Friday, April 30, 2010

Envy and Gratitude

Envy is one of the Seven Deadly Sins, although “sins” is not the right word. “Sin” is correctly translated as “missing the mark,” as in missing the target in archery. Sometimes you’re close. Sometimes you’re way off.

Envy might be the worst “missing the mark” that exists; the serpent in the myth of the Garden of Eden is a symbol of envy, and it was that envy that bought evil into the world. That’s really missing the target.

What, then, is the opposite of envy? Perhaps gratitude. Or maybe if you feel envy it’s impossible for you to feel gratitude. It’s an opposite, although not necessarily “the” opposite.

"The test of all happiness is gratitude."-- G.K. Chesterton.

I have written many articles how hubris is the worst of sins. And perhaps it is. What the Greeks called “hubris” the Bible calls pride. Underneath that pride and hubris, there is a lot of shame. And a lot of envy, too.

Perhaps we envy and hate those who have shamed and humiliated us, because of the power they have over us. Sometimes we kill them. We almost always want revenge on them.

Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others. –Cicero

I’m not sure to what extent you can separate one unpleasant feeling from another. Hubris, shame, envy, greed, hate, the desire for revenge; all of them are interrelated, interconnected. It’s possible to tell one of those feeling from the other, but can one exist in a person without any of the others? I doubt it.

I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder. – Chesterton

The psychiatrist Melanie Klein condensed her life’s work into one book: “Envy and Gratitude.” With a life of envy, and greed, and the rest of the Seven Deadly Sins, there can be no gratitude, and no happiness.

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow. -- Melody Beattie

And yet where in the Four Cardinal Virtues and Three Theological Virtues is gratitude? How many times is it mentioned in the Bible, one of the foundations of Western culture?

Jesus did, however (depending on the translation) speak of “your joy being complete.” And in that joy, that happiness, gratitude would have to be an inherent component.

O Lord, who lends me life, lend me a heart replete with thankfulness. --William Shakespeare

The word “virtue” means “strengths” or “powers.” It also comes from the word “man.” It means the “strengths or powers of Mankind.” If “virtues” are a strength, then “sins” are a weakness. With the first you are on target; with the second you’ve missed it.

The greatest of virtues is supposed to be prudence, which is not prudence as generally defined. It means the opposite of a small, mean, calculating attitude to life – one that is instead clear-eyed and magnanimous in its appreciation of reality. And appreciation is another word for gratitude.

You have no cause for anything but gratitude and joy. -- the Buddha

Jesus spoke of joy and the Buddha spoke of joy. Happiness. The Buddha did mention gratitude. It’s too bad the word never made it into any of Jesus’ sayings. But then, you never know about those translations. All translators are liars, as the old saying tells us.

If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough. --Meister Eckhart

I can’t say I see much gratitude in people. I do see a lot of envy, though. There is an entire political philosophy based on it. Leftism. It’s killed a lot of human beings.

Gratitude and greed do not go together -- Aesop

Every one of the Seven Deadly Sins has in common self-centeredness, self-absorption, selfishness, inconsideration, a lack of empathy. Seeing others as not quite human, as existing only to serve you. That cannot be conducive to gratitude.

Every one of the Seven Cardinal Virtues has in common seeing others as humans and not as things.

"Gratitude is twin sister to humility; Pride is foe to both."
~ James E. Talmage

People who are truly grateful are humble -- in the real, not stereotyped sense of the word -- because of their appreciation of how much wonder there can be in life.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Three Temptations of Jesus

Like many people, I have been intrigued by the Three Temptations of Jesus. Supposedly he spoke to Satan, and Satan to him. Since I don’t believe in any Satan “out there” (otherwise we could deny responsibility and blame everything on him) and instead see one in all of us, Jesus was essentially having a dialogue with a not-so-good part of himself. A part, which, of course, we all have.

The unaccepted “bad” aspects of oneself, Jung called the Shadow. If we don’t accept our own Shadows, we project them onto other people. Everyone is familiar with those extremely judgmental religious fundamentalists who obsess about other people’s sex lives then get caught multiple times with prostitutes. Either that or their boytoys.

Unable to acknowledge and accept “unacceptable” parts of themselves, they project them onto other people, and try to change them instead of themselves.

This projection is essentially what the people in governments do. Since they can’t change themselves (which is why they seek political power in the first place) they pass laws to try to change everyone else. The result, ultimately, throughout history, has been one catastrophe after another.

It never works to try to change others instead of yourself, and it’s why Jesus never told people to try to change others, only themselves (the correct translation of what he advised is “You have missed the mark, so you must change your hearts and minds,” not “You have sinned, so you must repent”).

The idea of going into our personal or collective unconscious to confront and accept the bad aspects of ourselves has existed in all cultures. Oftentimes it has been considered a journey to the Underworld.

In ancient Greece, the ruler of the Underworld was Hades, who was a god and not a place. Christianity appropriated this term and put it in the Bible to denigrate this “pagan” concept.
Most interestingly, “Hades” means “the Rich One,” because of all the riches that exist in our unconscious, i.e., the Underworld.

“Hel” is another example. It is not a place, but the Norse goddess of the Underworld. The people who wrote the Bible turned her into a place of torment to denigrate the Norse myths. Neither Hades nor Hell exists as places, which is why modern accurate versions of the Bible don’t use the terms.

So, in my opinion, Jesus was confronting certain dangerous aspects of himself. He overcame them, accepted them, and transformed them into something good.

The First Temptation was about turning stones into bread. “Bread” can be interpreted in a couple of ways. I think it means materialism, telling us people cannot live by materialism alone. I think it also means pleasure, meaning people can’t live by pleasure alone.

I think “bread” also means gluttony, since materialism, pleasure and gluttony are all related.

Jesus, as we all know, refused to fall for this temptation, instead accepted it, and turned it into something good, i.e., useful and practical. Proof of this is the fact he ate instead of engaging in sanctimonious fasting (such as the Pharisees did), drank wine, and went to weddings. And what are at weddings? Singing and dancing. Jesus went to parties!

Jesus never put down enjoying these things in moderation. They have their place. They’re just not the be-all and end-all of life. Instead of going overboard, as many people do, he put them into their proper place. We should enjoy them, but they are not to rule our lives.

The Third Temptation was about political power, when Satan offered Jesus power over all the kingdoms of the world. Jesus refused that one, too, and later never supported anyone seeking political power over anyone. Again, he told people to change themselves, and not to worry about changing other people.

Unfortunately, the masses of people, throughout history, have consistently fallen for the belief in political power. To this day I still find it amazing people can be so deluded. In the 20th Century alone 177 million to 200 million people were killed in wars (all of which were political and all of which were started by governments) so you’d think people would have finally seen through the true nature of the State.

But they haven’t. They still idolize government and see it as a tit from which all good things flow – Social Security, universal health care, etc. They never realize that when they are seduced by these things they also accept the State’s dictum: “We now own you, so you cannot complain. So when we start wars, you are to die by the millions. Or if you have to live six to an apartment, that’s part of the deal.” And they never figure this out.

The Second Temptation was the one about Jesus throwing himself from a cliff and having God save him. This is a puzzling one. One obvious interpretation is to assume God is not going to take care of you all the time, so you have to take care of yourself, otherwise people would think they have to do nothing and automatically have their wants fulfilled.

