Well Friends, a long and fruitful absence it has been, since last I cast my pearls before thee--how go things, at least in the general sense of the word? One can hope well, but suspects otherwise, as the good guys have been under unrelenting assault of late, despite which, and against all odds, we stubbornly persevere. Karmic intuition tells us that what goes around, damned well ought to come around: that life is a sort of cosmic boomerang, and yet...why are the fattest cats still so morbidly obese and the dispossessed still unable to find a quiet spot away from baleful gaze of the lidless eye? Comeuppance delayed might make it more pronounced, maintain the preternaturally patient, like some Tantric yogic kind of pressure-building, if you follow my unintentionally graphic drift, but if so, then a hard rain is truly going to fall when the meek finally do inherit the earth.
As above, so below. (And if so, then sometimes the macro can be divinated in the micro.) Consider the case of consequence finally catching up with Steve Irwin, the irrepressible Crocodile Hunter. All those close calls, snapping jaws, roughneck falls; and his end, when it finally sneaks up on him? The unheard of sting of the deathly ray? The more judgmental of us might conclude that, cause needing some effect, it took two years for the dangling baby incident to catch up with him:
I find it odd in the extreme to imagine that the Cosmic Wheel has dealt with Steve so quickly, so harshly, when the grandiose, death-dealing hypnocrats who've lashed themselves to the wheel of the ship of state suffer no worse fate than vented blogslpeen and mocking video productions...but then again, maybe this sort of causal connecting is something that always occurs in the mind of the connector. Why would the universe give a rat's ass whether Steve was a righteous nut who thrilled the masses, or even if our leaders bring us to the edge of disaster. 'Cuz the holy books say it's so? Or is it because we want it to be so, so that we don't have to accept the benign indifference of the universe?
In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won't find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.
-- Richard Dawkins, River out of Eden
Okay, and Dawkins was the friend of the late, great Douglas Adams, as well as the inspiration for the dark humor of the ridiculously chipper Hitchhicker's Guide to the Galaxy, which explains something about that whole trip...but it's just too bleak for most folks. They seem to need more meaning in life. Did you hear the one about our intellectual president (I wonder how he pronounces that word?) reading The Stranger, by Albert Camus? For those of you who are unfamiliar with the book (or the Cure song, Killing an Arab), it's the classic existentialist novel about this French guy who kills an Arab for no particular reason, in a world which exists for no particular reason. Finally, just as the book ends, Monsieur Meursault has this cosmic epiphany on the meaning of the meaninglessness of life:
It was as if that first great rush of anger had washed me clean, emptied me of hope, and, gazing up at the dark sky spangled with its signs and stars, for the first time, the first, I laid my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe.
Unlike Dawkins' "blind pitiless indifference," Camus ends up calling it "benign"--small consolation for those hoping for a grand scheme of things, and a far cry still from the Cosmic Wheel, but at least the universe isn't actively cruel in this version. So which do we choose--a logical, but unknowable universe, a cruelly indifferent one, or one which doesn't really care about us specifically, but is sort of vaguely wishing us well, like a toothless old hag whose just opened a slightly rancid can of dogfood for us, mistaking us for Herbert, her loyal and equally toothless old flatulent terrier.
I suppose we could ramble on, viewing the great parade as a frustratingly paradoxical adventure where just desserts don't seem to get served on time, but we still have some not entirely unfounded hope they will one day soon. In which case, Steve Irwin seems to have met his end in a most unexpected manner. He was killed by a sting ray while filming an underwater documentary off the coast of his beloved Australia, only the third recorded case of such a death in all of history. Now, if we can extrapolate from this odd incident, what fate might await the arrogant rulers who've been strutting on the world stage during the last decade of looming crisis and doom?
Following the Irwin Incident, one would expect fate to crash the ruling party in unexpected guise, and there's all sorts of unexpected stuff cropping up from hitherto unsuspected angles. Before launching into any of my particulars, let me start by reminding the faithful audience that life is not always what it seems; it's like living in a dream. (Wishbone Ash paraphrasing William Shakespeare.) We live in an unstable age, this much is certain, but beyond this "safe" knowledge, we quickly tread into quick sands. The world seems to been dividing itself into antagonistic dualities, from the classic split between Right and Left (where the Left seems to be locked in a death spiral and the Right all but triumphant) to the clash between Science and Religion (which is played out in countless, pointless debates as the rich continue to get richer and the poor poorer). Quietly insinuating itself into the non-debate of these issues is a startling old/new idea, that all such dualisms are false, empty, and meaningless.
