Wednesday, February 23, 2005

It was as I began to think of what I would say in response to the historic Iraq election last Sunday [the 30th of January] that I, for the first time, really questioned the purpose of all of this. By which I mean this blog. In a little over two weeks from now, I (and I alone, as far as I know) will quietly celebrate this Center's 2nd anniversary. [That is today.] On the eve of that milestone, I ask myself: What is the point of this? In all honesty, who is actually reading this thing? Mr. Lederer, I know you do. (And by the way, commenting should be up and running as soon as I can talk some sense to these Blogger Help people; just kidding, you guys are great.)

Well, this is indeed a ramble. Perhaps the first actual "random rant" in a long time, if not ever. But anyways, I ain't going to quit now. I got a domain last November, and I'm not stopping this shit until I get that up and running. More immediately, I got to get this comment thing going again ... But you all don't have to worry about that.

So a lot of people ask me: What do you believe? I think that's phrased wrong, because it's really not a matter of belief as much as it is what I think. I consider myself rational, for starters. Hopefully, I am. At least most of the time. People tell me: You must have biases, ideological ... Look. I don't want my mind defined. Do I have an ideology? I believe I've answered that before. But this time I am going to lay out my opinions, or if you will, my beliefs. Here we go:

One cannot know anything, for 'knowing' to the fullest extent is simply not possible. There are simply too many variables, points of consideration, whatever. It is too much for the mind to really process and understand the totality of any single thing. There is a range of comprehension.

People are generally humane and tolerant and to at least some degree sympathetic. Of course, there are bad people, and evil people. There always have been. That poses the question of what is 'evil', is it relative or absolute or what, you know. Well, it is a lot easier to distinguish evil from good than evil from a lesser evil. Some things are in the eye of the beholder, and I suppose evil can be one of those things. (See below)

Language is the most powerful tool ever created; with it, essentially all else follows. It is a tool of control, primarily. Communication as well, yes, but that is often directed toward the purposes of dissemination (or propagation, from which we have 'propaganda') and manipulation, and thus control. In this instance, it is control of thought we are speaking of, as the words we speak and write are directly tied to what we think. Therefore, what we 'know' to be truth.

Our insignificance as a species in relation to the known universe is so profound that it nears the point of absurdity that one could possibly think it was all made for us and nothing else. Which brings me to the following:

What is religion? Personally, I see three principal elements to it: the faith, the community, and the insitution. I observe of the three the faith to be the most important, and the institution the most dangerous. The communities brought together and enriched by their respective common faiths is the most inspiring example: religion is a great, effective way to bring people together. Shared purpose is a consequence of it, and I think the communal aspect provides some sort of key toward the perception of the unknown.

Faith is a complex thing. I don't 'know' it, but I have some thoughts regarding God, a proposition which in of itself appears wholly arrogant for the simple reason that God must be so beyond comprehension that the very idea of pretending to define it would be, well, wholly arrogant and, indeed, quite stupid. But I do have thoughts. After all (and I'm borrowing this paraphrase from someone whose name escapes me at the moment), why would one believe that God denied us the use of the minds He created for us, right?

The truth is, I'm a kind of agnostic. I don't think one can either prove nor disprove God's existence. To do either would be, as I have said, arrogant far beyond anyone's understanding, much less my own. Carl Sagan, a great scientific 'populizer', wrote that we don't have as much neurons as there are atoms in a grain of salt. How, then, could we even pretend to 'know' something as great as the universe, much less 'know' what God is? (See above)

I don't like absolutes, but I feel like I can say that I will never (or at least try to) assume anything. Accordingly, I will never attempt to 'know' one's intentions. All we can perceive are (perceived) actions, at least their consequences - not much else in that respect. This brings me to something else here:

Everything is in the mind: perception, most notably, from which all else follows suit. Our sense of reality and truth, for instance, forms the core of our psychology. And the idea of 'intelligence' is a wholly complex one, which cannot be assigned to a meaningless IQ number. I am not going to even pretend to think to know what intelligence, or even consciousness, really is. I suppose I will never be able to know. At least I can accept that much. Truth is painfully relative, and is thus unknowable. Our search for it can be said to be neverending for that reason. It is our humanity that we must fight to protect.

