long, that we can’t even comprehend how a different system would even be possible. But if we want real, actionable, sustainable change, we must embrace the total destruction of our present way of thought. It is imperative that we begin looking at society in a different manner altogether. We must throw out the Lockes and the Kants and the Platos and the Smiths, and start fresh. We need a new philosophy. I’m not saying that the Zeitgeist people have all the answers, but they are heading in the right direction. (on a side note, the second movie is much better than the first, as it deals less in conspiracies, and more in solutions).

If you really want a better batch of beer, you can’t just change up your recipe. You have to change your entire brewing method, and even your thought before you develop your brewing method. For this last batch, I did just that. Hopefully, it will be much more enjoyable, and I’ll be able to proudly share it with family and friends. Cheers.

 

*A comment exchange that took place when this post was first published and I felt was relevant to post here:

Anonymous said…

“…most overlooked work of philosophical literature of the last 50 years”? That strikes me as telling people you just discovered they sell dog food in cans!

This book has sold 5 million copies in nearly 30 different languages. There are serious philosophical societies that have formed to focus solely on Pirsig’s ideas. He is an international celebrity in the world of philosophy. Most university philosophy departments recognize his work, and most read his books.

How is that “overlooked”?

September 24, 2009 10:18 PM

Adam said…Yes, certainly a poor choice of words, as that really didn’t convey what i meant. The book was a huge success; it says so right on the cover and obviously I can read.

I wrote this post over a few different days, and left out something that i was about to touch on. While it may be the greatest thing since sliced bread for the philosophy folks out there, it certainly hasn’t yet found it’s way into the real, actionable world, and i think it really needs to. This is what I started to talk about when I said overlooked. The more i think about it, the more i believe this is another post altogether.

Thanks for pointing that out anonymous commenter. I see the confusion that could and has caused.

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I, Me, and Mine. On The Human Condition: Part 1

Long post alert!!

 

Over there on my profile, you’ll see that “I’m currently exploring life from the human perspective.” You’ll notice that I didn’t say Buddhist, Father, Caucasian, Home Brewer, Brother, Worker Bee or any other label that could be applied to me. That was on purpose. I feel that viewing life through the Human filter is tough enough before adding all of those additional filters, and I want to now examine some things as part of the Human Condition series. I also want to look at the implications and consequences of being born as a human.

 Why is it important to view life as a human first? Well, that’s the one thing we all have in common. We are all one particular species on this planet. Through evolution we have come to be a dominant surface-dwelling mammal. We are tool-users. We have fragile bodies. We use written and oral language as well as body language to communicate with one another. I could go on and on here, but the one thing to really keep in mind is our status as social mammals.

 We’ve always been social creatures. Even in our rough hunter-gatherer days we roamed in communal social structures. We hunted as a pack, ate as a pack, moved as a pack. We looked out for each other, for there was strength in numbers. No one man could take down a Mammoth by himself. He needed the help of others. Women shared in the responsibility of raising the youth. All of this mutual responsibility benefited the entire community and not just the individual, though the impact on the individual is quite obvious. When everyone did their part, things ran smoothly. People ate, were able to defend themselves, and were able to look after others (as well as be looked after themselves).

This worked well for awhile. But then we got tired of the nomadic life and decided to start farming instead. Why chase the food when you can just grow it? Now a few people could work at planting and maintaining the crops. A few could hunt for meat and fish. A few could look after the children. And then there were the specialists. With the ability to live where you worked/ate/hunted, a few specialists in every community were able to start advancing society. Fletchers, metal smiths, carvers, pottery makers and all other sorts of tools and inventions started springing up. And not just your basic arrow or spear. Now we could actually take the time and make it right, and not have them break all the damn time. This made for extremely efficient hunting, which lessened the burden of this task considerably. Farming tools were also springing up, making that process faster and more efficient. And all these tools were used to benefit the community. I’ll make you those arrows, because I know you’ll use them to bring us all back some boar meat. See how that works?

Everyone felt an underlying responsibility to everyone else. This was true communism in action. Ahh!!! He said the “C” word!!! Yes, I did. But I’m talking about communism here, not a Marxist-Lenin state, nor a totalitarian regime. Communism is as simple as I explained above. It’s when people all come together and do their part for the greater good. It’s part of that social mammal wiring we have. It’s natural to care about your fellow man, and be willing to do what it takes to help him out. 

So what the fuck happened? Where did that sense of responsibility to your fellow man wander off to? I have to think that maybe it all started back when we began using an arbitrary currency in place of real goods. For some reason we started to value our personal possessions above the well being of our fellow man. We’d rather have more gold than make sure our neighbors all had a decent dinner that night. This is when the whole “I, me and mine” mentality started taking over. People started fearing the consequences of not having enough currency or possessions, so they felt that they must hold on to them at whatever the cost, and endeavor to gain as much as possible no matter the consequences. This is when “Personal Liberty” started to take a turn for the worse.

 Let’s flash forward to today. We no longer view life through the human filter. We view it through the American, Atheist, White, Male, Pro-Gun, Libertarian filter. Or the Canadian, Asian, Bi-lingual, Buddhist, Conservative, Pro-Life filter. That’s a lot of filters. How does one sort through all of those and still stay connected to the fact that above all they are human? Answer: they don’t. The human experience is no longer of value. It is the libertarian approach of “I, me and mine” that has separated us from that interconnectedness that we used to feed off of. We used to feel a responsibility to take care of our fellow man. Now it is only about personal wealth and individual liberties. There are still plenty of Americans that would not pay a little more in taxes to ensure their fellow human beings were able to be cared for. I find this to be appalling. 

I know that the Buddha said that suffering comes from our attachments to that which is impermanent. I totally agree. But I think there is something else transpiring as well. Our society is out of line with what it should be. Our society used to be a communal one. Our society is now full of people only looking out for themselves, creating huge amounts of disparity. The poor are getting poorer. Our education system is no longer doing an adequate job of educating our youth. We have a health care system that puts health care behind making a profit. It used to be that all of the specialists worked together for the common good. Arrows were made better so that all would be able to eat. Now people make guns and arrows to make a profit. Food is raised for a profit. The monetary system has replaced the human system.

  I believe it is vital that we re-establish our connection to our human nature. The gap between rich and poor will only continue to increase while our current system is in place. The suffering increased throughout the world will only increase as long as we stay disconnected from each other in a society of consumers. We protest outside of abortion clinics about how precious human life is, but those same protesters do nothing for their neighbors, or those that are living in the world and suffering from the disconnect. Are the homeless not worth their efforts? What of the BILLION+ people in the world without access to clean water? Are their lives not precious?

 I believe that the words of the Buddha are able to help everyone, and are vital to not only our happiness, but also to our survival as a species. But I believe that with the current state of our monetary based “I, me, mine” approach to life, it will take more than that to bring harmony into the world. I believe that we need to stop filtering our view of the world through such petty lenses. I believe that a major key to our happiness is to start by coming from the standpoint of a human, and work from there. Cheers.

 

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