A second interpretation is people’s unending desire for miracles. Paradoxically, Jesus told his critics not to expect “signs” but then he consistently did “miracles” for people, such as healing the sick. Why the discrepancy?

Jesus’ use of the word “sign” is interesting. A sign is that which points to something else (strictly speaking, a “stop sign” is a “stop symbol,” unless you consider it a sign that a car is coming from the side). Some people in Jesus’ time thought he might be the king who was violently going to throw off the Roman yoke. This is why he mocked the Roman soldiers who came to arrest them, asking if they were doing so because they thought he was a “militant nationalist.”

It was the scribes and Pharisees asked for “signs” from him. They might have been trying to trick him, or else were asking for signs that he was the militant nationalist king they had been looking for — the idealized ruler who was going to free their nation. The Bible, unfortunately, takes a lot of study, and even then, some of the interpretations are conjecture.

Instead of “signs” that he was the coming militant nationalist king, Jesus instead healed people – something that is not violent at all.

I consider Jesus’ healings not to be miracles. What he did is the way things are supposed to be, although they are not. Yet people have this consistent desire to see “miracles,” which they see as almost supernatural. The problem is they cannot tell a true miracle from a false one.

People are consistently idolizing people whom they believe can create miracles, be they religious or political leaders. They suspend their judgment and worship them. Dostoevsky, in his “The Grand Inquisitor” chapter in his “The Brothers Karamazov,” told us the way the way to rule people is through “miracle, mystery and authority.” And that people wanted nothing so much as “a community of worship” and to find a leader to give their freedom to.

I believe Jesus was telling people not to idolize and worship leaders, and if they do, their “miracles” are not miracles. In fact, he told people all that he did, they could do, and more. He was telling us not to worship leaders, because when we do, we also find they are more Satanic than anything else, and their “miracles” aren’t miracles at all, because their “miracles” and “signs” point to death, violence and destruction.

If you want to see three examples of people’s intense, indeed overwhelming, desire to find a leader to worship and who will give them “signs” and “miracles,” look no farther than David Koresh, Jim Jones and Jonestown, and Hitler. It would not have surprised me if the followers of these people expected them to raise the dead.

If people would run their own lives correctly, they wouldn’t need to find anyone to worship, and expect miracles from them. If you want to see a very good example of this, watch “The Triumph of the Will.” At the beginning Hitler is driving down a street, and both sides of it are thronged with thousands of people, all smiling and worshipping him.
They idolized him and clearly expected miracles from him. He, of course, did not deliver.
Leaders who are worshipped never do. For that matter, anyone who’s worshipped never does.

I believe Jesus saw in himself three main flaws: materialism and gluttony, the desire for political power, and the desire to wow the rubes with miracles (all are interrelated). He overcame them and transformed them into good things.

He clearly understood people are sheep, who are asleep. He clearly understood their desire for materialism, to be taken care of by politicians, and how easy to is for them to worship leaders and expect miracles from them. And he rejected every bit of it.

Materialism will never fulfill you. Politics will never save you. Don’t worship and idealize leaders as gods and expect miracles from them. If people understood those things, most of the problems in life would disappear.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

God and Caesar

One of Jesus’ sayings that has been perverted (as many of them have) is when his opponents handed him a coin with Caesar’s image on it and asked him a question about paying taxes. They were trying to trap him, and in those days, falling in that trap was a very dangerous one.

His opponents, being pious Jews, weren’t even supposed to have that coin in their possession, because it had a graven image on it – Caesar’s.

Jesus evaded that trap in the best way possible – he gave them an answer they couldn’t answer. And when someone can’t answer you, you have won the debate.

Jesus told him, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give to God what is God’s.”

Now how is this for funny -- there is no indication he ever gave the coin back to them. They couldn’t ask for it. They weren’t supposed to have it on them.

Jesus’ saying has been perverted to support the government in ways the government should never be supported. People can rationalize anything, even though they don’t know it, won’t believe it, and instead are convinced they are being rational.

Strictly speaking, the only thing Jesus said to give to Caesar was the coins with his image on it. If you want to expand it a little bit, he said, “Give to Caesar his own property.”

That is as it should be. If you don’t give to people their property, that is stealing. The only thing that belonged to Caesar was his own property, and again strictly speaking, those coins, having his image on it, were his property.

That is the only thing that belonged to Caesar – his own property. Nothing else.

The word “commandment,” as in “Ten Commandments,” is incorrect. The correct translation is “Ten Words” or “Ten Utterances.” One of those Utterances is “Do not use God’s name in vain.” That translation is incorrect. The correct one is “Do not use God’s name in vain causes.”

When people start claiming that Caesar is owed more than his own property, then they are truly using God’s name in vain causes. “Caesar” is the State, and the State, like all states, is based on force (and for that matter, fraud).

Without force, there can be no government. When people claim Caesar is owed more than his own property, they are claiming the government has the right to use force to take what actually belongs to God.

What are examples of what does not belong to Caesar? People’s lives and property. What about the draft? Wars? Does Caesar have the right to enslave people to fight wars? Where, in anything Jesus said, did he support this concept?

One of the biggest disturbances that surrounded Jesus is that some of his followers thought he was the king who would violently, through war, throw off the Roman yoke. This is why when the Roman soldiers came to arrest him, he mocked them with the comment, “You have come to arrest me as a militant nationalist?”

So it’s clear Jesus did not support wars and violent revolutions.

Those who have perverted Jesus’ saying about what belongs to Caesar have used it to support the worst of things the government does – wars, slavery, taxation. Considering in the 20th Century alone, 177 million to 200 million people died in government wars, the difference between what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God is not a minor issue.

To this day I am amazed that people worship the government as a God, even though it is an idol. Anything based on force and fraud (lies) is an idol. Yet so many people see it as a tit from which all good things unendingly flow.

The State is a wolf and many people are sheep. Since the government is composed of a small group of people, what we really have is that very small group using the law – force and fraud – to force the majority of people to give up what they do not want to give up – ultimately, their lives and property.

If all people followed the Ten Utterances, there would be no government. It is because people can’t even follow ten simple rules, that we have government. If people wouldn’t lie, murder and steal (and that includes the government), imagine how many problems would just disappear.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Lust for War

“People who have no individual stature whatsoever are willing to accept this poisonous nonsense because it gives them a sense of importance without the trouble of any personal effort." - Felix Morley

Back in the '80s I was watching an episode of “The New Twilight Zone,” in which Tony Franciosa, playing a demon, made the comment, "Ennui fills my days." That was interesting, because ennui (or accidia) is a sin. It’s a life of boredom, without meaning or purpose. It's not surprising that a demon's life would be filled with ennui. Other things, too, like envy, and sloth, and cowardice, and murder, and the lust for destruction .

I suppose the aforementioned traits are the reason why some men lust after war. I don't mean the kind of men who are born warriors, like the mythical Hercules (who, like all mythical characters, is based on real traits that people have). There are never many of these natural-born warriors in every generation. I mean Chickenhawks, who lust for war as long as they don't have to go. The last thing on their minds is going. They not only don't want to be at the front, they don't want to be at the rear, peeling potatoes. But they certainly will cheer for war, as long as they are several thousand miles from it.

There always seems to be a lot of Chickenhawks in nearly every country. I guess there always has been, throughout history. Are there any Chickenhawks in the Bible? I should look. There is certainly a lot of other practical information in that book about human nature.

