Monday, July 31, 2006

Interesting Image

I saw this image of a religious soldier associated with an AP article yesterday. The juxtaposition in this picture pretty much says it all (for all religions, sides, nations). Hopefully, images like this won't turn out to be iconic for the 21st Century.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Exchange with John Horgan on Naturalistic Buddhism

John Horgan is a freelance science writer, now writing for The Center for Science Writings. His blog site, is called the Scientific Curmudgeon. I came across an article of his at Slate.com called "Buddhist Retreat: Why I Gave Up On Finding My Religion". I then had some interesting email exchanges with him on the subject of naturalistic Buddhism. I shared my article on Naturalistic interpretations of Karma and Rebirth, and he shared two of his articles. In the end, he said I made some very good points and that he was trying to keep an open mind. If you'd like to read our exchange, it can be found HERE.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Stoicism on Philosophy Talk

There is a Philosophy radio show called "Philosophy Talk". I often listen to podcasts of their programs after they've aired, available on their website. Not long ago, I emailed them and suggested they cover Stoicism and they said that it would be a good idea.

Just today, I checked back on their site and, by coincidence, they are doing a show on Stoicism tomorrow (July 25).

Instead of hearing a recording, I think I'm going to see if there is any possibility of hearing it on the radio live in my area (not sure). In any case, I just wanted to let everyone know. Philosophy Talk's website is at...


Update: Philosophy Talk is aired live on KALW 91.7 Tuesdays at noon (Pacific time). If you don't get this station you can hear a live audiostream of the program here:

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Puzzle of Our Time

I don’t often touch on politics on this blog; at least not current hot-button political issues. The reasons are several: (1) I want this site to be about philosophy and getting overly specific about politics has a very dominating and distracting effect, (2) if dealing with politics, I prefer to stay in the abstract philosophical realm, because that’s where all the root answers tend to be anyway, and (3) my hope is to focus more on things that unite rather than divide.

However, this latest struggle between Israel and Hezbollah has got me vexed. In fact, much of the developments in the war on terror over the past few years have vexed me. Of course, I have my own opinions about various things and they can be quite strong, but I want to go beyond that – I want to go deeper. It’s too easy to merely vent my perspective and be yet one more voice yelling about what ‘should be’.

This whole business of terrorism, the third world, religious extremism, international business interests, modern warfare, and their intersection are really the great puzzle of our time. But instead of anyone trying to figure anything out, it seems that all we have are various religious fundamentalists (on all sides), various nationalists (on all sides), various haters of particular political officials, and other people with agendas simply trying to further them. If there are any people with serious deep questions and thoughts about this puzzle of our time out there, they are being ignored as eggheads or muffled by all the sensationalism to be found elsewhere. Can we please have some sincere efforts to reach pragmatic and realistic solutions without being so biased, hateful, blame-seeking, or focused on complaining about the present or past?

Everybody knows what should be done, and what the other guys should be doing. They know what should have happened in past elections, negotiations, and military actions. They know what we should be doing internationally, and they know what we should do in the future. But does anyone have any ideas about what can be done? In other words, what can be done given our current situation and the current dispositions of all parties involved?

There are obviously tough challenges facing the world, and they’re not going to be solved by simply declaring cease-fires and trying to get people not to attack one another. The underlying causes of these things are too complex and the dangers too intense. If one side is unwilling to cease, then those threats will demand that some fighting will have to happen. But the problems also aren’t going to be solved by obliterating everything without foreseeable end.

What’s even more complex is that it takes more than even a complete analysis of all the subtle underlying causes for things. Because, even if we had that, it would be another matter entirely getting all of the various power-holders, organizations, and institutions to actually pay attention, care, and change.

It's more than a little disturbing that all of our religious faiths and even our philosophic insights, including my own, seem incapable of easily piercing this dilemma, even if they may be very effective on an individual scale. This puzzle of our time is going to require something radical; something drastic. A new movement or perhaps a joint multi-cultural revolution of sorts happening in several opposing camps at once. Unfortunately, such things don’t usually arise unless extreme pain and suffering has pushed the pendulum far enough.