The concentration of power is eminently dangerous, and if history should serve to be any sort of guide, we ought to have learned by now that power left in a few hands (either effectively or formally) is an ominous prospect.

Social harmony is more important for the common good than social hierarchy. How society should be structured is largely dependent on the people's will, which should appear obvious. It may be asked: Am I a populist? Well, I may hold beliefs that could appear to sound populist in nature, but I can't say if I am a doctrinaire populist or not, or a doctrinaire anything. And that's another thing, come to think of it ...

I don't like doctrines or ideologies. Really, I don't like anything that, in effect, limits the range of thought. I have a strong distrust of absolutist and extremist thinking. It's a waste of time, in that it fails to acknowledge the world's overwhelming complexities, and so is downright arrogant in its willfull distortion of the overwhelming complexity of the world into false dichotomies of black and white or good and bad.

Morality does not exist in a vacuum. The idea of moral universalism is a noble one albeit impractical for the reason that we're human, after all. One can say that, in principle, murder is always wrong and that every life is equal, but whether one can believe that given every circumstance is a completely different matter. Recent history is rife with such examples.

We are all very lucky to inhabit this planet, and as such we are all really in this together. Nationality, then, shouldn't matter so much. Some observe that loyalty to a 'nation' is irrational. Nevertheless, I am very proud to have been born in the United States. I do love this country. That is why I am particularly critical of the present administration. I feel like it is attempting to take what is great about America away from all of us, and in its place impose a radicalist military-security state in which the traditional notions of individual liberty and progress are marginalized and reversed. I do not want to know what may take its stead. I do not pretend to predict the future, but I shudder at the thought of four more years and all that can happen in that space of time, and all that could entail for us Americans and no doubt the world.

At this point, you are probably asking yourself: This guy must be left of center, right? A liberal, no? Well, I'd hate to have anyone classify my mind, but there are some things of liberal philosophy that are agreeable to me, as there are of conservative philosophy. I oppose this present government for the simple reason that it appears to be the most anti-American of any we've had. I am serious. This should seem obvious, I think. Now, and I must make this clear, I am not saying that those who voted for the incumbents in 2004 (like my brother), or voted them in the first time in 2000 (like my father), are anti-American, of course. I guess they were not allowed to know. For the proverbial wool had been pulled over our eyes not once but twice, and sometime down the road we will pay a terrible price for our collective gullibility. I don't want it to happen, either; I hope to God it doesn't. I am reminded of Jonathan Swift's angel, who holds the looking-glass and, as she turns it, shows to the masses their interest in their ruin and their ruin in their interest. But what of my political beliefs?

First off, let me say the following: I do not like politics. By that I mean I do not like the games and the politicking. Political thought, however, that's interesting. And there's a lot of hope, hope for humanity, within that. The maneuvering, the PR images and the symbols and the bullshit, the partisan rhetoric and the 'talking points' ... to hell with it. We don't need it, and all it does is sully the discourse and, really, help destroy what is great about politics. That is, its capacity to change the world for the better. But I digress.

I believe power carries with it an enormous obligation. It would follow that concentrated power, then, would lead to concentrated responsibility. But in a representative system such as ours, that responsibility is shared by all. You, me, and every citizen in this nation shares some part of the responsibility for the actions of our government. That is no small issue. Not at all. In a democratic country such as ours, which I am very proud to have been born into, public accountability is one of the best things for which we as citizens can hope.