God knows there're enough Chickenhawks in the United States. There's a popular one on the radio, who always seems to avoid answering if he really skipped out on military service during Vietnam because of a cyst on his heinie. Or was it because he hurt his knee playing football in high school? Personally, I'd rather say I hurt my knee rather than I had something wrong with my butt.

I suppose having a nice, peaceful life isn't good enough for Chickenhawks. Well, actually it is. They want peace for themselves. They just don't want it for other people, on the other side of the world. They want the vicarious thrill of war, while they sit like Pug-like inert lumps safely watching the TV.

Talk about the imperfections of humanity. Better yet, the imperfectability. There's certainly something wrong with people when peace isn't good enough for them, and it takes a war to get them revved up and make them feel there's a meaning to their lives. Otherwise, like my friendly TV demon, ennui fills their days.

I don't think the phrase "the lust for war" means much of anything by itself. It comprises a multitude of sins. It only makes sense when it's analyzed. If you want to understand something, the first step is to name it, and then take it apart. Things are much more dangerous otherwise.

The first sin of Chickenhawks, obviously, is cowardice. Chickenhawks are composed of the greatest cheerleaders for war you will ever see, as long as they are completely insulated from fighting it themselves. Observing Chickenhawks is how I finally decided on the definition of a true coward: you fight while I stay on the sidelines and give directions. Of course, I will simultaneously proclaim my bravery and curse everyone who mentions they're hearing a "buk buk buk" come from my direction.

The second sin of Chickenhawks is the ennui of which I just wrote. This one is pretty scary. Apparently there are some people out there whose lives are so lacking in any kind of purpose that they only feel fulfilled when there is a war. A war giving meaning to life? If there's a Satan out there somewhere, isn't that exactly what he would say? On the other hand, there certainly is a devil inside all of us, and that is all we need.

How in the world can war give meaning to some people's lives? Maybe Erich Fromm, author of such books as “Escape from Freedom,” and the political scientist Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, who wrote “Leftism Revisited,” were on to something when they suggested people want to be part of a group, so they can merge themselves in it to lose their anxiety and loneliness. They can lose their ego, their "self," in a group.

Chris Hedges, in his book, “War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning,” writes this: "The enduring attraction of war is this: Even with its destruction and carnage it can give us what we long for in life. It can give us purpose, meaning, a reason for living. Only when we are in the midst of conflict does the shallowness and vapidness of much of our lives become apparent. Trivia dominates our conversations and increasingly our airwaves. And war is an enticing elixir. It gives us resolve, a cause. It allows us to be noble."

People are social (and imitative) creatures, and very few can live as disconnected atoms wandering around by themselves. But there are problems with mobs. When people suffer from ennui, merging themselves into a group lessens it. When there is a war, the energizing effects of it give a meaning to those ennui-filled lives. Watch “Triumph of the Will,” where a crowd of tens of thousands of smiling, worshipping people line a street as Hitler drives by, and you'll see the potential Dionysian frenzy of a mob. There's no ennui or lack of meaning there. It's a destructive meaning, but a destructive meaning is better than no meaning at all.

Robert Nisbet, in his “The Quest for Community,” suggested people like to be in a group because it allows them to exalt themselves. It allows them to become part of something they consider greater than they are, even if it isn't, even if it is something very dangerous. The sin of ennui can lead people to become part of a group which exalts itself and finds a meaning in war. Watching war and planning it is ambrosia to the Chickenhawk. It’s like a little kid playing video games on the TV.

That’s ennui and cowardice. What else? There's sloth, specifically intellectual sloth. Those who lose themselves in a group often don't think things through. Maybe, most of the time. Why should they? There's that warm herd feeling. Why spoil it with analyzing it and coming to the conclusion that maybe it's not such a good thing? Did any member of the Borg ever say, "I don't want to be a Borg anymore"?

Chickenhawks tend to idolize their leaders, sometimes following them right over a cliff. If you're going to be part of a group, you have to have a head, someone who's the leader. These groupthink people are the ones I've
heard say, "My President." They would of course be outraged if anyone suggested that in 1938, in another part of the world, someone just like them was saying, "Mein Fuhrer."

That word, "idolize" is an important one. It's related to the word, "ideal," which is the opposite of "devalue." Human nature makes those words opposite sides of the same coin. To some people, things are either idealized or devalued, good or bad, with nothing in-between. To devalue someone is to dehumanize them, which is the first step to murdering them.

I've never heard it specifically listed as a sin, but to dehumanize someone is one of the greatest sins there is. It's the reason innocent people killed in war get called "collateral damage." Dehumanization is the basis of all
propaganda. You tell people the enemy spits babies on bayonets, and some of them will believe it. When the enemy is devalued like that, the prohibition, "You will not murder" (the closest to a specific sin describing
dehumanization) becomes much easier to break.

As bad as devaluing is idealizing. As opponents are devalued, allied soldiers are idealized. They are praised for "making the ultimate sacrifice," then forgotten when they come back permanently maimed. It's hard for Chickenhawks to idealize someone in a wheelchair. Such a sight
always bursts the fantasy bubble in which they live.

People will idealize their ethnic group, their country, and their cause. They will claim God supports them, in every way. That is the sin of idealization, or making something into an idol. It's worshiping false gods. And worshiping your country, and your government, and your leaders, is certainly worshiping idols. All of which have feet of clay (and feet of clay comes from a a Biblical story about an idol).

It is the same thing, over and over, throughout history: people make themselves and their own into false idols, then worship them and don't know it. And don't believe it if it is pointed out. Then they always make their opponents into a devil. And all the while, the enemy is doing the same thing to them.

Cowardice, ennui, sloth, dehumanization and murder, the worshiping of the idols of self and State. . .those are the sins of the Chickenhawks who lust for war. And one of the strangest things about it is to them, those vices, in some kind of Bizarro World upending, are instead patriotic virtues.

Jesus, his Wit and Humor, and Missing Body Parts

I consider the most difficult of Jesus’ sayings the one in which he tells people to do the most difficult of things -- to cut off a hand, a foot, or pluck out an eye, rather than go to Hell.

Taken literally, this saying is so far beyond nonsense it becomes grotesque. It is preposterous, a paradox; it cannot possibly be true in any literal way, no matter how you interpret it. So, let’s instead consider it a playful saying. I believe Jesus was being ironic.

More than a few of Jesus’ sayings are witty, hyperbolic, ironic. Elton Trueblood told us this in his “Humor of Christ.” Jesus also made bad puns, a continuation of an Old Testament full of bad puns, most of them untranslatable. The biggest groaner of Jesus’ puns was when he referred to the unsteady Peter as “Rocky” and said he was the “rock” on which he would build his church.

I find it sensible that Jesus, that most sensible of men, was also witty. It’s clear in the Bible he did not abstain from life’s pleasures – he ate, and drank wine, liked children, went to weddings. And what are a part of weddings? Singing and dancing. He also told people to not look dismal and instead be joyful.

What was given to the world was a witty man who enjoyed life, and who wanted us to do so, too. That’s a very long distance from the drudge portrayed in the King James version, the one who supposedly was always serious and never smiled or joked or laughed.

Since Jesus used a lot of metaphors, similes and parables, it’s clear he wasn’t a literal man. He referred to his opponents as tombs, vipers, phonies, play-actors, wolves, thornbushes, thistles. In order to understand metaphors, you have to be imaginative and make connections between two different things -- and the literal man has no imagination and cannot make these connections (and is this not why Jesus was so frustrated over the literal-mindedness of some of his disciples?).