The as yet mostly unfelt intrusion of a third way comes not from Science or Religion, but from the forgotten art of Philosophy, where Religion was long ago exposed as essentially man-made and Science is apparently succumbing to a similar diagnosis. The first "doubts" as to the primacy, or even the veracity of Science came in the wake of the widespread acceptance of Materialism and its application to Psychology in the form of B.F. Skinner's Behaviorism. For many years it was believed that we humans were no more than Pavlovian dogs salivating in response to external stimuli. In the landmark Milgram Study, a group of highly educated college students were set in a prison-like "school" environment and divided into the two camps one expects to find there: uniformed teachers ( guards) and learners (prisoners). The "guards" were told to administer electrical shocks to the prisoners in ascending severity to the appearance of not learning (defiance). The study had to be stopped when, after onlt a few days, half the of the guard population had degenerated into savage torturers like veteran Gestapo agents as opposed to the liberal, New Haven, Connecticut residents they really "were".
At first, the shocking results of the Migram study seemed to confirm the "laws" of human behavior predicted by Skinner, but subsequent review has demonstrated something quite contrary to this interpretation. It turns out that just as many "guards" did not relish their roles, for no apparent reason, since there were no rewards built into the experiment for such a behavioral choice. The only firm conclusions from Milgram are that there is a high degree of suggestibility, a fundamental malleability of human nature, coupled by an innate sense of morality, as opposed to a learned response. Readers might recall a recent study which tried to duplicate the Milgram Study in primates, where it was found that chimpanzees would forego eating if it meant sparing other chimps the electro-shocks that were administered upon the control group's own eating.
Taken together, these studies have opened a whole new world of unforeseen possibilities. The first, "smaller" finding is that our primate cousins are far closer to us than we had suspected, that they share a basic compassion that has evolved as a mechanism for the survival of species as opposed to individuals. The "larger" implication is that consciousness (which the primates also have) is something very different from what has been assumed by the armed camps of Science and Religion. Materialism is, ultimately, is as incomplete as Faith in explaining the world and ourselves. In a fascinating new book (trust me on this one) called Fire in the Mind, George Johnson, a science writer who moved to New Mexico has examined the strange mixture of Science, Religion, and Occultism that thrive side by side in the area near Sante Fe. Johnson chose his new home as a setting for this book (from the review I'm quoting),
to explore the human mind's hunger for answers about the universe and the desire for control. It's a hunger to tell stories about "how and why we sprang from primordial waters -- and of what happened after the grand emergence." Johnson argues that this story-telling is much the same, whether it is in the dances of the Tewa tribe, the rituals of the Catholic Penitentes or the unfolding scientific theories at Los Alamos and Santa Fe. "The drive to seek and impose order on the world has given birth to the sciences of biology, geology, particle physics, astronomy, cosmology," he states; "it has generated grand cathedrals of abstraction like quantum theory and Tewa religion."
(Bear with me here--I realize this passage is sort of long, and that most of you have much to do, but there's a big sharp point to it, I promise.)
The book is in three parts, each of which addresses order in the world of nature, at different levels. In the first part, Johnson explores particle physics and astronomy, the sciences of the very small and very large, linked by their different expressions of the fundamental properties of matter; of the transformation of energy into matter, in the Big Bang, producing the organized structure we know as our universe. The second part deals with a puzzling paradox: the recognition that randomness, or chaos, exists in the workings of nature, and yet order flows from those workings. How does this happen? And the third part asks how was it that creatures like ourselves, complex and curious as we are, evolved in life's flow.
The "single mystery arching over the rest," says Johnson, is this: "Are there really laws governing the universe? Or is the order we see imposed by the prisms of our nervous systems, a mere artifact of the way evolution wired the brain? Do the patterns found by the scientific subcultures of Santa Fe and Los Alamos hold some claim to universal truth, or would a visitor from a distant galaxy consider them as culturally determined as those divined by the Tewa and the Penitentes?"