There is, I think, no absolute delineation of 'good' and 'evil', and I know that this sounds very pessimistic, but rather a continuum or a range of evilness in this world. So it's not a matter of ethically 'best', but 'least worst'. And I say with the deepest sincerity that we live in the least worst nation in the entire world. I see how it can really reflect how sad the state of the world is when one can say that, I suppose, but I do believe it. I say 'nation', keep in mind, meaning the government under which we are ... well, governed. I have immensely more admiration and optimism for this country than the government, that's for damn sure. Of course, I mean the people. I don't think the state and the people ought ever be thought of as one. In a democracy such as ours, the state is supposed to represent the people, but the two remain distinct. Can't forget that. Unless, of course, we "accept totalitarian doctrine" and believe that the people and the state are one, as one of the great sages of the twentieth century reminds us.

There are four major things that I cannot seem to tolerate when I think about it, cannot accept: assumptions, generalizations, absolutes, and extremes. They're intolerable because they simplify and muddy things to the point where rationality is out of the discussion. And rationality is something we really need to hold onto as a species, particularly in this new century, when times appear more dangerous than they ever have been. That may sound like a generalization right there, but I hold it true. Well, more dangerous than ever except for when the western hemisphere was brought to the brink of self-destruction 43 years ago, and then saved from certain oblivion by the single word of a Soviet submarine commander. But that was before my time ...


We are four years into the 21st century. Many questions arise, seemingly out of nowhere but the interminable ticker-tape of the present: Where are we heading? What lies there? How can we get to it? I do not pretend to know the answers to any of these. All I know, or think I know, is that as of now the world is fucked. Sorry about the cynicism, but that's how it seems to be faring. Now, this sorry state of things won't last forever, I hope, but only God knows when exactly it will end. The fucked state of the planet, that is, not the planet itself. Because this world is so filled with hate, and yet so filled with everything else to counteract it, we must harness all the energy we can to, essentially, get people to chill again. Enough with the beheading and the bombing and the screaming and the threatening, I say. Enough! For this is a universal call for sanity, and for reason. A new enlightenment, that is what we all need.

In the end, my thoughts and beliefs matter little. Not to you, not to society, not to the world. Hardly anyone actually reads this blog with any sort of regularity. Once I get that domain to work (I've been pressed for time these past few months), that should help, but still I will be but a shadow in the dust compared to so many of those other blogs you've heard of. You know, the ones that go after journalists and discredit their reputations. But that ain't what I'm here for. For two years, I have written whatever the hell I want without fear of government reprisal (although this site has been accessed at least once by the Defense Department) or censorship from 'the Man', whoever he is. I probably by now have some sort of very small readership internationally, from what I used to be able to see with the old counter I had. (There were some hits from Iceland, Japan, Israel, some others ...) But that counter broke down, as you may know. That sucks, but I press on, day by day. Just look at that Archive over to your left: Two years worth of insight and a little funny, and some other stuff not worth mentioning. It has seldom been random or ranting, but I take pride that ... well, someone's gotta be looking at this, right? (I know I am.) But also, whatever I say here will not change much, if really anything. There are millions of blogs out there, too: the probability one finding mine at random is like one in a ... well, a few million, maybe. They're better off buying 50 lotto tickets and selling the house, talking about a good chance ...

Anyway, all you need to know is the following: in a nutshell, I believe that we're all in this together. That is, we all live on the same planet, breathe the same air, etc. Maybe if we all one day acknowledge that fact, we might have some unity, and some peace.

It was fun doing this thing; maybe another year and then I will probably shut it down for good. But not yet. No, not yet.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Another thing: Five days remain until the posting of aforesaid belief list, but I should add that it is quite long, although unfortunately not definitive. If I really wanted to write out what it's in my head you'd never want to read it, probably. It'd fill a library, for God's sakes. And that's not arrogance, either; I'm serious. Again, five more days.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

In two weeks, on the eve of the 2nd anniversary of this blog, I will publish what I hope to be a definitive list of my beliefs. (By the way, I had gotten over the flu a week ago; sorry about the confusion, if there was any.)