The fact that so many of his sayings were not literal is why I believe some of them have become famous cartoons. Who has not seen a cartoon of the blind leading the blind? Or a wolf in sheep’s clothing? Or something built on sand?

Since during Jesus’ time it would be too dangerous to come out and say something directly (although he did call Herod a vixen – a female fox) he was often indirect. Or he said one thing and meant the exact opposite, which is what irony is.

One example of his irony is when he mentioned looking at a woman with lust in your heart being the same thing as committing adultery. Again, taken literally, it is nonsense. It’s also impossible. But it does make sense as irony.

The self-righteous religious leaders of his time thought they were so pure they abstained from women (just as the religious frauds of today are obsessed with “purity” and sex). Jesus pointed out it was impossible for them to be so “pure” they could not look at a woman without sexual desire. If they denied this, they would be laughed at as liars and hypocrites, and as Voltaire wrote, “Lord, make my enemies ridiculous.”

That’s what Jesus did: he made his enemies ridiculous. I doubt it was that hard, since they were very large targets.

What does this have to do with his cutting remarks about chopping off body parts?
The religious leaders of his time were hypocrites, and, like all hypocrites, were blind to their own flaws. They ignored those different from them, they wouldn’t talk to them, they wouldn’t touch them. They wouldn’t even touch them with their feet. This is illustrated in the story of the Good Samaritan, in which the targets of Jesus’ mockery pass by a wounded man lying in a ditch. Who saves him? An “unclean” Samaritan. The others would have let him die rather than touch him with even a toe. They didn’t even want to look at him.

So Jesus, using hyperbole and irony, told the people, “Okay, if these people really don’t want to sin, they should cut off a hand so they can’t touch those different from them, or pluck out an eye so they can’t look at them, or a foot so they can’t make the mistake of accidentally touching them with the tip of a little toe.”

Humor involves taking two different ideas and finding a connection between them. And in that connection, there is an “Aha!” moment, the person “gets it” and laughs. Then they understand – a little illumination, the proverbial light-bulb going on over the head. Robert Frost called this “the coupling that moves you, that stirs you…an association of two things you don’t expect to see associated.”

On top of that, jokes – and other pithy sayings -- are easy to remember. Unlike, say, dense college textbooks written by even denser professors.

Jesus strove to get these people to grasp the truth, and humor is an eminently practical way to do this. I consider good jokes – i.e., true jokes – to be truly rational. And the definition of “reason” to which I subscribe is “the grasping of necessary connections to become aware of organizing principles (the ‘law’).” In a sentence, to become aware of the Truth. And wit is a great way to achieve this goal.

Understanding Jesus’ saying as hyperbole and irony is the only way it makes sense. I’m surprised he didn’t tell the self-anointed to cut out their tongues so they couldn’t talk to “unclean” people, or lop off their ears in case one tried to talk to them (I am reminded of the “Hear no Evil, See no Evil, Speak no Evil” three monkeys).

Imagine some holier-than-thou religious hypocrite with a peg-leg, a hook for a hand, and a eye-patch…the only way they can be sinless! (I guess Jesus was trying to take his opponents down a peg, or hook them into…I’ll quit). How can anyone not see this as a ridiculous image? Or not see the humor in it? Can anyone truly believe in a literal interpretation with an image like that?

The image would make a funny cartoon, one that we have all seen in another form – that of a pirate.

Jesus didn’t attack the common man, the peasants of his time.. He instead attacked the truly unpleasant -- the corrupt, hypocritical religious leaders. So if his saying is directed at anyone, it’s directed towards those leaders. He’s telling them, “You don’t want to sin anymore? You think you’re better than everyone else and can judge them and gave advice? Well, I’ll tell you what. The only you can be perfect in the way you think, is to start cutting off body parts.”

I can imagine the grins and laughter of his listeners.

Human nature doesn’t change. This means if you want to understand something in the Bible, written so far in the past, find an example to which it applies in the present.

Let’s use Jimmy Swaggart, a good example of a bad man. He passed a lot of judgment on people’s sex lives while never passing judgment on his own. Hypocrites never do, until they’re caught, and then they can’t shut up excusing what they did. Like all people with wooden heads and wooden hearts, he worried about the speck in other people’s eyes while being unable to see the beam in his own.

Swaggart has been caught twice with hookers. Now, if he had plucked out his eyes and cut off his hands, he couldn’t have looked at those two whores because of the lust in his heart, or pawed them. Perhaps he should have cut off his feet, so he couldn’t chase after them.

Best of all, he should have cut off his dick. His problem would have been most definitely solved. I would have smiled about it for the rest of my life.

I suspect Jesus would have smiled about it, too.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Legitimate and Illegimate Authority

There is a curious scene in the Bible (among many curious scenes) that goes like this:

"The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, 'I will give you all their authority and splendor, it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours.'

"Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.'"

This scene, in Luke 4:5-8, makes it as clear as can be that politics belongs to the Devil. The history of the world certainly backs up that observation, especially since 177 to 200 million people were murdered during State-sponsored wars during the 20th century.

Clearly, politics, and the State, being of the Devil, are illegitimate authorities. Yet, when Jesus came down from that mountain, he established himself as an authority.

What we're dealing with here are two kinds of "authority." The first, political, is based on force and coercion. It's illegitimate unless one is a real criminal – and that means murder, theft and similar offenses, not not wearing a seatbelt, drinking a glass of wine when you're 14, or smoking a cigarette outside.

That illegitimate political force is the kind Jesus rejected. The second kind of authority is voluntary and based on persuasion. That's legitimate.

Try as I might, I find nothing in the Bible where Jesus tried to force anyone to do anything. Basically he said, "Choose what you want to have to change your hearts and minds willingly."

It's the difference between "I will try to change you, by force, from the outside in" [which never works] as compared to, "You choose to change yourself, from the inside out."

There was a pop psychologist/sociologist, the late Erich Fromm, who got so many things wrong (he thought Freud and Marx made sense) that it verges on pitiful. Yet even though he got a lot of the answers wrong, he asked the right questions, about "the human aspect for freedom, the longing for submission, and the lust for power."

Fromm nailed it, right on the mark, with those three things: freedom, submission, the lust for power.

Freedom is not something given to us by politics and the State; their essence is to make people submit. Liberty is freedom from the State.

Whence lies the "lust for power" of which Fromm wrote? Let's try this again: "I will give you all their authority and splendor, it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours."

The lust for power, obviously, is Satanic. Those with the lust for power (or what Nietzsche called "the will to power") gravitate straight toward the State. You don't have to look any further than Mao Tse-Tung, Pol Pot, Stalin, and Hitler. All these little Satans went straight to the State, in hopes of controlling it.

There is another problem, though: the desire people have for submission. People have two paradoxical impulses: on one hand they want to be free, and on the other hand they want to submit to authority.

Fromm had an answer to this desire to submit, as did Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, and Dostoevsky.

Fromm wrote this, in his book Escape from Freedom: "The person who gives up his individual self and becomes an automaton, identical with millions of other automatons around him, need not feel alone and anxious any more. But the price he pays, however, is high; it is the loss of his self."