To many, it is little short of heretical to suggest that the scientific endeavor is anything but a search for the Truth, a concrete reality out there somewhere. Johnson takes an agnostic stance between science as discovery and science as construction. "In the end," he argues, "there is no way to know whether science is converging on a single truth, the way the universe really is, or simply building artificial structures, tools that allow us to predict, to some extent, and to explain and control."
Having gotten through all that (for which I thank you), you're probably wondering what all this has to do with the price of cheese and whether or not squirrel stew is still eaten in Central Illinois. A lot, and I'm not sure, respectively. It all depends on how you view coincidence. Do two highly unlikely congruences constitute a connection of some sort, or is it three? (Or are connections not to be made by insignificant, lowly commonfolk?) Let's see how far out on theoretical limbs you're prepared to go--it's lovely exercise, which keeps the mind as sharp as a knife and as full of holes as the afore-mentioned cheese.
In the Scientific News Section of this week's episode, we have some distinctly odd notions crawling up out the dark pools of the mind. I'll begin by saying that two of you gentle readers have told me (on occasions widely separated by geography, culture, and time) that your grandmothers never belived that man really landed on the moon. In both cases, each of you and I chuckled knowingly at the delusional notions to which our elders sometimes fiercely cling.
Imagine my surprise when I found the old, thoroughly discredited conspiracy theory gaining new adherents, apparently due, in large measure, to the astronauts either attempting to come out of some enforced silence or acting very strangely when asked about the possibility of such a monstrous possibility. Now, much has been made of debunking this obviously ridiculous notion, the most interesting part of which, to me at least, is that it's the very public deconstruction of a "safe" conspiracy, which tends to discredit all of the heretical ideas dismissed as conspiracy theories. More on this shortly. First, however, another lunar destination. Following in the grand, alternate history tradition of Robert Temple's The Sirius Mystery, another new book examines the startling coincidences involving the moon's "design".
In Who Built the Moon?The Possibility of Intelligent Design, Christopher Knight and Alan Butler "have opened a discussion for new questions regarding the existence of the Moon. They suggest that there are more than enough anomalies about the Moon to come to the conclusion that it is not a naturally occurring body and was quite possibly engineered to sustain life on Earth." This one is worth the one-page summary, which stands on its own, without any helpful commentary from me, except to ask, again, how many coincidences make a "connection"?
All of this looney business has been an exercise, as I said, to limber up the mind in preparation for the following, ever so much more serious items. The first is the Steorn Challenge, the big new development in the quixotic hunt for free energy, the holy grail of modern civilization. Again, as with the lunar exhibits, the interesting thing about this one is the reaction to it. Michael Kaku, the very trippy physicist who has no problems with advancing the claims of parallel universes and even concedes the possibility of a malleable universe, one in which our collective consciousness actually creates the "reality" we experience, has come out as the harshest critic of the Irish claim of an unlimited, non-polluting, free energy source, citing the inviability of the "laws" of physics. The conveniently overlooked premise of the Steorn group is that this energy source is not ex nihilo, out of nothing, but rather that they've tapped into a source not known or understood up to now, exactly as Tesla once described his vision. It's not just the arrogance of scientists and most of the public, 70% of which believes that scientists should not take Steorn's challenge, but moreover, the fear of what such a truth might bring which is most enlightening.
In Part II of this week's NewsFlash!!, we'll apply what we've seen thus far to something that is both real and fake.
(Check back for the exciting conclusion in five or six hours--I'll just go now and whip my production staff into a flurry of activity...)
Many more than five or six hours later, I return to the thorny problem of what's what and what are we going to do about it. The reason I devoted so much pixel-dust above to trashing the false dichotomy of Science and Religion is two-fold. Firstly, dualisms do not reflect reality but, instead, the way our minds work, and as such they are worthless. Secondly, the concept of dichotomy is dangerous because it resonates so well in our bi-cameral brainpans that it lends itself to distorting the truth. Those whose business it is to molest the truth are quite cognizant of this fact of our nature and have exploited it systematically, ruthlessly and to our great harm. I'm going to expose a few of these false dichotomy propaganda campaigns (be forewarned; this stuff is ugly when you pull its pants down) and then I'm going to close this forever tirade with a picture so pretty you'll forget all about the ugly bits I made you look at.
