Thursday, May 18, 2006

Name that delusion.

Worldandnation: Hitting the trail with nation's cyclist in chief: Standing on the driveway outside his home, President Bush explains the rules for people who go mountain biking with him. It will be a vigorous workout. It is not a race. And no one, the president says with a smile, is allowed to pass him.

So which delusion is this? So often, when I regard this man's behavior, the word "infantile" comes to mind. It's no different that playing with a pre-schooler who insists on rolling the dice until they get a number they like. As we mature, we realize that changing the rules is cheating.

And the man has a well known, and well documented, reality problem.

As parents, it behooves us to explain cheating and rules to our children. That's because mommy and daddy and big sister may relent and let them roll the dice as much as they like, the greater world does not have the same indulgence. It's a shock to discover that in your twenties, instead of when you are five.

What really matters in life: When the going gets tough, which will invariably occur, will these products of elite private schools have the wherewithal to confront adversity, tenaciously fight the good fight, maintain dignity and optimism, and cling to truth and other moral values while facing the maelstroms of existence?

Apparently not.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Fox News Effect

The Fox News Effect: The test found Republicans preferred to get their news from Fox -- even when the news stories were about subjects far removed from politics, such as sports or travel.

As Mr. Spock would say: "Fascinating." He wouldn't say, "Logical." How could he? It makes no logical sense at all.

While it's understandable that people with strong political leanings would feel more comfortable getting their political news from a source that they feel shares their outlook, what possible reason could there be for getting sports and travel news from a source who shares their political outlook?

Can it be, for some, the personal is this political? This same study showed that ... Democrats didn't have as strong a preference on non-political stories, Iyengar found.

And what does this mean?

It means Democrats didn't find non-political stories to have a political slant. Despite all certain thinkers might prefer, Democrats and Republicans are not from radically different gene pools. This means the only explanation is that Republicans, and not Democrats, live in a highly politicized world, wherein even where one vacations, and what sports figure does what, are considered through the lens of party affiliation.

It becomes a "when everything is significant, nothing is" kind of situation. In other words, the rankest and lowest sort of superstition. When one doesn't believe how many home runs were batted by someone if the count is reported by an "unreliable" source... then, by golly, a person has really gone over the edge of paranoia.

Maybe it's so that paranoiacs are right about people being after them. But maybe... it's the people who are supposed to be on their side.

Monday, May 08, 2006

The Trap of Idealism

Beware of ideaology.: Any system of ideas with an abstraction at its center--an abstraction which assigns you a role or duties--is an ideology. An ideology provides those who accept it with a false consciousness, a necessary component of which is other-directedness. This leads those who accept the ideology to behave as 'objects' rather than 'subjects,' to allow themselves to be used rather than to act to attain their own desires. The various ideologies are all structured around different abstractions, yet all serve the interests of a dominant (or aspiring dominant) class by giving individuals (though the term hardly seems appropriate--'members of the herd' is perhaps more accurate) a sense of purpose in sacrifice, suffering, and submission.

I couldn't have said it better myself. (I did try.) Abstraction is a great thing to have floating around in one's thoughts. And that's where abstractions belong.

There's nothing wrong with being idealistic. One should have ideals, and ideally, strive towards them. But being idealistic is not the same as being ideal. Therein lies the catch.

Regarding oneself as an abstraction ties in with this problem of idealism. An abstraction can be perfect, because it does not have to be human. It is great to have high goals. It is not great to berate oneself so badly for not reaching them that one is rendered incapable of achieving any goals at all.

This problem reaches a peak when one starts to feel that one is expected to be perfect. When one blames problems on not being perfect. "If only I were the perfect mother/ son/ employee/ driver/ shopper, I wouldn't be having these problems." Perhaps so. But any system predicated on someone being perfect is doomed to fail anyway.

The enduring trap of idealism lies in its expectations. Ideally, everyone should behave. But it is not ideal to have no mechanisms to encourage people to behave, or penalities for when they do not. This is where idealism reveals its limitations. Yes, it would be ideal if teenagers didn't get emotionally and physically involved in relationships before they know how to handle them. Yes, it would be ideal if people married their true love early in life and never had to divorce. Yes, it would be ideal if people conducted their lives in such a way that they didn't have to wrestle with moral dilemmas.

But they don't, and they never will.

Ideals are for striving towards. It is foolish to have no fallback plan for when we fail to reach them.

Friday, May 05, 2006


Too much of what can be a good thing.

It's sort of like clams. Good clams are very good. Bad clams are very very bad. But we can't pursue our spiritual goals only in the months with "R" in them. (That would be like the people who go to church only on EasteR and ChRistmas.) How, then, is one to tell that they might be following the wrong path?

Our religious urges have many good goals. There's leading a moral life, finding spiritual satisfaction, and coming closer to whatever our conception of Godhood is. That's a place to start.

It is entirely possible to lead a moral life outside of the boundaries of organized religion. Due to the institutional nature of many organized religions, it is sometimes easier. There's the Inquisition, Puritan intolerance leading to the founding of several states, and jihad, for instance. There isn't any doubt that people who oppose these practices are more moral than those who practiced them.