Kuehnelt-Leddihn believed the same thing. In Leftism Revisited he wrote: "viewed from a certain angle, we are all subject to two basic drives: identity and diversity." Identity he calls "a herd instinct, a strong feeling of community that regards another group with hostility." He said "identity and its drives tend to efface self, tend towards an 'usness' in which the ego becomes submerged."

In the famous "Grand Inquisitor" scene in The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky has the Inquisitor say, "For centuries...we have been wrestling with...freedom, but now it is ended and over for good." He was commenting on the fact that many people want to give up their freedom to "authority." The Inquisitor goes so far as to claim, "they have brought their freedom to us and laid it humbly at our feet."

It's also the basis for fascism, or Communism, or Nazism, or any other form of leftism. It's what Mussolini meant when he wrote, "everything is in the State, and nothing human or spiritual exists, much less has value, outside the State. In this sense Fascism is totalitarian, and the Fascist State, the synthesis and unity of all values, interprets, develops and gives strength to the whole life of the people."

There is something in people that wants to submit, to give up their freedom, in hopes of giving up anxiety, in giving up fear. They want to be "safe," to be a cog. Take a look at a televised political convention, for an example. They could fit into Leni Riefenstahl's film, Triumph of the Will – thousands of people, cogs all, lost in the delirium of a crowd.

Unfortunately, many today look to the State for that safety. The problem is that the State, being Satanic, isn't going to bring them safety. Ultimately it will bring them death and destruction. The opposite side of the welfare state at home is the warfare state abroad, in an ultimately hopeless attempt for "homeland security."

Lord Acton wrote that "power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." I think a better saying is, "Power intoxicates, and immunity corrupts."

Dostoevsky had this to say about power, in his The House of the Dead, "Tyranny...finally develops into a disease. The habit can...coarsen the very best man to the level of a beast. Blood and power intoxicate...the return to human dignity, to repentance, to regeneration, becomes almost impossible."

On one hand, forced submission to the illegitimate State, and the Satanic lust for power that leads to tyranny, and on the other, voluntary submission to a legitimate authority.

The desire to submit to the illegitimate authority of the State is childish. It's the desire to be "taken care of." Children submit to their parents whether or not they want to – they're forced to. In their case, it is for their own good. But adults? It's certainly not good for them.

Liberty is apparently a scary thing for some people, so they try to give it up as fast as they can, even though they don't know what they're doing. But, as Benjamin Franklin wrote, "They that give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty or safety."

The history of the world has not always been a fight between freedom and slavery. It has also been a fight between forced submission to an illegitimate authority, and voluntary submission to legitimate ones.

The Truth is larger than all of us. That is the legitimate authority to which all should voluntarily submit. The Truth, as the old saying goes, is that which will "set you free."

And part of that Truth is that our salvation does not lie with the State.

War as a False Religion

The last several years of wars have been enlightening to me about how some people react to them. The last few wars the U.S. was in -- the first Iraq war, the "war" on Serbia, and Panama -- were so short I couldn't draw any conclusions. We haven't been in such a long conflict since Vietnam -- and for people born since then, for all they know about it, it might as well the War of the Roses.

I was a kid during Vietnam, too little to pay that much attention. I do remember the ghoul Robert McNamara, who'll be washing several million gallons of blood off his hands for the billion or so years he spends in Hell. He was such a catastrophe, and so incompetent, he made Rumsfeld look like a tactical and logistical genius.

I also remember the evil, power-mad Lyndon Johnson. LBJ, a pathological liar (as all true politicians are), said he would get us out of Vietnam and instead escalated the war. Then after his first term he ran away, dumping the war in Richard Nixon's lap. Close to two-thirds of the casualties in Vietnam occurred during Johnson's administration. There is a special place in Hell for him, as there is for McNamara.

But now, with these current wars, so I've had plenty of time to think about the effects of war on certain people. The conclusion I've come to is that war is a religion.

Admittedly it is a false religion, but it is a religion nonetheless. The word "religion" means "to tie, fasten or bind." That is exactly what war does to some people -- it brings them together into a community. It gives meaning to their lives. And that makes war a religion, albeit a ghastly one.

Robert Nisbet, an influential conservative sociologist -- and "conservative sociologist" almost sound like an oxymoron -- wrote in his book “Community and Power,” "The power of war to create a sense of moral meaning is one of the most frightening aspects of the 20th of the most impressive aspects of contemporary war is the intoxicating atmosphere of spiritual unity that arises out of the common consciousness of participating in a moral crusade."

The book, indeed all of his books, is about the alienation that comes from the loss of community. Such as loss always happens with the expansion of the State. As it expands, it destroys all the intermediary institutions such as religion, neighborhoods and families. Finally, what could be left is nothing between people and the State. There are various names for such a condition -- fascism, communism, Nazism. The State becomes everything, and people become absorbed into it. Think of the Borg.

Writers such as Erich Fromm and Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn have pointed out many people want to be absorbed into a group as an escape from their alienation. It gives them a sense of community and security. Nisbet adds there is something else -- such people don't give up their individuality in these groups, but instead exalt their selves, as they now believe they are part of something they believe is much larger than they are.

They become, you might call it, a community of deluded self-worshippers. They believe the group itself it god-like, or blessed of God, so they partake of that "divinity" by being part of the group. They are literally worshipping their selves, a worship that always means those outside of the group are devalued into sub-humans whose murders are dismissed as "collateral damage."

As Russell Kirk noted, "the monstrous self is the source of all evil." The Nazis, the communists, and the fascists were that monstrous self writ large. I believe this is why Kuehnelt-Leddihn wrote, "'I' is from God and 'We' is from the Devil." That "We" can only be of the Devil when the State destroys the intermediary institutions, and the only "We" left is the combination of the people and the State.

During long-term warfare society becomes militarized and in doing so damages, destroys or absorbs such intermediary institutions as churches. Then we end up with disgraces such as the Satan-worshipping Jerry Falwell claiming "God is pro war," which of course means God supports only the wars of the United States.

When the interests of religion and the interests of the State coalesce into supporting the same unjust wars, what we have left is no true religion at all. The State instead becomes God on Earth. War then becomes the fist of that god, one to smite the "wicked."

"When the goals and values of a war are popular," writes Nisbet, "both in the sense of mass participation and spiritual devotion, the historic, institutional limits of war tend to recede further and further into the void. The enemy becomes not only a ready scapegoat for all ordinary dislikes and frustrations; he becomes the symbol of total evil which the forces of good may mobilize themselves into a militant community."

In short, war can give meaning and community -- and an intoxicating power -- to some people's lives. That makes it a religion, a false one based on hubris and being drunk with power. Power does more than just corrupt; it intoxicates. In “The Lord of the Rings,” it was that power that turned Smeagol into Gollum. The same thing could happen to people in reality.

Always ignored, of course, is what war does to those on the receiving end. If not ignored, it is rationalized. "The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them," noticed George Orwell.

This meaning and community -- this religion -- is a false one, destined to bring disillusionment and destruction to those who believe in it. War is a false god. Perhaps sometimes war is unavoidable, but it is an idol that can never give true meaning to a person's life.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Measure for Measure

I believe in Natural Law: law is discovered, not created. My jumping out of an airplane without a parachute is the immediate application of the Natural Law about the intersection of gravity and stupidity. My beliefs about floating like a soap bubble, except in my dreams, are irrelevant.