Big Lie #1
America is the greatest nation on Earth, the oldest and purest democracy in existence, the land of the brave and the home of the free (and that's why everybody wants to come live here.) Let's put on our Ronald Reagan-issue cowboy hats and go back the Cold War for a moment, since our leaders still live there and it might help us understand their reptilian thinking. Capitalism is good; Socialism is bad. Simple, self-evident. Ubiquitous as air. According to the absolute mountains of propaganda, in every medium known to man, capitalist democracies like ours free the soul, provide unlimited opportunities (to the properly motivated), empower the common man and promote life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, right? And across the great divide, Socialism is the antithesis of all that good stuff,we've been told. Godless, soulless, it strips man of dignity, incentive, purpose and the very possibility of attaining the Good Life. That's why Stalin's five year plans never worked, that's why thousands died trying to sneak over the border into the golden West, blah, blah, blah. Let's unzip this zype by putting comrade Stalin where he belongs, which is on our side of that great divide.
That's right, boys and girls, Uncle Joe was a capitalist pig dressed up as a communist wolf. The Soviet system was not communist at all. It was state, single-party, monopoly capitalism administered by a bureaucratic elite for the sole purpose of sustaining its own (considerable) power and privilege. Dacha in the country, summary execution or gulag for the dissidents. The only real, fundamental difference between East and West was that we in the free and democratic West had much more clever masters. Soviet propaganda was as primitive as its state-sponsored artwork:
Notice anything, well, a little Nazi-like about the Soviet superman? This is the Big Secret, everbody: there never has been a socialist state. The whole Cold War hype was nothing more than hype. A terror campaign so thorough that we can't even see it for what it was/is without stepping back all the way to the edge of the cliff of disbelief. Can you make out what superman is saying there? "Tell your freinds they don't have to be scared or hungry anymore, comrades!" It's all about being scared.
They, the owners, are scared, very scared, of the ideas embodied by Socialism, since they represent the opposite of the greed, control and, well, slavery that is Capitalism. And so, they set up this phony socialism as a means of discrediting the real thing, and they made it as horrible and repressive as they possibly could. It's called co-opting a movement and there's another, related movement that also scares them very badly which has also been co-opted and distorted for the purpose of maintaining the status quo: Religion, specifically the Judeo-Christian variety. Ever wonder what Judaism is supposed to be all about? Look no further:
What is quite clearly the most consistent and all-embracing act of faith is called chesed, which means kindness and implies the giving of oneself to helping another without regard to compensation.
In a sense, the goal of the whole enterprise of Judaism is to develop human beings whose principal trait is chesed. The rabbis of the Talmud (Yevamot 79a) considered kindness to be one of the three distinguishing marks of the Jew.
A favorite Talmudic name for God is Rachmana, "the Compassionate One."
Every act of human chesed is an imitation of the benevolence of God. It appears on page after page of the Jewish Prayerbook, in chapter after chapter of the Psalms, and is implied in the legal and moral decisions on folio after folio of the Talmud.
The Torah begins with an act of chesed as God clothes Adam and Eve, and ends with it as God buries Moses. Jewish Law formally begins with the Torah at Mt. Sinai, but chesed begins with Abraham, centuries earlier. The world could not have endured so long without chesed; it would have imploded.
--Rabbi Maurice Lamm
And fast forward an age:
When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying...
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Light of the world
You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.
Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
Any questions? These ideas, chesed, for Jews and Compassion for Christians are very similar and, tellingly, very rare in Religious circles these days. In fact, while some religionists pay lip service to these "ideals," the great majority support the perpetual Wars On that have consumed and controlled life in the 21st century thus far. The idea of love informing our political, social and economic structures is very dangerous to thisae who control us through hate and fear, and this is why religion had to be co-opted and turned into what it is today: the bulwark of empire.
The problem for the controlling interests is that no matter how many tentacles they wrap around the truth, it has a way of bubbling up to the surface anyway. We're told everyday in countless ways that the world is in terrible shape and that worse is on the way. Wars On Drugs and Wars On Terror and Wars on all our problems are the only solution and if you're not behind this "solution" then you're part of the problem: you're either with us or against us, they say, knowing full well that no one in his right mind will side with the terrorists and the drug dealers. The irony of this situation is that the "they" we're talking about, the government which has given you this ultimatum, is the terrorists and the drug dealers. Shocking, ain't it? (I'll show how this is true when I return, and even what you can do about it. Til then, peace.)