It seems counter-rational to argue this when religions are supposed to be about leading moral lives. But it's an unfortunate side effect of organization that it tends to cement all decisions; even bad ones. This is difficult enough when it's a relatively small group with a clearly defined goal. The March of Dimes started as a charitable drive to eradicate polio. In 1958, with two successful vaccines against polio virtually wiping out the disease as a public health problem, the March of Dimes recreated itself by using its existing infrastructure to prevent premature birth, birth defects and infant mortality. The discovery that folate supplementation can prevent spina bifida is a more recent expression of the organization reaching a new goal.

It's a different matter when an organized religion feels the pressure to adapt to change. Admitting they were wrong about something is much more difficult when God was supposed to be in on the process. While the March of Dimes had a problem with success, it's hard for a church to rest on its laurels when sin is always with us.

It's actually an easier determination to figure out if a path is providing spiritual satisfaction. One is either satisfied, or one is not. What is the really sticky part is recognizing that one is spiritually lacking, and doing something about it. If at one time a person truly believed they were on the path to salvation, recognizing that they might not be is a perilous decision that is often suppressed with ruthless will.

This is when people redouble their efforts, and develop religious intolerance. It's one thing to admit one's religious authorities may have made mistakes in the past, which one feels confident are now rectified. It's entirely another thing to admit one's own self may have made mistakes in following this path. Especially if the penalty for doubt is spiritual death. We have a strong urge to avoid death in all its forms.

Religious intolerance comes from doubt. And if doubters aren't around, suppressing doubt is so much easier!

A Mr. Pearson wrote a book about his own spritual journey. After I started identifying that my problems were not based on the fact that I wasn't good enough, that certain things weren't happening not because God wasn't rewarding me, but just because we all have certain limitations as people, I began to outgrow many of my hyperreligious traits. Hyperreligiosity: Identifying and Overcoming Patterns of Religious Dysfunction: R. S. Pearson

An honest man with honest concerns. And rightly so. He recognized that he didn't feel close to his conception of Godhood, even when he applied his utmost efforts. And he was right. Like true love, true spirituality comes without effort.

How can one tell is their religion might be leading them astray? Another deep thinker has come up with several "Ways to Tell":

Whenever a religion emphasizes that it holds the absolute truth-the one path to God or the only correct way of reading a sacred text-to the exclusion of the truth claims of all other religions and cultures, that religion is becoming evil. Other warning signs include blind obedience to religious leaders, apocalyptic belief that the end time will occur through a particular religion, the use of malevolent ends to achieve religious goals (e.g., the Crusades) and the declaration of holy war. When Religion Becomes Evil: Charles Kimball

Oxymorons are a good way to tell if one's thoughts are tangled. "Holy war" is one.

Another is "Doubting God." God IS.

And our doubts are trying to tell us something.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Dumbing Down

The Dumbing Down Of The American Mind: There is a very dangerous phenomenon that seems to be occurring in the United States of America; something that I refer to as 'the dumbing-down of the American mind,' a nearly willful tendency for Americans to forgo reality in favor of believing what they want to believe.

I don't think this is a recent tendency, is all. I think everyone, always, has this tendency. What might be different, in this point in time, is the hearty approval and enabling of our public institutions towards that end.

If we look back through the mists of time, we see the Red Scare of the 1950's, when many people were whipped into a frenzy at the idea that Communists were going to take over our government. Even further back, the Civil War was fought over the unconvenient truth that slavery was wrong, and economies based on such were not going to last. In each period, there were a great many people who would rather believe a comforting lie than the harsh truth.

Basically, it's just human nature to do that.

But, just like bloodlust and the desire to skate through red lights, this is a destructive tendency which must be curbed. Usually, there are enough people around to keep the truth inconveniently hanging around. And there still are. But more and more, our own sources of authority have become corrupted.

Our own government acts like abstinence education for teenagers really works. It pressures NASA scientists to insert the word "theory" after each mention of the Big Bang on their website. And it's pretty clear by this time that our President simply lies like a rug.

We all get our sense of working reality from our external world. In the century just past we saw how a even a sincere belief grounded in wanting to help people went wrong. Communism had an idealistic goal of distributing what was needed to everyone who needed it. So far, so good.

There were oppressive people who had more than they needed, and deserving people who had less than they needed. This was true. Everyone who had more than they needed were treated as oppressive, and everyone who had less than they needed were treated as deserving. This was not true, but it was useful to act as if it were so, or they would never get this process off the ground.

The next stage assumed that everyone would still work as hard as they did when getting what they needed depended on it. But since getting what they needed did not depend on it, this did not happen. But it was essential to the belief that everyone act as though this were so. When people did not act as though this were so, strong measures had to be taken for everyone to at least say it was so.

Thus the oppression, censorship, torture, and murders began.

I'm sure some people supported the goals of the conservative movement out of genuine conviction. Even now, they claim everything they tried to do has been distorted. But what were their goals? How did it go wrong? Are they really sitting down and thinking things through, seeing if Reality supports their contentions?

Because in Whole Grain Reality, it is massively messed up. Or we wouldn't have the oppression, censorship, torture, and murders.

That's a clear clue something has gone horribly horribly wrong.