Some laws, like the above one, are immediate. Others, unfortunately, take a while, sometimes years or even decades, to manifest themselves. Let's take the example of the mass killing of innocents in war. Some – sometimes many – support this as an unpleasant necessity during wartime.

These supporters of mass murder forget this saying: "In the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you" (Matthew 7:2). Following that comment is this one: "First take the log out of your own eye, and you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye" (Matthew 7:5).

What we do to people will be done to us. It might take years, but as is said, "What goes around, comes around." The cause-and-effect isn't hard to trace, but unfortunately, what goes around often comes back around to the innocent. It was applied to the innocent in the first place.

Let's look at just one thing the U.S. government has done in the not-so-distant past. It dropped two atomic bombs on Japan, when the Japanese were trying to surrender, but not unconditionally, as the U.S. demanded. The bomb at Nagasaki, unknown to many, wiped out one-seventh of Japan's Christians.

Not allowing the Japanese to negotiate a more dignified surrender extended the war by about six months…and American casualties were running at 7000 a week.

These days, those who have attacked the U.S use those two bombs to justify what they have done. They say, "You see the mass murder you have done to others? Who are you to complain about the mass murder done to you?"

One of the defendants in the first WTC bombing (when the towers didn't fall) stood before the judge and specifically mentioned the U.S. dropping nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He essentially said, "Who are you to complain about your innocent people being killed when your country has done the same to far more innocent people in the past?" The measure by which the U.S. has judged others in the past now returns to us.

Killing innocent people, whether one or many, is a violation of the Commandment, "You will not murder." Those four words are why it's easy to trace cause-and-effect. "Murder will out," a phrase first used in Chaucer's “Canterbury Tales” but noticed as far back as the ancient Greeks, is as true now as then; the crime always shows itself, and it always comes back. It comes back far worse when it's mass murder in war.

Most Americans were shocked when the WTC was attacked. Some weren't. I wasn't, not particularly, although I never expected another attack on the twin towers. I suspected some kind of blowback was coming because of the U.S.’s interference in the rest of the world, with its supporting "friendly" dictators and their oppression, torture, and murder of their own people.

Even those in the administration were shocked, and they shouldn't have been. They failed miserably at their job, with all the billions of dollars at their disposal. Why did they fail? For one thing, they forgot about the log in their own eye. "We attacked Iraq a decade ago when it didn't attack us, we attacked Panama, we attacked Serbia, we have made a history of supporting some of the worst dictators in the world . . I don't understand why they attacked us! It must be because we are good and they are evil." Hardly.

And all because these foolish, puzzled people forgot four simple words: "You will not murder." That Natural Law applies not only to individuals, but also to governments. Governments always think they can exempt themselves from that law, even though none can. I suppose those in government pride themselves on realpolitik and their understanding of the world. In reality they're crackpots; they understand little. They learn even less, otherwise they wouldn't keep making the same mistakes over and over, for decade after decade. Are they clueless about human nature?

One of the inherent characteristics of governments is that those under its spell all have permanent logs in their eyes. As a result, none ever understand that what they deal to other people, sooner or later will be dealt back to them. Unfortunately, overwhelmingly, it's the innocent citizens who get the payback.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Time I Saved an Ungrateful Cat

About 15 years ago I was standing in front of the apartment one of my employees lived in, waiting for him, when I saw one cat chasing another across the street. They began to fight in front of a storm drain, and after about two seconds one fell in. The other ran off.

These drains had the fifty-pound circular iron cover on top of them. I got a crowbar out of my car trunk and pulled the cover up and off to one side. About 12 feet down, at the bottom of a vertical tunnel lined with ancient brick, and in about six inches of water, along with cans and some Styrofoam, was a wet cat, looking up at me.

Now how was I supposed to get this cat out? If I didn’t, he was dead. I looked in my trunk again, and saw I had a big tangle of electrical wire. I lowered it into the drain, and darn if the cat didn’t understand and grab with his claws onto the tangle.

It’s amazing how heavy a wet cat is.

I pulled him up, and as he cleared the top, he tried to jump to the pavement, didn’t make it, and fell right back into the drain again. So I lowered the wire again, and started pulling him up,

As he came up, I noticed his eyes were bulging out of his head. He hadn’t grabbed onto the wire this time. A loop of wire was around his neck, and I was slowly strangling him as he came up. When I got him to the top, I got the wire off of his neck, and in about a nanosecond he took off like a shot.

These days, most of the drain openings have grates over them. I’ve seen openings big enough for a kid to fall in, and I’m sure it has happened more than once in the past. Either that, or Pennywise got them.

Ungrateful cat. Stupid, too. He would have been safe the first time he had just waited a few seconds more.

I prefer dogs.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Why I Despise Politics

"Nowhere are prejudices more mistaken for truth, passion for reason, and invective for documentation than in politics. This is a realm, peopled only by villains or heroes, in which everything is black or white and gray is a forbidden color." —John Mason Brown, "Through These Men" (1956)

People, individually, can be just fine, but in groups—or as I like to call them, herds—are stupid, deluded, infantile, and murderous. And that's a fact. This is nowhere more evident than in politics, which more than anything else is a herd phenomenon. The enormity of these bad qualities is so destructive I wish politics didn't exist.

I've met "conservatives" who called Bush "my President" (in 1938 they would have been saying "mein Fuhrer") and who were convinced Obama was a monster who was going to give America to Muslims. Then, of course, I've met "liberals" who thought Bush was the anti-Christ and Obama was the Messiah.

Both groups are overflowing with fools. There's about a dime's worth of difference between Bush and Obama. They are, after all, professional politicians, who are lower than child molesters and serial killers, because they've killed and maimed hundreds of millions of people throughout history.

And yet, some people—far too many!—worship their political party and the politicians in it. Why in the world some people seek a leader to worship is beyond me. But when they do, they automatically see those of a different party not merely as mistaken, but as evil. And that is what John Mason Brown, among many others, has noticed.

Herds seek herd leaders. I suppose, and even though politics is based on force and fraud (and the worst get on top, as Friedrich Hayek noticed) the herd can't see this and instead idealizes and worships the worst people, the ones who century after century have started wars, taken away freedoms, destroyed societies. Talk about self-deluded!

There is no grey in politics, only the belief in black and white, good and evil. When one herd of people sees itself as good—and such goodness in a herd is utterly impossible—they are going to project all their unacknowledged badness onto another herd. "Conservatives" do it to "liberals" and "liberals" do it to "conservatives."

Politics by its very nature sets people at each other's throats. You'd think people could easily see this, considering the political wars of the 20th Century costs the lives of 177 million to 200 million people, but even with that unbelievable slaughter they still can't see it.

Perhaps some people's lives are so empty and boring they seek the quickest fix for it, which is politics. Maybe they find it exciting. I sure don't. It'd be a lot less trouble for the world if political junkies were instead heroin addicts.

After all, Chris Hedges, in his book, "War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning," wrote: "The enduring attraction of war is this: Even with its destruction and carnage it can give us what we long for in life. It can give us purpose, meaning, a reason for living. Only when we are in the midst of conflict does the shallowness and vapidness of much of our lives become apparent. Trivia dominates our conversations and increasingly our airwaves. And war is an enticing elixir. It gives us resolve, a cause. It allows us to be noble."

