A Citizen Soldier Stands Against the President

Is it time to take to the bunker yet? I do not think so.  Though, things are getting quite scary.  As a soldier and a citizen and a Christian, the President of the United States of America is an enemy of the people.  Not the press, not the Democrats, and not the Muslims of the world.  The President daily signs death warrants for soldiers he does not care a scrap for nor gives more than an afterthought over dinner.  The President has chosen his own power and prestige over truth and the good of the American people.  And it is our own President who incites violence (in violation of his own claimed faith) at home and around the world against Muslims, compared to the uncountable hundreds of thousands of Muslims who have taken up arms in our defense in Iraq and Afghanistan and around the world… not to mention here at home in the USA.

As someone who risked his life daily for the American people, I resent the fact that the President has portrayed the US institutions of truth, science and the press, as enemies of the people, institutions without virtually any monetary reward and little notoriety who do their virtuous work in silence.  I deplore the fact that the President has deliberately undermined the Department of Justice and the FBI, organizations which have worked for decades and for over a century to work against the current of politics and protect every American’s rights.  And finally, I despise our President for putting his own politics above the integrity of our electoral system.  There is overwhelming evidence that members of his advisory team and cabinet were beholden to the Russians, and President Trump can do nothing but refuse to talk about the matter or lie.  He would rather repeat a lie than dig up the truth, a play fit only for the Mein Kampf.

Maybe I am exaggerating our situation, but I do not think I am.  There is not anywhere left for the Republican regime left to run except to crime.  This is not an evenly divided system between right and left.  The right has clearly gone off the rails.  They have their own networks of black ops that regularly and consistently distort the truth in a demonstrable and refutable manner.  They have constructed legislation behind closed doors without hearings.  If our Constitutional Republic can survive Trump’s assault intact, it will be a miracle.  We can only match this assault with an army of spirit-warriors.  Satyagraha is our weapon.  Only by peace, mercy and the truth will we find a foundation for a true government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

May our Republic survive by the way of love.  Amen.

 

Beyond the Threat of a Faithful Democracy

The idea that the United States is a nation of faith can at last be given up as a lie.  Trump represents neither faith nor works.  He has disproven any attempts to depict him as faithful to the truth.  There really can be only one non-ironic interpretation of Trump.  A power-monger plain and simple, he is willing to sell the American presidency to Vladimir Putin for pennies on the dollar, so long as Trump receives the position.

Given that it has been scientifically demonstrated that democracy tends toward suboptimal decision making, we have been begging for an end-time reckoning for some time.  American democratic politics have dragged us into a number of wars and military conflicts for which neither sound moral nor economic reasoning can be laid down.  In fact, a vast number of Americans apparently think medieval mercantilism and free market capitalism are interchangeable.  The medieval mercantilist strategy may prove beneficial for a businessman, but is clearly an inefficient, immoral and unscientific means of lifting the economy and distributing goods and services.

So how are we to confront democracy and mercantilist economics? Off the cuff, I would recommend saddling mercantilists with fines and punishments appropriate to the political system they are trying to undermine: where there is capital punishment, let them be executed; where there is leniency, let us be lenient.  (Why adopt such a rule? Because where the politics grow more harsh and conservative, the more dangerous grows the military, economic, and political weight.  The less dangerous the hold on power, the more likely power is to yield beneficial consequences.)  But these things should not be decided off the cuff.

What is clearly needed is deep, intellectual reflection on the structures of power and economics.  (Ann Coulter and Glenn Beck, if they recognized their inadequacy for such a task, would elect to sit out the debate.  Given the Dunning-Kruger effect, we will always have them with us.)  Despite a lot of crying, much of it from the more extreme left wing of literary theory and their ilk, there really is a great deal of factual knowledge on how to organize an economic system so as to benefit a great majority of the people.  And it starts with a good intellectual grounding in free market economics.  Nobel prize winners in economics such as Paul Krugman have shown us the way, to both reveal the obscene and pursue the praiseworthy.

The structures of power are more difficult to discern, as, in large part, political science is not altogether scientific.  (Nor, for that matter, is Business anything more than bad psychology.  The two disciplines go hand-in-hand.)  There is good work being done on optimizing decision making in groups that can show us the way.  And, of course, there is a solid foundation of material from economics.  How to fuse the optimization of group decision making with our economic needs as a people (that is, as a race or a nation rather than a political caste or party) may be murky, but it is not beyond imagining.

To move forward, though, requires breaking the hold of powerbrokers, and that, I am afraid, means breaking some arms.