But one thing is sure, the puzzle is more complicated than a giant ball of tangled twine, and we have several people pulling on the same threads in different directions, trying to unravel it at the same time. If we can’t get some sort of broad and deep solutions going, then I suppose pain and suffering for a lot more people, on a lot greater scale, will be what’s in store. If that’s the case, then I’ll simply have to remember my Stoic readings and remind myself that I can’t control the choices or actions of others – only myself.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Prescriptive Songs

There is an interesting thing I’ve noticed recently about certain types of songs, which I’ll call ‘prescriptive songs’. These are songs which the character singing is giving advice or instruction to another. Three examples I thought of are: “I Hope You Dance” by Lee Ann Womack, “Forever Young” as sung by Rod Stewart, and “Just the Two of Us” as rapped by Will Smith.

In all three of these songs, the singer is giving advice for living and hopes for a good life apparently to a young child, usually their own. I analyzed the lyrics of each of these songs line by line, and identified three different types of statements:

(1) Ethical Prescriptives: These are instructions on how a child should behave, and are of an ethical nature. They deal with matters of morality, virtue, ethics, honor, integrity, kindness, and so on.

(2) Non-Ethical Prescriptives: These are instructions on how the child should act, behave, or carry out life, but they are not ethical. This means they may simply be meant as good advice, or strategic manners of living.

(3) Hopes for good fortune: These are simply lines which express hopes for good fortune for the child, usually in the form of access to opportunity, health, good relationships, or material wellbeing.

There were a number of other lines which were either continuations of the same concept, repeats, or irrelevant to any of these, which I ignored. Here is how the three songs broke down...

I Hope You Dance
Ethical prescriptives: 19%
Non-ethical prescriptives: 62%
Good fortune: 19%

Forever Young
Ethical prescriptives: 67%
Non-ethical prescriptives: 0%
Good fortune: 33%

Just the Two of Us
Ethical prescriptives: 67%
Non-ethical prescriptives: 11%
Good fortune: 22%

There are a few interesting things I found as I looked over these songs and compared them. First, I can’t help but think that the various percentages reflect the time, subculture, and artists personality and beliefs from which they sprang. Surely, none of these artists analyzed the percentage of each type of statement, but it seems likely that they would tend to dwell on proportionate areas according to their inclinations.

But most importantly, I noticed something philosophically significant about what all of these songs were doing. Here we have three examples of a litany of ethical prescriptives. To name a very few, these include things like:

Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance.
Do unto others as you’d have done to you.
Always tell the truth.

Yet, the tone of all of these songs is not one of admonition, warning, condemnation, or seeking to impose control over the child. In all of these examples, the tone is one of seeking to deliver to the child that which will ensure prosperity and happiness in life. Most people don’t seem to understand that ethical prescriptives are not restrictions, but rather go hand in hand with happiness. Considering that most people don’t know this, the fact that these ethically prescriptive-laden songs are delivered in the tone of help rather than imposition of rules is really quite profound. It may be fitting to draw attention to these sorts of songs, and their loving, caring motivation, when attempting to explain to young people what ethics are all about.

Wake Up

I've just come across a fascinating lecture at www.gnosis.org, given by a Dr. Stephan A. Hoeller. It's called "Gnostic Cinema: The Matrix and the Matrix Reloaded" and it explores some of the gnostic-related themes in the Matrix films. It's a great listen and lasts for about 43 minutes. LINK HERE

For my own take on Matrix Revolutions, those interested can read it HERE.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Your Family is Larger Than You Know

Did you know that if you went back in time to 3000 BCE, to any village on the planet, and approached a person of any race, that this person would probably be your personal ancestor? Did you know that 'every Palestinian suicide bomber has Jews in his past, every Sunni Muslim in Iraq is descended from at least one Shiite, and every Klansman's family has African roots'?

According to recent work by statisticians and researchers, you would only have to go back 2000 to 5000 years to find someone who could count everyone alive today as a descendant. If you go back 5000 to 7000 years, then everyone living today has exactly the same set of ancestors.

Click here to read the complete article.