I think a good example of this quick-fix excitement is in the movie, "The Triumph of the Will," about how Germany responded to Hitler. There is a scene, right at the beginning, in which Hitler is standing in an open car as it travels down a road with thousands of worshipping, smiling people on both sides.

They are clearly worshipping Hitler. And Hitler has a smug, satisfied smile on his face, one that says, "They love me!" Just like that, one of the worst leaders of the 20th Century drives by them, and the herd turns into grinning, worshipping morons.

Maybe that's the problem with politics. It's too easy for people to get excited by it, to exalt themselves and their herd, to cast their problems onto innocent people. If this is true—and I think it is—then politics, by its nature, appeals to the worst in people. Try as hard as it can, politics cannot appeal to their best.

That is why I wish politics didn't exist.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Sex as Meaning Nothing

I have, three times in my life, had naked women get into bed with me. The first time, it lasted perhaps one minute. The second girl, it lasted maybe a minute and a half. The third girl, about a minute.

The second girl, there was a second time. It lasted about a minute. She wanted there to be a third and fourth time, but I ignored her.

Each time, the sex, since it was so brief, meant nothing to me. For them, it was clearly just physical relief. One actually said to me, “I really needed that.” Notice she didn’t ask a thing about me. That’s significant.

I suppose some guys would be envious of me. In fact, I know some were, because the second girl, we lived in a co-ed house in college, and she ignored the other guys in favor of me. Yet, when it comes down to it, there was nothing for them to be envious of.

Each of these girls was extremely promiscuous, and I do not think they were capable of love. I wonder if there is a inverse relationship between promiscuity and love? After all, notwithstanding silly fantasies like “Pretty Woman,” how many prostitutes fall in love at least once in their lives? I doubt it’s all that many.

One question I have never been able to answer is, where do you draw the line? What is the upper limit on sex partners? I do know that devoting your life to physical pleasure will destroy you. That’s been noticed as far back as the ancient Greeks.

Physical pleasure has its place. I always think of Jesus, who went to weddings and ate, and drank wine. He approved of it. And what happens at these parties? Dancing and music, of course. It all has its place in life, along with sex. But you can’t be drunk all the time, or eat all the time. Or have sex all the time, either.

Speaking of Jesus, I consider these people to have fallen for the First Temptation – people do not live by bread alone. “Bread,” if it means anything, means materialism. Such materialism includes food, money, drink, sex. Pleasure. No one can make such things the meanings of their lives, such as epicures try to do. Ultimately, and generally quickly, it leads to a degraded life.

I’m not disapproving of sexual promiscuity in a moral sense or even in a physical one, although there can be physical repercussions from such promiscuity. I’m interested in only the psychological effects. The only thing I can say with any certainty is that the more sexually promiscuous someone is, the more difficulty they will have in maintaining a long-term romantic relationship.

I think the reason for this difficulty is that in case of every one of these girls, they were self-centered and lacking in empathy. Lacking in those feelings, they tried to fill the empty place in themselves with physical sensation. That, of course, never works, since physical sensation always ebbs and flows, goes up and down. So you end up needing another fix, but fast. That’s the nature of pleasure.

The original meaning of the Greek word “daemon” (perverted into the word “demon”) was a natural function that took over one’s life, be it sex or food or alcohol. It appears when one gets taken over by a daemon, not much of the personality is left for anything else. Such is the nature of addiction.

Friday, April 16, 2010

A Taxi Tale

Driving a taxi was the most interesting job I had. I might still be doing it except the influx of Third Worlders has depressed the wages so much you now have to work 60 hours a week and live in two-bedroom apartment with three other people just to make ends meet. And it used to be a middle-class job.

For a while I owned a few taxis that I rented to other drivers. I used to buy them from a guy, Ervin, who owned an airport cab company.

His real last name was Stern, but he had changed it and named himself after the ship that brought him and his family from Hungary after WWII. His father was one of those “Holocaust” survivors. He had been a tank mechanic who had kept escaping to see his family, and every time he did, the Germans would catch him and send him back to work on tanks again. The whole family survived WWII and moved to America.

His father ended up owning an airport cab company, which he bequeathed to Ervin. When I knew Ervin, he was about 65, married with two girls and no sons. My friends and I estimated Ervin was worth at least 10 million dollars.

Ervin did nothing but work in his garage, about 10 hours a day and about six hours on Saturday. Why did he work so much? Because he had a horrible family life.

I met his pudgy wife once. The first words out of her mouth were, “Ervin, wipe the dust off your shoes.” I turned and walked away.

My friends, who had known Ervin a lot longer than I had, told me Ervin and his wife had separate bedrooms, and Ervin went home to his and watched his VCR. No wonder he spent so much time at work with us guys!

One of them, Joe, told me to look in the big box on top of a shelf in the garage. So I did. There were over 100 VCR tapes in it. Joe told me they were all porn films, and Ervin would watch them in the morning on the TV and VCR he had in is office.

So I took one of the tapes home, and sure enough, it was a porn film. And every one of the tapes in the box was unmarked. When I mentioned this to a friend of mine, Ray, he told me one Saturday (all of us hung out there on Saturday) he had showed up early, and walked in on Ervin watching a porn film in his office and flogging his dolphin.

“That’s something I’ll never forget,” he told me. I’m just glad I didn’t see it.

Once, out of curiosity, when Ervin had left for a while. I turned on his TV and VCR, and it started in the middle of one of his films, already in the player.

One of Ervin’s pudgy unattractive two-bagger daughters was married to some pudgy unattractive guy who was barely employed, I think as a bartender. His other daughter, a bit better-looking (a one-bagger), was engaged to a computer dork named, I swear, Nimrod.

Nimrod may have known computers but his social skills were non-existent. It was like he was schizoid or autistic. I had never met anyone as clueless as him when it came to other people. He was also about 5’3” and at 19 had a bad heart that caused him to pass out while sitting on the toilet.

There was an old corrupt drunk, whose name was John. who was in charge of the county taxis. Every year he would come out and put the squeeze on Ervin for a two grand bribe. I saw him once in Ervin’s office and I could tell from Ervin’s body language Ervin was scared of him.

One of the other owners of a cab company, whom Ervin had to deal with, was a 75-year-old woman who had stabbed her husband about 12 times, put a little cut on her arm, hid in the closet, and told the police a homicidal maniac had done it.

And damn if she didn’t get away with it. I met her once and at her age she was wearing mini-skirts and go-go boots (stuck in the ’60s, I guess). I have never seen anything like her before or since.

Ray told me her drivers (including him) would tell her, “Oh baby, you’re looking hot today,” and she would simper and think they were serious.

Ray only had a right hand, having blown the left one off when he was 21, drunk and stoned, and playing with fireworks. His nickname, not surprisingly, was Hook. He told me a cop had arrested him once and had no idea what to do with the cuffs.

As for Ervin, he kept telling the same stories over and over. The most interesting things in his life happened when he was a kid in Hungary, and after he came here when he was 11, apparently all he did was work and make money.

He once told me he saw the Germans blow up a bridge with their own troops on it, to keep it from falling into the hands of the Allies. Once he got here, the most interesting thing he saw was power windows on a car.

This was Ervin’s life! One time Ray and I were discussing him, and I asked him if he would take Ervin’s money if he had to have Ervin’s life, and couldn’t get out of it. He said no. I also said no.

Anyone can be rich. All you have to do is work all the time and not have a life. Then you’ll end up 65 years old, with ten million dollars, and nothing else.