Throw over the tables of the money changers…

Or remain cowards in your corners.

Holiness and the Real Human

The Pharisees of the gospels are stereotypes made to ease the dirty business of judgment.  The truth is more likely that when Jesus overturned the tables of the temple, Jesus was marked as a crank, seen as crossing the line of propriety if not morality, and taken as more than a little self-righteous.  We do not behave in vacuums.  Acting outside the boundaries is not recognized as an innovation, but, interpreted in light of the boundaries, is recognized as violence.  The hermeneutic by which our behavior is read is the norm of behavior.  Reformation and revolution can never be recognized outright as the need of the time.  The Pharisees will be our natural measure of holiness.

Of course, this is a difficult and dangerous lesson to learn.  It is difficult to learn because we resist change as the psychologically and sociologically conservative species that we are.  The lesson is dangerous because it makes it seem impossible that we will recognize the limits of authentic and beneficial movements for change, thus rejecting self-serving and possibly deadly calls for revolution.  There is a wariness because we cannot formulate a new law to govern behavior in the face of a truly open society.  But the Gospel call is for love, and not for law.  Paul even goes so far as to reject the legitimacy of the law after the resurrection.  (Understand that how you will.)  As Aleister Crowley wrote not so long ago, “Love is the law, love under will.”

And that is really as much guidance as there may be with regard to love, at least as far as I can see.  Reflections on love should not end.  Views may shift and mutate.  But love is the guide in my worldview…  beyond all good and evil.

Humans are relatively predictable, we act in light of pretty clear material interests even if those interests are not clear to us, when we are fortunate enough to have such settled interests.  We act out of fear of the out-group to protect interests, when we have no material interests worth mentioning, and a hundred other heuristic shortcuts lead to mistakes that govern our behavior.  War and politics are just the highest level expressions of those psychological and sociological mistakes, possibly preventable but definitely predictable.  Good and evil is molded by this evolution of moral vision.  Only love escapes the rule that says the Pharisee is the holy man, only a love that sees with the vision of the other and pours itself out.  This all but guarantees that we will see love as a violence to the domain of holiness.  May we have the courage of the vision of love.

A Holistic Approach to Miracles

My odd article “Against Santa Claus” is flawed, horrendously flawed.  I think.  (Let me never be dogmatic or unchanging in my thinking.  I have been wrong too many times, often due to staking out such immovable opinions.)  Miracles are not the drawing close of the divine to the human.  There is no God but man (or a man.  Choose your scripture.)  This seems to be as close as we get.  The holy is within the ordinary.

As I incensed my little chapel this morning, I was drawn to sit in zazen and seek the holy, which is Nothing.   As Aleister Crowley long ago pointed out, our methods are techniques made to produce specific effects.  Incense and meditation are practically guaranteed to evoke the holy.  A Pure Vision, as far as I can tell, is the Holy evoked within the ordinary.  No miracles, no siddhis.  Just a quiet gaze at the ground.

Evidence is against the miraculous.  To assert otherwise is to lie.  No one has yet brought to me a miracle, a magical power or a siddhi that can stand up to the demand for evidence.  The argument usually follows that faith demands a lack of evidence.  This seems to be a misunderstanding of faith.  Hebrews 11:1 defines Christian faith: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  But what sort of conviction can we have apart from evidence? What assurance do we have in a mere belief that flies in the face of all of history? At best they are irrational positions.  Hebrews doesn’t demand such foolishness.  My spiritual experience leads me to my convictions.  And my convictions lead me to my spiritual experience.  There is a virtuous circle here, indeed.  But that is not a denial of experience.  Rather, we interpret our experience.  And experience our interpretations.

Santa Claus is still a lie.  But the bigger lie is the one that teaches children to wish harder rather than to work smarter to achieve their ends.

Life is miraculous.  Don’t turn the depths of creation into a lie.

Philosophy and Friendship

Philosophy is not generally thought of as a social force or a means of healing. My general impression is that academic philosophy is a force for division and it leaves more psychic wounds than it ever heals. But this is my personal impression based on an academic career that was troubled by drugs and alcohol and mental illness. Academia, however, is not the only place to practice philosophy. Philosophy is alive in the living rooms and coffee shops where friends gather to speculate about our mysterious existence. In my mind, that is where philosophical friendship thrives.