It reminds me of that saying, “What does it profit a man if he gains the world and loses his soul?” It’s true.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Our Four Brains...Maybe More

I think we have more than one brain. I think we have at least four.

What most people consider our brain, the ones in our heads, is the one I think we use for self-consciousness and thinking.

We have another brain in our genitals, and it doesn’t take much thought to figure that one out. We have another one in our gut, or maybe our solar plexus – or maybe the whole area -- which is why people talk about “gut” feelings.

It didn’t surprise me many years ago when scientists found we have neurotransmitter throughout our entire bodies, and we have a large concentration of them in our abdomen. Hence, “gut feelings.”

Often, people know in their gut that something is wrong, but ignore it, usually to their peril.

I think we have another brain in our heart.

Some years ago, I was lying in a bed with a woman, who shall remain nameless, when I felt something breaking up, or better yet dissolving, in the center of my chest, right above my solar plexus. It felt like something was flowing out of me, so powerfully I thought she must be able to feel it.

Years later I found out the word "emotion" means to "move out," and that's exactly what it felt like to me: something moving out, flowing out of my chest. It felt like it was coming right out of my heart.

I've always wondered why love has always been located in the heart. Physically, it makes no sense. The heart pumps blood, nothing else. Yet, obviously, there's more to it than that.

That dissolving was accompanied by a great feeling of well-being and love. It was so intense and profound it is something I will never forget, and I was in fact changed by this experience.

Years later I was watching the movie, “The Professional,” with Jean Reno and Natalie Portman. In once scene Portman tells Reno that she thinks she loves him. As she does, she places her hands over her heart and says something to the effect, “The knot I’ve had here all my life is gone.” That, of course, is one of those images I will never forget.

There is an old saying, I believe by Pascal: “The heart has reasons the head knows not.”

Brain researchers are not exactly sure where the bottom of our head brain ends and our spinal chord begins. Why even separate them? The spinal chord is part of the brain, and then the nerves from the spinal chord branches throughout the entire body.

Perhaps, in a sense, our entire body is a brain, and we have “little brains” in various areas. Why, I have no idea.

The problem, of course, is that our brains – however many we have -- are not always in harmony. One goes one way, one goes another, a third goes another way. It is possible, for example, to love someone and not even like them. Your heart says one thing about them but your gut or head brain is telling you something else.

It’d be nice if they all worked together. It would save a lot of problems.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Sit Right There and Don't Play

I have only a few memories from kindergarten. One is playing with blocks, which I remembering enjoying, one is launching one of those blocks across the room and hitting a kid in the head and making him cry, and another is lying on a mat and being restless and bored and then getting whacked by our spinster teacher (who clearly, sadistically enjoyed it) with a pointer for not going to sleep while lying on our mats.

I remember little from first grade though sixth. I have some memories from sixth grade, though. One is getting rowdy in class when the teacher left and being punished by being made to sit with some other kids in front of the principal’s office for a week. There was also an improvisation comedy skit I remember well.

I think I remember little because I was so bored and every day was mostly the same.

Seventh grade was a hell except for some fun after school and on weekends, eight and ninth grade were marginally better but still not good, and high school was a blast on weekends. Otherwise high school was a bore and a prison, and from seventh grade through being a senior I spent a lot of time in my imagination.

These days, I would have been diagnosed as Attention Deficit Disorder without hyperactivity, and probably put on Ritalin, most especially since I paid little attention in class, did not do my homework, and made poor grades.

Even though I had no use for high school, some kids apparently liked it. Some of the athletes and cheerleaders seemed to like it a great deal. I sometimes get the impression it was the highlight of their lives, like it was for Al Bundy and Hank Hill.

For some of them, high school was a lot of fun. For me and others, it was no fun at all. How best to describe it? We never played.

Athletics is play, and so is being a cheerleader. That’s one kind of enjoyment, and schools encouraged that. There are other kinds of play, and school did not encourage them when I was attending, and a lot of them still don’t even today.

The psychiatrist Stuart Brown, who has studied play for years, said it is essential not just for kids, but also for adults. When he studied a group of murderers, he found almost all of them were severely play deprived as children.

He described various kinds of play. One is competitive play (sports), which in high school is supported. Those in engage in this kind of play get the attention, the newspaper articles and the respect of the community.

Those people he called the Competitors. Others he described as Jokers (and in middle school I was a class clown). Others he described as Storytellers, Explorers (physical or intellectual), Kinesthetes (physical activity, such as dancing and sports), Artists, Directors, Collectors and Performers.

I don’t fit the Competitor but I do fit the Storyteller, Joker, Explorer and Artist. I’ve into trouble with the combination of all of them. Schools promote Competitors (whether sports or high grades) and Kinesthetes (sports) and in a limited way, Performers (cheerleaders, who are also Kinesthetes). But no matter what schools support, the majority of students are expected to sit dully in class for several hours a day -- which is not enjoyable and no play at all.

Brown found the benefits of play to include improved health through less depression and stress, and increased empathy and a sense of belonging leading to less interpersonal violence, And public schools support any of this exactly how?
What kind of effect does it have on so many children to essentially spend 12 years in schools overwhelmingly deprived of play? Not a good one. Their spontaneity is destroyed, and while spontaneity isn’t random (you have to practice before you can be successfully spontaneous), when you have only practice followed by tests, what is created is anxiety and lifelong nightmares of being trapped in school.

While I had no fun in high school, I had fun on the weekends. The area I was raised in, my friends and I were going to bars when we were 15. And I had a fun time, for years. I wanted more of it, though. I tell people it was a cross between “Animal House” and “American Graffiti.”

When I got to college, I was pretty much done with that intense partying. Many of the kids in college had not done what I had done in high school, and they went crazy. We had riots that made the news across the nation. I saw students throw up in public and get arrested left and right for being drunk.

They had been deprived of the playing I did as a teen, and look what happened to them in college! They went nuts. I consider that a law of human nature: “What you’re deprived of as a kid, you will go nuts obsessively trying to find it when you’re older.” (Or, “What you had when younger, and it didn’t go right, you repeat when older to make it right.” Or, “What you had when younger, and liked, you keep trying to find when older if you don’t have it.” They’re all variations of the same thing: trying to repeat today what happened in the past.)

It cannot be a good thing for children to spend 12 years in a sit-march-sit environment in the public schools. When it’s boiled down, I was almost always bored in school. For twelve years. I sometimes wonder if I have brain damage.

Some people claim the schools need more money, better teachers, blah blah blah. I disagree. I think they should be closed down, and I have for years. And if private schools imitate the public schools, they won’t work either.

It’s been known for a long time that parents and family have an enormous effect on the development of children. But what about the effect of 12 years of sitting in a chair and being bored and restless in public schools? Being abused and deprived of affection by a family is one bad thing, but being abused and bored for 12 years in school is another bad thing. Look at the dropout rate these days.

I know of very few people who enjoyed school. Think about the passed-out kids in “Ferris Buehler’s Day Off” when Ben Stein is torturing them with his lecture. Some former students, like me, still have nightmares about being permanently trapped in the Last Day of High School. Or failing the last test on the last day and having to repeat the entire four years.

Society loses a lot of kids who drop out of schools and end up going nowhere in their lives. It is fault of the families or the schools? Both, I’d say. But don’t pretend it isn’t partly the school’s fault, because it is.