Philosophical friendship, as far as I can tell, builds rather than tears down. So much of academic philosophy is given to the adversarial picture of how to stake out a position: the opposition must be destroyed in order to clear cut land for building one’s own position. But I have been blessed to have stumbled into a group of hungry minds who do not operate under the adversarial picture. Instead, my circle of philosophers is a circle of friends, mostly in their 80s, confronting questions of health and mortality, worried over the political and economic and environmental legacy we will leave the following generations. They are genuinely curious about how to make sense of human life. And they respect each other to the point that they listen and build on one another’s insights. There is no clear cutting.

This picture of philosophical friendship is radically different from the picture we have in American life of how to pursue, for example, economic and political questions. There is little room for truth in the American debates because the aim is not discovery but victory. We do not value truth or beauty. If we pay attention to the intellectual landscape, we must prize fear and anger, and winning over everything.

But that picture is one that leads to death. Spiritual death. The life of the soul, as I read it, is deepest when we confront the unknown. The American way cannot handle the unknown. What we confront must be reduced to an object, fully understood when it has its pay off realized. To confront and appreciate the unknown is to have the insight that all is false, every insight misses the mark. And with that we come to realize that we are on an endless journey of discovery. We do not make the mark, but we continue to get closer. And every miss is an insight.

Perhaps in death we make the mark. I do not know, but I have hope. Along the way, though, I have friends.

Blastocysts and Personhood

So it is time to weigh in on the issue of embryonic personhood.  It is territory fraught with danger, but women’s rights over their own bodies hang in the balance.  So let me risk a little by adding nothing more than a re-presentation of the case against early-term embryonic personhood.

In the earliest stages of pregnancy, the fertilized egg grows into what is called a blastocyst.  What is a blastocyst? A blastocyst is defined as:

A thin-walled hollow structure in early embryonic development that contains a cluster of cells called the inner cell mass from which the embryo arises. The outer layer of cells gives rise to the placenta and other supporting tissues needed for fetal development within the uterus while the inner cell mass cells gives rise to the tissues of the body.

At this stage there are no organs present, no nerve cells to detect pain, etc.  There is just a mass of totipotent cells, genetically human in much the same way that a skin stem cell is human.  The primary relevant difference between blastocysts and other masses of cells in the human body is that the blastocyst has the potential to divide and differentiate into any and all of the many organ systems which make up the human body.

Here I would like to argue that destroying a blastocyst is more like clipping your nails than murder.  Remember there are no nerve cells present, no capacity for memory or thought, no organs at all.  The atheist pro-life advocate will give ground here, because the capacity for personhood in any clear sense of the word is simply missing at this stage of development.  But the religious pro-life advocate holds to a metaphysics that says that the blastocyst is the material aspect of a soul-matter hybrid called a human.  To destroy the blastocyst is to separate the soul from the body, which is, by their definition, murder.  There is no reason why every act of separating the soul from the body must be classified as murder, which implies a moral judgment as well as a factual account of some action.  Sidestepping that problem with the pro-life position, however, let us consider why there is reason to believe no soul inhabits the blastocyst.

Somewhere around 50% of pregnancies do not make it past the initial first few weeks of pregnancy.  The body routinely flushes the blastocyst out just as it does with the vast majority of unfertilized eggs.  So there is reason to suspect, assuming that life is in some way divinely guided, an early stage embryo is nothing more than the initial material condition for the development of a person later on down the road.  If this is not the case, God is busily filling heaven with natural abortions.  This seems like a rather crass approach to what we take to be precious life.

Of course, what I am saying only applies to very early stages of pregnancy, but it is worth noting that life does not start with conception.  At best, conception is a continuation of the life of the father and mother’s gametes, making possible personal human life at some later stage of embryonic development.  And if we don’t view the case as I have described it, then souls have no clear value.

Affordable Care

In the midst of our ongoing national debate over healthcare and its costs, we have failed to consider non-medical, non-iatrogenic approaches to health, specifically mental health.  Philosophy is, if anything, a form of mental gymnastics.  Sometimes it is called so pejoratively, but it is nonetheless true.  Philosophy challenges the mind, pushing it beyond its limits.  And so, philosophy has often ended with a kind of mysticism, whether it is Socrates yearning after the blessed vision of the True and the Good, Nietzsche’s discovery of the earth’s meanings or Wittgenstein’s warning “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must remain silent.”  This is a form of mental well-being that is not clearly offered by other avenues of self-knowledge, except the religious avenue.  The uncovering of a sense of metaphysical security is priceless, and can be uncovered virtually for free by our own philosophical inquiries.

Philosophical practitioners have the training to help in the search for metaphysical security, and if they are worthy of the name ‘philosopher’, their services’ costs should be tailored to those in need of philosophical “therapy”.  It is a moral obligation that has its roots at least as far back as Socrates.